17 May 2012
Taking a stroll on Sandymount Strand
Matt has blogged about an American edition of Brighton Rock which features in our unmissable new exhibition Writing Britain, and I’m going to continue with this theme since I can cunningly combine it with the subject of a number of my previous blogs - artists’ books.
The Library has a sizeable collection of fine press and artists books but the non-British titles have always been acquired selectively. These days the often significant cost of such items can make it difficult for us to buy very much at all. But these type of books always pop up at exhibition time since they’re, well, great to look at as well as offering all sorts of other pleasures. So I was delighted to spot Sandymount Strand on display in Writing Britain since it was produced by one of my favourite book artists – Gunnar Kaldewey.
Kaldewey (who in fact started life as an antiquarian bookseller in Germany) has been running The Kaldewey Press from his Poestenkill studio in New York since 1985, and I remember reading last year that he had just produced his 75th book. Sadly we only have a few of them, but we were very fortunate to be given Sandymount Strand as a donation via The Art Fund.
Kaldewey produces books that are unconventional in every sense – from shape to binding, to paper and typography. Pushing the book to the limits of its physical form, structure and materials are as essential elements as the combination of text and image. Kaldewey Press imprints are written, illustrated and printed by Kaldewey himself, whilst Editions Kaldewey are collaborations with writers and artists. Taking the literature from many countries and time periods for his subject matter, Kaldewey's output encompasses writers as diverse as Confucius, Ovid, Ashbery, Neruda, Pound, Beckett, and Burroughs, just to name a few. Similarly, the various materials used in the production of the books are sourced from all over the world – content and material a reflection of Kaldewey’s love of language and passion for global culture.
And to Sandymount Strand. This has to be one of the most famous beaches in Irish literature since it features in James Joyce’s Ulysses. Joyce’s descriptions of Sandymount are indeed the main focus of the book, but contemporary Irish culture is also incorporated and celebrated by the addition of 2 haiku-like poems written especially for the book by Seamus Heaney and etchings by the artist Felim Egan, both of whom have a long association with Sandymount. Kaldewey has presented the book in a circular shape, representing the form of that particular stretch of beach on Dublin Bay - a perfect conjunction of form and subject. The Joyce and Heaney texts clearly make Sandymount Strand an ideal exhibit for Writing Britain, but I hope that Kaldewey would be pleased to find the book in such an exhibition too as it is also a reflection of his own obsession with the language of place.