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Review: Knowsley Book Art; Liverpool Book Art’s graduation, 2018

Earlier this year, the Hornby Room at Liverpool Central Library hosted Frankenstein 2018, a celebration of 200 years since the first publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The exhibition worked in the grandeur of the space, reflecting the history of the building through the work it showed – all book art.

In September, the annual exhibition usually reserved for Central Library moved to Kirkby in a sort of second coming. And what a re-hang. Liverpool Book Art, the group led by Simon Ryder, who coordinates the exhibitions & Liverpool Book Art Fair, thoroughly changed their approach in this new space at Kirkby Library, which also hosts Knowsley’s main gallery.

In the white space, the work stood out as art and completely shifted my expectations on entering.

The library, a new-build, is immediately influential as you’re no longer approaching the exhibition as something focussed on the format of ‘book’, and you are given the opportunity to see book art in the light of ‘art’. No longer in cabinets surrounded by book shelves, but up on walls in full view, in stands that enable interaction and views through the paper cuts to the rest of the show.

This feels like a graduation in many ways, proving how engaging the disjointed medium can be, in all its variety. Far from the book making of my second year in university, gluing bound covers to concertina books, or running waxed strings through roughly aligned pages, this exhibition is about craft as much as it is about Frankenstein.

A good trigger goes a long way in exhibitions that have craft at their heart. The subject, Mary Shelley’s now 200 year old novel, leads viewers through a review of sorts. Each artist has their own commentary on the monstrous tale, meaning that behind the delicacy of paper craft is something to learn.

Book art might seem something of a niche avenue to take as an artist, but it’s by far one of the most rewarding, spending time with paper, the most basic and most essential material, setting out to create something than mustn’t deviate from the plan.

You can’t make any mistakes with book art, it’s an unforgiving world, so to see as many artists represented in this exhibition, all having produced jaw droppingly intricate work is captivating.

One of the defining differences between the Liverpool exhibition and the Knowsley one, has been the ability to get involved. I’ve been in a few times now – to both – and the new exhibition has always had school groups sat around the gallery creating new work. The situation at Knowsley is very different to Liverpool Central Library though. The first exhibition was held in a venue where passing traffic was a given, with an existing tourist footfall, as well as being the biggest and most used library in the region. The second is probably the main reason to visit the building in Kirkby, other than the One Stop.

Because of that, and because Kirkby Gallery is such an important resource to the borough, schools engagement, and audience participation in the exhibition, is critical to maintaining standards, and interest in what is going on there.

It’s a must do exhibition rather than a must see. Head to Kirkby before the end of January, sit yourself at a desk in the gallery, and learn to create incredible things.

The Liverpool & Knowsley Book Art Exhibition: Frankenstein 2018 continues at Kirkby Gallery until 26 January 2019
Kirkby Gallery, Kirkby Centre, Norwich Way,
Kirkby, L32 8XY
Words, Patrick Kirk-Smith