Also Purchased by Monash University

I first made this Artists book a few years ago, it is currently on Display at the Artspace Collective Exhibition Beyond the Guilded Cage, and I have just printed a second copy for Monash Universities Rare Book Collection. It is editioned to 3, and is very time consuming to print and make.
If you have never heard of  an artists’ book is, go to What is an Artists’ Book? previous blog entry.

“Maybe keep a Bird” Linocut Concertina Book by Shana James

This book is made up of 5 linocut images and 5 pages of text. Each page is A3 in size, so it is quite large when spread out and I discovered, quite difficult to photograph, .  The text reads:-
Maybe keep a bird… Always keep your word…
Pages spread out to dry after printing.

Always keep your word… Maybe keep a bird…
Try to keep a bird… Try to keep your word…
Never keep a bird…
I looked at reproducing the text on a computer or even with stamps in the end I decides the hand carved text had a rustic imperfection which worked well with the meaning of the work.

1st page of artists' book.
1st page of artists’ book.

Each piece of text has a linocut image to go with it.  The text is adapted from a Japanese pop song I heard on a radio national program about robotics.  When I heard the line “Maybe keep a bird, always keep your word…” It intrigued me and I wrote it down in my sketch book. After the linocuts were made I googled the song by Yoko Kanno and discovered I had not remebered the words accurately, the words had morphed in my head over time.
The line of text seemed to slot in with ideas I had been thinking about, and I started planning this book.
It was only after I started this artwork and was researching images of peacocks I discovered that they could fly. And it was just the perfect last page of the book presenting itself to me.

Detail of Artists' Book by Shana James
Detail of Artists’ Book by Shana James

More about the symbology…

The book is a symbolic narrative and here are some of my personal associations with the symbolism I have chosen for the images.
I chose a peacock for the bird because of the connotations of beauty and pride.  I have a strong memory of the first time I saw a real peacock as a young child at the zoo, you could get up really close to it, I remember looking deeply into the bight blue feathers of the body.  I couldn’t believe a bird this beautiful could be real. There is a kind of historical connection with keeping a bird for its beauty. The first English colonials to arrive in India must have felt the same way I did about this beautiful bird.
I have always found the idea of keeping birds for their beauty problematic.  The bird is an archetypal symbol of freedom but keeping it necessitates a cage. By caging a bird you have taken away its ability to fly, the essence of what it is, for selfish reasons. Often humans do things which they later regret, when I was about 13 I wanted a sulphur crested cockatoo as a pet, something I wouldn’t dream of doing now, luckily my mother wouldn’t let me have one.

Artists' Book detail
Artists’ Book detail

Similarly we try to “keep your word” but don’t always.  Here I was particularly interested in catch 22 type situations where to keep your word solves one problem but creates others.  Most of us try to do the right thing based on our experience but none of us manages it 100% of the time.  Just as English colonists of the 19th century saw nothing wrong with their actions to humans and animals alike, it is looking back with the benefit of hindsite that we see the mistakes. Interestingly, I later discovered that the song I took the words from was called “Be Human” and in the end that is what my artists book  is about – being human.
For this work I chose a Victorian looking cage for the historical significance, the idea of collecting specimens of beauty.  In my artwork the bird has a human eye.  This is partly to indicate that the artwork is metaphorical, it is not real and I don’t expect people to take it literally. Secondly it puts the bird and the woman on an equal footing.  It makes the bird seem more human.  In the image where the bird and the woman look at each other eye to eye, one wonders if perhaps the peacock is not the more intelligent of the two.

Linocut Artists' Book by Shana James
Linocut Artists’ Book by Shana James

Please feel free to comment or ask me any questions about this work, Now in the Monash University Collection (well it will be shortly I posted it to them today.)
See more of my artists books on you tube