Updated: Nov 1, 2022
In December 2020 I was able to try screen printing for the first time after a year of being locked down and out of the studio. I combined an image of gum tree bark and a face of a women wearing a burka. I had been exploring these images in my digital collages that year and the different medium and colour palette gave me something new to work with. The whipped flesh look of the bark had made me call the work Torture Scene but the hot pink ink gave the piece a punk vibe.
I'd kept these prints, planning to use them for a project on the Brereton Report, the investigation into the alleged war crimes of the Australian Special Forces in Afghanistan. At the end of his report, Major General Brereton says, 'we are all diminished' by the its findings.
The stab binding book using found objects was the perfect re-purpose of these prints that I rediscovered I my plan drawers.
You can see here the mock ups and learning I have done on stab binding before committing to the final piece.
First I ripped down the pages so they could be folded inwards. I wanted an image on each side of the page and the edge of the paper at the spine. I left the margins close to the spine wide because the stitching would cover the images. I pressed these overnight to ensure that the thick Somerset pages kept their new fold.
I researched the best Army stencil font to cut out the lettering, the redaction of the letters echoing the redactions of the report. The letters absence also spoke to my artwork about the Other, people who are forgotten in the collateral damage of war. The font was printed onto transparencies and then the stencil was used to cut into the pages. I had no spare pages so it was a no-fail mission! It took ages, and at the end of that I backfilled the lettering with extra pages from a copy of the report. The black and white redacted paragraphs peeped through the stencilled lettering.
I used screen board and book covering for the two covers I needed to make. I inlayed the front and then the back with an image of the meritorious unit citation, which alluded to the public debate about the Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) being stripped off the group award for exceptional service when the alleged war crimes were revealed.
I found an image of the citation as a template and used it to make cut out inlays into the book covering material with a box cutter. The reverse colours were perfect for the inside back cover. I used a bone folder to indent the spine and ensure that the PVA glue was spread out and bubbles were removed before pressing the covers again.
After this I focused on binding the book together using a 5-hole Japanese binding technique. Given the thickness of the covers and the pages, I enlisted in the help of a friend in Gold and Silversmithing. I fixed a screen board with the template holes to the book block and we drilled the holes through the pages in one shot, five times.
Having done a couple of mock ups pre-final was a good idea so that I understood the technique before doing the final.
I knew I needed to keep the thread taut so that the stitches held the book pages snugly. In hindsight though, I would have made the holes bigger because the needle and wax thread was tough to push in and out of the book, and I had do use pliers to help me at the end.
The hidden parts of the pages within the spine also echo what is hidden and exposed in the investigations about the Afghanistan War. Some things will never be known.
You can see below each page and a video of the final piece.