Book from the Sky to Book from the Ground (2020) Xu Bing Casebound, paper on board cover, sewn and capped with headbands. H257 x W182 x D22 mm, 216 pages. Accordion fold insert of An Introduction to Square Word Calligraphy, 38 panels, first panel cover, last panel pasted down. Four-panel insert of Square Word Calligraphy — Red Line Tracing Book, first panel cover, last panel pasted down. Four-page insert on translucent paper of English translation of the original Chinese painting Himalayas Landscript (Sketchbook). The page count here includes the preliminaries and the translucent insert. Acquired from ACC Art Books, 21 January 2021.
Perhaps the artist’s best introduction to Book from the Sky (1986-2012), Square Word Calligraphy (1993~), Landscript Series (1999~), and Book from the Ground (2003~). The timeline appendix runs through 2019, including the exhibition “The Art of the People” held at the Centro del Carme Gallery in Valencia, Spain (see a documented visit here). The publisher’s production values are exceptional. The full-color printing on matte paper is as true to a first-hand view of the works as could be hoped. The inserts reproduce the larger, scarce Square Word Calligraphy works, which makes this volume a collectible item in its own right.
A Prayer in Hell (2018) Jack Oudyn Palm leaf prayer book format of 12 timber slats with double-sided collages materials and images made with pomegranate ink on antique paper, water soluble crayon calico, wound dressings and PVA adhesive. Text from Nauru Files — Guardian Newspaper and Islamic prayer book. Open: H195 x W130 mm. Closed: H195 x W 55 x D35 mm. Slip case: 2 mm card with collage, H202 x W60 x D38 mm, to be displayed with the book. Unique. Acquired from the artist, 4 January 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artist.
A Prayer in Hell is one of Jack Oudyn’s larger works. works refer to the Australian experience of the world’s refugee crisis (perhaps the largest diaspora in history), A Prayer in Hell is the most scorching of them all.
Materially, the work embodies the refugees and their experience in many ways — its palm-leaf prayer book pages even consist of “stressed and recycled timber slats”. The binding cords penetrate drawings of eyes on each slat, creating the effect of the faceless staring through bars. Although the work’s title alludes to the English expression “not a hope in hell”, the work itself nods toward hope appears in how the wound dressings, wound round the slat pages, gradually become cleaner. Under and over the dressings, strips of English and Arabic text are collaged alongside handwritten extracts from Islamic prayer books and reports of events and conditions in Australian detention centers. Complete with redactions, the English text refers to the scandals associated with the centers at Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Christmas and Manu islands.
Fish Books One, Two, Threeand Four (1999 – 2001)
All acquired from the artist, 4 January 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artist.
This complete set of his fish books represents Oudyn’s Micro Press imprint well. Many of the small works are playful with language, form, and material and, often, socially satirical or critical. More hook-in-mouth than tongue-in-cheek, the fish books have provided the artist with ground for playing with collage and printing techniques. In imagery, they are reminiscent of Ric Haynes, Breughel and Bosch. In text, they encapsulate the punsterdom of book art (albeit without the usual book-related self-referencing, though “fish wrapper” would have been good for their covers); reveal the artist’s Dutch heritage in their numbering; and revel in Australia’s odd common fishnames (dart, flattie, stargazer, sweetlips, etc.). By Fish Book Four (2001), however, a socially sharper tone emerges. The dates of publication, which vary from those in the WorldCat links for each title, are taken from the artist’s website.
The Very First Book of Fish (1999) Jack Oudyn Booklet made of 200 gsm digital paper, sewn with single white waxed thread, 16 pages. Color laser print of mixed media drawings; ink, paint, collage on pages from telephone directory. H70 x W105 mm, 16 pages. Edition of 50, of which this is #27. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artist.
Fish Book Two(1999) Same format as first, except sewn with single red waxed thread; #49 of 50.
Fish Book Four(2001) Same format as third, except sewn with single dark gray waxed thread: #13 of 50.
‘ATE X 10 (2011) Jack Oudyn Japanese stab-bound booklet, with wax paper cover and Momigami fly leaves. H54 x W74 mm, 10 train ticket sleeves holding 10 small numbered cards collaged with advertising brochure photos. Edition of 2, of which this is #2. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artist.
‘ATE X 10 demonstrates Oudyn’s wont to play language, form and material off image and vice versa. Bound in a Japanese stab binding by waxed thread and wax paper from the fish markets at Tsukiji in Tokyo, the book begins with a front fly leaf page bearing a tag line from the breast exercise mantra; on the same Momigami paper, the end fly leaf bears the colophon. The pages are made of Japanese train ticket sleeves containing numbered cards collaged with small photos from advertising brochures found near railway stations. As the fly leaf hints, the modest photos come from ads for breast enhancement services, an 8 x 10 promise relative to the images presented.
’16 Century Map’ (2012) Jack Oudyn Tab/slot-bound, single-fold, map paper on board, covering three outward-opening triangular cut tabs over center map paper on board; ink-stamped and drawn, with “you are here” sticker in lower left corner. H70 x W72 mm (closed). Unique. Acquired from the artist, 4 January 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artist.
This small unique work — and those that follow — lie outside the Micro Press imprint. As the artist writes on his blog, this is a trial attempt at juxtaposing the exterior old European map (showing Mesopotamia and the Euphrates, the Northern hemisphere’s cradle of civilization) with the interior Australian map of the Kakadu National Park to get at the concept of Tjukurpa, by which Australia’s Anangu refer to the creation period.
It is not strictly a Turkish-fold map, but the way the tab with indigenous colors snugly closes ’16 Century Map’ is just as mechanically satisfying.
vis-à-vis | face to face (2014)
vis-à-vis | face to face (2014) Jack Oudyn Blizzard-fold booklet, mixed media and collage with tea bag paper. H100 x W70 mm, six panels. Unique. Acquired from the artist, 4 January 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artist.
A heavily stained, empty teabag glued across the two boards, whose opening is closed with the teabag string wrapped around a wooden button, serves for this booklet’s binding. A conversation between two people struggling for words, hence the near random use of found text, occupies the six panels. The abstract faces profiles are characteristic of Oudyn’s work, as is the use of acrylic medium as a block out or resist. Or perhaps it is egg yolk, which would be in keeping with the reference to eggs and, with the tea stains, in keeping with a breakfast-table conversation.
Age Marks (2014)
Age Marks (2014) Jack Oudyn Handmade waxed and stained paper book by Trace Willans. Mixed media and collage on paper. H85 x W65 x D10 mm, 44 pages. Unique. Acquired from the artist, 4 January 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artist.
Trace Willans makes blank books from organic, sustainable media. Age Marks began as one of these blanks, its pages consisting of lightly textured machine-made lightweight paper (ca. 100 gsm), some stained and waxed. The result is not exactly an inscribed blank notebook, not exactly an altered book. Oudyn’s use of mixed media of different hand-made papers, tracing paper, found text, wax, reflective road tape, postage stamps, white acrylic ink, gouache and pigment creates a unique record of the aging process of mark making. Marks made by conversation, observation, inscription, printing, writing, drawing, collation, lifts and reveals, cutting, tearing, pasting, weaving, binding — all filtered through aging.
Small as it is, Age Marks is one of the most varied haptic experiences in the collection.
The Future of an Illusion (2017)
The Future of an Illusion (2017) Helen Malone and Jack Oudyn Sculptural tunnel book structure (three joined four-fold leporellos) enclosed in a folder and protective boxin a box,. Box made with Lamali handmade paper, suede paper (lining) and Somerset Black 280 gsm; Folder: Canson black 200gsm, skull button and waxed thread; Leporellos: center leporello made of Canson black 200 gsm, linen thread adjoining two leporellos made of Arches watercolour paper 185 gsm with acrylic, soluble carbon, gouache and transfer ink jet images. Box: H275 x W313 x D34 mm; Folder: H258 x W295 x D21 mm; Book: H250 x W290 x D16 mm closed, D410 mm open. One of an unnumbered, signed edition of 4. Acquired from Helen Malone, 12 September 2017.
This work’s title could not be more apropos. It is a scratchy thing to hold, its pages stiff and crackling as they turn. Patterns, images and letters struggle to emerge, only to be submerged by each other on the same or next page, which goes to show how difficult it must be to achieve entirely asemic markings. “Roughly asemic” might be the best hoped for.
Foster, Robin. “Feature Artist – Jack Oudyn“, Personal Histories, International Artist Book Exhibition, Redland Museum, UNSW, Canberra. 11 March 2014. Accessed 19 October 2020.
Image of map of My Ántonia reproduced in A Close Read: The Cather Projects (2012) Barbara Tetenbaum and Jennifer Viviano Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artist.
For the Books On Books Collection, Barbara Tetenbaum’s works have offered a map for exploring the different ways that text, image, structure and material bring about enjoyment and meaning in book art and bookmaking. Broadsides, chapbooks, a codex, a sculpture and, yes, a map have joined the collection over time.
The broadside and chapbook forms seem to be both a rite of passage and a pastime of pleasure for book artists. For Tetenbaum, it has been both of these and a rite of remembrance of friendship. During Tetenbaum’s time at Circle Press, founded and run by UK artist Ron King, she reconnected with Chicago friends poet Michael Donaghy and his wife Maddy Paxman, who had moved earlier to London. Understandably taken with his poetry, she chose his “Machines” when King offered her the chance to set and print anything she liked while King and his wife were away on vacation.
The earliest of Tetenbaum’s work in this collection, the chapbook Machines (1986) pairs Donaghy’s neo-metaphysical poem with the asemic markings that Tetenbaum had begun to pursue as a technique in 1985. Taken on their own, the markings do not call to mind any particular image or metaphor in the poem. Considered more closely as a physical response to the poem, though, they do share in the poem’s building rhythm and density (see further commentary here).
Back in the US, the artist continued with the marks and Donaghy’s words. The broadside below was the result. This time, technique, form and subject cannot avoid similarity — like a reflection in a mirror. ‘Smith’ has a regularity but looseness often found in Donaghy’s poems, something essential to their charm. The iambic pentameter is not always iambic or ten-syllabled, and the length of stanzas vary. Flush right to Donaghy’s flush left, Tetenbaum’s lines of marking mirror the poem’s ragged right and variable counts — but not precisely.
A love poem that takes off from the act of trying to remember forging a name in a hotel register for an assignation that forged something true and lasting, ‘Smith’ is about making one’s mark as artist and responding, intimately, one human to another. To transfer her marks made in response to the poem, Tetenbaum used
coated wire (bell wire) brought to type high on a piece of MDF covered in carpet tape to hold them in place. This is a technique I learned from Elmar Heimbach and used in a bit of the illustration in O’Ryan’s Belt. (Correspondence with artist, 21 November 2020. Link added.)
Another of Tetenbaum’s earliest chapbooks, Donaghy’s O’Ryan’s Belt (1991) foreshadows her move toward work that responds with a growing independent relationship to the text.
The spine of O’Ryan’s Belt consists of a small fold. Inside, on either side of it, is a gathering of folios. The two sets of folios are sewn (belted?) together through the small fold. Each set includes a tunnel-book-like artwork of three layers. The first sits adjacent to the poem “A Spectacle”, and the second, to “The Hunter’s Purse”, a line from which the chapbook takes its name.
View of the “internal spine”, an inward fold of the cover creating a tab to which signatures on either side are sewn.
View of the tunnel-book image adjacent to “A Spectacle”
The colophon explains that stencils, string and other found objects were used to print the illustrations. Note how the artworks’ lines cross the pages but not into the space of their adjacent poems. It’s as if the artwork is asserting a claim — this is a part of, but apart from; or this is apart from, but a part of. The images created by the artwork seem more related to “A Spectacle” than “The Hunter’s Purse”. Both artworks capture the idea of the image started by the lines “The shape of man, a shadow on the ground,/ Returns a mirror image from pondwater.” As the poem proceeds, we see through the shadow/mirror image to the objects and gravel at the bottom of the pool. Hinting at stalactites or stalagmites as well as the layers reflected on and beneath the water, the first paper sculpture makes sure we recognize the poet’s shadow boxing here with Plato’s cave.
So snugly fitted to the structure, the artwork seems to be waiting to surprise the reader.
The broadside Co-Pilot extends this structurally interpretive technique. The poem “Co Pilot” (no hyphen in the original) hilariously turns the speaker’s conscience into a parrot on his shoulder, “a tiny Charlton Heston” squawking the Ten Commandments. But there is no parrot, no Charlton Heston, no Ten Commandments in the broadside’s artwork beneath the typeset poem.
There is, however, an eye peeking from four holes scattered among bubble-like transparent circles printed over a collage of images and texts from newspapers, health and housekeeping guides (from the Fifties?), history books, clothing ads and prayer cards. Are the eyes the conscience in bubbles beneath the surface of a clear punch bowl? Are those images the compromised and socially mundane background noise of the party?
The collage comes from a large photoengraved block, originally made for a tiny book, Collage Book #3, which explains the urge to turn the broadside upside down to examine the image: it’s an imposition of the unfolded, uncut pages of that book (correspondence with the artist, 21 November 2020).
Not strictly a work in the collection, the installation The Reading Room (2002) should be mentioned here — not merely because it occurred the same year as Co-Pilot but also because it is a reminder of a constant theme and a harbinger of other installations to come. Thin slabs of plexiglas bearing text in black serif type hang at angles to one another from clear fishing line. The words, phrases and sentences suspended in air are drawn from a short story composed by Tetenbaum; they are what make The Reading Room a room for reading. That’s almost all there is to do in it. If, as Anthony Powell’s character Lindsay Bagshaw says, “Books do furnish a room”, Tetenbaum’s installation proves, “Words do furnish a room”. What reading is, can or might be is that constant theme in the artist’s works — whether evoked by asemic markings, a walk through the words of a story, a “map of reading” or a “diagram of wind”.
The Reading Room (2002) Barbara Tetenbaum Installation at Nine Gallery, Portland, OR, December 2002. Photos: Courtesy of the artist.
Half-Life (2005) is the collection’s representative codex by Tetenbaum. A catalogue raisonné for works between 1978 and 2005, with a chronology of the artist’s life and an appreciation of her work from Uta Schneider, the book reveals several of the influences on Tetenbaum’s development, including Ron King (as noted above) and Walter Hamady (evident particularly in the Co-Pilot broadside). Tetenbaum is generous in her collaborations and acknowledgments. Although closer to a fine press edition than anything produced by Dick Higgins, Half-Life notes in its colophon the influence of his FOEW&OMBWHNW (New York: Something Else Press, 1969).
For a body of work realized after Half-Life, Tetenbaum spent a month in a gallery listening to a recording of Willa Cather’s 1918 novel, My Ántonia. The result was two installations and two publications: a catalogue called A Close Read: My Ántonia (2010) and an “artist’s book” or “bookwork” called Mining My Ántonia: Excerpts, Drawings, and a Map (2012). The collection currently includes only the map and the catalogue. Some work in this category of “response to literary material” can be primarily craftwork — as in those well-known narrative scenes sculpted from the pages of the book in question. Other responses to books — including altered books — stand as works of art yielding depths of meaning and aesthetic response on their own.
Of course, the antecedent to this in literature is called ekphrasis. W.H. Auden’s ekphrastic poem Musée des Beaux Arts stands on its own — though with — Breughel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus. Even more so Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn stands on its own; the urn described is unknown. Tetenbaum’s direction of ekphrasis is inverse to that of Auden and Keats. The artwork comes after the literary expression. Nevertheless, her inversely ekphrastic artwork Mining My Ántonia stands on its own — though with — Cather’s My Ántonia.
A Close Read: The Cather Projects (2012) Barbara Tetenbaum and Jennifer Viviano Catalogue with three inserts sewn to folded card, published by Oregon Arts Commission. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artist.
For the collection, the map has been framed between two sheets of glass to make enjoyment of its translucent paper a daily possibility. Each time the catalogue is opened, its binding harks back to O’Ryan’s Belt (see above). Three inserts of different trim sizes are sewn into the central inwardly folded tab.
The first insert provides details from the 2010 installation; the double-page spread below recalls the dangling tags from The Reading Room (2002). The second insert shows images of the artist book Mining My Ántonia and details from the second installation in the Hoffman Gallery at Oregon College of Art and Craft (2012); an image of the map from Mining My Ántonia: Excerpts, Drawings, and a Map is shown at the start of this entry. The third insert is a 14-page pamphlet from Nathalia King, Professor of English and Humanities at Reed College where the first installation occurred.
Put aside — difficult as it may be — the play of craft and art so plainly suffusing the print, paper and binding of the catalog and artist book, what are their relation to the text that drove them? Is it like making a “movie of the book”? Are we looking at some new form of literary/artistic criticism? As Nathalia King’s essay walks us through the installation, she points out how it teaches the viewer to read My Ántonia in multiple ways. To what degree, though, can we appreciate Tetenbaum’s book art or installations without having read My Ántonia? They certainly inspire the reader/viewer to read or re-read the work. But inevitably this reader/viewer is drawn back to enjoying Tetenbaum’s “making the novel her own” (as in the pun on mining). As with all book art, the more informed we are about the “material” of which it is made, the greater the enjoyment. We want to make such a work our own — to mine it — which may send us back to multiple quarries from which the artist drew her material. Cather’s novel is not the only material of which Mining My Ántonia is made. It is made of the artist’s experience of the novel in print, the novel as read aloud and the exterior/interior space in which that occurred. It is made of various papers, tabs, reveals and media. The artist book offers a solitary way of ”material reading”, but with the catalogue, it also offers a glimpse at the ambulatory and perhaps social way of reading offered in the installations.
Also offering a different way of reading, Diagram of Wind (2015) pulls further away from its responding point than Mining My Ántonia. A line in Donaghy’s poem “Glass” provides the title for this sculptural work, and the work’s structure draws on the poem’s sestina form in its undulating, layering structure. Yet Diagram of Wind goes far beyond that.
There are seven “pages” to this work, each sewn to green book cloth panelled with wooden slats and backed with gampi. The first page carries Donaghy’s sestina, each line letterpress printed on a strip of paper pasted to gampi paper. Less wide than the sestina page and shorter than the third, the second page shows an etching image of waterspouts rising from a body of water with mountains in the background. Less wide than the second page and shorter than the fourth, the third page consists of narrow, evenly sized white strips of paper pasted on gampi. The fourth page, slightly wider than the preceding page but still shorter than the following, offers the school-book-like statements:
Air movements have
helped to change the
whole face of the earth.
We usually call air move-
ments wind. Wind may be
started when cold and
warm air masses are
next to each other.
Suddenly much less wide than the fourth page but still shorter than the sixth, the fifth page presents narrow dark panels or strips that narrow in themselves and narrow the space between them as they descend the page. Much wider than the preceding page, shorter than the seventh and printed with blue and white dots reminiscent of Co Pilot (above), the sixth page gives guidance on determining the amount of space to leave between the top of a flume (an engineering structure for measuring water flow) and the height of the water moving through it. The narrowest page of all and ending flush with the slatted backing, the seventh page shows a print similar to that on page two, but here between the evenly spaced paper strips, there is a small ship in the distance and the subsiding whirlpool and withdrawing upper part of a waterspout in the foreground.
The poem that inspired this work uses images of the natural world — sand, smoke, wind — to build its metaphor of love’s paradox (its holding fast with an open hand). Humanity is in the foreground, nature in the background. Tetenbaum’s Diagram of Wind reverses that. Nature with its air movements and waterspouts move into the foreground. Then humanity with its controlling and measuring flume comes into the middle ground. And finally it ends with humanity’s ship on the horizon and nature’s dissipating waterspout in the foreground. Even though by virtue of its page one position the poem is in the foreground, it has become as much “material” for the artwork as the paper, ink, wood, cloth, earthy colors and physical structure are. The artist has transformed the poem’s sestina shape, its use of nature and its paradox into “material” for Diagram of Wind. In this instance of inverse ekphrasis, Tetenbaum has created a work that stands independently of, and in dependence on, its literary inspiration.
Tetenbaum has provided another way to experience the Cather Projects: The Slow Read (2018). Take a wander through that site, composed of an introductory page to “a public literary and fine art project conceived and produced by Barbara Tetenbaum honoring the centenary of the publication of Willa Cather’s novel My Ántonia“, a set of seventy-four links to the daily scheduled readings, a blog section, a “concordance” that is more an unfolding of the installation and artist’s book than a listing of words and phrases against page references, and finally a portfolio of artwork by Tetenbaum.
Schneider, Uta. “Turning the Page”, pp. 18-28 in Tetenbaum, Barbara, James Carmin, and Uta Schneider. 2005. Half-life: 25 years of books by Barbara Tetenbaum & Triangular Press. Portland, OR: Triangular Press. Three key works not in the collection are described in Half-Life. The first would be an edition from the Gymnopaedia series, based on the artist’s response to Erik Satie’s musical compositions of the same name. The second would be Tetenbaum’s collaboration with Julie Chen that resulted in a powerfully moving work: Ode to a Grand Staircase (for Four Hands) (2001). The third key work returns to Donaghy’s poetry with the clear aim to incorporate sound in book art: Black Ice and Rain: Psalms 6.6 (2002). In the absence of the work itself, Uta Schneider’s description of it in Half-Life is as close as one can come to experiencing it.
Strange Papers: A Collection of the World’s Rarest Handmade Papers (1987)
Strange Papers(1987) Fred Siegenthaler Wooden, felt-lined briefcase, containing a large box enclosing a book and 101 rare handmade paper samples in individual portfolios. Covering paper for the box and book is two-layer handmade paper from Nepal made with the bast fiber of the Daphne papyracea. Briefcase: H x W x D mm. Box: H x W x D Book: H x W mm, 127 pages. Portfolios: Edition of 200 copies, of which this is #28, signed by Fred Siegenthaler. Acquired from Berkelouw Rare Books, 13 Aug 2020. Romana-Butten cover paper from Papierfabrik August Koehler in Oberkirch, W. Germany. Printed by G. Krebs in Basel, Switzerland.
As Siegenthaler explains in his preface, this is the work that started an international organization: the International Association of Hand Papermakers and Paper Artists (IAPMA). By 1986, Siegenthaler was well positioned to start this international association focused on paper art and the craft and science of papermaking. Since the late 1960s, he had been experimenting with strange material for paper — glass beads, hay, leather waste, stinging nettles, tobacco, wasps’ nests and much more. By the 1970s, he was supplying handmade custom papers to Helen Frankenthaler, Jasper Johns, Marisol, Claes Oldenburg among others. Travelling the world for business reasons (Sandoz), he began collecting paper samples from like-minded artists and papermakers in Mexico, Thailand, Viet Nam and more than 87 other countries. And he was “convinced that [he] had a duty to include these exclusive, beautiful and rare creations in [his] collection and preserve them for posterity”.
So, in November 1985, he began writing (by hand) to his network and, later, new association colleagues telling them of his plan for assembling Strange Papers. With the 200 samples of each paper, each selected contributor also provided a structured description of the raw materials and process used. The resulting book not only delivers a wealth of knowledge on the portfolios of samples but also contains items worth placing alongside the portfolios in an exhibition: a sample of a Taoist sacrificial money note on handmade rice paper with embossed gold leaf, plant drawings by Marilyn Wold and small samples of shifu and kinu-shifu (woven papers).
To hold a piece of papyrus and feel its natural curl toward scrolling, its roughness on one side and its smoothness yet segmentedness on the other, brings the history of paper alive. The differences among all the samples — in touch, appearance and, for some, even smell — is extraordinary. It is hard to choose what is most enjoyable about Strange Papers: reading the entries, holding each sample up to the light to examine it, comparing one sample with another, or deciding which is the strangest raw material.
The text — Browsing and reading the entries yields fascinating tidbits. Hawaii’s Akia plant has poisonous bark, roots and leaves, which are discarded in papermaking, but, according to Pam Barton, Hawaiians pound them, put them in a porous container and sink it in salt water pools to narcotize fish to be caught. Donna Koretsky advises observing the Fancy Manila Hemp paper under varying angles of light to see how the coloring changes. From the region where the Hollander beater was invented, De Zaanse Molen’t Weefhuis cites a letter from the paper scholar Henk Voorn that in large shipbuilding works, Moss Paper “was nailed to wood with so-called paper nails under the copper skin of the hull.” In making Jute Paper, Natan Kaaren in Israel “used old sacks … cut up into shreds and placed to rot in a barrel of water … about a year.” The confluence of patience, planning, sense of tradition, attention to detail, awareness of function with creative exuberance is the chief effect of the entries.
Inspection and comparison — Each of the 101 samples calls for inspection. Holding each one to the light and turning it side to side to see the change in effect is seductive. Photographing each paper backlit through its portfolio’s oval cutout shares some of this pleasure of inspection. To the oval cutout’s left, the number-stamped side is shown; to the right, the reverse side. Each sheet rests on its portfolio folder and is angled for viewing the surface. The six similarly named papers of the twelve composed of some form of grass leap out for comparison.
Sample 1.1 Composed of Poaceae — poa annua, poa trivialis. Netherlands. Not of the same family as the following sample, which goes to show how the same common name does not always identify the same substance. Both Lawn Grass samples were cut by lawn mower, but 1.1 was harvested over a longer period and fermented. Both were cooked for two hours, but 1.1 underwent another half hour of boiling. This sample’s darker color and slightly greater heft may be due to its difference in family or the washing process. Both feel brittle and make a crinkling sound when flexed.
Sample 19.5 Composed of Stenotaphrum secundatum. Israel. With this sample, the pulp was washed for a further two hours after boiling and then strained through a screen under high pressure, which may account for its greater translucence. Sample 19.5’s wrinkles are more shallow than 1.1’s and resembles wax paper. Both samples have a pungent dry grass smell.
Sample 14.2 Composed of Cortaderia selloana. Australia. The color and texture differ greatly from those of the next sample. This one is almost linen-like, not fully apparent from the photo, and is lighter, more flexible and less brittle than the next sample. It has almost no smell. The sample’s description is not extensive, which limits comparison of processing.
Sample 22.1 Also composed of Cortaderia selloana. USA. The darker color may be due to inclusion of stalks and fibrous plumes and possibly the season of harvesting. This sample is far less dense and far more brittle than 14.2. Where 14.2 has that linen-like texture on its number-stamped side, 22.1 is actually more polished between the bits of stalk or leaf. Its smell is slightly metallic.
Sample 15.5 Composed of Phragmites australis. Australia. Cut with a garden shredder before soaking then boiling in a solution of 17% caustic soda (500 gms in 30 liters). Beating occurred by chopping with a Chinese-style vegetable cleaver, then running through a sink garbage disposal unit, then running through a kitchen blender. Its color, lighter than the next sample’s, matches with its weight and stiffness, both less than the next sample’s.
Sample 18.1 Composed of Phragmites communis. USA. Cut into 2-3 inch length. Soaked then boiled in 20% caustic soda. Processed with a Hollander beater. The densest and least translucent of all the grass samples above. It has a huskier smell than the Common Reed sample above.
The strangest raw material — This is truly a contest. Carrots are a strong contender, but so are hemp from old fire brigade hoses, moss, peat and stinging nettles. The following are chosen due to their inorganic, silicate and worrisome nature. Except for the sample made of 100% polyethylene fibers, all others consist of organic material.
Sample 32.1 Composed of 100% asbestos fiber. Light and flimsy, it feels like cloth; seems odorless; but this is not one to handle or sniff too closely. Its white, greyish color and dimpled texture will be familiar to anyone who attended school in the latter half of the twentieth century and looked up the ceilings.
Sample 28.1 Composed of 70% strands of glass, containing about 200 tiny fibers, 20% Kozo and 10% polyvinyl alcohol fibers for binding. The glass strands feel tough and breakable; they shine like satin under glancing light; their pinkness comes from dye. Odorless.
Among the contributors with other works represented in the Books On Books Collection are Winifred Lutz, Maureen Richardson, Raymond Tomasso and Therese Weber. Each also appeared in one of the first seven books published for the Rijswijk Paper Biennial, which along with Siegenthaler’s works here, Helen Hiebert’s The Secret Life of Paper, paper samplers from Velma Bolyard and Maureen Richardson, works from Taller Leñateros, watermark art from Gangolf Ulbricht, and pulp painting works from Pat Gentenaar-Torley, John Gerard, Claire Van Vliet and Maria Welch form the core of the collection’s subset focused on paper. Other references are listed under Further Reading.
The Works and its update (below) are useful and valuable to have alongside Strange Papers. Both illustrate Siegenthaler’s breadth of artistry beyond papermaking, and the former includes a comprehensive essay on that artistry by Nana Badenberg. Along with John Gerard and Gangolf Ulbricht, Siegenthaler is one of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries’ masters at using watermarking to make art. His self-portrait, included in The Works, provides an outstanding example of watermark art, described at length by Badenberg. She records Siegenthaler’s watermark contributions to works by Horst Antes and Meret Oppenheim as well as his papermaking for the artists mentioned in this entry’s introduction. Her commentary on the technical, material and conceptual aspects of Siegenthaler’s work in each of its areas of development — “incorporation” (similar but more subtle than appropriation), “revealments”, book objects, paper castings of the human form, “repulpings” (recycling of precious papers), pulp painting and sculpturing, signage, erotica and religious works — enriches any encounter with his art.
Nachtrag zu: Fred Siegenthaler Das Werk: neue Arbeiten aus den Jahren 2010 bis 2015 / Addendum to: Fred Siegenthaler The Works: New Works from 2010 to 2015 (2016)
This double-page spread provides a snapshot of continuity and development. The cards made from repulping and recalling Siegenthaler’s earlier work with this technique speak to continuity — as does the juxtaposition of the overpaintings from 2000 and 2011 on the next page. The nature of Siegenthaler’s 2010-2015 absorption with color on the verso page contrasts with his earlier handling of color in the Kopfüssler and the facsimile leaf of the Gutenberg Bible on the recto. Like Strange Papers, the Addendum reflects the careful planning and exuberant creativity characteristic of Siegenthaler’s entire career.
The Vedute Foundation was established in 1991 to create a special collection of “spatial manuscripts” — visualized, tangible and accessible objects to convey concepts of space. The key constraint on the invited artists, architects and designers: the work’s dimension must be that of the Gutenberg Bible, 44 x 32 x 7 cm in closed form. Given that constraint, it is odd how rarely the collection is mentioned in the domain of bookworks, book art or artist books. It shows up in Sarah Bodman and Tom Sowden’s 2020 “A comprehensive reading list for artists’ books”, but book artist and trained architect, Marian Macken has most thoroughly redressed this oddity in Binding Space: The Book as Spatial Practice (2018).
At the end of 2020, the Vedute collection stood at 223 items. Among them, Piranesian Window by Cees Nagelkerke performs the ideal introduction. Its form and title capture the multiple meanings of vedute (views), some intended by the collection’s founders, some not. Views are things seen — which this art object is. Views are prospects from which to see — which a window offers. Views are perspectives — for which Giambattista Piranesi’s etchings are famous. Views are thoughts held — which “Piranesian” implies. The work’s title could be that of a manuscript on art history and philosophy.
Piranesi’s mid-eighteenth century etchings Vedute di Roma(Viewsof Rome) and Carceri d’invenzione (Imaginary Prisons) are the obvious sources of inspiration. Alongside the images on the Foundation’s site, however, Nagelkerke relates a dream of about the work. The dream’s logic and the mirror in the window frame might recall for some Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass.
– … Please, continue relating your dream … – I wandered through vast ruins … along wrecked bridges … feeling remarkably at ease. – How did you find the window in this windowless world? – When a cool breeze wafted inside, I suddenly saw it. It showed a landscape, within the distance a city. There was complete tranquillity and harmony there, like in a painting by Piero della Francesca … I stood there for some considerable time and I became increasingly saddened, because I discovered that I was looking at something that had vanished forever. – But how did you manage to take the window? – I wanted to touch it … as a result, I immediately fell down. The gap left in the wall closed by itself … I picked it up and continued on my way, meeting people who spoke to me saying that I should leave the Carceri. I was taken to a gateway. No one looked at, or said anything about, the window… In the square where I found myself, there was an intense, chaotic commotion. The window still reflected something of the vast space I had left. The exterior showed traces of the wall in which it had been mounted. I looked through it and saw everyday life …
Together, the embedded mirror-to-mirror view and the window enact multiple enigmas. The mirror-to-mirror view recreates that Escher-like perspective to which Piranesi’s Imaginary Prisons was a forerunner. The open window invites the reader/viewer to look through: “Reader/viewer, read and look by means of the Piranesian Window, read and look to the other side of the Piranesian Window“. In the context of Nagelkerke’s dream, the spatial manuscript brings dreams and traces of the vanished into everyday life. Imagination has created the form that captures imagination but also frees it.
In Piranesian Window, Nagelkerke has delivered a surreal object that, messing with our minds, embodies Piranesi’s distinctly non-neoclassical quip: Col sporcar si trova (“by messing about, one discovers”) (Lowe, p.19). It is a dictum well suited to The Vedute Foundation‘s 223 works (1990 to 2019) and those to come.
The Black Page Catalogue(2010) Coxwold, UK: Printed by Graham Moss (Incline Press) for The Laurence Sterne Trust. Contains 73 numbered leaves in a matte black card box (H235 x W168 mm). The leaves are glossy cards (210 x 148 mm) on which contributed texts and illustrations (chiefly colour) are printed; the reverse of each provides the contributor’s comments on the text or illustration and the “page” number. Also enclosed are a single-sheet folded pamphlet (“Printing the Black Page” by Graham Moss, Incline Press) and two cards, one of which is the invitation to the exhibition inspired by the ‘black page’, p. 73 of the first edition of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, held at Shandy Hall, Coxwold, North Yorkshire, 5 Sept.-31 Oct. 2009, and the other, sealed in an envelope, being the index of the contributors and their page numbers. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
Collectors come up with the most ingenious reasons for acquiring things. In this case — along with astrological, numerological and other rational rationale — Rebecca Romney’s reminder that The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman is one of the earlier instances of book art led inevitably to my acquiring Shandy Hall’s The Black Page Catalogue. But it took time.
Several months after enjoying the Romney essay, I met Brian Dettmer in January 2015 by happenstance at a book art exhibition in New Haven, CT. As we chatted about past inspirations of book art, Tristram Shandy came up, so he told me of an upcoming event called “Turn the Page” in Norwich, UK, where I could more easily see some of his work — and one in particular having to do with Tristram Shandy. So in May 2015, I went.
Tristram Shandy (2014) Brian Dettmer Carved and varnished, two copies of the 2005 Folio Society edition of Tristram Shandy. H230 x W190 mm Commissioned by The Laurence Sterne Trust, Coxwold, UK. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
The marbled page, an “emblem of my work”, p. 169. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759) by Laurence Sterne Illustrated with wood engravings by John Lawrence. Set in ‘Monotype’ Plantin, printed by Cambridge University Press on Caxton Wove Paper. New York: Folio Society, 2005.
So a year passed. Another visit to “Turn the Page” was made. And as I was leaving, lo, a sign and small display came unto me:
Only a negligent collector would ignore such clear signs.
Parson-Yoricks-to-be can select their own favorites here.
Emblem of My Work (2013)
Emblem of My Work (2013) Coxwold, UK: The Laurence Sterne Trust. Consists of a 24-page booklet and 170 numbered cards in a hinged blue paper-covered box (H160 x W105 x D60 mm. The leaves of this catalogue are bright white cards (152 x 92 mm) on which the artwork is printed; the reverse of each provides the “page” number and the contributor’s comments on the art. The booklet provides alphabetical and numerically ordered indexes listing the contributors and their page numbers. Edition of 225, of which this is #79. Acquired from Shandy Hall, 1 October 2019. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
Volume III of Sterne’s work was the first to be handled by a publisher. Presumably the famous success of the first two self-published volumes helps to explain James Dodsley’s agreement to printing copies in which each page 169 and each page 170 showed uniquely marbled squares. Images from an original copy held at the British Library can be seen here. As Patrick Wildgust, director of Shandy Hall, explains in the booklet:
The central section of p. 169 was laid upon the marbled mixture in order that a coloured impression could be taken as cleanly as possible. This was left to dry and then reverse-folded so the other side of the paper could also receive its marbled impression. This side of the paper became page . As a result, the marbled page in every copy of Vol. III is different — each impression being a unique handmade image. In the text opposite on p. 168, Sterne tells the reader that the marbled page is the “motly emblem of my work” — the page communicating visually that his work is endlessly variable, endlessly open to chance.
Two favorites — one for page , one for  — artists with other works in the Books On Books Collection. Left: Ken Campbell. Right: Eric Zboya.
Paint Her To Your Own Mind (2018) Coxwold, UK: The Laurence Sterne Trust. Contains 147 numbered leaves in a brown paper-covered box (174 x 124 mm). The leaves are bright white cards (145 x 105 mm) on which contributed texts and illustrations (chiefly colour) are printed; the reverse of each provides the contributor’s comments on the text or illustration and the “page” number. Also enclosed are a “title page” and “index leaf” listing the contributors and their page numbers. Edition of 200. Acquired from Shady Hall, 6 June 2018. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
Page 147 of Sterne’s sixth volume of Tristram Shandy is blank. On the preceding page, he metaphorically throws up his hands over any attempt to describe the most beautiful woman who has ever existed and exhorts the reader: “To conceive this right, —call for pen and ink—here’s paper ready to your hand, —Sit down, Sir, paint her to your own mind—as like your mistress as you can—as unlike your wife as your conscience will let you—‘tis all one to me—please your own fancy in it.” So, accordingly, Shandy Hall invited 147 artists/writers/composers to follow Sterne’s instruction to fill the blank page 147. From the 9th through 30th of September 2016, their efforts were displayed in the Shandy Hall Gallery, Coxwold, York.
The curious reader can choose his or her own favorites here.
The Flourish of Liberty (2019)
In Volume IX on p. 17, the reader reads Corporal Trim’s advice to Uncle Toby, who stands at the Widow Wadman’s threshold about to propose marriage:
Nothing, continued the Corporal, can be so sad as confinement for life — or so sweet, an’ please your honour, as liberty. Nothing, Trim — said my Uncle Toby, musing — Whil’st a man is free — cried the corporal, giving a flourish with his stick thus —
The Flourish of Liberty (2019) Coxwold, UK: The Laurence Sterne Trust. Contains 103 numbered leaves in a gray paper-covered box (174 x 124 mm). The leaves are bright white cards (148 x 105 mm) on which contributed texts and illustrations (black and white, several in colour) are printed; the reverse of each provides the contributor’s comments on the text or illustration and the “page” number. Also enclosed are a “title page” and “index leaf” listing the contributors and their page numbers. Edition of 150, of which this is #133. Acquired from Shandy Hall, 26 October 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
Since 1996, Erica Van Horn has lived and worked in Ballybeg, Grange, Clonmel, Co. Tipperary in Ireland with the poet, critic and artist Simon Cutts. Her Living Locally series, which has engendered an online blog and an edited collection, has also had this other incarnation closer to book art, four items of which first drew my attention to Van Horn’s work. In her book for Van Horn’s 2010 Yale exhibition, Nancy Kuhl places the series in a section that “illustrates the artist’s long fascination with the ways language both describes and creates community, even as it determines individual identity and shapes personal memory” (p. 9). Over the years, returning Van Horn’s four small items to display on shelves and discovering her earlier painted bookworks via The Book Made Art, I found Van Horn’s fascination with language expressing itself through graphics, binding and other physical forms of publication in such original ways that this cardboard treasure chest could no longer be resisted.
Some words for living locally (2002 ~)
Some words for living locally, No. 1-8 (2002~) Erica Van Horn Booklet saddle-stitched with staples. H147 x W105 mm, 20 pages. Edition of 300, of which this is #134. Acquired from Coracle Press, 25 February 2015.Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with the artist’s permission.
The first work in Living Locally, Nos. 1-40, is this booklet, a copy of which was acquired for the collection in 2015. How is it that what might be simple reminders or observations in a notebook kept to help the writer understand the “locals” become art? For a start, there’s the cover: an altered copy of Van Horn’s Irish certificate of registration. The certificate’s front cover overprinted with the title, the registration number replaced with the copy and edition numbers — these set the stage, telling us that a certificate of registration is a necessary but not sufficient condition for living here. Some words are also required, so the title tells us. Inside the cover, a hallmark of a published work appears: the name of the publisher (Coracle) and place of publication. The photocopied passport photo continues the certificate metaphor, and the signature plays the dual role of registrant’s and author’s signature.
Although there are twenty pages in the booklet, only nine are numbered. Of the nine, only eight display an explanation or comment (in black serif type) facing an unnumbered page with the word under scrutiny (in colored sans serif type). These eight are the “No. 1-8” of the title as given officially in the work’s initial entry in WorldCat and in the complete series’ list.
The ninth numbered page and its facing page are blank. Perhaps in keeping with the registration booklet cover, space has been left for future stamping. Or their blankness might be explained by the preceding double-page spread offering the word or phrase “good-luck” and its explanation on the eighth numbered page:
a farewell expression almost the same as ‘see you later’. Goodbye is final, therefore rarely used.
Perhaps the artist is implying that, “blow-in” though she may be as the locals describe anyone not born of local generations, she is not saying goodbye and plans to record further words for living locally.
8 old Irish apples and 8 old Irish potatoes (2011)
8 old Irish apples (2008) and 8 old Irish potatoes (2011) Erica Van Horn & Simon Cutts Concertinas: apples in eight sections (single-sided) and potatoes in five sections (double-sided). Both: H90 x W90 mm (closed), W720 mm (apples open), W450 mm (potatoes open). Editions of 500. Acquired from Coracle Press, 25 February 2015. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with the artist’s permission.
These are No. 13 and No. 17 of the Living Locally series. On first sight, the two accordion booklets in their acetate sleeves seem to promise images of apples and potatoes. Removed from their sleeves, they deliver on the promise but in typographic and metaphorical ways. There’s a reveling in the pleasure of type impressed on the stiff card surface and of the descriptive or mnemonic names of the pommes and pommes de terre (for example, “Bloody Butcher” and “Yellow Pitcher” for the apples and “Flourball” and “Snowdrop” for the potatoes). Images of fruit and veg would be superfluous.
Born in Clonmel (2011)
This is #21 in the Living Locally series. Van Horn visited Shandy Hall in 2008. On returning to Ireland, as she explains, she undertook this bit of “living locally” to find out what Clonmel had made and was making of its famous literary son Laurence Sterne. The booklet’s central photo of the Sterne Pub that no longer exists — in the hotel that no longer exists — in Clonmel rises past wryness in the context of the inevitable reader’s snort to which the tale of its non-use on dedication day gives rise. Van Horn’s plain, matter-of-fact observations and graphics would appeal to the original combiner of deadpan text and image in The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman — a forerunner of book art.
Imagine if Henry David Thoreau had had the sense to be born a woman and transported in space and time to consider Irish village and countryside life of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. With wry and gentle humor, he might have written something approaching Too Raucous for a Chorus. Van Horn is a natural and generous collaborator, which manifests itself not only in her works with Cutts but in Coracle Press works such as this. Other artists and writers with whom she has worked include John Bevis, Harry Gilonis, Thomas Meyer and Eiji Watanabe.
Still, as Too Raucous and Living Locally demonstrate, her enduring collaboration is with language and the world around her.
Ken Campbell’s works hold a special place in the Books On Books Collection. Some connect with other artists’ works in the collection. Some connect with techniques, structures or themes pursued in other works. One, however, lays claim to being the original seed to the collection.
Sometime in 1987, after the Radcliffe’s neuropsychologist Dr. John C. Marshall introduced me to his associate Dr. Ruth Campbell, she invited my wife and me to dinner. A growly, jovial bear in hearing aids welcomed us at the door, and by the time we left, I had purchased a proof of his print called “In the Door Stands a Jar”. The artist’s book Ken Campbell describes below was in the works, but at the time, I had had no exposure to this form of art that a life with books and ebooks would finally teach me to appreciate.
Over the years, the print’s blend of textual and visual puns played out from the wall. A door that stands ajar is partly open, partly closed. Half-open, half-closed, the door exposes its hinge and the hour-glass shape the hinge makes. A shape that suggests “a jar” or a pair of breasts, the nipples being the screwheads. The center line of the hinge is askew, a visual pun on “ajar”. Until 2012, I had been happy enough to have the print. But then I finally woke up to book art, and it felt a bit alone, hanging on the wall — or rather “in the door … a jar”.
In the Door Stands a Jar (1987)
In the Door Stands a Jar(1987) Ken Campbell Slipcase (245 x 245 mm) enclosing handsewn casebound book (240 x 240 mm, 44 pages unnumbered). Edition of 40, of which this is #18. Acquired from Vamp & Tramp Booksellers, 2 March 2015. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with artist’s permission.
It took three years to track down a copy. After the initial sense of accomplishment, and looking from print to book and back, I had to ask: Why a book? Instead of being printed back to back and casebound, the images could have been served up in a portfolio as prints to be framed; the text of its poem, in a chapbook tucked inside the portfolio. But they weren’t. As a book, they stand almost three dimensionally, served up as, and in, an object to be held half-open, half-closed, sequences to be puzzled out and followed, and colors and shapes shifting and overlapping like the syntax of the poem. Later, coming across Campbell’s description of the work, I learned that there was much more than that going on:
There’s usually some kind of formal problem in the books – a way of dividing space up for good clear reason and for making things work in a useful sequence. I had a notion of putting a reduced version of the book’s two-page spread, which is a designer’s term for an opened book, on one page and putting the same two-page spread reduced on the opposite page, so you’re looking at a kind of visual pun: two spreads on the whole spread.
Left: Double-page spread with title, author and date. Right: Final page, numbered and signed, and pastedown endpaper.
The last two lines of the poem across two double-page spreads: A MAN AMEN IN THE DOOR STANDS A JAR
The centerline of the grid on each page provides the visual key to the double-page spread embedded in each single page. The centerline itself and the images falling across it almost encourage the reader/viewer to fold the single pages in half to see how the halves of the image match up or shift. Like closing and opening a door. And so the page and double-page spread become elements in the composition itself. Campbell goes on to explain that there is even still more to it:
On each page is another, smaller two-page spread printed on a black background. In each smaller spread is what is left after I have printed black solids as a window over and around the female forms. Black over colour gives ghostly images of the complete form. The poem runs laterally through the colour and bleeds off into the darkness on either side. There are very large dark borders. I had started to play with borders both as ways of containing the work in a field and as a dark space at the edge of things; a free-fire zone in which things seen in other parts of the book and things remembered can affect that which stands in the light.
I wanted to bury words in those borders as a kind of visual echo of the words being used in the poem, a metaphor for where words come from in one way of creating poetry: hearing echoes of sound and meaning from other places. This process is pursued in other, later books.
I cut a female form out of a background of zinc and wood, and then cut it in half so that there were four blocks which were then manipulated and printed in a variety of colours. The jar that stands in the door is both a woman’s thick-waisted torso, and a jar which is cut up, dismembered and moved around. It was a tilt back to my designer past, making a page move almost in a cinematographic way through the book, in the spaces between the two verses. It was a very formal piece, a very sculptural thing to do. So the book is about joy and darkness, and the sensual face of this world, and the fact that death moderates all. — Ken Campbell
For some, Campbell’s door will recall Marcel Duchamps’ various door/porte works, in particular Porte, 11 rue Larrey (1927), which Duchamps had a carpenter build. The door is hinged at the angle between two walls, each of which has a door frame to receive the door, making it a door that is always closing and opening at the same time. The direct reference to sexual engagement in Campbell’s door (and many of his other works) will also recall Duchamps’ eroticism in his Given (1946-66) doorway work. Conceptually, Campbell’s comments on the hinge, grid and edge of surfaces will draw comparison with Duchamps’ infrathin principle: “both a surface and an interval, whose deictical character points in two different directions at the same time” (Judovitz, Unpacking Duchamps).
In an insightful review of Campbell’s body of work (Parenthesis 22, Spring 2012, Mark Dimunation, Chief of Rare Books at the Library of Congress, notes these verbal, visual and conceptual doubles:
contemplation of the double emerges in several of [his] works. Opening phrases reappear in reverse at the close of a text. Positives are given counterpoint by a negative. Images flip, rotate and respond to each other as they move across the page. Phrases repeat, disassemble, and then reunite.
With its twenty-two double-page spreads, the book In the Door Stands a Jar not only doubles and re-doubles down on the visual layering of doubles — the “two spreads on the whole spread” —it also doubles and re-doubles down with its centering poem on the verbal/visual punning that hinges joy and darkness, opening and closing, and love and death together in this work. What an introduction to this form of art.
AbaB (1984) Ken Campbell Formed from 17 joined sheets as one leporello, pasted onto heavy endboards of varnished wood, in a cloth slipcase. Silkscreened by Jim Birnie at Norwich School of Art on Heritage Rag acid-free paper. Edition of 50, of which this is #9. Acquired from the artist, 18 December 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with artist’s permission.
Campbell’s fourth work of book art, AbaB is the earliest of his works in the collection. It is certainly the most lighthearted of the works in the collection and, possibly, among all Campbell’s works. The text relays a conversation between ‘A’ (Campbell) and ‘B’ (Bruce Brown, a colleague at the Norwich School of Art), a conversation probably driven by the Cutty Sark to which it refers:
A: Think of a sea.
B: You mean the letter?
A: No, an ocean made of paper, upon which sits an open book: made of glass. On the water in the book bobs a bottle made of paper. The ship, afloat upon the label, we name the Cutty Sark.
B: Is that what you are going to do?
A: It just got done.
While the work is the only example of an accordion structure and silk-screen printing in Campbell’s work, and its use of varnished plywood for binding appears only in Father’s Hook (1978), the choice of the two typefaces reflects two processing characteristics to be found in almost every one of Campbell’s works.
I had two cases of woodletter, of different printing heights: one Anglo-American, an extra fatfaced serif; the other Didot, a Continental sans serif, very condensed and beautiful. They were so different in their respective fatness and thinness that they represented the polar ends of type design. As an act of cussedness I thought to do a book that brings the two together and see what happens.Ken Campbell
So, cussedness (or contrariety) and chance intertwined. The chance of two cases of woodletter, of different printing heights, contrary in weight and style, meets Ken Campbell, cussed and contrary enough to bring them to bear on a pun that launches an inside-outside pun: the message in a bottle becomes a message on a paper bottle afloat on an open book made of glass that sits on a sea/C of paper.
Another element of technique in AbaB stands out as recurrent in almost every one of Campbell’s works. It is an effect Campbell calls “stammering progress”. In AbaB he achieves it by running the conversation at different starting points in overlapping parallel lines that break awkwardly across the accordion’s panels. In other works, the awkward breaks come from words split across grid sections (as above with In the Door) or lines of verse split across recto to verso pages (again, as above, and below in -s wings, -s wings). Again, for Campbell, the page is not simply a surface, it is an element in a sculptural composition.
Hadrian’s Dream (1990)
Hadrian’s Dream (1990) Asa Benveniste (text) and Ken Campbell (design and art) Folded stiff paper cover over handsewn chapbook. Cover: H298 x W202 mm. Text block: H292 x W197 mm. Twenty pages unnumbered including two three-panelled fold-outs. Edition of 120 published by Circle Press Publications, of which this is #16. Acquired from Circle Press Publications, 22 June 2015.
In interviews and in most of his works, Campbell comes across as a solitary worker, possessed by tenacious vision, images, metaphors and engagement with the tools of his craft (one printing press he named “Lucille”). Hadrian’s Dream and the two exhibition flyers in the collection, however, shed light on moments of collaboration besides Jim Birnie’s screenprinting in AbaB.
Asa Benveniste was an expatriate American poet (1925-90), introduced to Campbell by Ron King in 1977. Later, King wanted to produce a series of chapbooks to celebrate the move of his studio to London and asked Campbell to take on “Hadrian’s Dream”. Benveniste’s poem is a striking one, actually about the creative process, and given Campbell’s recollection of a key line from the poem in a 2017 interview with Nancy Campbell (no relation, see below), it must have struck a lasting chord in his imagination. In the final result, though, Hadrian’s Dream is more Campbell than Benveniste.
A simple single-fold folio embracing all the other folios opens the chapbook. The half-title of the chapbook falls on the first recto panel. After that, things become less simple — either by virtue of image or fold. A second single-fold folio follows the first, and the full title page falls on its first recto panel, but inside this second folio on the copyright page (the fourth panel in the chapbook) is a glimpse of dark brown bricks that continue behind the other folios onto that second folio’s last recto panel (see below). Here the bricks turn a lighter brown then back to dark brown as they build an image of a wall, brick path or stairs, on which is superimposed a black print — an old-fashioned shadeless electric bulb emitting a jagged black corona of light and musical notes.
In correspondence (26 December 2020), Campbell notes, “the ‘bricks’ are the underside of the type used for the poem turned upside down and used to print from”. Delving into and repurposing his material at hand is a characteristic feature of Campbell’s art.
But who reads a book this way? Perhaps anyone who is puzzled after that copyright page by the succession of panels in which the seventh panel is actually part of a six-panel foldout opening leftwards. Inside the foldout on panel nine appears Benveniste’s poem, which with lines about “sunlight in the window”, a “desk lamp” and “everywhere there is only music” begins to shed light on the images. On closing this foldout and turning panels eleven and twelve, another surprise comes: a new foldout opening rightwards. It seems to be a four-panel foldout but is actually six. The missing two have already shown up before the first foldout! The complete image on the inside of this second foldout folio can be seen only when the folios it embraces are pinched together (see below).
This is the clue to go back to the copyright page and pinch together the folios between it and the penultimate panel (see below).
In the catalogue for his 1996 Yale exhibition “The Word Returned”, even Campbell comments: “the way the thing folds and unfolds is a bit confusing”. Nevertheless, Hadrian’s Dream provides lessons on reading Campbell’s art. Image, text and structure connect in multiple, meaningful dimensions. Where Benveniste’s last line reads “the start of the endless poem”, Campbell’s images facing the poem are two desk lamps connected by a single cord — light feeding light. For Campbell, “sunlight in the window” evokes the four quadrants through which the sun moves daily and, thus, the four panes of the window through which Benveniste sees Hadrian’s dream. With Campbell, in looking/reading and reading/looking, there are always more than “a few ways through the window”.
A few ways through the window: An exhibition of books, related prints and sculpture by Ken Campbell (1990)
The title of this exhibition flyer is also the title of the first book in Campbell’s catalogue The Maker’s Hand (on which more below). The flyer and entry in the catalogue intensify the desire to see that book from 1975 — whose text is printed letterpress in Univers type on the rough side of poster paper and photos of tall inward-opening windows and outward-opening wooden shutters printed on the smooth side. The flyer’s main text comes from the neuropsychologist John Marshall, who introduced me to Ken and Ruth Campbell all those years ago.
Execution: The Book: An exhibition of limited edition artists’ books, related prints and small sculpture (1990)
The title of this exhibition flyer is also the title of a book described in The Maker’s Hand. The year 1990 must have been one of Campbell’s most productive; it certainly brought recognition from the book and art worlds (Circle Press, London; Granary Books, New York; MoMA, Oxford). As will be expanded below, the exhibition flyers serve a particular function alongside Campbell’s bookworks in the collection.
-‘s wings, -‘s wings (1999)
-‘s wings, -‘s wings (1999) Ken Campbell Black laserprinted images overprinted with polychrome letterpress. Bound by Charles Gledhill using an adaptation of the seventeenth-century limp vellum form and wrapped in a folded black cloth. H197 x W140 mm, 64 pages unnumbered. Edition of 30, of which this is #18. Acquired from the artist, 20 December 2018. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artist.
-‘s wings, -‘s wings is a dark, rich and more than tactile work. Following what happens in it demands more of the reader/viewer’s faculties. Unwrapping it from the cloth that envelops it, you feel engaged in some sort of rite. The feel of the binding lies somewhere between softcover and hardcover. An oily ink smell emerges. So precisely aligned with the grid image, the long stitches of beige or white thread exposed down the center of unnumbered pages 4-5 and 60-61 (both shown below) barely register to the eye.
When, however, pages 10-11 are reached (shown below on the left), the threads emerge more plainly against a dark background. The whiter vertical lines elsewhere on the page highlight the threads’ drawing function — or grouting function. By now, the oily smell is stronger, and fingers feel an almost sticky thickness to the pages. As light moves across the turning page’s surface, layers and pock marks appear and disappear much like the rising and falling of the threads. As In the Door but more so, it has an impasto effect from layering and layering brought about by Campbell’s aforementioned cussedness and chance-taking in running the sheets through the printer over and over.
Against this background, images of wings dance and pull away from the center. Over those images and background, the letterpressed text introduces a chant to Agni (the Hindu fire god) and Kali (goddess of love and the great mother) and a poem describing a forest fire spread by birds with wings aflame and falling into the undergrowth. As in other works, Campbell breaks words, punctuation and lines across multiple pages and double-page spreads. In this instance, seventeen pages carry the text. The loose transcription below does not replicate the word and line breaks within pages, only those from page to page; the double-page spreads are indicated. The chant and poem reverse themselves (not quite verbatim) after the first double-page spread, which reminds me of the palindrome In Girum Imus Nocte Et Consumimur Igni (“We go round and round at night and are consumed by fire”).
-S WINGS AGNI I KALI I
I KALI I AGNI -S WINGS
-S WINGS AGNI KALI I
BIRDS FLY OUT (THE) FO
REST FIRE (THEIR) WING
S AFLAME FALL DEAD (T
O) IGNITE THE AWAITING
AGNI I THANK [double-page spread]
IN MY BONE
FIRE BONE [double-page spread]
ME IN (YOU)
THANK I KALI
ITING IGNITE (&) DEAD F
ALL (A)FLAME FIRE FORE
ST OUT FLY (THE) BIRDS
I KALI I AGNI -S WINGS
I KALI I AGNI -S WINGS
-S WINGS AGNI I KALI I
The chant and poem also remind me of the image of birds and animals fleeing a forest fire in Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Armadillo” (a very different poem), but other readers will bring different memories to bear, and yet again this work of art will make a fine thing of chance.
The Maker’s Hand (2001)
The Maker’s Hand: Twenty Books by Ken Campbell (2001) Ken Campbell Perfect bound paperback. H305 x W240 mm, 104 pages. Acquired from the artist, 20 December 2018. Photo: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artist.
Like the exhibition flyers above, The Maker’s Hand is a work of ephemera — a catalogue of a selection of Campbell’s output. They are nonetheless important to the collection, not only because it wants certain key works by Campbell but also because together the ephemera document an important characteristic of Campbell’s oeuvre. The image on the cover should look familiar. It appears reproduced in whole and part in solid colors in the exhibition flyers above. It is an emblem of connectedness, the physical, conceptual and spiritual continuity of one work with another. It is also a reminder of the personal-ness of the art. The last book covered in The Maker’s Hand is Pantheon (2000), from which the catalogue’s final image is taken:
The self-portrait of the artist drives home the pairing of a life-long consistency of image and vision with life-long artistic growth and development. Life in art, art in life. For which this curator is grateful.
Dimunation, Mark. “Breaking Rules: The Insistent Vision of Ken Campbell”, Parenthesis 22, Fine Press Book Association. Accessed 13 December 2020. Clear commentary on Broken Rules and Double- Crosses (1984), AbaB (1984), A Knife Romance (1988), Father’s Garden (1989), Execution (1990), Firedogs (1991), Skute Awabo (1992), Ten Years of Uzbekistan (1994), The Word Returned (1996), Pantheon (2000) and Wall (2008).
As its subtitle suggests, Material Noise explores how the material aspects of works of criticism and media studies such as Le Da Costa encyclopedique, Jacques Derrida’s Glas, Avital Ronell’s The Telephone Book and Mark C. Taylor’s Hiding matter to understanding them — just as if those works were artist books. For the reader interested in book art, the artist book or whatever one might like to call that art, Material Noise might be better read back to front. The works of book art that Anne Royston explores in Material Noise — Mark C. Taylor’s Le Réal, Las Vegas, NV, Shelley Jackson’s Skin, Johanna Drucker’s Stochastic Poetics and Susan Howe’s and R.H. Quaytman’s Tom Tit Tot — come at the end of the book.
The order though is reassuring. Otherwise we might end with criticism, media theory and critical theory becoming the foreground, the works of art simply background, lost in theoretical translation. A case of Barthes for Barthes’ sake? It is fitting that the very material approach to engaging with book art — even with its most conceptual of instances — should be applied to critics and theorists to explicate their works, only then to conclude by showcasing works of art whose mastery of the material may be said to put the more academic works in the aesthetic shade.
Royston selects the journal — Convolution, founded in 2011 by Paul Stephens — to emblematize her starting point: “a blend of art and criticism that considers its material form at every step” and delivers “a materially immersive reading experience” (pp. 1-3). If her publication had occurred in the future, she could have selected Inscription, founded in 2020 by Adam Smyth, Gill Partington and Simon Morris to serve as an open closing point. But that would have spoiled the reassurance of concluding with the art.
As is the wont of theorists (social, literary and otherwise), she proposes a new term, or tool, with which to build her case: “artistic arguments (my emphasis), a term that indicates theory that pushes back against the expectations of the theory or criticism genre, specifically by employing signification that exceeds the semantics of printed text”. Leaving it to the academics to unpack that proposition professionally and evaluate its application, this casual observer suggests that it is analogous to “upward inflection” but without the implied lack of confidence. With a lack of confidence, it would be the declarative sentence that hedges its bet with that annoying, habitual rising tone that turns it into a question.
Royston does not hedge her bets. Her observations about Le Da Costa encyclopedique and its self-conscious, self-referential heterogeneous play with the material forms of the reference work, newspaper and the forms within them — columns, typographical signals (hyphenation), etc. — are assured. Her surfacing of “noise” as a concept and phenomenon key to the shape and message of Le Da Costa, Derrida’s Glas and Ronell’s The Telephone Book is equally assured in each case. Likewise, how — across those three works — she slips among the ideas of “noise” to “formlessness” to “white spaces” to end up on the “surface” of Taylor’s Hiding, his associated multimedia The Réal, Las Vegas, NV and then Jackson’s Skin project.
Royston’s true avatar must be the ilex. In the Taylor/Jackson chapter, she effortlessly moves from Taylor’s university press book then to his electronic artist book and then to Jackson’s embodied/disembodied story literally tattooed word by word on 2,095 volunteers (thereafter called “words”). Royston does it so well that it almost enacts an artistic argument proving her thesis that we should read theory in the way we read artist books.
But collecting theories may not be as satisfying as building real or fantasy collections of art. Being introduced to Taylor’s The Réal, Las Vegas, NV (1997) with its slot machine screen offers the chance to add it alongside Marcel Broodthaers’ Monte Carlo Bond (1924) and Muriel Cooper’s designed Learning from Las Vegas (1972) by Robert Venturi. If you happen across one of Jackson’s “words” in the tattooed flesh from Skin, you can forego a kidnapping charge by turning to Paul Emmanuel’s The Lost Men Project (2006). Crestfallen that no aluminum-covered version of Drucker’s Stochastic Poetics (2012) is easily available? Download the Ubu edition. Also unable to find a copy of Howe’s and Quaytman’s Tom Tit Tot (2014)? Place its link at the Museum of Modern Art Library Council alongside the Meermanno Museum’s for its “Reading as Art” exhibition.
Royston’s book provides collector and critic with an entire toolkit enabling them to encounter the “materially immersive reading experience” and perceive how it is really the “materially engaged reading experience”. Highly recommended.
Much has been written on Béatrice Coron‘s works — including “Machines“, the commissioned work below. Her interviews with Helen Hiebert and Steve Miller are excellent accompaniment to her pieces with TED.
Un Coup de Dés jamais n’abolira le Hasard, Dé-composition (2009-2013)
In “Publishing as an Artistic Toolbox“, an exhibition in Vienna in 2018, Antoine Lefebvre displayed several rows of works from La Bibliothèque Fantastique. They were pinned to the wall at the rear of the exhibition space. One work and one only made up the third row from the bottom: Jérémie Bennequin’s hommage to Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés, clearly not singular and missing its “h” and “m”. An exhibition hall is a difficult setting in which to explore a multi-volume work of book art much less answer the questions “Why omage?” and “Why the hyphenation of “décomposition” at the foot of all twenty covers?”
Away from the exhibition and onto Bennequin’s and Lefebvre’s websites, the intrigue only grew with the knowledge that nineteen of those twenty booklets are the results of algorithmically die-driven live performances of erasing the text from Mallarmé’s poem. With several works of homage to Un Coup de Dés in the Books On Books Collection, Bennequin’s omage composed with a single dé seemed an essential addition.
Booklet 1.0, which reproduces Mallarmé’s complete poem in its 1897 format, also contains a preface to Bennequin’s multi-volume boxed work. Arguing in the preface that Un Coup de Dés does not abolish chance but rather enhances, elevates, ennobles it, Bennequin poses the questions that initiate his homage. The first is:
“Or, le hasard peut-il abolir Un Coup de Dés?” (So, can chance abolish Un Coup de Dés?)
Bennequin argues that, being an artist of the eraser, he is well-suited to erasing or abolishing Mallarmé’s work, and that rolling the die to direct his act of erasure or abolition is fitting. But then comes his second crucial question:
… comment définir au juste, dans le détail, la cible de chaque coup? (how to define in detail the target of each throw?)
After considering such targets as the letter, the word, the page, the double-page spread, Bennequin settles on the syllable for reasons reflecting Mallarmé’s own theories of poetry and music. Booklet 1.0 represents the starting point, with the next volume 1.1 being the outcome of the end of a live performance on 23 October 2009, which involved Bennequin decomposing Mallarmé’s poem by repeatedly rolling a die then locating, vocalising and erasing the syllable corresponding to the number rolled. This occurred on computer screen in real time. With each of the subsequent eighteen performances, the starting point was the state arrived at in the preceding booklet; 1.2 began with 1.1, 1.3 with 1.2 and so on. By the last performance, very little — but something — of Un Coup de Dés was left. As Bennequin puts it in the last sentence of his preface: “Le hasard jamais n’abolira Un Coup de Dés” (Chance will never abolish Un Coup de Dés).
To answer those awkward questions asked in the exhibition hall: First, the removal of “h” and “m” from hommage to create omage is a visual clue to the work’s destructive/creative process — the die-driven algorithm’s targeting and erasure of phonemes. Second, the isolation of “dé” in the hyphenation of décomposition puns self-reflexively — as book art so often does — on the singular of dés, underscoring the means of Bennequin’s paradoxical decomposition/composition. No matter how this work is displayed or examined, it puts before us a visual constellation of fragments of sound. But, having completed the performances leading to this particular self-reflexive constellation, Bennequin produced another self-reflexive work, an homage within an homage.
Le Hasard n’abolira jamais un Coup de Dés, Omage (2014)
Le Hasardn’abolira jamais un Coup de Dés replicates in size, colour and appearance the 1914 edition Un Coup de Dés jamais n’abolira le Hasard. The main textual difference — the inversion of the title — announces the work as an homage to Mallarmé. But a smaller textual difference — the replacement of Poème with Omage — subtly announces another homage: to Broodthaers’ 1969 homage to Mallarmé. Broodthaers had replaced the word Poème on the 1914 edition’s cover with the word Image.
But it is Le Hasard‘s preface that unequivocally announces its homage to Broodthaers’ homage. Broodthaers had printed all the text of Un Coup de Dés as a “Préface” within a left- and right-justified block of text, and he omitted Mallarmé’s own preface. He then went on to blot out Mallarmé’s verses and their carefully placed typographical rendering with strips of black, shaped with equal care.
Bennequin returns the favour of Broodthaers’ transformative gestures at least twice over. Like Broodthaers’ opening block of text, Bennequin’s includes all the text of Mallarmé’s poem but renders it in phonetic symbols. Even the word Préface is replaced with [pRefas]. The square brackets in Bennequin’s block of text surround the verse units that Broodthaers went on to blot out. In further gestures of lese-majesty to Broodthaers and Mallarmé, Bennequin adds his own explanatory “Note” in place of Mallarmé’s note, the one omitted by Broodthaers. Furthermore, signalling an inversion to come, Bennequin inverts the order of words in Broodthaers’ block of text. The last line of verse in Mallarmé’s poem and in Broodthaers’ block of text is “Toute Pensée émet un Coup de Dés” (All thought issues a throw of the dice). The first verse in Bennequin’s square of text is [tutpãseemɛœ̃kudəde].
The “inversion to come” lies in the subsequent pages where Bennequin inverts Mallarmé’s words and lets them peek out in white from behind Broodthaers’ black strips. He “un-erases” Broodthaers’ erasure. He uses white on black to re-emphasize the black on white abstraction created by Broodthaers. But that inversion is more than meets the eye.
In his preface to Dé-composition, Bennequin has already shown us an exact inversion of Mallarmé’s title: “Le hasard jamais n’abolira Un Coup de Dés”. Moving jamais to its grammatically correct position, Le Hasard’s inversion of the title is deft artistic lese-majesty. It proclaims the bookwork as allusive to but distinct from Dé-composition and its preface — and distinct from the two targets of homage. As “omage” to Mallarmé, Le Hasard does not abolish Un Coup de Dés; it pulls it back from obliteration albeit by inversion. As “Omage” to Broodthaers, Le Hasard does not abolish the “Image”; it re-establishes the link between the black-imaged “musical” score and the sounds of the text — again albeit by inversion and also phonetic symbols.
Allusive, self-allusive, creative and subversive through inversion — Le Hasard is a new constellation born from that encounter with the twin stars preceding it.
Sur un rêve de John Cage… les rayons roses d’un jour qui se lève colorent doucement un Mo(n)t de poussière… (2020)
Erasure is Bennequin’s paintbrush, sculpting tool and pen. Before his “omages” to Mallarmé and Broodthaers, Bennequin created “Ommage” (a play on gomme, the French for eraser) by rubbing out the words on each page of the seven volumes of Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu. From this effort, he issues artist books in limited editions. But nothing goes to waste — not the eraser dust, not the worn erasers, not the activity, not even the sound.
Mo(n)ts et Tom(b)es is the display of small mountains of erased words (ink, paper and rubber) alongside the ruined tomes from which they came. Sur un rêve de John Cage … takes this work to another level. Bennequin has filmed a gradualpassage of light over one such small mountain of erased words and timed it to coincide with a performance of Cage’s Dream (1948). In its visual effect, it could also be an homage to Cézanne’s Mont Saint Victoire series or Monet’s paintings of Rouen Cathedral. In its fusion of light, sound, material and thought, it takes us from the whimsy of omage and ommage to meditation.
Le Hasard N’Abolira Jamais Un Coup de Dés(Changes of Music) (2020)
Le Hasard N’Abolira Jamais Un Coup de Dés(Changes of Music) (2020) Jérémie Bennequin Film (4 minutes, 33 seconds) recorded on USB drive, embedded in cloth-tape-bound foam boards. H210 x W150 mm. Edition of 6, of which this is #2. Photos: Books on Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artist.
The film records dice being thrown against the open pages of Bennequin’s 2014 omage (see above). Continuing with his technique of homage within homage, Bennequin’s Le Hasard N’Abolira Jamais Un Coup de Dés(Changes of Music) reverses John Cage’s 1951 Music of Changes not only in its title but also in its recorded notes. While the object in the Books on Books Collection fixes the reversal in the film on the USB drive, the reader can view and listen to it here and compare the recording with Cage’s original here.
Bennequin, Jérémie. “Lecture”. Leeds Beckett University, 25 February 2016. Accessed 10 April 2020.
Briers, David. “Reading as Art”, Art Monthly, October 2016, pp. 25-26.
Mœglin-Delcroix, Anne. “De l’appropriation artistique d’œuvres littéraires dans le livre d’artiste: entre destruction et incorporation” in Annette Gilbert (ed.), Wiederaufgelegt. Zur Appropriation von Texten und Büchern in Büchern (Bielefeld : transcript, 2012) p. 233-264).
Reading as Art (2016) Simon Morris, ed. Perfect bound paperback. H297 x W210 mm. Acquired from Information as Material, 22 August 2020. Photo: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the publisher.
Simon Morris and Books On Books crossed paths at the opening of an exhibition at the Meermanno Museum in The Hague. The exhibition was called “The Art of Reading“, and he gave a talk on his performative work Reading as Art (2004), a compiled-stills film of him reading and turning the pages of a book. (Not at all like watching paint dry or grass grow, if you are unkindly thinking so.) Reading as Art (the volume) provides a taste of Reading as Art (the performance) with black-and-white frames from the film appearing at the bottom right-hand corner of nearly every page: just run your thumb down the fore edge and let the pages flip to see the “action”.
Details from Reading as Art (the book). Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the publisher.
That feature of this one volume speaks volumes about Simon Morris as an artist. The idea of “reading as art” is not far off “publishing as art”. Morris’s collaborative publishing operation Information as Material has employed nearly every tool in the “Publishing as Artistic Toolbox“, as the 2018 exhibition in Vienna was called: documented performances, polemics, apps, free downloadable PDFs, prints and broadsides, and a journal Inscription, whose first issue is a sculptural bookwork and comes with a vinyl LP record, poster and chapbook.
Reading as Art (the volume) provides running commentary on all of the exhibition’s entries, which fall into two categories. The first includes works such as that . The second includes works such as that
It is strange that this polemic does not mention William Blake among literary history’s do-it-yourselfers. Although their primary message of “don’t wait for a commercial publisher” is for wordsmiths, the authors include the book artist Johanna Drucker among their hortatory examples as well as The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, which can lay a plausible claim to being the first work of modern book art, even before Blake’s “artist’s books”. The authors themselves have even played their parts in book art. So why no nod to the world of book art and its past and current contributions to Do or DIY?
In the 1960s and 70s, book artists’ democratic multiples aimed to sidestep the galleries, museums and art industry. Whether chicken or egg, photocopying and cheap printing brought forth or hatched Siegelaub’s The Xerox Book, Ruscha’s Royal Road Test and many more fair fowl. By century’s end and into the 21st, book artists were still doing it themselves, but the democratic multiple ceded quite a bit of territory to limited editions and unique works. Toward the 20th century’s end, desktop publishing and digital publishing, however, offered up a different, much larger target — the super-concentrated publishing industry — for a much larger cadre of creators — wordsmiths. Perhaps that bit-torrent caught up the authors on this occasion.
Still, the occasion itself — an exhibition that saw the polemic printed on indoor walls and on outside posters — must have appealed to the book art community. Book art makes us read differently, and that clearly happened with this exhibition.
Royal Road to the Unconscious (2004)
This is the book of the movie. Or the book of the movie “made by the book” of the movie. Or…. Better let the artist explain:
Utilising Ed Ruscha’s book Royal Road Test as a readymade set of instructions, seventy-eight students cut out every single word from Sigmund Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams. On Sunday, June 1st, 2003, the artist, Simon Morris (thrower) threw the words out of the window of a Renault Clio Sport on Redbridge Road, Crossways, Dorset, travelling at a speed of 90mph, approximately 122 miles southwest of Freud’s psychoanalytical couch in London. The action freed the words from the structural unity of Freud’s text as it subjected them to an ‘aleatory moment’ – a seemingly random act of utter madness.
Daniel Jackson (filmmaker), Maurizio Cogliandro (photographer) and Dallas Seitz (photographer) documented the action as 222,704 words erupted from the window of the car. They also recorded the stream of words strewn along the side of the road. Dr. Howard Britton, a psychoanalyst (driver), directed them to any slippages or eruptions of the Real that occurred in the reconfigured text. The poetic act of liberating Freud’s text allows us to engage with what Jacques Lacan called the register of the Real. The concept of the Real is far removed from anything that we conventionally attribute to reality. It is the experience of a world without language. If language names, it is all that escapes the name – an encounter beyond images and words.
Conceptual art can do one’s head in. So, in the meantime, enjoy the aleatory moment.
LINE UP (2020) Raffaella della Olga Cloth on board with spiral binding of 28 card folios. H270 x W290 mm (closed). Edition of twenty-six, of which this is #8. Acquired from Three Star Books, 4 November 2020. Photo: Books On Books Collection, displayed with the artist’s permission.
Formerly a lawyer, Raffaella della Olga turned from the manipulation of legal text to the artistry of the letter and its “total expansion” — the book — as well as its manifestation in light and textiles. Her chief tool of art is a set of customized typewriters. Most of her works are unique pieces, each entitled with the emblematic letter T followed by the ordinal number of its creation — up to T28 as of this writing.
The limited edition of LINE UP offered an unusual opportunity to add to the Books On Books collection a work that resonates with its subset of abecedaries and one by an artist who shares a deep interest in another theme in the collection: Un coup de Dés jamais n’abolira le Hasard. Since 2009, she has created bookworks that reveal an artist’s and careful reader’s appreciation of the poem.
Title page and colophon from LINE UP. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with the artist’s permission.
LINE UP is very much a collaborative work between Raffaella della Olga and Three Star Books, founded in 2007 by Christophe Boutin and Mélanie Scarciglia with Cornelia Lauf (2007-2015). The edition consists of twenty-six spiral-bound copies, each with a unique cover produced by rubbings on canvas and differently colored. The title page and colophon take up two of the card folios in the volume, which leaves twenty-six for the printed content. Blocks of vertical blue lines turn the pages into letters based on the Epps-Evans alphabet, designed in the 1960s with only horizontal and vertical strokes in an attempt at machine readability.
Alphabet (1970) Timothy Epps and Dr. Christopher Evans Hilversum: de Jong & Co., 1970. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
Discerning the letters in LINE UP feels sometimes like squinting one’s way through an optical illusion. The eye is bewitched by a color-shifting, almost stroboscopic effect created by four squares of embossed lines printed from the reverse side, always in the same position. Della Olga credits Christophe Boutin (Three Star Press) with introducing this effect.
The letters “a”, “b” and “c”.
Left: The four embossed squares seen from the verso. Right: The color shift between the embossed and flat squares.
The letter “k” at different angles of light.
The first of della Olga’s works reflecting the influence of Mallarmé’s poem was Un Coup De Dés Jamais N’abolira Le Hasard – Constellation (2009), which was shown in the Gulbenkian’s “Pliure” exhibition in Paris in 2015. In a darkened room with an attendant turning the pages, the poem’s words, painted in phosphorescent powder, flickered into existence.
A year later came this rendition: Jamais Le Hasard N’abolira Un Coup De Dés – Permutation (2010). Although the link goes to an online presentation, the work is analogue and unique. In correspondence (9 December 2020), Della Olga writes, “I took apart the book the Gallimard edition as a whole, without the paratext. I folded the double pages and deleted with white paint the part of the poem that appear.” A close look at the framed pages reveals the faint shadows of the painted-over text. On the wall, the permutation arises in the changeable order of hanging, which the online algorithm permits the viewer to perform.
Her most recent homage to Mallarmé’s poem is Un Coup de Dés – Trame (2018). Like Constellation with its reference to and enacting of the poem’s constellation metaphor, and like Permutation with its reference to and enacting of chance, Trame well reflects della Olga’s penetration of the poem and transformation of it into artwork that stands strongly on its own and in comparison with other works of homage by Marcel Broodthaers, Michalis Pichler and Cerith Wyn Evans.
The word trame is le mot juste in its application to the work and its referent. Its meanings — frame, woof, weft and weaving — shift across the work’s technique and material and evoke the poem’s typographical weaving as a framework with which to realize the “total expansion of the letter”.
Here’s hoping for further expansion into limited editions.
Spencer, Herbert, and Colin Forbes. New Alphabets A to Z (New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 1974). Source of the artist’s first encounter with the Epps-Evans alphabet. (Correspondence with Books On Books, 6 December 2020)
Even under the glass of vitrine or screen, Yasutomo Ota’s Die Forelle evokes by typography, image and structure a physical perception hard to shake.†
Die Forelle (2014) Yasutomo Ota Printed on 34 narrow laminated cardboard strips per sheet, which are held together by two threads, one on each side. Eighteen unnumbered pages H140 x 300 mm in box H160 x W340 x D50 mm. All photos with permission of the artist.
Franz Schubert first wrote a song called Die Forelle, based on a poem of the same name by Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart. Schubert was later commissioned to turn it into a piece of chamber music, which resulted in the “Trout Quintet” (1819).
If you are lucky enough to live near one of the six libraries that hold a copy of Ota-san’s Die Forelle, you can take your phone and earbuds, cast your line for it in the quiet of the rare book section and listen to the music inspired by the poem printed across the pages made of thirty-four laminated cardboard strips held together by two rows of threads and wriggling in your hands like a fish and flowing over them like a stream.
Or failing such access, you can view the artist’s demonstration here. The book’s structure is based on the chikukan, originally a Chinese scroll formed of bamboo strips, written on vertically and linked by thread to be rolled up correspondingly. The Coptic binding, the type that reads horizontally and the printing on both sides of a leaf shifts the form from scroll to codex. Also, as the artist writes, “By using the alphabet on a panel intended for vertical writing brings a strong sense of the direction taken by the written word” (Correspondence with Books On Books, 9 November 2020).
Of course, the Asian printing tradition also included horizontal reading and printing on both sides of the scroll. Consider the dragon-scale binding of the Diamond Sutra re-created by Zhang Xiadong (demonstrated here).
Examples of dragon-scale binding in the National Library of China’s permanent display of the history of the book in China. Photos: Marcia Watt, reproduced with permission.
“Balinese Bamboo Book”, Special Collections & Archives Research Center. Accessed November 10, 2020, .
Contemporary book art also holds vertical and horizontal variations on the related “Venetian blind” or bamboo book form. Consider the dynamic Diagram of Wind by Barbara Tetenbaum (demonstrated below) and Diane Harries’ Legacy (below).
Diagram of Wind (2015) Barbara Tetenbaum Letterpress printed texts and images cut into strips and adhered to Japanese ‘silk tissue’ (gampi). Sewn to cloth and wood backing. Supported by a wood wave-form platform and held inside a lidded box made of cloth and book board. Poem by Michael Donaghy: “Glass”. H17 x W10 x D3 inches, ten pages. Edition of 30, of which this is #. Acquired from the artist, 8 October 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
Legacy (2018) Diane Harries Venetian-blind book. Photos: Reproduced with permission of the artist.
In all of the works above, form draws attention to itself but also inevitably back to the content. The reader/viewer marvels at the mechanics of each work and how its interaction with hand and eye creates a simile for its content. The unscrolling and fluttering dragon-scale binding demands a prayer’s concentration and contemplation. The “curveship” of the support, the segmentation of the Donaghy poem “Glass” into strips, and the stir and lift of pages under the slightest breath demonstrate the wave form that Tetenbaum investigated for three years. Panel by panel, connected by slender threads, Legacy draws together different pasts in Harries’s work. Likewise, the flipping, slipping, shuttering/shuddering of Die Forelle‘s pages re-create the trout in the brook. That is book art at its best.
† With thanks to Andrew Schuller for drawing attention to Yasutomo Ota.
Emerging from its snugly fitting box constructed by François Da Ros, Régine Detambel’s and Martine Rassineux’s livre d’artiste hints at a debt to the legacy of Iliazd with its pearlescent case over a tapered paper cover for the loose folios, although the case’s fixed spine winks at differentiation. With the curling, diagonal and spiralling letterpress, the hint grows stronger. Yet, there is a roundness — almost softness — in the typographical acrobatics, leading away from the hint at the more linear, angular works of Iliazd. That is the mark of François Da Ros, typographer for Ilinx. Rassineux and Da Ros diverge as much from Iliazd as he diverged from the tradition of Ambroise Vollard, Daniel Kahnweiler and Aimé Maeght.
With folios removed. Note the tapering of the inner folder at both ends.
In its text and etchings, Ilinx also shouts and laughs a kinship with Pieter Breugel the Elder’s Children’s Games (1560). Ilinx does not share any tut-tutting at childish foolishness that may reside in Breugel’s depiction; rather it celebrates a shared exuberance and recognition of significance in child’s play. Where Breugel finds that significance in drawing parallels with adult activities and rituals, Detambel’s text and Rassineux’s etchings find it in sheer phenomenological physicality, which Da Ros’s typography enhances.
Just as Breugel must have observed children closely to show the eighty or so games in his painting, so has Rassineux. Ilinx began in a playground where Rassineux watched over her pupils (600 per week) and noticed one of the African girls, the first in Ilinx, turning her face to the sun and spinning in place. Over time, she noticed others, regardless of origin, doing the same — as if something universal were engraved unconsciously in each child. From this, came the Cours series — washes, charcoal drawings and some 40 engravings on rectangular plates.
Presented with some of these works, Régine Detambel introduced Rassineux to Roger Caillois‘ Les jeux et les homines (1958), in which he outlined four basic categories of play or games:
Agon, or competition.
Alea, or chance.
Mimicry, or mimesis, or role playing.
Ilinx (Greek for “whirlpool”), or games inducing vertigo or disorientation.
With this background, Detambel insisted that the title of this livre d’artiste must be Ilinx. With their text and images, Detambel and Rassineux follow the children’s spinning games with a beginning and five “turns”, which appear in twelve pages across three folios. Caillois suggests that the spinning games are grounded in both a natural exuberance and need to escape the “tyranny of perception”. Rassineux’s drawings deliberately vary the perspective from which the children are viewed and encourage the viewer, paradoxically, to perceive that escape from the tyranny of perception. Likewise Detambel’s final verse. Likewise Da Ros’s cutting out the children from the etchings and positioning them in action on the page. And, most of all likewise, Da Ros’s spiral setting of lines, “re-enacting” the artist’s drawings, the poet’s words and the Ilinx (whirlpool).
At the last turn, there is no age. Only life in the blood. Flurrying as if into snow. Blood rose-red, flickering red-rose, clinging to a thread.†
Curious about the sixth and blank folio after the colophon folio, I wrote to ask about its purpose. After the opening manipulations — removal of the encased portfolio from its celloderm and wood slipcase and then removal of the portfolio from its cover in Japanese nacré Torinoko Kozu (180 gsm) — there is no further prefacing to the loose folios. There is the title folio, then commencement folio, and the whirling has begun. So that the reader/viewer’s eyes and hands do not leave the book too abruptly, the sixth folio acts as a counterweight, a pause to allow the spinning to stop, a blank on which the pulse behind the eyes can project.
Ilinx – Collection VARIA (2019)
Ilinx – Collection VARIA is a follow-on hardback providing behind-the-scenes insight into the making of Ilinx the portfolio. It shows Rassineux and Da Ros at work in the studio, images of cast and locked type, etching plates juxtaposed with their proofs, paste-up plans. Note how, to have more latitude for the typography and layout, Da Ros cut out the engravings from the plates. The plates have been gilded, which is more elegant than scoring the plates to fix in place the limited edition.
Ilinx – Collection VARIA (2019) François Da Ros and Martin Rassineux H278 x W326 x D12 mm, 60 pages. Edition of 50, of which this is #2. Acquired from the artists, 21 August 2020. Photos of pages: Books On Books Collection, displayed with artists’ permission.
Although printed offset rather than letterpress, Ilinx–Collection VARIA demonstrates the same art-making attention to detail shown in Ilinx. Printed with an HP Indigo offset digital press on Mohawk proPhoto beaded paper semi-gloss 190gsm, the full-color images printed do not mask the texture or surface of the paper as sometimes happens with some toner prints. Instead, the ink is absorbed by the paper as happens with traditional offset lithography. As Rassineux further explained in correspondence with Books On Books,
We chose the photos in relation to the round shape that often comes up in the concerns of François who made mechanics for two years to be able to build and troubleshoot his presses and because he always saw in the mechanical movement a relationship with the universal mechanical. The final image is a wind-up spinning toy that belonged to my mother…. All the elements we use come from our daily lives, and from our experiences, that are a whole. (Correspondence, 11 November 2020)
Colophon page. Photo of page: Books On Books Collection, displayed with artists’ permission.
For another example of art driven “from our daily lives”, the reader/viewer can do no better than to visit the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (KB, National Library, The Hague: Koopman Collection) to see the gilded plates mentioned above. They reside in a drawer removed from the Da Ros/Rassineux studio and finished off as a wooden case for the library’s copy of Ilinx.
Photos: Books On Books Collection. Shown with permission of the artists and the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (KB, National Library, The Hague: Koopman Collection).
Rassineux sends you best wishes on the first year of the third millennium (2001)
This elegant New Year’s greeting came with the Books On Books purchase of Ilinx. A sweet gift of ephemera that freezes a fresh start in place with the artistry of movable type in motion and a print made by gravure au sucre (sugar etching). Rassineux’s explanation:
The basic technique of the sugar engraving is that on a perfectly degreased copper you draw with a solution of sugar and China ink (which is only used to make your drawing very black near your etching) then it is covered with varnish and the sugar mixture will burst the varnish because the sugar dilates and you will find again the design in copper version that you will have to weave by an aquatint. (Correspondence, 11 November 2020)
† Translation: Books On Books. The phrase “Le sang qui tourne jusqu’a monter en neige” turns on a French culinary expression — jusqu’a monter en neige — for whipping egg whites into a meringue. Régine Detambel prefers the less literal translation, which echoes earlier lines and images in the poem.
Francesco Griffo da Bologna: Fragments and Glimpses (2020)
Francesco Griffo da Bologna: Fragments and Glimpses (2020) Rollin Milroy H234 x W159 mm, 114 pages. Edition of 50, of which this is #32. Acquired from Heavenly Monkey, 4 November 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
Several collections of Aldine volumes made themselves known around 2015, the 500th anniversary of the death of Aldus Manutius. Several have digitized their collections to make them more accessible. By gathering these fragments and glimpses of the hand behind the roman, Greek, Hebrew and italic typefaces designed and cut in late 15th-century and early 16th century Venice for those volumes, Heavenly Monkey (founded and run by Rollin Milroy) has followed a different path. A collector himself and artist of the book, Milroy has created this work to bring himself and the reader closer to Francesco Griffo da Bologna and the historical and contemporary hunt to identify him and appreciate his typographic accomplishment.
He presents a letterpress work in the modern version of the Bembo typeface cut by Griffo for the Aldine printing of Pietro Bembo’s tract De Aetna (1495), whence the typeface gained its name. In another step closer to Griffo, not only does Heavenly Monkey use simplified versions of initial letters attributed to Griffo, he offers up a note and display page that include those letters not used in the text (see below).
Note that distortion of the letters is due to photography of the curved page.
Physically true to its title, the book consists — except for the frontmatter, backmatter and brief explanatory text — of fragments: extracts from secondary sources and an actual leaf from the Aldine edition of Ovid’s Heroidum Epistolae set in Griffo’s first italic type. The leaf comes from the second of the three-volume Aldine Ovid, which over time was subject to prudish excision of racier parts, which Heavenly Monkey speculates may have led to the break-up of the copy used here to supply the leaf included. Some historians and collectors may question the inclusion of the leaf. Others as well as artists of the book will thrill to it as an act of preservation, appropriation, dissemination and homage.
The book’s prologue is an English summary of a passage from Giuseppe Fumagalli’s 1905 lexicon of Italian typography that sets out and settles the 19th century debate about the identity of Griffo, a confusion that would resurface for the legendary typographer Stanley Morison in 1923. With a narrative technique similar to an epistolary novel, Milroy lays out extracts from histories of printing, prefaces to reprints of Aldine works, biographies of the historians in the debate, the Fine Arts Quarterly Review and bibliographical journal articles to tell the story of “which Francesco was he?” The same technique lays out the development and differing opinions in reception of Griffo’s cutting of the roman, Greek, Hebrew and italic types. While following the stories of those faces, the reader walks through a hall of illustrious historians and typographers — Nicolas Barker, Joseph Blumenthal, Philip Meggs, Giovanni Mardersteig, Stanley Morison again, Alfred Pollard, David Pottinger, Daniel B. Updike and many others. The next set of extracts explores the feud that led Griffo to leave Aldus Manutius and Venice to set up on his own in Fossombrone.
The next set of extracts attests to Griffo’s typographic legacy, and then comes the tipped-in foldout that protects the leaf taken from the Aldine Ovid, followed by the listing of Griffo’s six works published on his own, documented in F.J. Norton’s Italian Printers 1501-1520.
An important contribution comes in Appendices I-IV with Emma Mandley’s translations of key passages from books, letters and documents of the main protagonists in the debate over Francesco da Bologna’s identity: Antonio Panizzi, Giacomo Manzoni, Adamo Rossi and Emilio Orioli. Lovers of type specimens and the style of Stanley Morison will welcome the samples of the modern versions of the roman fonts for Poliphilus and Bembo and the italic fonts for Blado and Bembo. In a grace note, Heavenly Monkey includes samples for the italic and roman fonts of Mardersteig’s Dante, which Robert Bringhurst opined “has more of Griffo’s spirit than any other face now commercially available” (The Elements of Typographic Style, 1996, p. 213)”. Dante is the typeface Heavenly Monkey wanted initially to use but, on deciding that the main text would be set in italic, declined it. The Dante samples offer the reader the chance to compare and contrast it with the other faces and weigh Bringhurst’s opinion and Heavenly Monkey’s choice.
This fine press edition of Francesco Griffo da Bologna resonates with different works in the Books On Books Collection: Jacqueline Rush Lee‘s sculptural interpretation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Russell Maret‘s typographic adventure Hungry Dutch, Peter Koch‘s edition of Joseph Brodsky’s love letter to Venice Watermark and Bodil Rosenberg‘s sculptural evocation of that city in Canal Grande. But like Milroy’s other scholarly inquiry — About Agrippa — Francesco deserves an audience of students of book art and book arts as well as collectors. Here’s hoping that any library with a strong collection of fine press books and artist books will acquire Francesco.
Incantations(2005) Mayan Women Fathermothers of the Book: Ámbar Past with Xun Okotz and Xpetra Ernándes Casebound, glued. H250 x W250 x D50 mm, 194 pages. Acquired from Taller Leñateros, Chiapas, Mexico, 23 July 2020.
Acquisition of this anthology of magical songs and ritual paintings of Tsotsil women from the Highlands of Chiapas came primarily from an interest in its “paper”. The artists and craftworkers at Taller Leñateros keep alive the tradition of amate (or huun in Mayan) making. It is a substrate formed of macerated bark fiber pounded until the required thinness is reached. If the term “paper” applies only to material made from fiber macerated until each individual filament is a separate unit, then mixed with water, sieved with a screen and drained to generate a thin layer of intertwined fiber (Dard Hunter, p. 5), amate is not paper. Only the endpapers of the book appear to be made of amate. The text block is a combination of recycled office paper and off-white art paper.
Also of sculptural interest was the book cover, a paper mask in high and low relief cast from recycled cardboard, corn silk, and coffee. Arriving tightly enclosed in a brown cardboard clamshell box, painted and stenciled in black, lined with the same black endpapers used in the book, it made a startling entrance, enhanced by the firm prying to free it.
Even once free, Incantations resists the reader. So tightly glued and bound to its spine, the book block must be prised open. Small flakes of the paper mask cover fall. Repeated use would surely break it down. At first, disheartening, the resistance begins to play to the strength of the text and illustrations. Non-Mayan eyes and fingers seem to be intruding in an occult space.
La Jicara (1998)
La Jicara (1998) Leñateros Workshop Double-sided accordion journal made of sheets of brown kraft paper joined to create 56 double-sided pages, wrapped with a string threaded through a carved gourd. Acquired from Taller Leñateros, 23 July 2020.
Described as an “éditionmise en oeuvre“, the Ronat/Papp 1980 publication of Un Coup de Dés is indeed as much a “production” as any theatrical or cinematic mise en scéne. Equally apropos or more so, the phrase calls to mind the French for page layout: mise-en-page. The layout of the work certainly calls attention to itself as much as to the page. While it represents an effort to reflect Mallarmé’s “true” intentions for the page layout of Un Coup de Dés, the Ronat/Papp production delivers the poem in a set of loose F&Gs (folded and gathered folios), paired with another set of F&Gs (artwork, poems and essays) and enclosed in a portfolio.
The first effort to follow Mallarmé’s intention as intimated in his corrected proofs of the abandoned Ambroise Vollard version was the 1914 NRF edition, which also called attention to itself with its oversized format, but it was sewn and bound into its paper cover as usual. Its lay-flat binding eased reading the lines of verse that run across the book’s gutter.
By unbinding that space that usually sinks into the gutter, Ronat and Papp retain the readability across the gutter but introduce an interesting instability. The unitary view of the double-page spread that Mallarmé intended falls prey to physical chance. Lines across pages can fall out of alignment as folios slip up or down. If the folios scatter, the reordering of the unnumbered pages relies on the guidance of the typography and memory. Oddly this forces a more hands-on engagement with the poem. No other edition intended for reading the poem feels as physical. The page and double-page spreads are felt.
Although also not bound, the order of the artwork, poems and essays in the right-hand set of F&Gs is traditionally fixed with pagination, as the front of its self-covering folio shows. More important is the cover title: “Le genre, que c’en devienne un …” (“the genre, that it becomes one …”). Those words begin the final sentence in the reproduction of Mallarmé’s reluctant note from the poem’s first publication. Cramped into the magazine Cosmopolis, the poem’s layout was still startling enough to the editors to require a preface from Mallarmé. Facetiously and seriously, his note explains how to read the poem. In varied ways, the F&Gs’ content also seriously and facetiously demonstrates how to read the poem. And starting and ending with Mallarmé’s words, the portfolio’s second half reflects the circularity of the poem it faces, which starts and ends with the words un coup de dés. An édition mise en oeuvre in deed.
So forget the debate over who was first to display the poem in the true form as Mallarmé intended. The second portfolio is proclaiming then proving by examples that Un Coup de Dés is a genre.
Mitsou Ronat‘s introduction sets the poem’s publishing history in context and explains this edition’s claim to reflect Mallarmé’s wishes for the poem’s presentation. In doing so, she puts forward her hypothesis that le Nombre (“the Number”) mysteriously posed in the poem is 12, the syllable count of each line in the French alexandrine couplet and ties this revelation to the page and double-page spread as units of meaning, culminating in the 24 pages of which the mise en oeuvre consists. Tibor Papp follows with his map of Déville (“Dice-town”). Overlapping inscriptions along the crisscrossing streets remind us of the sometimes overlooked humor in the Mallarmé industry. One street is labelled Saint-Mallarmé de la masturbation. Off one boulevard are the remparts des alexandrins (“battlements of the Alexandrines”), complete with a WC for passers-by. There is even a Métro stop named for Mallarmé’s Igitur, thematic predecessor to Un Coup de Dés. Another recalls the political cast of the times: premières allusions à la lutte des marginaux oubliées (“first allusions to the struggle of the forgotten marginalized”). But most important is the map as map, a poster, a sub-genre of the genre Un coup de Dés and forerunner to future works such as that by Aurélie Noury. In his essay near the end of the F&Gs, Papp asserts that Mallarmé was not preoccupied with print and typography for its haptic properties, rather he was simply seeking the tools appropriate to complete his text. This is Papp’s departure point for discussing the aims of Le Groupe d’atelier, which he founded with Paul Nagy and Philippe Dôme in 1972:
Pour l’écrivain, donc, d’aujourd’hui, l’attitude de mallarmé scrutant les caractères des affiches, travaillant ses épreuves par collage, déplaçant ses mots d’un millimétre, est une attitude parfaitement normale et logique, en même temps que son poème constitue un classique du genre.
Pour nous, l’écrivain assume son rôle jusqu’à la materialité de son texte.
“For today’s writer, then, the Mallarméan scrutiny of type display, working on his proofs by collage, moving his words by one millimeter, is perfectly normal and logical behavior, at the same time that his poem constitutes a classic of the genre.
For us, the writer’s role entails the materiality of the text.”
The remaining contributors traverse the ranges of the academic and artistic, the tongue-in-cheek and the serious, that Ronat and Papp establish. A more textual affair, “n’abolira Lazare” by Jacques Roubaud, a member of the OuLiPo movement, delivers an homage to Mallarmé replete with numerical and linguistic puns, appropriate to a professor of mathematics and literature, and a translator of Lewis Carroll. Bruno Montels‘ “Convoquer le peu” displays his signature combination of handwriting and typographic experimentation.
“L’Entre croisement” by Jean Pierre Faye (a visual linguistic pun, “threshold” and “intersection”) reads like notes for an academic lecture but in a free-verse layout. The poet/essayist Claude Minière‘s “Le Risque Picaresque” foreshadows(?) his essay Un Coup de Dés (Tinbad, 2019), which proposes Pascal’s wager and Pensées as a predecessor to Mallarmé.
Peruvian poet and writer Rodolfo Hinostroza‘s “Le Dieu de la Page Blanche” (“The God of the Blank Page”) delivers a diagrammatic exploration of the placement of verses on the page in Un coup de Dés, reminiscent of but less abstruse than Ernest Fraenkel’s Rohrschach-like exposition.