Trophic Avulsions (2016) Jaz Graf Cyanotype accordion book with thread drawing, paper lithography and laser engraving on wood. Closed: H6 x W8.5 x D1.0 inches; Open: W80 inches. Unique. Acquired from the artist, 14 March 2018. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
Graf has used satellite photos of various river deltas around the world to create the cyanotype prints in this work. The patterns from which are exposed come from paper litho prints made on fabric. The result is a blurring, softening yet “nearing” of the otherwise sharp, scientific and remote images normally viewed on digital screens or photographic paper. As Graf points out in her description, the word trophic “relates to an ecological concept of the trophic cascade, in which one action leads to another in an ecosystem, implying ideas of interconnectivity.”
That interconnectivity and the impact we have on “the separation of land from one area and its attachment to another”, which is what avulsion means, is implied by the streams of thread meandering across and off the panels of the accordion form from beginning to end. Even though the panels fold to fit within their laser-engraved birch panels, they vary in width, which breaks up the expected regularity of the accordion when it is extended. The engravings show a delta emptying into a desert and are mounted on wood blocks covered in muslin bearing the printed delta image made with paper lithography.
The environmental focus of Trophic Avulsions places it in a well-loved tradition in book art. Other works by Graf, such as Mother Water (2018) below, would be comfortably at home in an exhibition with
Biography (2010) by Sarah Bryant, who creatively connects the human body’s elements with those of the periodic table to bear witness to our impact on the environment and vice versa;
the Ice Books series (2007-17) by Basia Irland, who selects local seeds and embeds them as “text” in a block of frozen river water, carved into the shape of a book to be released into the local river where it melts, releasing the seeds;
the Whorl series (2013- ongoing) by Jacqueline Rush Lee, who returns books to their botanical origins by sculpting books and inserting them into the cavity of a tree to allow time, changing weather conditions and insect activity to rewrite them into the shape of a whorl in a tree hollow;
Batterers (1996) by Denise Levertov, Kathryn Lipke and Claire Van Vliet, who combine Levertov’s powerful poem extending a metaphor of abuse to the earth with Lipke’s clay paperwork set into a wooden tray as the base of this sculptural book, whose pages Van Vliet makes unfold into a fiery landscape; or
Silent Spring Revisited (2016) by Chris Ruston, who uses her frequent visits to natural history museums to inspire works that blend science and art that highlight extinction and the interdependence of humans and nature.
If such an exhibition — a twentieth anniversary of Betty Bright’s 1992 “Completing the Circle: Artists’ Books on the Environment”? — were organized, Trophic Avulsions would be available to loan!
Mother Water (2018) Laser-etched acrylic, cyanotype, porcelain Dimensions variable (15 panels – each 14”x11”) The river featured is Thailand’s Chao Praya. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
Housed in acrylic tube, eight pages including letterpress printed colophon page, seven pages of USGS topographic maps inscribed with sumi ink by hand, bound with a small piece of Fabriano Tiziano green in Japanese side-stitch. H184 x W679.5 mm unfurled. Edition of approximately 65, of which this one is dated and initialed on 7 November 2012. Acquired from the artist, 25 March 2015. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
When as you continue first appeared, Jen Larson wrote of it in Multiple, Limited, Unique: Selections from the Permanent Collection of the Center for Book Arts (2011):
… this work serves as an elegant meditation and metaphor on the subject of life journeys — and orienting oneself in the midst of landscape or circumstance that can only be apprehended by survey and the will to move forward.
The year 2012 marked the centennial of composer and artist John Cage’s birth. An aficionado of “chance”, Robin Price revisited this work that had begun in December 2010 when she discovered on the Crown Point Press’ Magical-Secrets website the quotation by Cage. Cage had made this remark to Kathan Brown in 1989 after the Crown Point Press’ building was condemned following an earthquake. By chance, it now seemed fitting as a centenary birthday wish to this artistic master of “the purposeful use of chance and randomness”. Also by purposeful chance, Price turned to a technique that seemed entirely fitting for the work, its history and her personal perspective. Price writes:
… I took up the project anew and practiced writing on several different occasions, feeling dissatisfied with various trials. Eventually I found my way to writing with my left (non-dominant) hand as the most authentic expression I could bring to the content, as visualization of struggle, fear, and acceptance of imperfection.
Perfect bound. H305 x W229 mm. Acquired from the artist, 25 March 2015. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
The very covers of the book were created by chance operations. Generated solely on press using three of the four process color printing plates from the book’s interior via “make-ready”, areas of image were built up on the paper by repeatedly passing the sheets through the press, and consistently rotating the sheets prior to their feeding through ensured variation among the covers within the edition.
In addition to the theme core to Price’s art, Counting on Chance embodies another aspect key to her work: choice and collaboration. Published in conjunction with the exhibition held at Wesleyan University’s Davison Art Center, the volume includes a brilliant essay by Betty Bright, interview by Suzy Taraba and a catalogue raisonné prepared by Rutherford Witthus. Like choosing the right colors, the right combination of fonts, the right layout, the right weight and opacity of paper, and the right structure, Price’s choice of collaborators (or their choice of her) in her work and publishing is an artistic practice itself.
Housed in a custom-made, engraved stainless steel box (H370 x W326 x D44 mm), concertina binding co-designed with Daniel E. Kelm and Joyce Cutler-Shaw, produced at The Wide Awake Garage; twelve signatures of handmade cotton text paper, the central ten signatures each made up of one sheet H356 x W514 mm and one sheet H356 x W500 mm glued to the 14 mm margin of the first sheet, for a total of 96 pages, each measuring H356 x W253 mm. Binding of leather covered boards (a hologram embedded in front cover) with an open spine, taped and sewn into a reinforcing concertina structure: H361 X W259 mm. The hologram, produced by DuPont Authentication Systems, features an early eighteenth-century brass lancet. Edition of 50, of which this is a binder’s copy. Acquired from the binder, Daniel E. Kelm, 15 October 2018.
Generating two double-page spreads, one for the Fasciculus Medicinae on the left and Cutler-Shaw on the right, the foldout pages extend to 1016 mm.
Responding to the 1993 Smithsonian challenge to book artists to create a work in response to a scientific or technical work in the Dibner Library, Joyce Cutler-Shaw approached Price for assistance in creating a unique book based on Shaw’s response to the Fasciculus Medicinae (1495), the first printed book with anatomical illustrations. A decade later, Price was convinced to issue this 50-copy edition. In Counting On Chance, Betty Bright recounts the story behind this brilliant collaboration. Detail and additional images about the work can be found here.
Bright, Betty. “Handwork and Hybrids: Contemporary Book Art,” in Extra/ordinary: Craft and Contemporary Art, edited by Maria Elena Buczek (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010). Essay highlighting the work of Robin Price and Ken Campbell.
(The artist always lowercases his name — to avoid hierarchy.)
Box folder of 36 postcards & box folder of juniper berries. Edition of 216, of which this is 189. Acquired from Peter Foolen Editions, November 2014. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
February and November 2013
This “edition of two”, as Peter Foolen has termed it, gives the reader/viewer slices of two much larger works. The first was a 320-page hardback edition of 750 copies, also entitled die wiese / the meadow but involving Marion Reissner for the concept and photography. Two copies of the special edition, signed and numbered, also included dried leaves that de vries selected from the 4000 square meters — the meadow — that is one of de vries’ most important works of art. In the Steigerwald near Eschenau, Germany, where they live, he and susanne de vries, his wife, started this work of nature’s sculpture in 1986. A peninsula anchored on the forest and surrounded by farmland, the meadow boasts a barrier of cultivated aspen and hedges. Within, a variety of shrubs, trees and wildflowers abound. A work of art in and of itself, it is also the source and palette for smaller works made of selections of leaves, arrays of briars and pressed vegetation. The dried juniper berries in juniperus communis signal that aspect of his art.
In small, juniperus communis reflects another important aspect: exhibitions and installations.
H166 x W210 mm. Edition of 1000. Acquired from Éditions incertain sens, 27 June 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
In the Books On Books Collection, infinity in finity occupies a mid-point between die weise|the meadow and argumentstellen. Whereas die weise|the meadow draws its art directly from nature or the artist’s interaction with nature, argumentstellen draws its art from the artist’s interaction with a book of philosophy and his visual translation/illustration of it through the book arts. Except for the photo of herman de vries as naturalist-cum-naturist, infinity in finity belongs more to that side of his work that focuses on wordplay and the book arts.
The single photo and the phrase “infinity in finity” point more toward intangible, abstract nature rather than the tangible nature of a meadow and handful of juniper berries. The strand under the artist’s feet and the repeated phrase evoke the lines of Blake’s “Auguries of Innocence”:
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour
Grafix Centrum Poligrafii (Gdańsk, Poland) has precisely executed the genius of the design that aligns the repeated phrase across the double-page spread, into and out of the gutter, and sends it off the top, bottom and fore edges. The meaning of the words and form of the book align perfectly. The reader/viewer holds infinity in the finite form of a book held between two hands.
The first date 1968 is the year the artwork was conceived and drawn; the second date, the year it was published. H296 x W210 mm. Edition of 1250. Acquired from Éditions incertain sens, 27 June 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
Argumentstellen (German for “arguing” or “making an argument”) roots itself even more in abstraction, allusion and the book arts than infinity in finity. Other than the title and colophon, there are no words in argumentstellen. Still, the little text on which it relies looms large.
The Dutch naar and French de translate as “after”; so argumentstellen is “after Wittgenstein — tractatus — 2. 0131 …” Here are English translations for the text from section 2.0131 of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus:
From Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Side-by-Side-by-Side Edition, curated by Kevin C. Klement, Department of Philosophy, University of Massachusetts – Amherst
Unlike most paintings and prints entitled “after [fill in the blank]” — but like many instances of reverse-ekphrasis in book art — argumentstellen is simultaneously a visual translation and interpretation of referenced text, not another artist’s visual work. Rather than the ekphrastic text/poem that proceeds from the visual or sculptural work of art, this is visual book art that proceeds from philosophical text. On each rich, thick, white page, the black dot (the “point in space”, full stop or period?) appears once but in different places from page to page. Against the texture and color of the page, each black dot almost performs a trompe l’oeil that surrounds it with ghostly text — implying that it marks the space or place where a statement or argument occurs, which differs from place to place, from perspective to perspective.
In the same year as the drawing for this work occurred, so did that for the lines (1968/1995). De vries’ comments on the lines shed light on argumentstellen as well as return our thoughts to walking into the ocean or through the meadow:
the position of a single line in the surface determines our experience of these surfaces, so that with another position of the line, an extension or a shortening, our experience of the surface is changed.
like every primary picture element, the line has its own unique effect.
a point, for example, determines the space around it, creates an area of tension out of it. a line does that too, but it is clearer that the line divides the area.
lines are like dams in water. the eye must overcome it like an obstacle.
but it can also go around, flow. Another option is to follow the line, walk on the embankment and notice the changes in the area. because the place where the eye is located is a point of perception in relation to the surface.
in this way the line is a series of 'arguments'. Walking along, around or over here means changing your perspective and viewpoint. — herman de vries. Accessed 30 June 2020.
At which William Blake and those other Romantics — those ambler poets — John Clare, Samuel Coleridge and William Wordsworth must be nodding and smiling.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Her use of abstract markings and the Turkish map folding technique in Cartography I demonstrates again her careful marriage of abstraction, symbol and technique.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
‘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.’
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.
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 …
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Julia Hou’s Asterisk (2019) may remind you of an E.E. Cummings’ poem or a Hasegawa Tōhaku print or the Xu Bing animationThe 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.
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:
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
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.
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.
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.
Borsuk, Amaranth. The Book(Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2018).
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.
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.”
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:
Any live cell with fewer than two live neighbours dies, as if by underpopulation.
Any live cell with two or three live neighbours lives on to the next generation.
Any live cell with more than three live neighbours dies, as if by overpopulation.
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
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) 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 Woodand 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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) 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.
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) 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) 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%  Photos: Books On Books Collection
Booklet  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%  The effect changes with the light. Photos: Books On Books Collection
At first, Booklet  seems not to vary from , encouraging careful reading and looking to discover that every other page is blank in Booklet . 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%  Photos: Books On Books Collection
Booklet  extends the play of book  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  also extends the play of book  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 .
3%  The slight curving in the rectangles is due to how the booklet is being held. Photos: Books On Books.
Here in Booklet , 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) 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.