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In Review: Books
In Review: Books

In Review: Books


December 31st

An early champion of 1960s Pop Art, John Coplans was a British World War II veteran who emigrated to the United States in 1960, and was one of the founders of the influential magazine Artforum. But, after years of promoting and curating the works of others (as well as occasionally dabbling in painting), he turned to photography at the venerable age of 64. The subject, hardly unusual amongst artists, was himself, but this was no mere vanity project. Instead, he focused on his naked body as it got older, more wrinkled, less flattering, and increasingly vulnerable. Collected here as The Body As Protest, it’s a remarkable project that spanned almost three decades—Coplans died in 2003—and which essentially reinvented the self-portrait. We are all familiar with the nude in art, but here it became something else, at once more and less human. He photographed exclusively in black-and-white, and always in fragments: his bare back with two fists emerging from the shoulder blades; the folds of skin collected around the knees; the protruding belly—but never the face. The results are enigmatic and anonymous, almost sculpture-like. This book, lavishly illustrated and with accompanying text, also features similar works by other artists—Bruce Nauman, Robert Mapplethorpe, Miyaki Ishiuchi—but it is to Coplans you return most frequently, to his “Interlocking Fingers No. 17” (2000), his strangely feminine “Reclining Figures No. 2” (1996), and the full-frontal “Self-Portrait Six Times” (1987), which says much about gravity and the skin’s ineluctable landslide, how sad the body can seem in age but, so redolent of the life it has lived, beautiful too. NICK DUERDEN

January 1st

This playful how-to by professional Australian crafter Pip Lincolne is worth a read just for a dive into her esoteric world of brightly coloured triangles, balls of twine, thrifted mugs full of clothespins, mismatched plastic animals, and vintage book covers. Taken as a comforting rainy-day nostalgia album, it paints a gorgeous little world that’s hard to out-whimsy. When you remove them from the parade of cosy photos, projects like Summer Camp Wall Pockets and Achilles the Tortoise don’t make much sense on their own, but the concept itself is entertaining nonetheless. In this book full of puzzling artefacts and complicated instructions, Lincolne’s tone seems directed at little kids (“Puppets. They are scary to some people, but not to me”), but the step-by-step guides for most of the projects demand experience with advanced crafts like embroidery, knitting and crocheting (granted, she does run through some basics in an appendix), not to mention fine motor skills well above the preschool level. The results generally aren’t even intended as toys (“Please don’t give these puppets to very small children, who might pull the glued-on bits off and swallow them”). If Make Hey! has an ideal target audience, it’s grown-up, seasoned DIY-ers who know their way around a seam allowance, but also won’t flinch at being encouraged to “unleash” their “crafty ninja.” LIS FERTIG

January 1st

Nell Leyshon’s haunting, terse novella is structured as a confessional journal written in haste. Its narrator and hero is Mary, a practical-minded fourteen-year-old girl born onto a simple farm in rural 19th-century England. The first things we discover about her are that she has just recently learned to write, and that she feels an urgent need to tell her story: “This is my book and i am writing it by my own hand...i want to tell you what it is that happened but i must be ware not to rush at it like the heifers at the gate....” Gradually, a tale unfolds of a smart, courageous and outspoken person who finds herself thrust from one form of servitude to another, wanting a kind of freedom she can barely imagine. The unique narrative format, while skilfully balanced with dialogue, takes some getting used to, and can start to feel cumbersome at times. But it’s worth the patience just to get into Mary’s head—Leyshon has created a protagonist of startling intelligence and sensitivity. Mary is that thrilling jewel of historical fiction: an underdog with an innate sense of justice doing tireless battle with a sadistic, hypocritical world. LF