Sheffield International Artist’s Book Prize 2015: Why You Should Go

By October 19, 2015



If you’re looking for something a bit different from the usual gallery experience, Bank Street Arts current exhibition of over two hundred books submitted for the Sheffield International Artist’s Book Prize 2015 may be exactly what you’ve been searching for.

Back in 2008, organisers at Bank Street Arts found themselves wanting to promote a closer, more immersive experience with an artist’s work. There was a desire to develop a way of engaging the public with art in a deeper and potentially more enriching way than could be achieved in the usual gallery format.

Inspired by the Leeds Artists’ Book Fair held the same year, the founders welcomed submissions with one criteria: that they were books as art. All too often we see the book as a vessel for art, reading about works, examining the methods of artists. This was not that. The prize is instead a celebration of the book as the art object itself, yet one that allows the public to interact with it, read it, spend time with it.

At the end of the exhibition, those who had viewed the books were encouraged to vote for their favourite, and thus the winner was chosen. Out of fifty entries, Katherine Johnson’s Make was chosen, a small knitted book dealing with the artistic process, an object that commented on its own manufacture. Along with the cash prize the winner receives, Johnson became a regular collaborator and exhibitor at Bank Streets Arts, cementing the importance of the prize in fostering sustainability and building an artistic community.

Whilst artists are encouraged to donate their works to the collection at Bank Street Arts, Johnson’s was acquired by the Centre for Fine Print Research, and 2011 winner Claire Tindale’s Memory Loss was bought by representatives from the Tate. The impact of the Book Prize on the international artistic landscape is undeniable, and growing more apparent every year.

The growing stature of the prize meant that multiple prizes were added in its second year, including jury and student awards, and the decision was made to turn it into a biennial event. 2013 saw submissions increase to over 450 works, from 35 different countries (for comparison, 2011 received 170 submissions), including a piece from the 2013 Turner Prize Winner.

And yet, progress does not stop. Every time it is held the prize adapts to the evolving cultural climate. For example, for the first time, pieces submitted this year were done so digitally. In response to audience and organiser feedback, a smaller number of shortlisted books have been put on display, avoiding the overwhelming feeling of seeing too many works at once. However, the centrepiece of the prize, the audience voting that ensures the event retains its inclusive and open atmosphere, is still very much in place. The exhibition also serves as the highlight of a larger exploration of book arts, part of a three month festival held by Bank Street Arts.

Sheffield International Artist’s Book Prize 2015 is being exhibited at Bank Street Arts from Wednesday 7th-31st Oct 2015.