There is something of a paradox at the centre of Phoenix Gallery’s new exhibition of artists’ books, as curator Karin Mori explains.

“By their nature, artists’ books can bypass the gallery,” she says.

“An artist can make a book and send it directly to somebody. It doesn’t have to be experienced in a gallery.”

Anyone who has seen a display of old manuscripts or first editions will have seen firsthand the frustration a book display can engender – often visitors only get the chance to see one double page of a massive tome at a time, as the subjects are locked behind glass or inside cabinets to avoid being damaged by many hands.

Designer Ben Thomson has sought to wrestle with both these problems in presenting the handmade, bound works of art. The exhibition coincides neatly with author Michael Rosen’s stint as guest artistic director at Brighton Festival.

“We have more than 100 artists’ books,” says Mori. “Ben has designed a series of spaces offering ways to present the books which is appropriate to their structure.

“Some are in cabinets, some on tables, some are hanging from the ceiling. They are sculptures in their own right.”

A decision to make the whole exhibition wheelchair accessible means the books are designed to be examined at seated or kneeling level, adding to the intimacy of the contact.

“At the centre of this exhibition is being able to hold most of the books, even if it means putting your hands in an incubator,” says Mori.

“These are personal, intimate things an artist has made.

“With some shows, people come and stand around, look at the work and leave. We are hoping with this they will sit down and spend an hour exploring the books.

“Ben is creating an experience, to bring it back from the gallery to create a home environment and context to experience the books as works of art.”

As well as a gallery exhibition, the Phoenix has organised several interactive elements. There is a Bookends Lounge, where visitors can make books, find out more about artists’ books, and bring their own creations to swap and share. The gallery is also offering three workshops in miniature book-making and artists’ books creation led by artists Lee Shearman and Sarah Bryant. And there is a Press And Release shop, offering artists’ books and ’zines to buy and take away.

On Saturday, June 1, there will be an afternoon of artists’ books, Off The Page, offering a mix of workshops, networking opportunities and illustrated talks.

And performance and artists’ books will come together in Shaking The Shelf on Saturday, May 25, from 7pm.

“A number of the artists in the exhibition are performers,” says Mori.

“John Bentley is in a band and has made a pop-up book inspired by [Terry Gilliam’s movie] The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus, which he can open up and perform inside as a set.

“Carolina Diaz is a dancer, who has created a performance where she emerges out of a book.

“And Ian Paxon is also in a band – his book is based around a freewheeling narrative, which he will perform using light projections.

“It’s a very flexible medium, it involves people from lots of different backgrounds and art forms.”

Other books within the exhibition are equally as innovative.

Sculptor Chiara Bianchi has used existing books to create new objects and figures which can be found within the pages.

And Leslie Wilson Rutterford’s work uses a book of US history to create new pieces based around its pages. The books were collected through an open call, and various networks of book-makers in the US, China and Brighton itself.

Mori is hoping artists will be able to build on this exhibition, leading to future events.

“We’re hoping to go to the US and make some contacts with other organisations, and get more international links with Asia and other places in the future.

“It’s really important that we have artists in the local area too.”

The starting point for this could be a collaborative artists’ book which will be created during the exhibition.

“It’s under the heading of Swings And Roundabouts,” says Mori. “It’s referencing what is going on outside the building at The Level.

"There are lots of different themes under that heading, so people will be able to come along and create a page that will go into the book.”

  • Press And Release is at Phoenix Brighton, Waterloo Place, from Saturday, April 27, to Sunday, June 9. The exhibition is open Wednesday to Sunday, 11am to 5pm; Thursday, May 16, to Saturday, May 18, 11am
    to 9pm. Free, visit