Books On Books Collection – Yasushi Cho

LDK 2,020 (2020)

LDK 2,020 (2020)
Yasushi Cho
Banderole bound, single sheet cut and folded accordion style. 75 x 75 mm. Edition of 45, of which this is #7. Acquired from the artist 10 April 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

LDK 2,020, LDK FL00R and LDK 2,009 make up part of a series. Their letters L, D and K stand for Living, Dining and Kitchen and are the usual abbreviations in Japanese apartment/flat sales leaflets. Every day they arrive or can be picked up on the street, and Cho creates collages from them, digitally printing them on stiff translucent paper to be cut and creased, then folded into an accordion-style booklet. For the reader, the folds and cuts of the stiff translucent paper make a tricky “assembly and disassembly” — or reading — of the work to make it into a cube or other three-dimensional shape.

In the process of flattening the booklets into a single sheet, then folding and creasing and re-creasing, the reader wonders how the aspects of LDK may have fit together before their abstraction into the collage. Eventually though, the assembly creates objects whose interiors are their exteriors — and vice versa — and inevitably recall the shoji screens still used in traditional houses and even apartments.

LDK FL00R (2010)

LDK FL00R (2010)
Yasushi Cho
Banderole bound, single sheet cut and folded accordion style. 85 x 85 mm. Edition of 45, of which this is #3. Acquired from the artist, 10 April 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Like the commas in LDK 2,020 (above) and LDK 2,009 (below), the zeroes in LDK FL00R play on the apartment prices listed in the sales leaflets, but also allude to the apartments’ floor numbers. The wordplay of the titles echoes the playful multiple shapes that the sheets can take and the resulting multiple views of the collages. The collaged images in LDK FL00R, however, are of the floor surfaces only.

LDK 2,009 (2009)

LDK 2,009 (2009)
Yasushi Cho
Banderole bound, single sheet cut and folded accordion style. 75 x 75 mm. Edition of 45, of which this is #36. Acquired from the artist, 10 April 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection

With smaller works of book art, size can disguise their depth and impact. In “reading” LDK 2,009 and its companions, an extraordinary depth and impact emerge. As the opened books assume their shapes and take their place in display, another element of the artful choice of material and printing technique emerges: the resulting play of light. This is a theme that Cho explores in two very different ways in the next works.

.interior (2010)

.interior (2010)
Yasushi Cho
Slipcase. Booklet, sewn. H150 x W98 mm, 24 pages. Edition of 30, of which this is #4. Acquired from the artist, 10 April 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

The photos in Cho’s book display views of the outside world, some of which appear to have been taken from inside an apartment whose interior is reflected in its window. Other photos display interiors — a café, an empty store — taken from an exterior vantage, resulting in reflections from the establishments’ window fronts. Some — a carpark, a walkway — seem unmediated. The playful title .interior, taken from the transposition of ・インテリア printed in the window below, and displayed on the spine of the mirrored slipcase above, confirms the artist’s theme of exploring the paradox of interior vs exterior, reflection and the mediation of vantage points.

The work’s theme of reflection is also compounded by the flimsy mirrored paper interpersed between some (not all) of the recto and verso pages. Depending on the image reflected and how the mirrored paper is turned, the reader may find a simple duplicate or an extension of a pattern. Above, the shop’s interior duplicates itself upside down; below, the high rise against a blue sky duplicates itself.

Above, the staircase seems to curve behind itself, the reflected car extends the row of parked cars, and below, the ceiling and light fixtures extend their pattern into the mirror.

Where the recto and verso are not divided by the mirrored paper, other permutations on the theme of reflection occur. Below, in the center of the book, the window in the recto page seems to reflect the vantage point from which the verso page’s photo was taken. The virtuosity in manipulating vantage points here recalls that of Michael Snow’s Cover to Cover (1975) and Marlene MacCallum’s Theme and Permutations (2012) or Shadow Cantos (2018-19).

In its composition, the photography fascinates the eye, and Cho’s use of the book and mirrored paper to present and transform the photos fascinates the mind, provoking contemplation of the paradoxes of interior, exterior and their reflections. No doubt, a gallery show could deliver similar fascination, but as a book, .interior is more than a gallery of artwork: it is a work of art.

Ld (2003)

Ld (2003)
Yasushi Cho
Acetate sleeve. Booklet, handsewn. A5 nonstandard trim, 32 pages. Edition of 30, of which this is #18. Acquired from the artist, 10 April 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

If the stylized letters “L” and “d” do not suffice to distinguish this work from the LDK series, its shape, content and source certainly do. The way the images, surfaces and shapes play off one another suggests that “L” stands for light, and “d” for dark. The very different source from which the work arises — a night-time walk and shoot in Tokyo — confirms it.

On the black pages, the artist has overprinted in black to give a shadowy depth to the images and surface. The images in the dark sometimes reflect the images in the light — sometimes from the facing page, other times from previous pages. Below, for instance, the film-sprocket shapes just visible on a previous verso page’s lower edge reappear faintly, enlarged and in black over the red lights. The red lights, in turn, reappear faintly, also enlarged and in black on the lower half of the narrowing recto page.

These reflections begin to suggest those retinal images that appear after a flash of light or when eyes are held too tightly closed — both of which conjure up a night-time photo shoot in an environment of contrasts between neon lights or spotlights and the shadows they cast. By staring at the bright images on one page (below), the reader may also experience additional retinal images on the facing page.

The irregularly shaped pages recall Philip Zimmermann’s High Tension (1993) or Helmut Lohr’s Visual Poetry (1995). Cho’s pages alternate at angles, narrow or widen. With the flashes between light and dark, they evoke the photographer’s searching eye, focusing lens and movement through night-time Tokyo.

Both .interior and Ld are sophisticated — materially, conceptually and in execution. With the LDK series, they make a strong addition to the Books On Books Collection.

Further Reading

Marlene MacCallum“, Books On Books Collection, 2 September 2019.

Marlene MacCallum and the Shadow Cantos, Books On Books Collection, 9 February 2021.

An Online Annotation of The Cutting Edge of Reading: Artists’ Books“, Bookmarking Book Art, 7 September 2017.

Michael Snow“, Books On Books Collection, 3 March 2021.

Philip Zimmermann“, Books On Books Collection, 14 January 2020.

Books On Books Collection – Steven Heller & Gail Anderson

Typographic Universe (2014)

Typographic Universe (2014)
Steven Heller and Gail Anderson
Hardback, paper on board. H250 x W177 mm, 352 pages. Acquired from Music Magpie, 15 April 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Heller and Anderson’s exploration of “the alphabet of everyday things” goes beyond finding the alphabet in everyday things (a form of pareidolia or “the tendency to perceive a specific, often meaningful image in a random or ambiguous visual pattern” — Merriam-Webster). Many (most?) of their examples involve making the alphabet from everyday things. Some, not so everyday like this one by Ceol Ryder.

Photo of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of Ceol Ryder.

Not all are as intricate or as long in the making as the alphabetic architectural efforts of Johann David Steingruber or Takenobu Igarashi, who are not mentioned. Still, the book serves as a useful mixed spice of images with which to season any appreciation of the interaction of the imagination with the alphabet.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress), Books On Books Collection, 31 March 2020.

Johann David Steingruber”, Books On Books Collection, 23 April 2021.

Bromwich, Kathryn. “Steven Heller and Gail Anderson’s Typographic Universe – in pictures“, Guardian, 9 August 2014. Accessed 28 April 2021.

Books On Books Collection – Louise Levergneux

Finding Home (2019)

Finding Home (2019)
Louise Levergneux
Explosion box with cloth over board binding with inkjet printed images (H114 x W115 x D115 mm, closed); 4 Turkish map fold booklets (H95 x W95 mm, closed) inkjet-printed on Lasal paper, each attached to the interior of a box flap; 3D printed house. Third edition of 3 copies, of which this is #2. Acquired from the artist, 5 February 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

An explosion box, Turkish map fold, and small 3D-printed plastic house — the inventive combination reflects the many-featured domain of book art. That alone would warrant adding this work to the collection, but its union of material with content clinched the decision.

The work’s nomadic theme may have its roots in Levergneux’s various places of residence over time, but it also echoes her blog, entitled 1/2 Measure Studio, which began at the end of 2015 with her moving from a 20×12-foot studio into one measuring 10×10. The blog records indefatigable travels and visits with fellow book artists at all points of the compass to which Finding Home‘s four flaps might also allude — just as the small model might also allude to the half-measure studio.

Among the Turkish fold maps, the small house also conveys centrality and both a point of departure and one of arrival. The spirals and concentric circles within the open maps emphasize further the theme of seeking a center. But the work is not only about place. With all the maps open, we have a house surrounded by four blooms of color, which implies a still point in time among the shifting seasonal imagery.

There’s much about this work that recalls Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space (1969). There is, of course, the miniature house itself, for which Bachelard has entire chapters, but also in the maps, there is the butterfly recalling the chrysalis (pp. 85-86); the sun-kissed foothills, the recurrent theme of the horizon, distance and immensity (passim); the red maple leaf, the autumnal recollections (p. 179); and the prairie snowscape, the paean to snow (p.61); and the longitudinal and latitudinal references, recalling this passage:

Each one of us, then, should speak of his roads, his crossroads, his roadside benches; each one of us should make a surveyor’s map of his lost fields and meadows. Thoreau said that he had the map of his fields engraved in his soul. And Jean Wahl once wrote:

Le moutonnement des haies 
C’est en moi que je l’ai. Poème, p. 46 

(The frothing of the hedges 
I keep deep inside me.) 

Thus we cover the universe with drawings we have lived (p. 33).

City Shields, Vol 1: No 7 Ontario (2017)

City Shields, Vol 1: No 7 Ontario (2017)
Louise Levergneux
Jewel case cover (H103 x W105 mm) with insert printed on Inkpress Matte paper holding 21 die-cut photos of manhole covers printed on Generations G-Chrome Lustre paper. Edition of 25 copies. Acquired from the artist, 5 February 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

Like Finding Home, this work is autobiographical, documenting Levergneux’s travels from 1999 to 2020, from Scotland, Canada and the US. As summarized on the insert for this one issue, the shapes and design of the actual manhole covers vary — as do their die-cut photos — some round, some square, rectangular, flanged. Small as they are, their colors and shadows nevertheless entice thoughts of miniature tunnels and drains lying beneath them and winding their way under whatever surface on which the manhole covers rest. City Shields‘ evocation of hidden space and their reminder to look down as well as up at city architecture create a strange and welcome fit with the architectural theme in the Books On Books Collection.

Levergneux celebrated the close of the City Shields project with a 20th Anniversary Edition, described here.

Further Reading

Architecture“, Books On Books Collection, 12 November 2018.

Bachelard, Gaston, Maria Jolas, Mark Z. Danielewski, and Richard Kearney. 2014 (1964). The Poetics of Space. New York: Penguin Books.

Levergneux, Louise. 1/2 Measure Studio.

Books On Books Collection – Timothy Epps and Christopher Evans

Alphabet (1970)

Alphabet (1970)
Timothy Epps and Christopher Evans
Booklet. 250 x 250 mm, 16 pages. Acquired from Antiquariaat Frans Melk, 23 November 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

This is the alphabet that inspired Raffaella della Olga’s LINE UP (2020), also in this collection. At the UK’s National Physical Laboratory, Epps and Evans created their alphabet in 1969 in response to the challenge to overcome machine-readable typefaces’ human-unreadability. Perhaps because it was the second of three responses to Wim Crouwel‘s New Alphabet (1967), published in the Kwadraatblad/Quadrat-prints series, the Dutch graphic designer and series editor, Pieter Brattinga, snatched it up for publication in his series of experiments in printing ranging over the fields of graphic design, the plastic arts, literature, architecture and music. This particular issue was designed by John Stegmeijer at Total Design. 

While the bright blue (above left) stands out strikingly against the black background, the booklet appropriately makes the human eye strain to see the letters darkly printed against the black. Would a scanner pick them up? Does the similar elusive effect created by debossed printing in della Olga’s collaboration with Three Star Press allude to this as well? What would that ingenuity create if applied to Crouwel’s New Alphabet or to Gerard Unger‘s A Counter-Proposal (the first response to Crouwel’s booklet) or Anthon Beeke‘s Alphabet (the third and strangest response — letters composed of naked women)?

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“, Books On Books Collection, 31 March 2020.

Raffaella della Olga“, Books On Books Collection, 8 December 2020.

Beeke, Anthon, Geert Kooiman, Anna Beeke, and Ed van der Elsken. 1970. Alphabet. Hilversum: Steendrukkerij de Jong & Co.

Crouwel, W.H. 1967. New alphabet: a possibility for the new development = een mogelijkheid voor de nieuwe ontwikkeling = une possibilité pour le développement nouveau = eine Möglichkeit für die neue Entwicklung : [proposal for a new type that, more than the traditional types, is suited for the composing system with the cathode-ray tube (CRT). Hilversum: Steendrukkerij De Jong & Co.

Owens, Sarah. 2006. “Electrifying the Alphabet“, Eye, No. 62, Vol. 16. Accessed 25 April.

Unger, Gerard. 1967. Een tegenvoorstel. A counter-proposal, etc. Hilversum: Steendrukkerij de Jong & Co.

Books On Books Collection – Edward Andrew Zega & Bernd H. Dams

An Architectural Alphabet : ABC (2008)

An Architectural Alphabet : ABC (2008)
Edward Andrew Zega & Bernd H. Dams

Slipcase, casebound in a variation of the Chinese fashion. H210 x W178 x D25 mm, 96 pages. Edition of 400, of which this is #21. Acquired from Architectural Watercolors, 8 April 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artists.

Since 1995, Zega & Dams have published several volumes of their architectural watercolors, almost all focused on the Ancien Régime but with some diversions to New York’s Central Park and Russia’s Tatarstan. An Architectural Alphabet is, however, not quite a diversion and certainly more than a divertissement. Two elegant essays — “Letter Pictures” and “Artists’ Alphabets” — bracket the elevational drawings of A to Z with their accompanying illustrations. The essays weave together reference points from the history of the Latin alphabet, architectural history, histories of architectural and natural science illustration and those of typography and graphic design. They do this lightly and knowingly just as the letters and images do, which play simultaneously with typographic and calligraphic traditions and the vocabulary of the architecture and decorative arts of the Ancien Régime and the Grand Tour.

The acanthus leaf commonly used to decorate a column’s capital, hence the gentleman’s upward gaze.

Balustrade: a rail supported by balusters (vase-shaped columns), used for balconies from which a lady might like to peer.

The authors/artists’ choice and use of fonts offer other examples of their subtle erudition. The body text is set in Capsa italic, a rather allusive and self-allusive choice. Dino dos Santos, its designer, was inspired by fonts created by the 18th-century type-founder Claude Lamesle. One of those Ancien Régime fonts is Gros Romain Ordinaire, whose name draws further attention to Zega & Dams’ decision to use italic in place of the usual Roman for the body text. With its “Romain” roots, Capsa italic performs as the perfect foil to the choice of display font, which also serves as the template for the “letter pictures”: Carol Twombly’s Trajan. The name and design are based on the Roman capitals entwining Trajan’s Column in Rome. The fact that the ancient Roman capitals had no letter U, only the letter V to stand in for both, provides the artists with the opening for the following visual joke.

Urn versus Vase

The authors take the stylistic development of chinoiserie during the Ancien Régime for two rides in the work: one for vocabulary with the letter C and another for structural allusion with the binding.

The binding is a variation on Chinese casebinding. Here the sewn book block has been placed on the middle board of three hinged boards and is attached to the left-hand and middle boards by the endpapers (CD and YZ, respectively). The right-hand board is hinged to fold on top of the left-hand board. The Curtis by Curtis 1.5 paper (a 200 gms vellum stock) is stiff, and the sewing is so tight that the book does not easily open or lie flat. The casing, however, allows extensive pressure without the hazard of breaking the spine’s covering. In two finishing Oriental touches, the artists called for grey silk for the board coverings and green for the inside of the right-hand board and hinge.

With its architectural and alphabetic themes, An Architectural Alphabet makes a fitting addition to the Books On Books Collection, and its essays serve as welcome reminders of the more discursive volumes by Laurence de Looze, Marian Macken, Hugh McEwen and Chrysostomos Tsimourdagkas (see Further Reading).

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“, Books on Books Collection, 31 March 2020.

Architecture“, Books on Books Collection, 12 November 2018.

Federico Babina“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Antonio Basoli“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Antonio & Giovanni Battista de Pian“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Richard Niessen“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Paul Noble“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Johann David Steingruber“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

de Looze, Laurence. 2018. The Letter and the Cosmos: How the Alphabet Has Shaped the Western View of the World. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Macken, Marian. 2018. Binding Space: The Book as Spatial Practice. London and New York: Routledge.

McEwen, Hugh. Polyglot Buildings. 12 January 2012. Issuu. Accessed 13 March 2021.

Tsimourdagkas, Chrysostomos. 2014. Typotecture: Histories, Theories and Digital Futures of Typographic Elements in Architectural Design. Doctoral dissertation, Royal College of Art, London. Accessed 13 March 2021.

Books On Books Collection – Paul Noble

Nobson Newtown (1998)

Nobson Newtown (1998)
Paul Noble
Paperback, H17 x W120 mm, 32 pages with foldout map. Acquired from Marcus Campbell Art Books, 13 March 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

With Nobson Newtown, Paul Noble extends the tradition of alphabetical architecture to full-scale city planning and landscape architecture. Some of Antonio Basoli’s 19th-century designs — for example, the letter A — display a letter-shaped built environment, as does Steven Holl’s The Alphabetical City (1980), but in seaside Nobson Newtown, the buildings spell out words, and the mapped habitation (although without any depiction of inhabitants) rests on a founding myth as bizarre and misanthropic as its current civic arrangements.

In addition to a map of the town and the environs, Nobson Newtown includes a key to its alphabetical and typographic building blocks, which are, of course, rendered in Nobfont. Easy legibility is not a characteristic.

The Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen commissioned a film from Noble exploring Nobson Newtown, insightfully characterized as “an ever-incomplete inner landscape of the person building the town”.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“, Books on Books Collection, 31 March 2020.

Architecture“, Books on Books Collection, 12 November 2018.

Federico Babina“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Antonio Basoli“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Antonio & Giovanni Battista de Pian“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Jeffrey Morin“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Richard Niessen“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Johann David Steingruber“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Côme, Tony. “The Typotectural Suites“, The Palace of Typographic Masonry. Accessed 5 April 2021.

Holl, Steven. 1980. The alphabetical city. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.

Macken, Marian. 2018. Binding Space: The Book as Spatial Practice. London and New York: Routledge.

McEwen, Hugh. Polyglot Buildings. 12 January 2012. Issuu. Accessed 13 March 2021.

Noble, Paul, and Georgina Starr. “N is for Nobson“, ARTtube, 21 October 2018. Accessed 13 March 2021.

Polano, Sergio. January 2019. “Architectural Abecedari“, Casabella, 893, pp. 62-75 + 100-101 (eng.). Milan.

Tsimourdagkas, Chrysostomos. 2014. Typotecture: Histories, Theories and Digital Futures of Typographic Elements in Architectural Design. Doctoral dissertation, Royal College of Art, London. Accessed 13 March 2021.

Books On Books Collection – Richard Niessen

The Palace of Typographic Masonry (2018)

The Palace of Typographic Masonry (2018)
Richard Nissan
Paperback, perfect bound. H300 x W215 mm, 348 pages. Acquired from Wordery, 29 March 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of Richard Niessen.

Website, perforated poster, exhibition and paperback, The Palace of Typographic Masonry occupies its place in the Books On Books Collection unlike any other work. The book itself is a shape shifter. Its size competes with those of museum catalogues. In fact, the Palace of Typographic Masonry is like a museum, so much so that it requires a tour guide, which is one shape the book takes. With its nine departments (Sign, Symbol, Ornament, Construction, Poetics, Play, Order, Craft and Practice), it is like a working museum of graphic design, and Dirk van Weelden, our tour guide, often hands us off to departmental “staff” for a lecture or overheard interview.

Given the guided-tour premise, the page layouts strangely, or perhaps appropriately, disorient. On almost every page, at almost every turn, we are rubbernecking and twisting to follow text that appears in a typewriter font on sheets and cards that seemingly have been stuck to a black surface with masking tape, photographed and then printed. Some of the text-bearing cards wrap from the recto page to the verso, leading the reader to think that perhaps the pages are on Chinese fold sheets. A card or sheet may be displayed complete on a page, but the next page may show its edge as if an overlapping photo had been taken. On some pages, the items overlap like a collage. At times, the effect is one of moving down a corridor of blackboards that are covered with notices and captioned photos on white, green and fluorescent orange paper. At other times, the page contains multiple cards as if lying on a flat surface — much the same as objects might be arranged in gallery glass cases — and in different orientations so that the book has to be turned clockwise or anti-clockwise to read each item — much the same as having to walk around a glass case to look at each object in it.

Interspersed glossy sections showcase projects illustrating or responding to the text or the department. For example, Slovenian graphic designer Nejc Prah delivers variations on Masonic tools for Symbols; Paris-based Fanette Mellier, on grid-based design for Poetics; and the Amsterdam-based studio Moniker, “board game cut-ups” for Play. While these sections fit their context in the book, their content and “slippery floor” substrate ratchet up the sense of disorientation. Museum visitors easily tire, and they can be bored in some departments.

Nejc Prah‘s variations on Masonic tools and symbols. Photo: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with artist’s permission.

For example, the palace’s labyrinth of scripts — also reproduced separately on the perforated poster — is followed by a discussion of the revival of Tifinagh, the nearly extinct written language of the Tuareg in the Maghreb. The labyrinth presents thirty-six scripts in those varying orientations mentioned above and is wonderful in its breadth but also tiring — especially from the effort required by the font size and orientations. The story of Tifinagh’s revival and integration through typeface design is inspiring, usefully makes the point about the cultural conventionality of alphabets and more, but also makes for a long trek before our guide moves us along into the next department.

With the website for The Palace of Typographic Masonry, Richard Niessen aims for both a collective (imagined) building and an encyclopedic (digital) space, organized into those nine departments or frames. Contributors can add to the source collections or, within the departments and their subdivisions, create new rooms based on the source collections. One contribution particularly appropriate for the Books On Books Collection comes from Tony Côme: “The Typotectural Suites“. Here in one location, the visitor can find those “language towers, typographic islands, cities to decipher, plans in the shape of letters, encrypted walls, speaking bricks, habitable capitals” created by Johann David Steingruber, Antonio Basoli, Antonio and Giovanni Battista de Pian, Paul Noble and others.

The Departments of Sign, Symbol or Order could give more prominence to the role of numbers in the world of typographic masonry. Numerals do appear in the tables for Morse Code and International Maritime Signal Flags, but the visitor would not know that counting and numbers preceded writing and letters. Perhaps the curator could persuade the art historian and archaeologist Denise Schmandt-Besserat to contribute images of those clay tokens to which

The Mesopotamian cuneiform script can be traced furthest back into prehistory to an eighth millennium BC counting system using clay tokens of multiple shapes. The development from tokens to script reveals that writing emerged from counting and accounting. (Schmandt-Besserat, 2015)

Clay counting tokens and bullae (containers).

Or perhaps the curator could persuade William Joyce to donate some clips from The Numberlys (2012) to the Palace source collection, even preferably some snippets of interactive code with which the visitor can help the five animated characters transform numbers into letters.

Universal languages are highlighted in an Annex, which has been compiled by Edgar Walthert. An update soon to come includes excerpts from Book from the Ground by Xu Bing. A link to Xu’s film The Character of Characters would make a useful addition. It will be interesting to see whether the Annex’s accompanying lecture covers the stir over a “post-text future” and whether typographic masons are returning full circle to pictographic language.

Further Reading

Architecture“, Books on Books Collection, 12 November 2018.

The Art of Reading in a “Post-Text Future“, Bookmarking Book Art, 21 February 2018.

Federico Babina“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Antonio Basoli“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Giovanni Battista de Pian“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

From a Visit to Art for the People, Xu Bing (Centro del Carme, Valencia, Spain, 2019)”, Bookmarking Book Art, 22 May 2020.

Jeffrey Morin“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Paul Noble“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Johann David Steingruber“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Côme, Tony. “The Typotectural Suites“, The Palace of Typographic Masonry. Accessed 12 March 2021.

de Looze, Laurence. 2018. The Letter and the Cosmos: How the Alphabet Has Shaped the Western View of the World. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Macken, Marian. 2018. Binding Space: The Book as Spatial Practice. London and New York: Routledge.

McEwen, Hugh. Polyglot Buildings. 12 January 2012. Issuu. Accessed 13 March 2021.

Schmandt-Besserat, Denise. 2006. How writing came about. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press.

Schmandt-Besserat, Denise. 2015. “Writing, Evolution of”, in James Wright, ed., International Encyclopedia of Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2d. Edition. New York: Elsevier. Accessed 15 April 2021.

Tsimourdagkas, Chrysostomos. 2014. Typotecture: Histories, Theories and Digital Futures of Typographic Elements in Architectural Design. Doctoral dissertation, Royal College of Art, London. Accessed 13 March 2021.

Xu, Bing, Britta Erickson, and Jay Xu. 2012. The character of characters: an animation by Xu Bing. San Francisco: Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

Xu, Bing. 2018. Book from the ground: from point to point. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Books On Books Collection – Federico Babina

Archibet (2015)

Archibet (2015)
Federico Babina
Perfect bound card. H165 x W120 mm, 26 cards. Acquired from Laurence King Publishing, 12 March 2021.

Mostly modern architects, the letters of their first or last names integrated with a surreal building reminiscent of their styles, but the handling of colors and flattening of perspective, which signal Babina’s style, dominate as can be seen below with Aalto, Barragán and Le Corbusier.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress),” Books On Books Collection, 31 March 2020.

Antonio Basoli“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Architecture“, Books on Books Collection, 12 November 2018.

Antonio & Giovanni Battista de Pian“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Jeffrey Morin“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Richard Niessen“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Paul Noble“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Johann David Steingruber“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Macken, Marian. 2018. Binding Space: The Book as Spatial Practice. London and New York: Routledge.

McEwen, Hugh. Polyglot Buildings. 12 January 2012. Issuu. Accessed 13 March 2021.

Tsimourdagkas, Chrysostomos. 2014. Typotecture: Histories, Theories and Digital Futures of Typographic Elements in Architectural Design. Doctoral dissertation, Royal College of Art, London. Accessed 13 March 2021.

Books On Books Collection – Antonio Basoli

Alfabeto Pittorico, ossia raccolta di pensieri pittorici composti di oggetti comincianti dalle singole lettere alfabetiche (“Pictorial Alphabet, a collection of pictorial thoughts composed of objects beginning with the individual letters of the alphabet”) (1839/1998)
Antonio Basoli
Facsimile edition created by Joseph Kiermeier-Debre and Fritz Franz Vogel (1998) as part of the boxed set Alphabets Buchstaben Calligraphy, published by Ravensburger Buchverlag. H275 x W255 mm, 144 pages. Acquired from Antiquariat Terrahe & Oswald, 14 March 2021. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

The Ravensburger Alfabeto pittorico is like a “Black Forest Cake” — a lot of ingredients. The recipe starts with Antonio Basoli’s design of monuments based on letters of the alphabet and his original Italian and French descriptions. To this, the chefs Joseph Kiermeier-Debre and Fritz Franz Vogel add German and English translations. Then, alongside Basoli’s inventions, they place reduced versions of Antonio and Giovanni Battista de Pian’s contemporaneous alphabetical/architectural fantasies. And sprinkled throughout, providing comparative context to Basoli’s career in Bologna as a professionally and academically recognized scenographer, there are dozens of reduced versions of lithographs of opera settings by the more renowned scenographers associated with Vienna, Milan, Venice, Naples and Munich. It is entirely a pudding in the spirit of Basoli.

Basoli creates densely illustrated scenes based on each letter of the alphabet. For each view, his goal is to incorporate the letter structurally or ornamentally in a central building, which in the most successful attempts would begin with the letter. For instance, the large A-shaped building is an orangerie (as in arancia for oranges). B hints at the Tower of Babel and the destruction of the Babylonian empire. C stands for catafalque (or “crypt”) and the Capuchin monks attending to a burial.

Setting a further standard of success, the artist populates each scene with people, activities, objects and symbols that begin with the designated letter. Around the orangerie, agricultural attrezzi (“implements”) are strewn, stone aquile (“eagles”) perch on the building, alms are being distributed by a man in Arab dress, trees beginning with the letter A forest the background and pop up from pots, and the whole setting evokes Arabia according to the 19th-century perception of the region encompassing “Persia, Syria, Egypt and Ethiopia”.

As Kiermeier-Debre and Vogel point out in the preface and afterword, this scene and many others reflect the time’s preoccupation with the Orient and antiquity from the not-too-distant Napoleonic campaign in Egypt (1798-1801) that spawned the archaeological industry of Egyptology. They also reflect the scenography arising from a half century’s operas such as The Escape from the Seraglio(1782), The Caliph of Baghdad (1800), Abu Hassan (1811), Ciro in Babilonia (1812), L’Italiana in Algeri (1813), Il Turco in Italia (1814), Semiramis (1818), Maometto (1820) and Belsazar (1836). Drawing attention to the alphabetical scenes’ evidence of the wide range of Basoli’s cultural, historical, mythological and religious insights, Kiermeier-Debre and Vogel rightly conclude that the work is as much an encyclopedic pictorial dictionary as abecedary.

The author who provided the original commentary on Basoli’s scenes was G.C. Lossada, an art historian. He, too, notes Basoli’s erudition, but on the artistic success of each scene, he swings between acclamation and deprecation. Here is his concluding paragraph on the letter C:

Despite the fact that the shape of the letter C, the theme of this picture, does not lend itself to the main object that is depicted, and the larger part of the building actually lies outside of the initial, such that the whole design could well exist without it, despite all this the perspectives and proportions are so well thought out that this picture can be acclaimed as one of the best in the collection. P. 110.

Equally balanced in their appraisal of Basoli, Kiermeier-Debre and Vogel rank him behind his contemporary scenographers such as Karl Friedrich Schinkel but rate his alphabetical architecture over that of Giovanni Battista de Pian. The latter may be a matter of color and taste. Even reduced, Pian’s scenes draw the eye over Basoli’s, and if the criteria for ranking include a consistency in integrating concept, subject, technique and material, Pian’s letters strain less in their achievement. The letter C certainly takes the cake for Pian.

Basoli does, however, gain a point over Pian with his concluding ampersand. As Lossada remarks, in recapitulating the alphabet and images emblematic of each letter, Basoli’s “&” is entirely a scenic etcetera. The ampersand can be viewed online with the complete alphabet, thanks to the Civic Museum of the Risorgimento in Bologna and also RMR Productions (video, 7 June 2014; accessed 5 April 2021). Neither replicates the clarity of the Ravensburger reproductions.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“, Books on Books Collection, 31 March 2020.

Architecture“, Books on Books Collection, 12 November 2018.

Federico Babina“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Giovanni Battista de Pian“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Jeffrey Morin“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Richard Niessen“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Paul Noble“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Johann David Steingruber“, Books On Books Collection, 20 2021.

Côme, Tony. “The Typotectural Suites“, The Palace of Typographic Masonry. Accessed 5 April 2021.

de Looze, Laurence. 2018. The Letter and the Cosmos: How the Alphabet Has Shaped the Western View of the World. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Macken, Marian. 2018. Binding Space: The Book as Spatial Practice. London and New York: Routledge.

McEwen, Hugh. Polyglot Buildings. 12 January 2012. Issuu. Accessed 13 March 2021.

Tsimourdagkas, Chrysostomos. 2014. Typotecture: Histories, Theories and Digital Futures of Typographic Elements in Architectural Design. Doctoral dissertation, Royal College of Art, London. Accessed 13 March 2021.

Books On Books Collection – Antonio & Giovanni Battista de Pian

Top row: A, C and E from Alphabetto Latino Schizzato a Bena da Antonio de Pian, reproduced in Antonio Basoli: Alfabeto Pittorico 1839, edited by Joseph Kiermeier-Debre and Fritz Franz Vogel, published as part of the boxed set Alphabets Buchstaben Calligraphy by Ravensburger Buchverlag (1998). Hardback, sewn. H275 x W255 mm, 144 pages. Acquired from Antiquariat Terrahe & Oswald, 14 March 2021.
Bottom row: A, C and E from Alphabetto Pittoresque (1842) by Giovanni Battista de Pian, reproduced in Ein Schmuckalphabet aus Wien/“Alphabet Jewelry from Vienna” by Anton Durstmüller, published by Fachhochschule f. Druck (1973). Perfect bound with pages in Chinese fold. H245 x W220 mm, 72 pages. Acquired from Versandantiquariat K. Stellrecht, 22 March 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Father and son, Antonio de Pian (1784-1851) and Giovanni Battista de Pian (1813-57)) worked in Vienna during the 18th and 19th centuries. Born in Venice, Antonio came with his father to Vienna, where he became a court-appointed set designer and scene painter and was inducted by the Academy of Fine Arts in 1843. Giovanni Battista (or Jean Baptiste) was not as professionally or academically successful as his father, but his Alphabetto Pittoresque portfolio outshines his father’s Alphabetto Latino Schizzato a Bena and rivals the earlier Alfabeto Pittorico by Antonio Basoli, the elder Pian’s Bolognese contemporary, who was also an accomplished scenographer as well as an internationally honored academic. All three artists’ portfolios are scarce, and as they represent the next link in the chain of complete architectural alphabets that began with Johann David Steingruber’s Architectonisches Alphabeth in 1773, it is fortunate that the facsimile works produced by Durstmüller and Kiermeier-Debre/Vogel are available and accessible.

Antonio de Pian’s architectural alphabet portfolio is the rarest of the four. With its frontispiece/title page and twenty-two letters (B, D, J and W are missing), the only copy resides somewhere in Vienna. Fortunately, all of the twenty-two appear in the Basoli facsimile produced by Kiermeier-Debre/Vogel in 1998. The brown-tinted lithographs of the elder Pian’s portfolio echo not only the Basoli portfolio’s monochromatic character but also its emphases on Near or Middle Eastern or Oriental settings and on antiquity. As Kiermeier-Debre/Vogel point out, the dual emphasis was ushered in by Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign (1798-1801) and also showed itself in opera’s subject matter during Basoli’s and the Pians’ lifetimes. Twelve of Antonio’s scenes have settings in antiquity or the distant past, and seven in the Near or Middle East. Fifteen are based in Europe.

Letters M, N, O and P by Antonio de Pian

The original of Giovanni Battista’s portfolio is less rare, coming up for auction at five figures occasionally in the last few decades. It, too, appears in the Kiermeier-Dobre/Vogel’s Basoli volume but more prominently than his father’s. Anton Durstmüller’s earlier Ein Schmuckalphabet aus Wien/“Alphabet Jewelry from Vienna”(1973) showcases Giovanni’s portfolio. With its Chinese-fold leaves and laid paper, Durstmüller’s book matches and enhances the warmth and color of Giovanni’s invention and the chromolithographs by the Viennese lithographers Leopold Müller, Johann Höfelich, and M.R. Toma. Giovanni’s use of the arch’s reflection in the water to form the letter O, Pian places himself firmly in his father’s and Basoli’s company regardless of any lack of appointment or honors.

The Chinese fold of pages in the Durstmüller volume; the letter O by Giovanni Battista de Pian.

Sixteen of Giovanni’s scenes have European settings; eleven are Middle Eastern (he has an extra S). Of these, at least nine represent antiquity. From Basoli to the elder Pian and to the younger, there is the subtle shift in their scenes from the Classical to NeoClassical to Romantic styles, reflected in the diminishing emphasis on antiquity and growing emphasis on rustic European scenes. Typographically (or really calligraphically), the shift is less subtle. With almost every letter, Basoli used or tended toward a slab serif letter shape with blunt tips and sloping brackets. The Pians, however, leaned toward block serifs and sharply curving brackets, as seen in the letters A, C and E, above, and the letter M, below.

Kiermeier-Debre/Vogel’s side-by-side presentation of the letter M by Giovanni Battista de Pian and Antonio Basoli, respectively. Photo: Books On Books Collection.

Basoli’s serifs do not vary with the scene’s region, which might have created anomalies but somehow that does not happen. Only with certain letters do the Pians vary their letters with the region. At the top here, the serifs in the elder Pian’s letters C and E reflect their different regional settings. Below, his two S’s, however, fail on this score. The block serif S belongs more with the antique Roman scene; the nearly sans serif S belongs more with the antique Egyptian scene. The more exotic the setting from a Western perspective, the more the block serifs present difficulties — as in Giovanni’s letter G (the Turkish pirates below decks appear fed up with it) and letter T (the Africans depicted are certainly looking askance at the architecture) below.

Basoli’s and the Pians’ use of slab serif letter shapes reflects both their theatrical profession and the period’s infatuation with the shape in advertising in newspapers and on posters. Slab serifs were called Egyptian serifs, not that those letter shapes appear anywhere in Egyptian antiquity, but neither do the Keith Haring-like figures on the flanking columns in Giovanni’s L scene. See Further Reading for the story of slab serifs and their moniker.

For more on the operatic and theatrical context in which Basoli and the Pians worked, see the entry for Antonio Basoli in the Books On Books Collection.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“, Books on Books Collection, 31 March 2020.

Architecture“, Books on Books Collection, 12 November 2018.

Federico Babina“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Antonio Basoli“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Jeffrey Morin“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Richard Niessen“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Paul Noble“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Johann David Steingruber“, Books On Books Collection, 2021.

Côme, Tony. “The Typotectural Suites“, The Palace of Typographic Masonry. Accessed 5 April 2021.

de Looze, Laurence. 2018. The Letter and the Cosmos: How the Alphabet Has Shaped the Western View of the World. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Loxley, Simon. 2011. Type: the secret history of letters. London: Tauris. Chapter 5.

Lupton, Ellen. 2014. Thinking with type: a critical guide for designers, writers, editors, & students. New York, NY: Princeton Architectural Press. Pp. 22-23.

Macken, Marian. 2018. Binding Space: The Book as Spatial Practice. London and New York: Routledge.

McEwen, Hugh. Polyglot Buildings. 12 January 2012. Issuu. Accessed 13 March 2021.

McNeil, Paul. 2017. The visual history of type. London: Laurence King. Pp. 108-09, 114-15, 120-21

Tsimourdagkas, Chrysostomos. 2014. Typotecture: Histories, Theories and Digital Futures of Typographic Elements in Architectural Design. Doctoral dissertation, Royal College of Art, London.

Books On Books Collection – Jeffrey Morin & Steven Ferlauto

Sacred Space (2003)

Sacred Space (2003)
Jeffrey Morin and Steven Ferlauto
Book: Reduction linoleum prints with typographic illustrations using overprinting of letterforms; open spine sewn with brown cord binding; brown cloth-covered boards; title and design on front board; endpapers of handmade paper from Nepal. Book: 6 x 14.25″; 17 leaves.
Chapel kit: Six walls, roof, base. Walls: copper rod skeleton with Okawara rice paper skin covered with a casting resin. Book and kit housed in wooden box. Roof copper-leafed Davey board. Roof forms the tray in which the book rests. Base: Box lid becomes the base for the chapel. Brass holes in the base allow the rods to fit exactly. Print pattern on the base becomes the floor pattern. Box painted with copper leaf. Sculpture base 15.75 x 11.5″, height 12″.
Edition of 35, of which this is #23. Acquired from Vamp & Tramp, 7 February 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

Jeffrey Morin calls Sacred Space an extension of Steven Ferlauto’s research into the role of geometry in the development of the Roman alphabet. This would have likely included the works by Giovanninno de’ Grassi (1390-1405), Felice Feliciano (1463), Fra Luca Pacioli (1509), Francesco Torniello (1517), Albrecht Dürer (1525) and Geoffroy Tory(1529). Morin and Ferlauto first displayed the artistic result of that research in The Sacred Abecedarium (2000).

To access sources for each, click on the images above.

The Sacred Abecedarium (1999)
Steven Ferlauto & Jeffrey Morin
Photo: University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Special Collections. Displayed with permission of the artists.

To access the source, click here.

But Sacred Space is more than an extension. It is an intimate monument of book art. Made intimate by the content and texture of its book, made more intimate by the viewer’s having to construct the chapel. Made monumental by the echo of typographic history, made more monumental in Galileo Galilei’s echo from its floor: Mathematics is the alphabet with which God has created the universe.

The book “attaches” to the structure in several ways. For its epigraph, the book uses Galilei’s actual words that led to those attributed to him and appearing on the floor of the chapel, and when stored away, the underside of the chapel’s roof serves as storage for the book. Following the epigraph in the book, three passages appear, sharing impressions of three different sacred spaces: William Bunce’s description of a plexiglas hunting shack on an island in a Canadian lake, Thomas Merton’s prayer on the hermitage in Kentucky, and Mother Maria Marthe‘s plan for her “shapel” in Lilies of the Field by William E. Barrett. Three very different sets of words create three very different settings on the common ground of oblong pages of papers made with Siberian iris leaf fiber at the Root River Mill in Wisconsin. Difference and commonality strike a recurring theme that links book and structure.

The book’s description of the shack’s sloping roof and its plexiglas walls echoes but contrasts with the chapel’s sloping roof and translucent panels. A shack (or “shapel”) may differ from a chapel and still have common physical features. The sans serif letters, linocut-printed and jumbled in the book’s gutter, echo but contrast with the serif letters, inkjet-printed and geometrically placed on the panels.

Okawara rice paper attached to the silver-soldered copper frame with epoxy resin created a shallow tray into which polymer coating was poured. In this process, the otherwise flimsy rice paper, which contrasts with the fibrous, opaque handmade paper of the book, assumes a stiff plasticity in common with the shack’s plexiglas and becomes the chapel walls set into brass-lined holes in the wooden base. The roofs may slope in common, but the chapel’s copper-leafed davey board roof contrasts with the shack’s clear one, down which birds skitter when trying to land. Despite its apparent metallic solidity, the chapel roof sits loosely on the front and rear panels, exerting a stabilizing pressure, whereas the shack’s plexiglas roof is fixed to a single roof beam.

The chapel’s structure, its stained-glass-like walls, patterned floor and copper-leafing echo Thomas Merton’s prayer, which is sandwiched between the humorous hunters and Mother Maria Marthe, just as the structure is sandwiched between its shack-like roof and wooden platform. In its text and construction, Sacred Space seems to say sacred spaces occur in the spaces in between — even where letter meets surface.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“, Books on Books Collection, 31 March 2020.

Architecture“, Books on Books Collection, 12 November 2018.

Federico Babina“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Antonio Basoli“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Antonio & Giovanni Battista de Pian“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Richard Niessen“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Paul Noble“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Johann David Steingruber“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Barrett, William E. 1962/1985. Lilies of the field. New York: Warner Books.

Bunce, William. n.d. Description provided to Caren Heft (Root River Mill). “Sacred Space“, sailorBOYpress. Accessed 10 March 2021.

Dürer, Albrecht, and Walter L. Strauss. The Painter’s Manual : A Manual of Measurement of Lines, Areas, and Solids by Means of Compass and Ruler Assembled by Albrecht Dürer for the Use of All Lovers of Art with Appropriate Illustrations Arranged to Be Printed in the Year MDXXV. New York: Abaris, 1977. Print.

Feliciano, Felice, and Giovanni Mardersteig. Alphabetum Romanum. Engl. Ed.] ed. Verona: Editiones Officinae Bodoni, 1960. Print.

Grassi, Giovannino de’. 1390-1405/1961. Taccuino di disegni. [Bergamo]: Edizioni “Monumenta bergomensia”.

Looze, Laurence de. 2018. The Letter and the Cosmos: How the Alphabet Has Shaped the Western View of the World. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Macken, Marian. 2018. Binding Space: The Book as Spatial Practice. London and New York: Routledge.

McEwen, Hugh. Polyglot Buildings. 12 January 2012. Issuu. Accessed 13 March 2021.

Merton, Thomas, and Jonathan Montaldo. 2001. Dialogues with silence: prayers & drawings. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

Pacioli, Luca, Antonio Capella, Leonardo, and Piero. 1509. Divina proportione opera a tutti glingegni perspicaci e curiosi necessaria oue ciascun studioso di philosophia, prospectiua pictura sculpura, architectura, musica, e altre mathematice, suauissima, sottile, e admirabile doctrina consequira, e delectarassi, cõ varie questione de secretissima scientia. M. Antonio Capella eruditiss. recensente. [Venetiis]: A. Paganius Paganinus characteribus elegantissimis accuratissime imprimebat.

Torniello, Francisco. 1517. Opera del modo de fare le littere maiuscole antique, con mesura de circino: & resone de penna. Composita per Francisco Torniello da Nouaria scriptore professo. Milano: Gotardo qual de libri e stampatore: dicto da Ponte. Ambrosiana Library.

Tory, Geoffroy. 1529. Champ fleury: au quel est contenu lart & science de la deue & vraye proportio[n] des lettres attiques, quo[n] dit autreme[n]t lettres antiques, & vulgairement lettres romaines proportionnees selon le corps & visage humain. [Paris]: A vendre a Paris sus Petit Pont a Lenseigne du Pot Casse par Maistre Geofroy Tory de Bourges … et par Giles Gourmont … en la Rue sainct Iaques a Lenseigne des Trois Coronnes.

Tsimourdagkas, Chrysostomos. 2014. Typotecture: Histories, Theories and Digital Futures of Typographic Elements in Architectural Design. Doctoral dissertation, Royal College of Art, London. Accessed 13 March 2021.


Books On Books Collection – Ji Lee

Univers Revolved: A Three-Dimensional Alphabet (2004)

Univers Revolved: A Three-Dimensional Alphabet (2004)
Ji Lee
Sewn paper on board hardback. H338 x W238 mm, 64 unnumbered pages. Acquired from Unoriginal Sins, 12 December 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

In his extended essay on Stéphane Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard, Eric Zboya celebrates Ji Lee’s 3D typeface by rendering the entire poem in that face. The discovery of that essay led to the acquisition of Zboya’s artist book, which led to the acquisition of Ji Lee’s scarce volume Univers Revolved: A Three-Dimensional Alphabet (2004). Lee’s book resonates with several other works in the Books On Books Collection. Compare it, for example, with Johann David Steingruber’s alphabet book Architectonisches Alphabeth (1773/1973), Paul Noble’s alphabet book Nobson Newtown (1998) and Sammy Engramer’s three-dimensional rendition of Mallarmé’s poem.

This double-page spread displays the manipulation of the alphabet’s first four letters around their axes at two different angles to render their 3D shapes.

These two double-page spreads show the complete alphabet and punctuation marks at two different angles, which provide a key with which to begin reading text spelled out in the book.

Lee teases his reader by composing sentences with different sized letters. “Reading is Fun!” is one of the easier to decipher.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“, Books on Books Collection, 31 March 2020.

Sammy Engramer”, Books On Books Collection, 1 June 2020.

Paul Noble“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Johann David Steingruber“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Eric Zboya“, Books On Books Collection, 1 June 2020.

Zboya, Eric. 2011. Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard: Translations in Higher Dimensions. Visual Writing 003. Ubu Editions. Accessed 1 February 2019.

Books On Books Collection – Johann David Steingruber

Architectural Alphabet (1773/1972)

Architectural alphabet (1773/1972)
Johann David Steingruber
Casebound, sewn, headbands. H356 x W260 mm, 112 pages, including 33 facsimile prints. Published by Merrion Press, London. Edition of 425, of which this is #9. Acquired from Chevin Books, 24 July 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Several professional and academic architects and designers as well as academics from other disciplines have delved into the intersection of the alphabet and architecture. A few of them have also noted the intersection’s expansion to include artist books and fine press works. Since Johann David Steingruber’s effort in the 18th century, it has become quite a busy intersection.

Originally published in installments at Steingruber’s own expense, the volume opens with its gloriously long title in an “arch of contents”, the columns inscribed with thumbnail images of the letter buildings to come. Although the title page lists 1773 as the publication date, the last installment came in March 1774. In his lifetime, Steingruber published three other works, illustrated and described toward the end of this facsimile, but Architectonisches Alphabeth became his most famous — “postcard” famous.

Architectonisches Alphabeth: bestehend aus dreyßig Rissen wovon Jeder Buchstab nach seiner kenntlichen Anlage auf eine ansehnliche und geräumige Fürstliche Wohnung, dann auf alle Religionen, Schloß-Capellen und ein Buchstab gänzlich zu einen Closter, übrigens aber der mehreste Theil nach teutscher Landes-Art mit Einheiz-Stätte auf Oefen und nur theils mit Camins eingerichtet, wobey auch Nach den mehrest irregulairen Grund-Anlagen vielerley Arten der Haupt- und Neben-Stiegen vorgefallen, dergleichen sonsten in Architectonischen Rissen nicht gefunden werden, zu welchen auch Die Façaden mit merklich abwechslender Architectur aufgezogen sind.

Steingruber dedicated his Architectural Alphabet to Christian Friedrich Carl Alexander, Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach, and his first wife Frederica Carolina, not to be confused with the paying dedicatee of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, the Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt. By a baroque coincidence, however, the first Brandenburg concertos, the ones composed by Giuseppe Torelli and influencing Bach, were dedicated to the Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach, then George Friedrich II, Alexander’s great-uncle who employed Torelli as court composer. Like Torelli, Steingruber too had to be satisfied with his payment as an appointee — court and public surveyor, and later principal architect of the board of works — even though he went to the trouble of making sure that his employers’ monograms and their associated buildings appeared in the span above the roman arch.

Steingruber seemed unaware of other building designs from alphabetical foundations. This facsimile’s editor gently and genially fills in the missing context. John Thorpe (1565–1655?), an English architect, drew up a property based on his initials. Thomas Gobert (1625-90), a French architect, produced Traitté d’Architecture dedié à Louis XIV, a manuscript whose building plans spelled out “LOVIS LE GRAND”. Anton Glonner (1723–1801) designed a Jesuit church and college around the monogram “IHS”.

There was not much chance of these letter-shaped edifices’ being built. Nevertheless, Steingruber adds matter-of-fact descriptions to his elevations and plans, calling out heating, kitchen, toilet and servants’ arrangements as if conferring with a prospective client ready to commission one of these typographic palaces. Who would not want a serif with a view? Or conduct guests on a tour of the bowl, capline, crossbar, stem, stroke and tail of the property?

The main text appears to be set in Van Dijck (before Robin Nicholas’ revision between 1982 and 1989) and printed on a cream laid paper. The special earmarks of Van Dijck — the sloped apex of the A, the stepped center strokes of the W, the non-lining numerals and especially the downward stroke at the top of the 5 , the tilted lower bowl of the g, etc., identifiable in Morison’s A Tally of Types and Rookledge’s Classic International Type Finder — all seem to be present.

The laid paper is not only tactilely pleasant, it visually supports the clarity of the facsimile prints. Their sharpness outdoes what is achieved even with the zoom function applied to the freely available digital version, which can be seen in the interactive comparison below.

Kiermeier-Debre and Vogel edition (1995)

Architectonisches Alphabeth (1773/1995)
Johann David Steingruber
Facsimile edition prepared by Joseph Kiermeier-Debre and Fritz Franz Vogel. H356 x W260 mm, 80 pages. Acquired from Antiquariat Terrahe & Oswald, 14 March 2021.

In smaller dimensions, this edition does not present the prints in their full size. Partially making up for the deficit is the Munken Pure paper’s brightness, against which the Garamond Berthold typeface and photolithography work well. Also, the book includes French, German and English text as well as illustrations that broaden the context to the present. Alongside Steingruber’s elevations and plans, Kiermeier-Debre and Vogel have included several birds-eye views of inventive roofing of 20th-century architectural models inspired by Steingruber’s plans.

Christian Friedrich Carl Alexander’s monogram buildings reduced alongside reductions of Steingruber’s original foreword and explanations of Federica Carolina’s and Alexander’s buildings.

Not satisfied with some of his efforts, Steingruber offered second options; here, for the letter A, and later, for the letters M, Q, R and X.

Verso: Paula Barreiro’s roofing design for Steingruber’s letter B.

Verso: Helge Huber’s and Alexandra Krull’s roofing designs for Steingruber’s letter C.

In another instance of positioning Steingruber’s book in the history of alphabetic architecture (or architectural alphabets), the editors include a complete set of small reproductions of Thomas Gobert’s designs and elevations spelling out “LOVIS LE GRAND” from his manuscript mentioned above. Although created a century before, his drawings do not seem as stylistically distant from Steingruber’s as those of the 20th-century rooftop drafts do. Driving home their point that “the design of alphabetical buildings must not be based slavishly on a Baroque roman type or a classicist roman version”, the editors conclude by drawing attention to Takenobu Igarashi‘s 20th-century sculptural celebrations of the alphabet in aluminum, concrete, wood, chrome and gold.

Photo: Mike Sullivan, “Igarashi Alphabets“, Typetoken, 25 November 2013. Accessed 26 March 2021. Displayed with permission of the reviewer.

In print and online as well, new original and secondary works have continued to busy the intersection of the alphabet, architecture and artist books. Richard Niessen’s The Palace of Typographic Masonry (2018) and Sergio Polano’s “Architectural Abecedari” (2019) are two recent examples. And, as if to confirm the busying of the intersection, we have Takenobu Igarashi: A to Z (2020) in print and making up for the scarcity of Igarashi Alphabets (1987).

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“, Books on Books Collection, 31 March 2020.

Architecture“, Books on Books Collection, 12 November 2018.

Federico Babina“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Antonio Basoli“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Antonio & Giovanni Battista de Pian“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Jeffrey Morin“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Richard Niessen“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Paul Noble“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

de Looze, Laurence. 2018. The Letter and the Cosmos: How the Alphabet Has Shaped the Western View of the World. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Igarashi, Takenobu. 1987. Igarashi alphabets. Zurich: ABC.

Macken, Marian. 2018. Binding Space: The Book as Spatial Practice. London and New York: Routledge.

McEwen, Hugh. Polyglot Buildings. 12 January 2012. Issuu. Accessed 13 March 2021.

Morison, Stanley, and Brooke Crutchley. 1999. A tally of types: with additions by several hands. Boston: D. R. Godine.

Nomiyama, Sakura, and Takenobu Igarashi. 2019. Takenobu Igarashi: A to Z. London: Thames and Hudson.

Perfect, Christopher, and Gordon Rookledge. 2004. Rookledge’s classic international typefinder: the essential handbook of typeface recognition and selection. London: L. King Publishing.

Polano, Sergio. January 2019. “Architectural Abecedari“, Casabella, 893, pp. 62-75 + 100-101 (eng.). Milan.

Tsimourdagkas, Chrysostomos. 2014. Typotecture: Histories, Theories and Digital Futures of Typographic Elements in Architectural Design. Doctoral dissertation, Royal College of Art, London. Accessed 13 March 2021.

Bookmarking Book Art – Nia Easley

a dozen deaths (2015)

a dozen deaths (2015)
Nia Easley
Case bound, cloth-covered book board, modified accordion structure. H7 x W9 x D1 inches, 24 pages. Text laser-printed on 90lb Neenah paper; interior images stencil-printed in acrylic, exterior pattern inkjet-printed on bamboo paper. Edition of 5.
Photo: Courtesy and permission of the artist.

Nia Easley’s birthday in 2012 felt very different. The day before, George Zimmerman had killed Trayvon Martin. Over the days, weeks and months after, the outpouring in the mainstream and social media in reaction to the event and the jury trial that followed only intensified and complicated the emotions and memories evoked on the day.

Turning to art, Easley asked twelve individuals to recount Trayvon Martin’s last moments based on their memories of the reported event. An implicit rule in Easley’s request led to the stories being told from the first person. Her only explicit rule for the retelling was that the imagined teller must die at the end. She recorded each retelling and, with the participant’s collaboration, polished it into a transcript.

Two double-sided bamboo-paper accordions are joined together, a structure influenced by The Diary of a Sparrow by Kazuko Watanabe. On their exterior is a horizontal gray-white pattern, ink-jet printed, that seems to shift between an image of house siding panels and that of backlit drawn venetian blinds. In the exterior valley folds of the accordions, gatherings of the twelve retellings, laserjet-printed, are sewn to book tape used to join the accordions together. With the twelve narrators, we are on the outside. For this white reader, here begins an uneasiness that will not ease.

The structural plan shows how the double-sided accordions attach to the cover and, in green, where the narratives attach.
Photos: Courtesy and permission of the artist.

On the inner side appear stencil-printed images in naples yellow, maroon, deep blue-violet, cobalt blue, moss green, neon orange and sienna brown; however, each copy in the edition differs in colors and orientation of the images made from two stencils of hoodie-wearing figures taken from neighborhood-watch signs. More uneasiness as the images’ shifting orientation creates a threatening abstraction, a suggestion of claws. Are they clawing to get in or out? Are the hooded figures real monsters whose shadows we see cast against the venetian blinds? Are they imagined from inside the house, projected on the venetian blinds?

Views of the stencil prints. Photos: Courtesy and permission of the artist.

The modified accordion structure lets the reader move through the work codex-fashion or extend it to its 4-foot length as a sculpture to be read/viewed in the round. When read the former way, the hooded images peek out from the edges of the interior; when viewed the latter way, the work takes on a sort of mise-en-scène of the event — or of Easley’s twelve gathered around a jurors’ table even though they are each taking on the role of the deceased Martin as witness to his own death.

Just as each copy of the edition differs in its colors and orientation of images, each of the twelve retellings differs. In selecting the twelve from her circle of acquaintances, Easley aimed for a representative diversity of members. Only at the end and then only their first names — Allison, Damien, Deandre, Derek, Doc, Jae, Molly#1, Molly#2, Natasha, Ronnie, Tanuja and Werner –are given and not in the order in which their retellings appear. As each of the twelve takes over Martin’s voice, we cannot tell whether it is actor, actress, young or old, or what race. The ground of identity and perspective under the reader/viewer’s feet keeps shifting.

Easley suggests, “the narratives are a meditation of sorts, into the kind of people we are together and how we see others.” The artwork’s epigraph — “Like narrative, imperialism has monopolized the entire system of representation” (Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism, 1993) — frames that meditation. By “destabilizing” narrative and perspective, a dozen deaths makes us uneasy. In that uneasy meditation, we may indeed recognize the kind of people we are together, how we see each other, and find a way to change the narrative.

Four copies of the work reside at Depaul University Library, Northwestern University, University of Iowa Libraries and the Joan Flasch Artists’ Books Collection, Art Institute of Chicago.

Easley’s other work includes For Safety’s Sake (2015), It’s Just OK (2019), And you hold power (2020-21) and Annotated Graphic Design Timeline, an ongoing Instagram project addressed to the book Graphic Design Timeline (2000) by Steve Heller and Elinor Pettit. At the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she works as an Administrative Coordinator, she also teaches the graduate seminar “History as Material” and the course “Drawn to Print”.

Further Reading

Tia Blassingame“, Books On Books Collection. 17 August 2020.

Clarissa Sligh“, Books On Books Collection. 2 September 2020.

Gleek, Charlie. “Centuries of Black Artists’ Books“, presented at “Black Bibliographia: Print/Culture/Art” conference at the Center for Material Culture Studies, University of Delaware, 27 April 2019, pp. 7-8. Accessed 20 July 2020.

Said, Edward W. 1993. Cultural imperialism. New York: Knopf.

Books On Books Collection – Michael Snow

Cover to Cover (1975)
Michael Snow
Cloth on board, sewn and casebound. H230 x W180 mm. 310 unnumbered pages. Published by Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. Unnumbered edition of 300. Acquired from Mast Books, 10 December 2020. Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

After a long search since first sight of it in 2016 at Washington, D.C.’s now defunct Corcoran Gallery library, the original hardback edition of Michael Snow’s Cover to Cover (1975) finally joins the Books On Books Collection. Thanks to Philip Zimmermann, more readers/viewers have the chance to experience Cover to Cover — if only through the screen — than the original’s 300 copies and Primary Information’s 1000 facsimile paperback copies will allow.

Amaranth Borsuk describes the work and experience of it in The Book (2018), as do Martha Langford in Michael Snow (2014), Marian Macken in Binding Spaces (2017) and Zimmermann in his comments for the exhibition “Book Show: Fifty Years of Photographic Books, 1968–2018” (for all, see links below). Like Chinese Whispers by Telfer Stokes and Helen Douglas and Theme and Permutation by Marlene MacCallum, Michael Snow’s Cover to Cover has that effect — of evoking an urge to articulate what is going on and how the bookwork is re-imagining visual narrative, how it is making us look, and how it makes us think about our interaction with our environs and the structure of the book.

The already existing commentary about Cover to Cover sets a high hurdle for worthwhile additional words. One thing going on in the book, though, seems to have gone unremarked. Some critics have asserted that, other than its title on the spine, the book has no text. There is text, however. It occurs within what I would call the preliminaries, and they show us how to read the book.

Front cover and its endpaper

On the front cover, we see a door from the inside. Then, on its pastedown endpaper, the author outside the door with his back to us. On turning page “1” of the preliminaries, we see in small type a copyright assertion and the Library of Congress catalogue number appear vertically along the gutter of pages “2-3” (a tiny clue as to what is going on).

Pages “2-3”

Over pages “4” through “14” from the same alternating viewpoints, the author reaches for the door handle, the door is seen opening from the inside, and the artist is seen walking through the door (from the outside) and into the room (from the inside). But who is recording these views?

Pages “10-11”

Over pages “15” through “24”, two photographers appear. Facing us, they are bent over their cameras — first the one outside (clean shaven and wearing a short-sleeved shirt) behind the author, then the one inside (bearded and wearing shorts) in front of the author. As the author moves out of the frame, we see that the photographer inside is holding a piece of paper in his right hand. All of this occurs through the same alternating viewpoints. At page “21”, the corner of that paper descends into the frame of the inside photographer’s view of the outside photographer, and after the next switch in viewpoint that confirms what the inside photographer is doing, we see a completely white page “23”, presumably the blank sheet that is blocking the inside photographer’s camera aperture. Page “24” is the outside photographer’s view of the inside photographer whose face and camera are blocked by the piece of paper.

Pages “16-17”, pages “20-21” and pages “24-25”

Over pages “25” (from the inside photographer’s viewpoint) and “26” (from the outside photographer’s), something strange happens with that piece of paper. Fingers and thumbs holding it appear on the left and right: we are looking at photos of the piece paper as it is being held between the photographers. What’s more, on the outside photographer’s side of the paper is the developed photo he just took of the inside photographer with his face and camera hidden by the sheet of paper. We are looking at images of images. But what is on the other side of that photo paper? — a blank with fingers holding it, which is what page “27” will show us from the inside photographer’s perspective. But whose fingers are they?

Pages “26-27”

From page “25” through page “38”, we see images of this piece of paper being manipulated by one pair of hands. The thumbs appear on the verso (the view from the outside photographer’s perspective), the fingers on the recto (the view seen by the inside photographer). By page “34”, it is upside down. By page “37”, we can see that the photo paper is being fed into a manual typewriter. But does the pair of hands belong to one of the photographers? Or a typist — the author?

For both pages “42” and “43”, the perspective is that of a typist advancing the paper and typing the title page. On both pages, we can see the ribbon holder in the same position. Pages “44-45” return to alternating perspectives, page “44” showing the photo paper descending into the roller. Page “45” presents itself as the full text of the book’s title page, curling away from the typist and revealing the inside photographer on the other side of the typewriter. Page “46” shows the upside-down view of the title page as it moves toward the inside photographer and reveals the outside photographer on the other side of the typewriter. Not only are we seeing images of images, we are witnessing the making of the book’s preliminaries.

From page “48” through page “54”, the photographers alternate views of blank paper advancing through the typewriter. By pages “55” and “56”, the typewriter has moved out of the frame. Look carefully at page “56”, however, and you can see the impression of the typewriter’s rubber holders on the paper. As a book’s preliminaries come to a close, there is often a blank page or two before the start of the book, which in this case is page “57”, showing a record player.

Zimmermann notes that, at somewhere near the book’s midpoint, the images turn upside down, and that readers who then happen to “flip the book over and start paging from the back soon realize that they are looking at images of images produced by the two-sided system, and indeed the very book that they are holding in their hands”. He notes this as another mind-bender added to the puzzlement of the two-sided system with which the book begins. Yet the prelims foretold us that the upside-downness, back-to-frontness and self-reflexivity of images of images were on their way. Without doubt, Cover to Cover is an iconic work of book art.

Further Reading

Borsuk, Amaranth. The Book (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2018).

Langford, Martha. Michael Snow: Life & Work (Toronto: Art Canada Institute, 2014).

Macken, Marian. Binding Space: The Book as Spatial Practice (London: Taylor and Francis, 2017).

Michelson, Annette, and Kenneth White. Michael Snow (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2019).

Zimmermann, Philip. “Book Show: Fifty Years of Photographic Books, 1968–2018“, Spaceheater Editions Blog, 3 February 2019. Accessed 16 December 2020.

But as the scene “progresses,” an action is not completed within the spread, but loops back in the next one, so that the minimal “progress” extracted from reading left to right is systematically stalled each time a page is turned, and the verso page recapitulates the photographic event printed on the recto side from the opposite angle. This is the disorienting part: to be denied “progress” as one turns the page seems oddly like flashback, which it patently is not; it might be called “extreme simultaneity.” Two versions of the same thing (two sides of the story) are happening at the same time. Zimmerman.

Books On Books Collection – Ron King

The Burning of the Books (2009)

The Burning of the Books (2009)
George Szirtes (poems) and Ron King (prints)
Slipcase with sewn hardback, duotone letterpress reproduction of the 2008 artist book version. H220 x W160 mm, 66 unnumbered pages. Edition of 1000, the first 100 signed and numbered by the author and artist and presented in a specially designed slipcase. Acquired from the artist, 28 January 2021. Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

The Burning of the Books is the harshest of Ron King’s work in the Books On Books Collection. According to the artist, this work’s genesis was his long fascination with Elias Canetti’s Auto da Fe (1946). King commissioned Szirtes to respond to Canetti’s work with a text to accompany the etchings that King had been holding in abeyance. The result in 2008 was a large format artist book, of which this work is a reproduction.

With its photo-collages of a Guernica-like fold-out, newspaper clippings of shamed collaborators, fists and human limbs, The Burning of the Books delivers a visual indictment of the 20th century that creeps into the 21st century with the added images of celebrity police ID photos and Euro currency notes. Szirtes’ take on King’s take on Canetti’s take on his main character’s solipsistic slip from obsession into madness in a world of alienating -isms is the work of art with which we — sadly, more than a decade later — keep catching up.

This work’s fascination with horrors may have its roots in a childhood experience in Brazil — seeing a photograph of a bandit gang’s mass beheading — but, more often than not, King’s works emphasize a humor in blackness (as does this work in its recurrent image of Mr. Punch-like figures). Most often, though, a sheer joy of making and material prevails.

alphabeta concertina miniscule (2007)

alphabeta concertina miniscule (2007)
Ron King
Printed, cut and creased onto Heritage paper and glued to Heritage Museum board. H170 x W110 x D30 mm,stretching to 3 meters. Edition of 600. Acquired from Sophie Schneideman Rare Books and Prints, 27 November 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

The “abc” series displays the restrained, minimalist side of King’s inventiveness. With more than one of these works to hand, his enjoyment and humor come through — especially in the subtle and not-so-subtle variations. Take alphabeta concertina miniscule as an example. It arrived like a long awaited chuckle after the majuscule version — Alphabeta Concertina (1983) — which had been expanded into the poster versions Alphabet I and Alphabet II (below). Size and surprise seem to matter in King’s sense of humor. For size, see the large-scale steel version of the alphabet in 2016. For surprise, consider his catalogue raisonné Cooking the Books.

Cooking the Books (2002)

Cooking the Books: Ron King and the Circle Press (2002)
Ron King, Andrew Lambirth
Paperback with end flaps, sewn with headbands. Pop-up and metallic paper inserts. H225 x W165 x D20 mm, 180 pages. Acquired from the artist, 24 December 2020. Photo: Books On Books Collection.

King’s catalogue raisonné does not merely illustrate his work, it illustrates it. Inserts of mirror paper, wax paper and a pop-up letter E transform what appears to be a simple codex into a treasure chest.

Alphabet II (1999)

Alphabet II (1999)
Ron King
Pop-up poster. H760 x W500 mm. The letters have been cut onto a 190lb Waterford paper and mounted onto a heavier version of the same stock. Edition of 200 signed. Acquired from Circle Press, 26 June 2015. Photo of Cooking the Books, p. 101: Books On Books Collection.

The collection’s framed poster interferes with photography, but Cooking the Books provides the alternative.

Matisse’s Model (1996)

Matisse’s Model (1996)
Ron King
An edition of 50 signed book-works made by the same process as Acrobats. 23 x 17 cm with mirror-foil, sprayed pages, and a removable freestanding figure in collaged cardboard box.

The sculptural element toward which King’s work has always turned is on display in the title and forms of Matisse’s Model. The mirror paper appears as it must for any attractive model.

The Looking Book (1996)

The Looking Book: A Pocket History of Circle Press, 1967-96 (1996)
Cathy Courtney
Casebound in wire print paper. H160 x W120 xD20 mm Edition of 1000, of which this #67 and initialled by Ron King. Acquired from Peter J. Hadley Bookseller ABA ILAB, 25 June 2015. Photos: Books On Books Collection

Pop-up insert of “Scenes from the Alphabet” by Roy Fisher. Photo: Books On Books Collection.

As with Cooking the Books, this catalogue raisonné, prepared by Cathy Courtney, provides samples of the artist’s work. They appear in the wire debossed cover and this centrepiece of “Scenes from the Alphabet” done with Roy Fisher, which led to a full-scale alphabet book at Fisher’s suggestion.

Turn Over Darling (1994)

Turn Over Darling (1994)
Ron King
Slipcase (H204 x W153 x D28 mm) containing a light brown paper portfolio (H195 x W150 x D24) into which are hand-sewn six sheets (H190 x W282) of J. Green RWS hand-made paper, folded in half, bearing embossed and debossed images of a female figure. A signed copy from the limited edition of seventy five. Acquired from the artist, 1 December 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with artist’s permission.

The six embossed and debossed drawings were created from wire forms pressed into dampened sheets of paper. Turn Over Darling elegantly combines King’s sculptural skills with his printer’s skills. When folded and juxtaposed in sequence, they make for eleven reclining female nude images that change position from front to back view as the pages turn. Determining the folds and sequence is a form of imposition, although quite different from the usual imposition for a single sheet with twelve pages on either side as shown below. Again, here is a work that evokes a joy in the material and in its handling.

JBG 1984 watermark in J. Green RWS paper

Earth Birds (1981)

Earth Birds: forty six poems written between May 1964 and June 1972 (1981)
Larry Eigner (poems) and Ron King (plates)
Fifty hard-bound copies, I-L, printed on pure rag-made paper with six plates printed blind intaglio and one hundred and fifty copies, 51-200, printed on Glastonbury Book stock with the same plates printed relief, in one color.

As with George Szirtes, King has collaborated more than once with Larry Eigner. Looks like nothing, the shadow through air (1972) was the earlier joint effort. Compared to Earth Birds, later works like The Burning of the Books (2008) and Anansi Company (1992) with Roy Fisher show King’s development toward more deeply collaborative efforts.

Earth Birds does recall the wide range of similar works by others at Circle Press that King made possible: Hadrian’s Dream (1990) by Asa Benveniste and Ken Campbell and Machines (1986) by Michael Donaghy and Barbara Tetenbaum.

Chaucer’s The Prologue, 2nd Edition (1978)

Chaucer’s The Prologue, 2nd Edition (1978)
Ron King
Casebound sewn, letterpress printed on 190 gsm Queen Anne Antique White. Hand-set in Monotype Plantin series 110. H405 x W281 mm, 72 pages. Edition of twenty separate versions I-XX each of 250 copies, of which this is XI, #131, and includes a folder of Buckler Light Grey Plain with a poem by Roy Fisher and screen-print on 190 gsm Bockingfordby Ron King entitled “Webbe”. Acquired from private seller, 27 February 2021. Photos of work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of artist.

King originally prepared The Prologue for Editions Electo in 1966, then published a limited edition of 125 copies in 1967 under the Circle Press imprint. In this collection, the work represents King’s straightforward fine press work and a successful livre d’artiste. The screenprints of Chaucer’s characters and Chaucer himself are based on African and Brazilian masks as well as heraldic symbols. King’s inspiration to match these richly colored masks to the personae captures the pageantry and individuals within the social hierarchy of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Opening this oversized fine press edition, turning its stiff, creamy pages with their 18 pt Plantin type and confronting these human-sized masks are reminders of the monumentality that this human-scale work of literature has achieved.

Knight and Squire masks

Nun and Monk masks

Chaucer’s mask and King’s original print “Webbe”

Ephemera

Almost always, small gifts of ephemera arrive with purchases from the Ron King Studio. They illustrate how King marshals his artistry even in marketing his art and that of those he has published.

Hare (single-fold card, H125 x W180 mm), blind-embossed. 2021.

Announcement (single-fold card, H216 x W140 mm) with blind embossed image of a fulmar. Describes artist book Sednar and the Fulmar with Richard Price’s poems. 2017.

Invitations (four-fold pop-up cards) to Pallant House Gallery opening preview. 2005.

Announcement (wax and paper pamphlet, H174 x W134 mm) of Lettre de la Mer Noire/Black Sea Letter by Kenneth White (poem) and Jean-Claude Loubières (images and wax dipping). 1997.

Announcement (card, line block reproduction, H150 x W125 mm) of the 200 portfolios of fifty-one woodcut designs reproduced from the only remaining proofs of Brazilian Miniatures, an unpublished book with a bilingual introduction; printed in two versions. 1973?

“Squire” (single-fold card, H235 x W165 mm) with hand-printed serigraph from Chaucer’s “Prologue” to The Canterbury Tales. 1969?

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)”, Books On Books Collection, 31 March 2020.

Willow Legge“, Books On Books Collection, 14 February 2021.

Bury, Stephen. “Ron King and the Circle Press.” Print Quarterly 20, no. 4 (2003): 434-37. Accessed February 7, 2021.

Courtney, Cathy. 1999. Speaking of book art: interviews with British and American book artists. Los Altos Hills, Calif: Anderson-Lovelace.

Goldmark Gallery. 2019. Alphabets, Bandits & Collaborations: Ron King Documentary. Uppingham, UK. Video

Hill, Emma. “Artists’ Books and Circle Press”, Pallant House Gallery Magazine, No. 8, June 2006, pp. 66-68. Accessed 22 March 2020.

Lambirth, Andrew. 2019. Ron King : Alphabets, Bandits & Collaborations. Oakham: Goldmark Gallery. Exhibition catalogue.

Books On Books Collection – Chris Edwards

A Fluke: A Mistranslation of Stéphane Mallarmé’s “Un Coup De Dés…” with Parallel French Pretext (2005)

A Fluke follows in the footsteps of several parodists of Un coup de Dés and even more “homageurs”. Edwards mingles bilingual homophonic mistranslation with the monolingual variety, false cognates, mis-contextualization and more to deliver his “fluke”. Part of that “more” leads off with the subtitle and the side-by-side prefaces.

The pun in “pretext” plays out not just in the word itself but in Edwards’ squeezing into one page the French predecessor alongside its English exaggeration. The squeeze harks back to Mallarmé’s “Note” being added to the Cosmopolis issue, where it first appeared, at the insistence of the editors. Having led with the pun and clown-car layout, Edwards follows on with a fright wig (mixed metaphors, too, are part of the “more”). He turns Mallarmé’s tongue-in-cheek “I would prefer that one not read this Note or that having read it, one forgets it” into “I wish I knew what lunatic pasted this Note here– …”.

Edwards’ preface is proleptic — to use the word with which the overlording associate professor interrupted the teaching assistant’s nervous first lecture on how a poem’s opening line can encapsulate the working of the whole. (But nevermind the digression, though digression is another part of Edwards’ “more”). In transforming “Lecteur habile” [“practiced Reader”] into “Hannibal Lecter”, Edwards forecasts such transformations as “SOIT / que” [“Whether”] to “SO IT / came to pass”, “l’Abîme” [“the Abyss”] to “the Bistro” and “LE HASARD” [“CHANCE”] to “BIO-HAZARD”. After the preface, Edwards spreads his sails — so to speak. The French moves to the verso, the English to the recto. The double-page spreads of the 1914 edition of Un coup de Dés are nevertheless crammed into a single page to facilitate enjoyment of the pretext’s mistranslation.

But no, “proleptic” is not le mot juste (which juste goes to prove that the professor remains mal dit, if not maudit). Nothing in the side-by-side prefaces prepares the reader (or Hannibal Lecter) for Mallarmé’s “COMME SI …. COMME SI” becoming Edwards’ exactly mapped, appropriately italicized, all caps loan phrase “COMME SI … COMME ÇA“. And so it goes — linguistic, spatial, typographic, cultural antics piled atop each other.

Edwards’ madcapping his way to A Fluke must have been part of a global warming trend in pastiche. How else to explain Jim Clinefelter’ A Throw of the Snore Will Surge the Potatoes (1998), John Tranter’s “Desmond’s Coupé” (2006) and Rodney Graham’s Poème: Au Tatoueur (2011)? If the trend is there, it had a hidden beginning distant in time but geographically close to Edwards.

In New South Wales Public Library in 1897, when that issue of Cosmopolis arrived, a cataloger-cum-poet/scholar named Christopher Brennan seized on it. Shortly after publishing his own XXI Poems: MDCCCXCIII-MDCCCXCVII: Towards the Source (1897), Brennan received several negative reviews of his Mallarmé-influenced poetry. Turning to Un coup de Dés for solace and a format with which to tear the critics to shreds, he performed his own coup in calligraphied manuscript where it remained undelivered until 1981, when it was published in facsimile by Hale & Iremonger (see below). In length alone, its title — Prose-Verse-Poster-Algebraic-Symbolico-Riddle Musicopoematographoscope — must have had some influence on Edwards’ subtitle. Or perhaps it was just a coincidence, a fluke.

Further Reading

Jim Clinefelter“, Books On Books Collection, 17 July 2020. An American-English mis-translation.

Rodney Graham“, Books On Books Collection, 3 July 2020. Un coup de Dés as instructions to a tattoo artist.

Barnes, Katherine E. “With a smile barely wrinkling the surface: Christopher Brennan’s large Musicopoematographoscope and Mallarmé’s Un Coup de dés“, Dix-Neuf, Vol. 9, No.1 (2007), pp. 44-56. Accessed 25 November 2020.

Brennan, Christopher. XXI Poems: MDCCCXCIII-MDCCCXCVII: Towards the Source (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1897).

Edwards, Chris. People of Earth: Poems (Sydney: Vagabond Press, 2011). The mistranslation is printed without the “French pretext”. The briefest comparison provides a convincing argument for the artistic and comic genius of the 2005 version. People of the Earth itself does reveal more of Edwards’ poetic and philosophical grasp of the issues that preoccupied Mallarmé and the avant garde when it comes to language, glyphs, meaning and the technique of collage.

Fagan, Kate. “‘A Fluke? [N]ever!’: Reading Chris Edwards“, Journal for the Association for the Study of Australian Literature, Vol. 12, No. 1 (2012). Accessed 25 November 2020.

Tranter, John. “Desmond’s Coupé“, Jacket 29, April 2006. Accessed 1 July 2020. Another Australian spoof of Un coup de Dés.

Books On Books Collection – Christopher Brennan

Prose-Verse-Poster-Algebraic-Symbolico-Riddle Musicopoematographoscope and Pocket Musicopoematographoscope (1897/1981)

Prose-Verse-Poster-Algebraic-Symbolico-Riddle Musicopoematographoscope and Pocket Musicopoematographoscope (Hale & Iremonger, 1897/1981)
Christopher Brennan
Hardback, facsimile edition of the handwritten manuscript. H390 x W270 x 16 mm, 40 pages. Acquired from Richard Axe Books, 12 November 2020.

Just as Stéphane Mallarmé’s Un coup de Dés jamais n’abolira le Hasard (1897) launched a new host of visual poems in the 20th and 21st centuries, it also launched a host of homage and parodies. Perhaps the quickest off the dock was the Australian Christopher Brennan. Already a fan of Mallarmé, Brennan, who worked at the New South Wales Public Library, seized on the May 1897 issue of Cosmopolis when it arrived and found in Mallarmé’s poem just the form with which to respond to the rough ride Australian critics had given to his own XXI Poems: MDCCCXCIII-MDCCCXCVII: Towards the Source (1897).

Not until 1981, though, was his tinker’s damn published. Given the debated choices of layout, typeface and illustrations that Un coup de Dés in book form had faced since 1897 and would continue to face after 1981, the choice to publish a facsimile of Brennan’s calligraphic effort was well made — perhaps even artistically original. Book artists have blotted out the poem, excised it, collaged, illustrated, performed, recorded (and cast the sonographs in three-dimensional PVC), programmed it into computer graphics, typed it out on a modified typewriter, and more. But it has not yet had a calligraphic treatment.

Brennan’s Prose-Verse-Poster-Algebraic-Symbolico-Riddle Musicopoematographoscope is the perfect homage and starting point for anniversary celebrations of the publication of Un coup de Dés jamais n’abolira le Hasard (1897). There is still time before the 125th anniversary for a new calligraphic homage.

Further Reading

Jim Clinefelter“, Books On Books Collection, 17 July 2020. An American-English mis-translation.

Chris Edwards“, Books On Books Collection, 7 December 2020. An Australian-English mis-translation.

Rodney Graham“, Books On Books Collection, 3 July 2020. Un coup de Dés as instructions to a tattoo artist.

Barnes, Katherine E. “With a smile barely wrinkling the surface: Christopher Brennan’s large Musicopoematographoscope and Mallarmé’s Un Coup de dés“, Dix-Neuf, Vol. 9, No.1 (2007), pp. 44-56. Accessed 25 November 2020.

Fagan, Kate. “‘A Fluke? [N]ever!’: Reading Chris Edwards“, Journal for the Association for the Study of Australian Literature, Vol. 12, No. 1 (2012). Accessed 25 November 2020.

Bookmarking Book Art – Gary Young and Felicia Rice

Poem: a throw of the dice will never abolish chance (1990)

Mallarmé, Stéphane, D. J. Waldie (trans.), Gary Young, and Felicia Rice. 1990. Poem: a throw of the dice will never abolish chance. [Santa Cruz, Calif.]: Greenhouse Review Press. The binding is full goatskin leather, 15.5 x 11.375 in, 44 pages. Edition of 60. Photos: Courtesy of D. J. Waldie and Gary Young.

To the growing body of homage to Un Coup de Dés, D.J. Waldie and Gary Young added this fine press livre d’artiste. In keeping with Waldie’s reading of Danielle Mihram’s analysis of the proofs of the intended Mallarmé/Vollard livre d’artiste and Waldie’s own examination of the proofs at Harvard, Young’s four woodcuts are presented separately from the text and aim to honor Mallarmé’s desire for images that are “blond and pale” in relation to the white of les blancs and the sharp black of the type. The design by Young and Felicia Rice used several cuttings of Bodoni to approximate the Firmin-Didot of the original proofs.

Further Reading

Robert Bononno & Jeff Clark“, Books On Books Collection, 26 October 2020.

Mitsou Ronat & Tibor Papp“, Books On Books Collection, 6 November 2020.

Hubert, Renée Riese, and Judd David Hubert, eds. 2003. A Throw of the Dice: Artists Inspired by a Visual Text. Claremont, CA: Scripps College.

Mihram, Danielle. 1979. “The Abortive Didot/Vollard Edition of Un Coup de Dés“. French Studies, 33.1: 39–56.

Waldie, D.J. 2001.”The Ghost of an Obsession: Translating Mallarmé’s A Throw of the Dice will Never Abolish Chance“. Parnassus: Poetry in Review , 26.1: 180-85.

Books On Books Collection – Claire Jeanine Satin

Alphabet Cordenons paper book (2020)

Alphabet Cordenons paper book (2020)
Claire Jeanine Satin
One of a series of unique works, each created with Cordenons paper, a fine paper that has been manufactured in Italy since 1630. This book uses alphabet letters, glittery strips of ribbon, sequins, crystals, and monofilament to create precise and inventive designs on the cover and each page. In a lavender cloth bag. Measures 9 x 7 inches. 10 unnumbered pages. Acquired from The Kelmscott Bookshop, 8 February 2021. Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist.

Claire Janine Satin’s Alphabet Cordenons is part of series of works celebrating this paper made in a mill established in Cordonens, Italy in 1630 and still being produced there.

Satin ribbon with graduated shifts of color, colored foil backing that lightens and darkens, and glittering beads threaded on multi-colored fish line call attention to the encaustic-like sheen that comes from the inclusion of mica in making Cordenons Stardream (285 gms) paper.

The finish’s indeterminacy under shifting light seems to find a mirror in the random order, selection and placement of the letters as well as the changing orientation of the ribbon.

Even more indeterminate is the fish line that flips about, curls within, and slips without the turning pages.

Of the 35 or so variants in Satin’s Cordenons series, Alphabet Cordenons suits the Books On Books Collection perfectly.

Further Reading and Viewing

Abecedaries I (in progress)”, Books On Books Collection, 31 March 2020.

Satin, Claire Jeanine. 1997. Alphabooks (Portfolios). Each topped with a water jet cut tile that features the alphabetic notation system to which the portfolio. The rim is stamped in gold letters: the spoken word flies away, the written word remains ( in Latin). Accessed 15 August 2020.

Satin, Claire Jeanine. 2006. Pentimento LCI: Open wide your hands, or the Twelve Tribes.
Printing on acetape with monofilaments and glass beads. Housed in black cardboard box. Library of Congress Collection. Accessed 17 February 20020.

Vermeer, Beth. May 2016. “Claire Jeanine Satin and her research on Henry James”, Design of the Universe. Accessed 17 February 2020.

Books On Books Collection – Marian Macken

Ise Jingū: Beginning Repeated (2011)

Ise Jingū: Beginning Repeated (2011)
Marian Macken
Black Cotona bookcloth portfolio, with embossed base; 61 sheets of handmade washi paper, made from kozo, with watermark images. H245 x W330 x D80 mm. Papermaking undertaken at Primrose Paper Arts, Sydney, with assistance from Jill Elias. Unique. Acquired from the artist, 5 February 2021. Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist.

Ise Jingū is a Shinto shrine complex in the Mie Prefecture, Japan, consisting of the Kōtai Kaijijingū, or Naikū (Inner Shrine), and the Toyouke Kaijingū, or Gekū (Outer Shrine). “Once every 20 years, since the reign of Emperor Tenmu in the seventh century, every fence and building is completely rebuilt on an identical adjoining site, a practice of transposition known as shikinen-zōkan. While empty and awaiting the next iteration of building, the unused site or kodenchi sits silently, covered with an expanse of pebbles” (Binding Space, p. 101). For Macken, this ritualistic rebuilding poses architecture as performative process rather than as inert object; it “manifests the replication of a beginning, of a process” (“Reading time”, p. 100).

What better suited phenomenon to be captured with book art?

Referring to the shikinen-zōkan process, Ise Jingū: Beginning Repeated consists of 61 loose sheets with a watermarked image within each, the number reflecting the 61 iterations of the shrine up until the making of Ise Jingū: Beginning Repeated. The watermark is a perspective image based on Yoshio Watanabe’s photograph of the East Treasure House of the Inner Shrine, taken in 1953 on the occasion of the 59th rebuilding. The contrast of the reduction of a photo to a drawing with the subtle embodiment of that image in kozo entices reflection on the phenomenon of representation.

By shifting the image’s placement on every other sheet to mirror its placement on the preceding one, Macken makes the reader’s page turning replicate the process of shikinen-zōkan. As one sheet yields to the next, the differences between them, arising from the washi papermaking process, reflect the subtle variations within similarity arising in the shrine’s transposition from one site to the other. When the last sheet is removed from the portfolio, the position of the temple supports are revealed.

Macken’s book Binding Space: The Book as Spatial Practice offers further insight into Ise Jingū: Beginning Repeated, but more than that, it provides penetrating discussion of various forms of book art and specific works such as Olafur Eliasson’s Your House, Michael Snow’s Cover to Cover and Johann Hybschmann’s Book of Space. Although the book’s principal argument is why and how the artist book can serve as an important tool for design, documentation and critique of architecture, Macken’s perceptive descriptions show how to observe materiality and its functioning and understand how they contribute to the making of art. Reading Macken’s book will sharpen the ability of any reader or viewer to appreciate book art.

Exhibition: “The Book as Site”, Research Gallery, Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney, Australia, 2012. Photos: Joshua Morris. Displayed with permission of the artist.

Further Reading

Architecture“, Bookmarking Book Art, 12 November 2018.

Fred Siegenthaler“, Books On Books Collection, 10 January 2021. For more on “watermark art”.

Macken, Marian. 2018. Binding Space: The Book as Spatial Practice. London and New York: Routledge.

Macken, Marian. 2015. “Reading time: the book as alternative architectural practice“. Cowley, Des, Robert Heather, and Anna Welch. Creating and collecting artists’ books in Australia. Special issue of The LaTrobe Journal.

Pallasmaa, Juhani. 2019. The eyes of the skin: architecture and the senses. Chichester: Wiley. Another whetstone for sharpening the ability to appreciate book art.

Tange, Kenzō, Noboru Kawazoe, Yoshio Watanabe, and Yusaku Kamekura. 1965. Ise. Prototype of Japanese architecture. Kenzo Tange, Noboru Kawazoe. Photographs by Yoshio Watanabe. Layout and book design by Yusaku Kamekura. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Books On Books Collection – Willow Legge

The Flea (1980)

The Flea (1980, 2nd edition)
Willow Legge
Sewn pamphlet, J. Green mould-made paper; dark brown card cover with one-eighth fold for end leaves. H300 x W200 mm cover; H285 x W190 mm, 8 pages. Blind-embossed intaglio design printed from carved linoleum in combination with a reversed photo-engraving. Text printed letter-press in 14 pt Baskerville. Acquired from Ron King Studio, 2 February 2021.

The Gnat and the Lion (1982)

The Gnat and the Lion (1982)
Willow Legge
Sewn pamphlet, 300 gsm Somerset rag-made paper; gold brown card with two-thirds fold for end leaves. H290 x W203 mm cover; H290 x W190 mm, 8 pages. Two blind-intaglio designs carved from lino. Printed letter-press in 14 pt Optima. Acquired from Ron King Studio, 2 February 2021. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Further Reading

Willow Legge“, Society of Portrait Sculptors, n.d. Accessed 4 February 2021.

Hancock, Nicola. “A studio interview with Ron King and Willow Legge“, Artist Interview, Chichester Art Trail Artists, 2 May 2018. Accessed 4 February 2021.

Books On Books Collection – Nerma Prnjavorac Cridge

Sarajevska Abeceda (2019)

Sarajevska Abeceda (2019)
Nerma Prnjavorac Cridge
Paperback coloring book. H217 x W215 mm, 34 pages. Acquired from Amazon, 3 January 2021. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Сapajeвск Aзбукa (2020)

Сapajeвск Aзбукa (2020)
Нермa Прњaворaџ Криџ
Paperback coloring book. H217 x W215 mm, 36 pages. Acquired from Amazon, 6 January 2021. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

These two coloring books do not integrate letters and buildings as Johann David Steingruber’s Architectural Alphabet does, but they speak to the multilingual theme recurrent in book art and the abecedaries in the Books On Books Collection (see Further Reading). In this case, the artist uses the two alphabets and the besieged city’s architecture as a memorial to her father, who was wounded in the siege.

The books also act as an entry point to Cridge’s installation art, which engages with what Ian Wallace has called “the literature of images”. Two particular installations — both curated by Cambridge’s Art Language Location (ALL) — serve to demonstrate the affinity of her art with themes in the Books On Books Collection: comm(o)nism (2018) and Antonym/Synonym (2019).

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress), Books On Books Collection, 31 March 2020.

Architecture“, Books On Books Collection, 12 November 2018.

Cridge, Nerma Prnjavorac. 2017. Drawing the unbuildable: Seriality and reproduction in architecture. London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group. See also “Antoine Lefebvre Éditions“, Books On Books Collection, 28 September 2020, for a work of book art related to the “unbuildable” Tatlin Monument.

Books On Books Collection – Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich

Bembo’s Zoo: An Animal ABC Book (2000)

Bembo’s Zoo: An Animal ABC Book (2000)
Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich
Hardback. H222 x W340 x D1.0 mm, 32 pages.

Each animal is drawn using the Roman letters of the Bembo font family, based on a letter cut by Francesco Griffo (1450-1518) for the Venetian printer for Aldus Manutius (1450-1515) and named after the prolific Renaissance scholar Pietro Bembo (1470-1547). Stanley Morison (1889-1967) revived the font while at the Monotype Corporation.

For the Books On Books Collection, Bembo’s Zoo is a light-hearted reminder of the abecedaries and typographic themes of more serious works.

Further Reading

Abecedaries ( (in progress), Books On Books Collection, 31 March 2020.

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

Heavenly Monkey“, Books On Books Collection, 23 November 2020. For a bio-bibliography of Francesco Griffo.

More Manutius in Manchester and More to Come“, Bookmarking Book Art, 1 June 2015.

Books On Books Collection – Marlene MacCallum and the “Shadow Cantos”

Shadow Canto Series (2018-2019)
Marlene MacCallum

Shadow Canto One: Still Life (2018)

Shadow Canto One: Still Life (2018)
Marlene MacCallum.
Handbound artist’s book with slipcase, pamphlet binding with gatefold structure, digital pigment print on Aya. H237 × 175 × 10 mm (closed dimensions). Edition of 15, of which this is #3. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Opening the book’s gatefold. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Leafing through the book. Top view of binding and folds. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

According to the artist, Canto One had its dual inception in the death of a cedar waxwing at one of her windows and an image from Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire (1962), a novel consisting of the fictitious poet John Shade’s 999-line poem of the same title: “I was the shadow of the waxwing slain by the false azure in the windowpane…”. While MacCallum’s Canto One appropriates and overwrites Nabokov’s text and, in her images and constructions, alludes to Shade’s imagery of the viewer seeing reflections and doublings of the interior and exterior spaces, the work stands entirely on its own but, in light of what follows, also as the opening movement to what feels like a long poem or symphony.

Shadow Canto Two: Graffiti (2018)

Shadow Canto Two: Graffiti (2018)
Marlene MacCallum
Hand bound artist’s book with slipcase, accordion binding with hard covers, digital pigment print on Aya (bird images) and Niyodo (music images), slipcase constructed of stained Tyvek wrapped around eterno boards, H237 × W160 × D14 mm (closed). Edition of 15, of which this is #3. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Unfolding side one of Canto Two. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Canto Two layers images of a dead bird lying on the ground with photos of anonymous graffiti art depicting birds in flight against the concrete walls of an underpass in Rochester, NY. The sense of counterpoint raised by the images carries over to the reverse side of the accordion structure.

Unfolding side two of Canto Two. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Between a single bird image across the two end panels, MacCallum has overlaid further bird imagery on musical notations from Bach, Mendelssohn and Satie that are merged into composite images across the interior accordion panels. The way the images of birds, ground and wall, and musical notation dance with one another foreshadows another intricate play in Canto Three.

Shadow: Incidental Music (2019)

Shadow: Incidental Music (2019)
Marlene MacCallum.
Hand bound book work with image accordion suspended over text accordion. Images are digital pigment prints on Digital Aya, hand-set letterpress poem and blind embossed soundscape letterpress. Case bound with digital pigment print covers. Dimensions: H237 × W159 × D11 mm (closed), H236 × W30o mm (page spread). Edition of 16, of which this is #3. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Just as much as do the images, the structure of this work’s binding amazes — repeatedly. The top views show its intricacy but only partially.

Circling around the standing view from left to right, the view of a room unfolds and a dancer’s shadow appears and disappears.

After the standing view concludes and the horizontal view is to be indulged, yet another structural surprise comes from the printed text at the foot of the panels behind the folds and still another surprise at the head of those panels: single lines of embossed text evoking sound. Together, the images on the exterior panels and the printed and embossed texts on the interior appear to be reminders to look not only in the corners but to the floor and ceiling of the room as well.

With MacCallum’s other works (see Further Reading), the Shadow Cantos put her work in the same class as Michael Snow’s Cover to Cover (1975) and Abelardo Morrell’s A Book of Books (2002). If Shadow Cantos is an open series, a fourth volume has high hurdles to clear, which are perhaps raised even higher by the next work.

Shadows Cast and Present (2019)

The artist gratefully acknowledges the Canada Council for the Arts Digital Originals grant program for funding this project and the CBC/Radio Canada for partnering to provide a national platform for this new work.

Given the conceptual and synesthetic play within the three cantos, this digital re-imagination of them follows on with a natural ease. With the assistance of Matthew Hollett and David Morrish, the artist has created an online variation of the long-poem format. Images, text, video and soundscapes come together in an interactive presentation of shadows cast in domestic spaces and by daily activities. Click on the image above or here to view.

Further Reading

Marlene MacCallum“, Books On Books Collection, 2 September 2019.

Levergneux, Louise. “New Year, New Work“, Half-Measure Studio Blog, 5 January 2021.

Books On Books Collection – Masoumeh Mohtadi

“I AM SEEKING TO UNEARTH A SOLUTION BEYOND THE CONVENTIONAL SYSTEM OF LANGUAGE FOR MAKING CONNECTIONS.” Masoumeh Mohtadi

Blindness (2020)

Blindness (2020)
Masoumeh Mohtadi
Altered paperback, Persian/Farsi translation of Blindness by José Saramago. H210 x W145 x D20 mm, ۳۱۸ (318) pages. Unique. Acquired from Bavan Gallery, 9 January 2021.

As would be expected, the binding of this Persian trade paperback is on the right, but its front cover and copyright page promise the unexpected. Excising lines of text from every page in the book, Mohtadi then physically reweaves Saramago’s gripping tale of a pandemic of sudden blindness into illegibility, varied patterns and heightened tactility.

The flimsiness of the pages slows their turning. As does their frequent catching at one another as they turn. In the slow turning, different woven patterns appear — some suddenly, some gradually. Some patterns bring to mind the streets and cityscape the novel’s characters can no longer see. Some, the hospital warrens the quarantined inhabit. Some, the tradition of carpet weaving.