When We Read

Emily SpeedFlatland, Cardboard, pencil, acrylic paint, 2018


Study Library

This display explores the physicality of reading – investigating how our bodies are activated as they respond to the book as an object.

The artists’ publications collected here play with scale, fragility, weight, materiality, form and structure, as well as looking at how the world is reconstructed in our imaginations as we read, and as we make.

Nick Goss’ Collections: 2017-2022 gathers together all his silkscreens from this period. Initially, intended as a preparatory device for making larger paintings, Goss found the paintings began to inform the silkscreens as much as the other way around.  Images presented range from photographs taken whilst walking down London streets, of Turkish Restaurants and funeral parlors, many nearby in Elephant and Castle, to pictures taken from old secondhand books. Many of the latter focus on famous floods in Holland, which for Goss – who is half Dutch, explore a relationship to nature and water that is particular to Dutch people.  Images are printed using a variety of resoluble inks fabricated by the artist, which can be reactivated using a water-soaked sponge, making it possible to re-make and re-imagine the images endlessly.  By far the largest object in this display, this book dwarfs the reader, and the enormous sheets of delicate Japanese Kozo paper transform the mundane act of the turning the page into a theatrical and physical challenge.

Everything Meets Here is an ephemeral pamphlet that documents a large 42 x 297cm graphite drawing of an imaginary landscape produced by Jessie Brennan for a project with Art on the Underground in 2012.  Through conversations with community groups from St Marylebone Society; users and residents of 60 Penfold Street; photography students from City of Westminster College and London Underground staff, Brennan collected local knowledge, experiences, memories, folklore, myths, anecdotes and personal objects to create a magnified world in which everyday objects and people switch scales.  The fantastical landscape is gradually revealed as the reader opens the accordion fold pamphlet, creating a physical awareness of how time and space exist in this curious world.

Emily Speed’s model Reading Rooms are designed for the reading of a specific book, with space for only one, or very occasionally, two readers.  The shape, materials and size of the intimate spaces are chosen according to the text itself, taking cues from the events, characters, and tone to mirror the novel. Speed has made around 60 of these models to date, making the earliest in 2005 and most recently in 2023, with four chosen for display at Drawing Room.  The architectural model itself is of great interest to Speed as a medium that presents an ideal, existing as pure potential. Models are delicate, yet symbolic of power, because they can be held and even destroyed by human hands. They also provide an unusual situation, where one can be fully outside of a space and see the whole.  In the context of this display the models become an extension of the books, almost standing in place of them, drawing us into Speed’s personal, physical and spatial response to the stories being told, creating new narratives for us to interact with.

Emily Speed’s delicate book Unfolding Architecture gives us access to the experiences of ‘Gordon’, a man who witnesses the city he lives in unfolding like paper. The unfolding of the buildings acts as a metaphor for the disappearance of a loved one through dementia, and the empty space they leave behind. Beauty, bitterness, wonder and fragility collide as the reader unpacks the book from its featherlight box and reads its folding and unfolding pages.