Episode 102: Sarah Bodman

The Small Machine Talks, Episode 102 with Sarah Bodman

UWE Bristol Book Arts Newsletters by Sarah Bodman


Artists’ Book Year Books

This is another episode in the extra-literary, page-adjacent thread of 2023. I speak to artist and researcher Sarah Bodman about artist books and her work. We discuss the definition and examples of artists’ books. I was fascinated by how Sarah takes the artist book and extends it into collaboration and community through World Book Night projects.

Bookart Bookshop

Minnesota Center for Book Arts

I ask about how Sarah got into making artist’s books. She talks about her discover in the library of Susan Hiller’s Sisters of Menon.

We discuss the community of artists making these limited, often one-off edition books.

We talk about the year book, an encyclopedia or compendium of what’s happened over the last two years and the call for artists making them to include their work and information.

We discuss some of Sarah’s artist’s books, including Masdevalilia and feminism. Her most recent project, Read with Me. You can see all of Sarah’s artist’s books here. We nerd out on a discussion of the materials of these books.

London Centre for Book Arts

Brain Washing from Phone Towers

We talk about what book Sarah would make if she had no restrictions for money, time and materials. She talks about a book entitled Apologies for Witches. I mention Cornelia Funke’s books, Inkheart and the Inkworld series.

We converse about doing things that one isn’t necessarily good at, but doing it anyway. This goes into a discussion of pockets for women and I mention Lady Pockets, a song by Rhiannon Skylark.

I ask about World Book Night and the projects Sarah does with others. We discuss Toast: A Night on Weevil Lake, which was made for World Book Night in 2011 in response to Douglas Copeland’s  novel The Gum Thief, an evening of nothing being cooked, Chinese food having to be ordered in and eaten off of paper plates from Staples. Next year’s call will be for make something in response to wild birds for World Book Night on April 23, 2024. Sarah sends out the call via UWE Bristol’s Book Arts page. Those who send something, will get something back. You will also nominate a text or poem for others to read.

I tell the story of Pogo, the downtown raven.

I ask about the Book Arts Newsletter. You can download the latest edition and send in information for the next. I mention some of the contents of the March-April 2023 issue. Sarah mentions artist’s group in Nepal making bookbinding things who put a small announcement in every issue.

Note of Praise

Both in Sarah Bodman’s books and other activities, there is such a great spirit of community engagement and play. There are artist’s books such as Dinner and A Rose, a collaborative work made with Nancy Campbell that responds to Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley: “Sarah prepared a delicious, if sinister, dinner, for twelve guests, with a thirteenth place set for the absent Tom Ripley. Every food mentioned by Highsmith was served, from cold chicken in aspic to sole Veronique, and every drink mixed (even Dubonnet!). The dinner lasted over twelve hours. All the night’s conversations were recorded and Nancy used the transcriptions as collage material, creating a series of 18 poems. Sarah photographed Ripley’s setting for each course; images and poems partner each other in the finished work.” This is an example of creativity that will not be confined to any kind of conventional thinking about what a book can be or what can be depicted. Or take another example, Some Small Good Things, a collaborative video made to commemorate World Book Night – “each year a group of us collaborates on a tribute event for World Book Night. […]”

Some Small Good Things was a tribute to” Raymond Carver‘s collection of stories Cathedral (1983), some of which were used as the basis for Robert Altman‘s film Short Cuts (1993). In particular we chose the story A Small, Good Thing as the starting point for this year’s collaboration. An open call this website invited people to do a small, good thing, write it out and send it to us.

All contributions were received by midnight on 22nd April. On World Book Night we made a low-fi, video in a very homemade style of the original film clip for Bob Dylan‘s Subterranean Homesick Blues, using those small, good things. The music was written and played by Simon Butler and Simon Smith.”

So much creativity, engagement with the arts, and community spirit here!

To read the Book Arts Newsletter is to be joyously immersed in a world of energetic, thoughtful, and fascinating creativity. It is so satisfying to see that there are people all over the world engaged in artistic explorations of the planet, climate change, print technologies, connections between people, and so much more. The newsletter is wide-ranging, covering not only exhibitions, but also book fairs, job opportunities, courses, lectures and more. There are paragraphs of explanation on a particular topic and requests from artists to tag them on Instagram.

Thanks to Sarah for being on the show, to Charles Earl for processing, to Jennifer Pederson for the intro and outro and to you for listening and sharing the episodes. Stay tuned for the next episode of the Small Machine Talks. Next up on our schedule is Shloka Shankar of Yavanika Press, and David Naimon, host of my favourite podcast, Between the Covers!