Picture books for adults Kōrero Series editor Lloyd Jones writes about the magic that can happen when art is made.
The French poet Gerard de Nerval famously took a lobster for a walk on the end of a blue silk ribbon. Asked why? the poet replied, why is a lobster any more ridiculous than a dog?
So begins The Lobster's Tale by poet and essayist Chris Price and photographer Bruce Foster. Price tours the reader through the social and cultural landscape of the lobster. In addition to the main narrative, a single line of unbroken text considers the consciousness of the lobster above and below the waterline. Where it goes, humankind may follow.
As The Lobster's Tale is a picture book, the photographs by Foster produce a fabulous and inventive foil. In a children's picture book, inevitably a picture of a lobster would illustrate de Nerval's walking companion. In this instance, Foster offers a sumptuous, imaginative transition. A panel of 21 images begins with a wisp of white cloud above the waterline. We follow its descent to below the waterline, until the cloud we began with enters darkness. The series registers the interplay between the conscious and unconscious layers of existence.
The Lobster's Tale is the third title in the Kōrero Series published by Massey University Press. The series was inspired by the European and American tradition of the "artist book", which is usually conceived as a collectible with a modest print run. The Kōrero Series seeks to engage and excite the general reader, and, perhaps, more importantly, offer a new playground for local writers and poets and artists of all disciplines to engage in the collaborative process.
Sometimes in the making of art a little magic happens. You have to chance it to happen. Where anything can happen by daring it too is often a transitional space.
High Wire, a collaboration between me and Sydney-based artist Euan McLeod, began the series. Our "conversation" took the form of words and scribbles emailed back and forth across the Tasman. Sometimes the drawings were worked up, but often they took the form of a sketch or an idea jotted down on the fly. The text and line sometimes agreed and cohered and sometimes disagreed and disrupted each other, creating new sites of meaning. After some sensitive design input from Gary Stewart, the Kōrero Series was launched.
For most of us, our reading began with picture books. The text on one side, the image on the other in a faithful reiteration. The artist book relies on a different kind of association. A sharing of process tends to shift the participants from their comfortable and familiar ways of working.
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New writing – genuinely new writing – often results from exposure to radically different modes of thinking. This is what Kōrero is all about, a new kind of conversation for writers and artists to engage with.
The artist book has a vital tradition in Europe and the United States. Not so much here in New Zealand, though with a few notable exceptions – Bill Manhire's collaboration with Ralph Hotere, and John Caselberg's with Colin McCahon. The task of the series is to plant a few local seeds.
In Shining Land: Looking for Robin Hyde, the second book of the series, the investigations of essayist and novelist Paula Morris and photographer Haru Sameshima take a path through the work of Hyde, travelling to towns and places significant in Hyde's own story. The book is loosely biographical, but, crucially, Shining Land is the result of two minds finding one another through Hyde's texts. In this instance, Hyde might be considered the third collaborator. After all, without her, there is no country to meet in.
The fourth title, Miracles, by poet Lynley Edmeades and artist Saskia Leek, is scheduled for publication in May 2022.
Each artist and writer pair follows their own process. The participants discover their own unique collaborative process through conversation. The undertaking is speculative by nature. There is never any guarantee it will work. However, as in all successful collaborations, neither the writer nor the artist could have ended up where they did without the other. It is a meeting of minds, but not necessarily "like" minds. As the commissioning editor, I suggest a topic - but that is only a starting point. Inevitably, the conversation will move on to a new place altogether.
"Look to the life that goes on in your blind spot …" advises Chris Price's lobster, "… ahead remains a narrowing gap no creature can thread solo by exercise or will, but only in collaboration: you might choose to carry each other as the kōura in berry carries eggs below her tail until they're fit to burst …"
The Lobster's Tale, by Chris Price and Bruce Foster (Massey University Press, $45), is out now.