It is rare for a contemporary design gallery to open an exhibition of pre-1900 books, but in November 2013 we did just that. The Aram Gallery is a non-commercial space for the exhibition of contemporary design. Our exhibitions usually focus on displaying the work of emerging designers with specific emphasis on the experimental and the new. In Readable Objects our latest exhibition, we shift attention and home in, very specifically, on one element of experimentation - experimentation in conservation.
Readable Objects shows the work of international bookbinding collective, Tomorrow’s Past, who work in the conservation of damaged books. Whilst the group is vast and sprawling, here we show the work of nine - Kathy Abbott (UK), Carmencho Arregui (IT), Cristina Balbiano d’Aramengo (IT), Sun Evrard (FR), Charles Gledhill (UK), Katinka Keus (NL), Peter Jones (UK), Jen Lindsay (UK), Tracey Rowledge (UK).
As a group, their goal is neither to imitate and by association disguise the repair work they do, nor to copy the aesthetic style of a book's origins, but to conserve, and to do so with the utmost care.
In Readable Objects each constituent shows between two and five bindings describing an experimental approach to repair. As each maintains a bookbinding profession outside their Tomorrow’s Past work, these experimental pieces utilise and build on that skill set. However one can clearly see from these works a group of binders letting their hair down, doing some very unexpected things within the conventions of their discipline.
Kathy Abbott for example gives us bright blue colouring on the damaged boards of Sacred Dramas, Hannah More (c. 1818), 2013; Charles Gledhill introduces polyester sheet within the process of binding, most visible perhaps in The Excommunicated Prince, William Bedloe (1679), 2008 where it is laminated to Japanese tissue; Peter Jones creates a long lost cover from sheet acrylic in English Bards (1823), 2009; and Tracey Rowledge offers a most contemporary geometric patterning of moongold leaf pyramids along the spine of Imperatoris Iustiniani Institutionum Libri IIII (1625), 2013.
This unique fusing of the old and new is an inviting idea for a non-bookbinding audience such as ours. To further help the public grasp the ideas which informed the practices of each maker, I asked each participant to nominate a contextual object: something they had acquired, not made, which inspired their design decisions. Of particular note is Jen Lindsay’s nomination, the revivification of The Neues Museum, Berlin by David Chipperfield Architects from 1997 – 2008. In this architectural restoration the bomb damaged existing building is respected, with the addition of new tonally similar elements. A harmonious fusion of historic and contemporary, which allows both parts to breath, is exactly the effect Lindsay achieves in her conservation of Certain Sermons or Homilies Appointed to be Read in Churches (1673), 2013 and so is a fitting selection.
Readable Objects is the second in the Beautiful Objects series at The Aram Gallery. The first exhibition which opened at the same time in 2012, dealt exclusively with jewellery. It, as this show does, included an interview with each participant in an attempt to unpick how these makers do what they do. This revelation of process is what The Aram Gallery strives to provide in all our exhibitions. We hope a varied audience will respond positively to this latest offering.