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University showcases its artists’ books collection


Sharlene King
11 April 2012
Monica Oppen’s Stabat Mater, an artists’ book that weaves the narrative of the weeping Virgin Mary at Jesus’ crucifixion with the suffering of mothers who lose their sons in wars and conflicts, is the centrepiece of a new exhibition now on show at Southern Cross University.

‘The collaborative dance of ideas’ exhibition features a selection of books from the University’s collection of artists’ books and runs until April 27 at the Lismore campus library.

It is the first time the University has exhibited Stabat Mater since its purchase in late 2010. It is one of only eight editions of the book.

“We are very fortunate to have acquired it. Monica Oppen’s work is an extraordinary mixture of musical score, words and images,” said Anne Bannerman, Library Resource Services team leader.

“The book is presented in a box in concertina format. The viewer can open it out to reveal the story of Mary’s sorrow at Jesus’ death on one side, while the reverse is Ms Oppen’s observation on lives wasted in war and conflict.”

Stabat Mater opens out to 1.5 metres wide. It features an almost life-size drawing of a figure of the artist’s son overlayed by Marco Rosano’s musical score for ‘Stabat Mater dolorosa’ (mother standing grieving), a medieval chant about the suffering of Mary during the crucifixion of Jesus. The back pages are filled with the words ‘the universal soldier’ in reference to Buffy St Marie’s anti-Vietnam war song.

Ms Oppen, who was awarded Highly Commended in the 59th Blake Prize for Religious Art for Stabat Mater in 2010, has previously said of the work: “Instead of it being a request for Mary’s intercession to eternal salvation it is a call to the reader to take a stand for peace.”

Acting Director of Library Services Kate Kelly invited the public to the free exhibition.

Stabat Mater is a significant work and we strongly encourage the community to view it and the other beautiful artists’ books on display.

“While they are here the community is also welcome to take advantage of the other resources and services the library has to offer,” Ms Kelly said.

Artists’ books are artworks in a book format. The artists fuse word and image on the page using materials as diverse as wood, leather, cloth, stone and handmade paper. Artists’ books extend the form and narrative of the traditional book and often are produced as unique objects or in limited editions.

Ms Bannerman said many of the books in the exhibition have a tactile nature.

“An important element of these books is touch. There’s an instant relationship between the viewer/reader and the artist. There’s an experience in opening the books as the reader explores the narrative or sometimes layers of narratives,” she said.

Another work in the exhibition, Wilcannia wilderness, by Northern Rivers’ artist and SCU alumna Julie Barratt, is a set of two books with collograph prints and embossing with stitching bound by Monica Oppen in untreated kangaroo skin with ground ochre.

“Artists’ books have a strong connection to the skills of printmaking. These books often feature handmade pages using a variety of materials that are hand sown together. They are artworks in themselves,” said Ms Bannerman.

Also featured in the exhibition is the Wilsons River Experience Walk Book, a single edition artists’ book that was presented to the University's Library in 2010 for inclusion in the Manning Clark Collection as an archive of local history.

The Wilsons River Experience Walk Book was produced by the Office of Regional Engagement and designed by SCU Visual Arts lecturer Leonie Lane. Opening out to three metres wide, the Walk Book is a collection of full colour reproductions of the elaborate and spectacular story site panels that form the central focus of the Wilson's River Experience Walk, a joint initiative of the University and Lismore City Council.

The panels are the collective work of historian and writer Dr Jo Kijas, Widjabul consultant Roy C Gordon and visual artist and graphic designer Leonie Lane. Their graphic representations of local Indigenous and European heritage provide visitors and residents with an opportunity to share in the diverse cultural, recreational and historical aspects of Lismore and the surrounding area. Its numerous layers reflect not only the nature of the project, but the migrations and contributions of settlers over time along the river.

Photo: Library Resource Services team leader Anne Bannerman (left) opens Stabat Mater with the help of administrative assistant Libby Pownall. Event: ‘The collaborative dance of ideas’ exhibition is on show in the Southern Cross University Lismore campus library from April 2 to 27. Entry is free.