Dianne Fogwell: Why the Artists’ Book? / The Gene Pool 2000

Catalogue title: Love Letter to Gutenberg: International Students’ Competition for the Gutenberg Year 2000
Catalogue Essay Titles: Why the Artist’s Book? and The Gene Pool
Author: Dianne Fogwell
Publication details: Germany, Kehrer Verlag Heidelberg, 2000
© all rights reserved by the author

The artist’s book is a place where consciously or unconsciously, moments and metaphors are frozen in architecture. A space where artists from different disciplines can be in dialogue, developing a new rapport with image and text. Words may consist of cast paper or glass, be reconstructed alphabets or prose from Baudelaire, Rimbaud or a surrealist manifesto hand set in hot metal type. A place where documentation and aesthetic appreciation enhance and corroborate each other; for the theorists, truth and beauty or gender politics can be interrogated: all can be discussed or visualised in an artist’s book. The universe of poet and painter stand alongside each other and the sculptor embosses the papermaker’s page. There is a freedom to move wherever words may lead you and there is the golden mean to restrain you. A book object can refuse you entry to its pages and you can cast poetry out of concrete. The artist may confirm Nietzsche’s demand for a ‘revaluation of all values’ and disagree with Sartre when he states that ‘Our radical freedom becomes bound to a radical responsibility’. We want the journey of our commonplace reality lurking within the contexts of metamorphosis, juxtaposition and assemblages. The artist’s book exists, because we need it.


The Gene Pool, 2000

I have just competed an artist’s book that has been 12 years in the making. I attempted the concept in 1987 as a series of oil paintings of the subject matter and again in 1992 as a series of etchings. In 1996 I sang another set of lyrics with a jazz combo. Sequentially throughout the years, conversations of the subjects have been digested and in 1999 they were formally recorded. Through the years I have been fascinated at the ability of the subject’s faces to reveal so much of the politics of their lives and I have attempted formal artistic renderings in pencil and paint. In 1999 it was the camera that was so accurate in unveiling the truths. In January 2000 that concept has found its form, a space where text, songs and image are all part of the other; that space is the artist’s book.

This artist’s book, titled The Gene Pool, is composed of 96 pages of handset text, has 15 aquatints and a digital audio compact disk. There is a limited edition of ten copies, five of these copies will be filed away in a public library or gallery collection only to be read and heard by a few, though with the merging of technologies, the concept and information will be available to many. There is a limited edition of 50, in compact form reproduced through offset printing and audio duplication. Then it’s a small step for the book to be scanned to CD-ROM for a larger edition to be available for commercial distribution as a double CD of digital information.[1] This information will then be placed onto the distributor’s web page for unlimited access to those who are interested and computer literate. So, why start with an artist’s book and end with pixels and at which stage had I finally completed the process?

The answer is that the artist’s book embraced the soul of the concept, allowing me, an artist whose discipline is in print and voice to bring together all the elements and place them in a space where they can co-exist. When I held the first completed book in my hands, I realised I had finally finished the journey. The perspex slipcase released the book; the spine let the architecture of the pages set the stage and the choice of cloth hinted to what was to come. At that point I could see the images immersing and transforming the text. Through the vocal arrangements, the lyrics, set against the depth of a double bass or a resonator guitar, shifted the conversations to form an image of the subjects, unveiling one by one their complex and intriguing forms. The choice of font made sense of the poetics of the text and the typography was deep and impressed. The choice of paper lifted the aquatints to give softness needed for that first impression for the reader, revealing something sensuous behind the mere look of the subjects. After that first experience, it is a matter of economics and curiosity as to the unlimited distribution possibilities.

As a teacher, I understand that creative minds have to listen to their hearts and speak the words of their conscience. The visual means can be taught with collaboration and an aptitude to achieve the necessary skills. With vision and talent the student will eventually know the critical moment when they have given credibility to their concept. Understanding the importance of invention and not to be burdened by an affiliation to any tradition — modernity or antiquity — a student whiose primary discipline is glass can create an artist’s book that stands alongside their major glass sculptures. When a poem haunts you, or an image of a tortured child provokes you to speak out on human rights, then there is no prerequisite of a particular discipline needed. The concerns are the same no matter your visual language. The artist’s book gives the artist the opportunity for dialogue in many forms: unique copy, limited edition deluxe, photocopy, mass-produced offset; handmade linen paper, made of concrete or concrete poetry; even a virtual journey. It is the integrity behind the concept that keeps you focused enough to bring together the necessary ingredients of talent, rigour, patience and skill.

The architect Frank Lloyd Wright states that ‘whether people are fully conscious of this or not, they actually derive countenance and sustenance from the “atmosphere” of the things they live in or with, they are rooted in them just as a plant is in the soil in which it is planted.’  The Australian National University’s Edition + Artist Book Studio is located on the top floor of the Canberra School of Art and is a centre for the artist’s book within the broader community of the university. Students from all the disciplines can do honours or postgraduate studies alongside invited professionals who participate in the research program of the studio. The space is designed to be a conceptual breathing ground, a nexus for those who wish to study or probe the form of the artist’s book. [2]


[1] Dianne Fogwell, The Gene Pool, Canberra ACT, 2000. Introductory essay written by Merryn Gates.

[2] The E+ABS ran as an individual and separate Studio within the ANU School of Art from 1993 to 2005. It has since been integrated into the Printmedia & Drawing Workshop as a teaching space and no longer runs external projects.


About the Artist

Dianne Fogwell has been an exhibiting artist since 1979. She had a successful career as a master printmaker, producing over 200 editions for prominent Australian artists including Jason Benjamin, Margaret Olley and Robin Wallace-Crabbe. Through her long association with the ANU School of Art and her other endeavours, Fogwell is one of the most respected printmakers and artists book practitioners in the country. Fogwell first attended the Canberra School of Art as a student in 1980, and progressed to studio assistant 1981–82, lecturer in printmaking and foundation studies 1981–84, lecturer and acting head of the Graphic Investigation Workshop 1985–1989, and 1992, and lastly the lecturer in charge of the Edition + Artists Book Studio, ANU School of Art, 1993–2004. She was the co-founder of the successful Studio One print workshop with Meg Buchanan, and Founder/Director of the Criterion Press and Fine Art Gallery. An invited artist to international biennials for print and the artist book in Poland, Belgium, Belgrade, France, London and most recently Korea. Her work is represented in national and international collections. Her involvement in print collaboration with visual artists, musicians and writers spans two decades and she has curated a number of major exhibitions in the field of print and book.