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Artists’ book is an interdisciplinary object floating on the confluence of books and art—or playing a lemon of apple and pear, as per Clive Philpott’s diagram. Although discussed and described by librarians and now being firmly established within contemporary art practice, artists’ books still seldom feature in genuine cross-disciplinary research, that integrates perspectives from beyond the study of books or art. My presentation will examine one such possible approach, introducing relevance theory—a contemporary linguistics theory primarily concerned with processes of interpretation—as a framework for thinking about artists books.
Relevance theory is a cognitively orientated theory of pragmatics, which focuses on aspects of interpretation. It considers how readers’/listeners’ attention gets captured; it then follows an inferential process to whatever effects the reader may experience: cognitive effects or possibly imagistic or affective effects. It claims to provide a psychologically accurate model for interpretative process. It is considered one of the most influential theories in pragmatics today. As a linguistics theory, it is centred on written and spoken language (everyday speech and poetic or literary texts). However, I believe that its fundamental ideas are extendible beyond pure language study and are particularly interesting in respect to artists’ books.
In my presentation, I will discuss a selection of books from Small Press Collection, UCL (London) as well as my own recent works. I will examine the following principles of relevance theory: what can relevance theory reveal about artists’ books? What can it tell us about the relationship between various elements of the book, literary or poetic texts and visual components? What can it tell us about the relationship between book and the reader?