‘PAGES’, Leeds International Contemporary Artists’ Book Fair, was held for the first time this year in The Tetley, the brand new contemporary art space created from the old Tetley brewery headquarters, a beautiful art deco building that has been lovingly preserved and reinterpreted as a platform for supporting artist development and learning. The Book Fair originated at Dean Clough Gallery in Halifax in 1998 and since then has gone through various developments before transferring to the University of Leeds in 2007 when ‘PAGES’ Project was created, an all-embracing programme which includes workshops, exhibitions, publications, commissioned book works, performance works, and the annual Book Fair. 

Project ‘PAGES’ seeks to provide wide-ranging possibilities for the development and understanding of the book as a prime medium in artistic practice. The book object can take on many forms, both as a functional item and as a pleasurable object, intended for expression, collection or simply as a beautifully made thing. It is here that the book takes on a life of its own, and begins to raise questions about our fascination with it, our desire to have it, and why this is important. The artists’ book is a manifestation and an alliance between the functioning simplicity of the book object and the use of this to express artistic practise. The book then becomes a piece of art in itself, however it is an accessible one, instantaneous and personal in its exchange of ideas and connections with the viewer.

The theme for this years’ Book Fair was archive and office, stationery and document which suited the venue of the Tetley as the former brewery office and headquarters. The renovation of the building has preserved the original layout, creating a space of intrigue as various doors and stairways invite you to explore the building for yourself, in contrast to the expected open plan white space of a stereotypical gallery. This worked for the format of the Book Fair creating an informal, comfortable, friendly space to discover the various stalls and happenings on offer. The Tetley was filled for three days with original objects, made with honesty and integrity from national and international makers and lovers of artists’ books. The scope of innovative talent ensured there was something for everyone; student collaborations from the Fine Art and Art and Design courses at Leeds University to well established northern artists such as Victoria Lucas and John Mcdowall.

What sets the Book Fair apart from the stereotypical gallery exhibition is that the artist, the maker of the work, is present. The audience comes face to face with the creator of the work, and furthermore, the creators of the works come face to face with each other and the audience. It is this engagement between artist and viewer which creates a unique and important exchange, what emerges from this is a melting pot of ideas, thought processors, support, and sharing of positivity.

The general way to network and interact in this present day is usually through technology, faceless exchanging of emails, impersonal texts and social networking. There has developed a sense that having an online presence and networking almost ‘artificially’ is ultimately the most important thing for an artist in terms of getting their work out there and seen. There is no doubt that it certainly plays a massive role, but as the three days at the Tetley proved, it can never really be as good as the real thing, a real life conversation. It is the development of this conversation that is ultimately facilitated by events like ‘PAGES’ and is ever more influential and essential.

Zoe Carlon

Filed under: Written & Spoken Word