By their very nature, artists' books challenge our notions of what a book should look like. They resist definition because they are experimental, expressive mediums, and book artists use all variety of physical and graphic properties to communicate content and purpose. Artists' books are utterly fascinating in their multiplicity of formats, and you may be intrigued by the regular absence of printed text or illustrations. Without pictures and words the viewer naturally looks at the container itself for conceptual meaning. Accordingly, the physical structure becomes a narrative system, and the viewer is invited to search for meaning by unpacking, assembling, or at least considering the various material components. Artists' books invite their viewers to reconsider the practice of reading because the books are physical objects that need to be touched and manipulated in order to better understand them as physical metaphors. Indeed, the experience of paging through a codex book is entirely different from experiencing the metaphoric possibilities of books as artistic structures.
When handling an artist's book or bookwork, please take a moment to consider how ingenious artists have expanded the artistic identity of the book with new standards of production, aesthetic contemplation, and distribution. You will see that book artists purposely transform the concept of a traditional codex book into different structures and components, which explains why artists' books do not always resemble physical books. In fact, many of these books express a point of view without incorporating any visual elements of the traditional codex form; instead, the book artist conceives of the book as a vehicle for artistic discovery, which consequently opens books up to unlimited aesthetic and narrative possibilities.
A useful way to understand artist's books is to think of them as visual literature. Thoughtful artists will communicate content with the book's form, whatever that may be, and the viewer will come to understand the book by experiencing its spatial, aesthetic, and structural characteristics. These highly imaginative books should be touched, examined, shared, and discussed. What makes artists' books so remarkable is their originality and technical innovation, but they also demonstrate that artists are eager to transform traditional book publishing conventions to suit their highly personal ideas about artistic production. Artists' books are very personal because they are inspired by an individual's experience, and the viewer who takes the time to interpret an artist's book will understand that it functions as an extension of the artist's vision.
The collection of artists' books held at the Bruce Peel Special Collections Library is the preeminent collection in Canada, and it continues to grow as books are acquired from North American artists and dealers, and those further afield. The collection is deliberately eclectic and our collecting tastes range from sculptural bookworks of emerging artists to specially commissioned pieces created by established artists. We hope that this exhibition will inspire you to explore the diversity and depth of our collection for years to come. Bruce Peel Library staff members are always delighted to share their knowledge of artists' books, so please feel free to ask questions. If you take the time to request and handle some of the materials, your experience of artists' books will be richer and more rewarding.