I mentioned the other day that I’d been doing some new work inspired by The Art Assignment ‘Imprint’ project set by Sopheap Pich.
Sopheap’s instructions were to cut an everyday object in half, dip it in paint then make an impression on a surface. The idea is that you don’t need lots of fancy supplies to make art, and can instead create incredible things from the objects around you. My regular art practice involves making meticulous, slow, intricate prints and artists books, often using very expensive equipment (usually in an open access print studio), so it was a refreshing change of pace to make something fast at home. I ended up using printmaking ink instead of paint as that’s what I actually have at home, and I applied it to my object with a printmaking brayer rather than dipping as I got a better, more nuanced result this way.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the spine as something that holds us together while allowing movement. Metaphorically, we talk about the spine as synonymous with courage and strength. In a book, the spine isn’t really an actual, physical thing: all the component pieces bar glue and/or thread are other parts of the book.
For this piece, I cut the spine off one of my books and used it as a printing block. The Satanic Verses is one of those books that’s had a huge impact on my life. I was 10 years old in 1989, when the fatwa was announced and Salman Rushdie went into hiding. The Satanic Verses and the Tiananmen Square massacre are the two things I remember from that year. I don’t recall talking about them at home or at school, but I clearly remember hearing reports on the news, not understanding why people would want to kill other people and being heartbroken.
After all that, I didn’t get around to reading The Satanic Verses (or any other Rushdie, for that matter) until 2011, when I bought a secondhand copy to remake into an artist’s book as part of my Master of Fine Art degree. I ordered a copy that didn’t arrive, so I ordered another copy. Then I read it and loved it so much that I ordered a third copy to keep. The first copy eventually arrived just before I graduated (they’d sent it to Austria instead of Australia…) so I ended up with a spare. I know some people frown on the destruction of books, but I thoroughly enjoy making them into new objects that speak to the viewer in a different way. I see other artists who repurpose books here and there saying that they only choose old or secondhand books that no one will miss to make their art, but I’m more discriminatory in what I use. I specifically choose the book to suit the theme of the project.
I originally intended to print the spine sparsely on a large white page with lots of negative space, but that changed when I started experimenting. One of the things I love about printmaking is the way the intermediary materials can influence the final image. I used to try and plan every aspect of what the final image would look like, but when I was studying, I discovered that was an exercise in futility and what I needed to do was to set up rules for myself, step back a bit and let the medium and equipment inform the image. I noticed when printing this work that when I overlapped multiple impressions, the image started to look like something I never intended: like trees and scrub with human shapes moving through it. It reminded me of something Salman Rushdie wrote (maybe an excerpt from his memoir?) where he talked about hiding out when people were trying to hunt him down.
I’m working on another artists book now, monoprinting the spine by hand over the text on each page. It’ll take a while. In the meantime, I’m looking forward seeing Salman Rushdie talk — in public — next week at the Melbourne Writers Festival.
Images, full and detail:
'I'm coming,' he answered her, and turned away from the view.
monoprint on paper, Leonie Connellan, 2014.
(I wrote this on my phone, on the train. Apologies for errors and/or longwindedness.)