Apr/May 2010  •   Reviews & Interviews

An Interview with Muriel Prince

Review by Elizabeth P. Glixman

Muriel Prince is a writer, artist, and designer. She combines the written word and visual image (digital images, photos, drawings) to create art books. She also creates multimedia gallery pieces. She lives and works in the Scottish Borders.


EG     Please define artist books.

MP     The term "artist book" covers a whole spectrum of book art, from unique sculptural pieces to both limited and unlimited editions. I think there are probably almost as many definitions of artist books as there are book artists.

For me, an artist book encapsulates the concept of the narrative within the form of the book and allows me, the maker, to control and balance the content and structure in as varied a way as is desired to achieve the final result.

EG     How and when did you get interested in creating these books?

MP     While studying for my degree in printmaking at Loughborough University, I wanted to combine text and image, and a visiting lecturer introduced me to artist books.

I was overwhelmed at the notion of a book not having to be a conventional book. I researched and experimented with various types of materials and formats.

EG     Did you study both digital and "old-fashioned" book making?

MP     As I mentioned, my educational background is in Fine Art printmaking. It was after leaving university that I became interested in digital imagery and layout design, partly due to the limited printmaking facilities in the area that I was living in but also finding that the more I learned about and used my computer, the more "hooked" I became on the potential and challenges of producing digital imagery by manipulating texts.

I didn't formally study bookbinding. Apart from a couple of workshops with Mia Leijonstedt, I am self-taught, basically through trial and error.

EG     I am interested in hearing more about three of your works that are seen on your website. Two are in the Unique Book Works Section. Three Voices and Girdle Books. The other is under Metal Rabbit Editions' "From Alcapulco to Ovarian Ablation." Catchy title. First let's talk about Three Voices.

Description from website:

This three-section book was made to accompany the spoken narrative and text installation ESTRANGEMENT in 2007. Digitally produced texts printed on layout paper and vellum. Stitched Japanese bindings.

Please tell us the seed idea for this work and its evolution.

MP     The theme of my Masters work was the subject of "estrangement." The work itself started from the idea that I wanted to bring together different aspects and levels of estrangement—from self, from people, and from society. I wrote three stories about three women, each estranged in different ways, and as each character developed, I collected and created images and objects as "portraits." I chose a different font to represent each character and produced their stories as visual text-as-image works.

I wanted to present each character "separately but together" in a single book. By stitching the three stories together, from left, right and along the bottom, they could be interwoven with each other but could also be untangled and viewed as separate stories.

The actor Julie Coombe recorded the narratives, and I chose to present them as a visual sound piece in an exhibition. The grey background reflected the "mood," and the phrases/quotes on the walls, e.g., "Stone walls nor iron bars do not a prison make," was used to illustrate that often the sense of estrangement is created by the individual.

EG     The spoken narrative is present here as in several of your pieces. Do you consider yourself a performance artist also?

MP     A performance artist, no, not personally. I write a lot and find that the image and narrative drive each other and the narrative often takes the lead. I enjoy other people reading my works aloud and enjoyed the "novel" experience of Julie recording and presenting my words.

EG     The girdle books are fascinating. You've added other materials to these creations and also used color. Are they strictly for exhibition or do people purchase them and wear them?

MP     While researching historical book structures, I discovered girdle books. These originated in the Middle Ages and were worn by pilgrims who carried inspirational writings in them.

I loved the idea of "wearing" a book, particularly one whose focus is on a journey of some sort. I love to sew, particularly patchwork, and that seemed the ideal form to represent the fragmented texts within the books.

The impression may be that girdle books from the Middle Ages would be drab, but there was a lot of color in this period, probably more so in the aristocracy and the church, in textiles and within written texts. The use of bright or strong color seemed appropriate.

The girdle books are for exhibition, apart from "Journey," which has been purchased and worn by the owner. She has added her own texts to the book, which I like as it strengthens its uniqueness and increases the engagement of the owner with the work.

EG     Where did the name Metal Rabbit Editions come from? Do you plan on adding work to MRE?

MP     Around the time I was looking for a name for my limited edition works, a friend gave me a beautiful metal rabbit made in Africa from recycled pieces of metal. The name Metal Rabbit Editions seemed appropriate, fun, and distinctive. I'm currently working on a series of books about the seven sins, taking a humourous look at these within the context of modern society.

EG     The design of "From Alcapulco to Ovarian Ablation" is striking. I am curious about the title, the narrative, and the process of creating this book. Please tell us about the technical aspect of making this book.

MP     A couple of years after graduating from Loughborough University, I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. This book developed from the journal I kept during my "journey" through diagnosis, treatment, and afterward.

During the early stages, screening, and diagnosis, the desire was to "run away," and my chosen destination was Acapulco. At the latter stages of radiotherapy, part of my treatment was ablation to my ovaries. Having no children, the ovarian ablation was the end of any hope that this might happen. The title thus reflects the light and dark of the journey.

The narrative pieces are observations, thoughts, reactions, and reflections on events and feelings throughout the journey, presented in various styles to show the highs and lows, the humor and despair that I experienced at various times.

Many who had read the journal felt others would recognize their own experiences and that I should consider a limited run. At that time, I was looking at producing work digitally, which lends itself to larger run numbers. Thus the book was created. The imagery is mainly photographic, and I designed each double-page spread. This reflects my love of layout as talked about earlier. I could not envisage producing a large number of copies myself, so had them commercially printed and stitch-bound.

I wanted to add more "drama" to the book, so I cut into some pages and modified others as a final personal finish, so each book, although commercially produced, is hand finished and unique.

EG     Have you been influenced by any artists or writers?

MP     I'm very interested in how artists use text, e.g., Tracey Emin's blankets with appliqued texts and Bruce Nauman's soundworks and neon text images.

I admire the wonderful books of Antoni Tapies, the moody nursery rhyme prints of Paula Rego, and the text works of Barbara Kruger and Douglas Gordon.

Mia Leijonstedt makes truly beautiful unique books that are always an inspiration.

There are many, many writers whose work I find inspirational. I enjoy the honesty and humor in Wendy Cope's poetry, the poetic fiction of Kirsty Gunn, and the short stories of Tove Jansson, to name just a few.

EG     Where can people see your work?

MP     Metal Rabbit Editions can be seen at the Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh, Scotland.