Artists’ books exist at a compelling intersection of art and literature. Like books, they suggest that they can be held and have their pages turned, their narratives unfolding in the mind of the reader as they invite direct, physical engagement. Like works of art, they can be framed and displayed independently, their imagery and often complex materiality inviting contemplation and imaginative reconstruction in the mind of the viewer. In both senses, they offer us the intriguing possibility of seeing the world through the hearts and eyes of others, inviting us into a space of psychological complexity, imagination and signification.
The title of this exhibition – Booknesses – brings this intersection of physicality and imagination into sharp relief. It identifies the book as at once a real and an abstract object, implying that the form of the artist’s book is in a sense the most essential form of a book: something that provides a path into the abstract realm of the conceptual, even as its very physicality reminds us that it is an object. In contemplating this notion of ‘bookness’, the exhibition thus draws attention to the complexities and contradictions of object-making, context and signification. It expands the scope both of literature and art making, and underscores the potential of both to make visible our common humanity, regardless of time or context.
It is a great privilege to host this extraordinary collection of artists’ books at the University of Johannesburg, precisely at a moment when the very epistemological foundations on which our universities have been built are being questioned and challenged. In this context their very ‘bookness’ reminds us that, while constructs of knowledge may not be universal, imagination, creativity and the need to find expressive vehicles for these things are fundamental to human nature, across time and across culture.
Both as books and as artworks, their ‘bookness’ is an optimistic affirmation of human intellect and imagination. In the breadth and scope of their visual ingenuity, complexity and imaginativeness, they give us the hope and the conviction that the arts have the profound power to shape the world we want to have, and to leave behind.
My sincere thanks to all who made this exhibition possible: primarily, to Jack Ginsberg for his generosity in sharing his truly remarkable collection with us. His passion for, and commitment to, collecting the finest national and international exemplars of this extraordinary art form are the guiding spirit of this exhibition. Thanks also to curator David Paton and his colleagues, who, having long been inspired by the Ginsberg Collection, have invested an enormous amount of physical and intellectual energy in sharing their inspiration, and have created for us a truly powerful and memorable exhibition.