Tuesday 5 December was a very special night for the Centre for Material Texts, celebrating The Object of our Affection, the fantastic book created by local book artist Angie Butler, as the culmination of nearly a year of thinking about Making Books in Bristol.
As co-director of the Centre Jenny Batt explains, “as academics, we are trained to read books as material objects. Our work seeks to investigate those books, and the marks they contain, in order to reveal how they came into being, and how they were read; from that, we seek to explore what that might reveal about the creative cultures that produced and used those objects”. From here we developed the idea of a series of lunchtime workshops, Making Books in Bristol, and decided to invite a local book artist to create a response to what we learned and discussed in book form. If you attended any of those talks, you would have been part of those conversations about books: we asked the audience, at the end of each talk, to fill out a questionnaire. Those questionnaires have fed directly into the book. Jenny notes, “Making books is a collaborative process, and one of the really rich things about the work that Angie has done is how she’s embedded that, at every level, into this book that she has made”. We are all completely thrilled by the book she has produced.
Angie took us page by page through The Object of our Affection, showing how she played with the different parts of a book such as the flyleaf (featuring a fly) and the table of contents (featuring a dinning table). From the first pages, the collaborative nature of the project is clear, not only in the inspiration Angie took from our lunchtime workshops, but also her connections with other local artists and bookmakers. The book was bound by Rachel James from Bristol Bound, a regular collaborator of Angie’s, who also provided the beautiful Douglass Cockerell endpapers. The frontispiece is a wood engraving by Ben Goodman, adding a touch of tradition to the book. Angie even borrowed the type from the Gloucestershire-based Whittington Press.
The book brings together handwriting and type, as well as papers of varying thicknesses and textures, and fragments from other local printing projects. It is a reminder of the book as a physical object, the labour which goes in to making it, and the ways in which the visual and tactile can affect readers. Other inserts in the book include a foldable page printed by Rhiannon and Jenny, and a letterpress printed poster designed with Jim Smith, a local book and print designer who attended all of the Making Books in Bristol talks.
One of our favourite pages is what we call the ‘mistakes’ page. As a quote from Richard Jones’ talk, it reflects Angie’s interest in how involved and hands-on the local publishers are. For us at the Centre for Material Texts, it also reminds us not to read too much into certain aspects of books as conscious decisions.
After Angie took us through the book, she introduced Rachel James and Ben Goodman, who both again demonstrated just how much skilled work goes into the various different aspects of print and book-making. Rachel shared pictures of hand-sewing the binding of The Object of our Affection, while Ben showed a video of him creating a wood engraving.
The night ended with Rhiannon Daniels’ talking about the project from the point of view of the Centre for Material Texts. She noted, “From the beginning, we envisaged the project as a way of opening new conversations. But we also didn’t know whether anyone else would want to have those conversations with us. The book is a wonderful reminder of the way in which books are a touchstone for shared passions and experiences”.
As well as a beautiful work of art, The Object of our Affection speaks to our academic interests. Rhiannon highlighted the parallels between Angie’s book and Gerard Genette’s Paratexts, a seminal academic text about the form and function of the parts of the book, which continues to be used by book historians and very much informs our research. “The analogues between Angie’s book and Genette’s are a nice illustration of the ways in which creative practice and academic discourse can meet in the physical book. Our languages may be different, but it is relatively easy to translate from one to the other”.
If you missed the launch but would like to learn more about the book and the process behind it, please visit our free exhibition in the foyer of Beacon House, which runs until the end of February 2018.