Cabin Codex

May 2011

Publication: The Times

The Centre for Artists Books was set up in 1999 to collect, display and produce artists’ books -  that curious, neglected and little understood sub-genre of visual culture. This lively, fascinating and well-conceived show celebrates the centre’s re-opening.


A nebulous concept, the artist’s book is often characterised by its relative brevity and its emphasis on the visual, as well as the textual. Artistry can take place in the book as object, or in its content – or both.  Thus the genre is about as open-ended as it’s possible to be as not all of these objects take actual ‘book’ form. So here one can browse leaflets, postcards, boxes, folded paper, laminated cards and a variety of other forms, as well as what’s more commonly understood as books themselves.


The curators of CABIN: CODEX, while punning on the Centre’s acronym, also introduce the original idea of the codex as a bound collection of folios (leaves) or manuscripts. The etymology is from the Latin for a block of wood or tree trunk which in turn came to mean a block split into leaves or tablets. The book form as we know it has endured for at least two millennia – and continues to evolve, although here artists’ e-books have not yet made a showing.


The show aims to demonstrate the scope and scale of the CAB collection and has been split ingeniously into three conceptual and physical elements – the feral, the urban and the in-between. Each space is defined by its own mural backdrop in the form of wallpaper. The urban space consists of brick while the feral is defined by wood; in-between is, well, between the two: a neutral grey. Here one can sit on a concrete or wooden bench and browse the discrete, categorised sections (the in-between space, appropriately offers no such seating). The wallpaper’s bricks themselves present a kind of found poetry with the individual brickworks’ names still legible: Etna, Millstone, Shotts. Such is the reader’s involvement that quite quickly one forms the inescapable feeling that we are (as the curators have intended?) part of the overall plan of this gesamkunstwerk.


There are well know names here: Helen Douglas, David Faithfull, David Shrigley, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Richard Long, Hamish Fulton  and Andy Goldsworthy to name a few, as well as a plethora of the less famous. The publications range from the downright cynical and disturbing (Bedbug’s mock children’s book ‘Having an Accident’) to the humorous (David Shrigley) to the minimal (David Faithfull’s ‘Bunker’). In all, it’s a cornucopia of ideas, visual and literary, that emphasises the genre as vital - bursting with fresh ideas and strange moments.