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Bella Li, Theory of Colours

Shortlisted in the NSW Premier's Literary Awards 2022

Joint winner of the Tafeda Best Designed Independent Book in the 70th Australian Book Design Awards 2022

'Mesmerising and uncompromising, Bella Li’s Theory of Colours arrests readers with its strangeness. Through its collaging and arrangement of diverse textual and visual elements, Li’s book provides an extended meditation on the relationship between absence and presence, margin and centre, appearance and disappearance. This is a work of uncanny poetic framing, where the recombination of source materials — historic images, found texts, and Li’s own haunted words — generates a series of extraordinary and phantasmagorial new worlds.' NSW Premier's Literary Awards  (read more)

'There is beauty in the restraint of the design of Theory of Colours. Bella Li's sensitive use of colour has produced an elegant and intriguing book. This is a page-turned for any designer lucky enough to thumb their way through the pages. An accomplished designer at work.' Australian Book Design Awards 2022

'There is a cosmic, melancholy weight to this collection that I find unsettling. And yet, there is a gentle matter-of-factness to Li’s writing that simultaneously reassures; a reminder of life and presence, someone’s voice travelling to meet you.' Sarah Yeung in Westerly (read more)

'In this dance between reading and writing, Li shows us that the illuminated gap of the poetic play is manifold: meanings, signs and associations are generated by author and reader alike. It is open to delighting us in the way that Barthes said a photograph was open to animating him: "this is what creates every adventure".' Isabella Gullifer-Laurie in Meanjin (read more)

'With Theory of Colours, Li has levelled up the uncanny. Unnerving collages with gothic overtones give way to prose poems that are a tissue of references. The empty spaces of abandoned hotels and national parks, devoid of human life, create a sense of dislocation, and haunting. While nearly two years of lockdowns may or may not have shaped the artistic choices here, it is impossible not to associate these collages with the eerie, blank streets of our empty cities.' Joan Flemming in Australian Book Review (read more)

Visit the Saturday Paper for a recent interview with Bella Li by Maddee Clark about Theory of Colours and visit Liminal Magazine for Robert Wood's 2018 interview.

The colours recorded by the spectroscope are the inverse of the true colours, which float in the pupil after the eye has closed.

Theory of Colours takes as its title and point of departure the influential nineteenth-century treatise on colour by Johann Wolfgang Goethe. In Li’s third full-length collection, colour — and its absence — is at once subject, structural principle and medium. Moving from the distant past, through the fleeting, unstable present, and into a series of speculative futures, the book elaborates worlds both familiar and strange — a country estate, a small town, a grand hotel, a tower. Informed by the spectral practices of early photography and cinema, as well as the visual and thematic conventions of ghost stories, westerns and science fiction, Li’s narratives of text and image are unsettling explorations of sequence and time, absence and haunting.

Bella Li is the author of Argosy (Vagabond Press, 2017), which won the Victorian Premier's Literary Award for Poetry and the Kenneth Slessor Prize, and was highly commended in the Anne Elder Award and commended in the Wesley Michel Wright Prize; Lost Lake (Vagabond Press, 2018), shortlisted for the Judith Wright Calanthe Award; and Theory of Colours (Vagabond Press, 2021), shortlisted for the Kenneth Slessor Prize and joint winner of the Australian Book Design Association award for Best Designed Independent Book. Her first work Maps, Cargo appeared as part of the Rare Object Series. Her poetry, artwork, short fiction, essays, and reviews, have been published widely, including in the Australian Book ReviewOverlandGoing Down SwingingPerilRabbitLiminalThe Kenyon Review, and the Archives of American Art Journal. Recent work can be found in Meanjin (Winter 2021), New Directions in Contemporary Australian Poetry (Palgrave, 2021), and Art Writing in Crisis (Sternberg, 2021). She holds a PhD from the University of Melbourne, and is the associate publisher at Cordite Books and the managing editor at Scribe Publications.

Author photo credit: Leah Jing McIntosh, 2018. Liminal Magazine.

Bella Li, Theory of Colours
2021. 152mm x 228mm. 176pp. 
ISBN 978-1-925735-23-9
Release date: August 2021

This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.

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