Celebrating the diversity, innovation and influence of academic books. At first sight “Inspirational Gardens” by Pamela Westland is anything but something worthy of being celebrated by Academic Book Week. You’re more likely to find an edition at a charity shop than an archive or museum. It might then be a surprise to find this book in the Scottish Theatre Archive. It will be maintained and preserved for future longevity, in equality with Scotland’s historic theatre culture.
The book belonged to performance artist Adrian Howells. He retained a small library of which he would have moved across the country with. This includes Shakespeare books, plays, poems, and writings of an obvious cultural value. Yet the Garden book is full of pictorial descriptions about reflections cast upon the ponds, different types of plants, where you’re likely to find ducks. In contrast to the books containing dramatic Leigh Bowery photographs, as you can imagine the garden book photography was full of just that… gardens.
As an Archivist I immediately questioned the value. Whether this book held / added to the informational value of the wider Howells collection. As an artist I immediately dismissed the book as being completely pointless for any creative objectives.
“Gay culture” which includes articles on transvestism, sex changes and aids, both archivist and artist identified as being tremendously valuable. Adrian Howells constructed this book and catalogued the contents. Researchers are left to speculate as to the role these articles had on his politics, creative practice or even his sexuality.
The articles carry huge academic weight. Recording changes and politics directed to and about gay culture. There are layers of value suitable for showcase in “Academic Book Week”. Using large oil pastel drawings, my intention was to create representations of each article and bind it in a similar fashion to what Howells’ had done. Thus making an art object that represents the archive object evidential value.
But something happened I did not expect. I found drawing / engaging with the subject matter difficult. I wondered how my art and sexuality would be perceived by publically showing these drawings on instagram. Whilst these drawings are constructed directly from published sources, it felt as if I were invading Adrian’s privacy. After all it remains unknown as to why but he did see the value in keeping these.
Ironically the quality of my drawings makes me reluctant to share them publically. Artists’ sketch books are nothing more than just thought process. The famous art objects sitting in the Tate are a result of decades of line drawings, doodles, learning from failure. Adrian’s practice was autobiographical through which exploring themes of privacy, intimacy and confession. Opening my sketch books, writing this article, revealing the content about or behind them, opening them for judgement brings me closer to understanding Adrian’s practice, just how powerful confession is.
“Inspirational Gardens” though carries an obvious link to Howells’ work. His performance installation titled “The Garden of Adrian”. Installed at Gilmorehill, Glasgow, 2009. Howells’ performed on an one-to-one basis which was totally audience led. Adrian would lead the audience member into the garden, the audience member could choose to confess, be silent, or have a conversation with Adrian within the privacy of the installation. This private intimate experience between two people was the art?
Using the same drawing techniques as with the gay culture articles. I started drawing from “Inspirational Gardens”. The peaceful content started to affect my drawings, they became slower, pictorial, and peaceful. I started to build picture poems using images and text from the book. Very quickly I started to appreciate why Adrian constructed a garden environment within Gilmorehill, how it could relax and open private intimate dialogues with an audience member.
No matter the quality I produced or the public judgement received. The sketching process, use of text, has opened up new approaches to building artworks using archival documents. It’s always going to be open to speculation as to the impact this book had on “The Garden of Adrian”. Yet this book sits among some of Scotland’s most significant cultural history. Highly trained conservation officers will for decades ensure the book retains its excellent condition. I’ve achieved a significant break-through with my artwork using this specific book.
“Inspirational Gardens” may not have the prestige of other written texts. Nor the aesthetic impact of contemporary art books. Its story though has in some way proven “Inspirational” from those who have engaged with it.
More information regarding;
Academic Book Week: https://acbookweek.com/about-acbookweek/ .
Adrian Howells: https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2014/mar/24/adrian-howells .
Adrian Howells archives: http://special.lib.gla.ac.uk/STA/search/detailp.cfm?NID=29652&RID=&EID=&DID=&AID= .