A book cast in glass, a book carved from wood, books made from plastic and mirrors, delicate books of handmade paper, a book in a matchbox, even a book made of pillows; these are a few of the offerings on show in the third edition of The Sheffield International Artist’s Book Prize, held in conjunction […]

A book cast in glass, a book carved from wood, books made from plastic and mirrors, delicate books of handmade paper, a book in a matchbox, even a book made of pillows; these are a few of the offerings on show in the third edition of The Sheffield International Artist’s Book Prize, held in conjunction with Off The Shelf and running throughout the festival at Bank Street Arts in the city centre.

The prize started life as a way of showcasing artists’ books and one that would fit with Bank Street Arts’ aims of innovation and inclusivity. The idea of a competition was borne out of conversations with book artists at the Leeds Artist’s Book Fair in 2008. Whilst there was no artist’s book prize in the UK at the time, the aim was to do much more than simply run a competition. Rather, the prize was the context for encouraging the public to view the books on display and spend time with the exhibits. So the decision was taken to make the books accessible, available to be handled and read, with the visiting public being asked and encouraged to act as the arbiters and judges of the prize.

To encourage involvement, all book submissions were shown in the inaugural exhibition in 2008 and the free entry policy was established. The first Sheffield Artist’s Book Prize in 2008 attracted nearly 50 entries from all over the world and several hundred people cast votes for their favourite. In 2009 additional prizes were added to broaden the scope. The Main Prize was retained to ensure that link between visitors and exhibits, but to that was added a Student Prize and Special Jury Prize, encouraging a greater range of artists to submit and leading to more follow-up exhibitions. The 2009 Prize attracted nearly 80 entries with many more visitors to the subsequent exhibition. It was decided that a biennial event would allow more time to prepare the competition and cope with the administration involved while retaining the policy of free admission.

This year’s competition was launched in early spring and by close of submissions at the end of July we had received 172 entries from 22 different countries, including over 40 entries for the Student Prize alone.

Books have been submitted from as far apart as Brazil, Japan, Australia, Canada, Argentina and Korea. The range of submissions is equally diverse: from hand-etched plates illustrating unusual narratives to weird and wonderful fold-out offerings; books no more than an inch square to one that extends maybe forty feet long (we’re not sure yet as we haven’t found a room long enough to open it in); manipulated books made by delicately cutting and reforming old editions to complex conceptual conceits; books in boxes, books in envelopes and a book made of silk in an egg.

Visitors to the exhibition will once again get a chance to view and handle all books submitted and vote for their favourite, with the winner of the Main Prize again being decided by visitors to the show. This is a unique chance to view the tremendous diversity, creativity and inventiveness of book art, a genre which is all too seldom shown in exhibitions, and to pit your wits against the judges of this year’s Jury Prize – Sarah Bodman from the Centre for Fine Print Research at the University of the West of England and Maria White of Tate Library in London.

It was an unenviable task selecting one winner from the 170 submissions and it has been an equally difficult task working out how best to show the books to their advantage for ease of reference and viewing. We hope as many visitors as possible will find time to visit this fascinating show and take on the challenge of selecting a winner, as well as feasting their eyes on the fantastic array of entries on offer.

Exhibition dates:

11th October – 5th November 2011.
Opening and Private View: 8th October.
Open Tuesday to Saturday, 10am – 5pm.
bankstreetarts.com
artistsbookprize.co.uk

John Clark.