The Suitcase Library
Originating from hours of coffee drinking and pondering over how best to present books in a gallery environment, the Suitcase Library was born. Some time ago at a poetry evening organised by Tangerine Press I was selling copies of Fire Island, a small book of poems I had just released by the writer Joseph Ridgwell. While I was selling books out of a carrier bag, there was a young gentleman who was selling books out of a suitcase with a hand printed sign to boot. Blackheath Books was the press and the clever little suitcase shop was part of the inspiration for the library.
I remembered having seen Marcel Duchamp's miniature galleries where he produced small replicas of his work and this was another key inspiration. I realised that in order to stop the books from just sitting on a table or a shelf you needed to make them part of the exhibition in their own right, so I came upon the idea of an exhibition within an exhibition. What better way to do that, I thought, than to build a miniature library.
Having sat down with the ONCA Gallery they kindly gave me space in their exhibition 'Making Tracks.' The Gallery helps raise funding and awareness for various conservation projects around the world, and for this particular project it was all about, well, making tracks.
Before anything could begin on filling the library, we needed a library. I worked on a set of blueprints, located a well loved 1950s suitcase (with wood veneer interior) and then I approached the one man who I knew could turn my dreams into reality- Master Carpenter, Mr Ian Burniston. Also the man who taught me how to shoot pool. He built shelves, turned brass railings, stained wood and, most importantly, followed my direction.
I wanted the piece to be a collaboration and so I approached various writers, artists and small presses to join the library. On the small press front I was honoured to obtain the involvement of two of America's finest exponents of handmade books, Bottle of Smoke Press and X-Ray Book Co. Bottle of Smoke produced a book by the poet and author David Barker, X-Ray Book Co. produced a book by musician, artist and writer Dan Melchior as well as a Letterpress Printed luggage tag by Johnny Brewton, and Pig Ear Press produced a book by poet and artist Hosho McCreesh.
Alongside these books there were also miniature sketch books which were filled by artists to the theme of the exhibition. The artists included: Tiffany Lynch, Mister Cuss, Daryl Bennett, Louise Hinman, Nomi McLeod, Perdita Sinclair, Sue Craig, Nick Hunt andEdwina Roberts. To compliment the involvement of professional practicioners I wanted to involve local children somehow, to get them their first exhibition and perhaps inspire them to become artists. Therefore, I approached my daughter's primary school Downs Infants, and they were kind enough to arrange for 29 four and five year olds to complete a specially produced miniature sketchbook- the results were diverse, funny, and something they could all be proud of.
Finally, there were the 'Bottle of Broadsides' produced by Pig Ear Press. These were miniature glass bottles assembled with a Letterpress Printed label, tag, message in a bottle, and stopper poem. The poets involved in this piece were Nancy Campbell, Father Luke, Harry Calhoun and Emma Brown John.
The exhibition ran from 5th July to 15th September 2013 and the library was according to many the star of the show. One day in the future we would love to exhibit the library again, but for now I want to say an enormous thank you to everyone involved in bringing the library to life and bringing a smile to many peoples' faces.