Shelf Life 2008

Edition 12 + 3 A/P. C Type Print. Fuji Crystal Archive Paper.
Print size 1: 370 x 290mm. Edition 12

Canto 1000

Canto 1147

Canto 1158

Canto 1170

Canto 1188

Canto 1228

Canto 1261

Canto 1284

Canto 1301

Canto 1314

Canto 1371

Canto 1384

Canto 1417

Canto 1479

Canto 1523

Canto 1524

Canto 1534

Canto 1537

Canto 1553

Canto 1628

Canto 1630

Canto 1671

Canto 1676

Canto 1718

Canto 1723

Canto 1767

Canto 1811

Canto 1819

Canto 1829

Canto 1844

Canto 1848

Canto 1871

Canto 1931

Canto 1937

Canto 1961

Canto 1965

Canto 1985

Canto 2056

Canto 2073

Canto 2131

Canto 2239

Canto 2250

Canto 2274

Canto 2286

Canto 2324

Canto 2373

Canto 2378

Canto 2382


Where Hours of Devotion was Bailey's intial response to the Coutts archive commission – please refer to the accompanying essay to that series - Shelf Life is a separate, self-contained visual essay to emerge from her involvement with the books in Angela Burdett-Coutts’ library. By contrast to the emphasis on the pages and content that lies between the tooled leather covers of these tomes, Bailey has shifted her focus to the bindings themselves – verso and recto - cropping uniformly to endow particular significance to their spines.

The images are a testament to the process and wear of time, light and the occasional reader. The surfaces - marbled card, spun cloth or soft animal skin - retain the battle scars of use. Formerly adjacent library books of different heights have left ghostly light shadows on the bindings of their neighbours. The spines themselves, proudly displaying the gold embossed decorations typical of the nineteenth century, have been subjected to Bailey's editorial instinct. As in the Postscript series, where she deliberately denied the viewer access to the specific contents of the love letters, the titles here have
been digitally removed, erased from their rightful and expected positions. This de-contextualising imparts a stronger visual impact, presenting us with simple spare fields of colour. Each is now is bestowed with its original library index number, though now pre-fixed with Canto. The poetical implications are obvious – from Dante to Byron to Pound – but it also imposes a rhythm upon the rich tonalities of colour. In visual terms, the reference is less specifically poetical, than paying fealty to those such as Rothko, and above all Barnett Newman own series of 18 Cantos from 1963-4.

Although here utilising the medium of photography and taking as her subject the luscious surfaces fashioned by Victorian book-binders, Bailey's cantos do reflect 'a form, mood, colour beat, scale and key' similar to the lithographs that Newman created in his 18 Cantos. Each image can stand alone, but undoubtedly the 48 in the series offer a multiplicity of unique arrangements, creating almost infinite rhythms of different cadences and resonance. Like Newman, Bailey accepts that any “attempt
to describe something which is alive is impossible”; in his essays Ezra Pound wrote
of rhythm as ' the hardest quality of a man's style to counterfeit'. Shelf Life in a sense is her offering to her audience to do with what they will, her invocation to the viewer to compose his or her own visual “boogie woogie”.


Edition of 12 + 3 A/P. C Type Print. Fuji Crystal Archive Paper.
Print size 1: 370 x 290mm . Edition 12

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All artwork and images © Veronica Bailey 2022.