Last weekend I went to the Small Publishers Book Fair at the atmospheric Conway Hall to see Eugen Gomringer talk about and read some of his concrete poems. While there I bought a couple of intriguing books from Colin Sackett. They both use illustrations from old geography books - charming relics from before the quantitative revolution and rise of critical geography, now recontextualised and given a second life as artist books. In this new form there is a more direct focus on the beauty of patterns and forms in the landscape. The books now raise questions rather than provide explanations, prompting thoughts about place, documentation, text and image, science and art.
The first of these two books is a little version of F. J. Monkhouse's Landscape from the Air, with a selection of aerial photographs featuring British locations. The pages of the original have been shrunk to about 8cm high so that the eye focuses on the images rather than the explanatory text. The white border frames each image and gives them the appearance of the documentary artworks created by people like Robert Smithson and Douglas Huebler. The retrieval and reconfiguring of an old book in this way partly would seem to reflect the 'archival impulse' behind many recent art projects. The images recall a time when British culture, under threat, was preoccupied with ideas of landscape; they are also a reminder of the aerial photographs taken during the war.
The other book I bought was The True Line, a compilation of drawings by Geoffrey Hutchings. Colin Sackett writes: 'Geoffrey Hutchings published just a handful of books, all addressing the search for geographical and topographical truths, and for the ways of recording and depicting these truths precisely and economically by the handwritten word and line. In addition to his contribution to the development of the teaching of field studies in Britain in the late 1940s, with its emphasis on the direct observation and interpretation of landscape, he achieved a masterly ability to ‘read’ and transcribe a place in a graphic composition—be it a sketch-map or a plan, a tabular profile or a section, or an annotated panoramic drawing. In all of these compositions he integrated line and text in a perfect balance of brevity and detail.'