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by Deirdre Keenaghan

Last year in Japan, I found the most wonderful calligraphy shop in Kyoto. It was an artist’s dream, full of beautiful handmade paper and quill pens. I had no idea what to buy and my lack of Japanese didn’t help. I settled on a variety of paper, a few ink pens and a blank concertina book. I had no use for the book, but I felt it would come in useful one day.

When I spotted the Northern Beaches Library Art Book call for entries, I knew my Japanese book now had a purpose. The subject was an easy decision, the Sydney Fish Market. I live near the market and often stroll down there for some salmon fillets or a kilo of prawns.

It is a collection of old buildings, painted in an almost turquoise blue with various fish mongers and other cafes dotted around a large carpark. I know it’s a bit dilapidated and now showing its age, but there is such character to the place. Faded umbrellas on the terrace, provide welcome shade to the many visitors enjoying their choice of fish dish and sometimes a bottle of beer.

To me, originally from Ireland, the market is very Australian and captures all that is good here, the sea, the food and the outdoor life. It was even more important to make it the subject of my art book as it is soon to be demolished and relocated across the water. I have many reservations about this, because it will lose a lot of its charm. I wonder whether the decision is really about the fish market or the fact it is sitting on a real estate gold mine. It will undoubtedly be newer and fancier but a loss for Sydney. The idea of expressing this in a book was good as books, just like old buildings, are often replaced with something new. The old paper book can sometimes seem redundant in this digital age.

I used real estate brochures for the collage material and cut out the taglines and phrases used in the industry, e.g. ‘ocean views’ and ‘stunning harbourside dwelling’. Real estate is about selling a dream, and it was a good choice of material I hoped would make people think about what gets lost in the process of redevelopment. I titled it Sydney Fish Market, going, going, gone – a nod to its fate and the Dutch auctions held there every morning.

The Manly Council teamed up with artist Geoff Harvey to make the final selection and displayed all these works at the Manly art gallery and museum, a charming old building on the waterfront. An open night was held, the mayor made a speech. A selection of the books was acquired by the library for their own collection. There was a wonderful crowd at the event. The books were varied and impressive. The collaboration between the library and the museum allowed for the book quality to be authentic and the works to be selected on artistic merit.

The notion of an artbook was new to me. I had a vague idea what it was so I was unsure what would be on display in the exhibition. The artists interpreted the brief in many ways. Some books were bound and covered and presented as a traditional book, other artists deconstructed the ‘book’ into pages or stitched it back together. A few books were more sculptural, like Lisa Giles, Encyclo-circle a beautiful circular artwork using colourful pages from an encyclopedia, folded and facing upwards, celebrating the tradition of large book research. The art book by well-known artist Wendy Sharpe recounted her Moroccan travels on a rolled-out scroll, in keeping with the culture of that land and illustrated with disappearing busy streets. Occasionally only a few pages were revealed, like my own in a concertina fashion, this added to the storytelling quality.

All the books were interesting, well made and ingenious. The exhibition was curated well and displayed in two rooms at the rear of the gallery.

A great boost for artists and Manly!

Text and art illustrations copyright Deirdre Keenaghan.


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