Trees/Ladders Slip Case and Book

Trees/Ladders is a project made to be a slipcase for a book. It was a folio book created by John Ryrie (woodcuts) and Alex Selenitsch (poems) which called out for some interesting slipcases to enclose and maintain it. In 1995 Hamish created a collection of differing slipcases to hold each of the twenty editions and 3 artists proofs printed by John Ryrie.

Further notes on Trees/Ladders

A book by John Ryrie, Alex Selenitsch and Hamish Hill

Exhibited at DETAIL, Melbourne, December 1995

While visiting John Ryrie to talk about a printing job, I noticed that his studio was filled with paintings, woodcuts and little sculptures on the theme of trees and ladders. For the previous decade, I had been writing poems on the same themes, and the fact that some texts were ready, that John had some wood-blocks ready, and that we had been brought together by some other reason meant that a book was something we had to do.

John and I began with a selection of poems and prints, and produced a number of dummy designs, with the format being finally established when we found some discounted paper. Care was taken to distribute the poems and prints so that they both made sense sequentially. This produced some startling cross-references, startling because we had produced our prints and poems without knowing of each other’s work. We also designed the book to make sure that even though the publication is unbound, a flattened and framed extract would make no sense, so that one would always have to unfold it, turn it over and pack it together again.

Hamish Hill, who had collaborated with me on two pieces of furniture earlier this year, offered to make slip-cases for the book. Out of our conversation, an idea emerged for a box made of suburban forest timbers with one edge open and rough (the tree) and one edge closed, machined and visibly jointed (the ladder).

The final book, in an edition of 20 copies, consists of 6 folded sheets of texts and images, tucked into a folder/cover which is then slid into a timber case. The papers are identical from issue to issue, the box is not. Wood is not a homogeneous material and Hamish has used different timbers and jointing techniques while still keeping the tree/ladder concept intact. This exhibition of the complete set of boxes is probably the only time that they will ever be seen together.

In fact, two of the books were on display at John Ryrie’s exhibition at the Australian Galleries in Collingwood in September this year, even though the focus in that show was on John’s woodcuts, sculptures and paintings. All of the woodcuts in our book were exhibited there as separate prints and on their own presented a coherent vision of trees, ladders and their symbiosis with the human psyche.

Some of the poems have also been made public as independent works, at a La Mama Poetica reading in 1989, when they were performed by the author, recorded and then issued on cassette (along with other poets reading on that evening) by Collective Effort, Melbourne. After December, however, I hope that the woodcuts, poems and the slip-cases become known for their interconnectedness through this book. Apart from its tangible beauty, the book reveals how the same ideas can be wrought in very different mediums and materials and by different people, sometimes without even knowing it.

As of Dec 1995,

Copies of this book have been purchased by:

  • Deakin University Art collection, Victoria.
  • Rare books Library, Monash University, Victoria.
  • National Library of Australia, Canberra, ACT.
  • State Library of Victoria, Melbourne, Victoria.
  • Baillieu Library, University of Melbourne, Victoria.
  • The New York Public Library, New York.
  • And private collectors.


  • Assorted hardwoods
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