This exhibition was scheduled to coincide with the international multi-disciplinary printmaking conference IMPACT7 2011 hosted by Monash University, Art and Design. The exhibition includes a selection of material held by Monash and books held by Monica Oppen in her own collection.
The Rare Books Collection holds approximately 350 artists' books ranging from the 1930s to the present. It is one of the premier collections of artists' books in Australian academic libraries. In addition to these limited and unique edition works of art, the Rare Books houses the Lyssiotis collection, the archive of Melbourne artist, Peter Lyssiotis.
The exhibition was seen from 28 September - 25 November 2011 at the Rare Books Exhibition space, Level 1, ISB wing, Sir Louis Matheson Library, Clayton campus, Monash University.
The selection of books in this exhibition gravitates around three historical eras:
- 1918-1950; across two world wars,
- 1960-1990; Cold war in a nuclear era: alienation and engagement,
- The current era (1990s to present): imperialism, fundamentalism, democracy, oil and its shadow.
Passing like a ripple through these major conflicts books reflect and comment on society in general and the conditions under which people live and labour. The through lines are: the social alienation of the individual, migrant workers and their work conditions, the treatment of minorities, religious suppression and hypocrisy, and the movement of refugees between nations. Are some of these books focussed on very specific issues rather than a broader perspective? Yes! Some are made in the spirit of direct confrontation. John Hertfield and George Grosz were direct in their attacks on the Nazis and war-time capitalism. Similarly contemporary works have specific targets such as the warmongers, Bush, Howard, Blair, etc. Books can give a voice. And that voice can declaim from the page: 'This is not just!'
The purpose of this exhibition is to promote the book and show how it can function as an artist's space; to promote engagement with the genre both passively (reading and collecting) and actively (designing and making) and to promote a broader understanding of the possibilities within the genre to a wider audience. The books have been selected without any desire of enshrining them as elite or precious objects. The intention was to be democratic, to acknowledge the difference and diversity is part and parcel of equality. This offers a multiplicity that gives the exhibition a dynamism and yet the basic form of the codex still sits at the core of all these books. All the books included here are drawn from the Rare Books Collection, or from my own collection, the Bibliotheca Librorum apud Artificem, Sydney.
Monica Oppen, September 2011
Note: Fuller descriptions are available in Monica Oppen's book, The Silent Scream: political and social comment in books by artists (2011).