My work is about textuality and the craft of finding meaning. I am interested in how we read and in what and how things mean. I seek out texts both obscure and ubiquitous – from Anglo-Saxon riddles to the Victorian novel – disparate texts that go unnoticed, partly because they are hidden in plain view – shelved.
Any text demands a response, but literary ones demand that we read actively. To read is to interpret – to open up the potential of each word – to enter into a dialogue with author / artist. Seeing and understanding go hand in hand, and I try to exploit the tension between the symbolic and semantic significance of words to draw attention to how meaning is made. The nub of my practice is that language is playful – I want to communicate texts in such a way as to encourage reflection upon style and storytelling.
Crafting my books as material objects is about enhancing the richness of the reading experience. My books tend to be conventional in form because the turning of the page is narrative and tactile – and because I love the physical presence of the case-bound body of text. It is the text itself that challenges us to re-read and re-think.
ANGLO-SAXON RIDDLE BOOK: SAY WHO I AM
MA First Year – ‘Art, Design, and the Book’ Colchester Institute – tutor David Jury. (2011-12)
When I began this course, I looked to my bookshelves for inspiration and rediscovered my old college Anglo-Saxon texts. I’d never studied the riddles from the Exeter book, but was immediately struck by them as intensely wise and witty little time capsules.
The Bookmoth (riddle 47) gave me the central idea of eating words, which is loaded with physical and metaphysical associations. I started with scale – the tiny book moth making its way through large letters (literally ‘through’ as it turns out – bookmoths don’t like ink!) I created huge letters to give a bookmoth’s eye view and cut out the counters in the letters to enact the creature’s journey through the text. The huge letters naturally overflowed the page, so the poem’s meaning was disrupted and delayed – a visual and literal riddle. The letter size concentrates attention on the beauty of the letterforms – the visual word. I hoped that in trying to make out the riddle, readers might mouth the letters to reunite their sense, and enact the Oral Tradition whence the form originated.
My book explores the deviousness of language. Riddles depend on transparency – their pattern of shifting meanings challenges the reader not only to find a solution, but to reflect on the poet’s literary skill. Most riddle solutions were familiar objects – the book-moth was a common pest – we also find chickens and anchors, ploughs and badgers, onions and bagpipes. By veiling objects and creatures in enigmatic words, riddles describe an entirely familiar phenomenon. This is the paradox of representation by concealment. In my book, one text is read through another in a doubling that is not only linguistic but visual.
JANE AUSTEN: WILD, WONDERFUL, THRILLING IN 3 VOLUMES
Jane Eyre entered my life during childhood and never really left. The novel was therefore a natural starting point for my themes of textual play and material craft. The resulting volumes are modest but tactile, with marbled paper and cloth cases which are apt containers for an ‘insignificant, poor and plain’ heroine. Within those confines I explore the singularity of Jane’s imagination and respond to her insistent demands as a narrator with an emphasis on storytelling, both linguistic and visual.
The sheer volume of the source material challenges presentation, and so the backbone of my text is a single compound sentence which captures the arc of the story and echoes Charlotte Bronte’s diction. Words reach across pages as that sentence reaches across volumes, deferring the reader’s recreation of meaning and emphasising word and letter as visual signs. Alongside this, mirroring it, runs a sentence from the novel printed in small capitals, which expresses the essence of my Jane – sparing and unsentimental. The larger text frames and counter-points further extracts from the novel.
The text is interspersed with vignettes drawn from Bewick’s ‘British Birds’: as the novel opens, Jane is captivated by these tiny, informal images — ‘tale-pieces’, each one charged with latent character and narrative.
I took as my title Charlotte Bronte’s own stated desire for Jane Eyre to be ‘wild, wonderful, and thrilling in three volumes’.