As part of Almanac Arts and RISE Festival, Liverpool-based poet Helen Tookey was commissioned to write some work in response to an exhibition. She chose Shanghai Sacred (photographs by Liz Hingley, with Cheng Hangfeng) showing at the Victoria Gallery & Museum, Liverpool, 7 June – 28 September 2019. Once written she thought it would be an opportunity to show or present the work in a way that somehow spoke further to the exhibition.
She asked me if I’d be interested in making an artistbook to hold the work. I’ve really enjoyed making books to fit to other people’s work in the past and jumped at the chance to work with an extended piece of Helen’s work.
It was a series of fragmented prose pieces, prose poems and poems that entered into an eerie space of a field she walks in Liverpool. There is a sense of the hidden, the dark, the dying and glimmers of past threaded through the work. We discussed ways of coming to the work, how it might unfold, and how it would interact with the work it responded to, and what form might the structure take to best reveal or conceal the text. Our first work bench was a pool table which gave us the space and perhaps the playful eye to muck about and find a way of setting the work with remarkable ease. We seemed to have similar sensibilities towards the work which made the conversation and questions smooth and energising.
We decided on a drop down scroll that offered a neat, simple-to-read form, that could either be contained within a hand, or fall in a long cascade that the reader would have to follow, succumb to. It seemed elegant, surprising and uncluttered. In many ways, an echo of Helen’s work.
When Helen first approached me I was feeling rather overwhelmed by other projects so said I could design and mock up one then show her how to cut and paste the work. She embraced the job brilliantly, made 30 editions that are now out in various hideyholes in Liverpool for people to discover, like the world of the field, the footsteps of each panel that tread through it.