Reading as an act of performance

Curator Kevin Rodgers explores the sentimental value behind artists’ books

The Ways of Reading exhibition will be at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre this winter semester.
The Ways of Reading exhibition will be at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre this winter semester.
Supplied by the Agnes Etherington Art Centre

The Agnes’ exhibition With You and Others features art in the form of books.

The Agnes is currently home to an exhibition of vintage artists’ books — self-published books taking various forms — which aims to portray the sentimentality behind the books and their multiple identities as text, image and object.

The vintage artists’ books are presented in different styles, including foldout pages or loose-leaf page additions and a combination of text and images. 

The exhibition, With You and Others, is part of the Agnes’ winter exhibition. Throughout the winter season, the exhibition will be accompanied by a series of talks with featured artists. 

This Saturday, the first talk of the series, titled Acts of Reading, featured the exhibition’s curator Kevin Rodgers. 

Rodgers studied at Western University and holds a PhD in Art and Visual Culture. He was the Artistic Director of Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre in Kingston, which showcases work by artists within a 100-kilometre radius of the centre.

The event gave attendees the chance to admire artist books, which are essentially pieces of art themselves, as well as speak with Rodgers about the exhibition. 

“With You and Other alludes to a subject in relation [to something else] — I am with you and we are with others. It’s a reflective practice and in this context that practice is one of reading and within reading, suggests a passage of time,” Rodgers said during the talk.

According to the Agnes website, the exhibition “contemplates reading as a performative and personal act.”

Rodgers chose specific books from his With You and Others exhibition that featured themes of time and human relationships in context with reading.

“It isn’t uncommon to say that you read someone’s face or read their emotion. We read texts, we read images and objects and each other,” Rodgers said.  

Rodgers said these particular books help artists understand themselves and others, and connect them with a different type of art, especially through format. 

“In this exhibition, some of the books are purely typographic,” he said. “Others are combinations of texts and image. Some rely completely on images. Despite the range, the conventions are what connect them. The books challenge literary conventions.” 

In response to a question from an attendee, Rodgers discussed new technology and the new age of reading. 

We’ve changed not only what we read, but also how we read, he said — for example, there are now many different formats for artists to work in, such as video. 

He wasn’t convinced, however, that new inventions that provide written content through a screen can replace books as an artistic format — and neither was the audience. 

“You develop a relationship with an actual text or book,” a member of the audience said.

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