A Liverpool Bestiary
This work enquires into considerations of history and memory, culture and dissemination filtered through a busy, metropolitan, 21st-century print studio. The prints are produced in response to the medieval theme of The Bestiary. A Bestiary is a medieval collection of stories providing physical and allegorical descriptions of real or imaginary animals along with an interpretation of the moral significance each animal was thought to embody. Although it dealt with the natural world it was never meant to be a scientific text. Some observations may be quite accurate but they are given the same weight as totally fabulous accounts. A great deal of its charm comes from the humour and imagination of the illustrations, painted partly for pleasure but justified as a didactic tool 'to improve the minds of ordinary people, in such a way that the soul will at least perceive physically things which it has difficulty grasping mentally: that what they have difficulty comprehending with their ears, they will perceive with their eyes'.
In all cultures, there have been stories created about creatures. Some of these creatures have been familiar animals like foxes and bears but often given characteristics that they don’t exhibit in nature (like the ability to talk, perform music, or engage in everyday commerce with humans). But whether the beasts of stories are familiar or exotic, these creations usually were symbolic of human beings or of human traits. Perhaps as a metaphor or as a means to clearly explain behavior to the listener or reader, the beast served as a tool. As a result, the way that a beast or monster is depicted (both in illustration and in description) can be revealing of both the people who created the stories and the artists who interpret them and are a reflection of their culture.
A high caliber range of print practitioners were invited to consider these medieval phenomena, that were unique and singular in their production in a pre-print age, in relation to our modern times where a plethora of imagery is commonplace and endless multiplication is a given and as the questioning of a singular authorial voice, and the relevance thereof, formed the central research imperative of the project.
The prints are produced in a broad range of print media but to a constant paper size in order to achieve a suite of work that references the original book form of an illustrated medieval manuscript. Artists from 6 countries from across 3 continents have contributed to this output.
This project explores the possibility of introducing a range of new artistic practices, critical insights and curatorial strategies in relation to collaborative practices, historical perspective, and authorial voice. It configures an international strategic framework through which to coordinate and take this work forward. Significant European sponsors have supported the project.
Neil Morris, Reader in Contemporary Printmaking, Liverpool John Moores University.