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Booknesses: Contemporary South African Artists' Books is an important element within the set of activities which constitute the broader Booknesses project.

This exhibition runs parallel to the international colloquium Booknesses: Taking Stock of the Book Arts in South Africa and the exhibition Booknesses: Artists' Books from the Jack Ginsberg Collection.

We, in South Africa, are extremely privileged to have access to Jack's remarkable collection through the selection of books seen on show at our sister galley, the UJ Art Gallery.

However, within this august company, the aim of the project is to bring South African book artists, designers, papermakers, bookbinders, teachers, academics and interested members of the public together for the first time to share their passion for the artist's book.

In this regard, the call for bookworks for Booknesses: Contemporary South African Artists' Books, exhibited here in the FADA Gallery, was specifically broad and open to anyone whose recent work displays the following criteria:

  • A high degree of craftsmanship and production values
  • Exploration and development of the thematics of Bookness or unpacks elements of book structure and materiality
  • Demonstrates discernible and visible content and is not simply a folio of images
  • May be in conventional or unconventional book form (codex, leporello, scroll, folio, gatefold, digital etc.)

The resulting exhibition is testimony to the enthusiasm which both young and mature South African artists bring to the book-as-artwork. In the hands of these artists, the book continues to be a site of interrogation, wonder, nostalgia, contemporary modes of communication, socio-political commentary, identity formation as well as personal introspection.

The diversity of bookworks evident on this exhibition: from sculptural one-of-a-kind objects, through more conventional forms of the codex, to digital and video-based work, speaks to the vigour of the field in this country. Notwithstanding the changes wrought upon the haptic, material book in these local artists' hands, the idea of the book as a vital cultural and artistic form proves to be as rich as in any other place on the planet at present.

Through the aims of the Booknesses project and this exhibition in particular, we are confident that the book arts in South Africa is not only dynamic, vibrant and alive but also demonstrates that, in a digital world, the idea of what a book is and means is as vital as when the Chinese and Johannes Gutenberg first explored movable type as a means to communicate more effectively and richly.

Thus the idea of a book's 'nesses' - its possible meanings and impacts - frames this exhibition and the broader endeavours of the Booknesses project.

David Paton
Booknesses Project Director
March 2017

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