A little book of breathing

A little book of breathing was first published as ‘My father’s body in nine drawings’ in Verity La, 23 September 2010. It was then made into an artists book and exhibited in String Books at The Left Hand Gallery in Braidwood NSW in December 2010. The State Library Queensland acquired a copy for its collection.


Maurice Blanchot once wrote: Look again at this splendid being from which beauty streams: he is, I see this, perfectly like himself. And someone says to me, kindly: Francesca, he’ll be tangle free you know, when he’s gone he’ll be at peace.

Death skewers the heart of those left behind, no matter what the age of those who are dying. One minute I have a father and he’s with me in the flesh. The next minute he’ll be gone, really gone, disappeared. All breathing stopped.

The story: In December 2006 /January 2007 as part of an artist’s residency at Schloss Haldenstein in Switzerland (a joint residency with cartoonist Judy Horacek and sponsored by Canberra Art School, ANU), Francesca experimented with making books of different kinds using found objects, cut-up dictionaries and jelly amongst other things. The subject matter and intent of the work came out of the writing of her novel Bite Your Tongue. She exhibited her work at the end of the residency in an exhibition entitled A Book of Breathing and then a further iteration of this ‘jelly book’ work was exhibited at the University of Canberra conference of the Australian Association of Writing Programs in a show entitled Another Book of Breathing. Reference to these ‘jelly books’ have been documented in a number of places including: Jen Webb, ‘The book objects: writing and performance’, Journal of Writing in Creative Practice, Intellect, vol 2, no 1, 2009, Francesca Rendle-Short, ‘The drawing, breathing, writing body’, Drawing Out 2010 Conference Papers, ISBN 978-0-646-53254-7, 7–9 April, RMIT University, Melbourne, April, 2010, Francesca Rendle-Short, ‘Loose thinking: writing an eisegesis’, TEXT vol 14, no 1, April 2010, http://www.textjournal.com.au/april10/rendleshort.htm.

The story and drawings in the artist’s book A Little Book of Breathing comes from writing Francesca has been doing in relation to her father, the pediatrician John Rendle-Short. In the literary journal Overland she published a photo essay entitled My Father’s Body that explored ideas of creationism, evolution and Alzheimer’s disease. Editor Jeff Sparrow said of the work in a blog: ‘[her] extraordinary essay about her relationship with her fundamentalist father, a deceptively simply and very moving piece of prose’. She then developed a further work for the online literary journal Verity La that combined text and drawings called My Father’s Body in Nine Drawings. She published this creative work in combination with an extended interview about writing and her writing practice. Verity La is collected by the National Library of Australia in the PANDORA Archive.

 A Little Book of Breathing was created from this story of her father and the nine drawings of his body she drew in the days leading up to his death. She wanted to make the drawings and story more tangible by creating a small book by hand as a kind of breathing exercise – sewing, cutting, folding, inking, pasting, waxing – by bringing together different suggestive elements so that the reader of this little book can pause with her, breathe alongside the reading and turning of tissue pages to imagine the passing of time just before death as well as the passing of a 90-year old life; to imagine the drawing of a red line across lips. The drawings in A Little Book of Breathing come from Francesca’s notebook she was using at the time of her father’s death, a little squared Moleskine notebook.

Printed from photocopied text and drawings scanned as high res jpegs on 100gsm copy paper, Georgia serif typeface, bound with linen thread in 5 signatures with tissue paper pages, hand coloured and stamped.

Includes a bookmark of found Bible text from Genesis, cut in a strip.

The Bible is the King James Version and belonged to the artist when she was a small girl.

Image: A little book of breathing, 2010, 150w x 150h x 5d mm closed, tissue, 100gsm copy paper, photocopied text and drawings, hand coloured, stamp, found Bible text, Linen thread, household string, 115gsm Botany Natural Recycled paper, edition of 9

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