Hilke Kurzke, “Absences”

Absences, opened book. Text written in pencil, different colours represent different speakers

Detail of stencil and writing

imprint and signature on back of the book



Hilke Kurzke (Nottingham, UK)

acrylics, ink
open, varying edition
accordion with 6 pages
15.5cm x 65cm x 0.2cm open
15.5cm x 11cm x 15.5cm x 0.5cm closed

I am a mostly self trained book artist and artisan bookbinder. I am (was) a mathematician and theologian by training, and a lover of stories. Topics for my art come from where those three interests overlap: I am curious and ever again amazed by how books work and manage to conserve and teach knowledge and experiences, and I try to show and examine this magic with my work.

My early pieces concentrated exclusively on structural elements of books, but soon I discovered the writing down of language as an important aspect. Consequently works in secret and fake script entered my body of work, and books where all or part of the text is concealed or erased.

I like to experiment with printing methods, most prominently relief printing in different form and from different materials. Striving for simplicity and a more intimate encounter between artist and reader I moved from commonly used materials for printing blocks (linoleum, rubber, wood), to cardboard, and on to handwriting and -drawing and simple stencils for most recent work.

Some of my books feature my own texts. Most of my writing is what I like to call “fragments”, very short pieces that seem to be fragments of a larger story. I am interested in small moments of clarity that can happen in the most banal situations, and am fascinated by how marks on paper can create an atmosphere, and strive to set a scene with words for my readers, leaving it to them to play the puppets. And so my fragments are written in a sparse style which often utilize the book, its structure, and imagery to complete the story in the reader’s head rather than on the paper.

Absences is a short story in form of a dialogue between a woman and a police officer. The protagonist reports strange disappearances from her apartment: “Mostly small things of everyday life that might have been gone for a long time or maybe vanished just before I noticed they are missing. For most of them I couldn’t say when I last saw them.” In the end she has to realize that much more than just cutlery is missing. A surprising story — which I hope is funny in a bittersweet way — about estrangement in marriage, about how the comfort of daily routines can turn huge parts of a life into something ephemeral.

In spirit with the ephemeral nature of the objects in the story, each book is made from scraps and materials made to look like leftover bits. The background (with missing objects) is stencilled with white gesso. To stress the simplicity and intimacy present within the story, the text is hand written upon this white holey page. On the cover I used stencils again, and gold coloured acrylic decorations hint at something more precious.