Art brought to book

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THERE are books made of glass, books made of wood, books made of mirrors, and books made from cushions.

There’s one which comes in a matchbox and one which can’t fit in the room when unfolded. There’s one which opens to reveal a dead silkworm and several which don’t open at all.

There’s one made to look like a tin and one that does exactly what it says on the tin - it’s called A List Of Everything In My Home and it simply lists everything in the writer’s house.

There are books made in Australia and books made in Argentina. There’s some from northern Europe and one from South Africa.

There are some that are jaw-dropping works of craft and art.

“And some,” says curator Ellen McLeod, “are rubbish. There’s one that was just some printer paper tied together. But we’ve tried to display everything submitted. Mostly anyway. I think we disqualified six.”

Welcome, reader, to the Third Sheffield International Artist’s Book Prize at Bank Steet Arts, city centre.

This is the UK’s only awards for books which have been made not necessarily to be read - although some demand such a courtesy - but as works of art in themselves.

Here, dotted around three rooms are 172 books from 22 countries, and the only thing they really have in common is that they are all completely different.

Among the collection are pop up books, scrap books and a talking book (price tag: £1,000). There’s one made from a train timetable and another which contains more than 200 screen shots of the film Last Tango In Paris.

As exhibitions go, it’s bizarre alright - but it’s also bizarrely compelling.

“We started the prize in 2008 because there was nothing like it being done in the UK,” says John Clark, director of the gallery. “They have artist’s book prizes in the US and Australia, and I thought it was a shame there wasn’t one here.

“But to be honest, more than that, it was just an excuse to exhibit some of the beautiful books which people are making around the world. We wanted to be able to show them off right here - and starting an international prize was a way of doing that.”

From humble beginnings - there were barely 50 entries in 2008 - the biennial event is now fast gaining something of a worldwide reputation.

“We’ve got submissions from places like South Korea and Argentina,” says John. “We ask on the form where people heard about the prize and a lot tend to say word of mouth which is strange when they’re from so far away.”

And for the first time, this year’s prize is split into three.

There’s the Jury Prize decided by a judging panel of John himself, Maria White from Tate Library and Sarah Bodman from the Centre For Fine Print Research. That was won by A Dialogue Of Useful Phrases by Elizabeth Tonnard from The Netherlands, a hand-made book where each page contains a single...well useful phrase. “You excite my curiosity,” reads one.

The Student Prize went to A List Of Everything In My Home by Clare Rodgers from Plymouth.

And the third prize is decided by you. Visitors to the exhibition are asked to vote for their favourite. The winner will be announced when the exhibition closes on November 5.

Let’s just hope it’s not the printer paper one that wins.