Albrecht to Zusters: Aotearoa artists’ books exhibition

For those who draw with words
And write in images

- Inscription from The Visionary

The Albrecht to Zusters Aotearoa artists’ books exhibition displays stunning works of visual and written arts, and explores different materials, bindings and forms – from the traditional Codex form to fold-outs, to an array of items in a box. These factors combine to generate fresh ways to make books, and to experience reading them. The exhibition opens on Saturday 2 November 2019 in the Angela Morton Room art library, Level 1, Takapuna Library and runs till Thursday 30 January 2020.

The exhibition shares a selection of the Angela Morton Collection’s rare books normally only seen by request in order to preserve them. They range from exquisite examples of fine press publishing to more low-tech aesthetics such as a photocopied and stapled pamphlet.

Image: Black, poem Riemke Ensing, design Elizabeth Serjeant. Green Bay Press, 2010.

The Wai-te-ata companion to poetry is a cardboard box containing poems translated into objects whose design has been inspired by the written content. There’s a map, a concertina and a tube. “The Soldier” by Rupert Brooke is printed on red card shot through with bullet holes. Elizabeth Smither’s funeral-themed “Cortage of Daughters” is printed on black-edged paper and tied with black ribbon – reminiscent of a Victorian-era memorial card. One of the project’s creators, Paul Thompson, explains: “If there are now digital objects of zero dimension these poems could be said to be poetic objects of three dimensions – or more?”

Image: The Wai-te-ata companion to poetry. Wai-Te-Ata Press, 2017.

Image: Potsherds and geraniums, Judy Haswell. Donek Press, 1988.

Most artist books are collaborations, but some are solo productions. Judy Haswell wrote, designed, printed and bound her 1988 poetry collection Potsherds and geraniums. In a letter to Takapuna Library’s acquisitions librarian, Letty Dudding, she describes how she “cut each page from, or rather into, a 38mm x 78mm Staedtler eraser, with small chisel-type tools made from razor blade slithers, jammed into the ends of broken wooden chopsticks. Such an eraser takes about 8 hours to cut. I then treat it like a lino cut. Although the rollers I use are steel, not rubber. The fleurets I paint by hand.” After printing the copies she had to sew, trim, paint the endpapers, and print the covers.

A beautiful example of collaborative work is The Visionary created by Elizabeth Serjeant. With the assistance of Riemke Ensing, Serjeant invited ten poets to write on the idea of The Visionary, then made lithographs in response to each poem. These were printed from stones by Joan Taylor in a limited edition of 50 copies. The Visionary won the 1989 BNZ Art Award at the NZ Academy of Fine Arts.

Video: The Visionary, Elizabeth Serjeant and Joan Taylor. Puriri Press, 1988.

The Silences Between: (Moeraki conversations) combines Keri Hulme’s poetry with Claire Van Vliet’s images. It incorporates alternative book structures: some pages are split horizontally, like a flip book, with text below and images above; some have a die-cut moon; and some can be popped forward for a three-dimensional wagon-wheel display. The Silences Between was published by Janus Books, founded by Claire van Vliet, who said: “I want the physicality of the book to create a physical message through the hands and the eyes that makes the reader more susceptible to the text.”

Michele Leggott wrote the poems in Journey to Portugal which was designed by Gretchen Albrecht. Albrecht wrote: “The technique employed in realising my images is a form of collage – Chine Colle, where thin Japanese hand-made art papers are torn into shapes and then glued and pressed in a ‘nipping’ press to the page. Each image was hand-done, in collaboration with Elizabeth Steiner who is a very experienced book-maker. Over the 100 books in the edition it was a rather labour-intensive task.” As a result each of her images is unique. This book also contains images and text letterpress printed by Tara McLeod.

Image: Pine, Ralph Hotere, Bill Manhire. Otakou Press, 2005.

Pine is a collaboration between Bill Manhire, Ralph Hotere and printer Brendan O’Brien. O’Brien wrote that “Bill Manhire’s poems first existed as postcards sent from London to Ralph Hotere in Dunedin in the 1970s. About that time Ralph was using the large hand-press in the Bibliography Room at Otago University and combining printing with wooden type with hand-painted texts, so the first ‘sheets’ of "Pine" existed from around then... [This] project unearthed two poems from the series that Ralph had not previously worked with; while discussions with Ralph about the curious effects he achieved ‘inking’ the type unearthed some unorthodox techniques (numerous cleaning brushes, clothes and sponges all featured in the mix). The 'Pine' project served to recover the missing Manhire poems, the ‘lost’ Hotere printing techniques and to produce a book that somehow escaped publication 30 years earlier.”

Video: Searchings, selections from the artist's journal, Max Gimblett. Holloway Press, 2005.

A slightly different combination of players created Searchings: selections from the artist’s journals chosen & arranged by Alan Loney. This book - edited, designed and typeset by Loney - is printed by Tara McLeod. Loney spent three years researching the full collection of Max Gimblett’s journals, begun in 1968. Searchings is a limited edition of 80 books. Bound into each volume are two original ink drawings by Gimblett, each drawing being different.

Image: Current special edition. Rohan Wealleans, 2010. Gow Langsford Gallery, 2017.

This exhibition demonstrates some of the ways artists, poets, printers and makers have extended the boundaries of the traditional white rectangle with intriguing results. Colin McCahon’s 15 drawings Dec ’51 to May ‘52 is bound with cord and includes hand-written text and brush and ink drawings. Hone Tuwhare’s Twelve: poems is letterpress printed, looseleaf and kept in a folder within a clamshell box. The silences between has a maple and tamarack wood tray case, Potsherds and geranuiums comes in a simple muslin bag, while Jane Zusters’s Singing in the lifeboat comes in a hand-sewn, painted canvas satchel.

At the other end of the spectrum, Rohan Wealleans’s Current special edition is one of ten editions where he has applied highly-textured layers of acrylic paint directly onto the slipcase of an artbook - whilst the book is still inside.

Author: Leanne, Research North

Albrecht to Zusters: Aotearoa artists’ books exhibition (2 November 2019 - 30 January 2020) in the Angela Morton Room art library, Level 1, Takapuna Library. Open daily.

You can follow the Angela Morton Room on Instagram.


Components of a special collection: a collaboration with the University of Auckland Fine Arts Library Curated by Taarati Taiaroa and Tracey Williams.

Janus Press: The New Zealand Connection