Books On Books Collection – Menena Cottin

The Black Book of Colors (2008)

The Black Book of Colors (2008)
Menena Cottin and Rosana Faría
Dustjacketed, casebound. H180 x W290, 24 unnumbered pages. Acquired 17 October 2017.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

The visual and tactile are our sensory default with books. With its glossy black pages, the verso pages bearing white type and Braille and the recto pages presenting raised images, The Black Book of Colors demands the enhanced multisensory response that highlights the affinity between book art and children’s books. Menena Cottin’s conceptual books displayed on her site and this addition to the Books On Books Collection present that affinity in several ways.

The sense of the words reversed out on the black does so by evoking synaesthesia:

Thomas says that yellow tastes like mustard, but is as soft as a baby chick’s feathers.

Thomas likes all the colors because he can hear them and smell them and touch and taste them.

Cottin manipulates character and narration, the picturebook genres of color and letter recognition (Braille in this case) and some of the basic elements of the book (spread layout and reverse-out and debossed printing) to break boundaries in ways similar to those employed by book artists. Double-page spreads meld concepts, for instance by turning a rainbow into a gathering of raised images of the synaesthetic objects with which colors have been associated (chick’s feathers, strawberries, leaves).

And when the sun peeks through the falling water, all the colors come out, and that’s a rainbow.

The Black Book uses synaesthesia to go beyond the color recognition genre to introduce more complex concepts: the nature of light and water’s lack of color, taste and smell. This stepping outside the genre is another example of the boundary-breaking that artists’ books often perform.

Thomas thinks that without the sun, water doesn’t amount to much. It has no color, no taste, no smell.

The book ends by asserting its membership in the alphabet book genre, but there is more to it than that. Across from the verso Braille Alphabet, there is no recto set of raised images, a pairing that invites the sighted and unsighted to return to the beginning and re-read with a greater reliance on touch. If the alphabet were absent and the book ended with “Thomas likes all the colors because he can hear them and smell them and touch and taste them” and the final page of raised images, The Black Book of Colors would be simply a book for the literate sighted and unsighted. Clearly it is more than that. In Cottin’s terms, it is a conceptual book.

Other books in the collection that are worth comparing with The Black Book of Colors are

Like a Pearl in My Hand (2016) Carina Hesper

Vladimir Nabokov: AlphaBet in Color (2005) Jean Holabird

Blindness (2020) Masoumeh Mohtadi

Voyelles (2012) Arthur Rimbaud/Le Cadratin

Reading Closed Books (2019) Sam Winston

The Blind Men and the Elephant (2019) Xiao Long Hua

Further Reading

Nikolajeva, Maria, and Carole Scott. 2007. How picturebooks work. New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.

Scott, Carole. 2014. “Artists’ books, Altered books, and Picturebooks”. In: B. Kümmerling‐Meibauer, ed., Picturebooks: Representation and Narration. London, New York: Routledge.

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