Wednesday, 30 March 2011

TOAST: A Night on Weevil Lake

Staedler Print by Helen Allsebrook

TOAST: A Night on Weevil Lake is now complete. Sarah Bodman has made a riotous film charting our tribute to Douglas Coupland’s novel The Gum Thief on World Book Night. To see the inevitable visit to STAPLES stationery superstore, the discovery of a weevil in the pancake mix, and the necessary last-minute recourse to Chinese takeaway… click here.

In addition, an artist's book has been published, incorporating verbal and visual toasts from each of the dinner guests (as well as some satellite participants).

Thursday, 24 March 2011

A New Publication - The Night Hunter

Without any doubt the most exciting project I’ve participated in over the last year has been The Night Hunter, a work now available from Z’roah Press in New York. Roni Gross, book artist and founder of Z’roah, produces limited edition artists’ books with the sculptor Peter Schell. Gross spotted my poem ‘The Night Hunter’ when it was awarded a prize at the Norman MacCaig Centenery celebrations last year. It is an honour to be added to Z’roah’s panoply of poetic works, which includes the exquisite Radiance and Repose by Geri Gomez Pearlberg.

It has been intriguing to see my work taking on a new imaginative form. Explaining the design decisions, Gross writes:

‘The structure of the book, a palm leaf, is of east asian origin, as is the form of the poem, a pantoum. The requirements of the pantoum are that the lines repeat in a specific pattern. We felt that the reader could be cued into this pattern visually, using drawn lines whose colors repeat as the language repeats. In the abstract quality of the lines is the suggestion of a remote landscape.

‘Historically in Greenland, the lack of ordinary materials like wood and metal, and even fiber for cordage, has made materials found on the beach or acquired through trade of great value. For this work, the sculptural vocabulary was chosen from primarily found material: wild harvested dogbane for cordage, driftwood for covers, scrap metal and horse bone, scavenged wood for the game board.

‘The objects, making abstract reference to the poem, allow the reader to re-experience the poem tactilely, and also participate in the telling of the story by arranging the objects on the game board.’

These elemental materials – the stone, the steel, the bone – even the driftwood and the dogsbane cord – are a perfect physical expression of the austere Arctic environment that I had tried to capture in the poem. In Greenland, driftwood washed ashore from other lands or shipwrecks was once a valuable commodity, a means of sustaining survival. What is discovered at the harbour finds a new incarnation on unfamiliar land.

Everything about Roni Gross and Peter Schell’s production improves on and enriches the original, one-dimensional poem. I am amazed by how close they have come to expressing the unspoken intentions of the work. It has been a wonderful experience to have the words taken out of my hands and see them develop and deepen in this way.

The Night Hunter
Words by Nancy Campbell
Sculpture, design and production by Roni Gross and Peter Schell
Z’roah Press, New York, 2011
Edition limited to 28 copies, signed and numbered by the artists and writer. The deluxe edition (pictured) is priced $2,500 and the standard edition (in a Cave Paper Case) $750

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Siglufjörður Residency

Siglufjördur 1905

I have been awarded a residency in the Herhusið studio, located in Siglufjörður, North Iceland. This month-long residency is a wonderful opportunity to travel north again and consider the Arctic from the boundary where it meets with the temperate zone.

Siglufjördur is a lively coastal town, caught between ocean, rock and glaciers. It was the capital of the North Atlantic Herring Fishery from 1903-1965, and is now home to the enticing 'Herring Era Museum'. I've been hoping to bring a fishy element into my work for some time (I grew up close to the Border harbour towns - St. Abbs, Eyemouth, Craster and Cullercoats - and have always been partial to mackerel). Now, with the economic and environmental challenges facing the fishing industry, it seems a more intriguing subject than ever.

Siglufjördur 1946

I'll be accompanied on my investigations of the Herring Era by photographer Mark Walton, whose work has already appeared on these pages, and writer and broadcaster Carinne Piekema will contribute some sound science to the verbal/visual mix.

One of the good things about the residency is that it has already introduced me to the work of the fantastic artist Julia Lohmann who spent a month at Herhusið in 2009. Her kelp structures and maggotypes are extraordinary. Thanks to Julia for letting me use the images above from her blog about her residency.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

The Finished Book

Here's a preview of pages from How to say 'I love you' in Greenlandic, which has just been sent off to the Red Bone Bindery, Ottawa, where designer binder Natasha Herman will make cases for the prints.

Creating the images using the pochoir process has been an adventure: it's a new process to me and I've found it demands a very different approach from relief printing using a hand-press. While it is no less meticulous than wood engraving, for example, there is far more room for experiment and improvisation within each print - whether in the sweep of the sponge through the stencil or the colour of gouaches mixed - and equally, far more potential for a small slip of the hand to write off a print completely. I had to revise my expectations, both of the aesthetic unity of the project, and the practical matter of time. It takes me about fifteen minutes to create one print, and I can't work for more than two hours at a stretch before needing to refresh the paints and wash out the mylar stencils.

I'm particularly pleased with the design for an iceberg pilcrow to accompany the Weiss Roman typeface, just visible on the first page of the introduction above. Strangely, Weiss never saw the need to create an Arctic pilcrow. I wonder if this oversight will be addressed in the forthcoming monograph on the artist and designer from Incline Press, The Book Work of E.R. Weiss by Jerry Cinamon, which my library is eagerly awaiting.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Poetry Beyond Text

I celebrated World Book Night with Sarah Bodman and friends in Bristol. Last year Sarah lavishly recreated every meal mentioned by novelist Patricia Highsmith in The Talented Mr Ripley as source material for our book Dinner and a Rose, and the sinister feast was so splendid we decided to make the fictional dinner party an annual event. This year the featured book was The Gum Thief by Douglas Copeland... and a full report will follow when I am completely recovered.

Meanwhile the book that rose from the ashes of last year's dinner is being exhibited this month at Dundee Contemporary Arts. The exhibition is organised by Poetry Beyond Text, an AHRC funded project to investigate 'vision, text + cognition' in literature. The exhibition travels to Edinburgh where it can be viewed at the Scottish Poetry Library in May and afterwards at the Royal Scottish Academy. If you can't make it to either venue, there are images at the Poetry Beyond Text online gallery.