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Tommaso Durante
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Visual Artist


The historical and critical attitude to define and categorize a complex artistc media like the artist book always faces several difficulties due to the unique nature and the methodological ‘indeterminacy’ of what is named book-object, bookwork or livre d’artistes.


The artist book was born from the artist’s need to escape any cataloging, to cross the boundaries of art and defined cultures; it was born as an interdisciplinary ‘tool’ of artistic practice. Today the bookwork is a phenomenon of art-expression and more in general of global culture, but it has very ancient roots. They go back to the `book of the roll’ of the Tibetan manuscripts, to the Egyptian papyrus, the illuminated manuscripts of Middle-Ages and whatever was and still is made under the sign of Gutenberg, including what is produced in the different materiality of the web.


In the (post)modern era what we call or define artist book is the extension of the modern concept of livre d’artiste made by Mallarme with his 'Coup de dés', of the historical livre d’artiste of Matisse and Picasso. But it also reminds us of the book-object of the Italian futurist graphic artist Fortunato Depero and the artist books produced by the Russian revolutionary counterpart, El Lissitzky and Majakowskj, up to the American significative experience embodied by Fluxus and the powerful interpretations and alterations made by the contemporary artists. In the age of the e-book, the printed book does not die and continues to be one of the strongest trans-disciplinary media of artistic expression and visual exploration. In my case, it is also a tool of philosophical investigation.


The bookwork can be both book and anti-book. If you just visit the artists’ book exhibitions which are organized around the world, you will touch with your hands book-works made with earth, wood, marble, bronze, leaves, water, digital installations and much more. Or you can simply visit the State Library of Victoria, around the corner, to find one of the most interesting collections of artist books. Alternatively you can jump, right here, into the Rare Books and Special Collections of Melbourne University.


As an artist, I am attracted to the idea of making artist books, in large or in limited editions, like LIMES, and I like to think that artist books are folded travelling exhibitions. For an artist, there is immense pleasure in the potential to control the entire production process of a book, from the beginning to the end, from the stage of the creation to the layout, the choice of the type of paper, fonts, printing and finally the choice of the type of binding. For me making artist books means to turn what is familiar into the unfamiliar, to turn what is ordinary into the extraordinary, and, possibly, to turn what is extraordinary into a visionary journey.


The artist book is an artistic journey in itself, since the creator ranges from one artistic discipline to another before settling on a final and sometimes altered structure of the ‘sacred shape’. It is here, inside this unstable and methodological undefinible type of artistic medium that the book-shape, just like the phoenix, finds its place of choice and its regenerative energy. I see it as a living object. We call it book but really it belongs to an undefined artistic category and a fantastic new media of artistic expression at the dawn of our twenty-first century.


I like very much making bookworks by combining various artistic media, that differ a lot one from the other, both for their nature and their language. In this case, with LIMES, I considered digital art, photography plus graphic design, on the one hand, and poetry on the other hand, by asking one of the Australian leading poets, Chris Wallace-Crabbe, to make this risky journey together.


My visual and philosophycal journey started from a trip to Aotearoa [The Land of the Long White Cloud], New Zealand, in the autumn of 2009, where I collected digital images of the ‘Hell’s Gate’ in Rotorua, under the suggestion of Dante’s Inferno.

After one of our ‘convivios’, a good glass of wine and a conversation between friends, Chris and I felt midway through life’s journey in a global world where, paraphrasing Dante, the straight way was lost. Eventually, LIMES was born by our unease. And this happened not because of a bad wine. Actually the wine was very good but our feeling was all about the world around us.


In Summer 2010 the project culminated in the production of a limited edition artist book in collaboration with Chris. Also on this occasion we collaborated in total autonomy over linguistic styles and contents. Every time we met we had a new ‘convivio’ as a good ‘excuse’ to put aside our commitments for few hours and to have our conversations about art and the world, while tasting a Carpaccio di Pesce Spada (a Sword Fish Carpaccio) or a dish of Pappardelle. 


Beyond the allegorical description of sin and virtue, I have always been impressed by the value of Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’ as what I call the first ante litteram global-book. In fact Dante’s meditation in the medioeval age is still very appropriate to the present discourses around the ethics of the New Global Economy and, quoting Bauman, around the ‘liquid time’ of the global epochal transformation we are living in. Dante wrote: ‘The darkest places in the Hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis’.


My collaboration with Chris started in 2003 with the artist book Terra Australis, which is my first Australian successful and prize winning  artist book. The collaboration continued with another successful bookwork, Skin, Surfaces and Shadows, and today we are here for our LIMES.


Once again Chris worked as a sculptor of words, and once again I was impressed by the way in which he leaves a mark in the place of indifference. With his poem ‘Inferno Three’, every time I situated the poem lines inside my images, I had to deal with an installation, not merely with the placement of written words on a page.


As you can see from the pieces displayed on the table over there, the bookwork was digitally printed in 10 colour pigments inkjet by a master fine-art-printer, Brian Gilkes, and it was hand bound by master-binder Elke Ahokas. The choice of the paper was above all about the sensorial experience that Awagami-Inbe Japanese paper gives me. The paper is made by fiber with the absence of cotton, and this gives transparency to the pages and a unique texture to the touch. This type of paper production is rooted in the 14th century Japanese tradition. Therefore LIMES is an unique combination of contemporary art and craftsmanship. Chris’ poem was accuratey translated in Italian language by my partner, Mariella Barbara, and this is an added value to the communication power of the bookwork.


Artistic production has always been and continues to be rooted in the technique. We could say that art, in the course of its historical development, is mainly an aesthetic expression of the various techniques. My artistic production does not express itself in any specific artistic medium, and it crosses the boundaries into various areas of art and knowledge. I am an artist but, equally important, I am an explorer of ideas, language, formats and change.


At the dawn of this complex new century art does not need to be turned into the sociology of everyday life. Art does not need to challenge life but to surpass it. Art needs to be only… larger than life. And I hope that this, in some way, happened with LIMES.


As a conclusion, I would like to tell something about the bookwork title. It comes from the ancient Latin word limes [limit], which –  at the time of the Roman Empire – was used to describe a fortified boundary, a delimiting system of ancient Rome, as well as a way to go through, a passage. Anyway this meaning, related to the phisical/spatial aspect of the bookwork, is only one aspect of the possible readings of LIMES. As my friend poet Chris wrote: “Self is the self’s great enemy”. Das Es [The It]. By crossing space-time and cultural boundaries from Middle Age to Global Age and through an aesthetic visionary journey of art and poetry, text and images, LIMES intends to put a philosophical as well as a political question about what philosophers call our phenomenological exhistence, that in other words means our everyday life, about our being-in-a-global world.


I really hope that you will feel it when you turn over the pages of LIMES. Thank you.


*Adapted from Tommaso Durante’s speech at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne on the 7th of April 2011 for Limes book launch.

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At 19:08 on June 6, 2011, Rosemarie Jeffers-Palmer said…

I have enjoyed reading your explanation of artists books. I have been taking a semester at COFA (College of Fine Arts - MSW University) for several years now and find the work the students produce very exciting.


The book you show here is very interesting so I hope you do not mind that I contact you directly to ask if you are interested to join our Artists' Book exhibition due to open on 30th September here is Sydney. If so then email me and II will send you the Entry Form and Conditions of Entry.

Your work is very relevant of course and it would be a pleasure to see it here in Sydney.

A full colour catalogue showing all the works in the exhibition plus artists statements will be produced and each exhibitor gets one as part of their entry fee.





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The exhibition presents two connected bodies of material: a survey of artists’ books by Australian painter, sculptor and bookmaker Robert Jacks (1942-2014), and an extensive selection of publications drawn from Jacks’ own collection, many of which were purchased from Printed Matter in the early years of the organization.




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