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Arnolfini - est 1961

Arnolfini’s Phil Owen asks Connie Butler about the Nomadic Reading Room’s visit to Bristol…

PO: What is the Nomadic Reading Room?

CB: The Nomadic Reading Room is a radical, independent, non-profit, roving collection of artist books, publishing projects, periodicals, journals, catalogues, publications, pamphlets and printed ephemera. 

In previous projects NRR has opportunistically occupied liminal, underused or unexpected locations to offer free access to its material to anyone who is interested or happens to be around. I want the NRR to be a claim on time and space to bring people, places and publications together.  As a project its main concerns are with public space, its production, privatisation and the role of the artist-publisher as a critical and political agent within this

The NRR also works collaboratively with existing public and private collections and is driven by wanting to get things off the shelf and looked at.

PO: What will it be doing in Bristol?

CB: NRR will present a selection of books from the Arnolfini artists’ book collection that reflect some of the ideas in the current show by Richard Long. Long has produced artists’ books throughout his career, as documentation, and as artworks in and of themselves. The selection then looks broadly at artists’ books that address landscape, or attempt to document less tangible art practices. 

These books will then appear at two public libraries in Bristol before being presented within the Arnolfini Reading Room. 

PO: Do you have any particular experiences of reading in unusual spaces that you’d like to share?

CB: NRR once occupied a derelict toilet that had been transformed into a fernery for Chelsea Flower Show. Books were displayed alongside the planted urinals. It poured with rain all day with thunder and lightning. I did wonder quite why I had decided to do that, but I did get some reading done!

There are many precedents for libraries or reading rooms in unusual places that I have seen, from mobile libraries for rural communities, to motorbikes, phone boxes, lighthouses and boats. 

PO: Do you have any favourite pieces from the Arnolfini artists’ book collection?

CB: I love Adrian Piper’s text, Talking To Myself. She is a fascinating artist. In the book she documents her experiments with performance in public space. She would do something without announcing it, as a personal experiment, like sit on the bus with inflated balloons stuffed into all her clothes. She talks so frankly and directly about her experiences as a woman and an artist that you feel it could have been written yesterday.

PO: If you could include any 3 books in your dream Nomadic Reading Room collection, what would they be?

CB: In my dreams I would find great stacks of concrete poetry by Bob Cobbing, Ian Hamilton Finlay or Simon Cutts at car boot sales. I also recently saw a ‘poetry curtain’ (not strictly a book) embroidered by Sonia Delaunay for the Dadaists at Tate Modern which I loved.  My favourite book I own is Handbook In Motion by Simone Forti.

The Nomadic Reading Room will be in Bristol from Monday 7 to Sunday 20 September. For further details see here.

The Arnolfini artists’ book collection is housed at the Bristol Record Office, where it is available for view to the public.