Books On Books Collection – Heimo Zobernig

FARBEN ALPHABET (2018)

FARBEN ALPHABET (2018)
Heimo Zobernig
Paperback. H297 x W210 mm. 32 unnumbered pages in two signatures. Edition of 500, of which this is #427. Acquired from Les Presses du Reel, 18 September 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Starting with his first solo exhibit in the US, Heimo Zobernig placed a 115 cm high letter A in black adhesive vinyl foil on a wall near the entrance to the Robbin Locket Gallery in Chicago.

That was in 1990. By 1992 and twenty-five more exhibits later, he had accumulated a complete alphabet, the Z appearing on the ticket counter for Documenta IX in Kassel, Germany. The literary magazine Freibord (Vienna) published Zobernig’s photographic alphabetic record of his exhibitions in its centenary issue (1997). With Zobernig’s cover design, IF Publications (Barcelona) has produced Alphabet for the first time as an artist’s book. Here is the artist’s alphabet book as intervention over time. As the cover’s title and absence of color in these letters suggests, though, “But wait, there’s more”.

At the center of the photographed alphabet’s 16 pages measuring H297 x W210 mm, another 16-page signature measuring H210 x W150 appears, showing the numeral 2 in 220pt Helvetica on its cover, then the numerals 11 and 10 on the first double-page spread, then 3 and an upside-down 7 on the next spread. On the tenth unnumbered page, the word — FARBEN — appears. As if the numeric disorder were not puzzling enough, the numerals and letters are all in black despite the word FARBEN meaning “COLORS”. At the end of the book, Moritz Küng, the book’s editor, provides two crucial insights for untangling the puzzle.

First, that from the mid-1980s, Zobernig selected fifteen combinations of CMYK to define a palette from which he would not deviate until the early part of this century. Second, that the center signature self-referentially reflects on the principle of imposition (how sheets are printed and folded into signatures). Each number in the center brochure belongs to one of Zobernig’s fifteen CMYK combinations. From the top left of one side of the sheet to the bottom right of the other side of the sheet, Zobernig placed “right reading” numerical representations of these color combinations so that, when the sheet is folded and trimmed to form the booklet, the numbers and title appear in their strange orientation. This orientation that calls attention to the mechanics of the inside booklet’s creation results in the numeral 2 appearing on its cover, seemingly labelling the booklet within a booklet as the second of two volumes. Yet the cover of the outer booklet indicates that FARBEN comes first.

The seemingly contrary self-referencing abstraction does not end there. Or rather, if we stick with the cover of FARBEN ALPHABET with Küng’s clues in mind, it resolves itself. Just as Zobernig’s black and white alphabetic labels abstractly introduced his color-rich 1990-92 exhibitions, the other side of FARBEN ALPHABET’s black and white cover displays cyan, magenta, yellow and black panels, otherwise known as CMYK, the color alphabet from whose combinations Zobernig’s abstract expressionist art is created. Paradoxically, though, Zobernig’s FARBEN ALPHABET challenges such reductive labelling. Abstraction does not merely yield labels, he seems to suggest. It yields art through process and form — such as alphabetizing exhibitions to generate an artist’s alphabet book.

CMYK (2013)

CMYK (2013)
Heimo Zobernig
Perfect bound in glossy card, glossy text paper. H160 x W140 cm. 36 pages. Edition of 300, of which this is #214. Acquired from Pia Jardí, 26 October 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

In the additive color model RGB, white includes all the primary colors — red, green and blue — of the light spectrum, and black is the absence of light. In the subtractive color model CMYK — cyan, magenta, yellow and key (black) — white is the absence of any ink leaving the natural color of the paper as the white background on which the combination of all the CMY inks yields black. What better cover for CMYK than pure white paper. Just as Farben Alphabet uses the A-Z alphabet and printing imposition to play with our expectations, this artist’s booklet uses the letters of the color model, the colored inks and the printing process to play with our expectations. C is overlapped by M, then CM is overlapped by Y, and, to yield the letter K, CMY are combined. From there, the booklet cycles through subtracting the letters in reverse, adding them back and so on.

This conceptual, process-driven artist’s booklet, arising from a multi-artist exhibition curated by Pia Jardí for the Open Structure Art Society (OSAS) in Budapest, makes for an interesting contrast with Amy Lapidow’s Spiralbet (1998), Karen Hanmer’s The Spectrum A to Z (2003), Annesas Appel’s Ruiten Alfabet (2006), Carol DuBosch’s Rainbow Alphabet Snowflake (2013) or Rebecca Bingham’s Rainbow (2018).

Further Reading/Viewing

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection.

Rebecca Bingham“. Books On Books Collection.

Carol DuBosch“. 13 December 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Karen Hanmer“. 25 October 2021. Books On Books Collection.

Amy Lapidow“. Books On Books Collection.

Jardí, Pia. n.d. “Heimo Zobernig“. Website. Accessed 1 September 2022.

Küng, Moritz. 3 July 2020. Artists’ Books Clips por Moritz Küng. Episode 06 Alphabet Books. Accessed 18 September 2022.

Küng, Moritz. 25 June 2020. Artists’ Books Clips por Moritz Küng. The tautological book. Part 1. Accessed 18 September 2022.

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