Books On Books Collection – Moussa Kone

I first came across the artist Moussa Kone after subscribing to Harpune Verlag’s Moby-Dick “Filets”. Each filet is a section or chapter of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, The Whale (1851), which has been assigned to, or claimed by, an artist for illustration. About the time the subscription package arrived, the Bodleian Bibliographical Press announced the upcoming exhibition “Very Like a Whale”, for which artists were invited to create a print work in response to one of the eighty quotations making up the section “Extracts” prefacing Moby-Dick (1851). The Moby-Dick ”Filets” piqued the nearby Bodleian curators’ curiosity, so a loan was offered before I had opened and sorted through the catch. Moussa Kone’s handling of “Etymology”, which happens to precede “Extracts” in the novel, was selected and displayed prominently. And that is how I discovered this catch within the catch.

“Etymology”, Moby-Dick “Filets” (2012)

“Etymology”, Moby-Dick ”Filets” (Harpune Verlag, 2012)
Illustrated by Moussa Kone
Leporello in an edition of 460 numbered copies. Special edition of 40, of which this is #27, signed by the artist and including parts of the original drawing. Closed: H200 x W150 mm; open: H200 x W710 mm; 16 panels. Acquired from the artist, 11 December 2019.

Note the reflections of the whaler Pequod, Ahab’s chase boat, Ahab himself and the descending harpoon all caught in the corner of the whale’s eye. Being on the front cover, they are the most prominent of several telling details, two others being the selection of ocean-blue ink for the etymological terms through which the whale swims and the whale’s length extending over both sides of the leporello. The inventiveness to which the accordion, concertina or leporello structure lends itself seems endless.

The Abecedarium of the Artist’s Death: 26 Dangers for Your Career (2014)

The Abecedarium of the Artist’s Death: 26 Dangers for Your Career (Verlag für moderne Kunst, 2014)
Moussa Kone
Hardcover, thread-bound, register-cut; layout by Martin Wunderer; 56 pages, 26 illustrations by Moussa Kone.
H145 x W170 mm. Acquired from the artist, 11 December 2019.

An abecedary seems to be de rigueur for book artists. The usual accompanying humor and puns of book art manifest themselves here not only in the illustrations paying homage to Edward Gorey’s The Gashlycrumb Tinies but also in the structure of the little black address book and its alphabetic tabs.

Nowhere Land (2017)

Nowhere Land (2017)
Moussa Kone
Map, offset printed on both sides. H152 x W112 cm. Acquired from the artist, 11 December 2019.

Nowhere Land follows on from The Abecedarium deeper into the realm of the outré. It was shown in the group exhibition Constructing Paradise, curated by Dieter Buchhart and Mathias Kessler at the Austrian Cultural Forum in New York (ACFNY), 31 January – 24 April 2017. The ACFNY’s announcement reads:

Constructing Paradise exhibits contemporary reinterpretations of notions of the “exotic” by artists based in Austria or the United States. Taking iconic artworks such as Paul Gauguin’s Noa Noa and Oskar Kokoschka’s Tiger Cat as starting points, the show assembles a diverse range of work from early contemporary to more recent artistic responses to the modernist imprint of desire and fantasy on contemporary culture. Particularly when juxta­posed with hyperbolized images of modern-day advertising, the exhibition explores the psychological impacts of the modernist image on image culture and the Western psyche. 

Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

Moussa Kone’s entry took the form of a Panoramic Map for tourists and was distributed among the exhibition visitors. The artist’s description is too arch and funny to paraphrase:

A nautical chart leads the reader to an island, where art historic images of the Brazilian Tupi people are combined with stills from 1980s Italian cannibal movies. It was the poet Oswald de Andrade, who declared in 1928 in his famous “Manifesto Antropófago” (Cannibal Manifest) a strategy of getting rid of the colonizer’s culture in Brazil through an exotic practice that was long attributed to the indigenous people. 

Left: Image of the Brazilian coastline from Maranhão to the Rio de Prata, from the “Miller Atlas,” created in 1519 and currently in the French National Library in Paris. — Brazil: Five Centuries of Change (Brown University, 2010~). Accessed 14 May 2020. Center: Oswald de Andrade, “Manifesto Antropófago”, Revista de Antropofagia, 1928, p. 3. Accessed 17 May 2020. Right: cover, Revista de Antropofagia, Ubuweb. Accessed 17 May 2020.

The map‘s exuberance shares more with the satire of De Andrade and Swift than with the gratuitous violence of Ruggero Deodato’s cannibal films or that of their 21st century offspring.

Eine Naht aus Licht und Schwarz (2018)

Eine Naht aus Licht und Schwarz (Sonderzahl Verlagsgesellschaft, 2018)
Moussa Kone, illustrations; Walter Pamminger, concept; Bastian Schneider, text; Wolfgang Homola, graphic design. Hardcover, sewn; 96 pages, 176 illustrations.
H303 x W235 mm. Acquired from the artist, 11 December 2019.

Although the creation of Eine Naht aus Licht und Schwarz (“A Seam of Light and Black”) was a collaborative effort, it originates in Kone’s experience working at the Albertina Museum in Vienna. He writes:

I was working there mainly at night and responsible for events, which took place in the rented Habsburg State Rooms and the exhibition halls. The entire book concept with its order of the drawings in this form was developed by Walter Pamminger, the texts are written by author Bastian Schneider. Image 1 to image 176 show a typical closing tour through the museum at 3 a.m. After all the party people, the catering staff and guards were gone, I had to make my final round through the empty building. Lights were turned off partly, and I was alone in the Viennese palace, with the art, and the history of the spot. That’s the story of the book: a view on the Albertina museum, which started as a private collection of drawings; a view from the worker’s perspective, the lowest one in the hierarchy of the institution, and the unseen labour, which is a hidden part of the art world. — Moussa Kone, correspondence, 18 December 2019.

But Eine Naht is more than that.

Text and image are arranged in a fluid grid of panels. The recto page above displays the starting pattern that appears and changes across the novel’s subsequent double-page spreads, challenging us in classic book-art fashion to re-learn how to read a book.

Panels 1-4 follow the opening diagram; four panels of text on the verso, with four panels of images correspondingly numbered on the recto.

On the verso, panels 5 and 6 shift to text then image; on the recto, the image in panel 5 corresponds to the text in panel 5 on the verso, and likewise the text in panel 6 on the recto corresponds to the image in panel 6 on the verso. Panels 7 and 8 follow the same pattern.

Here on the verso, panels 9 and 10 show text then image; on the recto, their corresponding panels run image then text. But panels 11 and 12 on the verso are both text; their corresponding panels of images appear across the gutter on the recto.

Again the pattern changes, with panels 13 and 14 both containing images, 15 and 16 containing text, and their matching panels of text and images mirrored on the recto.

The strong tendency to read a single page from left to right and downwards relents after a few sets of double-page spreads, but the change-ability of the back-and-forth between verso and recto requires a longer adjustment. Completely fluent adjustment would be hard to credit, but disorientation and the effort to concentrate, look harder and dwell on the relation between image and text becomes part of the atmosphere of the book. A partial translation into English exists online, which conveys the effect.

Kone’s range — from the intricacy of “Etymology” to the slapstick of The Abecedarium and Nowhere Land to a blend of conceptualism, self-reflexive book art and a twilight melancholy atmosphere in Eine Naht — makes his work an welcome addition to the collection.

Further Reading

“ABCs”, Books On Books, 29 November 2015.

“‘Very Like a Whale’ — The Bodleian Bibliographical Press’s Exhibition”, Books On Books, 24 November 2019.

Kone, Moussa and Walter Pamminger and Bastian Schneider. Trans. Verena Aschbacher. “A Seam of Light and Black“, Words Without Borders: An Online Magazine for International Literature, February 2020. Accessed 17 May 2020.

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