Books On Books Collection – Martine Rassineux

Ilinx (2010)

Ilinx (2010)
Régine Detambel and Martine Rassineux
Slipcase H322 x W406 x D16 mm, Portfolio cover H280 x W385 x D8 mm, Folio H279 x W380, 6 folios. Slipcase made of wood and celloderm, Portfolio cover made of Japon nacré Torinoko Kozu 180 gsm, Folios made of Lana Velin édition blanc supérieur 180 gsm. Edition of 27, of which this is #18. Acquired from the artists, 21 August 2020. Photos of work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist.

Emerging from its snugly fitting box constructed by François Da Ros, Régine Detambel’s and Martine Rassineux’s livre d’artiste hints at a debt to the legacy of Iliazd with its pearlescent case over a tapered paper cover for the loose folios, although the case’s fixed spine winks at differentiation. With the curling, diagonal and spiralling letterpress, the hint grows stronger. Yet, there is a roundness — almost softness — in the typographical acrobatics, leading away from the hint at the more linear, angular works of Iliazd. That is the mark of François Da Ros, typographer for Ilinx. Rassineux and Da Ros diverge as much from Iliazd as he diverged from the tradition of Ambroise Vollard, Daniel Kahnweiler and Aimé Maeght.

With folios removed. Note the tapering of the inner folder at both ends.

In its text and etchings, Ilinx also shouts and laughs a kinship with Pieter Breugel the Elder’s Children’s Games (1560). Ilinx does not share any tut-tutting at childish foolishness that may reside in Breugel’s depiction; rather it celebrates a shared exuberance and recognition of significance in child’s play. Where Breugel finds that significance in drawing parallels with adult activities and rituals, Detambel’s text and Rassineux’s etchings find it in sheer phenomenological physicality, which Da Ros’s typography enhances.

Just as Breugel must have observed children closely to show the eighty or so games in his painting, so has Rassineux. Ilinx began in a playground where Rassineux watched over her pupils (600 per week) and noticed one of the African girls, the first in Ilinx, turning her face to the sun and spinning in place. Over time, she noticed others, regardless of origin, doing the same — as if something universal were engraved unconsciously in each child. From this, came the Cours series — washes, charcoal drawings and some 40 engravings on rectangular plates.

Presented with some of these works, Régine Detambel introduced Rassineux to Roger CailloisLes jeux et les homines (1958), in which he outlined four basic categories of play or games:

  • Agon, or competition.
  • Alea, or chance.
  • Mimicry, or mimesis, or role playing.
  • Ilinx (Greek for “whirlpool”), or games inducing vertigo or disorientation.

With this background, Detambel insisted that the title of this livre d’artiste must be Ilinx. With their text and images, Detambel and Rassineux follow the children’s spinning games with a beginning and five “turns”, which appear in twelve pages across three folios. Caillois suggests that the spinning games are grounded in both a natural exuberance and need to escape the “tyranny of perception”. Rassineux’s drawings deliberately vary the perspective from which the children are viewed and encourage the viewer, paradoxically, to perceive that escape from the tyranny of perception. Likewise Detambel’s final verse. Likewise Da Ros’s cutting out the children from the etchings and positioning them in action on the page. And, most of all likewise, Da Ros’s spiral setting of lines, “re-enacting” the artist’s drawings, the poet’s words and the Ilinx (whirlpool).

At the last turn, there is no age. Only life in the blood. Flurrying as if into snow. Blood rose-red, flickering red-rose, clinging to a thread.

Curious about the sixth and blank folio after the colophon folio, I wrote to ask about its purpose. After the opening manipulations — removal of the encased portfolio from its celloderm and wood slipcase and then removal of the portfolio from its cover in Japanese nacré Torinoko Kozu (180 gsm) — there is no further prefacing to the loose folios. There is the title folio, then commencement folio, and the whirling has begun. So that the reader/viewer’s eyes and hands do not leave the book too abruptly, the sixth folio acts as a counterweight, a pause to allow the spinning to stop, a blank on which the pulse behind the eyes can project.

Ilinx – Collection VARIA (2019)

Ilinx – Collection VARIA is a follow-on hardback providing behind-the-scenes insight into the making of Ilinx the portfolio. It shows Rassineux and Da Ros at work in the studio, images of cast and locked type, etching plates juxtaposed with their proofs, paste-up plans. Note how, to have more latitude for the typography and layout, Da Ros cut out the engravings from the plates. The plates have been gilded, which is more elegant than scoring the plates to fix in place the limited edition.

Ilinx – Collection VARIA (2019)
François Da Ros and Martin Rassineux
H278 x W326 x D12 mm, 60 pages. Edition of 50, of which this is #2. Acquired from the artists, 21 August 2020. Photos of pages: Books On Books Collection, displayed with artists’ permission.

Although printed offset rather than letterpress, Ilinx–Collection VARIA demonstrates the same art-making attention to detail shown in Ilinx. Printed with an HP Indigo offset digital press on Mohawk proPhoto beaded paper semi-gloss 190gsm, the full-color images printed do not mask the texture or surface of the paper as sometimes happens with some toner prints. Instead, the ink is absorbed by the paper as happens with traditional offset lithography. As Rassineux further explained in correspondence with Books On Books,

We chose the photos in relation to the round shape that often comes up in the concerns of François who made mechanics for two years to be able to build and troubleshoot his presses and because he always saw in the mechanical movement a relationship with the universal mechanical. The final image is a wind-up spinning toy that belonged to my mother…. All the elements we use come from our daily lives, and from our experiences, that are a whole. (Correspondence, 11 November 2020)

Colophon page. Photo of page: Books On Books Collection, displayed with artists’ permission.

For another example of art driven “from our daily lives”, the reader/viewer can do no better than to visit the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (KB, National Library, The Hague: Koopman Collection) to see the gilded plates mentioned above. They reside in a drawer removed from the Da Ros/Rassineux studio and finished off as a wooden case for the library’s copy of Ilinx.

Photos: Books On Books Collection. Shown with permission of the artists
and the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (KB, National Library, The Hague: Koopman Collection).

Rassineux sends you best wishes on the first year of the third millennium (2001)

This elegant New Year’s greeting came with the Books On Books purchase of Ilinx. A sweet gift of ephemera that freezes a fresh start in place with the artistry of movable type in motion and a print made by gravure au sucre (sugar etching). Rassineux’s explanation:

The basic technique of the sugar engraving is that on a perfectly degreased copper you draw with a solution of sugar and China ink (which is only used to make your drawing very black near your etching) then it is covered with varnish and the sugar mixture will burst the varnish because the sugar dilates and you will find again the design in copper version that you will have to weave by an aquatint. (Correspondence, 11 November 2020)

† Translation: Books On Books. The phrase “Le sang qui tourne jusqu’a monter en neige” turns on a French culinary expression — jusqu’a monter en neige — for whipping egg whites into a meringue. Régine Detambel prefers the less literal translation, which echoes earlier lines and images in the poem.

Further Reading

Caillois, Roger. Man, play and games (Urbana, Ill. : University of Illinois Press, 2001).

Capelleveen, Paul Van. Artist & Others: The Imaginative French book in the 21st century (Nijmegen: Vantilt, 2016), p. 37.

Capelleveen, Paul Van. “The Unlimited Artist’s Book“, TXT: Exploring the Boundaries of the Book (Leiden: Boom Uitgevers, 2014).

Books On Books Collection – Heavenly Monkey

Francesco Griffo da Bologna: Fragments and Glimpses (2020)

Francesco Griffo da Bologna: Fragments and Glimpses (2020)
Rollin Milroy
H234 x W159 mm, 114 pages. Edition of 50, of which this is #32. Acquired from Heavenly Monkey, 4 November 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Several collections of Aldine volumes made themselves known around 2015, the 500th anniversary of the death of Aldus Manutius. Several have digitized their collections to make them more accessible. By gathering these fragments and glimpses of the hand behind the roman, Greek, Hebrew and italic typefaces designed and cut in late 15th-century and early 16th century Venice for those volumes, Heavenly Monkey (founded and run by Rollin Milroy) has followed a different path. A collector himself and artist of the book, Milroy has created this work to bring himself and the reader closer to Francesco Griffo da Bologna and the historical and contemporary hunt to identify him and appreciate his typographic accomplishment.

He presents a letterpress work in the modern version of the Bembo typeface cut by Griffo for the Aldine printing of Pietro Bembo’s tract De Aetna (1495), whence the typeface gained its name. In another step closer to Griffo, not only does Heavenly Monkey use simplified versions of initial letters attributed to Griffo, he offers up a note and display page that include those letters not used in the text (see below).

Note that distortion of the letters is due to photography of the curved page.

Physically true to its title, the book consists — except for the frontmatter, backmatter and brief explanatory text — of fragments: extracts from secondary sources and an actual leaf from the Aldine edition of Ovid’s Heroidum Epistolae set in Griffo’s first italic type. The leaf comes from the second of the three-volume Aldine Ovid, which over time was subject to prudish excision of racier parts, which Heavenly Monkey speculates may have led to the break-up of the copy used here to supply the leaf included. Some historians and collectors may question the inclusion of the leaf. Others as well as artists of the book will thrill to it as an act of preservation, appropriation, dissemination and homage.

The book’s prologue is an English summary of a passage from Giuseppe Fumagalli’s 1905 lexicon of Italian typography that sets out and settles the 19th century debate about the identity of Griffo, a confusion that would resurface for the legendary typographer Stanley Morison in 1923. With a narrative technique similar to an epistolary novel, Milroy lays out extracts from histories of printing, prefaces to reprints of Aldine works, biographies of the historians in the debate, the Fine Arts Quarterly Review and bibliographical journal articles to tell the story of “which Francesco was he?” The same technique lays out the development and differing opinions in reception of Griffo’s cutting of the roman, Greek, Hebrew and italic types. While following the stories of those faces, the reader walks through a hall of illustrious historians and typographers — Nicolas Barker, Joseph Blumenthal, Philip Meggs, Giovanni Mardersteig, Stanley Morison again, Alfred Pollard, David Pottinger, Daniel B. Updike and many others. The next set of extracts explores the feud that led Griffo to leave Aldus Manutius and Venice to set up on his own in Fossombrone.

The next set of extracts attests to Griffo’s typographic legacy, and then comes the tipped-in foldout that protects the leaf taken from the Aldine Ovid, followed by the listing of Griffo’s six works published on his own, documented in F.J. Norton’s Italian Printers 1501-1520.

An important contribution comes in Appendices I-IV with Emma Mandley’s translations of key passages from books, letters and documents of the main protagonists in the debate over Francesco da Bologna’s identity: Antonio Panizzi, Giacomo Manzoni, Adamo Rossi and Emilio Orioli. Lovers of type specimens and the style of Stanley Morison will welcome the samples of the modern versions of the roman fonts for Poliphilus and Bembo and the italic fonts for Blado and Bembo. In a grace note, Heavenly Monkey includes samples for the italic and roman fonts of Mardersteig’s Dante, which Robert Bringhurst opined “has more of Griffo’s spirit than any other face now commercially available” (The Elements of Typographic Style, 1996, p. 213)”. Dante is the typeface Heavenly Monkey wanted initially to use but, on deciding that the main text would be set in italic, declined it. The Dante samples offer the reader the chance to compare and contrast it with the other faces and weigh Bringhurst’s opinion and Heavenly Monkey’s choice.

This fine press edition of Francesco Griffo da Bologna resonates with different works in the Books On Books Collection: Jacqueline Rush Lee‘s sculptural interpretation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Russell Maret‘s typographic adventure Hungry Dutch, Peter Koch‘s edition of Joseph Brodsky’s love letter to Venice Watermark and Bodil Rosenberg‘s sculptural evocation of that city in Canal Grande. But like Milroy’s other scholarly inquiry — About AgrippaFrancesco deserves an audience of students of book art and book arts as well as collectors. Here’s hoping that any library with a strong collection of fine press books and artist books will acquire Francesco.

Further Reading

Aldus Manutius, 6 February 1515 – 6 February 2015“, Bookmarking Book Art, 8 February 2015.

Milroy, Rollin. About Agrippa (a book of the dead): A Bibliographic History of the Infamous Disappearing Book (Vancouver, BC: Still Creek Press, 2015).

Milroy, Rollin. Francesco Griffo da Bologna: Fragments & Glimpses: A Compendium of Information & Opinions about his Life and Work (Vancouver, BC: A Lone Press, 1999). The first version of the work.

Books On Books Collection – Taller Leñateros

Incantations (2005)

Incantations (2005)
Mayan Women
Fathermothers of the Book: Ámbar Past with Xun Okotz and Xpetra Ernándes
Casebound, glued. H250 x W250 x D50 mm, 194 pages. Acquired from Taller Leñateros, Chiapas, Mexico, 23 July 2020.

Acquisition of this anthology of magical songs and ritual paintings of Tsotsil women from the Highlands of Chiapas came primarily from an interest in its “paper”. The artists and craftworkers at Taller Leñateros keep alive the tradition of amate (or huun in Mayan) making. It is a substrate formed of macerated bark fiber pounded until the required thinness is reached. If the term “paper” applies only to material made from fiber macerated until each individual filament is a separate unit, then mixed with water, sieved with a screen and drained to generate a thin layer of intertwined fiber (Dard Hunter, p. 5), amate is not paper. Only the endpapers of the book appear to be made of amate. The text block is a combination of recycled office paper and off-white art paper.

Also of sculptural interest was the book cover, a paper mask in high and low relief cast from recycled cardboard, corn silk, and coffee. Arriving tightly enclosed in a brown cardboard clamshell box, painted and stenciled in black, lined with the same black endpapers used in the book, it made a startling entrance, enhanced by the firm prying to free it.

Even once free, Incantations resists the reader. So tightly glued and bound to its spine, the book block must be prised open. Small flakes of the paper mask cover fall. Repeated use would surely break it down. At first, disheartening, the resistance begins to play to the strength of the text and illustrations. Non-Mayan eyes and fingers seem to be intruding in an occult space.

La Jicara (1998)


La Jicara (1998)
Leñateros Workshop
Double-sided accordion journal made of sheets of brown kraft paper joined to create 56 double-sided pages, wrapped with a string threaded through a carved gourd. Acquired from Taller Leñateros, 23 July 2020.

In contrast to the Incantations‘ European codex, La Jicara presents the pre-Hispanic accordion-fold codex. Including envelopes with enclosures, tipped-in artwork, foldout pages, inserted books and cards, a full-size news sheet and inserted postcards — almost all socially and politically charged — the journal invokes the brutal internecine and Hispanic destruction of first the Mayan and then the Aztec print legacies. The original story has been recounted, forgotten and recounted for centuries — one recent recounting embedded in The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books: Young Columbus and the Quest for a Universal Library (2019) and its forgetting reflected in the absence of any chapter recounting it in Lost Libraries: The Destruction of Great Book Collections since Antiquity (2004).

Dancers #51 and Aztec Warrior #53

Dancers #51 and Aztec Warrior #53 (N.D.)
Cristobal Vazquez
Woodcut serigraphy. Acquired from Taller Leñateros, 23 July 2020.

Further Reading

The First Seven Books of the Rijswijk Paper Biennial“, Books On Books Collection, 10 October 2019. See René Teygeler’s essay in the fifth book The Spirit of Paper (2004).

Hunter, Dard. Papermaking: The History and Technique of an Ancient Craft (New York: Dover, 1978).

Matthew, Heather. “Hand Papermaking in Mexico: Amate Paper & Traditional Mayan Techniques“, Paperslurry, N.D.

Books On Books Collection – Mitsou Ronat & Tibor Papp

Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’abolira le Hasard (1980)

Poème: Un coup de Dés jamais n’abolira le Hasard par Stéphane Mallarmé (1980)
Édition Mise en Oeuvre et Présentée par Mitsou Ronat, Réalisée par Tibor Papp.
Two sets of folded & gathered folios, enclosed in a portfolio with four flaps; Portfolio: H380 x W285 mm; Folios: H380 x W285 mm; Poème, 24 pages, including the cover; “Le Genre …”, 28 pages, not including cover. Acquired from Latour Infernal, 28 May 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Described as an “édition mise en oeuvre“, the Ronat/Papp 1980 publication of Un Coup de Dés is indeed as much a “production” as any theatrical or cinematic mise en scéne. Equally apropos or more so, the phrase calls to mind the French for page layout: mise-en-page. The layout of the work certainly calls attention to itself as much as to the page. While it represents an effort to reflect Mallarmé’s “true” intentions for the page layout of Un Coup de Dés, the Ronat/Papp production delivers the poem in a set of loose F&Gs (folded and gathered folios), paired with another set of F&Gs (artwork, poems and essays) and enclosed in a portfolio.

The first effort to follow Mallarmé’s intention as intimated in his corrected proofs of the abandoned Ambroise Vollard version was the 1914 NRF edition, which also called attention to itself with its oversized format, but it was sewn and bound into its paper cover as usual. Its lay-flat binding eased reading the lines of verse that run across the book’s gutter.

By unbinding that space that usually sinks into the gutter, Ronat and Papp retain the readability across the gutter but introduce an interesting instability. The unitary view of the double-page spread that Mallarmé intended falls prey to physical chance. Lines across pages can fall out of alignment as folios slip up or down. If the folios scatter, the reordering of the unnumbered pages relies on the guidance of the typography and memory. Oddly this forces a more hands-on engagement with the poem. No other edition intended for reading the poem feels as physical. The page and double-page spreads are felt.

Although also not bound, the order of the artwork, poems and essays in the right-hand set of F&Gs is traditionally fixed with pagination, as the front of its self-covering folio shows. More important is the cover title: “Le genre, que c’en devienne un …” (“the genre, that it becomes one …”). Those words begin the final sentence in the reproduction of Mallarmé’s reluctant note from the poem’s first publication. Cramped into the magazine Cosmopolis, the poem’s layout was still startling enough to the editors to require a preface from Mallarmé. Facetiously and seriously, his note explains how to read the poem. In varied ways, the F&Gs’ content also seriously and facetiously demonstrates how to read the poem. And starting and ending with Mallarmé’s words, the portfolio’s second half reflects the circularity of the poem it faces, which starts and ends with the words un coup de dés. An édition mise en oeuvre in deed.

So forget the debate over who was first to display the poem in the true form as Mallarmé intended. The second portfolio is proclaiming then proving by examples that Un Coup de Dés is a genre.

Mitsou Ronat‘s introduction sets the poem’s publishing history in context and explains this edition’s claim to reflect Mallarmé’s wishes for the poem’s presentation. In doing so, she puts forward her hypothesis that le Nombre (“the Number”) mysteriously posed in the poem is 12, the syllable count of each line in the French alexandrine couplet and ties this revelation to the page and double-page spread as units of meaning, culminating in the 24 pages of which the mise en oeuvre consists. Tibor Papp follows with his map of Déville (“Dice-town”). Overlapping inscriptions along the crisscrossing streets remind us of the sometimes overlooked humor in the Mallarmé industry. One street is labelled Saint-Mallarmé de la masturbation. Off one boulevard are the remparts des alexandrins (“battlements of the Alexandrines”), complete with a WC for passers-by. There is even a Métro stop named for Mallarmé’s Igitur, thematic predecessor to Un Coup de Dés. Another recalls the political cast of the times: premières allusions à la lutte des marginaux oubliées (“first allusions to the struggle of the forgotten marginalized”). But most important is the map as map, a poster, a sub-genre of the genre Un coup de Dés and forerunner to future works such as that by Aurélie Noury. In his essay near the end of the F&Gs, Papp asserts that Mallarmé was not preoccupied with print and typography for its haptic properties, rather he was simply seeking the tools appropriate to complete his text. This is Papp’s departure point for discussing the aims of Le Groupe d’atelier, which he founded with Paul Nagy and Philippe Dôme in 1972:

Pour l’écrivain, donc, d’aujourd’hui, l’attitude de mallarmé scrutant les caractères des affiches, travaillant ses épreuves par collage, déplaçant ses mots d’un millimétre, est une attitude parfaitement normale et logique, en même temps que son poème constitue un classique du genre.

Pour nous, l’écrivain assume son rôle jusqu’à la materialité de son texte.

“For today’s writer, then, the Mallarméan scrutiny of type display, working on his proofs by collage, moving his words by one millimeter, is perfectly normal and logical behavior, at the same time that his poem constitutes a classic of the genre.

For us, the writer’s role entails the materiality of the text.”

The remaining contributors traverse the ranges of the academic and artistic, the tongue-in-cheek and the serious, that Ronat and Papp establish. A more textual affair, “n’abolira Lazare” by Jacques Roubaud, a member of the OuLiPo movement, delivers an homage to Mallarmé replete with numerical and linguistic puns, appropriate to a professor of mathematics and literature, and a translator of Lewis Carroll. Bruno Montels‘ “Convoquer le peu” displays his signature combination of handwriting and typographic experimentation.

L’Entre croisement” by Jean Pierre Faye (a visual linguistic pun, “threshold” and “intersection”) reads like notes for an academic lecture but in a free-verse layout. The poet/essayist Claude Minière‘s “Le Risque Picaresque” foreshadows(?) his essay Un Coup de Dés (Tinbad, 2019), which proposes Pascal’s wager and Pensées as a predecessor to Mallarmé.

Peruvian poet and writer Rodolfo Hinostroza‘s “Le Dieu de la Page Blanche” (“The God of the Blank Page”) delivers a diagrammatic exploration of the placement of verses on the page in Un coup de Dés, reminiscent of but less abstruse than Ernest Fraenkel’s Rohrschach-like exposition. Philippe Dôme draws on his time as a French and Spanish teacher in London to put together pages of a multilingual study workbook for the reader of Un Coup de Dés. Clearly a lover of puns, he entitles his workbook with Spanish interrogatory marks around the face of a die, the 4 constructed with two colons.

Perhaps the most striking of the visual homages, Paul Nagy‘s contribution is a descendant of Un Coup de Dés by conscious or unconscious way of the earlier typographic and graphic gymnastics of Dada, Marinetti, Iliazd, Gomringer, the Brazilian Noigrandes movement and Fluxus.

In its unbound folios approach to the poem and juxtaposition of it with artistic interpretations of the poem, the Ronat/Papp production marked a pivot for future treatments of Un coup de Dés. Over the decades after it, three new editions — also aimed at reflecting the Master’s wishes — appeared as did dozens of inventive academic and artistic responses to Un Coup de Dés. The three explorations of the “true” edition (in French) are Michel Pierson‘s (2002), Françoise Morel‘s (2007) and Ypsilon Éditeur‘s (2008). Though the artworks paying homage since 1980 are too numerous to list for this entry, note that Books On Books is preparing a virtual 125th anniversary celebration for 2022 that will display images and links for all the homage paid since 1897 that it has uncovered — from Man Ray’s Les Mystères du Château de Dé (1929) to Sylvain Moore’s Troisième Coup de Dés (2019).

Further Reading

Arnar, Anna Sigrídur. The Book as Instrument: Stéphane Mallarmé, the Artist’s Book and the Transformation of Print Culture (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2011).

Fraenkel, Ernest. Les Dessins trans-conscients de Stéphane Mallarmé : à propos de la typographie de “Un Coup de dés” (Paris: Nizet, 1960).

Meillassoux, Quentin. The Number and the Siren (2012). Meissaloux argues the toss with Ronat over the identity of le Nombre.

Moulinier, Didier. “Pour une histoire de la poésie concrète“, La Poèsie Élèmentaire, 5 March 2011. Accessed 5 November 2020.

Stark, Trevor. Total Expansion of the Letter: Art and Language after Mallarmé (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2020).

Bookmarking Book Art – Adam Smyth

13 March 1911 (2019)

13 March 1911 (2019)
Adam Smyth
Perfect bound paperback. H175x W115 mm, 64 pages. Edition of 500. Acquired from Information as Material, 10 October 2020.

Although unremarkable in its production values, 13 March 1911 enters the collection as a brilliant composite with roots in OuLiPo, Grangerism and the collage technique, Walter Benjamin’s Illuminations and The Arcades Project and Stéphane Mallarmé’s “The Book, Spiritual Instrument”. The date is the birth date of Smyth’s grandfather, and it is what confronts us in a photographic detail of a newspaper masthead.

From OuLiPo, Smyth takes the rule of constraint to guide his creation. The constraint is that the content presented must refer to events occurring on 13 March 1911 and in chronological order. Added to the constraint are citability of each source, which often takes Smyth to the Internet and Wayback Machine. Although focused on a single day in time, the writer, book and reader fly back and forth as if tethered together in a time machine composed of print and digital reference material.

Strictly with Grangerism, there should be a previously published book into and onto which the reader/actor inserts, pastes and attaches clippings relevant to the book in hand. Instead of a book in hand, Smyth has a date in hand to which the clippings accrue. And in keeping with this non-material target for Grangerizing, Smyth’s collage technique eschews visual and physical overlapping, rather it lies more in overlapping different types of sources of “data”: newspaper articles, classified ads, advertisements, Captain Scott’s journal, weather reports, obituaries, theater reviews and much more.

In a sort of reversal of Benjamin’s unpacking his library, Smyth packs snippets from history into this one book that turns on his grandfather’s birth date. It is not that Smyth can recreate him with all these snippets, or that the reader can ever know the man from those snippets — anymore than a reader of every single book in Benjamin’s library could recreate Benjamin or know him from doing so.

Like Benjamin in Arcades, Smyth is a collector of fragments by which he tries to make the past present. But Smyth’s time machine is also richly multi-dimensional — especially in its being digitally and print powered. What Smyth gives himself and the reader is an extended moment of recognizing the wide-flung welter around any of us at any time and the wryness, despair, amusement, inspiration and poignancy of trying to define, find and memorialize others (however close) or ourselves by that welter — however retrievable or citable the elements of it.

Finally, Smyth gives us one day’s proof of Mallarmé’s dictum: “everything in the world exists to end up in a book”. And so it ends up in the Books On Books Collection.

Further Browsing

Information as Material (Smyth’s 13 March 1911 is a publication with IAM, which offers works from authors such as Derek Beaulieu, Francesca Capone, Craig Dworkin, Andrew Dodds, Sharon Kivland, Simon Morris and Nick Thurston).

Books On Books Collection – Aurélie Noury

Perhaps there is some peculiar feature of “the book as intellectual instrument” that explains the phenomenon of book-artist-cum-impresari. In the last century, we had Ulises Carrión and Dick Higgins among others. In this century, we have Alicia Bailey, Sarah Bodman, Hubert Kretschmer, Antoine Lefebvre, Laura Russell to mention only a few. They flourish and with such variety. Some manifest as curators, others as gallerists, and others as publishers. Some transform that manifestation into a form of art itself. Aurélie Noury verges on doing this with the works under her imprint Éditions Lorem Ipsum.

El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha by Pierre Ménard (after Jorge Luis Borges, “Pierre Ménard, auteur du Quichotte” in Fictions) (2009)

El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha by Pierre Ménard (after Jorge Luis Borges, “Pierre Ménard, auteur du Quichotte” in Fictions) (2009)
Aurélie Noury
Perfect bound with folded cover, H170 × W120 mm, 38 pages. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Borges would be the first to congratulate Noury on her persistence, diligence and taste. Of course, he would be biased, but what else to call her recovery of these pages so briefly mentioned in his short story “Pierre Ménard, author of Quixote”, how else to describe their careful resetting in the precise order mentioned, and what other choice of fonts could be suggested than Garamond for the cover and Times New Roman for the text?

For any reader finishing the discourse on what the narrator calls Ménard’s unfinished oeuvre, it is a solace to turn to Noury’s reproduction and see exactly where Ménard left things hanging in the fragment of Chapter XXII that the narrator mentions so tantalizingly. It is a vicarious thrill to share with the narrator the strangeness of that fragment appearing after the ninth and thirty-eighth chapters!

Given the intrepidness of our artiste éditrice, it may seem churlish to mention the acute accent that appears in the last name of the latter-day author of Don Quixote. No such accent appears in the original Spanish of Borges’ story. Perhaps the Argentinian or his secretary had a momentary lapse. Then again, to give Noury the benefit of doubt and Borges the gift of future vision, the narrator’s Pierre Ménard (or Menard) could very well have been the ancestor of the eponymous founder of a micro vineyard in the Loire Valley who cannot seem to settle on one spelling or the other. It cannot be an accident that this vineyard recently produced a vintage named “Chaos” (2017), a wine that, one critic writes, “should not exist”.

Borges invented other authors besides Ménard and his bio-bibliographical narrator. Borges and his life-long friend Adolfo Bioy Casares came up with Honorio Bustos Domecq, a fictitious detective under whose name they wrote numerous short stories and through whom they introduced other fictitious authors — one such was Federico Juan Carlos Loomis. In “A List and Analysis of the Sundry Books of F. J. C. Loomis”, “Bugsy” Domecq chronicles the work of the legendary writer and critic. Loomis’s chief claim to fame is his collection of six books, whose contents consist solely of their titles.

Were it not for Aurélie Noury’s translating and publishing skills, the Francophone population would have to remain content with Domecq’s Spanish listing and analysis. (Saving, of course, the one title that Loomis wrote in French: Béret Basque.) Regardless of fluency in French or Spanish, the attentive reader will appreciate how the publisher’s sensitive translations capture the denotative, connotative, spiritual and cultural intent of Federico Juan Carlos Loomis’s singular texts.

Each of the French versions is tastefully set in Cochin on the cover and Times Roman in the text. The works’ restrained design (H190 x W130 mm, four pages, three covers in black & white, three with the addition of colored rule) complements their minimal contents.

Many book artists have paid homage to Borges (see Further Reading below). These seven works surely secure a place of honor and humor among them for Aurélie Noury.

Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard (poster) (2008)

Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard (poster) (2008)
Aurélie Noury
H100 x W700 mm. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

Except for her Rubik’s Coup de Dés, Noury’s poster version of Mallarmé’s poem would be the thing for summarizing, critiquing, parodying and paying homage to le Maître‘s work. Why not collapse all of the spacing and text in its varied type sizes and styles into one double-page spread? But then, if the game is “the total expansion of the letter”, the dispersal of letters from keywords in the poem across the 54 spaces on a Rubik’s cube would be the thing. Unfortunately, at the moment, this particular thing does not reside in the Books On Books Collection, so the following photos (courtesy of the artist) stand as a collector’s reminder.

Noury’s inventive literary/artistic appropriation does not end with Borges and Mallarmé. Marcel Duchamp, Honoré de Balzac, John Irving and Louis Aragon also come in for varying treatments at her hands. Her choices for these reversals of ekphrasis — proceeding from an existing text to a newly created work of art, rather vice versa — are clever. But it is her combination of the techniques of appropriation, homage and parody and intermedial play with the various techniques of print and digital publications in a distinctive way for each target text that is ingenious.

No doubt there could be many more such works to come, but even the most ingenious of appropriators finds her time appropriated by other ventures. As directrice of the imprint Éditions Incertain Sens, she engages with the works acquired for Le Cabinet du livre d’artiste (CLA) at the University of Rennes 2 as well as with their documentation in the CLA’s newspaper Sans niveau ni mètre. These ventures have been apropos and obviously influential for Noury. Éditions Incertain Sens and the CLA were founded by Leszek Brogowski, who has written extensively on book artists such as Bernard Villers. The furniture of CLA was made by artist and writer Bruno di Rosa, who has appropriated and extended the works of Gustave Flaubert and Joachim du Bellay. The situation could be only more apropos if Éditions Incertain Sens had been founded by Mallarmé and Borges at some point in the future!

Further Reading

A Maze of Books for the Cultural Olympiad“, Bookmarking Book Art, 15 August 2012. For a sculptural homage to Borges.

Sean Kernan“, Books On Books Collection, 23 February 2013. For a photographic homage to Borges.

Barbara Tetenbaum”, Bookmarking Book Art, 26 June 2013. For more on reverse-ekphrasis.

Jacqueline Rush Lee”, Books On Books Collection, 8 October 2019. For more on reverse-ekphrasis.

Peter Malutzki“, Books On Books Collection, 11 November 2019. For an homage to Borges’ Encyclopedia of Tlön from the short story “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”.

Hanna Piotrowska (Dyrcz)“, Books On Books Collection, 13 December 2019. For an “earthy” homage to Borges.

Michalis Pichler”, Books On Books Collection, 19 August 2020. For a prolific hommageur of Mallarmé.

Antoine Lefebvre”, Books On Books Collection, 28 September 2020. For another artiste éditeur.

Gilbert, Annette (ed.). Publishing as Artistic Practice (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2016).

Books On Books Collection – Francesca Capone

we have a trick that we call language. Actually, we have many kinds of language, each of which is based on a formal system of codes and/or symbols through which we represent states of the world.
Frank R. Wilson, The Hand (2000)

Weaving Language: Language is Image, Paper, Code & Cloth (2018)


Weaving Language: Language is Image, Paper, Code & Cloth (2018)
Francesca Capone
Perfect bound paperback. H230 x W155 mm, 116 pages. Acquired from Book Depository, 10 October 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection, shown with permission of the artist.

Weaving Language examines the poetics of weaving traditions through historical research as well as contemporary practices. Attempting to dismantle and rebuild commonplace understandings of the history of writing, Weaving Language focuses on fiber-based forms as a longstanding but often overlooked medium for record keeping, storytelling, and poetry. The book is both a mapping of instances that exemplify textile poetics from the beginning of time to the present day, as well as a creative experiment in utilizing textile as code. Capone invites the reader to experience textile as something to be read, along with its tactile and visual functions. — from the book jacket.

Sadly, Weaving Language: Language is Image, Paper, Code & Cloth (2018) aka WL II is only a third of the trilogy sought after for the collection (the other two are out of print). Its brilliant content and typography make the absence more acute. As its table of contents shows, WL II is also composed of three parts. Initially the first part seems to be a chronologically organized commonplace book with a rich collection of quotations from primary and secondary sources (citations in gray), with some guiding comments interspersed from Capone. But with the source material printed in black, the citation lines in gray and author’s comments in blue, the feeling turns to that of holding a patchwork quilt or the Bayeux tapestry of weaving’s history. The image below provides an example of the color-coded typography, including the single and apt exception in red.

Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Capone’s choice not to reproduce an image of Elizabeth Parker’s sampler stitched in red (see below) but rather to use type and red ink draws subtle and effective attention to how the book’s own visual motif underpins the way Capone weaves her choices of content together into a unified fabric.

Linen, embroidered with red silk in cross stitch (c. 1830)
Elizabeth Parker (1813-89)
H858 x W744 mm. Photo: Victoria & Albert Museum, Textiles & Fashion Collection, T.6-1956.

The second part — “Woven Codes” — begins like a “how to” book with a key page followed by examples. Structurally more profoundly, it links to the first part’s concluding quotation of a quotation: the poet Susan Howe citing Gertrude Stein’s “Sentences” notebooks, in which she wrote “Think in stitches”. The link is made by coding three selections from Stein’s Tender Buttons into three forms — gridded writing, an erasure poem and then a woven draft. Again, aptly, Capone chooses for her samplers “A Cloth”, “A Paper” and “A Drawing”. The next two pages — one illustrating the grid-based coding of Braille, one showing the method of tying coded Quipu knots — also reach back into the first part to pick up threads introduced by citations of Joyce Carol Oates and David Antin.

The last page of this black-and-white section of “Woven Codes” alludes even more subtly to the first part. The page’s text describing the illustration below it reads

The weaving of alternating S and Z twisted yarns results in a historically sturdy cloth composition.

Among the patchwork sources in the first part, there is a brief quotation from one of Roland Barthes’ lectures in which he “introduced the metaphor of ‘unthreading’ for the act of describing”. Could the weaving of “S and Z” yarns refer to Barthes’ S/Z, the seminal structuralist deciphering of codes of meaning in Honoré de Balzac’s short story “Sarrasine”? Only if “historically sturdy” is tongue in cheek, as the post-structuralists would have it. Allusion notwithstanding, this illustration of sturdy woven cloth sets us up for the more colorful concluding section of “Woven Codes” in which Capone demonstrates the color coding of various verse forms such as the sestina (below).

By pairing the drawn plan with the front and rear views of the woven sestina from Dante and then pairing a right-reading setting with a reversed setting of the poem in color-coded type, Capone underscores her equation of language = image, paper, code and cloth.

The third part of the book — “Weaving>>Writing” — brings all of the elements together in reverse: fabric comes first and is translated into words. It is a reversal that depends on Weaving Language I: Lexicon, in which Capone set out the code where “fiber informs pronouns, weave structure informs verb, interlacing and tapestry techniques are prepositions, color informs nouns & adjectives, and any two colors beside each other result in conjunctions”.

Five of Capone’s woven>>written poems are followed by five works by artists Ruth Laskey, Alicia Scardetta, Tauba Auerbach, Kayla Mattes, and New Friends (Alexandra Segreti and Kelly Rakowski). As individually whole works, they are not illustrated here. To view them, buy WL II from its publisher Information as Material or a bookstore or consult a library. As mentioned, WL I is out of print, perhaps hampering a fuller appreciation of the ten woven>>written poems. With WL III also now out of print, perhaps Information as Material will come to the rescue and make it possible for Books On Books to complete its set of the trilogy without dropping a stitch.

Further Reading

Capone, Francesca. Weaving Language I: Lexicon (Portland, OR: East Egg Press, 2012).

Capone, Francesca, ed. Writing in Threads: Weaving Language III (Troy, NY: Publication Studio Hudson, 2015).

Costello, Lindsey. “Francesca Capone: Think of Seashells at Nationale“, 60 Inch Center, 2018.

Snack, Rachel. Interview with Warp & Weft Magazine, 2020.

Wilson, Frank R. The Hand (New York: Random House International, 2000).

Books On Books Collection – David Dernie & Olivia Laing

Shipwreck (2016)

David Dernie and Olivia Laing

Perfect bound softcover. H256 x W210 mm, 48 unnumbered pages. Edition of 100, of which this is #88 and signed. Acquired from the artist, 27 August 2020.

Shipwreck, a collaboration between artist/architect David Dernie and writer Olivia Lang, first appeared as an installation at the Cambridge School of Art’s Ruskin Gallery (3-19 November 2016). There are three works one might consider here: 1) the installation as event and environment, 2) its accompanying book presenting two parallel narratives, one composed of Laing’s text and the other of images of Dernie’s collages displayed at the exhibition and 3) Dernie’s essay juxtaposing those images with pages from Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard.

In his extensively illustrated textbook Exhibition Design, Dernie asserts that exhibition-making is an art in itself — “synonymous with image-making, communication, and the creation of a powerful experience”. Like the “book of the movie”, the exhibition catalogue rarely rises to that powerful experience. More rarely still does it surpass the exhibition. Unlike movies that can be purchased or rented, exhibitions are time-limited experiences. Even if revisited multiple times, an exhibition will close, move on and be replaced by another. The catalogue or online website may be the only media that document an exhibition. Attendees and non-attendees will experience them differently, and without that documentation, the exhibition as a work of art belongs only to the memories of its attendees and organizers.

Shipwreck is not a catalogue of the exhibition. More like an artist’s book, it juxtaposes a literary narrative with a set of prints. There’s no indication that the text was performed in the exhibition hall — live or recorded. If it was, then the attendees may have the memories to recall to make Shipwreck a satisfactory reminder of the event. Whether attendees and non-attendees find Shipwreck “the book” satisfactory as a standalone work is problematic given the third work to consider.

In his essay in Buildings, Dernie describes the collages as

Working in the tradition of the collage novel, and with original engravings from the popular French newspaper Le Grande Illustré (1904), [they] work with the thematic structure and spatiality of Stéphane Mallarmé’s revolutionary poem Un Coup de Dés written a few years earlier. (P. 324)

Like the poem, the collages are heterogeneous and their protagonists are “found”, both in terms of their scale and detail, in the dramatized newspaper of the period. The engravings are a snapshot of the terrible uncertainties, reported disasters and social unrest that colored Parisian life at the time. The re-invented figures, scenes and architectural settings are offered as spatial analogues to the poetic passages, exploring the non-perspectival space of the text, its content and poetic imagery as much as its solipsism and incoherence. (Pp. 330-31)

Drawing his collage material from Le Grande Illustré and analogizing the collage to Mallarmé’s imagery and use of the page’s non-perspectival space, Dernie replays in an original way what the Cubists, Futurists and Dada-ists learned from Un Coup de Dés and Mallarmé. In Total Expansion of the Letter (2020), Trevor Stark has laid out clearly how the collages of Picasso and Braque traced their technique back to Mallarmé. As for what they incorporated from the newspapers, however, the avant-gardists turned to the text of headlines and articles rather than illustrations. Dernie’s result is more reminiscent of Max Ernst’s surrealist novels than the Cubist collages of 1912.

Photos: Books on Books Collection.

The collages are clearly not simple illustrations of Mallarmé’s poem, but as Dernie points out, they work with the poem. Only in Dernie’s essay, however, can the pairings with pages from Un Coup de Dés be found and enjoyed. The eye moves from collage image to the shape of the text, from the verse and its images back to the collage, and back again.

From “Elevating Mallarmé’s Shipwreck”, pp. 334 and 337. Reproduced with permission of the author.

FromElevating Mallarmé’s Shipwreck“, pp. 331-32. Reproduced with permission of the author.

Were it not for the limited edition state of Shipwreck, the reader/viewer might be tempted to obtain a spare copy of Un Coup de Dés from the publisher Gallimard, “grangerize” it with Dernies’ collages and gaze on it at leisure.

Further Reading

Dernie, David. “Elevating Mallarmé’s Shipwreck”, Buildings, 3, 2013, pp. 324-340.

Dernie, David. Exhibition Design (London: Laurence King, 2007).

Stark, Trevor. Total expansion of the letter : Avant-Garde art and language after Mallarmé (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2020).

Books On Books Collection – La Perruque

La Perruque (2015 ~)
Olivier Bertrand, ed.
Box housing one complete set of “unbound” editions (Nos. 00-21) with one binding spool; two “bound” rolls including fourteen available issues; one offset paper sheet (70 × 100 cm, folded) with issues Nos. 9 & 10 printed in margins; “servez vous” tickets for Talk #2, a typographic discussion at Atelier BEK, Brussels, Belgium, 19 April 2017. Collector’s edition of 5, of which this is #2. Acquired from Olivier Bertrand, 30 October 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

In French, une perruque is a wig but also the slang term for something made for home on the sly while on the employer’s clock. In English, it’s called a “homer”. In the case of La Perruque, the entire typography magazine is a “homer”; it literally exists in the otherwise unused margins of print shop production sheets. As founder Olivier Bertrand explains on his site, however, this magazine “hack” is completely above board:

Year 2015. A first unspoken agreement with the print shop Media Graphic in Rennes allows Oliver Bertrand to use a blank surface in the margins of their regular prints. Ever since that founding experience, materials (unused print surfaces) and large scale production techniques (offset printing) have been the playgrounds for type designers, print shops and publishers to collaborate. Production time, number of copies, colors and type of paper depend on this economy of means.

Each issue is a 1 x 90 cm ribbon. A pointer to an issue printed in the otherwise blank margin of a sheet for another printing job.

Each issue is rolled up on a card spindle.

La Perruque’s unusual binding as well as its subject make it a desirable addition to the Books On Books Collection. Each issue is a tiny but long type specimen book. It is the combination rather than solely its status as specimen book that attracts. Some bookworks play with codex, scroll, folio and box structures, others play with paper’s folding, unfolding and self-encasing as in accordion and palm-leaf books. While spooled, spindled or bobbined books can replicate the scroll book structure, the narrow, ticker-tape-like linearity of La Perruque feels like a different structural game.

With La Perruque, this structural game has two fields: that of the otherwise unused margins of printed sheets for other products and that of the card spindle on which the issue is wound. The marginal space from which each issue comes comments on the subject of every issue. The comment may be socioeconomic, political, philosophical, aesthetic or all of these. Michel Anteby’s article cited below explores in general that kind of commentary. The way in which the “unwinding binding” forces us to examine these type specimens and to “close” the book also comments on each issue: look closely at both sides of the ribbon, look hard, watch and think how the words and letters unravel, and watch and think as they roll back onto their spindle.

Offset paper sheet (70 × 100 cm, folded) with issues Nos. 9 & 10 printed in the lower margin.

A card spindle may hold one issue (as with the first spindle above) or several (as with the spindle beneath the first).

La Perruque is more than its issues. It is also an online archive for the issues and online point of access to the type designers’ documented font design processes. The type specimens are mainly for the Web, but their material publication makes us read and think with our hands. This is publishing as artistic practice to which you can subscribe here for your own collection.

Further Reading

Anteby, Michel. “Factory ‘homers’: Understanding a highly elusive, marginal, and illegal practice“, Sociologie du travail, 45, 2003, pp. 453-71.

Books On Books Collection – Emily Speed

Unfolding Architecture (2007)

For a collection following architecturally themed book art, Emily Speed’s Unfolding Architecture (2007) is essential. The video above shows how the box’s opening and the title revealed hint at the substance of this work. What cannot be sensed from the video is how the feather weight of the box and balsa-bound book of Mohawk Superfine resonate with the unbearable lightness of being that the main character Gordon experiences as he witnesses his city structure unfold across the twenty-two panels of his story. Here is Elaine Speight and Charles Quick on the work and Gordon:

The diversity of experience enabled by the fold is made explicit in Speed’s Unfolding Architecture (2007) …, an accordion-folded book that recounts the tale of Gordon, a city dweller who witnesses the collapse of public buildings and, ultimately, his own home as the urban fabric begins to unfold around him. Housed in a balsa wood box that, somewhat alarmingly, unfolds upon opening, the fragility of the folded sheet provokes something of the protagonist’s anxiety about the undoing of his city. Yet, … the act of unfolding also produces “an open plain full of possibility” (Speed 2019). As Gordon asserts, unfolding is not the same as falling apart, and the artist’s book suggests that hope and potential may be achieved through the dismantling of existing structures.

The silk-screening adds texture and a just perceptible raised depth to the varying textures of the wood and the Canson Opalux slip that protects the colophon in the bottom of the box. Depth and varying texture repeat themselves in the accordion’s folds and paper attached to wooden covers that seem light as paper.

Gordon’s story ends with paper — an old, rolled up newspaper that reminds him of a tower (an image that appears on the colophon’s cover slip). It is a reminder that comes to him in his recognition that, in the end, “all he was able to do now was to contribute to the re-making” of his flattened world. The newspaper reminds me of the newsprint typo “manmoth” for “mammoth” that inspired Elizabeth Bishop to invent her poem “The Man-Moth”. The Man-Moth and Gordon share a surreality and a hope that resides in the imagination — that solitary tear, the man-moth’s only possession, that slipping from his eyelid, he will palm and swallow if you’re not watching …

… However, if you watch, he’ll hand it over,
cool as from underground springs and pure enough to drink.

The fusion of title, metaphor, narrative, image, technique of silk-screening, letterpress, texture of paper and wood, the workings of the accordion and box enclosure — all — with one another makes Unfolding Architecture as satisfying as the Man-Moth’s tear.

Unfolding Architecture (2007)
Emily Speed
Double-sided accordion book, attached to balsa wood covers, housed in a hinged, covered box of balsa wood. Book – H190 x W70 x D18 mm (closed), H190 x ~W2280 (open); Box – H203 x W88 x D63 mm; 24 panels, including cover panels. Edition of 90, of which this is #7. Acquired from the artist, 24 October 2020.

Further Reading

Architecture“, Bookmarking Book Art, 12 November 2018.

Emily Speed“, The Aesthetic Trust, 30 January 2012. Accessed 24 October 2020.

Speight, Elaine, and Charles Quick, “‘Fragile Possibilities’: The Role of the Artist’s Book in Public Art“, MDPI Arts 2020, 9(1), 32. Accessed 24 October 2020.

Books On Books Collection – Robert Bononno and Jeff Clark

A Roll of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance/Un coup de Dés jamais n’abolira le Hasard (2015)

A Roll of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance (2015)
Robert Bononno and Jeff Clark
Hardback, H280 x W192 mm, 96 pages, illustrations.

Jeff Clark has designed this book for a dramatic entrance: eleven double-page spreads presenting in large type the English title (interrupted with a full-bleed double-page spread of random-light burst-mode photographs of black-and-white laserprints) followed by Mallarmé’s name in equally large type. The words in all caps Helvetica type bounce across the pages like dice, or rise and fall like waves.

Three more double-page spreads of an ominously darkening sea display the translator’s and designer’s names and the copyright page printed in reverse.

And then the poem begins. Both the English and French versions of the preface and poem occur without interruption by images (as Mallarmé would have wished) and in the layout implied by Mallarmé’s mark up of proofs before his death. Their relatively plain sailing, contrasted with the book’s dramatic opening, actually draws attention to the disruptive and groundbreaking nature of the poem’s intended layout and variations in typography.

The dramatic opening of double-page spreads returns at the end of the English version. Four spreads of undulating photographs of the seabed separate it from the French version. The spreads begin with a blow-up shot of seaweed or coracle and encrusted wreckage, then back off to a slightly longer shot in the next two spreads and return to a blow-up in the fourth spread. Although these are stills, their manipulation over the pages conveys a sense of underwater movement.

Four more double-page spreads conclude the book with photographs so blown-up and darkening that they leave the reader/viewer wondering if the phosphorescent underwater world has metamorphosed into a constellation.

The design work is carefully considered and meaningful. In choice of type, the English version’s sans serif type, Helvetica, contrasts with and complements the French version’s serif type, Didot, Mallarmé’s preferred font. Although in the Helvetica family the roman font does not contrast with its italic font as much as those fonts contrast in the Didot family, the Helvetica “places” Bononno’s and Clark’s work as a contemporary translation that complements its original.

The handling of the images is deeply subtle — not merely in their thematic affinity with the imagery and thrust of the poem, but also in their technique. They are random-light, burst-mode photographs of laser-printed photographs, a meta-technique that echoes the poem’s metaphysical struggle with meaning’s and thought’s being at a chance-driven remove from language. In commenting on Raffaella della Olga‘s phosphorescent light installation of the poem, the critic Raimundas Malašauskas makes a comment that is also apropos of these photographic images and technique:

Conversations about light often end up in conversations about time because light is far from ageless. Two reasons compliment [sic] each other: first, the emission of photons starts at one point in time and finishes at another one. Second, the scope of light brings an unforeseen scale of time if one has chosen to read this evocation under the light of stars. Just imagine it (when hopefully no one sees you.)

Malašauskas’ comments should be read in full to appreciate how important the theme of temporal perspective is for della Olga’s work. In his poem, Mallarmé evokes a temporal perspective through numerous images, not least of which is the constellation, and links that perspective to chance and the space (gap or abyss) between word (mark or utterance) and meaning. Likewise, in the privacy of this book, the chance-driven burst-mode images of images shift perspective from surface to depth to the microscopic — and out to the stars — placing the viewer in that solitary place where “no one sees you” to imagine macro- and micro-scopic vastness and relate them to this poem that proclaims across its last two double-page spreads:

NOTHING

WILL HAVE TAKEN PLACE

BUT THE PLACE

EXCEPT

PERHAPS

A CONSTELLATION

Further Reading


Glazier, Jeremy. “Un Coup d’idées: A New Translation of Mallarmé’s ‘A Roll of the Dice’“, Los Angeles Review of Books, 1 June 2015.

Malašauskas, Raimundas. “Coup de dés“, Raffaella della Olga website, 2010. Accessed 15 April 2020.

N.A. “Translators Jeff Clark and Robert Bononno on Stéphane Mallarmé’s ‘A Roll of the Dice’“, Poetry Society of America, N.D. Accessed 20 October 2020.

Ross, Alex. “Encrypted: Translators confront the enigma of Stéphane Mallarmé’s poetry“, The New Yorker, 4 April 2016.

Stark, Trevor. Total Expansion of the Letter (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2020). Reviewed here. For a clear exploration of Mallarmé’s themes of chance, temporal perspective, thought and language.

Books On Books Collection – Mandy Brannan

30 St Mary Axe is a skyscraper in London's mai...

30 St Mary Axe is a skyscraper in London’s main financial district. Designed by Sir Norman Foster architectural studio, built in 2001-2003. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

London’s 30 St Mary Axe is referred to as “the Gherkin,” which a glimpse of the building on the skyline proves unmistakably appropriate.  Mandy Brannan’s bookwork homage to the Gherkin is as architecturally intricate as the building’s cladding, and somehow more satisfying, perhaps because it’s less pickled.

30 St Mary Axe: Cladding (2009)

30 St Mary Axe: Cladding (2009)
Mandy Brannan
Flagbook. H102 x W134 mm. Edition of 20, unnumbered. Acquired from the artist, 20 March 2019. Photo: Books On Books Collection

This work — 30 St Mary Axe: Diagrid (2009) — and 30 St. Mary Axe: Cladding (2009) are among several architecture-inspired works of book art that Brannan has created. The text in the one called Situated could have come straight from Pallasmaa, Bachelard or Merleau-Ponty:

Being situated is generally considered to be part of being embodied, but it is useful to consider each perspective individually. The situated perspective emphasizes that intelligent behaviour derives from the environment and the agent’s interactions with it.

Clearly we are not dealing with some mere mimetic piece of craftwork.

30 St Mary Axe: Diagrid (2009)

30 St Mary Axe: Diagrid (2009)
Mandy Brannan
Modified flagbook. H121 x W154 mm. Edition of 20, unnumbered. Acquired from the artist, 20 March 2019.
Photos: Books On Books Collection

Cladding uses a straightforward flagbook structure, but not only is it double-sided with the architectural photographs, it also places text on the inner side of the accordion support and a statement about the 5,500 panels of glass cladding on the Gherkin. The modification in Diagrid is the inward curving of the flags and their formation of the shape recalling the Gherkin. The wording on the reverse of the accordion is the definition of the architectural term diagrid: “a design element used for constructing large buildings with steel that creates triangular structures with diagonal support beams”.

In addition to the flagbook- and modified-flagbook arrangements of the photos, Brannan has enriched the substance of these works with her manipulation of her photograph of 30 St Mary Axe, reflecting a nearby building. Using several different methods, digital programs and then printer settings for digitally printing, she delivers an almost kaleidoscopic, reflective and self-reflexive effect in each work. In a sense, the work demonstrates the artist’s behavior — her choices of material, subject, text and technique in each work’s making — and how it derives from her environment and her interactions with it. By integration of text, image, color, structure and material, Brannan also situates the “Gherkin’s” architecture in our hands and gives us the opportunity to contemplate, appreciate and perhaps experience the sense of being situated and embodiment.

Further Reading

Architecture“, Bookmarking Book Art, 12 November 2018.

Bachelard, Gaston. The poetics of space (Boston: Beacon Press, 1994).

Hale, Jonathan A. Merleau-Ponty for architects (New York: Routledge, 2017.

Pallasmaa, Juhani. The eyes of the skin : architecture and the senses (Chichester: John Wiley, 2005).

Books On Books Collection – James Roberts

Last (2018)

Last (2018)
James Roberts
Chapbook, saddle-stitched with staples. Cover: Futura and Goudy Trajan printed on Nettuno 350gsm. Text: Bodoni printed on FSC paper. H210 x W98 mm, 12 pages. Edition of 100, of which this is #36. Acquired from the author/artist, 24 August 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection. With permission of the author/artist.

Before starting his reading of his poem “The Bear” many years ago, Galway Kinnell commented that someone at another reading had expressed surprise that Kinnell was not an Eskimo, the description of the hunter and the bear being so real, so obviously based on first-hand experience.

A reader/viewer of James Roberts’ exquisite “Last” would be similarly surprised that he is not a time traveller or shape-shifter. While there are sanctuaries, conservation trusts and an effort at “rewilding”, wolves in the wild have been extinct in the UK since the reign of Henry VII. Perhaps Roberts’ close observation of timber wolves in Canada explains what happens in “Last”. Voice, tone, diction, pace and rhythm are in perfect balance with the subject. So much so that the poet seems to inhabit the animal’s breathing, loping and howling.

The poem often sends the reader back to the cover image:

she was already a ghost

a last exhalation/ from the last of her kind/ breathed out of the world

like snowfall/ like snow thawed/ and gone to ground

fragments of a trace

casting shadows

The unusual texture and color of the cover’s ghostly image come from both the choice of paper and artist’s technique:

The wolf image is an illustration created using black ink and salt. The ink is applied inside a sketched outline of the wolf very quickly then the salt is scattered over it while wet. I then scan it and play with the image in Photoshop. I convert to a duotone setting using a deep blue and a much lighter tone. Correspondence with Books On Books, 15 September 2020.

Poem and image come to the very edge of stepping outside the anthropomorphic, anthropocentric circle, but inevitably they are addressed to us in “this forest we’re lost inside”.

Further Reading

Roberts, James. Winged (2020). Review, Caught by the River, 16 August 2020.

Roberts, James. Night River Wood (2018~).

Zoomorphic (online magazine founded and edited by James Roberts).

“Total Expansion of the Letter”, Trevor Stark (MIT Press, 2020): Review

The 125th anniversary of the publication of Stéphane Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard (1897) approaches, and Trevor Stark’s book is a welcome harbinger. Its title comes from Mallarmé’s essay/poem “The Book, Intellectual Instrument”:

The book, total expansion of the letter, should derive from it directly a spacious mobility, and by correspondences institute a play of elements that confirms the fiction (p. 6).

Often with Mallarmé, context is all (not to mention translation in the face of elliptical syntax!) — context is wrapped in self-enshrouded context. His seemingly cryptic sentence above becomes clearer only when the precedent to the word “it” (elle) is understood as la composition typographique from the essay/poem’s preceding paragraph, extolling the alphabet, language and typography.

Un miracle prime ce bienfait, au sens haut ou les mots, originellement, se réduisent à l’emploi, doué d’infinité jusqu’à sacrer une langue, des quelque vingt lettres — leur devenir, tout y rentre pour tantôt sourdre, principe — approchant d’un rite la composition typographique. (my emphasis)

So, the sentence is a proscription for what “the book” should get from typographic composition. Metaphorically (fictionally), the book is a total expansion of the typeset letter, or mark. As such, it should derive from the “near rite of typographic composition” a spaciousness and mobility and a play among elements that confirms the metaphor that it is a “total expansion of the letter”. Still a bit cryptic, but after all, this is what Mallarmé calls a “critical poem”, and the sentence is hardly more cryptic than the opening pronouncement: “everything in the world exists to end up in a book”.

It is a good choice of title for Stark’s endeavor. “Total expansion of the letter” juggles Mallarmé’s “heroic” vision for the book with the material world of metal type, idea with ink, the sacred with the profane. In painting, sculpture, music, dance, theater and film, the avant-gardists certainly brought together intellectuality and physicality forcefully. Stark shows that, in doing so, they also consciously and unconsciously raided Mallarmé’s open larder of skepticism about language and communication. The letter (or any mark of signifying, for that matter), scraps of newspaper, musical scores, dance notation, dresses and costumes (or lack thereof), wanted posters, financial bonds, and much more became ready objects for avant-garde art but only on the condition of their “becoming dysfunctional and incommunicative” (p. 7). Stark wants to know why.

Total Expansion of the Letter : Avant-Garde Art and Language after Mallarmé
Trevor Stark
(Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2020)

Mallarmé’s skepticism about language and communication is Stark’s touchstone throughout: that language has an “ineradicable degree of chance built into” it; that there is inherently a suspension — a temporal gap, blank, void, lacuna, an “unfinished” state — between the sign’s expressed materiality and its meaning; and that, therefore, every act of communication as a historical and aesthetic phenomenon is like an anonymous, “impersonified” throw of the dice, “tossed into eternal circumstances’” (p.29). Applying that touchstone, he crosses the borders insightfully time and again “between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, between dance, music, and letters, and between art history, the philosophy of language, politics, and poetics” (p. 30). Never reductive, he explores the continuities and variations between Mallarmé’s achievements and those of Paul Cezanne, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Francis Picabia, Tristan Tzara, Hugo Ball, F.T. Marinetti, Marcel Duchamp, the Laban school of dance and others of the avant-garde. As he offers a reciprocal interpretation of Mallarmé and of avant-garde art, individual poems, paintings, collages, performances of dance and theater yield new clarities and sharpened expression of received assessments.

Consider Stark’s comparative reading/viewing of Mallarmé’s “Sonnet en X” (1887) and Picasso’s The Dressing Table (1910). Across eight pages of text and photographs of art, Stark helps the reader to follow Mallarmé’s “quest for a word that literally means nothing, ptyx, a word produced by the frolic of language”, a signifier that “attains a materiality and an opacity, allowing the poem to display a linguistic Void, to raise it from the latent to the patent.” The materiality to which Stark draws our attention is twofold: the bright rhymes (-yx, -ix, -ixe) that almost single-handedly drive the invention of the word ptyx and the mirror on the credenza in the poem that captures the empty room, its window and the constellation Ursa Major showing through it. Across the same pages, Stark conducts the viewer through Picasso’s painting — again a mirror, the surface of a dressing table, the drawer from which a key protrudes, a drawer handle, a glass with the long handle of a toothbrush and its bristles poking out, but all scattered into planes of reflection and refraction, their shapes “mutually implicated to the point of structural ambiguity”. Then, he draws them together: “In Mallarmé and Picasso, representation destroyed the object in order to proclaim its own mute materiality and, thereby, regain continuity with the world by becoming simply one more thing within it”(pp. 101-108).

In pursuing these reciprocal readings of Mallarmé and his avant-garde descendants, Stark keeps a bright light on the “between” — between an object and its reflection, between a word’s or sound’s utterance and its meaning, the blanks between words, the blanks between brushstrokes or those between them and the boundary of the painting, between the cosmic and domestic, between one media and another when brought together in a work, between the individualism of subjective imagination and impersonal modes of production, between author/artist and word/image and reader/viewer. His term for these spaces is intermedial. In her endorsement of Stark’s book, Julia Robinson (New York University) calls his neologism “luminous”. The term refers to “the zone of indeterminacy between mediums, social practices, and temporalities” into which Mallarmé found himself outwardly propelled even as he inwardly sought “absolute language”.

Looking back on the avant-gardists and his own contemporaries, Dick Higgins — the late twentieth century language-, book-, and publishing-artist — rejuvenated Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s term intermediation, a neologism similar and related to intermedial. It is not the same thing as intermediality or mixed media. As Higgins expressed it, “Many fine works are being done in mixed media: paintings which incorporate poems within their visual fields, for instance. But one knows which is which. In intermedia, on the other hand, the visual element (painting) is fused conceptually with the words” (p. 52). It can be argued that works of intermedia are one way in which artists address intermediality — that zone of indeterminacy.

The argument is ultimately a phenomenological one, a perspective that Stark embraces. When he applies the ideas of Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Theodor Adorno, Maurice Blanchot and others to Mallarmé’s poems and the artistic expressions of his “descendants”, both the philosophers and the artists become more accessible. Consider this passage summarizing Maurice Blanchot’s account of the history and function of language and its four stages:

The first was that of an Adamic or nomenclaturist model of language, which conceived words as names for the objects of the world. The second, dominant from Plato to Descartes, was the idealist model in which language constituted the link between sensible reality and the eternal realm of the Idea, and thus the guarantee of our ‘entrance into the intelligible world.’ [fn 223] Third, the ‘expressionist model’ of Hegel and Leibniz considered language itself the embodiment of what is sayable, thinkable, and possible at any given historical juncture, serving, therefore, as the medium of the progress of Spirit. Finally, illustrated with a quote from Valèry, the fourth stage was the ‘dialectical function of discourse,’ in which language regained an ‘essential power of constestation’ in the negativity of modern literature:

‘Literature seeks to revoke from language the properties that give linguistic signification, that make language appear as an affirmation of universality and intelligibility. But it doesn’t arrive at this goal (if it does arrive at this goal) by destroying language or through contempt of its rules. It wants to render language to what it believes to be its veritable destiny, which is to communicate silence through words and to express liberty through rules, which is to say to evoke language itself as destroyed by the circumstances that make it what it is.’ [fn 224] (pp. 110-11)

Clearly that passage links back to the touchstone of Mallarmé’s skepticism about language and communication. The strength of the touchstone is that it can also be fruitfully applied to the numerous works of homage to Mallarmé from contemporary book artists such as Jérémie Bennequin, Michael Maranda, Michalis Pichler, Eric Zboya and many others. Likewise it can used to shed light on the “material text” approach to understanding book art. A case in point is the first issue of Inscription: the Journal of Material Text – Theory, Practice, History, a work of book art in its own right.

Consider the hole drilled through the center of the journal. Does it not echo Stark’s reminder of Braque’s citing Mallarmé’s utterance: “‘The point of departure is the void'” (p. 88)? Consider the journal’s spatial challenge to the act of reading (a dos-à-dos binding, a text block that rotates around that hole). Does that not echo this passage from Total Expansion of the Letter?

But what remains after the ‘suspension’ of the represented object and the objectification of the means of representation? For Mallarmé, the ‘residuum’ was the act of reading itself, conceived not as a process of cognitive reconstruction, but instead as a gamble on the very possibility of forging meaning out of opacity and contingency of linguistic matter. As Mallarmé wrote in ‘The Mystery of Letters’

‘To read —

That practice —

To lean, according to the page, on the blank, whose innocence inaugurates it, forgetting even the title that would speak too loud: and when, in a hinge [brisure], the most minor and disseminated, chance is conquered word by word, unfailingly the blank returns, gratuitous earlier but certain now, concluding that there is nothing beyond it [rien au-delà] and authenticating the silence –‘” (pp. 108-109).

Not since Anna Sigrídur Arnar’s The Book as Instrument: Stéphane Mallarmé, the Artist’s Book and the Transformation of Print Culture (2011) has there been as useful a tool for appreciating Mallarmé, art and artist’s books as Trevor Stark’s Total Expansion of the Letter. On the eve of the 125th anniversary of Un Coup de Dés, it will be interesting to see whether Stark and others extend his work to art and book art after the avant-garde.

Further Reading

Arnar, Anna Sigrídur. The Book as Instrument: Stéphane Mallarmé, the Artist’s Book and the Transformation of Print Culture (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2011).

Higgins, Dick, and Hannah Higgins. “Intermedia“, republished in Leonardo, Volume 34, Number 1, February 2001, pp. 49-54.

McCombie, Elizabeth. Mallarmé and Debussy: Unheard Music, Unseen Text (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). It would have been interesting to see how Stark would relate his exploration with McCombie’s exploration of Mallarmé’s views on poetry and music.

Willette, Jeanne. “Cubism As Applied Design: Sonia Terk-Delaunay“, Art History Unstuffed, 16 August 2019. Although Robert and Sonia Delaunay are briefly mentioned in the third chapter (p. 248), it would have been interesting to see how Stark would use his touchstone to explicate the first “simultaneous poem”: La Prose du Transsibérien et de la Petite Jehanne de France (1913) by Blaise Cendrars and Sonia Delaunay.

The Yale University Press offset facsimile. Image courtesy of Accordion Publications

Books On Books Collection – “Inscription: the Journal of Material Text”

I want the physicality of the book to create a physical message through the hands and the eyes that makes the reader more susceptible to the text.

Claire Van Vliet, “Thoughts on Bookmaking“, Poets House, 10 October 2019.  

Inscription: the Journal of Material TextTheory, Practice, History (2020)

Inscription: the Journal of Material Text – Theory, Practice, History
Edited by Gill Partington, Adam Smyth and Simon Morris
Dos-à-dos (flipped), perfect bound softcover, H314 x W314 mm, 132 pages (including the end pages left intentionally blank); fold-out double-sided print of Jérémie Bennequin’s erasure of Edgar Allen Poe’s “A Descent into the Maelstrom”, H940 x W940 mm; saddle-stitched chapbook of Craig Dworkin’s “Clock”, held in a mock 45 RPM record sleeve, H180 x W180 mm; vinyl LP recording of Sean Ashton’s novel Living in a Land, H314 x W314 mm; Acquired from Information as Material, 10 October 2020.

In its design, typography, format and media components, the first issue of Inscription: the Journal of Material Text – Theory, Practice, History embodies its domain. So much so that this metaphorical box of artifacts stands as a contribution to the study of material texts as much as any of the journal’s inaugural articles.

Jérémie Bennequin’s double-sided, bilingual print of his erasure of Poe’s “A Descent into the Maelstrom” recalls the palimpsest — a longstanding topic of material text study. Also, by standing in for Poe’s swirling maelstrom, the print’s image of spiralling erasure raises the domain’s recurrent theme of text-and-image interaction as well as that of the self-reflexiveness of such art. Using the book or text as physical material with which to create a work is central to book art as is the self-referencing that arises.

Bennequin’s choice of text also alludes to his other work. The short story’s themes of abyss, shipwreck and nothingness occur prominently in Poe-loving Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard, the 19th century poem that made us modern and launched (is still launching) scores of artists’ books paying material and conceptual homage. Bennequin is one of those artists.†

The print’s spiral erasure on a background of text serves as one of several voices in this journal issue’s intermedial†† harmony (or cacophony). The spiral reappears in Craig Dworkin’s meditation that scales up a pocket watch’s clock spring to the size of Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (1980). Dworkin finds the spiral in the fossil of a Holocene fish that swam over the bed that became the jetty. He “materializes” the watch’s minutes against the geological and evolutionary time frames of the formation of the Great Salt Lake and the fossil. On the back cover of the chapbook, its entire text is repeated in a spiral of text blocks. The chapbook slips back into its 45 RPM-size sleeve to echo the spiralling inscription of sound in vinyl grooves that actually occurs on the LP recording of Sean Ashton’s novel Living in a Land.

After Bennequin’s print, Dworkin’s meditation and Ashton’s LP, the journal itself appears, sporting the spiral as a logo on its trompe l’oeil cover. Not only drawn from Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, the logo draws from the stage costumes of Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi, which recur throughout the journal’s pages reminding us of drama as another medium in which the materiality of the text matters. In its own physical manifestation, the journal wears the materiality of the text on its sleeve and in its pages. The pages themselves spiral around a hole drilled through the center of the issue, echoing the sculptural extremity of inscribing, the book art technique of excising and the concept of nothingness central to many artists of inscription such as Robert Barry and Carl Andre, as this exchange shows:

RB: There is something about void and emptiness which I am personally very concerned with. I guess I can’t get it out of my system. Just emptiness. Nothing seems to me the most potent thing in the world.

CA: I would say a thing is a hole in a thing it is not. — Arts Magazine 47 (1972): 46

On its two page 2’s (a result of the dos-à-dos or back to back binding), Incription offers its own Magrittean take on holes:

In dos-à-dos binding, two codices are bound back to back in a Z form. So usually there are two fore-edges, two spines, and both codices have the same vertical orientation.

Example of traditional dos-à-dos binding: Odd Volumes: Book Art from the Allan Chasanoff Collection (2014). Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Inscription is bound dos-à-dos, but with only one fore-edge and one spine. Materially emphasizing the theme of inward spiralling, Inscription‘s two halves are upside down to one another. Their vertical orientations differ as can be seen in the following photo of the two front covers splayed away from the spine. The cover designer has obviously joined the fun by creating two fore-edges with the trompe l’oeil and “two” spines, one downward reading in the English style and, when flipped, one upward reading in the European style. Of course, therefore, there are two Tables of Content in opposite orders and two editorial prefaces, of which “one is considerably better: this is deliberate”. (Tongue-in-cheek humor seems to reside in the DNA of material text studies — and especially in book art.)

Two Tables of Content — naturally in reverse order for the dos-à-dos bound volume.

With the page layout spiralling from each end of the issue toward the spiral-set colophon placed in the center (usually part of the endmatter), we have spirals inscribed within spirals.

Left (or is it right?): the drilled hole centered on Ubu Roi‘s omphalic costume. Right (or is it left?): the spiral-set colophon.

Across the issue, the text block rotates like a vinyl record around the central hole.

By the time the colophon is reached, the reader/viewer’s head may be spinning, which could make it easier to read the colophon — wherein it is revealed that the book has been set in twenty different versions of Garamond type in a sequence such that the first letter of a line comes from the first version of Garamond, the second letter from the second version and so on, with the sequence starting anew with the next line. More spirals within spirals.

The materiality of this inaugural issue demonstrates how Inscription‘s focus “is not just on the meanings and uses of the codex book, but also the nature of writing surfaces (papery or otherwise), and the processes of mark-making in the widest possible sense”, as the editors put it. The care and creativity with which this first issue has been put together offer raw material with which to “take the study of material texts in new directions”. Mark-making by erasure, printing, juxtaposing, drilling, vinyl inscription, land erosion, evolution, land art, stage costumes, choice of type, page layout, binding, sleeving — all this even before we come to the articles themselves (see the photos of the Table of Contents above)!

For academics, book artists, printmakers, poets, and artists – and every permutation of roles, subsidiary roles and sub-subs of role — Inscription is rich, exuberant, eye-opening and eye-twisting, and eminently collectible as a work of art in its own right. Which is why it is in the Books On Books Collection.

† For Bennequin’s homage to Un Coup de Dés, see “Jérémie Bennequin“, Books On Books Collection, 11 April 2020.

†† “Intermedial” is taken from Trevor Stark’s Total Expansion of the Letter: Avant-Garde Art and Language after Mallarmé (2020), p.9. It refers to “the zone of indeterminacy between mediums, social practices, and temporalities” into which Mallarmé’s question “Does something like Letters exist?” threw the poet and avant-gardists. The question is ultimately a phenomenological one, which the study of material text inherently addresses.

A similar, related neologism — “intermediation” — was adopted from Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1965 by the language-, book-, and publishing-artist Dick Higgins in “Intermedia“, republished in Leonardo, Volume 34, Number 1, February 2001, pp. 49-54. It is not the same thing as intermediality or mixed media. As Higgins expressed it, “Many fine works are being done in mixed media: paintings which incorporate poems within their visual fields, for instance. But one knows which is which. In intermedia, on the other hand, the visual element (painting) is fused conceptually with the words.”, p. 52. It can be argued that works of intermedia are one way in which artists address intermediality.

Books On Books Collection – “Machines” by Michael Donaghy and Two Artists’ Books

Michael Donaghy (1954-2004) was something of a throwback to the Metaphysical Poets of the seventeenth century. Their love poetry excelled at extended metaphors designed to touch the heart and mind. “Machines” illustrates this best among his poems. It is worth a listen.

For Barbara Tetenbaum, intense listening to works of literature has provided a rich source of artwork. Her Mining My Ántonia (2012) is based on hours in a gallery at Reed College listening to a recorded reading of Willa Cather’s novel. Here is how she describes the artist’s book:

It features five automatic drawings made while listening to the novel, printed as etchings. A cloth-bound book of handset letterpress-printed excerpts accompanies this. A large fold-out map of how I see the novel, printed as a large etching with letterpress text, is housed inside the book along with one piece of text from the original Reed College installation.

Framed copy of the large fold-out map included in My Ántonia (2012). Photos: Books On Books Collection. With permission of the artist.

Decades earlier while working with Ron King, founder of Circle Press, Tetenbaum was engaged in a 10-year body of work of “marks on pages, marks as diary entries, marks as keeping time, marks as recording lived experience”. That work foreshadowed Mining My Ántonia — as did the result of meeting Michael Donaghy and his wife Maddy Paxman in 1986. That same year, when King and his wife left for an extended vacation in Eygpt, he gave Tetenbaum free rein to make any chapbook she wanted while he was away. She naturally turned to Donaghy’s melodic poetry to find the right one to react to with typesetting, paper choice, printing, binding and her own artwork — not to illustrate the poem but rather to create a companion experience for the reader.

The first of that companion experience comes from the warmth of the cover’s color, texture and weight.

Machines: A Poem by Michael Donaghy (1986)
Designed and printed by Barbara Tetenbaum at Circle Press, Guildford. Handset 14 pt Optima printed on rag paper, artwork printed on Himalayan mitsumata paper. Edition of 75, of which this is #72. Acquired from Circle Press, 22 June 2015. Photos: Books On Books Collection. With permission of Maddy Paxman and the artist. “Machines” © Michael Donaghy Estate.

The cover is actually a large single deckle-edged sheet, trimmed at top and bottom then folded to quarters.

In addition to strengthening the cover, the folding protects the three-point single-thread binding that attaches two sheets of rag paper and one sheet of mitsumata paper to the cover.

Structurally the pages have a subtle imbalance. The first sheet of rag, bearing the title and colophon, folds to two slightly unequal panels. The title page is wider than the colophon page.

The second sheet folds to three unequal panels, the last bearing the dedication to Maddy Paxman on one side and the poem itself on the reverse. In a gestural embrace, the panels fold to envelop the sheet of mitsumata paper on which Tetenbaum’s marks appear.

Also folded in “slightly off” thirds, the soft translucent mitsumata has an additional subtle imbalance. Unfolded for “reading”, the panels show a steady increase in the number of marks from left to right. Oddly though, the first and third panels show vertical marks, while the second’s are horizontal and printed on the other side of the sheet.

With permission of Maddy Paxman and the artist. “Machines” © Michael Donaghy Estate.

With permission of Maddy Paxman and the artist. “Machines” © Michael Donaghy Estate.

What is going on? The answer begins to appear from the view of the triptych of marks alongside the poem and its music. The columns of marks move left to right and down like the lines of verse. Taken together, the four panels achieve a forward-moving balance: vertical-horizontal-vertical- horizontal. Like a bicycle ride, the poem and marks start slowly, then move forward picking up speed — a natural outcome of a performative response to Donaghy’s poem.

But then, this is a view the artist did not fully intend. She writes, “The folding in the book was in part to allow the reader to have access to the poem without the intrusion of the visuals“. Listen though to Donaghy as he speaks the poem, which at the end appositely replies to the artist’s intention: “So much is chance, So much agility, desire and feverish care, As bicyclists and harpsichordists prove Who only by moving can balance Only by balancing move”. The same for the book artist. The varying folds and contrasting papers envelop, separate and blend art and text. Just as the asemic pulsing marks contrast with and mirror the rhythmic, rhyming text.

Before going on to the next artist, it is worth a short online detour for background on the mitsumata paper that Tetenbaum chose. The paper is handmade from the inner bark (or bast fibre) of a plant called mitsumata (argeli in Sikkim, India). A sustainable and renewable resource, the plants are cropped above ground level and reharvested after 3-4 years. Argeli’s scientific name is Edgeworthia gardneri, in honour of Michael Pakenham Edgeworth, botanist and civil servant in India, and for his half-sister, writer Maria Edgeworth. So much is colonial science, so much is literary chance.

Mitsumata paper is made with the Japanese nagashizuki dipping and layering method of papermaking. From “Mountain Plants to Paper: A Sikkim Story“, documentary by Jaya Jaitly, Dastkari Haat Samiti, n.d. Accessed 25 September 2020.


Béatrice Coron has dived into the mechanical and musical metaphors of the poem and emerged with a knife-cut leporello pop-up incorporating text, images and metal gears.

Machines: Poem by Michael Donaghy (2017)
Béatrice Coron
Leporello pop-up, enclosed in box with closure of small gear and black thread. Box: H205 x W162 x D27 mm. Leporello: H195 x W143 mm (closed), W1125 (open). Acquired from the artist, 31 July 2017. Photos: Books On Books Collection. With permission of the artist. “Machines” © Michael Donaghy Estate.

The black thread unwinds from the sprocket on the fore edge of the box, and the box opens to a pastedown title page sprinkled with drops of solder. The enclosed leporello unfolds to a tour de force of paper engineering.

First photo: Books On Books. Second photo: Etienne Frossard. With permission of Maddy Paxman and the artist. “Machines” © Michael Donaghy Estate.

The first double-panel spread presents a centered fanfolded pop-up, whose slits and folds across the crease deliver a stroboscopic effect. Or that of a speaker vibrating with music. The words of the first stanza bracket the pop-up like parentheses representing motion or sound.

Photos: Books On Books. With permission of Maddy Paxman and the artist. “Machines” © Michael Donaghy Estate.

For the next double-panel spread, Coron takes the first line of the poem’s second stanza — “The machinery of grace is always simple” — and centers it appropriately at the top. The lines expanding on that statement are cut just below the teeth and into the circumference of interlocking gears. Along with their struts, rims and teeth, these gears are the only remains of this section of paper. Despite all that air and the weight of the small metallic flywheels and gears centered in the cutouts, the double-panel spread balances gracefully.

With permission of Maddy Paxman and the artist. “Machines” © Michael Donaghy Estate.

The floating layer technique is used for the third double-panel spread. The whole note (or circle) in the center hovers over the musical staves by virtue of hinged multi-tier paper supports. The words appearing between the staves and inside the whole notes (or rests?) take in all of the third stanza and first line of the fourth.

With permission of Maddy Paxman and the artist. “Machines” © Michael Donaghy Estate.

The remaining lines of the poems are cut above, below and into two interlinked spiral pop-ups. Normally a spiral is cut from a circle on one page, and one end of it is attached to the facing page. Here, with this variant on the technique, Coron give us the two bicycle wheels linked by a chain, or perhaps two treble clefs fallen over.

With permission of Maddy Paxman and the artist. “Machines” © Michael Donaghy Estate.


Coron’s and Tetenbaum’s palettes reflect the rich diversity of book art. With a few elements in common from the book arts, these two very different works, engaging the same poem, speak to the eclecticism of the Books On Books Collection and some of its underlying themes. One is the meaningful materiality of book art as well as its haptic pleasure — be it in the structure, paper, the type or lettering or marking, the colors, the balance of image and text, or that of shape and space.

The second is a particular kind of engagement with literature. Not all of the book art in the collection engages with literature, but that which does performs a sort of ekphrasis in reverse, where the poem engenders the work of art. So distinctively different in their responses, the two works show that, even within that underlying theme, eclecticism seems inevitable.

And finally, the last of the three is chance. As noted, the poem itself addresses the role of chance in the “gadgetry of love” and creativity. But what of this then? When Donaghy reviewed the proofs of Tetenbaum’s typesetting, he called out the presence of one extra word that threw off the meter. The type had to be reset. When Coron’s rendering was opened and inspected, the collector called out the absence of a one word. The leporello had to return for recutting. Mirrored typos thirty-one years apart — now there’s chance.

Further Reading and Listening

Carter, David A. and Diaz, James, The Elements of Pop-Up, A Pop-Up Book for Aspiring Paper Engineers (New York: Little Simon, 1999).

Coron, Béatrice. Interview with Steve Miller, Book Arts Podcasts, School of Library Information and Sciences, University of Alabama, September 2011.

Coron, Béatrice. Interview with Helen Hiebert, Paper Talk Podcast, 22 August 2020.

Donaghy, Michael. Collected Poems (London: Macmillan, 2014).

Ferguson, Margaret W.; Mary Jo Salter; Jon Stallworthy (eds.). The Norton Anthology of Poetry (New York: W.W. Norton, 2005).

Paterson, Don. Smith : a reader’s guide to the poetry of Michael Donaghy (London: Picador, 2014).

Tetenbaum, Barbara. Interview with Claudia Hamilton, Book Arts Podcasts, School of Library Information and Sciences, University of Alabama, 13 January 2006.

Tetenbaum, Barbara. Interview with Sarah Lange, University of Wisconsin-Madison Book Arts: Oral History, 18 June 2018.

Tetenbaum, Barbara. Correspondence with Books On Books. 22 September 2020.

Books On Books Collection – Pat Gentenaar-Torley

First Seven Books of the Rijswijk Paper Biennial (1996 – 2008)

Photos: Books On Books Collection.

These seven books that Pat Gentenaar-Torley put together with Peter Gentenaar-Torley and others introduced her work (and pulp painting) to the Books On Books Collection. Pulp painting is a too-little remarked technique that is followed around the world and deploys almost as many tools as there are brushes: pipettes, syringes and even turkey basters. The technique has been used in book art by artists such as Pacita Abad, John Gerard, Helen Hiebert, Lea Basile Lazarus, Tim Mosely, Pamela Paulsrud, Marius Péraudeau, Lynn Sures, Claire Van Vliet, Gangolf Ulbricht, Maria Welch and Michelle Wilson.

Water Dragon / Parrot Tulips (2011)

Water Dragon / Parrot Tulips (2011) 

Pat Gentenaar-Torley

Pulp painting. H575 x W520 mm, excluding mounting board of white plastic. Acquired from the artist, July 2018. Photos: Books On Books Collection. 

Drops of Moonlight (c. 2008?)

Drops of Moonlight (c. 2008?)

Pat Gentenaar-Torley

Pulp painting. H370 x W475 mm, excluding frame and matte. Acquired from the artist, July 2018. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Here is Gentenaar-Torley’s explanation of her technique:

I work from the front of the painting on the surface of the vacuum table. Using the colored pulps, I pour thin, often transparent, layers of pulp, next to and on top of each other, sometimes shaping them with a knife as I go along. As the water drains down, I gradually build up the pulp layers to the back, finishing with a layer of hemp pulp overall, for strength, and then a layer of cotton pulp overall, to act as a cushion for drying on a board.

Screenshots of Gentenaar-Torley’s pulp painting process from artist’s website. Permission of the artist.

Gentenaar-Torley explains the technique in additional detail in the fourth booklet of Puur Papier/Pure Paper (Rijswijk : Stichting Holland Papier Biënnale, 2008).

Further Reading/Listening

First Seven Books of the Paper Biennial”, Books On Books Collection, 10 October 2019.

Looking Back and Forward from the Paper Biennial 2018”, Bookmarking Book Art, 24 June 2018.

Hiebert, Helen. Interview with Pat & Peter Gentenaar-Torley, Paper Talk, 30 March 2018.

Ende, Willem van der. Pat Gentenaar-Torley (Rijswijk: Gentenaar and Torley Publishers, 1999). Exhibition catalogue: cover, paper sample and double-page spread.

Frederiks, Catherina. Pat Gentenaar: Leidraad in Papier (Voorburg: Stichting Haagse Beeldende Kunst en Kunstnijverheid, 2012). Exhibition catalogue: cover and double-page spread.

Books On Books Collection – “La Prose du Transsibérien Re-Creation” by Kitty Maryatt

It was 1913. Stravinsky’s ballet “The Rite of Spring” debuted. The Cubists, Constructivists, Suprematists, Futurists all bound onto the art scene, many of them showcased in the Armory Show in New York that year. The Nouvelle revue française (NRF) attempted the first book form of Stéphane Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard, which revived that 1897 typographic disruption of the page and prepared the ground for dozens of works of book art since. And Blaise Cendrars and Sonia Delaunay-Terk announced and published what they called le premier livre simultané. It was La Prose du Transsibérien et de la petite Jehanne de France.

From the Bodleian Library collection
Photos: Books On Books

From the National Art Library, Victoria & Albert
Photo: Books On Books

La Prose du Transsibérien et de la Petite Jehanne de France (1913)
Blaise Cendrars and Sonia Delaunay-Terk
Photo: Swann Gallery Auction “19th & 20th Century Prints & Drawings Featuring Property from the Ismar Littmann Family Collection“, 5 March 2019.

Like Mallarmé, Cendrars disrupts the page with multiple typefaces (thirty distinct ones in his case) and scattered placement of lines and stanzas. But La Prose presents an even more physical and structural disruption of the page and book than Un Coup de Dés. Unlike the latter, La Prose unfolds — twice — in an accordion format to over two metres in length or rather height since the text descends on the right and ends alongside the interlinked images of the Eiffel Tower and a Ferris wheel at the foot of the accordion. Cendrars and Delaunay had aimed to produce 150 copies of La Prose because, placed end to end, that would have equalled the Eiffel Tower’s height.

More than this monumental, sculptural, typographic and physical disruption of page and book, La Prose presents a temporal disruption. By le premier livre simultané, Cendrars meant a simultaneity of the verbal and visual — the way that text and image appear all at once — en un éclair. Early Bohemian that he was, Cendrars was co-opting a fair bit of artistic and literary theorising by the Cubists, Futurists and others. Most important and of the moment was his co-opting of Robert and Sonia Delaunay’s colour theory of simultanéisme. The “couleurs simultanées de Mme Delaunay-Terk” had also appeared in her 1913 robe simultanée and paintings. Building on a French scientist’s exposition on how perception of colours changes depending on the colours around them, the Delaunays claimed that rhythmic, musical and spatial synaesthetic elements were also at play. Sonia Delaunay asserted that the artwork produced for La Prose was not in response to reading the poem but hearing it from Cendrars. (Listen to it for yourself here.)

La robe simultanée/“The Simultaneous Dress” (1913)
as displayed in ”Sonia Delaunay at Tate Modern, 15 April – 9 August 2015
Photo: © LondonArtFile.

In presenting the adolescent Cendrars travelling physically eastward on the Transsibérien, travelling mentally to Flanders-Basle-Timbuctoo-Auteuil-Longchamps-Paris-New York while still registering the landscape outside, seeing the maimed and wounded returning from the front of the Russo-Japanese war, conversing with a prostitute named after Joan of Arc, doubting himself as a poet, and so on until a sudden transposition back to Paris, the process poem juxtaposes the sacred and profane, past/present/future, stationary and dynamic, national and international in outlook and locale. In short, simultaneously. In a format that is bound and unbound, the poem mirrors the swirling, interacting shapes and colours beside and in which it moves — and vice versa.

However more disruptive of the page and book La Prose may have been, it did not inspire the profusion of direct re-interpretations (or appropriations) that Un Coup de Dés prompted from artists such as Jérémie Bennequin, Ellsworth Kelly, Man Ray, Didier Mutel, Michel Pichler, Eric Zboya and dozens of others.

Bennequin, Kelly, Man Ray, Mutel, Pichler and Zboya on the shoulders of Mallarmé.

Not until 2001 did a re-versioning of La Prose appear. Tony Baker and Alan Halsey published an English translation and codex re-formatting. Its black on white imagery is reminiscent of the Russian Futurists, the type is monochromatic, and the typefaces, fonts and weights vary but not as much as in La Prose.

Baker and Halsey note in their colophon:

So far as we’re aware no translation of the poem into English has ever been attempted to give a sense of Cendrars and Delaunay’s original conception, not the least reason for which may have been the difficulty until recently of seeing the first edition, even in reproduction. Prose of the Trans-Siberian and of the Little Jeanne de France (Sheffield: West House Books, 2001)

A well-founded lament — at least for the book art community. Not until 2000 had there been a reduced-scale reproduction of La Prose. It appeared in Granary Books’  A Book of the Book by Jerome Rothenberg and Steven Clay across a four-page foldout in the embrace of Ron Padgett’s English translation. Only in 2008 was there a full-scale, full-colour offset facsimile, produced by Yale University Press with an appended translation. It is now out of print.

The Yale University Press offset facsimile. Image courtesy of Accordion Publications

With her work La Prose du Transsibérien Re-creation (2019), Kitty Maryatt has changed all that. With this deuxième livre simultané, she has more than caught the echo of Cendrars/Delaunay’s original and its arrival. As scholar, artist and veritable impresaria, she has reinvigorated the book art/arts community with the legacy of La Prose

Her blogspot documents the research and production with rich details about sourcing the type, learning about stencil-cutting from Atelier Coloris (one of the few remaining businesses devoted to pochoir), determining the recipes for the ink colours, testing papers (Zerkall Crème, Biblio, and Rives HW), creating a census of the existing 1913/14 originals and their locations —  all that and more, including the use of bacon fat and a wine bottle filled with lead shot. She also organized a documentary by Rosylyn Rhee: “The Pochoir Re-creation of La Prose du Transsibérien”. It brings the importance of the original and this re-creation to life in the expressions and voices of prominent collectors, librarians and scholars, artists, rare book dealers and the project’s funders.

In addition, Maryatt has been either a contributor to, or the motivating force behind, several symposia and exhibitions such as “Paris 1913: Reinventing the Artist’s Book” (at the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco, 2018) and “Drop Dead Gorgeous”. The latter is a travelling exhibition resulting from invitations to twenty-four book artists and designer bookbinders to design and create bound copies of La Prose du Transsibérien Re-creation. For the San Francisco venue, Maryatt prepared a workshop on traditional French pochoir and provided text for the exhibition catalogue (available from the online store of the San Francisco Center for Books).

Announcement of “Drop Dead Gorgeous” exhibition at the San Francisco Center for Books, showing Dominic Riley’s fine binding of La Prose du Transsibérien Re-creation

Monique Lallier’s fine binding of La Prose du Transsibérien Re-creation 
Photos: Courtesy of Monique Lallier

The pinnacle of Maryatt’s efforts, of course, is the standard and deluxe editions of La Prose. Both editions consist of 4 pages, glued together to create the tall single page. For the standard edition, the page is folded into 21 sections and loosely placed in a painted vellum cover with a booklet describing the project and production. An acrylic slipcase houses the covered bundle.

The standard edition
Photo: Books On Books

Photo: Books On Books

Photos: Books On Books

For the deluxe edition, the single page is left double-wide, accordion-folded double-tall between aluminum covers and housed in a clamshell box. A separate case holds the painted vellum cover, colour cards, Sonia’s visual vocabulary, 27 progressives for page one, 5 pochoir plates with tracing paper and registration system, the booklet with introduction and colophon, and the list of 30 typefaces Cendrars used. A large clamshell box houses this separate case and the boxed book. The colour cards include the recipe for mixing the gouache, and Sonia’s visual vocabulary shows the numbered steps of operations. The progressives for page one show the steps for doing the pochoir stencils and handwork.

The deluxe edition
Photos: Courtesy of Kitty Maryatt

Any institution with a focus on book art or the graphic arts should seek out the standard edition of La Prose du Transsibérien Re-creation. Any institution with a focus on teaching and practice in those domains should seek out the deluxe edition. As indefatigable as Cendrars and as productive as Delaunay, Kitty Maryatt has provided the basis of master classes for generations. Now it is up to the book art community to respond as it has to Un Coup de Dés.

A shorter version of this essay appears in Parenthesis 39, Fall Issue, 2020.

Further Reading

Ashton, Doré. “On Blaise Cendrars. . . But I Digress.” Raritan 31, no. 2 (2011): 1-42,164. An entertaining extended anecdote sketching Cendrars and his milieu.

Gage, John. Colour and Meaning : Art, Science and Symbolism (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1999). Despite her works’ better quality and representation of simultanéisme, Gage focuses on Robert and mentions Sonia only in passing or footnotes. (Telling that the Tate chose Sonia not Robert for a retrospective in 2015.) Nevertheless, there are passages that place her work in context.

P.198: Chevreul’s “privileging of the harmony of complementaries was essentially in the context of ‘painting in flat tints’, a method developed largely in the decorative arts, but which was increasingly integrated into many branches of French painting in the second half of the nineteenth century …”.

P.254 “When, probably early in 1912, Delaunay wrote to Kandinsky outlining his theories, he had shifted to a rather different approach, claiming: ‘the laws I discovered … are based on researches into the transparency of colour, that can be compared with musical tones. This has obliged me to discover the movement of colours.’ …

P.256 [Delaunay’s] Essay on Light, which was composed in the summer of 1912, attributed the movement of colours less to transparency than to the qualities of hue: ‘Movement is given by the relationship of unequal measures, of contrasts of colours among themselves which constitute Reality. The reality has depth (we see as far as the stars), and thus becomes rhythmic Simultaneity.’”

P.257 “For Chevreul in 1839 such painting [in flat tints] had only a decorative, accessory function, but the Delaunays did not feel the distinction, and Sonia had recently been experimenting with flat colours in appliqué textiles and in bookbindings decorated with collage.”

Maryatt, Kitty. “A Bookmaker’s Analysis of Blaise Cendrar’s and Sonia Delaunay’s La Prose du Transsibérien et de la Petite Jehanne de France”, The Quarterly Newsletter (Fall 2016), The Book Club of California. Online version available here.

Maryatt, Kitty. Interview with Steve Miller, Book Arts Podcasts, School of Library Information and Sciences, University of Alabama, 13 January 2006.

Perloff, Marjorie. The Futurist Moment: Avant-Garde, Avant-Guerre, and the Language of Rupture, 2nd ed. (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2003). Along with Shingler’s essay, this is the best explication of the work and its lineage with Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés.

Rothenberg, Jerome; Clay, Steven. A Book of the Book: Some Works & Projections about the Book & Writing (New York City: Granary Books, 2000). Contains an excerpt from Perloff’s book above, Ron Padgett’s translation of La Prose and a four-page foldout showing a full-color photo-reduction of the 1913 original.

Shingler, Katherine. “Visual-verbal encounters in Cendrars and Delaunay‘s
La Prose du Transsibérien
“, e-France: an on-line Journal of French Studies, Vol. 3, 2012, pp. 1-28. Accessed 15 November 2019. Along with Perloff’s book, this is the best explication of the work and its lineage with Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés.

Sidoti, Antoine. Genèse et dossier d’une polémique: ‘La Prose du Transsibérien et de la Petite Jehanne de France’. Blaise Cendrars – Sonia Delaunay (Paris: Lettres Modernes, 1987). Provides the compressed time line within which the poet and artist created the work.

Slevin, Tom. Visions of the Human: Art, World War I and the Modernist Subject (London: I.B. Tauris, 2015). Provides a lengthy discussion of la robe simultanée and La Prose.

Woodall, Stephen. “La Prose du Transsibérien et de la Petite Jehanne de France”, Insights from the de Young and Legion of Honor (San Francisco: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 2020. A spectacular website presenting the original work in its context and its influences on subsequent book art. The work can be viewed panel by panel, and its overall structure is presented in an animation of its unfolding and refolding.

Books On Books Collection – Alexandra Leykauf

Alexandra Leykauf: Chateau de Bagatelle (2010)

Alexandra Leykauf: Chateau de Bagatelle (2010)

Alexandra Leykauf

Perfect bound softcover in black case (Claro Bulk 135 gsm) and dust jacket (Gmund Colors 300 gsm). H210 x 182 mm, xxx unpaginated sheets for photos (Claro Bulk 115 gsm) and 24 concluding text pages (Claro Bulk 90 gsm). Acquired from Saint George’s Bookshop, 6 July 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection. Shown with permission of the artist.

When a book enters a collection because of one photo, the collector needs to ask whether the theme driving the collection has become a hammer and every item collected a nail.

The photo in question is the 78th among 81 photos that mirror and document an installation exhibited at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 2010. In the photo, a double-page spread has been removed from a book, folded and creased into a three-dimensional shape. Or perhaps, as hinted in the interview at the end of the book, it is an enlarged re-creation staged for the photo. The catalogue provides no caption for it or any other image. The text concluding the catalogue does not clarify what it is. Only for someone familiar with Marcel Broodthaers’ homage to Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard are the pages recognizable.

So, for the collector with a hammer, there sits the nail: this photo of a manipulated double-page spread from Broodthaers’ Image version of Mallarmé’s poem. Across the book’s gutter, the image in the double-page spread seems to take on the face of a tilted die. The tilt and multiple creases at the edges of the die face create an illusion of motion. Behind the die, the shadowed edges of the pages add their blur to the imagined throw. Are there clues/clews embedded in the book’s other photos — the suggestion of a shipwreck, a hint of a constellation? As with Un Coup de Dés, images of the surreal and real interleave. Motifs on one page carry over to others. The images play with the white space (les blancs) to the left and around them. As with the various homage by Broodthaers, Michalis Pichler, Jorge Méndez Blake, Cerith Wyn Evans and many others that eschew text in favor of the image and three-dimensional shape, Leykauf’s photos convey motion and simultaneity. (Too strained? The hammer hesitates.)

So from there, the collector’s eye turns back to the occasion of the catalogue: “Salle Noire, Château de Bagatelle”, Musée d’Art Moderne, Paris, 6 May – 27 June 2010. The Salle Noire is an exhibition space in the basement of the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris. According to François Michaud, Leykauf said she wanted to turn the Salle Noire inside out like a glove. To that end, she surveyed and photographed its rooms, its auditorium-like space and, from three viewpoints, its longest wall.

Installation views. Photos: Courtesy of the artist.

These monochrome photos along with others — wooden triangles comprising a psychological test, segments of a gothic arch, a Walter Gropius building, a stained glass window, an image from a paper activities book, the folded pages from Broodthaers’ Image, etc., and collaged in some instances — were made into slides. For the exhibition, five slide projectors, each holding 81 slides and running at different speeds, shone the images against the walls at different angles. In the interview concluding the book, Leykauf comments:

I consider the totality of the images to be a kaleidoscope … There is no development, no narrative — for example, nothing which might chart an architectural history. The kaleidoscope image or indeed, that of a round dance, sums it up very nicely! Leykauf to Rahn, p. 18.

Kaleidoscope! Does that not describe Mallarmé’s juxtaposition of fragments of verses in different sizes and styles of type and their imagery, which the homageurs highlight?

No development, no narrative! Does that not echo Mallarmé’s preface to Un Coup de Dés — “Everything takes place in a foreshortened, hypothetical state; narrative is avoided” (Collected Poems, p. 263)?

Salle Noire! Could the choice of the black room be a reference to the nothingness, the abyss of the poem?

Château de Bagatelle, a slide show! Could it be a reference to that other great photographer’s cinematic homage to Mallarmé — Man Ray’s Les Mystères du Château de Dés?

As intriguing as it is to tap-tap-tap away at the Château de Bagatelle, the impact of the book’s 81 images and the imagined disorientation from the barrage of five simultaneous, differently paced slideshows overcomes and defeats the most determined, hammer-wielding collector. All that motion and simultaneity echoing the modernists — the Cubists, the Delaunays, Dada, Bauhaus, Schwitters, the Surrealists, the Vorticists — cannot be reduced to an homage to Mallarmé, even if his was the poem that made us modern.

Photos of pages from Château de Bagatelle: Books On Books Collection. Shown with permission of the artist.

Folded Paper (2010)
Alexandra Leykauf
Print. H500 x W700 mm. Photo: Courtesy and permission of the artist.

For the book art collector taking a wider view with a lowered and stilled hammer, Leykauf’s works subsume aspects of the book. Works such as Katoptrische Experimente (2012), A Student at Ease Among the Books, (2013) Everybody’s Autobiography (2014), La Statue Intèrieure (2015), Cumberland Farm (Ben Nichols) (2017) — all challenge perspective. Wall-sized photos of a double-page spread turn the corner of the display room; book covers larger than the viewer are coated in reflective material and form a fun house maze of angled mirrors and open title-page spreads; aerial views, recto/verso views, proscenium views, and inside/outside views play with the structures of landscapes, the theater and amphitheater, cupolas and arches, trees and caves, and the structure of the book. Perhaps everything in the world does not exist to end up as a book — or a photo — but as perspective.

Further Reading

“Alexandra Leykauf in conversation with Kathleen Rahn”, 19 February 2010, trans. Timothy Connell, in Alexandra Leykauf: Chateau de Bagatelle (Nürnberg : Verlag für moderne Kunst Nürnberg, 2010), pp. 15-18.

Alexandra Leykauf en conversation avec Sophie Berrebi”, 6 Mai 2010. Accessed 6 September 2020.

Salle Noire, Château de Bagatelle”, 2010. Accessed 27 March 2019.

Mallarmé, Stéphane. Trans. E.H. and A.M. Blackmore. Collected Poems and Other Verse (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Michaud, François. “The Sense of Loss”, 26 February 2010, trans. John Tittensor, in Alexandra Leykauf: Chateau de Bagatelle (Nürnberg : Verlag für moderne Kunst Nürnberg, 2010), pp. 4-6.

Books On Books Collection – Antoine Lefebvre Éditions

I Can’t Breathe (2015)

I Can’t Breathe (2015)
Antoine Lefebvre Éditions
Saddle-stitched with staples. Digital print. 16 pages. H218 x W178 mm. Edition of 100 copies. Acquired from the artist, 29 August 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist.

I Can’t Breathe is the first publication made under Lefebvre’s imprint. He labels it a “zine” and calls it a “gut reaction” to the murder of Eric Garner. Lefebvre is one of several book artists who have lifted up Garner’s last words or his name since 17 July 2014. The work makes its simple but powerful statement by bordering the cover’s monumental black square with white and enveloping the eleven utterances of Garner’s last words in a field of white.

Monument to the Third International (2015)

Monument to the Third International (2015)
Antoine Lefebvre Éditions
Book object, 200 x 150 x 50 mm (closed), 350 mm diameter (open). Edition of 12 + 4 AP, of which this is #4. Acquired from the artist, 29 August 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist.

The second work under his own imprint, this sculptural artist’s book pays homage to Vladimir Tatlin’s Constructivist tower design for a monument to the Communist International, known as the Comintern or Third International, which lasted from 1919 to 1943.

When opened along its horizontal axis, the work echoes the shape of Tatin’s tower design. Also, when closed, the book’s fore-edge mimics the 1964 version of Dan Flavin’s “Monument” For V. Tatlin, bringing it into the category of “homage to an homage”, such as Michalis Pichler’s homage to Marcel Broodthaers’ homage to Stéphane Mallarmé or, from genres other than book art, Johan Karlsson’s homage to Vera Molnár’s homage to Albrecht Durer or, to stretch a point, Nam June Paik’s homage to Albers’ Homage to the Square or Andrew Wenrick’s homage to the same.

Tatin (1920), Flavin (1964), Lefebvre (2015)

Lefebvre’s Monument is a ludic masterpiece to be read with the hands as well as the eyes. Its physicality and whiteness might remind the viewer “The White Heat”, organized by Marc Straus. Held, or looked at, in its closed state, it might recall the more somber Absence by J. Meejin Yoo.

Opening the work.

Closing the work.

木 (2016)

木 (2016) Antoine Lefebvre H209 x W209 mm, 12 pages. Unnumbered edition of 250. Acquired from the artist, 2 October 2020. Photos of booklet: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist.

The kanji sign 木 on its own means “book”. During his residency at the Palais de Paris in Takasaki, Japan, Lefebvre became obsessed with the character and photographed it whenever he could. Eventually he not only created this work, influenced by Sol LeWitt’s PhotoGrids (1977), but used it to name his bookshop in Paris.

Artiste Éditeur (2018)

Lefebvre first came to this collection’s attention at the exhibition “Publishing as an Artistic Toolbox, Vienna, 28 January 2018”. His entry was an entire library —  La Bibliothèque Fantastique (2009-2013).

Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist.

Lefebvre thinks of himself not as an artist and publisher but rather as an “artist publisher” — artiste éditeur — which is the title of the book based on his dissertation. Lefebvre not only expounds his thesis in the pages of the book, he demonstrates — or rather realizes — it in La Bibliothèque Fantastique (LBF).

Artiste Éditeur (2018)
Antoine Lefebvre
H297 x W210 mm, 176 pages.

The works in LBF appropriate covers, titles, images and arguments in a way to enacts conversations among the appropriated, with Lefebvre and with the reader. The works draw on a wide variety of artists and writers: Roland Barthes, Walter Benjamin, Joseph Beuys, Jorge Luis Borges, Ulises Carrión, Noam Chomsky, August von Cieszkowski, Guy Debord, Jacques Derrida, Marcel Duchamp, Michel Foucault, Ernst Gombrich, Georg Wilhelm Hegel, Joseph Kosuth, Jacques Lacan, Marshall McLuhan, Stéphane Mallarmé, A. Mœglin-Delcroix, Jean-Luc Nancy, Jean Paul Sartre, Ferdinand de Saussure, Ludwig Wittgenstein and many others.

Photos of book: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist.

More than “drawing on” the appropriated, LBF draws their thoughts into the digital twentieth and twenty-first centuries conversation about artists’ books and book art. Two of Lefebvre’s more discursive contributions to LBF constitute an “artist publisher” statement and a manifesto for LBF and himself:

… the books of LBF have no predetermined physical existence, they exist in a state of potentiality on the web, awaiting to become. They cost nothing, you can get them without spending a penny. They have no ISBN either, because they are works of art. They have no color, so that they can be printed in any printer. That’s what LBF books don’t have, which is almost more important than what they do, because our approach is conceived as a negative of that which is habitually proposed by the market spectacle society. The idea is to show various poetic singularities as opposed to the flashy commodities which our society feeds us.

What the LBF books do have is above all a great freedom of content, revealing a very large and global conception of art. They contain all forms of expression usually found in print, i.e., drawing and photographs, as well as essays, novels, journalistic investigations etc.

The covers of LBF books are invariably appropriated from existing sources, the published artists just select one and use it as a cover for their book. The author’s name is deleted and replaced by the name of the artist, the name of the original publisher is also cleared since the new book is no longer its property. The artist can also change the title of the book to enhance it. The content of the book is completely open, the artist develops it through the pages to meet his or her project. The books are produced with bits and pieces from other books, developing a discourse on the ontology of the book. This project seeks to examine the nature of the book by submitting it to the approaches similar to those used by minimalist artists to test the limits of painting and art. The purpose of LBF is to explore the boundaries of what is a book and and what is not.

In 2015, Lefebvre chose Antoine Lefebvre Éditions as the name of his imprint and his artist name, but 2018 must have felt like his true annus natalis if not mirabilis. Not only did LBF appear in the Vienna exhibition and Artiste Éditeur arrive, he opened a shop in Paris and called it 本 \hon\ books. Even in his entrepreneurship, Lefebvre is an appropriator/hommageur. The name 本 \hon\ books pays homage to Japanese second-hand bookstores but also, and not surprisingly, to Joseph Kosuth’s One and Three Chairs (1965). Like Kosuth’s work, the shop’s name provides the same information in three formats: an ideogram, its Japanese pronunciation, and its translation (本 = book).

Perhaps it is because he works, thinks and creates with equal comfort in the digital and physical worlds or that he is international in outlook and language or that he happily inhabits the multiple roles of artist publisher, collaborator, appropriator, impresario and entrepreneur — for whatever reason, Antoine Lefebvre and his work bring a welcome élan to book art and this collection.

Further Reading

Challis, Ivy. “Artist Interview: Antoine Lefebvre of Everything is Index Nothing is History”, Recession Art, n.d. Accessed 15 September 2020.

Gilbert, Annette (ed.). Publishing as Artistic Practice (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2016).

Lefebvre, Antoine. Artiste Éditeur (Saint-Mâlo: Strandflat, 2018).

Lefebvre, Antoine. “I want to write a book“, La Bibliothèque Fantastique, 2011.

Lefebvre, Antoine. “La Bibliothèque Fantastique“, La Bibliothèque Fantastique, No. 13, 22 October 2009.

Matheny, Lynn Kellmanson. “Dan Flavin: A Retrospective”, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Accessed 15 September 2020.