Interview with Heather Weston May 2004

Recent recipient of an MA in Book Arts from Camberwell College, Ms. Weston draws on her work in the mental health professions in London and uses the book form to explore both emotional experience and psychological structure. Central to her work is the inextricable link between form and content which together " create a narrative that is physical, temporal, and very much about discovery and revelation." Exciting new artist and work!

This is probably a chicken or egg question but which comes to you first – content or structure?

I tend to start with a basic conceptual idea first (sometimes even just a title), so I suppose that's content first, but this basic content then often seems to suggest its own structure simultaneously, or at least elements of a structure. I then like to develop concept and structure pretty much in parallel where possible, although I have to say that I'm probably always led by the structural element because it always seems more insistent. Then I work hard to integrate a coherent textual content which I use to deliver the detail and specifics to the structure. If the structure is right, then the content will evolve a kind of 'fit' without it having to be forced. This is much harder than it sounds and relies on the initial structure being an accurate reflection of the concept. I sometimes go through agonies trying to resolve one or other aspect of the composition that I feel isn't quite fitting.

What kind of workspace do you have?

Well, funny you should ask. I have been working from home since I finished my Masters (Book Art at Camberwell College of Arts, London) in 2000, but have been searching for a studio space for the last eight months, as I've realized that working in isolation is not very conducive to creative development or a healthy working life! So, I have recently been awarded a space in a place called Cockpit Arts (www.cockpitarts.com) in Clerkenwell, London, which is a space housing a collection of artist-makers all working in different areas of the applied arts. I'm very excited about the move and can't wait to get started there. I move in this month.

How did you come to bookmaking?

During my Art Foundation Course at Central Saint Martins, I found myself gravitating towards making book-type structures and objects without really having any awareness that there was a whole world of book art out there. I think that there was an instinctual pull towards books which, for me, satisfied a number of creative urges in one place. Having worked in a psychotherapy environment for a number of years I was aware of a kind of parallel between the structure of the mind and its workings, and the structure of the book and its contents / functions.  I'm a great believer that the objects we create as a society – especially an object as successful and constant as the book reflects something fundamental about the shape of human psychological reality and society. There's a kind of dialogue between form and origin that intrigues me. It was then a small step to start using the book as a vehicle for expressing those realities as I saw them. Interestingly, I found that the process of making books within this frame actually informed my understanding of certain psychological realities, as well as expressing them.  I would know that I was on the right track with a new book if I suddenly learned something from it.

What has been the reaction to your books from your clients and peers?

I've had a very positive reaction to my books, especially in the US, as there seems to be a greater understanding / appreciation / public funding of book art across the Atlantic. There are still many for whom book art is a baffling and confusing medium in some ways, but that is being slowly eroded as the general art-buying public become more book art literate.

Do you use your books in your therapy work?

I worked in the psychotherapy and psychiatric fields but not as a therapist.  My role was usually research and management-based - great perspectives for giving you a 'depth of field' about the work. In the last couple of years, I have completed my move away from psychotherapy towards art, and now work solely as a designer and book artist. Even though I am no longer professionally linked to psychotherapy etc. the field is so fascinating that it will feed me, creatively, forever more. To get back to the question: so far the link between therapy and my books is largely one way - i.e. therapy and psychoanalytic thought inform my books. I have considered their use as therapeutic tools to explore links between feelings, language and the structures within which we acquire our humanness (and the instances where this can go wrong), but still feel I have a lot to learn about how art communicates and particularly how we use objects (as artists and audiences) to help us understand aspects of ourselves.

Which part of bookmaking do you like the most? the least?

Without a doubt, the most rewarding part of making books is the 'giving birth' - that terribly difficult, exhausting and confusing creative process where one gets to nurture an idea from conception to final form (with all the accompanying sweat, blood and tears).  Least favorite is probably the sometime repetitive part of creating the edition once the fireworks have stopped.

When do you find time for bookmaking?

Increasingly, as my profile and sales improve, I have to structure in the time to make books, rather than leaving the making for the gaps in between other work. It has become one of the central parts of my working life (and sometimes my private life). A great pleasure recently was to get a grant for the production of new work.  This allowed me to focus almost exclusively on books for two or three months without having to compromise because of money / time.

Do you have a favorite book?

The inspired 1976 printed reproduction of "246 Little Clouds" by Deiter Roth, where the stick-ons ('clouds') were photographed with a light source that was altered by one degree at a time, page by page, in order to cast a shadow across the stuck-on objects as the sun would have cast it, sunrise to sunset, east to west. I also have a soft spot for "Cover to Cover" by Michael Snow (1975), and "Lost Volume. A Catalogue of Disasters" by Cornelia Parker (1993, Bookworks).  I love books that transport you to another way of thinking outside of the book, and that simply use the book as a tool for a kind of metaphorical shift, moving you from one reality to another. These all happen to be codex books that I feel really exploit the book as metaphor, journey and container.  

 

 

 

 

Who or what have been the influences in your work?

Early on, Susan King could do no wrong ("Treading the Maze" made a great impression on a fledgling mind). And I would say that the above-mentioned books (among many others) have influenced my approach to the page. But now I tend to get my creative cues from life rather than art, although I find inspiration in other people's approaches to their work, particularly disciplines other than book art. I get a lot out of reading about how other people theorize their own work, their own approaches and what makes them tick, whether they're artists, scientists, writers – after all, we are all trying to make sense of the same thing. But I'm just as likely to get an idea from half a line in a song; a book about the social history of skin; a wordplay; or a phrase I've overheard about something completely unrelated to anything else I'm thinking about at the time, but that suddenly seems to hook into a hidden thread of thought – 'the unthought known', as the psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas calls it. Come to think of it, as I'm answering this question, words are clearly a powerful influence and starting point for me. This is perhaps why psychoanalytic thought influences me so much, because, when all's said and done, it is about the transformative power of words and their context. I think it's also important to acknowledge that words also have their catastrophic failings – and that's where artists take up the slack and fill the gap. So, I guess I would have to say psychoanalysis, poetry, music, the human struggle, and social theory: anything or anyone that allows me to feel that I have discovered another small piece of the puzzle. Teaching book art, which I do now at Camberwell (co-teaching with Karen Bleitz from Circle Press), is also an important influence, as you are forced to understand your material before imparting it to others. Without this process you can get awfully lazy about articulating and understanding exactly what it is that the book does.

Have you taken classes in bookmaking? Where? What classes were the most influential?

Most of my actual bookmaking classes were during my Masters at Camberwell, although I have to say that I only really wanted to learn the basics in terms of binding – I didn't want to get to a situation where there was a 'right 'and a 'wrong' way of doing things ­ I find it tends to restrict rather than enable.  The most influential book art classes were those that were concerned with structure and how expressive you can be without words, narratives, images.  If you use the book's structure as the central tool of communication, you are harnessing the most powerful aspect of the book and one that can speak to the reader instinctively, unconsciously and bodily, whereas text and image have to go in via the interpreting mind.

You used Classic imposition in  "Bound"; where did you learn this technique?

The imposition I used for "Bound" was based on the classic way a single sheet of paper is printed, folded, cut and bound to make a simple single-section pamphlet. Many printmakers and those in the printing industry are probably familiar with this. However, in "Bound", the process is corrupted and the text laid out as if will remain a single A4 sheet, never to become a book. The sheet however, is cut, folded and bound anyway, despite its unsuitable layout. The result is then a fragmenting of the tex t – the impositional 'key' (debossed on the covers of the two books) is then vital in solving the riddle that the inappropriate binding process has imposed upon the original sheet.  I am aware that it is a complex book and one that requires the reader to work hard with it. "Bound" is essentially a comment about co-dependence being a product of a lack of preparedness for adulthood (for various reasons that the text explores), and the confused, fragmented and imprisoned mental state this can ensue. The 'merger' that is necessary between the two books in order to read the full text is paradoxically frustrating, disorientating and rewarding, as it is in its human equivalent.

Did you make the paper for "A Diction" or just happen on it?

No, this is a paper that is made by Gmund that I came across during my Masters. When working on "A Diction" I suddenly remembered it and it just seemed to be perfect in view of the alcoholic content (no pun intended) of the book ­ the paper is made from hops, malt, yeast and the remains of beer labels. It seemed to give the book a kind of material coherence that I wouldn't have got from normal pulped paper, though you don't necessarily need to know that to understand the book.

Does the paper in "Read" retain its blushing ability for the life of the book? Or, does it dissipate over time?

I have been assured that blushing is a life-long affliction for the paper (it's actually the ink that blushes and not the paper. The red heat-sensitive ink is screen-printed on to white paper which has the small pink subtext already on it). But if it does deteriorates, do let me know!  

And, finally, what projects do you have in the works?

I have recently been working with two other artists who I was at Camberwell with (Emily Artinian and Lin Charlston), working collectively as 'Faction'. Although we work specifically on our own projects, we do so in the context of common themes, sometimes working towards a shared exhibition. I find that working alongside other people allows a kind of cross-fertilization of ideas and energy, and is a great motivating influence. Specifically, at the moment we are considering touring a recent exhibition ("Constructing Reality") and also mulling over possible themes for new work both collectively and individually.

Oops, one more question – If you were a book, what structure would you be?

The last question you've asked is one I ask my students, and now I realise what a difficult one it is! But here goes.....
I feel as though I might be better off drawing this answer rather than verbalising it! I quite like the idea of book-as-portrait and have to admit to there being an element of me in all my books - so perhaps their structures all reflect me in particular ways. But if I had to choose a single structure it would have to involve a concertina bind of some sort, perhaps two-sided, with both faces of the page, back and front, being part of the narrative. The back edge of the spine would fasten/lock/bind, so as a result there is only one face of the concertina immediately and openly readable, like a codex. The other side would be rendered private and obscure by the bind ­ and you might altogether miss it if you weren't alert to it. This second narrative would be quite a struggle to access, but accessible nonetheless. I suspect that everyone could relate to this structure on some level, but I must say I envy the people who are straight-forward codexes!

 

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