Interview with Artist Jeni McConnell about Artist’s Books

The last six months has been great for meeting artists and talking to them about their work. Jeni McConnell is another British Artist I’ve exhibited with but haven’t had the chance to meet yet. She also shared a table with Art Byte Critique at the Tokyo Art Book Fair-Ginza Edition on the weekend of March 8th. It was lots of fun to watch people pick up and enjoy Jeni’s books.  In this interview she talks about her why she makes art books and her creative process.

How long have your been making art books?
Since 2007 when I took the 2 nd year print module during my Fine Art BA. The print tutor, Michelle Rowley, was (and still is) an amazing teacher, print artist and artists’ book maker. She introduced us to the form of the artists’ book and took us to see the special collection at MMU in Manchester, England https://www.specialcollections.mmu.ac.uk/artists.php. As a student group we began to show and sell our work at artists’ book fairs in Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and London, which I continued after leaving college.

Why do you like making books?
I have long loved books as objects to be held, read and treasured. Sometimes, the fustier and yellowed, dusty and battered, the better the book feels as a weight in my hand. It’s as if the passing years add to the heaviness. I developed a passion for making artists’ books and altering existing books as a natural way of
extending and exploring this sense I have of the book as a form. The contact of marks connected to the papery surface, images that flex with words to take the reader or viewer to another place, on a journey, through an experience. I love to explore ways of presenting my thoughts in this wide ranging form, often conceptually. The process adds a rich layer of meaning to my other creative
forms of expression.

What do you like about making books compared to other forms of expression?
The book form is something that can be handled, explored, moved and touched which adds another layer of experience for those who interact. It is so much more than just looking, it takes you on a journey, gently leading you through the pages.
Many of my books will also have a container, box, or wrapper to hold the book form as a key part of the work. I love this way of making the readers’ explorational journey to get to the book a part of the experience.
There’s also a sense of freedom that you can explore in the order you wish; I am left handed so I think I explore books slightly differently because of my dexterity skill balance – tending to open and explore books from the back page first!

Do you have a favourite method or technique to make books?
I tend to stick to simple book forms, concertina and other folded shapes. I also make boxes and containers to place them in. For me it is so important that every part of the book form expresses the message, or responds to the theme I am working with. I often play around with small pieces of paper and different folds as well as with the images and words – there’s so much more trial and error in
the recycling bin than you might imagine for what at first look like such simple final forms!

What method of making books do you want to try next?
An altered book: I have an old book that I used to press some collected plants and weeds from a desire line walk I did a few years ago. I’ve removed the old battered pages of the book and kept the book cover and spine in tact – I now need to work out how I connect the pressed plants with the book frame in such a way that it conveys the message I want with the right aesthetic. I have been thinking about this for far too long – should I just get on with it?

What was the biggest challenge in making your book?

How Will This End by Jeni McConnell

How will this end is formed of inkjet printed A4 recycled paper sheets, cut, folded and glued to form a single concertina book. Getting the images cropped for printing and making sure the folds of the paper were level and even was key to the final piece. Thinking back further, it was also a bit of a challenge to get the plastic sea creatures covered in gold leaf, making sure their breathing/eating areas were kept clear – but it was a key part of the work.

Looking forward, I was unsure whether people would respond to this book with their own words and images, which the separate small cards were provided for. To date I’ve had no replies, but maybe people are still figuring out how to respond. I’ve done this in Europe with ‘Talking with Strangers, 2009″ and had quite a good response. Perhaps I need to explore and understand more about our
cultural differences – but even the silence is compelling for me to respond creatively!

Do you have any favorite book artists?
Elizabeth Shorrock 
Louise Tett 

Where can people find out more about your work? (Social media etc)
My website: jenimcconnell.com
Facebook
Instagram
Twitter
Tate Library

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