Friday, November 06, 2009

The Pillowbooks

The Pillowbooks is an artist's book comprising a complementary pair of concertinas. It was made for my exhibition Pressings: Recycled Bookwork, and sat so quietly in the show that I don't think many people noticed it.

The rationale for my exhibition was that the works in it were made from the remnants of other work; there were altered commercial books and pieces made from larger/more formal book projects that I'd been working on over the years. When I printed Transmigration, a fine press book of poems by Nan McDonald and drawings by Jan Brown, I printed the edition on paper called BFK Rives Green, which is a lovely eucalypt grey-green colour. I also printed a much smaller, spare edition on BFK Rives White, and those pages are still sitting waiting for me to resolve them... but there were off-cuts from both editions. The green offcuts became part of the fine press books by becoming endpapers, and some of the white off-cuts became The Pillowbooks.

It's a devilishly hard work to document, because the back piece is clean-embossed and standing, which means that the light is never right for a photograph. The front piece lays flat, which also makes it hard to get a good clear shot at the same time as the back piece.

So I'll describe them to you: The Pillowbooks is a set of two concertina book-structures containing the same piece of text. The text is paraphrased from a song called Be My Pillow, by Australian outfit Machine Translations, from the album Happy. This is what the MT website says about the song:
Be My Pillow is about a great love affair between two home-furnishing impersonators.

Yes. Well, right. In fact, it is a full-bodied, multi-layered and heart-smackingly rich paean of yearning that sounds amazing through headphones and that I never get sick of. The words on these sheets of paper are

I was listening to the song one day and it made me think about relationships as pillows: how when you're not in a relationship, you yearn for the comfort and companionship of a lasting relationship, and then when you are in the thick of a comforting long relationship, you can still yearn for the crispness and freshness of a new encounter. And from another angle: being aware that any relationship worth its salt doesn't stay fresh and surprising; it wears in, gets comfortable, becomes old. If it goes past comfortable, becomes lumpy, do you accept that and keep on, or do you look elsewhere? If I stick with the pillow as metaphor here, do you keep the old pillow or buy a new one? Do you freshen up with a new pillow but hold on to the old pillow for sitting up in bed, for support? Do you ever just want to borrow a pillow for a while if you're feeling a bit flat at someone else's house? Is using someone else's pillow wrong? Do you think upgrading is decadent, unfaithful? Do you hate holding on to old things, and prefer making a fresh start every few years? Does the idea of taking off the pillowcase and seeing the pillow stains make you feel queasy? Do you leave pillow maintenance to somebody else?

Pillow books have been described as "a collection of notebooks or notes which have been collated to show a period of someone or something's life."

So here are two 'pillows': one is fresh, white, crisp, stiff, embossed with the words (I used wood type, printed letterpress), folded in one concertina direction so that the first fold is a valley-fold, hand-sewn at one end (like the decorative end of a pillowcase) with crisp unwaxed linen thread that emerges from the thick fluffy paper jauntily. The paper deckle is at the top of the sheet, so the concertina can stand upright.

The other is folded in the opposite direction, mountain-first, and lays horizontal. It has also been embossed with wood-type, but the indented letters have been stained with watercolour, in the colour that pillows go underneath the pillowcases, from pools of drool and seeping hair-grease. The hand-sewn threads at the decorative end are limp and aged (really old: antique Victorian-era cotton, straight from the factory spool!). The paper deckle is at the base of the sheet; it doesn't stand up easily, and is quite unstable when it does.

Old, new. Fresh, used. Permanent, temporary. Loved, rejected. People can have such differing viewpoints about what is necessary, what is important, what they like/dislike/value. All of these thoughts sit in this simple piece of work.

I like the idea of making work that connects with specific pieces of music. So much of what I do and think about is accompanied by a soundtrack in my head, and to make concrete connections with this soundtrack excites me. I think hearing Be My Pillow is important to the reception of this work, but of course it isn't essential. It's an optional enhancement.
no wait
no stay
this will help you
along the way
no love
is lost
and i want you
to be my pillow
(extract from lyrics written by J.Walker)

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ronnie said...

these are gorgeous - just gorgeous... I'm a sucker for high-key, low contrast, textural creations....

Anonymous said...

again, amazing work. I loved reading your story about the life of a pillow. I cart mine every where I go. Uncle Noel has still got his first one from when they got married. It has a pillow protector cover on it. Today is it is 12 years sice Nana Ann past away. The pillows story reminds me that you always have to iron your pillow slips!. I still do as I am terrified she is watching. Love Aunty Lou

Fiona Dempster said...

I love the simplicity of the fold -so honest and effective, as well as the white on white embossing. Thank you for explaining all the little things you thought of - the deckle on the bottom so it isn't stable and so on; I love the little bits that truly make a piece complete.

Thanks too for sharing your 'quiet' piece; most of my favourite art is quiet.

Fiona in Maleny