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Keeping in Touch

Weighing around 6,5 kg, Keeping in Touch is a collaborative accordion bound artwork involving some sixty South African fibre-textile artists, four of whom represent community based groups. I submitted it for the Voyages of Discovery Fibreworks VI exhibition at the art.b gallery, Bellville, in July 2010.

How do artworks begin? Where do they come from?  Perhaps the origins of this one can be traced to my having met two significant people, roughly ten years apart and the publication of a book.

In 1996 I met Margs Garratt for the first time at an exhibition at her home in Nova Constantia, in the Cape. She had birthed her new baby, Innovative Threads, with the aim of exhibiting the best innovative quilts and textile art South Africa had to offer.  Over the next ten years, Innovative Threads grew up. At first innocent and naïve, it became better known and well travelled, more worldly and sophisticated with some pedigreed patrons and a website that became an international hit. Then, in 2006 came Liza Gillespie’s book, Innovative Threads: a Decade of South African Fibre Art, where she chose to ‘showcase at least one artwork from each artist who had exhibited at Innovative Threads since its inception’.

At about the same time Liza’s book rolled off the press I met Cheryl Penn. She arrived one day at a drawing workshop I was conducting in KwaZulu-Natal. We became friends and I learned that she was a Masters student who was writing her thesis on altered and collaborative books.* I read her thesis and decided to make my own collaborative/altered book: I would alter Liza’s book!

I decided to ask everyone who featured in the publication to alter their own page in some way and as I intended to exhibit the new work alongside the old work, here could be mapped the visual-verbal dialogue between Here-Now and Then. To live is to make marks,  surely, and I liked the idea of layering new idea or marks upon old…of new work growing out of old work or lying next to it. This was also an opportunity to bring some of the participants of Innovative Threads together again in a sort of Post Innovative Threads reunion – a celebration of past (and present) successes seemed appropriate. The book could also become a union of both a new exhibition and its catalogue since the actual work would be bound in a book format.  Finally, a book/catalogue that is carried about and composed of actual works, as opposed to reproductions would constitute a perpetual exhibition that is never dismantled.**

The title of the book – Keeping in Touch – was revealed to me as I was disassembling the old book in order to reassemble it with all its new pages.  An artist makes an idea visible via a medium and the medium is a transformative device that lies between imagination and expression. In this case it was the tactile medium of paper and fibre that uncovered   the idea of keeping in touch with one another.

The book is still ‘naked’ in the sense that it hasn’t a jacket cover. As yet it roams pure and unashamed like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden! I am, however, in the process of completing a touchy-feely textile robe in which the book will be wrapped once it (inevitably) leaves the Garden….

In addition to the collaborative book, I made another book, Documenting Keeping in Touch; that documents the aims, inspiration and collation of Keeping in Touch. This book is not accordion bound - although there are a number of fold out pages - but a glued collage book that has been stuck together with the email correspondence that passed between me and the book’s participants.  It is indeed the contact between people that has quite literally stuck everyone together. This book contains, amongst other things, additional correspondence, photographic documentations and various maqettes that I found necessary to explore. Somewhat quirky, the book does nevertheless suggest how ideas germinate and evolve. These two books have the same dimensions, 24cm X 24 cm, and like twins, they support and inform each other.

Aside from the enormous fun element of the project, however, I have always been fascinated with the physical layering of the pages of books; that solid block of knowledge caged between the covers. By ‘knowledge’ I mean any information deemed necessary to be passed on and shared with a group. A closed book contains massive information impacted and compressed within its successive layers of pages – pages that await unlayering! A shut book waits silently, darkly, to be opened so the squashed information can escape and see the light of day. Knowledge needs to run free. May the ideas contained in these books too, roam loose and wild.

The guest speaker, who opened the exhibition, enjoyed the collaborative book calling it ‘… the finest voyage of discovery; moving from the known to the unknown, from the past to the present, it’s a process and a record… an object of wonder, contemplation and inspiration…’ . 

Jeanette Gilks
August 2010

*The full title of her thesis: ‘The use of the artist’s book as a versatile form of expression in the work of selected artists, with particular reference to the altered book’.

**Screens – Major Minor Signatures (2005), a small accordion bound artwork, possibly sees the germination of this idea. The work celebrates the cooperative efforts of Fibreworks members who took part in Major Minors, a travelling exhibition of miniature fibre-textile artworks that was launched in May 2003. I cut up one of the catalogues, reassembled it in a collage and then asked everybody to sign their work.

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  • Well done mum!

    By Johnny Gilks on 19/08/2010
  • Wow Jeanette, I look forward to spending a lot of time with the book on its return from the Cape. Too much to digest in one sitting! Well done as always.
    Lesley Magwood Fraser

    By Lesley Magwood Fraser on 19/08/2010
  • It looks amazing Jeanette, I can’t wait to see it “in the flesh”.
    Lots of love

    By Dana Biddle on 19/08/2010
  • It is STUNNING. Congratulations Jeanette and all who have contributed. Shall have to plan a trip to South Africa especially to see it robed in all it’s glory.

    Lib Steward

    By Lib Steward on 20/08/2010
  • Wow! It is really expansive. Would love to see the book one day in JHB.

    By Ann-Marie Tully on 20/08/2010
  • Thrilled to have been part of this! Being in such illustrious company is a dream come true for me. smile

    By Karen Wentworth on 22/08/2010
  • Can’t wait to see “THE BOOK”. Well done, Jeanette!

    By Jenny Williamson on 22/08/2010
  • Wonderful! Hope it will be exhibited at the Quilt Festival in 2011!! smile

    By Elaine Barnard on 22/08/2010
  • Jeanette, this is wonderful! I am astounded at your vision.

    By Rosalie Dace on 23/08/2010
  • Wow Jeanette, It looks stunning - would love to see it “in the flesh”.  You are truly an amazing artist.

    By Karin Arbeter on 23/08/2010
  • Congratulations and thanks for opening up a whole new art form to so many of us. It’s been a wonderful experience to be a part of the project.

    By Sheila Walwyn on 23/08/2010
  • Hi,
    Many people claim that books have changed their lives. I feel the same when I was reading this book.Nice book.Thanks for sharing this post.

    By scuba diving bahamas on 24/08/2010
  • As far as I can see, the book looks fascinating, innovative and challenging! Well done!

    Karin Skawran

    By Karin Skawran on 26/08/2010
  • Stunning!  What an achievement…..
    Love the book, loved being part of it.
    Thank you, thank you

    By Helga Beaumont on 03/09/2010
  • Hi Jeanette. Thanks for sharing this with me - I hope “the book” will be at the Sewula A.G.M. for the Fibreworks guys to really see it.  Can’t wait! So many people greatly impressed by it (Annette, Margaret, Helga, Renee ........etc) Well done!  Love Sue

    By Sue Physick on 04/09/2010
  • This looks like a book that needs to be pored over, felt and stroked to be fully appreciated. It is literally overflowing with creative expression. I love it Jeanette.

    By Kathryn Harmer Fox on 04/09/2010
  • No longer imagining beyond words, I see the hand outstreched! I want to take it and wander through the pages -  things peeping out alluding to more that is hidden, beyond obvious view. References to ‘known’ fire my curiousity and desire to peep further, look deeper into the unknowns much diversity….  pretty lacey frills to careful restriant….so much Jeanette so much Others, and interaction inbetween. Welldone!

    By Pauline on 06/09/2010
  • Pragtig

    By Magda Griesel on 17/10/2010