BDS Supports Artists’ Books Archive

An artists’ book archive, the result of an exhibition entitled “Place, Identity, Memory”, received support from BDS with the purchase of a display cabinet for the unique collection.

“The archive is a very valuable record of an event that so many people enjoyed,” comments Linda Mallett, one of the organisers of the original exhibition, “and it is much more than that now we have a place to show it to the public. It is a survey of the artists’ book at the beginning of the 21st century, a culturally diverse, challenging and beautiful exhibition for the public to enjoy and, like the exhibition that preceded it, a profound meditation on place, identity and memory.”

Over 200 works featured in the original exhibition, 75 of which were eventually donated by artists to form an archive drawn from the highly successful show.

The display case, purchased by BDS and donated to for the purpose of displaying rotating display, is sited in the Crichton Library in Dumfries and Galloway College which is situated in the same grounds as BDS itself. The contents will be available to view by students and members of the public alike. A storage area in the cabinet will house any books not on show at the time, so the whole archive can be collected in one place. The display will be changed regularly to show all 75 works over time.

“When Iris came to BDS with its proposal I had little hesitation in endorsing it,” says Lesley Whyte. “BDS supports the culture of the book in all its manifestations and it gives me particular pleasure to support an area of publishing that many of our clients may not readily associate with our company. Artists’ books have very short print runs or are unique; their history goes back to before the invention of commercial printing. Like all books they communicate an individual’s vision in an original and inspiring manner but do so through the materials used to make the book as much as their literary content.”

“We are delighted to host such a magnificent collection,” says Avril Goodwin, Head Librarian at the Crichton Library which is based in Dumfries and Galloway College and also serves the universities of Glasgow and West of Scotland. "Libraries are about the culture of the book in all it possibilities: printed, handmade and electronic. We hope the public enjoy visiting these unique works.”

To find out about visiting the collection, go to

Artists’ Books – a brief history

Art and books have always been associated. Since the days of medieval illuminated manuscripts, art has featured on pages, illuminating them, commenting on the stories, adding visual stimulation. Indeed, in the days before the commercial printing press, it could be argued that every book was a unique art object, even the hand-written text had a uniqueness that industrial reproduction negated, and the whole process was painstaking and slow, so much so that books were a very valuable commodity in the medieval world.

However, what we today call the artist’s book is something akin to but in many ways opposed to what we know today as the book – what we borrow from libraries or purchase in our local bookshop. The artist’s book starts from first principles and rebuilds the idea of what makes a book.

The first modern artist’s book was probably William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience which the poet and artist, with his wife Catherine, wrote, illustrated, printed, coloured and bound.

Significant here is Blake’s message as much as his method. The idealistic revolt against materialist industrialism is reflected in Blake’s writing and his rejection of mass-produced printing. This is an ideological trend that continues to this day.

In the twentieth century the artist’s book became a platform for modernism. The Futurists in Italy and Russia, the Dadaists and Surrealists adopted the form with zeal. Artists such as Matisse revelled in their possibilities. The merging of experiment with words and language with images, derived from either the avant-garde art world or the rapidly expanding medium of photography, proved ideal for artists who were either idealistically looking to a new world order or disillusioned with a world sunk in war and materialism.

One result was the questioning of the nature of the book itself – a questioning we can see in this archive. The uniqueness of methods of production and of content seen in “Place, Identity, Memory” sets itself against the mass production of best-sellers which are written to conform to the expectations of a genre. However, these works are definitely books, no doubt about it, and as such force us to ask questions about the medium and its potential and resources.

It is interesting to take note of these thought-provoking works at the same time as the conventional book is being radically questioned from another quarter – the e-book which does away with the mass-production of paper volumes in favour of one infinitely repeatable, readily transferable digital edition. The concept of the book is at the heart of our culture more than ever but its manifestations seem more flexible and varied.