In Agnès Varda’s film, The gleaners and I, she holds up a heart-shaped potato and shows how the practice of gleaning (the process of going into the field after the harvest has happened to pick what is left) is like her own process of collecting images.
In this first artist bookplate for Melbourne Art Library, I wanted to show the rich intertextuality of this space; an expanded idea of intertextuality – as in the relationship between texts, as well as the relationship between people and texts, places and ideas. In years to come, the library may acquire books differently but in 2020 all books were found, donated or given by people, galleries, and institutions. Looking at them as a collection is like gleaning in the way of A.V.; reading not just to glean information but to gather from that which is left over.
In making this bookplate, I wanted to acknowledge the labour of my friend Nell Fraser in creating and caring for this collection. The painting that the bookplate references is Jules-Bastien Lepage’s October (Saison d'octobre), which is in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria. It’s a classic European painting, which you can buy a copy of on https://paintingandframe.com for $19.90 (art print by machine) or $88.33 (oil painting by artist). Like Varda’s film, it appears to depict the gleaning of potatoes. Two women in the foreground fill their baskets while others work behind them.
If you research this image it doesn’t take long to discover its provenance is fraught in the way that most things belonging to so-called Australia are. Lepage’s painting was previously owned by a man who monetised mineral material found on the stolen lands of the Wilyakali people in order to create the Broken Hill Proprietary Mining Company. From this – a game of theft and luck – came the man’s means of collecting art. Dispossession enacts a specific form of dispersal and the contradictions of this image/story remind us of the way in which art and minerals are intertwined in this country. The wealth of our institutions relies on a framework of omission, a framework that runs counter to Varda’s idea of gleaning and the methodology of layered exposition that enacts it.
This bookplate tells the story of the giving of a gift because a library is this too: it is the passage of objects between different hands and the sharing of possession/s. It is the random scrap of text or the image discovered in between two pages. It is the desire to find what you are looking for and the longing to find something else. Just as art is full of contradictions and omissions it is also a space in which to probe them. It is my hope that this library can contribute to this and facilitate the sharing of knowledge and critical discussion around art. This bookplate is the smallest gesture towards that possibility and the idea that, here together, we might share something that makes us less alone.
- Esther Carlin, 2020 Melbourne Art Library Bookplate Artist
Melbourne Art Library, Naarm