OLIVIA LAING

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I’ve been clearing up my study, a ritual activity conducted when I’ve finished a book and begin to feel like I might start on another. One of the best things I found was a crop of handmade books and zines made by my friends.


Lili lives in Devon now but right through our twenties we were inseparable. We grew up together, she was my partner in crime. When I think about her now I think about that line in Michelle Shocked’s song Anchorage: Hey Shel, we was wild then. She grew up on a remote farm in Wales, it was part of her myth that her family were practically bandits and ruled the valley. This is a book she made for me, with her drawings. One of the photographs is of her in an incubator, and the other is of the calves in the barn at Llanant being fed.


The first time I met Sherri was in Boston a few years back. I went to a friend’s for dinner, and there she was, sitting on the couch. We could have talked about pretty much anything: one of the things I most love about our friendship is the sense of a hopscotching conversation, resumed whenever we’re both in the same country at the same time. We once met at the Met to see a performance and just stood on the steps for hours talking about the ins and outs of designing the 9/11 museum, a project she had a hand in. You can see part of what’s so exciting about her in this zine, which documents driving around Deming, New Mexico with Johnny Dark, a counter-culture photographer who was best friends with Sam Shepard. She’s so curious and focused and meticulous and patient. I love these pictures.




Sarah is my cousin, and we often collaborate. I’m in love with one of her cats, so I go round for dinner every Thursday and try to woo him. She’s a filmmaker, but she also makes fantastic handmade books. The Dictionary of Lost Languages is an A to Z of languages that have been eradicated, but it’s also about resurgence and resistance and is weirdly joyful. And Mars is a book about violence and images and the relationships between them. It includes some of our grandfather’s photographs, taken during the Second World War in Sri Lanka, then Ceylon. It’s nice, working with someone who comes from the same place as you. It saves having to explain.


This is another one-off, made by my friend Tony. He’d just spent a winter in Estonia, making films, and was experimenting with these books with pages dipped in wax. He mostly works in prisons now, but his own stuff is so beautiful. There was one film in an abandoned building where he made the shape of a bird on the floor out of tiny pieces of coal. He filmed it being broken up, by a hair dryer or something, and then played it in reverse. This black bird, assembling out of nothing.

Olivia Laing is the author of TO THE RIVER, THE TRIP TO ECHO SPRING and THE LONELY CITY. She’s currently working on EVERYBODY, a book about embodiment in the 21st century.

www.olivialaing.co.uk