A review by Jen Smith

This review begins the night before I went to view the exhibition Printed in Norfolk. The final question at Simon Cutts’ talk, “The Metaphor Books”, was this: “These books…in their very limited editions…are there any libraries where we the public can access them? Are there any collections of these books?”

Naturally, Simon replied with the National Art Library at the V&A, the Saison Poetry Library on London’s Southbank (where the tour of Printed in Norfolk concludes), and the list included in the free exhibition pamphlet. If it hadn’t been the very last question of the evening, and if there had been time for just one more comment, I would have said, “We the public can buy Coracle books ourselves and read them in the comfort of our homes.”

Of course, for the next few weeks, the best place to see Coracle’s work is at The Gallery at NUCA, which provides brilliant light with its floor-to-ceiling windows. The pieces are displayed in vitrines, on walls (in vinyl and neon), on shelves, and, best of all, on two sets of tables pushed together to give readers plenty of space to spend time reading books as they are meant to be read: in their hands. The fact that there are two tables stocked with the same 30+ titles means that it’s possible for a group of people to have a lively discussion about them at one table, while those of a more contemplative nature can have a quiet read at the other table.

Since the majority of the items in Printed in Norfolk are straightforward-seeming books, it could be argued that they might have been more efficiently packed into a library-type vertical shelving arrangement, but that style of display would stifle the invitation to peruse afforded by the open tables. The mixed-methods display allows the rarest and most fragile pieces to be seen while still being protected from accidental damage; at the same time, the handling copies demonstrate how robust, well-designed, and well-crafted Coracle’s books are.

I like to think that the man who asked which libraries hold Coracle books has gone to the exhibition himself by now, and that he was pleasantly surprised by the affordability and availability of the majority of the pieces he saw. In the list of titles being sold at The Bee Hive during the period of the exhibition, the most expensive book is £45 (Some More Notes on Writing & Drinking), and twenty-eight of the forty-four books are between £5 and £10. For “we the public”, Coracle pieces are art made possible.

About Jen Smith
Jen Smith has just completed a PHD at the National University of Ireland in Galway, “Artefact Books: Toward a Multi-field Analytical Framework for Literary Research”, which featured Erica Van Horn’s book “Scraps of an Aborted Collaboration” as one of three main contemporary pieces. Jen is currently studying for an M.Sc. in Electronic and Digital Library Management at the University of Sheffield and hopes to work in a faculty library teaching artists’ books through collections and “getting the word out”.