Monday, 9 September 2013

Collective responses to Knife Edge Press: The Complete Works (so far) at Cooper Gallery

Below is an ongoing collection of responses, recollections and reviews of Knife Edge Press: The Complete Works (so far) & Invisible Residency written by Cooper Gallery Assistants and audience members.

Knife Edge Press: The Complete Works (so far) & Invisible Residency, showcasing the artists' books of Bruce McLean and Mel Gooding can be visited in Cooper Gallery, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, Dundee until 21 Sept 2013.


Holly Knox Yeoman

Last week I attended the Preview of ‘Knife Edge Press: The Complete Works (So Far)’. The event and exhibition were part of ‘Impact 8 International Printmaking Conference’ held in Dundee, bringing printmakers from across the world together to discuss the historical and creative importance of printmaking as a medium. ‘Knife Edge Press…’ is a collaboration between art writer Mel Gooding and artist Bruce McLean, together they create artists’ books. I previously worked with Bruce in 2011, as part of the Exhibitions DJCAD team, on a large-scale project ‘a comic opera in three-parts’ entitled ‘A Cut A Scratch A Score’ and was intrigued to discover another facet to Bruce’s creative repertoire in a partnership which has spanned nearly three decades.

Knife Edge Press Christmas Card, 1985

An In-Conversation between Mel and Bruce during the preview lured the ‘Impact 8’ delegates from the Prosecco… I mean refreshments into, as reviewer Alex Hetherington puts; ‘a handsome, theatrical and precisely arranged installation’ of the duo’s books and prints in the Cooper Gallery. The two spoke of how this partnership came into being, their meeting in a pub and their continual meetings in a pub, seeming a neutral and apt situation for “enthusing” each other’s ideas. During ‘A Cut A Scratch A Score’ I observed Bruce’s interaction and insistence on discussion with his collaborators in the form of Artist Sam Belinfante, Digital Scenographer David Barnett, Mezzo Soprano Lore Lixenberg and Artist-cum-Dancer Adeline Bourett. Exchanges at times felt fraught, as Bruce’s visual language, combined with three other artists to form a performing, sculptural opera. It was “premiered” across three venues involving local musicians and singers. The Culminating Performance perhaps adhering to the ‘So Far’ quality which the ‘Knife Edge Press’ exhibition represents – an on-going process-led activity weighted by collaborative relationship.

Bruce’s works and collaborations have an air of confidence, punctuated by his iconographic style. I like to think of Bruce as the “original poser”, with no connoted negativities attached, when thinking back to such celebrated works as Pose Work for Plinths 3. Bruce’s visual expressions breakdown historical art practices such as sculpture, performance, printmaking, bookmaking, as well as art history, however, his interpretations of these retain a sense of familiarity, through the incorporation of domesticated motifs and humour which also through colour and shape feel nostalgically synonymous with the decade in which Bruce and Mel’s ‘Knife Edge Press’ was conceived. During this time, as critical practitioners Bruce and Mel were both feeling jaded from the bureaucracy surrounding arts education. The conception of their collaboration was cemented by the de-construction of the publication, viewing it broadly, within the genre of sculpture, disseminating original works of art, for nominal amounts, with democratic style questioning the structuring of institutes.

Bruce McLean, ‘Pose Work for Plinths 3’ 1971
Image from Tate: ‘Pose Work for Plinths 3’ (1971)

Installation Detail

Sophia Hao, Cooper Gallery Curator, and another collaborator of Bruce's since 1997, interviewed the pair in the lead-up to the exhibition, Mel describes how their work came to be identified, explaining how they felt they were on a ‘Knife Edge’. That the creation of publications – systems of folding and splicing for all that it is a historical practice, felt as though through their reorientation with it, was the cusp of something new. The book could envelope their irregular thoughts, correspondence and narratives with the familiarity and verve of Bruce’s iconography whilst acknowledging the need to critique what was happening within the network in which they worked. This is expressed in the work the Invisible Academy, 1992. A school or perhaps better thought of as a call for a school-of-thought, which could be based anywhere perhaps even a “call box on the Edgeware Road”. It would be the stimulus for conversations out-with the structured confinements of an arts education, celebrating self-validation through creativity not through curriculum nor convention. The idea of a prospectus is reformatted into framed, large-scale prints punctuated by erratic use of language, perhaps purposely expressing the irritation which Mel and Bruce were and maybe still are feeling. The use of colour, style and reformatting add, however, a sense of value, that this is not just an urgent means of expression but something which will be re-investigated in the future.

'Invisible Academy 1992'

In-Conversation Bruce voiced his difficulty in accepting the definition of an artist, the reclusiveness of the activity. Expressing that collaboration made his role much easier - the trajectory course ideas and work take naturally through the “explosive goings-ons” that take place when critical creatives, aware of each other’s presence, incidentally get chatting in a pub and decide to develop this occurrence into a series of on-going works. At times, the work, the collaboration, feel tenuous, however, this echoes the Knife’s ‘Edge’ on which their ‘Press’ was founded. This is no more reflected in the ‘Invisible Residency’, with the Residency reduced to a daily email exchange between Mel and Bruce of visual and textual correspondence projected in the Gallery staircase. A re-examination of their experimental collaboration and carefully showcased exhibition, an artwork in itself, ‘The secret of these little works…’ as Mel states in one correspondence, ‘… is that they might go on forever.’ 

Invisible Residency Correspondence: 04-09-2013


Katy Christopher

Knife Edge Press: The Complete Works (so far) is an exhibition showcasing the books and prints created by the artist and writer Bruce Mclean and Mel Gooding. What struck me about this exhibition was how the idea of a book can be adapted to fit whatever is its purpose, in this case an artwork. The exhibition is largely made up of books, which is not normally what you would expect from an art exhibition. However the exhibition plays around with the formal notion of a book. The text and imagery are presented in such a way to create books that are artworks in there own right. Some the books even feature splashes of paint and embossed paper, which combined with the way they are bound and presented create beautiful artworks.
It is the playful approach the duo take towards their work that creates a blurring between artwork and book. There are repeating motifs of potatoes, scones and ladders, that appear in the exhibition, their randomness to the viewer create humour and bewilderment. The meaning of the objects themselves is insignificant in understanding the work, I like to think they stem from past stories in which, the object is all that remains. Their playful nature allows them to move freely between writing and creating art in a way that creates something that is both a book and an artwork.
As part of a collaborative exhibition I am working on a response to the KEP exhibition, called Cut and Paste. Myself and two other artists are developing the concept of the book into digital artworks with the intention of investigating the materiality of information today. We aim to carry on the playful nature of the KEP exhibition by also altering the formal notions of a book. Cut and Paste runs from Friday 13th until Saturday 28th September 2013 with the preview evening on Thursday 12th September.


Lauren Howat
When I saw the opportunity to volunteer and be a part of such a beautiful exhibition I simply couldn't resist! I am a fourth year Graphic Design student at DJCAD with a passion for artist's books and Bruce McLean and Mel Gooding's are exquisit, like no other. Completley unique even down to the way in which they are printed.
The opening night of the exhibition was very busy and hectic, unfortunatley I didn't get to hear Bruce and Mel's In Conversation, as I had to attend to replenishing the refreshments.

Ladder, 1986. Photograph, Lauren Howat
My favourite out of all the artist's books is Ladder, 1986, containing 12 of Bruce's ladder drawings with Mel's text, written in response to them. It create's a feeling of space and the use of bold, confident line work really makes a statement. Another I enjoyed was, A Potato Against A Black Background, 1988. This was all printed on Japanese papers, each copy being individually potatoe printed. This book has even been described as:
               "The finest artist's book for many years"
The text celebrates the potato and is very serious about this, although humour is present, like it is in many of Bruce's work. All the books on show are really easy to get into, simplicity like this is something I am a great fan of!

Invisible Residency, 2013. Photograph, Lauren Howat
This year's Cooper Summer Residency is an Invisible Residency, where both Bruce and Mel converse, daily, via email which is then displayed each day at the exhibition. Conversations are really fun and down to earth as they bounce ideas off one another. 
I am hoping to create my own pop up art cafe specialising in printmaking either here in Dundee or back home in Dumfries & Galloway, so helping out at this exhibition as part of Impact 8, International Printmaking Confference, has been an amazing opportunity! I've found the Knife Edge Press: The Complete Works (so far) very inspiring, the artwork produced by Bruce and Mel is so beautiful! This was in fact my first time as an invigilator and I am very happy it was for this exhibit. I am definitely considering joining Exhibitions' Student Curatorial Team with the Cooper Gallery this year and hope to get involved more regulary.


Dina Mackins

Bruce McLean's small screen-prints from Dreamwork an imaginative sequence conceived by the artist in collaboration with the writer Mel Gooding. ( size 40cm x 30 cm)

With  my own  work Dreams - its a  large  (400cm x 200 cm) drawing on paper in charcoals and guach. You could see not only resemblance in the colours and expressive marks, but also in the name of both works.

Above is an image from A Potato Against a Black Background the Knife Edge Press book is hand made with prints on Japanese papers. Shown beside a fragment of my oil painting Loosing Control.

The visual language is completely different but in my opinion the wild brush marks by Bruce Mclean in this image and my expressive charcoal drawing on top of the oil paint alongside the similar colour scheme show resemblance.

Photos: Dina Mackins, Courtesy of the artists.


Lucas Battich

Intertwined among conceptual (poetical) meditations on the book via artist/writer Ulises Carrión, and metaphorical exultations on the relation of books, performance, ballet and balconies, we come across the fascinating presence of scones, ladders and potatoes. Mundane objects are a constant presence in this exhibition and the books produced as part of the artistic collaboration of Bruce McLean and Mel Gooding. In my view, their approach has something of the humbleness and freshness of Pablo Neruda’s odes to simple foodstuff and everyday objects, and it resonates with Whitman’s forceful, profound voice.

But there is something unmistakably unique in Bruce and Mel’s collaborations, a colourful element of humour and playfulness in their work that provides a very humane context for a variety of investigations, ranging from the pragmatic (Ladder: ordinary object; humble; necessary) and laudatory (Potato: Peru’s greatest legacy to the world; an object of contemplation), to the metaphorical and ecstatic (Scone: No scone without fire. Potato: Skull-like / memento mori. Ladder: Breughel’s ladders are the tongues of Babel.)

Ladder is also present in the gallery wall as a sculptural column consisting of several copies of the book, accompanied by posters and event photographs from the book launch and exhibition in 1986. The eulogy to the Ladder (in dreams and visions it may reach up to Heaven / be peopled by angels) extends from the books and texts into the tangible stage of the gallery. 


Neli Todorova

Christmas Card Maquettes, Knife Edge Press, 1985

Knife Edge Press Publications, 1985-onwards

Invisible Residency, 2013

Knife Edge Press: The Complete Works (so far) Cooper Gallery, 
Installation shot, 2013

Knife Edge Press: The Complete Works (so far) Cooper Gallery, 
Installation shot, 2013

Ladder Book Launch Event Photograph, 1986

Photos: Neli Todorova, courtesy of the artists.


Abi Dryburgh

Knife Edge Press: The Complete Works (so far)' is an exhibition of the collaborative print works of sometime partners Bruce McLean and Mel Gooding, showing at the Cooper Gallery as part of the Impact 8 International Printmaking Conference. The pair's work is a fantastic demonstration of the possibilities of the relationship between pictorial images and the written word, however this is not a simple case of the visual artwork illustrating the text; the words and pictures inform one another in equal measure to create a symbiotic language all of their own. Gooding's writing is fairly economic in it's word use, but still manages to be incredibly evocative for the senses (“The shadowy variegations that camouflage the floors of spring woods // or the geometric black shadows of balearic towns at midsummer noon.” - Sumptuous.) while McLean's art is minimal yet surprisingly textural and personal. Organic daubs of paint lie thick on the pages of books, bound in gold and red threads and packaged in hessian cloth. The prints feature paper cut-out appliques and marks of the artists hand in the form of written pencil notes, adding a charming sense of personalism to them.

The most outstanding thing about the work, for me, is the humour of it. Some pieces deal with quite lofty subjects - the nature of light and shadow, the bureaucracy of art institutions - but these are kept grounded by musings on such things as the humble potato or scone (there are whole poems dedicated to them, in fact) and the juxtapositions of the subject matter can be quite surreal (“a ladder of learning // a path of knowledge” ...“a potato // a tortilla”).

Particularly enjoyable is the output from the pair's Invisible Residency, an ongoing dialogue of words and photographs between the two artists via email, updated on every day of the exhibition, which gives an insight into their work and thought processes. Topics covered include designer shoes photographed beside local landmarks, colour choices for future artworks, and an amusing discussion of Henry Moore's incompetence at sculpting feet. It's really quite charming to see how these friends correspond and feed off of each other's ideas.

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