No Nonsense (2020) Kees Moerbeek Pop-up construction: corrugated cardboard, 1.5 mm thick; printed four-color/four-color with an additional print with silver Coldfoil. Cover: Greyboard four-color/no-color, 3 mm, with an additional layer of unprinted and laser cut courrugated cardboard 1.5 mm thick. Closed: H700 x W500 x D20 mm. Open: H700 x W1000 x D560 mm. Published by OptArt in an edition of 100, of which this is #56. Acquired from OptArt, 20 January 2020.
Artist’s description: The two lions holding the coat of arms function as a connecting hinge for the two separate base plates.
From the place where the crown belongs, a impressive tree arises, with roots, branches and countless shiny leaves.…
The base for this entire construction is a simple corrugated cardboard, an unpretentious material that reflects the typical no-nonsense mentality of the Dutch.
The tree trunk, branches and its roots represent the cultural values of all of Dutch people and the silver leaves symbolize the true assets of the Netherlands: the Dutch people. All parts of this artwork are interlocked representing the fact that all elements in a society are also interconnected. The cloudy sky visible through the base of the pop-up represents fantasy and the unreachable….
The silver printing on the cardboard is a cold-foil printing technique and in combination with the oversized dimensions, this pop-up can be considered as a one-of-a-kind publication.
This is the largest pop-up in the Books On Books Collection.
Holuhraun (2015) Chris Ruston Box: Exterior – Greyboard covered with Nepalese Lokta paper painted with Indian ink; Interior – Greyboard covered with Washi paper with fibre inclusions and painted with Indian ink. Closed: H215 x WW224 x 78 mm. Open: H110-210 x W484 x D625. Acquired from the artist, 9 March 2017. Photo: Books On Books
On 31 August 2014, the active Bárðarbunga volcano in Holuhraun, Iceland erupted. On 27 February 2015 — 181 days later — it ceased.
Chris Ruston’s artwork inspired by this event sits monolithically when closed, a flicker of orange-red barely visible through the jagged crack across its top. When the top and bottom of the box are removed, the color wells up more clearly through four sides of the upright fissure.
Free of its enclosures, Holuhraun “erupts”, the four flaps of black “basalt” falling away and displaying the full burst of “lava”. The flames come alive with any change of light or viewpoint.
The shallow tray of Lokta-covered greyboard contains 181 individual ”pages” documenting each day of the eruption. Each page consists of two torn pieces of Canson Black glued together and tipped with a “flame” of Japanese Ogura Lace paper made from Manila Hemp fibres and torn into various shapes. The Canson Black and Ogura Lace have been painted with Rohrer & Klingner Traditional Drawing Indian Inks. Here are the first and last days’ pages, followed by the work’s colophon.
The destructive and regenerative nature of geological phenomena is but one of several muses driving Ruston’s imagination as is evident from these other works in the collection.
The Great Gathering Seven Books, Seven Moments in Time (2015)
The seven volumes of The Great Gathering (or “the ammonite books”) first appeared as an installation at the Natural History Museum in Colchester from March through May 2016. They then moved to “Turn the Page“ in Norwich, where attendees and visitors awarded the work First Prize in the show.
The Great Gathering, Seven Books, Seven Moments in Time (2015) Chris Ruston Detail of the display at the Natural History Museum, Colchester, Essex. A nicely ironic touch for this seven-fold artwork, the museum is housed in a de-consecrated church. Photo credit: Chris Ruston Acquired from the artist, 27 June 2016.
The Great Gathering, Seven Books, Seven Moments in Time (2015) Chris Ruston Awarded First Prize, on display at “Turn the Page”, Norwich, England, May 2016 Photo credit: Chris Ruston
The Great Gathering reaches beyond the event of one volcanic eruption and introduces human knowing of such events and the associated shadowiness of beginnings and change. Combining traditional techniques of the book arts, painting and sculpture with the biblioclastic techniques of book art, the artist charts our perceptions of the mysteries of cosmic origin (Volumes I and II), the sedimentary earth and the ocean (Volumes III and IV), natural history and human geography (Volumes V and VI) and our creative future (Volume VII).
In using the form of the ammonite fossil as a unifying thread, Ruston reflects the influence of her recurring visits to natural history museums, in particular the Natural History Museum in Colchester and the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences in Cambridge. The use of the ammonite form for the pre-fossil periods of Vol. I Dark Beginnings and Volume II The Age of Light & Shadow might seem odd, but it symbolically underscores the anthropocentric lens through which we naturally explore the origins of the universe and this world in it.
Vol. I Dark Beginnings Box: Greyboard glued in several layers and covered in Buckram Bookbinding cloth. W210 x L210 x D60 mm Lining: Shoji Gami Kozo paper soaked in Sennelier Indian Ink. Pages: Shoji Gami Kozo paper, soaked in Sennelier Indian Ink and then cut to size. Binding: Black Gutterman Thread sewn over tapes.
Fittingly, the first and smallest box contains the only untorn set of pages. All black, the first volume stands against the last volume’s all-white blank pages.
Vol. II The Age of Light & Shadow Box: Box: Greyboard glued in several layers and covered in Buckram Bookbinding cloth. W420 x L410 x D95 mm Lining: Unryu laid over Shoji Gami Kozo paper, painted with various Rohrers Inks. Pages: Torn book pages. Binding: Red Gutterman Thread pamphlet-sewn and sewn over a single tape.
The book from which Volume II’s pages are made is Hubble: Window on the Universe by Giles Sparrow (Quercus Publishing, 2010). The painstaking effort with which the pages have been shaped across the length of the volume and then sewn together leaps out from the finished work and the following work-in-progress photo.
Work in progress: Vol. II The Age of Light and Shadow Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
Vol. III The Age of Ocean Box: Greyboard glued in several layers and covered in Buckram Bookbinding cloth. W350 x L360 x H90 mm Lining: Shoji Gami Kozo paper painted with Rohrers Inks. Pages: Fabriano Artistico Watercolour Paper painted with Rohrers Inks. Binding: White Gutterman thread pamphlet-sewn and sewn over two white tapes.
The colours and patterns of all the lining papers and of the pages in Volumes III and IV are so remarkable they are best explained by the artist: “The marks are created by laying the paper on a plastic sheet over a variety of other textured papers. A wash of water is applied carefully with a large soft brush followed by a wash of various Rohrers inks. Once the paper has throughly dried the pages are ‘peeled off’ the plastic. It is similar to a monoprint technique but using watercolour process rather than traditional printing inks.”
Vol. IV The Age of Innocence Box: Greyboard glued in several layers and covered in Buckram Bookbinding cloth. W370 x L480 x D105 mm Lining: Shoji Gami Kozo paper painted with Rohrers Inks. Pages: Fine Rice paper painted with Rohrers inks. Binding: Yellow Gutterman thread pamphlet-stitch and sewn over two brown tapes.
Although the painting technique applied to Volumes III and IV is the same, the visual and tactile effects are as different as sheets of ice on the one hand and sheets of sediment and mineral on the other.
Vol. V The Age of Transition Box: Greyboard glued in several layers and covered in Buckram Bookbinding cloth. W380 x L360 cm x D85 mm Lining: Unryu paper laid over Shoji Gami Kozo paper with Rohrers Ink Pages: Windsor and Newton Smooth Cartridge Paper 220 gsm and torn book pages. Binding: White Gutterman Thread pamphlet-stitch and sewn over a single beige tape.
Volume V blends pieces of blank white paper with shaped pages torn from a copy of On the Origin of Species.Volume VI draws on pages from National Geographic magazines. While the titles and “contents” of the two volumes suggest a forward, evolutionary movement in human knowledge, the juxtaposition of the sewn binding, carefully torn pages and 30,000-year-old red ochre hand prints and stencils from the Chauvet caves in France evokes a different view of human creativity across time. It is a variant of the suite‘s “ammonite” paradox of the entanglement of constancy and change.
Vol. VI The Age of Knowledge Box: Greyboard glued in several layers and covered in Buckram Bookbinding cloth. W280 x L290 x 100 mm Lining: Shoji Gami Kozo paper painted with Rohrers Inks. Pages: Torn magazine pages. Binding: Yellow Gutterman thread pamphlet-stitch sewn over a single brown tape.
Photos: Books On Books and Courtesy of artist, respectively
Vol. VII The Time is Now Box: Greyboard glued in several layers and covered in Buckram Bookbinding cloth. W330 x 330 x D75 mm Lining: Nepalese Decorative paper made with Lokta fibres – Little Dot – Pale Grey. Assemblage of pages of Blank Windsor and Newton Smooth Cartridge Paper 220 gsm pamphlet-stitch sewn with white Gutterman Thread over a single grey tape, among cut photos of objects and Contents page from Planet earth – the future: what the experts say by Fergus Beeley, Mary Colwell and Joanne Stevens (BBC Books, 2006) pasted to a mirror.
The seventh and concluding volume offers a sort of boxed performative installation platformed on a mirror that implicates any viewer who leans over to take a closer look. A reminder that, whether from a scientific perspective or that of modern aesthetic theory, observation affects and effects results. And a closer look at the table of contents pasted to the mirror offers another reminder: that all of us in the present anthropocene era are implicated in the planet’s future.
In progress Photo: Courtesy of the artist
Lost Voices Artist Books The Captain’s “Ditty Box” (2017)
The Great Gathering has an optimistic innocence to it. It moves from The Age of Transition to The Age of Knowledge. By openly alluding to the diligence in the series‘ creation, Volume VII suggests an art- and science-based path to the future. Even the last chapter of the pasted-down Contents page is “Optimism and Hope”. But Ruston’s more recent works leaven that with a lament for what has been and is still being lost.
Lost Voices Artist Books The Captain’s “Ditty Box” (2017) Chris Ruston Repurposed wooden box: H150 x W325 x D40 mm, containing two unique palimpsest journals and various objects. The text in both journals — The Captain’s Log Book and his Wife’s Journal — is hand printed with rubber stamps or hand written. The images are drawn, hand printed with rubber stamps or painted. The papers consist of Gampi, Kozo, Fabriano and Resurgence Magazine pages; the latter are coated in gesso to submerge the text. The fold-out page in the Wife’s Journal is a photo of whale’s baleen (taken in the Natural History Museum, London) backed with a darker inked sheet. The bindings for the log book and journal are limp leather. Sources of text: Moby-Dick, or The Whale by Herman Melville (Harper and Bros, 1851); One Whaling Family by Harold Williams, ed. (Houghton Mifflin Co, 1964); Whale Nation by Heathcote Williams (Jonathan Cape, 1988); The Hull Whaling Trade: An Arctic Enterprise by Arthur G. Credland (The Hutton Press Ltd, 1995); Heroines and Harlots, Women at Sea in the Age of Sail by David Cordingly (Random House, 2001); and Resurgence Magazine. Acquired from the artist, 1 December 2019.
Here is a work of art that invites the very acts required by a keepsake box: unpacking, manipulation, rearrangement, regarding and repacking. Only by responding to the invitation do discoveries within discoveries come. On one level is the discovery (or recovery) of the lost voices of a whaling captain, his wife and child, his crew and the creatures they hunt. On another level are voices from other times that underlay and overlay the mid-nineteenth century voices in a time-twisting palimpsest that leaves the reader/viewer in a limbo of pasts, presents and futures. On yet another level are the found objects (pens, a clay pipe) from the past that rest alongside objects clearly made by the artist in the present (the sperm whale cutout and coloured lining papers).
The white cutout of a sperm whale and the inscription from Moby-Dick on its reverse reflects one of several inspirations for this assemblage. Others came from the artist’s wide reading (noted in the opening caption above), trips to Hull and visits to museums as with The Great Gathering, but perhaps most important is the one that came from the creative process:
I love the process of building a history onto the page – things can be ‘hidden’ leaving just a trace, or revealed in part fragments. During this period of whaling it wasn’t unusual that journals and ledgers were reused due to the cost of paper. This was the inspiration and starting point in making these journals. Correspondence with Books On Books,
The Captain’s Log Book
In every respect except the captain’s and his wife’s own words, the log and journal are artifice. Not even all the words belong to them. By letting the words from elsewhere and other times bleed through or overlay their words, by painting and ink stamping over the words, Ruston is stealing the phenomenon of palimpsest from the realm of artefact for that of artistic technique.
Pages overdrawn or ink-stamped, watercolor printing, use of mixed papers, manipulation of spread layouts and fold outs, hand stitching — so many of the techniques of book art and the book arts are brought to bear in the log and journal that they echo the assemblage that The Captain’s Ditty Box is.
The Wife’s Journal
The inclusion of The Wife’s Journal underlines the artist’s embrace of the surprising fact that women and their children did ship on the whalers. Physically, the Journal is as “muscular” as the Log. The use of gesso to ‘knock back’ the text on the printed sheets changes their texture and makes them feel stiffer and heavier. Turning the stiffened pages and the pages made of translucent Gampi and Kozo gives a tactile imitation of the visual palimpsest.
With its reference to the baby, the Journal has its tendernesses. But even with these and her moment of fastidiousness about entering the mouth of a beached whale, the captain’s wife has the air of a natural historian and seafaring field biologist.
Through its keepsake-box metaphor, The Captain’s Ditty Box is an immersion in time. Through the artist’s choice of assemblage and palimpsest as technique, it is an immersion in natural and human consequences.
Lost Voices Artist Books Just One Bone… (2017)
Lost Voices Artist Books Just One Bone… (2017) Chris Ruston Fabriano Artistico Watercolour Paper. Double gate fold, with a fold out central page. Sewn together with pamphlet stitch. Board cover consisting of collaged vintage sea chart, and hand painted paper. Painted paper envelope wraps around the book. Text: Moby -Dick ,’The Whale’ by Herman Melville (Harper and Brothers, 1851) and The PowerBook by Jeanette Winterson (Jonathan Cape, 2000). H340 x W215 x D150 mm. Acquired from the artist, 1 December 2019.
Just One Bone is a different kind of assemblage, yet with similarities and ultimately the same aim. The multiple folders or enclosures reprise those of the “ditty box”, and as with the log book’s and journal’s palimpsest pages, there are layers on layers here.
The double gate-fold silhouette of a whale’s vertebrae below echoes the multi-page white outline in The Captain’s Log above.
Just One Bone may begin with the same handwritten quotation from Melville that appears on the cutout in The Captain’s “Ditty Box”, but it concludes with lines from Jeannette Winterson clearly articulating the aim underlying both works.
Whaling Logbook (2017)
Whaling Logbook (2017) Chris Ruston Soft cover, Pamphlet Stitched pages Various papers including Ingres paper and Translucent paper. Hand carved stamps and text printed using rubber stamps. Inks. H190 x W110 mm. Acquired from the artist, 1 December 2019.
Compared to Lost Voices, The Whaling Log Book and Moby Dick (below) are small. They may be works preparatory to, or left over from, The Captain’s Ditty Box and Just One Bone. Although less wide-ranging, they each deliver.
The Whaling Log Book celebrates those handstamps used on whaling ships to document sightings and, at the same time, strikes dual notes of lament and loneliness.
Moby Dick (2017)
Moby Dick (2017) Chris Ruston Soft cover, concertina fold sea chart on Fabriano Artistic Watercolour paper. Inks. Images from hand carved whale stamps, Text from rubber stamps. Quotation from Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (Harper and Brothers, 1851). H185 x W235 mm. Acquired from the artist, 1 December 2019.
Although the handstamps make an appearance in Moby Dick, the main celebration here is how the printing gives the viewer’s eye and imagination freedom to fare and find as they will. In the upper left, a whale’s eye seems to emerge from the pattern. In the upper center, a diving right whale. In the upper right, ocean depths in the underlying chart. Across the lower row’s fold outs, ice floes break up on the sea’s surface.
Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street (1995)
Herman Melville, Bartleby the Scrivener: A Tale of Wall Street, 1853. Indulgence Press, 1995. Type composed in 12 point Bulmer on the Monotype System and printed by Wilber Schilling on Arches MBM mould made paper at Janus Press. Calligraphy by Suzanne Moore. Ochre-coloured endpapers handmade by MacGregor & Vinzani. Wilber Schilling created the frontispiece photo as a Kallitype print from a negative generated in Adobe Photoshop. The binding, also by Schilling, is cloth over sewn boards and, over the cloth, an embossed print of details from the frontispiece photo. Edition of 100 of which this is #71. H320 x W158 x D14 mm. Acquired from Indulgence Press, 17 December 2015.
It opens with sunrise, closes with sunset. Each landscape shows water meeting land. A lighthouse or comms or water tower appears in each landscape. Some stand on promontories, some are nearly submerged. Tinted pages of NOAA charts of the Bahamas, Florida Keys and Gulf of Mexico lay between the pages of landscapes. The sentences placed across the charts in silvery white come from the random-seeming, poetic-sounding “Harvard Sentences“, used by audio engineers and speech scientists in Harvard’s Psycho-Acoustic Laboratory from the mid-20th century to the present to test the effects of noise on comprehension.
There are 72 ten-sentence banks in the Harvard Sentences. The artist’s choice of three sentences for each chart page is like a painter’s choice of colors and strokes.
“Men think and plan and sometimes act” is the first chosen. “A pink shell was found on the sandy beach” is the last. In between come “reds” like “Let it burn, it gives us warmth and comfort”, “greens” like “Lush ferns grow on the lofty rocks” or “blacks” like “That move means the game is over”. The sentences seem to change their color or meaning as the eye moves among the landscapes. What color has “Canned pears lack full flavor”?
The only other man-made structure in the book appears halfway through: the roof of a log cabin with the water almost to the eaves.
A small work of book art with an overwhelming force.
A Blind Alphabet (1986) Suzanne Moore 34 pages, accordion-fold. Edition of 200 of which this is #91. Calligraphic letters designed and drawn by Suzanne Moore, printed by Harold McGrath on T.H. Saunders cold-pressed watercolour paper, bound by Claudia Cohen in marbled paper by Faith Harrison. Closed H128 x W93 D28 (spine) D22 (fore-edge) mm; open 3200 mm. Acquired from Veatchs, 1 May 2018.
Bartleby, The Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street (1995)
Herman Melville, Bartleby the Scrivener: A Tale of Wall Street, 1853. Indulgence Press, 1995. Calligraphy by Suzanne Moore. Type composed in 12 point Bulmer on the Monotype System and printed by Wilber Schilling on Arches MBM mould made paper at Janus Press. Ochre-coloured endpapers handmade by MacGregor & Vinzani. Wilber Schilling created the frontispiece photo as a Kallitype print from a negative generated in Adobe Photoshop. The binding, also by Schilling, is cloth over sewn boards and, over the cloth, an embossed print of details from the frontispiece photo. Edition of 100 of which this is #71. H320 x W158 x D14 mm. Acquired from Indulgence Press, 17 December 2015.
Wilber Schilling (Indulgence Press) designed and printed this edition of Herman Melville’s well-known story. Part of Schilling’s genius was to invite Suzanne Moore to provide the calligraphy for Bartleby’s hallmark (his only) words “I prefer not to”. Another part was to print Moore’s calligraphy in ever-increasing size in ghostly ochre and in descending position across the pages of the book.
28 Letters (2013) Islam Aly Laser-cut handmade flax paper. Three hole pamphlet binding in an accordion binding. Linen thread, handmade paper covers. Twenty-eight folios; edition of 40 of which this is #4. Closed H147 x W154 x D15 (fore-edge) D37 (spine) mm; open 845 mm. Acquired from the artist, 5 February 2019.
Each of the 28 letters of the Arabic alphabet is laser-cut on a folio. The binding‘s flexibility allows for exploration and interaction with the letters as well as multiple forms of display.
Interview by Matt Kalasky for TGMR, the Galleries at Moore Radio, Moore College of Art and Design. Suzanne Seesman, Islam Aly, Abdul Karim Awad, and Yaroub Al-Obaidi discuss Friends, Peace, and Sanctuary project, Philadelphia, PA. Podcast 8 May 2019. Accessed 12 January 2020.
Interview for Sheffield Artist’s BookCentre, October 2, 2019. Accessed 12 January 2020.
Interview by Laurence Kesterson, for Friends, Peace, and Sanctuary project, Swarthmore College Library and the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility 2017. Accessed 12 January 2020.
Interview by Spring 2017 Scripps College Art 137 seminar class. This interview was featured in Of Color: Race & Identity in Artists’ Books exhibit catalogue. Accessed 12 January 2020.
The Way (2008) Leilei Guo Concertina of 88 pages. Woodcut and silkscreen on rice paper. Bound in cloth, front board in white, back board in black. 13.625 x 12.75 Acquired from the artist, 2 February 2019.
Almost a decade after a first viewing at the Frankfurt Book Fair, The Way became part of the Books On Books Collection. One thing such an experience teaches is carpe diem. It has taken all those years to have the chance to learn that the book opens from left to right, that the “red figure” in the woodcut is the standard grid on which Chinese letters are brushed, that the grid and the character remain constant under the wash that darkens as the pages turn, and that the embossed character on the front and back covers is reversed on the back cover.
The other lesson, perhaps the reverse, is patience and persistence.
But, with every viewing or reading — and its calming pleasure — The Way has its own lesson to teach.
Vandstand (2019) Bodil Rosenberg Twelve sheets of newsprint overpainted on both sides multiple times with acrylic. Four-hole stab binding with waxed black cord. H200 x W425 mm. Acquired from the artist, 6 July 2019.
On several fronts, Vandstand contributes richly to this collection: its inspiration from climate change, its visual narrative, its technique leading to its unusual tactile quality and its binding and format.
Denmark claims the lowest point below sea level in the European Union: Lammefjord, which is nearly 7 meters below sea level. Not surprisingly, Rosenberg notes that the key words associated with her inspiration for Vandstand were “global warming”, “floods”, “harbour” as well as “Venice”, “Copenhagen” and “Bristol”, places she has visited and in which she has exhibited. So with those thoughts in mind, she applied layer after layer of acrylic paint to both sides of sheets of newsprint torn carefully into rectangles of 200 x 425 millimetres.
“What I wanted to accomplish I was not sure, but I knew I would recognize it when I achieved it, so I painted the sea darker, lighter, warmer or colder — I moved the horizon line a bit up or down until I was satisfied” (Correspondence with Books On Books, 5 December 2019).
The word “vandstand” means “water level”.
As the water level rises, falls, and rises, the turning pages are cold to the touch and rough at the edges and on their surfaces.
They flex like thick sheets of rubber, leather or whale skin. They drape over the hand turning them. If left open, the book’s pages take on the curved shape in which they rest, and when closed, they hold the shape, relaxing slowly back to flatness.
The effect is that of swells in a harbour.
At first glance, the book’s only text looks stencilled, but on closer inspection, it looks handwritten. It appears only on the two strips of painted binding board, which on front and back give the impression of barrier walls against the sea. Poring over Vandstand again and again, I’m reminded of a poem from another northern latitude:
“Neither Out Far Nor In Deep”
The people along the sand All turn and look one way. They turn their back on the land. They look at the sea all day.
As long as it takes to pass A ship keeps raising its hull; The wetter ground like glass Reflects a standing gull
The land may vary more; But wherever the truth may be, The water comes ashore, And the people look at the sea.
They cannot look out far. They cannot look in deep. Btu when was that ever a bar To any watch they keep?
Homonim (2015) Hanna Piotrowska Dyrcz Charcoal sketches and frottage Digital print on Woodstock Betulla (uncoated, rough paper) from Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Indesign 16 unnumbered pages including the cover, bound and sewn by hand, H250 x W200 mm
This work’s title appears only as the headword in a definition: “Homonym: words having the same pronunciation but different meanings” (translated here from the Polish). Also the only text in the booklet, it appears flush left vertically on page six as a clue to the less clever Polish-fluent reader/viewer who has not yet attached a word to the image of the tree trunk (bal) and then the same homonymic word to the image of the plank. Having had its visual/verbal fun with those two meanings, the booklet gives the image of a single tree trunk’s cross-section on page seven to set the stage for bal’s third meaning (”ball” as in a dance or masquerade). Over the following pages, the multiple cross-sections gradually turn into a top-down view of whirling dancers who seem to emerge from the bole of the wood.
The artist has filmed the handling of the booklet, but of course, that does not capture the weight and finish of the paper nor the turning back and forward of the pages in the dance on which the words and images lead the reader/viewer. Turning word play into image play in the book form’s sequential and back-and-forth “affordances” makes Homonim a solid conceptual fit in the Books On Books Collection, and the skilful handling of charcoal and its digital transformation provide pleasure with every viewing.
Twórca/The Maker (2016)
Twórca/The Maker (2016) Text: Jorge Luis Borges Design, photography, printing and binding: Hanna Piotrowska Dyrcz Pages: gray recycled paper, digital print. Cover: cardboard, soil and black paint. The book was sewn and bound by hand. H158 x W113 mm. Unique. Acquired from the artist, 4 February 2020.
El Hacedor (The Maker) is a collection of poems, short stories, essays and literary sketches by Jorge Luis Borges. The way the artist integrates her handling of the book form’s structural challenges with her understanding of Borges’ themes makes this an outstanding artist’s book. Her comments on creating this work are helpful in appreciating it more fully, but they also provide an opportunity to wonder at the creative process. Where does it begin? What leads to what?
Here are her comments in their original order:
One of the challenges was dealing with a large number of footnotes, maintaining the small format at the same time. So I came up with an idea of placing the footnotes not below the main text, but on separate narrow pages, with images on the back side.
The images: The Maker raises questions of evanescence, death, identity, natural changes and the meaning of symbol. I decided to refer to these subjects by finding symbols spontaneously formed by nature and photographing such “hasards objectifs”.All the images in the book are placed either on one or two full pages, which makes the spine set the axis of symmetry. Many of them are hidden between the footnotes’ pages, so that the reader discovers more and more concealed, sometimes disturbing images. Also, the narrow pages with footnotes and images are not included in the page numbering, so that they don’t constitute the book’s usual structure, but rather something that grew/emerged out of the it.
The cover: I wanted the cover more to hide than to inform what’s inside. For this reason, there is no title nor author’s name – just black texture, made from soil painted black. Its gravelly structure is scratchy – I tried to reflect the awkward and surreal character of Borges’ texts, by making the cover visually attractive and intriguing, but at the same time unpleasant to touch.
Borges’ questions may have primed the artist’s photographic eye, but the inventiveness of hiding the images on the reverse of the narrowed footnote pages, of using the cover to echo the images visually and tactilely and of playing with full-page images and narrow-page images and footnotes to hide and reveal the main text comes from thinking about (and feeling) the form of the book, the relationship of image to text, and how the reader’s eyes and hands and mind work and react.
Diamond Sutra, Dragon scale binding (2017) Zhang Xiaodong In 32 zhuan (seal) fonts, 152 x 382×160mm Edition: 197/300 Acquired from Sin Sin Fine Arts (Hong Kong), 31 October 2019
Ranged horizontally, these are the characters in the column carved into the wooden box holding the scroll and its silk encasing.
Jin gang bo re bo luo mi jing = Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra, or “The Perfection of Wisdom Text that Cuts Like a Thunderbolt” or “The Diamond of Perfect Wisdom Sutra”, often shortened to “Diamond Sutra”.
The silk encasing
Views of the scroll, rolled and bound
Unrolling the scroll
Views of scroll standing
Views of scroll standing
The paper used for the book is Shengxuan, a kind of raw rice paper from An Hui province. The inks used to print the Diamond Sutra are Japanese mineral inks; the printing technique, Ultra Giclee on a Japanese printing machine. The page turning wand is made of camphorwood .
For the 200th anniversary of Herman Melville’s birth (1819), the Bodleian’s Bibliographical Press invited letterpress printers and artists to claim one of the eighty prefatory “Extracts” from Moby-Dick (1851) and create an artwork in response.
The Blackwell Hall exhibition case accommodates thirty of the eighty contributors‘ artworks, plus the rare three-volume version of the novel published by Richard Bentley in London as The Whale before Harper & Brothers issued it in November 1851 in New York as Moby-Dick; or, The Whale. Here are just four of the outstanding prints among the several artforms on display.
Extract 25: ‘The mighty whales which swim in a sea of water, and have a sea of oil swimming in them.’ ─ Fuller’s Profane and Holy State Brittany Starr and Mallory Haselberger, BookLab at University of Maryland Mixed media (collage and letterpress). Printed on a Line-O-Scribe, Model 1411 on Strathmore printmaking paper using rubber and oil-based ink; includes Jenson, News Gothic and Bookman typefaces with Hamilton wood type. Image courtesy of the Bibliographical Press and artists.
Notice how Starr and Haselberger integrate the verbal and visual to emphasise the seas of water/oil paradox that Melville plucked from his source. Like Melville’s hand, the artists’ manicule in the lower left points to the extract that reads/rises from the bottom to the top. Inside the shapes of whales around the extract appears the source of the extract (the verbal in the visual) against a seawater blue (another layer of the verbal in the visual). The letters “o” and “f” evoke bubbles and currents (the verbal for the visual). The words “oil” and “water” in contrasting inks but composed in the same typeface loom large at the heart of the artists’ embodiment of this paradoxical extract. (It is an insider’s paradox that the work surfaces from the BookLab, devoted to exploring the oil-and-water mix of the material and the digital.)
Extract 35: ‘* * * * * and the breath of the whale is frequently attended with such an insupportable smell, as to bring on a disorder of the brain.’ ─ Ulloa’s South America Elizabeth Fraser, Frauhaus Press, Cambridge Handset letterpress. Blind deboss using wood and metal type. Whale created from face and back of woodtype with ornaments for eye and spout. Text 12pt & 6pt Baskerville italic. Whale breath 12pt glint (Monotype B1309 & B1310). Printed on Somerset Velvet 300gsm soft white paper with a tabletop flatbed proofing press.
What attends the whale’s breath in Fraser’s print? The whale’s breath is the extract streaming into a sea of white blind-debossed words. That sea of human detritus is the source of the insupportable smell that attends the whale’s breath. The insupportable smell takes on “the whiteness of the whale”. The threatened whale takes on an environmental green. which Fraser creates with the non-verbal side of the woodtype. Even so, the carrier of the verbal makes up every visual aspect here, underscoring Fraser’s contemporary paradox: the insupportable smell disordering the brain has been brought on by the disordered brain of humankind.
Rowsell’s linocut represents the more traditional entries in the exhibition. Capturing the furious struggle expressed in the extract, he locks whale, man, boat, sea, cloud and sky into a vigorous, swirling image on a paper and in a style that evoke the century in which Moby-Dick is set. As he pulled his prints from the 1828 Albion printing press, Rowsell might have wondered what the nine-year old Herman Melville was doing when hands were first laid on that Albion.
Extract 71, ‘It is impossible to meet a whale-ship on the ocean without being struck by her near appearance. The vessel under short sail, with look-outs at the mast-heads, eagerly scanning the wide expanse around them, has a totally different air from those engaged in regular voyage.’ ─ Currents and Whaling. U.S. Ex. Ex. Jennifer Farrell, Starshaped Press, Chicago Letterpress: metal type + rule linocut; Paper: Fabriano Tiziano printed on a Vandercook SP15. Image courtesy of the Bibliographical Press and artist.
Starshaped Press is aptly named. Jennifer Farrell stars at wringing shapes from type and its surrounding furniture. The citation outlining the upper deck and bowsprit runs gracefully and appropriately under the sails on which the extract appears in that variety of display faces characteristic of nineteenth century flyposts.
To round out the display with another multi-artist effort, the curators included Harpune Verlag’s Moby-Dick “Filets” (2011~). In 2011, Harpune Verlag Wien began publishing Melville’s masterpiece as a serialized subscription. To do justice to the book’s many voices, 136 different artists were invited, each to illustrate a chapter.
Etymology, Moby-Dick “filet” No. A (2012) Moussa Kone Leporello of 16 pages, 150 x 200 mm closed, 200 x 710 mm open. Acquired from Harpune Verlag February 2019.
Published in non-chronological order at varying intervals and printed in a limited edition of 460 copies, 37 “filets” have appeared so far. At this rate, all of the filets may only be served up by the bicentennial of Moby-Dick’s publication! Fortunately for the Bibliographical Press’s display, Moussa Kone’s rendition of “Etymology”, the prefatory item preceding “Extracts”, is one of those already delivered. It makes a suitably lengthy and apropos link across cases.
If, like Ishmael with “November in [his] soul”, you were walking down the damp, drizzly streets not of New Bedford but Oxford on the 15th this month, you might have substituted the Weston Library for The Spouter Inn. Inside, second copies of the remaining fifty “Extracts” submissions were on display in Blackwell Hall for viewing and handling after a screening of Philip Hoare’s The Hunt for Moby-Dick (2011). Ten years ago, Southampton-born Hoare won the 2009 BBC Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction for his book Leviathan, or the Whale. Hoare himself was on hand to introduce and take questions after the film.
His lifelong passion for whales and Melville’s book is infectious and influential. UK book artist Chris Ruston traces her series of artist’s books Lost Voices — Whaling (2016-17) to Hoare’s Leviathan. Like Hoare’s work and many entries in “Very Like a Whale”, Ruston’s work challenges our anthropocene era. Hoare was also instrumental in organizing the Moby Dick Big Read (2012) — another multi-artist affair and effort to address the effects of the anthropocene era.
Click on the screenshot to visit and listen to the Moby Dick Big Read.
The Big Read offers freely available readings of each chapter of the book. Individuals (well-known and unknown) contributed the readings, artists contributed artwork (viewable as thumbnails on the site), and the site offers an opportunity to donate to Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC).
Hoare participated in another Melvillean documentary: David Shaerf’s Call Us Ishmael (2019). It is a multi-artist affair like the Big Read, Moby-Dick “Filets” and “Very Like a Whale”; includes a sighting of the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s annual days-long continuous reading of Moby-Dick; and features interviews with artists and other creatives inspired by Melville’s tale. One of those artists interviewed is Frank Stella. Uncanny, but Stella also appears in this book to be found in the Bodleian: Elizabeth Schultz’s Unpainted to the Last (1995).
From among the artists such as Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock and others whom Schultz discusses, Stella serves best to tie off this fisherman’s tale and return to the title of the Bibliographical Press’s exhibition. About his Moby-Dick series of prints and metal-relief paintings to which he devoted a decade, Stella writes:
The idea of the wave and its various permutations is what drives this new series. Once I started on the wave shape, I saw it began to look like a whale — a combination of waves and whales. … The idea of the whale reminded me of “Moby Dick,” so I decided to go back and read the novel and the more I got into it, the more I thought it would be great to use the chapter headings of the novel for the titles of the pieces. — “1989 Previews from 36 Creative Artists,” New York Times, 1 January 1989, Sec. 2:1. Images here.
For a decade, Alicia Bailey has played the role of Ceres to book artists and collectors, bringing them the Artists’ Book Cornucopia. And this has been in addition to creating her own bookworks, organizing other exhibitions and running Abecedarian Gallery and Raven Press. Artists’ Book Cornucopia X marks the tenth and last cornucopia but not the end of their impact.
Cornucopia implies abundance and variety, and Alicia Bailey has delivered both. A glance at the ten catalogues finds a consistently high level of participation — always at least thirty artists — and every catalogue has shown a “variety of varieties”. Consider these varieties:
Variety of structures: accordions, boxes, flag books, girdle books, pop-ups, miniatures, portfolios, scrolls, sculpted shapes, wallets, etc. The variations within each type would require a hunt through The Art of the Fold (Kyle and Warchol), Structure of the Visual Book (Smith) and Book Dynamics! (Hutchins) to identify them properly. In ABC X, all of the structures mentioned above are represented. Over the decade, the Artists’ Book Cornucopia have spilled out structural innovations such as Merike van Zanten’s A Soldier of the Second World War (ABC I), Pamela Paulsrud’s Touchstones (ABC II), Cathryn Miller’s Universe: Foundation Trilogy (ABC III), Louisa Boyd’s miniature Stardust (ABC IV), Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord’s Spirit Book #67 (ABC V), Candace Hicks’s Trees of a Feather (ABC VI), Karen Hardy’s Vellicate (ABC VII), Bryan Kring’s Shared Illusion (ABC VIII) and Josh Hockensmith’s After (ABC IX). The abundance of innovations makes a visit to the Abecedarian Gallery site for numerous second-guessings worthwhile.
The variety of material used by the artists overwhelms: beads and buttons (Ednie), cactus needles and jute (Reka), cement and glass (Bryant), ceramic and cardstock (Wolken), copper and redwood (Anstruther/Grasso), fishing line and wire (Johnston), fish-skin and mull (Klass), leather and “metal findings” (Melis), magnet and museum board (Burton), palladium and aluminum leaf (Bailey), ribbon and slide viewers (Grimm), silk and sinew (Alpers), thread and tyvek (Asato), window screen and wood (Fleming), zippers and fabric (Melhorn-Boe) and, of course, upcycled books (Anastasiou). Any appreciation of the ingenuity of materials selection and manipulation across the Artists’ Book Cornucopia requires a rewarding read of the descriptions provided in each of the catalogues.
Then there is the variety of techniques: blind deboss (Lawrence), calligraphy (Towers), chromogenic prints (Grimm), collograph (Dokudowicz), cyanotype (Biza), gelatine monoprinting (Powers-Torrey), intaglio (Larson), letterpress (Nakata), linocut (Knudson), photopolymer (Larson), risography (Powers-Torrey), silkscreen (Anastasiou) and woodcut (Lucas). Like the materials used, the techniques employed are almost too many to name, and of course, those named are used by more than the one artist mentioned.
And, of course, a riot of papers: abaca (Welch), Alabama kozo (Sico), Awagami Shin Inbe (Gorham), cotton-abaca (Lucas), Domestic Etch/Lana Laid/Masa/Niddegen (Powers-Torrey), Hahnemühle Ingres mouldmade pastel paper (Ednie), indigo flax (Johnston), Somerset (Moyer) and Thai Momi marbled paper (Towers), which of the varieties used are far too few to mention.
Likewise, the variety of shapes and direction is kaleidoscopic: zigzag, circular, globular, vertical, horizontal, square, cuboid and boustrophedon (left to right to left to right, etc.). And that is before any listing of the Platonic shapes in Sarah Bryant’s The Radiant Republic.
The wide variety of themes in ABC X echoes the same breadth across the previous nine catalogues. Here we have architecture (Bryant), botany and discovery (Gower), chronic illness (Wolken), the city (Dokudowicz), environment (Lowdermilk), industrial landscape (Burton), the literary (Bailey), pain (Reka), sexuality (Grimm), travel (Melis), wildlife (Thrams) and #MeToo (Ellis). The named representative artist is just a starting point for each theme, and the themes mentioned are only alphabetical, not exhaustive.
Perhaps the one varietal shortcoming of ABC I-X is that most of the artists participating hail from the US. When another nationality appears in one of the catalogues, it surprises. Over time, “vintners“ from the following countries have shown up: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, France, Greece, Korea, Netherlands, Poland, UK and Venezuela.
The abundance and variety of Alicia Bailey’s Artists’ Book Cornucopia prove one premise and question another from Johanna Drucker’s The Century of Artists’ Books:
If all the elements or activities which contribute to artists’ books as a field are described what emerges is a space made by their intersection, one which is a zone of activity … There are many of these activities: fine printing, independent publishing, the craft tradition of book arts, conceptual art, painting and other traditional arts, politically motivated art activity and activist production, performance of both traditional and experimental varieties, concrete poetry, experimental music, computer and electronic arts, and last but not least, the tradition of the illustrated book, the livre d’artiste. The Century of the Artists’ Books (New York: Granary Books, 2004, new edition), p. 2.
ABC X and its nine sisters shout a resounding “Amen”, but the rich quality and originality of the works displayed whisper “‘the’ century?” At the close of the 21st century’s second decade, Ceres is smiling.
Malutzki’s tall small work evokes memories of Max Ernst’s Une Semaine de Bonté (1934) but pushes back on them with the work’s fine book execution. The book’s startling height derives from the more startling source of the paper: original pages from the plates volumes (1762-72) of Diderot’s Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers (1751-72). Through antiquarian dealers, Malutzki collected loose sheets from the first Paris folio edition and some from Italian editions (Lucca or Livorno).
The original engraving-papers (printed on one side as usual) are folded and glued together on the fore-edge. The stack of folded leafs has been glued at the spine with a small strip of glue so that each double spread has just a fold in the gutter, but no stitching, which shows the complete copper engraving unharmed structurally.
The endpapers are dyed through, and the fly-leaves are glued on the fore-edges to the first and last leaf of the book-block. The dark blue material used for the end-papers and the slipcase is an industrial one (Napura Khepera marine by Winter & Company) and is used for the endpapers. The Xian scarlet cloth for the cover also comes from Winter & Company. Throughout the book’s brief narrative, the dark blue associates with Diderot, and the scarlet with d’Alembert.
While Malutzki combines Ernst-like elements of the comic book and collage, the work is more of a conversation among imagery and concepts of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries than an exercise in surrealism. It is a narrative built with the “pictures and conversations” that Alice finds lacking in the book her sister is reading by the river as Alice‘s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) opens. Malutzki piles this 19th century Victorian fantasy atop the 18th century by substituting the Enlightenment’s Encyclopédistes Doctor Diderot and Mister d’Alembert for Alice and her sister in the opening lines from Lewis Carroll’s story. The 20th century makes its appearance with the Playboy bunny in place of the White Rabbit and a clipart-like image of a book labelled “READ ME” in place of the bottle and cake labelled “DRINK ME” and “EAT ME”. The images in the 18th century engravings underlie the 19th century text in its speech bubbles. Nearly the only change to the text from Alice‘s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (1871) is the substitution of the characters Diderot and d’Alembert for those in Carroll’s world.
In further allusion to Through the Looking Glass‘s mirror-world and upside-down logic, Malutzki has set some of the banderolle text in reverse and placed pairs of mirrored images crosswise — all overprinted on those 18th century engravings. Malutzki‘s precision and extensive experience with overprinting and the transparency of oil-based ink was essential given the limited supply of paper from the 250-year old volumes.
Inevitably, the collector has to confront the print preservationist’s question: how can you countenance the destruction of these 18th century prints? There is a several-fold unease. First, a worry for the security of such historical material (even altered) in the collection. Second, perhaps ironically, a worry over its preservation. And third, the worry whether the artistic quality of the work justifies the trade-off of the lost prints.
With at least a thousand complete sets of the original Encyclopédie (including the plates volumes) safely ensconced in academic and national libraries from France to Australia and still more loose prints (and sets) available from antiquarians, the use of these loose sheets for artistic purpose is lighter in the scales than the use of something far more rare or, worse, unique.
The preservationist might argue, “why not use the plates from one of the 20th century reprints?” Response: not the same tactility, not the same authenticity, not the same challenge or risk — not the same unease that prods the mind.
More directly to the artistic quality of Doctor Diderot’s and Mister d’Alembert’s Adventures: The photos here do little justice to the work’s precision, the sound of the slipcase’s snug fit, the layering of colours on the page, the motion of the spine, and the different textures of the 21st century cloth binding, the slipcase, endpapers and leaves of engraving papers so neatly adhering to each other that they feel like a single leaf. It is refreshing to see Alice appear outside the tableaux to which so many book artists have turned when inspired by Carroll. It is genius to have merged Carroll’s fictive exploration of logic and epistemology with the Enlightenment’s attempt to encompass humankind’s knowledge of the sciences, arts and industries or crafts.
Doctor Diderot’s and Mister d‘Alembert’s Adventures falls outside the span covered by Malutzki’s autobiography buchstäblich Buch (see under Further Reading). As such, it occupies a prospect from which to view Malutzki’s decades-long musing about the visual arts, knowledge and whimsy, all evident from his work — both solo and in collaboration with Ines von Ketelhodt — in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
Zweite Enzyklopädie von Tlön: Ein Buchkunstprojekt von Ines von Ketelhodt und Peter Malutzki, 1997-2006 (2011)
Eva Hanebutt-Benz (Gutenberg-Museum Mainz) introduces the catalogue by defining the various sorts of encyclopedic reference work, where the Zweite Enzyklopädie fits in, how it is organised, and the inspirational role played by Borges’ story “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”, which is reproduced complete in the catalogue in Spanish as well as German and English. Hanebutt-Benz’s essay, too, is given first in German, then in English, establishing the pattern for all of the essays from the other twenty-two contributors to the catalogue — librarians, artists and curators — each describing two or more volumes of the Zweite Enzyklopädie.
This multilingualism of the catalogue is characteristic across the fifty volumes and the works of Von Ketelhodt and Malutzki in general. More important, by echoing the exploration of multilingualism, language and meaning in Borges’ story, it joins the story as a unifying force in the catalogue and across the Zweite Enzyklopädie. Excerpts from the story appear in many of the volumes, as the relevant contributors note and elucidate. Another unifying force aligned with the story is the artists’ use of the primary colours in the catalogue.
Sampling several paragraphs from the opening and closing of each language version, we can see the red, blue and yellow inks that are used to signal those portions of Borges’ text that appear somewhere in the fifty volumes. In the margins, the volume’s title and specific page number are called out in the relevant colour. The double-page spread separating the contributor’s essays from the section of photos of the fifty volumes applies the primary colours and black across the names of the fifty volumes, leaving space for future volumes. This is the sort of maker’s detail linked with the larger organisational elements that contributes to the unity of a work that, in Hanebutt-Benz’s words, is an “encyclopedic collection of creative possibilities, generating a book cosmos, closed within itself, playfully and yet following strict guide lines.”
As a work in and of itself, the catalogue intensifies so many of the characteristics of the more traditional “artist’s book” that, without the monolithic presence of the fifty volumes, sight of its “book art-ness” could slip away. The artists have a dual preventative. One is to make the fifty volumes a visible presence by giving each volume its own double-page spread following the double-page spread shown above. This generates 300 colour photos.
Another is a gamble: a roll of the dice that the twenty-three contributors would deliver comments on each volume that rise to the occasion. It was a winning gamble, but there is one superlative pair of essays that rings like a tuning fork: COOKBOOK and QUIZ as explained by librarian James Henry Spohrer (University of California, Berkeley). They are at once Borgesian, Malutzkian and Von Ketelhodt-esque.
Only the discussion of COOKBOOK is offered here — an incentive to visit QUIZ. In QUIZ, Spohrer seamlessly carries on his conversation with his “colleague“ Extasio Antón in a way that proves Hanebutt-Benz’s statement true:
The world recorded in this encyclopedia is, in the end, an actual encyclopedic collection of creative possibilities, generating a book cosmos, closed within itself, playfully and yet following strict guide lines.
Hale, Julie and Beth Sweet. Masters: Book Arts – Major works by leading artists (New York: Lark Books, 2011).