Jenny CHRISTMANN, 20 woollen books Enlarge 1 /1


Dusseldorf, Germany 1928 – Sydney, New South Wales, Australia 2005

  • Arrived Australia 30 March 1955

20 woollen books 1977 - 1978 Collection Title: 20 woollen books
Place made: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Materials & Technique: textiles, artist's books, knitted wool
Primary Insc: No inscriptions.

Dimensions: overall variable 140.4 h x 24.4 w x 54.6 d cm
Acknowledgement: Gift of the Philip Morris Arts Grant 1982
Accession No: NGA 83.2822.1-21
Subject: Australia, Book arts: Artist's book
Image rights: © G.S. Christmann

More detail

You walk along, and then there they are. A library of woolly books, jostled together like a rag-taggle bunch of 1970s teenagers in stripy tops and bell-bottoms. Some sit, some slump, some splay themselves open—exposing their ribbed pages to the light.

You are curious.

They seem jovial and inviting. You ask them questions: Are they really books? How do you read text written in garter stitch? They are amused by your puzzled expression, but their laughter is good-natured and so you relax and spend a little time with them. After a while, their patterned soft covers and colours begin to suggest possibilities—a ballad about the sky, a haiku about school jumpers and rainy days, a musk-stick pink limerick or an ode to liquorice allsorts.

Jenny Christmann considered these books to be ‘knitted poetry’, and her poems are full of the delight that can be found in the ordinary. Her love of books is shared through the tactility of their plump forms, which remind us of the very act of reading—cradling the book with expectation, opening the nubbly covers, and then the rhythmic turning of pages, which echoes the cadence of knitting.

The use of wool and found objects reveals the artist’s empathy with Dada, with its emphasis on humble materials and humour. This playfulness is seen in the pairing of a pink and blue book inside the slipcase for The psychology of sex by Havelock Ellis. The association, however, transpires to be a red herring―Christmann says the choice was based only on the box’s size and shape. Her mischievous delight continues in her ‘signature’, which appears on the last page of each volume—a smiley face made out of safety pins, using a larger bent pin for an upturned mouth.

There is joy in this.

Sarina Noordhuis-Fairfax
Australian Prints and Drawings
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: National Gallery of Australia exhibition SoftSculpture (reference )