Books On Books Collection – Brian Larosche

Un Coup de 3Dés (2012)

Un Coup de 3Dés (2012)

Brian Larosche

H500 x W350 mm. Edition of 200, of which this is #162. Acquired from the artist, 15 April 2019.

In size, Larosche’s Un Coup de Dés outdoes most other versions and homage — except those that are installations. The large black cover suggests a dark movie screen on which Larosche’s version of the poem will play out in 3D. But why 3D? Trying to read Un Coup de Dés while wearing a pair of 3D glasses challenges the eyes’ patience just as much as the poem’s ambiguities challenge the mind’s. Within the Coup de Dés genre, there is a necessary strain of strained humor. Without it, art runs the risk of taking us too seriously.

L: Ultimate History Project; R: The_National_Archives_UK. Accessed 27 June 2020.

Confirming this joking intention behind his version, Larosche commented to Books On Books:

I originally handmade the book so that it was to worn on the nose like a large pair of glasses, which was another practical joke because the letters were too close to read, as in so 3D that it was literally in your face. — Brian Larosche, 2 April 2020.

Even with puns and slapstick there is often a point. The anaglyphic print technique and sheer size of Larosche’s version draw attention to Mallarmé’s sculptural play with type size and layout on a 2D surface as well as the poem’s spatial metaphors that align with it. In Mallarmé’s original, the staggering and dispersal of lines and single words on the page buttress, and are buttressed by, the word images of a roiling sea, shipwreck and constellation. Other artists with other techniques have drawn attention to that sculptural play and those spatial metaphors: Marcel Broodthaers‘ superimposed black bars, Michalis Pichler‘s and Cerith Wyn Evans‘ cut-outs, Sammy Engramer‘s sonograms sculpted in PVC and Eric Zboya‘s computer graphic “translation”.

Other artists have also poked serious fun at Un Coup de Dés and each others’ homage. Jim Clinefelter teases the sonority of the poem with his A Throw of the Snore Will Surge the Potatoes (1998). With her Rubik’s cube version (2005), Aurélie Noury needles the poem’s and poet’s puzzle pose. With their piano-roll versions, Rainier Lericolais (2009) and Pichler (2016) pick on Broodthaers (1969) as well as Mallarmé (1897) for their spatial metaphors and, in Mallarme’s case, his assertions of musicality. In Rodney Graham’s version (2011), Popeye substitutes for le Maître as the ship’s captain.

Larosche’s perceptively humorous rendering of Un Coup de Dés has earned it a secure perch among the other birds of the homage feather, and the use of 3D glasses seems to invite another layer of homage from artists interested in virtual reality headgear and augmented reality devices.

Further Reading

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

Cerith Wyn Evans”, Books On Books Collection, 16 April 2020.

French, Thomas. “3-D : Of Decidedly Victorian Origins“, The Ultimate History Project. Accessed 27 June 2020.

Rodney Graham“, Books On Books Collection, 2 July 2020.

Noury, Aurélie. Un coup de dés (rubik’s cube) (Rennes: Éditions lorem ipsum, 2005). Accessed 27 June 2020.

Pichler, Michalis. Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard (SCULPTURE) (2008). Accessed 27 June 2020.

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

Books On Books Collection – Rodney Graham

Poème : “Au Tatoueur” (2011)

As with many of the homage to Un Coup de Dés, the subtitle here matters. For Bennequin, it was “Homage” with it missing “m” from the French; for Broodthaers, “Image”; for Engramer, “Wave”; for Pichler, “Sculpture” and “Musique”; for Zboya, “Translations”. Graham’s subtitle, being in quotation marks, indicates that what follows is a missive, not a form. The missive addressed to a local tattoo artist was arranged à la Mallarmé and described an image of Popeye that Graham wanted. But the twist that makes Graham’s version work is the translation of the instructions into French and their publication in the 1913 format of Mallarmé’s poem. This is an intricate “set-up”. In a way, it is analogous to Mallarmé’s careful attention to the positioning of words and lines, the kind of mise-en-scène that characterizes much of Graham’s photography and painting.

The set-ups extend across time and works as well. Au Tatoueur inspired Tattooed Man On Balcony 2018, the story of which is told here. Further evidence of Graham’s humor in book art and intricate set-ups can be found in White Shirt (for Mallarmé) Spring 1993 (1992), [La Véranda] (1989) and The System of Landor’s Cottage. A Pendant to Poe’s Last Story (1987), all at the Tate Modern.

Further Reading

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

Cerith Wyn Evans”, Books On Books Collection, 16 April 2020.

French, Thomas. “3-D : Of Decidedly Victorian Origins“, The Ultimate History Project. Accessed 27 June 2020.

Gardner, Allan. “Confessions Of A Window Cleaner: Rodney Graham Interviewed“, The Quietus, 21 October 2018. Accessed 28 June 2020.

Rodney Graham Art Exhibition“, NY Art Beat, 11 January 2019. Accessed 28 June 2020.

Brian Larosche“, Books On Books Collection, 2 July 2020.

Noury, Aurélie. Un coup de dés (rubik’s cube) (Rennes: Éditions lorem ipsum, 2005). Accessed 27 June 2020.

Pichler, Michalis. Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard (SCULPTURE) (2008). Accessed 27 June 2020.

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

Books On Books Collection – Susan Hiller

The Artist’s Palette Alphabet (2013)

The Artist’s Palette Alphabet (2013)

Susan Hiller

Glued board with 26 removable postcards as pages, offset and letterpress on card. H102 x W155 mm. Edition of 500 and special edition of 25 signed and numbered, with original postcard attached to the cover, of which this is #22. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Like Hiller’s first book, Rough Sea (1976), this compilation of postcards uses the postcard as art material not only to create an artwork but also to color and shape it with this form of collective memory. By making the postcards detachable this time, she also taps into a democratic strain with artist books. Each copy of the work has the potential of being partly shared with 26 other recipients, leaving The Artist Palette Alphabet to exist only as its cover.

For a collection like Books On Books, the choice of the special edition copy showing Frankfurt-am-Main, home of the centuries-old book fair, was inevitable and lucky.

Further Reading

ABCs: Bookmarking Book Art”, Books On Books, 29 November 2015.

Marion Bataille”, Books On Books Collection, 26 March 2020.

Various articles on Hiller, including a review from Harper’s Bazaar on Hiller’s posthumous solo exhibition at Frieze Masters and Matt’s Gallery in October 2019.

Books On Books Collection – Judy Goldhill

Spiration (2018)

Spiration (2018)

Judy Goldhill

Belly band with edition details, spider style binding; eight leaves, 16 pages, 48 panels; laser printed onto 250gsm card glossy on one side. Open edition of signed copies. Acquired from AM Bruno, 9 November 2018. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

This spiral of imagery, is an allegory for breath, found in the material world,  photographed in the house I was building. A variety of modalities of folds – from the fold of our material selves, our bodies – to the folding of time, or simply memory, an interiority and exteriority. — Artist’s description

The “spider style” binding here is not quite the same as that designated by Hedi Kyle as the “spider book” in The Art of the Fold (2018). It is more a cross between an accordion fold, crown fold and spider book as explained by Kyle. It also recalls the effect of the Chinese dragon fold, exemplified by the re-creation of the Diamond Sutra by Zhang Xiaodong. Whatever its source or name, the fold and binding create a prismatic bookwork that invites teasing away each sheet and fold, poring over each panel as well as setting the work up in various display aspects.

Although Spiration is not currently listed in WorldCat, several of Goldhill’s other publications are: for example, In the Beginning and Sanguine Shifts, both of which arose from projects posed to the AM Bruno coalition of artists. Her work has drawn the attention of the British curator and writer David Alan Mellor.

Books On Books Collection – Louisa Boyd

Stardust (2013)

Stardust (2013) Louisa Boyd 
Leather bound, oil-based ink, Somerset paper, micro-fibre suede, Magnani handmade ivory wove paper, metal leaf, pencil crayon; 16 panels.
Closed – H70 x W45cm x D10 mm; Open – H70 x W420 mm. Edition of 20, of which this is #10. Acquired from the artist, 28 May 2017. Photos: Courtesy of the artist.

Other works, not in collection

Flare
2013
Magnani handmade white wove paper
12cm x 12cm x 8cm
© Louisa Boyd, reproduced with permission of the artist

Through abstraction and symbol, Louisa Boyd‘s art focuses on sense of place and our intrinsic connection to nature. The titles of three of her artist’s book series – Infinity, Landscape, and Mapping – and those of the book art in them – Aether (2013), A Walk (2001), and Cartography I (2014)  – reflect that focus. How she manages abstract imagery and symbol across her range of material and techniques – paper (including hand-marbled paper), book structure, printmaking (block, screen, letterpress), watercolor, metalwork, leatherwork – adds to that unifying focus through a rightness of choice but also introduces a breadth of originality and variety.

In Aether, the crayon work, cutting and metalwork are applied with a three-dimensional sense wedded to an obvious understanding of the possibilities of the page and double-page spread. The stop-motion animation video tour of Aether (click on the image below) makes you wonder if Boyd conceived the work as a flipbook in the first place. There is no wondering, however, about the place of human existence in relation to the aether. In the video, look at the lower righthand fore-edge of the book.

Aether
2013
Leather handbound artist’s book with box. Cover in leather and paper onlay. Edge coloring.
© Louisa Boyd, reproduced with permission of the artist
For a video tour of Aether, click on the image.

A Walk illustrates Boyd’s skill with freestanding three-dimensional sculpture, a skill that has grown in The Flight Series (more later on two of its works from 2009) and The Paper Manipulation Series, from which the work Flare above comes.

A Walk 
2001
Handbound artists book, torn and cut with each page individually painted to depict the different views of a walk through the landscape. Watercolour on paper.
© Louisa Boyd, reproduced with permission of the artist
For a video tour of A Walk, click on the image. (Caveat: The title of the work in the video varies from that here, which is taken from Boyd’s website.)

Her use of abstract markings and the Turkish map folding technique in Cartography I demonstrates again her careful marriage of abstraction, symbol and technique.

Cartography I
2014
Turkish map-fold book with etched pages and collagraph end papers. Somerset paper. Blind tooled leather cover.
Edition of 3
Dimensions open: H 5” x W 10”x D 4”
Dimensions closed: diameter 5”, depth 1”
© Louisa Boyd, reproduced with permission of the artist

The etching printed on each of the three internal folded pages is an abstract that nevertheless evokes mapping, which the form and fold of the pages reinforces. Each Turkish fold page can lay flat to be viewed individually, or as pictured above and below, the book may be viewed as a sculpture.

Cartography I from above
© Louisa Boyd, reproduced with permission of the artist

The video tours (links embedded the images of Aether and A Walk above) represent Boyd’s search for what she calls “a bridge between traditional and contemporary media”. So far, that exploration reflects the artist’s rootedness in the book arts and traditional skills and processes of drawing, printing and painting. It is intriguing to think what effect a bit of influence from Helen Douglas or Amaranth Borsuk might have on Boyd’s bridge. The use of stop-action video for Aether hints at an instinct for what Douglas calls “visual narrative”.

A professed recurrent theme in Boyd’s book art is “restriction and freedom”. Although it arises from periods of city dwelling and lack of access to the countryside, imposed by the UK’s 2001 “foot and mouth” epidemic, it manifests itself in the more “traditional” spur of constraint of form and structure that goads an artist’s imagination. Flock (2009) and A Walk bear close resemblance, but note the difference in invention whereby the former plays with the book form by placing the bird imagery at the edges, spirals the paper tearing upwards and gradates the watercolor from dark to light (like a flock dispersing) and the latter deals with the “restricted” walk by blending the watercolor with tearing and tunneling.

Flock
2009
Artist’s book with watercolour
© Louisa Boyd, reproduced with permission of the artist

Take Flight (2009) frees its bird imagery even more fully from the structure of the book and occupies space as a fully three-dimensional work.

Take Flight
2009
Artist’s book with watercolour
© Louisa Boyd, reproduced with permission of the artist

Detail
Take Flight
2009
Artist’s book with watercolour
© Louisa Boyd, reproduced with permission of the artist
Multifaceted
2014
edition of 4
Dimensions closed 4” x 2” x 1/2” (10cm x 5cm x 1cm) open 4” x 21 1/2” (9cm x 51cm)
Leather, oil-based ink, Somerset and Magnani paper
© Louisa Boyd, reproduced with permission of the artist

Although Multifaceted returns to the theme of different views that was the intent in A Walk, it tilts the theme more toward the abstract side of Boyd’s work. In this, Multifaceted is more akin to the works in The Paper Manipulation Series: Flare (2013), Whorl (2013), and Pleat (2013). It almost purely plays with the concept of differing perspectives. Again, techniques and form express concept with a simple rightness. This double-sided leporello is designed to be viewed from four different angles. The display of photos here cannot offer the intended perspective (pun intended): the viewer needs to circle the piece to view its facets. That word “facet” is tooled on the interior pages four times, the clue as to how the book should be read.

Multifaceted I from above
© Louisa Boyd, reproduced with permission of the artist
Multifaceted II collage view
© Louisa Boyd, reproduced with permission of the artist

The abstract imagery evoking landscape or skyscape – whether juxtaposed vertically or horizontally – plays with viewpoint. Even the print technique on the interior pages plays with viewpoint: they are prints of an etching inked up both in relief and intaglio.  Breaking free of the ultimate restriction of the book, the pages are not attached to the cover, allowing the piece to be read in four different directions. These features of the work and the seeming absence of that human figure from Aether throw it back on the viewer’s necessary engagement to establish fully the human connection: by engaging with Multifaceted – “reading” it –  the viewer enacts the human place in the aether around the work.

Since graduating from Manchester Metropolitan University in 2001 and winning the Paperchase Future of Design Award (2001) and receiving a high commendation from the judges of the New Designer of the Year (2001), Boyd has exhibited in 46 venues. Her 47th is the most significant so far: inclusion in the John Ruskin Prize Shortlist Exhibition at Millennium Gallery in Sheffield, UK (21 June – 8 October, 2017). If this book artist manages to continue her sure-handed forging of concept, material and method, the Ruskin Prize Shortlist Exhibition will not be her last significant exhibition.

Further reading about Louisa Boyd and her work:

‘The 2017 exhibition has a theme of the “Artist as Polymath” and the jury have selected a shortlist of artists and makers whose works cross boundaries, take a multidisciplinary approach and bring together varying techniques and materials. As an artist who has been making artist’s books since my final year at university in 2000, I have found that such an approach to work has been essential to bring together concept and visual aesthetics.’

Books On Books Collection -The Last Word on the Ampersand

Isn’t it surprising that, given the greater frequency in human discourse of “yeah, but” over “yeah, and”, we can write “yeah, &”, but there is no logogram for “but”? No one can say that the last word has been said, written, printed or had about the ampersand. Someone will always be ready to append an & … but that has not stifled many an attempt. Apparently they have occurred every twenty years or so since 1936.

The Typophiles (based in New York and now a non-profit) organized the first attempt. Typographer Frederic W. Goudy and calligrapher Paul Standard contributed serious pamphlets on the subject to otherwise whimsical entries in this now rare portfolio volume: Diggings from Many Ampersandhogs (1936).

Some twenty years later along comes Jan Tschichold’s A Brief History of the Ampersand (1957), initially in German in 1953), which reproduced and updated Goudy’s set of examples and deepened the scholarship on the subject.

After Tschichold’s “last word”, The Ampersand Club (yes, there is one) invited one of its distinguished members — Rutherford Aris, Professor of Chemical Engineering (and Classics!) at the University of Minnesota — to attempt another “last word” in 1980.

While there are a few publications falling around 1999/2000, nothing approaches the colophonic status of the Typophiles’, Tschichold’s or the Ampersanders’ efforts. It’s not as if ampersand aficionados were running out of &s. Consider Robert Slimbach’s Poetica™️ (1992), his family of type that boasts 62 different ampersands.

Robert Slimbach’s 62 ampersands in the Poetica™️ family

Jumping the gun on 2020, we have both the 2018 reissued edition of Tschichold’s “last word” on the subject and Ray Czapkowski‘s 2019 celebration of the Diggings of Many Ampersandhogs. It is somewhat fitting that the publisher of the reissue of Tschichold is named ~zeug, which is the German suffix appended to a verb to indicate the instrument for carrying out the verb’s activity — e.g., Spielen (to play), Spielzeug (toy). And entirely fitting, too, that ~zeug could not resist the urge to make up a deluxe version by adding Et & Ampersands: A Contemporary Collection to Tschichold’s A Brief History.

By definition, the Velvetyne/~zeug catalogue is not a last word, and its cataloging of newly designed ampersands attests to the ongoing “and-ness” of letter design, which brings us to the first item in this sub-collection within Books On Books …

Hungry Dutch (2020)

Hungry Dutch: A Typographic Adventure (2016)

Russell Maret

Maret’s pattern, matrix and punch for the Hungry Dutch ampersand came into the collection in 2020 as recognition of Books On Books’ contributing sponsorship of the design and manufacture of the typeface.

… & … A Brief History of the Ampersand (2018)

Jan Tsichichold

… & … The Ampersand in Script and Print (1980)

The Ampersand in Script & Print: An Essay in Honour of the Ampersand Club on the Occasion of its Semicentenary (1980)

Rutherford Aris

The endnoting to the pages displaying the numbered ampersands suits the publication of this scholarly “after-dinner” speech, which has one rocking back & forth between typographical puns and paleographical insights.

… & … Ampersand& (2006)

Ampersand& (2006)

Andrew Morrison

Board covers with a Caslon paper wrapper, cased over eleven linen-taped handsewn leaves of Somerset 300gsm, eleven images printed on a Vandercook proofing press. H175 x W180 mm. Acquired from the artist, 5 May 2020.

Printers have affection for the ampersand, not just because of its usefulness in shortening lines and in embellishing spaces, but also, I believe, because of its uniquely human shape; in one stroke it describes us, becomes a human pictogram. Placed together, ampersands appear endlessly various and take on human characteristics of slovenliness, arrogance, timidity and flamboyance. Ben Shahn said that the letters of the alphabet have an “austere dignity”, the ampersand in woodblock form, by contrast, is avuncular and buoyant. The book is a small celebration of the alphabet’s twenty-seventh letter and of design improvisation and characterisation within one simple symbolic form.
It’s hard to identify all the fonts used as many wooden fonts are local variations of standard faces but the book includes Cheltenham, Windsor, Gill, Grotesque and Caslon as well as some ampersands hand cut for this production. The text on the final page is hand set in Albertus.
— Information provided by the artist.

… & … The Well-Travelled Ampersand (2017)

The Well-Travelled Ampersand (2015-17)

Jennifer Farrell

Book: Dustjacket and case over perfect binding of 34 pages, offset, multiple edition. 178 x 178 mm. Portfolio: Sleeve of gray French Kraftone encasing 16 prints on white French Kraftone. 305 x 305 mm. Edition of 50, of which this is #42. Acquired from the artist, 5 May 2020. Photos: Courtesy of the artist.

The book (2017) comes in response to interest in Farrell’s portfolio of sixteen prints of celebrated designers’ ampersands (2015-17). Farrell has constructed each designer’s ampersand with ornaments and flourishes carefully locked into shape with typesetting furniture forms. Each also contains images composed of ornaments, and each conveys the city or country associated with the original designer or typeface. The artist has provided extensive commentary and numerous photos here and here.

London: Johnston Underground (1916) Edward Johnston. Photo: Books On Books Collection.

Paris: Frutiger (1976) Adrian Frutiger. Photo: Books On Books Collection.

Switzerland: Sonnenzimmer (2015) Nick Butcher & Nadine Nakanishi. Photo: Books On Books Collection.

Further Reading (& Viewing)

300&65 Ampersands” (NL: Ampersandampersand, ND). Accessed 19 June 2020.

Aris, Rutherford. The ampersand in script & print : an essay in honour of the Ampersand Club on the occasion of its semicentenary ([NL]: Ampersand Club, 1980)

Banham, Rob. “Material histories: Tschichold & ampersands“, Typography & Graphic Communications, 27 October 2016.

Bennett, Paul A; Charles M Adams; Gerald D McDonald; Hellmut Lehmann-Haupt. Concerning ampersands : a typophilic inquisition (New York: Typophiles, 1936)

Brodribb, Conant. & : the handy ampersand (Oxford : Demi-Griffin Press, 1987)

Cary, Jr., Melbert B. Some new light on the genesis of the ampersand (New York: Press of the Woolly Whale, 1936)

Czapkowski, Ray. “Ands & Ampersands”, American Printing History Association, 28 November 2019. On Goudy’s pamphlet and Diggings of Many Ampersands.

Eckmair, Frank C., and Edward O Smith, My nice little ampersand in American wood type, 1828-1900 (Buffalo, NY: F.C. Eckmair, 1984)

Farrell, Jennifer. The Well-Travelled Ampersand (Chicago: Starshaped Press, 2017)

Finley, Morgan. Another & another & another & : twenty-four explorations of the ampersand ([NL]: [NP], 200-?)

Firefly Press. Miscellaneous ampersands from the typecases of Firefly Press (Cambridge, MA: Firefly Press, 1982)

Goudy, Frederic W. Ands & ampersands, from the first century B.C. to the twentieth A.D. (New York: Typophiles, 1936)

Heller, Robert. “The Art of the Ampersand”, Visual Communication Quarterly, v15 n1-2 (200804): 100-112.

Houston, Keith. Shady characters : ampersands, interrobangs and other typographical curiosities (London: Penguin Books, 2015) See Houston’s postings on the ampersand.

Johnston, Edward. Writing & Illuminating & Lettering, reprint edition (London: Pitman House Ltd, 1977), Plate XII and p. 408.

Koeberlin, Christoph. “Ampersand”, Typefacts, 14 April 2009.

Left Side Right Side Brain Games. “History of the & (Ampersand)”, Chalking Points: A Series on Language. Accessed 20 June 2020.

Lehmann-Haupt, Hellmut. The legend of the ampersand (New York: New York University, 1936)

Luse, Karen. An experiment in literary excavation (Portland, ME: Karen Luse, 2005). Cavity created in textblock within which sections of pages are removed to form an ampersand. book attached to painted wooden board.

McLeod, Tara. The ampersand : the character known as an ampersand is an abbreviated form of and (Auckland: Pear Tree Press, 2004)

Miller, Melvin M. The origin and historical development of the ampersand ([NL]: Design Program of the Dept. of Fine Arts at Indiana University, 1965)

Minzoni, Marco. “Ampersand: A Symbol that Refuses to Die, Pixart Printing, 6 December 2019. Accessed 8 June 2020.

Mono Lino Typesetting Co. “The ampersand is an often neglected little fellow : it can link a name to any surface, join 2 enemies & help you through a tight space …” (Toronto: Mono Lino Typesetting Co., [19–])

Morley, Christopher, and Charles McCurdy The apologia of the ampersand (New York: Powgen Press, 1936[?])

Morrison, Andrew, Ampersand& (Stroud, Gloucestershire: Andrew Morrison, 2006)

Schiller, Albert. A curious invention (New York: Advertising Agencies’ Service Company; Typophiles, 1937)

Smith, G. Roland. Ampersands & oddments : notes for a jobbing calligrapher (Tonbridge: Skriber, 2009)

Standard, Paul; Clarence Pearson Hornung; Melvin Loos. The ampersand, sign of continuity (New York: George Grady Press, [195-?])

Stricker, Thomas Perry. & cetera : symbol of oblivion (New York: Lewis A. Alliger, 1936)

Sweet, Pat. Out of the alphabet (Riverside, CA: Bo Press Miniature Books, 2018)

Trenholm, George F. Ampersand (Boston: The Abbey Press, 1936)

Tsichichold, Jan, and Frederick Plaat. [Formenwandlungen der Et-Zeichen.] The Ampersand: its origin and development … Translated … by Frederick Plaat (London: Woudhuysen, 1957)

Tschichold, Jan; Jean-Marie Clarke; Marc H Smith. A brief history of the ampersand ; et & ampersands : une recolte internationale = a contemporary collection (Paris : -zeug & Velvetyne Type Foundry, 2018)

Van Rosendaal, Meg, and Gail Stevens. In quest of ampersands : & (Calgary: Inkworks, 1985)

Velvetyne Type Foundry; -Zeug; Association La Générale. Et & ampersands : une récolte internationale = a contemporary collection : [workshop, Paris, 6-7 mai 2017] (Paris: -Zeug & Velvetyne Type Foundry, 2017)

Web Designer Depot. “The History of the Ampersand and Showcase“, 13 January 2010. Accessed 8 June 2020.

Wroth, Lawrence C. Mystical reflections on the ampersand (Portland, ME: Southworth-Anthoesen Press, 1937)
Alphabooks – Ampersand – & (2015)
That Company Called If

Books On Books Collection – Paolo Carraro

The Magic Square (1995)

The Magic Square (1995)

Paolo Carraro

Leporello of 22 panels with embossed single-sheet cover, 16 embossed images on Moulin du Gue 270 gsm. 180 x 180 mm. Edition of 12, of which this is #9 and signed. Acquired from the artist, 17 June 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

With The Magic Square, Carraro pays homage to Durer’s Melencolia I and its magic square embedded in the wall in the etching’s upper right corner. The magic square is one in which the value across any set of vertical, horizontal or diagonal cells is always the same. From the cover’s embossed magic square, Carraro has taken each of the 16 subdivisions and given it its own panel in the completely white leporello.

The Impermanent in the Permanent (1996)

The Impermanent in the Permanent (1996)

Paolo Carraro

Slotted box envelope: Pergamenata 230 gsm. H205 x W215 mm. Book: Seven-hole Japanese stab binding with cotton thread; 36 pages; 16 images silk-screen printed with water based inks (cyan, yellow and magenta only) on 250 gsm Somerset paper, cut and folded, following the Fibonacci sequence or Golden Mean (1.618 ratio). H200 x W215 mm. Edition of 9, of which this is #9 and signed. Acquired from the artist, 17 June 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

While there are many instances of discovering the Fibonacci sequence in nature and works of art (see below), here is an instance of generating art deliberately with the Fibonacci sequence. Using the primary colors, cut-outs, folds and rotation, Carraro creates The Impermanent in the Permanent. Peering through the cut-outs and down into the pages and slowly rotating the book, the reader/viewer can experience the Fibonacci Spiral.

Carraro’s two works in this collection echo others such as Susan Happersett’s Conch, Helen Malone’s Ten Books of Architecture and Ioana Stoian’s Nous Sommes.

Further Reading

Allen, Shelley. “Fibonacci in Art and Architecture”, Fibonacci.com. Accessed 23 June 2020.

Meisner, Gary B. “Design/Art”, Phi: The Golden Number. Accessed 23 June 2020.

Reich, Dan. “The Fibonacci Sequence, Spirals and the Golden Mean”, Dan Reich’s Home Page, Temple University. Accessed 23 June 2020.

Books On Books Collection – Susan Happersett

Conch (1999)

Conch (1999)

Susan Happersett

Sixfold accordion consisting of 9 image panels and 3 text panels (including cover panel) on Mohawk Superfine. Closed: H157 x W76 mm; Open: H157 x W900 mm. Edition of 55. Acquired from Boekie Woekie, 29 October 2019.

From the colophon: “This series of mathematical drawings is based on the growth patterns of conch shells and the Fibonacci sequence.”

First panel

Fourth and eighth panels

Panels 4-9 and colophon panels

The Happersett Accordion (2001)

The Happersett Accordion (2001)

Susan Happersett & Purgatory Pie Press

Folded white card box, letterpress in black ink, with black card sleeve, letterpress in silver-colored ink, H65 x W152 mm, enclosing an accordion-fold Möbius strip, with black- & white-ink images, each composed of 13 marks based on the “Fibonacci growth number 13”. H39 x W144 mm. Edition of 100, of which this is #41 and signed. Acquired from Kelmscott Book Shop, 2 July 2020.

The images on the Möbius strip look like Chinese language characters. According to the joke-filled certificate of authority (see below), they are composed of 13 mystical marks, based on the “Fibonacci growth number 13”. That the 13th number in the Fibonacci sequence, the number which is the sum of the 11th (55) and twelfth (89) numbers in the sequence: 144. It is also the first number in the sequence that is the square of a whole number (12), which metaphorically “squares” with the squarish images. Sans magnifying glass — even with a magnifying glass — it is hard to discern the “13 mystical marks”, much less the order and position in which they progress from image to image. No matter, it is the “idea of it” that counts, as in so many conceptual works of art.

From a book art perspective, what works so well here is the juncture of the Fibonacci sequence with the tangible mystery of the Möbius strip made by hand, printed by hand, typeset by hand and presented in a handmade box. As with Conch, this work is a collaboration with Esther K. Smith and Dikko Faust, but more so than Conch, The Happersett Accordion displays the whimsical humor as well as inventiveness so much on display in book art — in particular at Purgatory Pie Press.

Further Reading

Animals : Humans : {Creative Manifestations}”, Department of Mathematics, Brown University. Accessed 23 June 2020.

Happersett, Susan. Fibonaccisusan.com. Accessed 23 June 2020.

Happersett, Susan. Mathematical Meditations. Accessed 23 June 2020.

Books On Books Collection – Alessandro Baldanzi

Chimere (2020)

Chimere (2020)
Alessandro Baldanzi
Leporello: Original drawing (700 x 500 mm) made with black markers on drawing paper (Scheller Hammer), scanned and edited in PhotoShop, digitally printed on 200 gsm.
H195 x W202 mm, closed; H195 x W4659 mm, open.
Booklet: Bound in card with linen thread across 40 unnumbered pages, digitally printed. H148 x 102 mm.
Both enclosed in a handmade box, covered and lined with black linen paper. Edition of 10, of which this is #2, signed. Acquired from the artist, 19 February 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

A cross between a print portfolio and leporello. A cross between Durer, Beardsley and Ernst. A severing of image from text; though in both, one thing swallows a thing only to breathe, excrete or dream another that dreams, excretes, breathes or swallows yet another.

Chimere appeared to me on Via San Gallo. According to the myth, Chimera had three heads: a lion’s, a goat’s emerging from the lion’s back to breathe fire, and a snake’s at the end of its tail. Perhaps the serpent’s eye exerted the same fabled fascination as this leporello did, snaking along the window of Libri Liberi. Drawn closer, then inside, I could find no one to tell me anything about it, but a poster provided the artist’s name and address.

Left: Chimera of Arezzo (ca. 400BCE) Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Florence.
Center and right: Libri Liberi, Via San Gallo 25r, Florence.

After some correspondence, divergent trips and finally a meeting in Florence at L’Hotel Orologio near Santa Maria Novella, the artist enabled Chimere‘s capture.

In the hotel lobby, the detail of the drawing and the inventiveness in linking the panels demanded close attention, making the accompanying small thread-bound booklet recede into the background. But, as I learned later, that background should not be ignored.

“Never can one be equivalent to the many” (Sophocles, King Oedipus, 430-420 BC), or Is the opposite true? What is impossible for everyone to be just one? There will be nothing strange, as Plato stated, if one proves that I myself am one and many.

The problem of duplicity of the single one occurs on several occasions in this series of multiples, combinations of lives, Chimeras formed by animal, human, plant parts. Monstrous beings in flesh and blood, three-dimensional, real but, at the same time, far from reality.

… figures that appeared to me in a dream, but children of wakefulness, don’t certainly lend themselves to living with only one part, but always with one and the other together, in the desperate identity (like the Sphinx) solving enigmas: Fusion, separation, identity, otherness, being, becoming, how can one always be identical to himself and at the same time change to be many? How can anything be generated by something else? “Introduction”, Chimere.

Odessa (wild boar); in Greek, the feminine of Odysseus.

In the booklet, each of the Chimeras has a sort of prose poem in Italian and English to tell its story. The first beast is “Odessa (wild boar), Birth: March 1, 2011 – Death: November 1, 2017”, whom the artist addresses alongside Oedipus:

Did you find me! You finally made it.
You tore me with your wet and rough nose, with all the arrogance hatched over time.
Night, day, father, son, how can a snake fly?
You, clumsy riddles' solver, father and brother of your children, husband and son of your mother, legitimate usurper of the new that encompasses the many, similar to everything and equal to nothing, identical and different both with respect to himself and the other.
You, devoid of education, of pedagogy, you have grown only by hurting yourself, risking and suffering.
Often dying.

Turning the pages of the leporello or unfolding it to full display invokes the feel of an artist book. Consulting the separate booklet of text creates the air of a disembodied gallery. I move from Odessa to Elasmus (rhinoceros), Ecla (amberjack woman), Amutiel (Scorpionfish), Tharnos (The great mother), Boeotia (Horn of Plenty), Smyrna (Wave), Kalamata (Onda bis), Thelma (zebra lion), Elsa (Mouth eats mouth), Talpio (Bull), One (Noses), Orphestia (fish), Corinna (Cat), Soneril (tiger monkey) and Temel (mouth), but often forget to consult the booklet, which sends me back to gaze at the Chimera whose entry I missed and whose intricacy and connection to the next Chimera make me restart the journey from that point.

After many journeys, the prose poems become mostly internalized, but then there are the Italian versions. And then — over and over — at the final Chimera …

Temel (mouth); in Turkish, a masculine name and also means “fundamental, basic”.

looking at the multiracial multitude inside Temel (mouth), I see that, from Temel’s “fish nose”, a fishing line hangs, and I realize that Chimere’s “capture” is not merely its addition to a collection but its capture of me and the many.

Further Reading

DoBe Group and Sino Italian Design Center, Chimere Online Solo Exhibition. Accessed 23 June 2020.

Gosse, Philip Henry. The Romance of Natural History (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1861), pp. 242ff.

Bookmarking Book Art – Julia Hou

Julia Hou’s Asterisk (2019) may remind you of an E.E. Cummings’ poem or a Hasegawa Tōhaku print or the Xu Bing animation The Character of Characters. Just as appreciation of Cummings grows with exposure to broken syntax and playful typographic layout in other poems — or of Tōhaku, as understanding of the depth effects minimalism, size, definition and tone can have on the eye — or of Xu Bing, as his inspiration from Autumn Colors on the Qiao and Hua Mountains (c. 1296) and The Sutra on the Lotus of the Sublime Dharma  (c. 1315) both by Zhao Mengfu is learned, appreciation of Asterisk grows as more is understood about how Hou made her digital artist book. Screen grabs of Asterisk, such as the sequential ones below, only hint at the work.

Asterisk (2019) Julia Hou

To read Asterisk, click here and press the letter “f” to move forward through the work. Hou’s poem reveals itself in black text that turns red as a “refrain”-like block of text over which the poem’s lines sit dissolves into characters that fly up like leaves or birds, fall down like rain, float down like snow, or coalesce into foreground or tree-like shapes.

Colored in blue, the asterisks take up a left foreground position, bubbling up and falling back like a fountain of water available to refresh the tree-like forms made of letters, but as the artist book is scrolled forward from left to right, the asterisk fountain disperses across the screen like spray, butterflies or bluebirds. Here is a transcript, as it were:

Asterisk
the last time you were here was years ago
before you were punctured by asterisks
and written into footnotes.
the night your mother read your first published story
and told you it was too sad
too linear.
she told you to let in the light
to rip away whatever fears you'd stapled to your chest
to see the forest for the trees
and you tried. you raised your voice
spoke with confidence, loud and red
but it all seemed to fade into whitespace
as if God Himself had decided to erase
and rewrite you

[Refrain - which varies in length with each forward movement or refresh]

what do you see what do you see  what do you see  what do you  
see what do you see  an ink speckled sky  an ink speckled sky 
an ink speckled sky  an ink speckled sky  an ink speckled sky 
an  ink speckled  sky  an ink speckled  sky   an ink speckled
sky an ink speckled sky  and tree only traveler and tree only 
traveler and tree only traveler and tree only traveler and tr 
ee only traveler and tree  only traveler and tree only travel
er  look behind you look behind you look behind you look behi
nd you look behind you look behind you

Where appreciation on each revisiting of Cummings, Tōhaku or Xu Bing increases with the perceiver’s personal growth, Asterisk itself varies with each accessing, with access from the artist’s site or from the Carnegie Mellon University libraries’ Artists’ Book Collection, and with keyboard/screenpad interaction. As if in an online game, the reader/viewer must keep up. Hou has created her artist book with Satoru Ozaki’s created-index, a game app exploring a surreal 3D typographical world. Depending on how the reader/viewer touches the screenpad or moves the cursor and presses “f” to go forward or “b” to go back, the viewpoint tilts and pivots. It is like manipulating a sculptural bookwork such as Francisca Prieto’s The Antibook (2002).

Artist books born-digital vary wildly from one another — perhaps more so than analog artist’s books or even hybrids, or perhaps it’s just that we are not used to the artist’s “new material and tools”. Carnegie Mellon University’s acquisition and preservation of Hou’s digital artist book leads further into thinking about Asterisk‘s material status. The files can be downloaded here, but what is it that has been collected? Is its shape-shifting merely analogous to a viewer’s shifting perspective on an artist book in a physical environment? It would be interesting to have Matthew Kirschenbaum’s perspective on the preservation effort that Carnegie Mellon has put into Hou’s artist book and how that relates to his Mechanisms‘ analysis of “the textual and technical primitives of electronic writing that govern writing, inscription, and textual transmission in all media: erasure, variability, repeatability, and survivability” — in essence, the materiality of works like Hou’s.

Amaranth Borsuk’s The Book also provides a useful context here in its narrative of the book’s digital history from the Memex in Vannevar Bush‘s 1945 classic “As we may think” to T.L. Uglow‘s 100-author blockchain collaboration in 2017, A Universe Explodes from Visual Editions’ series Editions at Play. Borsuk reminds us:

Our current moment appears to be much like the first centuries of movable type, a cusp. Just as manuscript books persisted into the Gutenberg era, books currently exist in multiple forms simultaneously: as paperbacks, audiobooks, EPUB downloads, and, in rare cases, interactive digital experiences. (p. 244)

Borsuk weaves into this moment of the book’s future a reminder that print affordances such as tactility (or the haptic) and the paratextual (those peripheral elements like page numbers, running heads, ISBNs, etc., that Gary Frost argues “make the book a book”) have been finding fresh ways into the way we read digitally. The touchscreen enables us to read between the lines literally in the novella Pry (2014) by Samantha Gorman and Danny Cannizaro (2014). Breathe (2018) by Kate Pullinger, another work in the Editions at Play series, uses GPS to detect and insert the reader’s location, the time and weather, and when the reader tilts the device or rubs the screen, hidden messages from the story’s (the reader’s?) ghosts appear.

To add to Borsuk’s history (and conclude) with an analogue precursor, consider Livre de Prières Tissé d’après les enluminures des manuscrits du XIVe au XVIe siècle (which translates as Book of Prayers woven after illuminations in manuscripts of the 14th and 15th century).

Created in Lyon, France (1886-1887), Livre de Prières Tissé presents a bridge from the illuminated books on which it is patterned to Hou’s Asterisk, driven by a set of instructions designed to be carried out by a machine. Every image, letter, ornament and page of Livre de Prières Tissé consists of silver and black silk thread woven on silk looms programmed with the punched-card system developed by Joseph-Marie Jacquard (1752-1834). Those perforated cards inspired the famous “Analytical Engine” conceived by Charles Babbage (1791-1871), which in turn inspired Ada Lovelace (1815-1852) to compose its first computer program: a set of instructions designed to be carried out by a machine.

Further Reading

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

Hindman, Sarah. “Meet Me at the World’s Fair“, Abebooks.com (ND). Accessed 22 June 2020.

Kirschenbaum, Matthew G. Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007).

Norman, Jeremy. “A Prayerbook Entirely Woven by the Jacquard Loom: The First Book Produced by a Program or Digitally Produced Book?“, Jeremy Norman’s History of Information, 20 April 2020. Accessed 22 June 2020.

Prisbylla, Andrew. “Art Meets Tech in Born-Digital Artist’s Book“, News/Carnegie Mellon University, 4 June 2020. Accessed 21 June 2020.

Books On Books Collection – Derek Beaulieu

Tattered Sails (2018)

Tattered Sails (2018) Derek Beaulieu

Saddle-stitched, one staple, colored endpapers; 12 unnumbered pages. H217 x W140 mm. Acquired from Above/Ground Press, 12 March 2019. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Few book artists inspired by Broodthaers’ homage to Mallarmé have seized on aligning a key textual and visual metaphor of the poem with a distortion of Broodthaers’ treatment. That is what Beaulieu has done with Mallarmé’s metaphor of the shipwreck, his typographic replication of it and Broodthaer’s black bars. Tattered Sails also recalls Broodthaers’ A voyage on the North Sea (1973).

Photos: upper, Books On Books Collection; lower, Artists’ Books. Accessed 18 June 2020.

In one sense, Tattered Sails seems to underline the notion that image has supplanted text (W.J.T. Mitchell), which is a little less extreme than image’s having saturated all cultural space (Frederic Jameson) or than art’s just being now a “leeching of the aesthetic out into the social field in general” (Rosalind Krauss). But in another sense, by harking back to the low-tech era of democratic multiples and, nevertheless, enriching the interplay of text and image that spans four different artworks (counting the image on the cover) across the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, Beaulieu pushes back on those 20th century critical notions.

Away from the critical theories’ abyss, Tattered Sails refreshes perception — of the work in itself and those on whose metaphors and techniques it stands. Turning our eyes into hands, it is part of a book art genre –“a genre of Un Coup de Dés“– in which works not only recall the original’s words, their shapes on the pages, the shipwreck tangling and untangling of syntax, the images and meanings bouncing into view like numbers on the side of rolling dice but also recall the rolls of the dice by others before.

Further Reading

Jérémie Bennequin“, Books On Books Collection, 11 April 2020.

Bright, Betty. No Longer Innocent: Book Art in America, 1960-1980 (New York: Granary Books, 2005)

Drucker, Johanna. The Century of Artist’s Books (New York: Granary Books, 2013)

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

Cerith Wyn Evans”, Books On Books Collection, 16 April 2020.

Jameson, Frederic. The Cultural Turn: Selected Writings on the Postmodern 1983-1998 (London: Verso, 2000)

Krauss, Rosalind. A voyage on the North Sea : art in the age of the post-medium condition (London: Thames & Hudson, 2000)

Michaud, François. Alexandra Leykauf: Chateau de Bagatelle (Nürnberg: Verlag fur moderne Kunst Nürnberg, 2010)

Mitchell, W.J.T. The Language of Images (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997).

Guido Molinari”, Books On Books Collection, 13 April 2020.

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

Books On Books Collection – Benjamin Lord

The Abolition of Chance: Sequence (2019)

The Abolition of Chance: Sequence (2019)
Benjamin Lord
Laid finish card cover; hand-assembled perfect binding with inlaid red linen thread;
70 pages printed on translucent cellulose paper. H10 1/2″ x W8 1/4.
Edition of 50, unnumbered. Acquired from the artist, 24 April 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

The title of Benjamin Lord’s book names what Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés declares can never be accomplished: the abolition of chance. Taking the predicate of Mallarmé’s title (its verb and object), elevating it to the title position, substituting the word “sequence” for the subtitle Poéme, and placing it in a cover layout reminiscent of the 1913 NRF edition of Mallarmé’s book, Lord’s cover raises expectations and questions. Perhaps chance can be abolished? Perhaps by a certain sequence — of words?

Bowling over the textual expectations raised by the cover, the interior pages offer only images — images that gradually shift from linearly arranged black rectangles to what seem to be digitally generated Rorschach tests, shifting QR codes or snapshots of a bitmap computer game, all blurred by the turning of the translucent paper. The translucency and images add another layer to each page and double-spread of images and also add another set of expectations and questions. What determined the starting point of those arranged rectangles? What drives the sequence of their change?

Without Lord’s own description of the work, a highly developed form of art-historical, science-historical visual genius is required to answer those questions. A genius with the visual recall to recognize that “The first spread of the book copies the last spread of Marcel Broodthaer’s book Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard (A throw of the dice will never abolish chance), made in 1969.” A genius that can recognize the sequence as being “generated using a simple mathematical formula known as the Game of Life, originally devised by the mathematician John Conway, also in the year 1969.

Blocking out Mallarmé’s words with black bars of varying sizes corresponding to the poem’s typography and turning Poème into Image, Broodthaers’s homage has provided the starting point to several works of visual homage: Derek Beaulieu, Jérémie Bennequin, Klaus Detjen, Sammy Engramer, Cerith Wyn Evans, Rainier Lericolais, Alexandra Leykauf, Michael Maranda, Guido Molinari, Michalis Pichler and Eric Zboya. To their common starting point, each brings to bear his or her own approach. For Lord’s approach, the term “starting point” is more properly “seed”. In Conway’s Game of Life, a seed is any pattern of square cells, some filled (“live”), some unfilled (“dead”). Here are two basic patterns:

On the left is a “still-life” seed known as “Boat”; on the right is “Gosper’s glider gun”, an obviously more complicated pattern named after its creator, Bill Gosper. A forerunner of simulation games, Conway’s game poses a set of simple rules to be played out within an infinite grid:

  1. Any live cell with fewer than two live neighbours dies, as if by underpopulation.
  2. Any live cell with two or three live neighbours lives on to the next generation.
  3. Any live cell with more than three live neighbours dies, as if by overpopulation.
  4. Any dead cell with exactly three live neighbours becomes a live cell, as if by reproduction.

Here is Gosper’s glider gun, activated by the Game of Life’s rules encoded in a GIF:

Lord’s seed is the image of the last double-page spread in Broodthaers’ version of Un Coup de Dés.

Like a more complex glider gun, it generates the subsequent double-page spread images, each image being the seed for the next image. As Lord puts it,

The lines of Mallarmé’s poem inflate into balloons which expand and then pop into nothingness, or collide with each other to generate debris, or collapse into thicker bars. The image fragments into a vibratory bitmap constellation of expansions and contractions, in which interactions between forms continuously generate new forms, in a way that is neither random nor intuitive.

This 21st century American artist turning with a 20th century paintbrush dipped into the words of a 19th century French poet via a 20th century Belgian artist calls to mind The Education of Henry Adams. Throughout, Adams refers to himself in the third person. Post-Broodthaers, there is something “third-person-ish” — of being at two removes — in Lord’s homage and those of Beaulieu et al. above. But there is more to the recollection than grammar. Consider this passage from The Education in which “one” writes,

Historians undertake to arrange sequences,–called stories, or histories–assuming in silence a relation of cause and effect. These assumptions, hidden in the depths of dusty libraries, have been astounding, but commonly unconscious and childlike; so much so, that if any captious critic were to drag them to light, historians would probably reply, with one voice, that they had never supposed themselves required to know what they were talking about. Adams, for one, had toiled in vain to find out what he meant….he insisted on a relation of sequence, and if he could not reach it by one method, he would try as many methods as science knew. Satisfied that the sequence of men led to nothing and that the sequence of their society could lead no further, while the mere sequence of time was artificial, and the sequence of thought was chaos, he turned at last to the sequence of force; and thus it happened that, after ten years’ pursuit, he found himself lying in the Gallery of Machines at the Great Exposition of 1900, his historical neck broken by the sudden irruption of forces totally new. Chapter XXV

Adams and his third-person self were in Paris in May 1897, when Un Coup de Dés first appeared in the quarterly Cosmopolis. Despite their proximity, a common interest in quarterlies and the popular press, and a near obsession with the electrical forces of the dynamo, the men’s two paths did not cross. Adams mentions Mallarmé in a letter only in passing.

Sartre called Mallarmé the poet of nothingness. Its title and Lord’s description of The Abolition of Chance as a “constellation of expansions and contractions, in which interactions between forms continuously generate new forms, in a way that is neither random nor intuitive” suggest an alternative to nothingness. The final double-page spread does present a pattern of live cells. Lord, perhaps like his fellow American, responds to nothingness with a type of Buddhist repose, if not affirmation, much as Adams responded to the memorial for his wife that he had commissioned from Augustus St. Gaudens:

His first step, on returning to Washington, took him out to the cemetery known as Rock Creek, to see the bronze figure which St. Gaudens had made for him in his absence. Naturally every detail interested him; every line; every touch of the artist; every change of light and shade; every point of relation; every possible doubt of St. Gaudens’s correctness of taste or feeling; so that, as the spring approached, he was apt to stop there often to see what the figure had to tell him that was new; but, in all that it had to say, he never once thought of questioning what it meant. … From the Egyptian Sphinx to the Kamakura Daibuts; from Prometheus to Christ; from Michael Angelo to Shelley, art had wrought on this eternal figure almost as though it had nothing else to say. The interest of the figure was not in its meaning, but in the response of the observer. Chapter XXI

Further Reading

Derek Beaulieu”, Books On Books Collection, 19 June 2020.

Jérémie Bennequin“, Books On Books Collection, 11 April 2020.

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

Cerith Wyn Evans”, Books On Books Collection, 16 April 2020.

Michaud, François. Alexandra Leykauf: Chateau de Bagatelle (Nürnberg: Verlag fur moderne Kunst Nürnberg, 2010)

Guido Molinari”, Books On Books Collection, 13 April 2020.

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

Books On Books Collection – Caroline Penn

Standen (2014)

Standen (2014)
Caroline Penn
Altered book, overprinted digitally, cut with a scalpel and rebound with thread. H210 x W140. Acquired from the artist, 9 June 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

The William Morris wallpapers in Standen House, an Arts & Crafts home in Sussex, and the memory of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s story “The Yellow Wallpaper” inspired the creation of this altered book. The work altered is a 1979 National Trust publication on Standen House. In Gilman’s story, the main character, who has a mental breakdown from being forced into domestic seclusion, gradually claws away the yellow wallpaper in the room where she is locked away. In correspondence, Penn writes that she unbound the original booklet, ran the pages through a digital printer, performed the cutting and then rebound it. In a clever reversal, by the end, the wallpaper print and its excision have taken over the walls of the book of Standen House.

Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

By coincidence, American book artist Harriet Bart co-curated an intriguing exhibition called “Wallpaper“. Bart’s entry, too, was inspired by the Gilman story.

fieldwork (2017)

fieldwork (2017)
Caroline Penn
Digitally printed concertina.
Cover: H126 x W90 mm; pages, H125 x W88 mm.
Edition of 20, of which this is #8.
Acquired from the artist, 6 February 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

A book within a book, fieldwork offers an entrancing visual narrative. A small white book unfolds from nothing to small pebbles, larger pebbles, more pebbles to fewer, and finally to one pebble in the center. Is it the reverse of the process of erosion? Is it categorization by the human eye and hand striving with nature’s agglomeration?

The artist has embedded the visual narrative here in an innovation on the framing device to be found in Helen Douglas’s Wild Wood and A Venetian Brocade. As with the latter works, fieldwork encourages us to touch with our eyes. It is a stunning piece of trompe l’oeil. On glimpsing any double-page spread, the reader/viewer is tempted to pick up one of the pebbles apparently resting on that white piece of paper open on a photo of a shingle beach. Visitors to Kettle’s Yard will recognise the temptation.

Project C: Destination Unknown (2020)

Organised by Pauline Lamont-Fisher, Project C is the result of a collaborative effort among 14 artists:

This project is about intersemiotic translation between images to words and from words to images and the paths that form between them. Roman Jakobson in Linguistic Aspects of Translation suggests the idea of intersemiotic translation as the translation from one sign system to another: i.e. interpretation of verbal signs by means of signs of non-verbal sign systems. So every novel adaptation into film, constitutes a translation. The illustrations in a book act as translations of text into images. Every time you watch Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, you watch an intersemiotic translation from narrated story into ballet.

The artists were given a set of anonymised covers of Italy Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler and asked to choose one and, keeping in mind Jakobson’s notions of intersemiotic translation, produce a folio or pamphlet in response. Caroline Penn’s contribution uses text, typography, structure, choice of paper, density of ink and a pattern of hole punches to translate or evoke not only the image below but the substance of Calvino’s novella — or at least a key element of the substance susceptible to translation to an artist’s book of translucent Bible paper and pergamenata.

Project C: Destination Unknown (2019)
Caroline Penn
Digitally printed on Offenbach bible paper stitched to pergamenata. Concertina, H186 x W130 mm. Edition of 30. Acquired from whnicPRESS, 7 March 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

The contrasting whites of the Bible paper and the translucent paper that comes uncannily close to animal parchment mirror the different colors of snow in the cover.

The dispersed positioning of the letters of the word “vapour” mimic the falling snow. The series of darker inked phrases set below, separated from each other by hyphens and staggered downwards across the panels echoes the rail track and cars in the cover.

The body of light gray likewise sloping down from left to right recalls the declining mountain gap crossed by those train tracks.

Across the foot of the page, the holes punched in a lowercase letter “o” and separated by two unpunched uppercase “O’s” also evoke the rail tracks and cars. In a nod to the Oulipo pattern-driven nature of Calvino’s work, the noughts of the “O’s” are answered in the crosses of the “X’s” supporting the text that crawls across the panels, finally turns the corner of the last panel and fades into the gray word “invisibility” on the reverse of the last panel.

A tour de force of book art — making text, image, ink, papers, layout, structure and impression work, mean and become a thing independent of the inspiring constraint.

Books On Books Collection – Elisabeth Tonnard

One of the most literary and conceptualist of book artists, Elisabeth Tonnard fuses the textual and visual in ways that consistently demand and reward close attention and even meditation. The works so far in the collection do not yet represent the breadth of her techniques (missing, for example, is the digest of 15 literary works through Microsoft’s auto-summary function to create Speak! eyes — En zie!), but in their individual ways, they do represent all of her works’ ability to make constraints yield surprise.

In this Dark Wood (2008)

In this Dark Wood (2008) Elisabeth Tonnard, perfect bound, 196 pages, 90 halftones on recto pages. Acquired from the artist, 5 March 2018.

Tonnard pairs images of 90 solitary people walking alone in nighttime city streets with 90 different English translations of the first lines of Dante’s Inferno. The images come from the Joseph Selle collection at the Visual Studies Workshop, which contains over a million negatives from a company of street photographers working in San Francisco from the 40’s to the 70’s. Male or female, Caucasian or Asian or African-American or Latino, the images are, as she puts it, “re-expressions of each other”. Likewise, the various translations are re-expressions of “Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita mi ritrovai per una selva oscura ché la diritta via era smarrita.”

In this video, Tonnard speaks of the work at the 21’25” mark.

The double-page spreads blur after a while of gazing on each face and reading the translation facing it. At the very start, though, the image has no facing text on the verso, and at the end, the last page of text has no facing image on the recto. Faced with this exception to the constraint of the double-page spread, the audience is torn between being reader/gazer and gazer/reader — precisely the thrust of Tonnard’s book artistry.

The Library (2015)

The Library (2015) Elisabeth Tonnard, exposed sewing, digital print, 56 pages. H105 x W148 mm. Edition of 150 copies. Acquired from the artist, 5 March 2018.

In the days before and after the end of World War II (May 1945), two fires in a flak tower broke out, destroying most of the Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum’s Gemäldegalerie artwork stored there. Starting in 1995, a multi-volume catalogue Dokumentation der Verluste recorded and illustrated as many of the losses as possible. The website of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, has drawn from its pre-war images collection and posted authenticated images of over 100 of the more than 700 works lost. Tonnard’s work of book art memorializes the loss in a different way.

In the colophon, she calls her little book of images “a library”. The images are details from paintings, and each displays one or more books — sitting on a shelf, held in a hand or lying on a lap — and indecipherable. The illustrations from which Tonnard has taken the details are those of the paintings lost in the fires. Her book’s colophon ends: “Out of the smoke we think up this library of unknown books.”

Tonnard has also created a series of eight prints in archival ink of the details. More images from the book can be found here, and an image of the prints, here.

A Dialogue in Useful Phrases (2010)

A Dialogue in Useful Phrases (2010) Elisabeth Tonnard, softcover with blind embossing, 7.25 x 7.25 inches, digital print, 178 pages. Edition of 250, of which this is #94. Acquired from the artist, 5 March 2018.

They had no conversation properly speaking. They made use of the spoken word in much the same way as the guard of a train makes use of his flags, or of his lantern.” Samuel Beckett, Malone Dies

Whether by Microsoft’s adjustable auto-summary function, by juxtaposition of photos and text or by compiling a library of lost indecipherable volumes, Tonnard probes at the nature of making and making meaning. A Dialogue in Useful Phrases probes both by generating text and structure under several constraints. One constraint restricts the author to “conversational phrases” found in Grenville Kleiser’s Fifteen Thousand Useful Phrases (1917), or “felicitous expressions for enriching the vocabulary.” A second constraint comes with the dialogic structure of “I” then “You”. The third constraint comes from alphabetizing the utterances of “I” down the verso pages.

By title and comment, Tonnard emphasizes that we are following “a” dialogue, not a series of dialogues: “A dialogue is formed from the random meetings of these phrases. It is a dialogue in the purest sense, a dialogue that expresses nothing other than itself.” Likewise, with a prefatory quotation from Malone Dies and the book’s “empty-room” square format, Tonnard pointedly places “I” and “You” in the tradition of Samuel Beckett’s dramatic dialogues. Going a step further in that direction, she has put together Project Gutenberg’s anonymous volunteers’ recordings of Kleiser’s book and staged audio installations in venues such as the Meermanno Museum in The Hague and the Sheffield International Artist’s Book Fair 2011. In this video, she speaks of the work at the 9’10” mark.

Further Reading

In order of the entries above:

Ladd, Jeffrey. “In this Dark Wood by Elisabeth Tonnard“, 5B4|Photography and Books, 14 November 2009. Accessed 3 June 2020.

Slade, George. “Book Review: In this Dark Wood“, Photo-Eye Blog, 6 March 2014. Accessed 3 June 2020.

Bodman, Sarah. “Artists’ Books #4: The Library by Elisabeth Tonnard“, A-N, 7 January 2016. Accessed 2 June 2020.

Elisabeth Tonnard: A Dialogue in Useful Phrases“, Bank Street Arts, 13 November 2010. Accessed 3 June 2020.

Partington, Gill. “What is Reading?“, London Review of Books, 11 December 2017. Accessed 3 June 2020.

Books On Books Collection – Julie Johnstone

a book of tears (2006)

a book of tears (2006)
Julie Johnstone
Handbound with black linen thread, 5 sheets torn at both ends, card cover printed inkjet. Acquired from the artist, 12 December 2015. Photos: Courtesy of the artist.

This work and Point of View (below) were the first of three Julie Johnstone bookworks in the Books On Books Collection. Like much book art, these two depend on the interaction of verbal and visual puns.

Less: 1: Samuel Menashe (2009)

Less: 1: Samuel Menashe (2009)
Julie Johnstone; text © Samuel Menashe
Handbound with linen thread, 6 sheets, white cover with black lettering, black card sheet, white center sheet with poem in black lettering on recto, printed inkjet. H180 x W150mm. Acquired from the artist, 26 September 2017. Photos: Courtesy of the artist.

Johnstone’s un-improvable selection of Samuel Menashe to inaugurate her Less series in 2009 made that work a required item for the Books On Books Collection. Samuel Menashe was unmistakeable — in speech and on the page. Having heard his recorded poems, I knew the voice from the sofa behind me at the West Chester conference in 2006 was his. I can hear that voice every time these white, black, black-threaded, and black on white pages open.

The wordplay in Menashe’s poem is more complex than it seems at first glance — something which may have influenced Johnstone’s later visual play with tints, for example, 3% (2015).

Material|Immaterial (2012)

Material|Immaterial (2012)
Julie Johnstone
Handbound with linen thread, 12 pages, including cover. Eleven images, photographs of the shadows of trees and shrubs on city paving taken during the summer of 2012 and
printed inkjet on Bockingford watercolour paper 300gsm. H130mm x w175mm. Acquired from the artist, 12 December 2015. Photos: Courtesy of the artist.

Johnstone’s tint-based works (see further below) evoke a half-tone world so much that it is strange to find that Material|Immaterial is one of her few (only?) photograph-based bookworks.

Point of View: skyline tideline (2012)

Point of View: skyline tideline (2012)
Julie Johnstone
Single folded book designed to be read forwards and then upside down and backwards; made from two pieces of card, inner sheet of card torn to create wavy line. skyline: front cover title in cyan blue; tideline: back cover title in cyan blue. Printed inkjet on Bockingford watercolour paper 300gsm. Closed: H120 x W190 mm; open: H120 x W380 mm. Edition of 35, of which this is #35. Acquired from the artist, 12 December 2015.
Photos: Courtesy of the artist.

The shadows cast by the meticulous tears recall the larger-scale works to be found in the Rijswijk Papier Biënnale and Coda Apeldoorn.

1-16% (2013)

1-16% (2013)
Julie Johnstone
Handbound with linen thread, 16 pages, including cover; each page printed to edge with a tint of black, starting on the front cover with 1% and increasing by 1% with each page, through to 16% on the back cover; Bockingford watercolor paper 300gsm. H160 x W170 mm. Edition of 16, of which this is #10. Acquired from the artist, 26 September 2017. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

In the collection, this is the first work to use progression of tint, Johnstone’s signature technique.

10%|15% (2013)

10%|15% (2013)
Julie Johnstone
Created for the AMBruno Lines project on the occasion of the Whitechapel Art Book Fair 2013. Handbound with linen thread, 12 pages, including covers; each facing page, including cover, printed to edge with two blocks of a tint of black, one 10% and the other 15%. The size of blocks changes progressively as the pages turn, moving the unprinted ‘line’ up the page in 2.5 cm increments. Printed inkjet on Bockingford watercolor paper 300gsm. H190 x W180 mm. Edition of 25, of which this is #20. Acquired from the artist, 26 September 2017. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

In this work, the tints hold steady, and the technique of progression shifts to changing the print area. The unprinted line that rises up the page recalls Bodil Rosenberg’s Vandstand (2019), where the water level in acrylic rises page after page. Vandstand and 10%|15% display well together.

2-20%|20-2CM (2014)

2-20%|20-2CM (2014)
Julie Johnstone
Handbound with linen thread, 20 pages, including the cover; printed inkjet on Bockingford watercolor paper 300gsm. H240 x W280 mm. Edition of 10, of which this is #5. Acquired from the artist, 26 September 2017. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

With this work, the technique becomes one of dual progression — both tint and printing area. Starting with the front cover, the tint is 2% black in a block of 20cm height. With each recto page, the tint increases by 2%, and the height reduces by 2cm. On the last recto page, the block of 2% black is 2cm in height.

With each new work varying tint and/or print space, Johnstone recalls the creative approaches of the OuLiPo movement. Its authors such as Italo Calvino, Raymond Queneau and Georges Perec set themselves strange writing constraints, such as write a novel without the letter “e”. Johnstone may rightly claim the visual artist’s crown in the movement (still ongoing) with this next work.

3% [1-5] (2015)

3% [1-5] (2015)
Julie Johnstone
Set of 5 booklets in folder; each booklet handbound with linen thread, 16 pages including cover, printed inkjet on Hahnemuhle Sumi-e paper 80gsm. H150 x W120 mm. Edition of 20, of which this is #10. Acquired from the artist, 26 September 2017. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

As noted above, this work recalls the “simple complexity” of the wordplay in Samuel Menashe’s short poem. Just as the pouring pot “fulfills” its spout, so Johnstone’s working of tint and semi-transparent paper fills and fools the hungry eye.

3% [1]
Photos: Books On Books Collection

Booklet [1] serves as the baseline for the other four booklets. Each facing page (excluding cover and next page) is printed with a 3% black tinted rectangle (90 x 60 mm). As the semi-transparent page turns, the tint seems to vary. The precision of registration and sureness of touch across the pages amazes.

3% [1]
The effect changes with the light. Photos: Books On Books Collection

At first, Booklet [2] seems not to vary from [1], encouraging careful reading and looking to discover that every other page is blank in Booklet [2]. The choice of paper and tint as well as the “persistence of vision” combine to create the illusion that pages are printed when they are not.

3% [2]
Photos: Books On Books Collection

Booklet [3] extends the play of book [2] with an empty 3pt frame printed in 3% black on every other page to create the illusion that the next page’s block appears to fill it. Booklet [4] also extends the play of book [2] with a half block printed in 3% black on every other page to create the illusion of a darker or lighter block next to it due to show-through. This play within the boundary of the 90 x 60 mm rectangle takes a leap in Booklet [5].

3% [5]
The slight curving in the rectangles is due to how the booklet is being held. Photos: Books On Books.

Here in Booklet [5], the 3% block appears once on each facing page but shifts diagonally by 1cm either to the top and left or to the bottom and right. Now the eye is fooled into perceiving two differently tinted blocks printed off center one over the other. The pleasure in these works of book art lies in contemplating each page and the movement from page to page, back and forth.

Field (2014)

Field (2014)
Julie Johnstone
Handbound with linen thread, 16 pages, including cover, printed inkjet on Bockingford watercolor paper 300gsm.
H160 x W160 mm. Edition of 25, of which this is #14. Acquired from the artist, 26 September 2017. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Like 10%|15% and 2-20%|20-2CM, this work proceeds by dual progression, but the print area changes horizontally rather than vertically. Each facing page (including cover) is printed with a tint of black in a block flush along its fore-edge. The tint begins on the cover at 2% in a 2cm block. On each page after, the tint increases by 2% and the block by 2cm. The final page presents a 16% tint and 16cm block.

red (2015)

red (2015)
Julie Johnstone
Created for the AMBruno RED project. Handbound with linen thread, two sheets printed with three images (including cover image); printed inkjet on Bockingford inkjet watercolor paper 190gsm. H190 x W180 mm. Acquired from the artist, 26 September 2017. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

In most of Johnstone’s work, the color blue appears most frequently as the alternative to tints of black. This work, created for an AMBruno project, proves the exception, albeit continuing with the technique of dual progression — here, around the still point of a vertical red bar. The barely perceptible tint of black on the cover deepens on the first facing page to such an extent that the red bar seems to shorten (it doesn’t). Then on the next facing page, the tint remains the same, but the blocks turn perpendicular to the red bar and do truncate it.

To paraphrase from her book below: “To read Julie Johnstone’s artist books is to become attentive”.

Further Reading

Bodman, Sarah. “Artists’ Books #34: The Book of the Sky – An Infinity of Pages“, A-N, 10 October 2018. Accessed 10 June 2020.

Johnstone, Julie. “Formations: A research residency in artists’ books at the Edinburgh College of Art Library“, The Blue Notebook, Volume 9, No.1, October 2014.

Johnstone, Julie. Zen and the art of artists’ books (Edinburgh: Essence Press, 2017).

Widger, Eleanore. “Julie Johnstone“, Scottish Poetry Library, 2019. Accessed 10 June 2020.

Books On Book Collection – Sammy Engramer

Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’abolira le Hasard: Wave (2009)

Mallarmé’s strange poem, first published in the London-based journal Cosmopolis in 1897, had to wait until 1914 before appearing in a format close to the one Stéphane Mallarmé envisioned with the gallerist and publisher Ambroise Vollard.

Taking the poem’s self-referential line about its words appearing as a constellation, first Ernest Fraenkel, then Mario Diacono and Marcel Broodthaers transformed the poem into a series of images by substituting solid blocks of ink in place of the poem’s lines of verse.

From left to right: Ernest Fraenkel, Les dessins trans-conscients de Stéphane Mallarmé, à propos de la typographie de Un coup de dés. Avant-propos par Étienne Souriau, avec 68 planches en hors-textes (1960); Mario Diacono, a MeTrica n’ABOOlira (1968/69); Marcel Broodthaers, Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard: Image (1969).

Subsequently, dual homages to Mallarmé and Broodthaers arose. One of them is Engramer’s. Where Fraenkel, Diacono and Broodthaers focused on layout, size and space to generate their visual translations, Engramer added a sonic element, albeit by visual display. Recording his own reading aloud of the poem, Engramer then ran the recording through sonographic equipment. The rendering of each line’s soundwave became his graphic substitute for Mallarmé’s line of verse and, by extension, each black block that Broodthaers used to displace Mallarmé’s text.

Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard: Wave (2009)
Sammy Engramer
H340 x W240 mm, 32 pages. Acquired from Florence Loewy, Paris, 27 March 2019.

In 2010, Engramer took his inspiration one step further and put together an exhibition called “JAMAIS”. As soon as the idea or sensation of visualizing the sound of a poem is mooted, the choice of ink, type, brush, paint, surface, chisel, mold, material, camera, computer and, again, surface opens up. In JAMAIS, Engramer chooses a multiplicity of tools and media (or they choose him): sound recording, computer output, ink, printed book, mold and plastic, camera and animation.

In the video below, pages of the book undulate in a wave along the wall to which they are loosely attached. Alongside them are eighteen 3D PVC renderings of the sonograms. At the end of the hall, a large screen shows a 3D animation of a rolling die whose dots spell out hasard in Braille. The juxtaposition of fluttering pages of sonographs, the physical instantiation of the sonograms and the animated Braille die that cannot be read by touch generates a confounding conundrum for the senses. Text has become sound, sound has become image, and image has become object and animation.

Video: Courtesy of the artist.

Since, according to the artist, his recording of the poem was not played in the exhibition, the conundrum focuses on perception of sound through the eyes. Whether listening/hearing can be performed by seeing a visual or physical representation of what has been listened to/or heard (or is being listened to/or heard) is a neurological question. Rendered in ink and plastic, Engramer’s sonographic images and objects are metaphoric assertions: “hear with your eyes the words no longer printed or carved before you, hear through your eyes the decibels increasing or attenuating according to an unheard recording of those words spoken”.

Further Reading

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

Halliday, Sam. Sonic Modernity: Representing Sound in Literature, Culture and the Arts: Representing Sound in Literature, Culture and the Arts (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015).

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

Pichler, Michalis. Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard: Sculpture (Berlin: “Greatest Hits”, 2008).

Rasula, Jed. Modernism and Poetic Inspiration: The Shadow Mouth (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).

Schaffner, Anna Katharina and Kim Knowles, Ulrich Weger and Andrew Michael Roberts, “Reading Space in Visual Poetry: New Cognitive Perspectives“, Writing Technologies, vol. 4 (2012), 75-106.

Books On Books Collection – Eric Zboya

un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard: translations (2018)

un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard: translations (2018)
Eric Zboya
Perfect bound; 60 pages printed on Rives Design 170 gsm Brilliant White.
H280 x W204 x D85 mm. Edition of 120 of which this is #42 and signed. Acquired from the artist, 1 April 2019.

Eric Zboya is poet, writer and artist. Years before this book, he wrote for Ubu Web about the dialogues between Mallarmé’s groundbreaking poem and artists such as Marcel Broodthaers, Guido Molinari and Michalis Pichler, who explore “the higher-dimensional characteristics of the poem”. Broodthaers’ and Molinari’s solid-colored horizontal blocks take the place of lines of text and, reflecting its typographic size, deliver the poem’s page-oriented image(s) without its words. Pichler goes a sculptural step further and excises the lines altogether.

In one sense, Zboya returns to the traditional “collaborative” livre d’artiste, where the artist’s images illustrate the author’s text. But Zboya’s process for generating the images and his handling of the text are anything but traditional.

Just as Mario Diacono runs parallel to Broodthaers, so too do Didier Mutel (2003) and Sammy Engramer (2009) to Zboya. His Ubu Web essay appeared in 2011. While similar, the three artists’ approaches to images differ far more from one another than those of Diacono and Broodthaers differ. Mutel’s sonographs come from recordings of three different speeches. Engramer’s come from the recording of his reading of Un Coup de Dés. Although Zboya’s images come from the translated text of Un Coup de Dés, they do not come from sound recordings.

Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard: Poème (2005)
Didier Mutel
Consists of three volumes: the first entitled “2003 — may god bless america — 4 speeches by George Walker Bush”; the second, “2003 — 4 speeches by Tony Blair”; the third, “Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard”. Each engraved in drypoint on steel and printed on Velin Arches 300 gsm.

Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard: Wave (2009)
Sammy Engramer
H340 x W240 mm, 32 pages.
Recording his own reading aloud of the poem, Engramer then ran the recording through sonographic equipment. The rendering of each line’s soundwave became his graphic substitute for Mallarmé’s line of verse and, by extension, each black block that Broodthaers used to displace Mallarmé’s text.

Zboya uses graphic imaging software to transform each letter, mark of punctuation and pixel into an abstract image based upon the original topographical placement of the type on the space of the page. Text mutates into a graphic, nonlinear entity. Zboya calls this Algorithmic Translation. Due to a randomization function, the program never yields the same image from the same input. In keeping both with the title (Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard) and the poem’s last line (Toute pensée émet un Coup de Dés), no run of the program ever abolishes chance, and every input (thought) generates a roll of the dice.

Zboya’s artist book presents more than these graphic, constellation-like translations of the text. Literally shadowing the right-reading English translation of the title is the French text set in reverse. Drawing the reader closer to the synaesthesia promoted by Mallarmé, Valéry and, before them, Baudelaire, the contrast of black (English) and gray (hcnerF) echoes the tonality of the algorithmically translated images; the reversed letters of the French emphasize the physical reversing that occurs when printing text; and the movement from the original hcnerF to the translated English urges the “mind’s ear” to play along with the mind’s eye. The choice to print everything on the same highly textured Rives Design, Brilliant White, enlists hand and eye in support of a synaesthetic equation of text, page and image.

Just as important in another dimension is Zboya’s creative manipulation of the poem’s English translation by Basil Cleveland and preface by Charles Bernstein. The preface is the first clue. Only words selected by Zboya appear in black, left in their original position on the page and creating an envoi to Zboya’s book:

This Note beyond the space of the page vanishes. Narrative is avoided. Intonation falls. Courageous Poem, open a few eyes to this unforeseen symphony.

Zboya has done the same with the text of the translated poem. He erases certain lines and leaves those not erased in their topographical position as close to Mallarmé’s intention as interpreted by Zboya’s numerous predecessors (Broodthaers in 1969, Pichler in 2008, Meillassoux in 2012, Bononno and Clark in 2015, Bloch in 2017 among others). In this way, Zboya’s appropriation occurs across multiple dimensions.

By “erasing” text to select text that syntactically creates new content, Zboya is also following in the footsteps of Tom Phillips (A Humument, 1966-2016), but the effect and result of doing so differs distinctively from Phillips’ work, which is decidedly narrative. The concept of translation in Zboya’s book is closer to Ezra Pound’s approach in Personae (1926). The fragments and sentences created by the “translated” words are close but not the same as those in the source. In Pound’s case, not the same sentences as those of the troubadours. In Zboya’s case, not the same as Mallarmé’s, Cleveland’s, Bernstein’s, etc. The appropriation/translations make something new.

Occurring in its several dimensions, Zboya’s manipulation of text, image and surface recalls Valéry’s description of reading and looking at the worksheets for the book version of Un Coup de Dés:

It seemed to me that I was looking at the form and pattern of a thought, placed for the first time in a finite space. Here space itself truly spoke, dreamed, and gave birth to temporal forms. Expectancy, doubt, concentration, all were visible things. With my own eye I could see silences that had assumed bodily shapes. Inappreciable instants became clearly visible: the fraction of a second during which an idea flashes into being and dies away; atoms of time that serve as the germs of infinite consequences lasting through psychological centuries — at last these appeared as beings, each surrounded with a palpable emptiness…. there in the same void with them, like some new form of matter arranged in systems or masses or trailing lines, coexisted the Word! — Paul Valéry, Collected Works of Paul Valery, Volume 8: Leonardo, Poe, Mallarmé (1972).

That is the effect of reading and looking at Zboya’s work of book art.

Further Reading

Bibliography: Synaesthesia in Art and Science”, Leonardo Online, updated 26 July 2012. Accessed 22 May 2020.

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

Fraenkel, Ernest. Les dessins trans-conscients de Stéphane Mallarmé : a propos de la typographie de Un coup de dés (Paris: Nizet, 1960). An earlier example of blacking out the text of Un Coup de Dés.

Funkhouser, C.T. Prehistoric Digital Poetry: An Archaeology of Forms, 1959-1995 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2007).

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

Pichler, Michalis. Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard: Sculpture (Berlin: “Greatest Hits”, 2008).

Rasula, Jed. Modernism and Poetic Inspiration: The Shadow Mouth (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).

Schaffner, Anna Katharina and Kim Knowles, Ulrich Weger and Andrew Michael Roberts, “Reading Space in Visual Poetry: New Cognitive Perspectives“, Writing Technologies, vol. 4 (2012), 75-106.

Bookmarking Book Art – From a Visit to “Art for the People”, Xu Bing (Center del Carme, Valencia, Spain, 2019)

This exhibition showcases a selection of Xu Bing’s most important works including Art For the People, Book from the Sky, Book from the Ground, Square Word Calligraphy, Background Story, and The Character of Characters. Xu also wrote a new piece of Square Word Calligraphy of an ancient Valencian poem El bon poble. As the curator Marta Millet Moreno says, “Xu’s interest in language and texts originates from his personal background and he transports these experiences to his art, where traditional art and conceptual art, Eastern and Western cultures, are intrinsically connected.” — Marta Millet Moreno, Centre del Carm

At least two days should be allowed to visit this kind of exhibition. The videos shown below are merely clips; the photos shown are but a handful of those taken. Not every room has been covered here; missing are the Square Word Calligraphy practice room and the room of Xu Bing-related publications. For the latter, a visit to the Xu Bing website page does not substitute for the experience of sitting down with the books, many of which are out of print and for which there are no online images. The lengthy amount of time needed to enjoy this abbreviated version of the 2018 largest Xu Bing (Beijing) exhibition is due to looking from every angle allowed, thinking, comparing and contrasting from one room to the next, watching all the videos, taking instruction in Square Word Calligraphy, leafing through the books, going back to the beginning, interrupting that flow to compare/contrast one room with another outside the sequence and, again, thinking.

Book from the Sky (1987-1991) © Xu Bing

Book from the Sky (1987-1991) © Xu Bing

Book from the Sky (1987-1991) © Xu Bing

Book from the Sky (1987-1991) © Xu Bing

Book from the Ground Pop-up Book – Night (2016) © Xu Bing

Book from the Ground Pop-up Book – Day (2015) © Xu Bing

Video clip of Book from the Ground Pop-up Book – Day © Xu Bing

Installation of workshop for creation of Book from the Ground © Xu Bing

“Proof” of translation of “El bon poble” by Ausiàs March, medieval Valencian poet, into square word calligraphy (2019) © Xu Bing. Created especially for this exhibition.