Thursday, 5:45pm
3 May 2012

Open and shut cases

Bracewell’s ‘The Space Between’: the essence of a book as artwork

It is not often that entire books form the material, or part of the material, of works of art, but two of the nine pieces in ‘The Space Between’, curated by the writer Michael Bracewell, are made from complete books, writes Mark Thomson.

One is John Stezaker’s Tabula Rasa, in which a distorted rectangle has been added to a double spread image of mountaineers surveying the peak of Sgurr Alasdair, from a book entitled The Magic of Skye. The book lies open, seemingly implying that its revelation is temporary; that the work – its text – could be returned to obscurity by the simple act of its being closed.

The second work is Linder’s collage, W H Auden, with a flower on the poet’s photograph, its centre over his right eye. The portrait of Auden is on the jacket of a book, and so the third and fourth elements of the collage are the title, ‘W.H. Auden: a tribute edited by Stephen Spender’, on front and spine, and the book itself.

Below: Installation view, ‘The Space Between’, curated by Michael Bracewell. Karsten Schubert, London, April-May 2012.


In both cases, it is not only the uppermost surface of the book or page that is under consideration but the entire text, as contained by the adjustments and contributions to the outer form. The presence of this entire text raises the question, what is the difference between the same image cut from the book, or unwrapped from its binding, and the work in this state?

Below: Linder, W. H. Auden, 2009. Collage, 25.7 x 19.5 x 3.3 cm.


In the case of Linder’s work, the fact that the book is about Auden is part of the essence of the work. Would it be the same if the book were empty, or if its subject were, say, British poetry in the twentieth century?

Equally, it is not implied that another spread of The Magic of Skye will present a similar intervention; the remaining text of the book is whole, and it is understood that while the selection of this particular spread as the vehicle of intervention is a component of the piece, so too is the remainder, as a whole.

Top and below: John Stezaker, Tabula Rasa, 2012. Artist’s book, 28.6 x 21 x 2.5 cm.


The texts within assume a state of being that the usual preoccupation with the articulation of surface denies. The way the books are displayed – one under an acrylic box on a pedestal, the other fixed top and bottom to the wall – reinforces their unopenness, and the sense that each book’s unrevealed text has been silently assimilated into the overall substance of the work.

The Space Between, curated by Michael Bracewell
Karsten Schubert, 5-8 Lower John Street, London W1F 9DR
26 April–18 May 2012

Eye, the international review of graphic design, is a quarterly journal you can read like a magazine and collect like a book. It’s available from all good design bookshops and at the online Eye shop, where you can order subscriptions, single issues and classic collections of themed back issues.