Review of A Book is A Performance at Centrespace, VRC

Recent exhibition, A Book is A Performance was a library of evidence on the longstanding connection and durability between performances and publications. Presented on a series of trestle tables and shelves punctuated by black chalkboard panels it displayed a broad selection of artists’ editions and multiples. All the works relate actions to printed materials and are selected from the collection and recent acquisitions from the Centre for Artists’ Books. A variety of artists and collectives were presented, from major historical figures like Christian Boltanski, Yoko Ono and Richard Long to recent contemporary artists like Edgar Schmitz, Rob Churm, Marcus Coates and Sharon Kivland.

The book, page, leaflet, printed collection is a stage. A radical forum for experiment, test beds for collage and collision between thought and live action. A very lo-fi photocopy rationale runs firmly through the pieces. The black and white graininess is the aesthetic of the subversive. Among the works were a book of Ono’s instructions and a folder of Christian Boltanski’s pieces on lost identities, nationhood and objects. The best works were collections of different kinds of prints and approach to the page. Little libraries and archives of extended projects, like artist collective and publishing house Prawn’s Pee’s box of screen prints, gallery invites, and zines made for Glasgow International art festival in 2012 and Sharon Kivland’s gorgeous typefaces and designs on A4 booklets used to explore the organisation and categorisation of random images.

The exhibition sited radically opposing forms and functions in close proximity: fun and disposable publications like Patricia Collins’ Homage to Samuel Beckett on sticky notes or Sara MacKillop’s collections of envelopes sat close to the implied violence of the work Savage School Window Gallery by Cullinan Richards. A glamorous gold flip book of a female dancing by Julian Opie sat near a heavyweight book/sculpture that ruminates on performance, surface and drawing by Viola Yeşiltaç.

These abrasions, placed opposing ideas and approaches unsettlingly close, and setting a series of jarring themes together is the potent heart of this exhibition. It reinforces and provides evidence to an idea that the material of the subversive, of change, of participation is paper. In turn it sets out the preeminence of the analogue, a view that image, distribution and reading from the page is different and more authentic than reading from the screen.

The exhibition was topped and tailed by live performance works including a durational work I Used To responding to the space by Manchester-based artist Sarah Sanders whose work merges calligraphic gesture, diaries and fleeting observations, handwriting as language and drawing. Her process is an evidence of thinking, materialising thoughts onto surfaces. These actions drew simplicity and complexity together. She stages an inner reflection with the ephemeral: cut paper letters, chalk, breath and dust.

A Book is A Performance was an elegant review of approaches by artists’ to published materials and about the relationship of artist to their audience. In this case speculating on the one-on-one. It was about the page as the starting gesture to a conversation.

Alex Hetherington

A Book is A Performance, 25 April until 26 May, Centrespace, Visual Research Centre, Dundee Contemporary Arts, 152 Nethergate, Dundee, DD1 4DY.


1. Savage School Window Gallery, Cullinan Richards. Courtesy Ross Fraser McLean
2. Artists’ Books, a book is a performance install image, table 1. Courtesy Ross Fraser McLean