Graduate Creates Book Art
Masters in Fine Art graduate Ms Phillipa Haskins saw her research topic materialise when she attended a bookbinding workshop hosted by book artist Estelle Liebenberg-Barkhuizen in 2011.
‘This was my introduction to the artist’s book which I found to be a fascinating topic and one which had hardly been researched in South Africa,’ she said.
Her research essentially centres on the question: What is an artist’s book? ‘These works are often difficult to classify as they can be seen as both book and art. My dissertation investigates the classification of artists’ books based on the qualities they possess as works of art as well as the intimate engagement required by the reader in order to experience such works in their entirety.’
According to Haskins, among the qualities investigated are intimacy through the use of novelty devices, haptics, text, narrative and concrete systems, space, and shape. These qualities are exemplified through works by Liebenberg-Barkhuizen and Cheryl Penn.
Haskins believes her research will benefit society and contribute to the Humanities.
‘There is a definite research gap to be found in the book arts, so my research will assist future scholars. The book arts are a relatively new “sphere” of art that is gaining popularity in South Africa and because of its ambiguity there is great opportunity for innovation.
‘Anybody can make an artist’s book and in any materials they choose but only if they are aware of the existence of book arts and the self-expression these works allow. There are definite therapeutic possibilities in the book arts - artists’ books often serve as journals and are in some cases introspective,’ she explained.
The idea for her works began when she loaned a book from the Cecil Renaud Library that had last been stamped in 1975. This affected Haskins quite profoundly and she began to look at the idea of books losing their value as the information in them became outdated.
‘With information so readily available online, books are quickly becoming shelved and forgotten in second-hand stores. All of the works are made of books that I purchased for anything between R2 and R20. They are sculptural, slightly whimsical pieces in which I have used birds, rats, and forest scenes to represent the “decay” of book knowledge, and the abandon and neglect of something once valued.’
Her dissertation is published on the website Artists’ Books in South Africa, which is maintained by David Paton. http://www.theartistsbook.org.za/ This website aims to make research, which can often remain “hidden” within institutions, available to the public.
Haskins expressed her immense gratitude to her supervisor Ms Faye Spencer and the Centre for Visual Art.
She is currently employed at Zimele Developing Community Self-Reliance as a product developer and trainer. The craft programme works with over 100 women in rural communities around KwaZulu-Natal http://www.zimelecommunity.co.za/
- Melissa Mungroo