Transforming Artist Books

A research network exploring digital transformations in the creation and reception of artist books

Helen Douglas Leda and the Swan

Helen Douglas, Leda and the Swan 2011
Ultrachrome inkjet on Xuan paper 184 x 17.5 cm
Tate © Helen Douglas

With the growth of digital technology, there is a new expectation among potential users of artist books, and those that collect and care for them, that the activities of making, cataloguing, storing, displaying, handling and looking at artist books can and should be enhanced by the digital.

The discussions of the 2012 research network ‘Transforming Artist Books’ began from a recognition that important national collections of artist books are largely inaccessible to the majority of their potential users and that this situation can be transformed through digital technology. Rather than viewing the computer screen and electronic text and images as a challenge or threat to the physical printed page, the research network explored the potential of the digital to transform our understanding, appreciation and care of artist books.

Three workshops were convened by Beth Williamson and Eileen Hogan to explore the study of artist books and its potential digital transformation:

Workshop One: Transforming the Medium

This session brought together technology specialists, book artists and librarians to examine the relationship of the physical book to its digital representation and how that might be rendered.

Workshop Two: Transforming Creation

Working with artists, this session extended the network’s understanding of the concepts and formats of artists’ books looking at a range of formats from iPod publications, free downloadable e-books, hypertext works and phone-based works.

Workshop Three: Catalogues and Copyright

This session asked how artist books of all forms can be catalogued to make them more accessible and so transform the way in which people can engage with them.

Following the workshops a number of participants contributed further reflections about the themes of the workshops.


At the workshops two artists, Helen Douglas and Eileen Hogan, presented work they had been developing in the digital sphere. Douglas demonstrated a prototype of an escroll of The Pond at Deuchar, a work first produced as an editioned paper scroll but re-envisioned for the digital medium. Similarly, Eileen Hogan, Co-Investigator in this project, presented her screen-based project A Narrated Portrait 2008–11, which explored page-turning technology. Both projects were subsequently further developed in the context of the workshops and made publicly available as digital works in 2013.

Artist books are typically catalogued in library and museum systems in ways that suit their nature as books but do not fully capture their qualities as art or help a general public explore a collection thematically. Following on from the workshops Tate Research piloted the writing of descriptive summaries of a range of artist books in Tate’s collection. These were written with a view to providing a general reader with a clear description of the books and information (where possible, artist-originated) about the making of the books, together with important bibliographic details and suggestions of further reading. The books were also extensively rephotographed. Whether this approach can be made routine in the cataloguing of artist books and in the publication of cataloguing information is yet to be decided.

Final report

We have now completed our final report, which you can download below. It includes a summary of our activities, considers what we learned about the meaning of ‘digital transformations’, and presents visual evidence of new artworks created during the life of the network which helped us to think about what AHRC digital transformations really means.

The network was a collaboration between Tate, the Chelsea College of Art and Design (University of the Arts London), the British Library and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Project Information

Project type
Research project
Lead department
Tate Research
Support department
Tate Library
Project team
Beth Williamson, Research Assistant, Tate (Principal Investigator)
Eileen Hogan, Research Professor, CCW Graduate School, University of the Arts London (Co-Investigator)