Books On Books Collection – Scott McCarney

Abecedaries have a long lineage among calligraphers, typographers, children’s book authors and designers (including those of online books), fine press impresarios and book artists. From the world of libraries and museums, we have had abecedary lists and exhibitions such as Favorite Alphabets, (Library of Congress), Primers, etc. Post-1850 (Bodleian), Artists’ Alphabets and Ecstatic Alphabets/Heaps of Language (New York MoMA).

Since 1981, Scott McCarney has diligently extended the lineage through a series of alphabets designed in book form, where the letterforms depend upon the materiality of the book. The limits and possibilities of the book — its material, form and processes by which both can be handled — have inspired McCarney’s Alphabook series. According to the artist, all the Alphabooks (with the exception of numbers 3, 10 and 13) “are one-of-a-kind, and have not been shown much (if at all), so I’m not aware of them being illustrated anywhere“. Fortunately, Alphabook 1 (1981) appears in The Penland Book of Handmade Books: Master Classes in Bookmaking Techniques (2004), p.134, and Alphabook 9 (1985), which McCarney produced as a one-of-a-kind book of photograms in a residency at Light Work in 1985, appears in the Light Work Collection. McCarney describes his inspired manipulation of material, form and process in creating Alphabook 9:

I folded pop-up letterforms with unexposed photo paper in the darkroom and exposed it to directional light then developed, fixed, dried and flattened the prints.  I made a book for Light Work for their collection that spelled out “LIGHTWORK” in the photogram alphabet, which can be seen in their database here: Light Work Collection / Artwork / Photogram Letter book [1133].

Correspondence with Books On Books, 7 February 2020.

And WorldCat shows that Alphabook 13 (1991) can be found in at least three institutions. It was produced in an edition of 25 and consists of one volume (110 x 100 mm) in which the letter A gradually morphs into the letter Z.

With three of the series works now in the Books On Books Collection, the lack of illustration can be somewhat remedied.

Alphabook 3 (1986)

Alphabook 3 (1986)
Scott McCarney
Two volumes, each of 26 unnumbered die-cut pages and wrapped in translucent belly band. Edition of 300, signed but not numbered. Each volume, closed: H151 x W104 mm; open: H151 x W2195. Acquired from the artist, 14 August 2017.
Photos: Books On Books.

Photos: Books On Books.

Unlike most others in the series, Alphabook 3 is a multiple of 300 copies.

Alphabook 10 (2015)

Alphabook 10 (2015)
Scott McCarney
Laser cut duplex papers hand bound with long stitch through slotted cover; housed in archival phase box. 56 unnumbered pages. 130 x 310 mm; in box 140 x 310 x 30 mm.
Edition of 14, of which this is #11.
Acquired from the artist, 23 January 2020.
Photos: Courtesy of the artist

The codex form receives McCarney’s playfulness in Alphabook 10. The artist writes:

The fore edge of each page is cut into geometric forms from black, white and cream toned duplex stock (two sheets of different colored paper laminated together). … Produced during a residency at The Institute for Electronic Arts, a high technology research studio facility within the School of Art and Design, NYSCC, Alfred University, New York, committed to developing cultural interactions spurred by technological experimentation and artistic investigations.

Scott McCarney, Visual Books. Accessed 9 February 2020.

The handling of the cover and first page draw attention to the role that empty space, light and stock color will play throughout the book.

Photos: Books On Books.

The binding warrants a closer look as well. Outside and inside, the red thread, its pattern and function stand out.

Photos: Books On Books.

And notice how the thread calls out the textured surface of the paper.

Alphabook 13 (1991)

Alphabook 13 (1991)
Scott McCarney
Flipbook, created with a Macintosh IIcx running Aldus® FreeHand™️ software.
H100 x W92 mm. 32 pages. Acquired from the artist, 15 February 2020.
Photo: Books On Books Collection.

Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Photo: Books On Books Collection.

In correspondence with Books On Books, McCarney explains that the Alphabooks’ mismatch of numbering and chronology stems from discrepancies between dates of conception and opportunities to execute. This little flipbook was conceived and executed as a photocopy edition of 25 in 1991; of more importance here though is the coming together of computer-based typesetting, book structure and pun. As we know, the shortest distance between A and Z is not B to Y, but the points in A reconfigured into Z across 24 flipping pages. It is interesting to compare this transformation with Claude Closky’s calligraphic version De A à Z (1991).

Various Small Books (2019/20)

Various Small Books (2019/20)
Scott McCarney
Photo: Books On Books.

Various Small Books (2019)
Scott McCarney
Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

The 2019 edition was conceived for a fundraising exhibition at Artspace in Richmond, VA. Both the 2019 and 2019/20 editions consist of 35mm slides documenting various of McCarney’s bookworks. Consisting of different slides, the two editions of Various Small Books are unique, and since the slides are bound together and cannot be projected, the images of the books appear small indeed.

Various Small Books (2019/20)
Scott McCarney
Photo: Books On Books

Courtesy of the artist, the inclusion in Various Small Books (2019/20) of slides documenting Alphabook 4, Alphabook 6 and Alphabook 10 makes the 2019/20 edition particularly apropos for the Books On Books Collection.

Further Reading and Viewing

ABCs, Bookmarking Book Art, 29 November 2015.

Alphabook 1. See The Penland Book of Handmade Books: Master Classes in Bookmaking Techniques (2004), p.134.

Alphabook 3”, Artists’ Books Database, Otis College of Art and Design, n.d. Accessed 25 January 2020.

Alphabook 9 (1986). Light Work Collection.

Reversing the Catastrophe of Fixed Meaning: The Bookworks of Scott McCarney”, Brochure for exhibition, 18 May – 9 July 2012, Visual Studies Workshop, Rochester, NY.

Photos: Books On Books Collection

Scott McCarney | Alphabook 3”, Artists’ Books and Multiples, 20 February 2013. Accessed 25 January 2020.

Scott McCarney, Special Edition”, Contact Sheet, No. 164 (Syracuse, NY: Light Work, 2011). Exhibition catalog, which kicked off the conference “Photographers + Publishing”, 3-5 November 2011, Light Work and Syracuse University.

Home Sweet Home (1985)

Home Sweet Home (1985) [Not in collection]
Scott McCarney
Paper in accordion binding with decorative and marbled paper-covered boards and paper-covered slip case.
11 5/8” x 9 1/2” x 1 3/4”

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