Several chapters on book-making material

Ellen McLeod with some of the books entered in the International Artists Book Prize exhibition at Bank Street Arts
Ellen McLeod with some of the books entered in the International Artists Book Prize exhibition at Bank Street Arts
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The most unusual book is probably the one made from a dried-out aubergine – but only just.

There are also books made from leaves, books made from roof slates, books made from panes of glass and one book made entirely from Leeds to Sheffield train tickets.

There’s a book so small it fits in a matchbook; and another so large it hangs across an entire wall. One has been made to look like the skull of a goat.

There are some books you can even, er, read. Although, to be honest, not very many.

Welcome to an exhibition which makes your average library collection look positively mundane.

This is the fourth Sheffield International Artist’s Book Prize, the UK’s premier showcase of tomes which won’t necessarily bother the best-seller lists, but which are made simply to look beautiful. And, perhaps, bizarre too.

Some 455 such creations – sent in from across the world (“from Australia to Attercliffe”) – are on show for the next two months at Bank Street Arts, in Bank Street. And The Diary is here to get a sneak preview ahead of today’s official opening.

“There’s no other exhibition quite like it in the UK,” says Ellen McLeod, curator at the city centre gallery, as she shows us round. “Some of these books are breath-taking. Why do people make them? To show the possibility of how books can look.”

The biennial showcase – after which one entrant will win a judges’ prize and another a visitors’ vote – was started in 2008.

“In 2011 we got 172 entrants,” explains Ellen. “And we were expecting the same this time but they just kept arriving. Every morning the post was full. It was like Christmas. They’ve been sent from 35 countries.”

The collection ranges from the informative (one is a model of the solar system) to the mundane (a book charting a game of Rock Paper, Scissors, anyone?). About 30 have been made by Sheffield artists such as Jane Galletly who tells a love story through the medium of train tickets, collected while visiting her boyfriend in Leeds.

And some...well, some barely look like books at all. Certainly, you don’t often find a volume made to resemble a race course at Woodseats Library.

“What constitutes a book?” ponders Ellen. “We don’t define it. If you need to explain why your work is a book then it probably isn’t.”

Either way, she’s hoping the exhibition attracts people who wouldn’t normally visit an art gallery.

“This is really accessible because people are interested to see what can be done with this everyday object,” she explains. “It’s always one of our most popular exhibitions.”

It runs until November 30 when the winner of the visitor’s prize – the book voted favourite by visitors – will be announced.