Rom for bøker / Room for Books
Kurt Johannessen, Rita Marhaug, Imi Maufe, Randi Annie Strand and Bibliotek Nordica
Kristiansand Kunsthall, 30. jan til 14. mars 2021
For norsk tekst se: www.kristiansandkunsthall.no/utstillinger
ROOM FOR BOOKS
Artist's books are presented in the exhibition Room for books at Kristiansand Kunsthall. Not books about art, but the book as art itself. In recent years, we have seen more and more visual artists use the book format for their expression, embracing the possibilities of a format that acts both as an object and as a space.
The exhibition Room for Books presents four artists who have book production central to their artist practice, and who have been important for the establishment of artist books as a genre in Norway; Kurt Johannessen, Randi Annie Strand, Rita Marhaug and Imi Maufe. In addition, the artist group Codex Polaris's Bibliotek Nordica is on display, which is a curated collection of 82 Nordic art books.
The book invites an intimate encounter with the viewer. A physical contact. The book engages the reader's movements for a period of time, and the format is also well suited for setting up dramaturgy. Time, movement and the opportunity to tell a story are key aspects of Kurt Johannessen's art. An artist who also works with performance and has a habit of drawing the performative aspect into the book format. He has, among other things, given performance lectures based on several of the books in the series Om noko.
Kurt’s room in the exhibition contains About 106 books; his entire production of art books, from the period 1984 - 2021. It was originally shown as a joint exhibition at Kunstbanken in Hamar as a mark the production of his 100th book. Since then he has made a few more, and 2 books from his latest series The transparent series is shown for the first time in this exhibition. Johannessen's books have philosophical, poetic and scientific considerations about nature, man, thoughts and things. The expression is minimalist and often humourous, both through illustrations and text.
Johannessen's books function as a place for philosophising and research, but with Randi Annie Strand, the book as an object in itself is important. Her series of Prisme, relief printed books on porous Japanese paper, bound with Japanese bookbinding technique fill her space. Each sheet has one visual element, a shape that is mirrored when turning the page, changing the overlaps, making new shapes and colours emerge. The transparent paper means that it is the reader's movements that affect the shapes and colours when turning the pages and letting in the light. Strand examines the book as form, as a time-based medium and metaphorical object. Reading her books is a visual and sensory experience of the formal means of turning the page, using the book format to transform composition, form, colour and texture into visual poetry.
Rita Marhaug also binds her own books, and like Strand she has an aesthetic and material-oriented relationship to the book as an object. But she also uses the book as a place for gathering and disseminating knowledge. The plant life in Lofoten is the backdrop for her two Herbarium Arctica books, in red and blue. Here, science is conveyed through graphic means, and the two books are a tribute to both the genre itself and the plant life from the harsh nature in the north of Norway. In the blue herbarium, she has collected plants from the summer season in Lofoten, pressed and later printed them in both negative and positive form. The blue colours refer to the old photographic method cyanotype, which also often used plants as a motif, where the plants were placed directly on the photographic paper before being exposed to light. The red herbarium is a collection of seaweed and kelp, pressed and printed in the same technique. The red colour references the light waves that penetrate deepest into the sea and are absorbed by red algae. The relief prints give a characteristic quality to the paper. The handwritten texts are a selection of quotes about plant life from poets, scientists and philosophers from different eras and languages.
The accordion or leporello binding that Marhaug uses is one of the earliest known bookbinding techniques. In their time, these were both easier to transport and store than paper rolls. This art of printing reminds us of the very premise of modern book production, and at Imi Maufe we find a large range of graphic studies. Translating Travel is a comprehensive travelogue; at the same time a series of artist books, an installation, a retrospective exhibition and an archive of her travels from the period 2000-2020. The exhibition contains conceptual documentation of journeys where the material, method, form and expression vary as much as the content. Translating Travels consists of graphic works, artefacts, email correspondence, postcards, texts, drawings and written itineraries. The various depictions from the various journeys we gain insight into, manifest themselves as, for example, a collection of stylised prints of blue objects found on her three-week train journey through Japan (Japan Blues). Or as a complex foldout book with printed arrows, which together with words describes how she got lost cycling to Peter's Barn Gallery, West Sussex.
Johannessen, Strand, Marhaug and Maufe represent different approaches to the artist book and show a variety of possibilities the format offers. All four use the book format as their main occupation and they are among Norway's most established artists within this genre. The artist book does not have a long tradition in Norway, but the genre is constantly growing. In recent years, festivals, fairs and publishers for artist books have also established themselves in this country, and more and more visual artists are embracing the genre in their own work. Major international art book fairs have also focused on the Nordic region and in recent years have given the Norwegian and Nordic artist books attention and credibility. Marhaug, Maufe and Strand are behind the artist group Codex Polaris, which since 2013 has promoted and facilitated opportunities for artists working with books in Norway and the Nordic countries. Codex Polaris presents Bibliotek Nordica, 82 art books by Nordic artists, curated in collaboration with Megan Adie and Bent Kvisgaard from Denmark. This was first presented at the Codex Book Fair in Richmond, California in 2019 as part of the Nordic Focus that the group organised and is shown here for the first time in a gallery room.
Kristiansand Kunsthall's co-location with Kristiansand Folkebiblioteket is in itself an obvious reason why in the exhibition Room for books we present studies of the book format in an art context. The book functions in the exhibition both as a place for expression and as a sculpture in itself. By presenting the book in a room and an institution that is usually devoted to images, sculptures and installations, we want to highlight structures and properties in the format that we hope the public will take with them in the library's bookshelves and that characterise the experience the next time you open a book.
Linda Myklebust, Prosjektleder Kristiansand Kunsthall, 2021
Images by Tor Simen Ulstein