Books On Books Collection – Martine Rassineux

Ilinx (2010)

Ilinx (2010)
Régine Detambel and Martine Rassineux
Slipcase H322 x W406 x D16 mm, Portfolio cover H280 x W385 x D8 mm, Folio H279 x W380, 6 folios. Slipcase made of wood and celloderm, Portfolio cover made of Japon nacré Torinoko Kozu 180 gsm, Folios made of Lana Velin édition blanc supérieur 180 gsm. Edition of 27, of which this is #18. Acquired from the artists, 21 August 2020. Photos of work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist.

Emerging from its snugly fitting box constructed by François Da Ros, Régine Detambel’s and Martine Rassineux’s livre d’artiste hints at a debt to the legacy of Iliazd with its pearlescent case over a tapered paper cover for the loose folios, although the case’s fixed spine winks at differentiation. With the curling, diagonal and spiralling letterpress, the hint grows stronger. Yet, there is a roundness — almost softness — in the typographical acrobatics, leading away from the hint at the more linear, angular works of Iliazd. That is the mark of François Da Ros, typographer for Ilinx. Rassineux and Da Ros diverge as much from Iliazd as he diverged from the tradition of Ambroise Vollard, Daniel Kahnweiler and Aimé Maeght.

With folios removed. Note the tapering of the inner folder at both ends.

In its text and etchings, Ilinx also shouts and laughs a kinship with Pieter Breugel the Elder’s Children’s Games (1560). Ilinx does not share any tut-tutting at childish foolishness that may reside in Breugel’s depiction; rather it celebrates a shared exuberance and recognition of significance in child’s play. Where Breugel finds that significance in drawing parallels with adult activities and rituals, Detambel’s text and Rassineux’s etchings find it in sheer phenomenological physicality, which Da Ros’s typography enhances.

Just as Breugel must have observed children closely to show the eighty or so games in his painting, so has Rassineux. Ilinx began in a playground where Rassineux watched over her pupils (600 per week) and noticed one of the African girls, the first in Ilinx, turning her face to the sun and spinning in place. Over time, she noticed others, regardless of origin, doing the same — as if something universal were engraved unconsciously in each child. From this, came the Cours series — washes, charcoal drawings and some 40 engravings on rectangular plates.

Presented with some of these works, Régine Detambel introduced Rassineux to Roger CailloisLes jeux et les homines (1958), in which he outlined four basic categories of play or games:

  • Agon, or competition.
  • Alea, or chance.
  • Mimicry, or mimesis, or role playing.
  • Ilinx (Greek for “whirlpool”), or games inducing vertigo or disorientation.

With this background, Detambel insisted that the title of this livre d’artiste must be Ilinx. With their text and images, Detambel and Rassineux follow the children’s spinning games with a beginning and five “turns”, which appear in twelve pages across three folios. Caillois suggests that the spinning games are grounded in both a natural exuberance and need to escape the “tyranny of perception”. Rassineux’s drawings deliberately vary the perspective from which the children are viewed and encourage the viewer, paradoxically, to perceive that escape from the tyranny of perception. Likewise Detambel’s final verse. Likewise Da Ros’s cutting out the children from the etchings and positioning them in action on the page. And, most of all likewise, Da Ros’s spiral setting of lines, “re-enacting” the artist’s drawings, the poet’s words and the Ilinx (whirlpool).

At the last turn, there is no age. Only life in the blood. Flurrying as if into snow. Blood rose-red, flickering red-rose, clinging to a thread.

Curious about the sixth and blank folio after the colophon folio, I wrote to ask about its purpose. After the opening manipulations — removal of the encased portfolio from its celloderm and wood slipcase and then removal of the portfolio from its cover in Japanese nacré Torinoko Kozu (180 gsm) — there is no further prefacing to the loose folios. There is the title folio, then commencement folio, and the whirling has begun. So that the reader/viewer’s eyes and hands do not leave the book too abruptly, the sixth folio acts as a counterweight, a pause to allow the spinning to stop, a blank on which the pulse behind the eyes can project.

Ilinx – Collection VARIA (2019)

Ilinx – Collection VARIA is a follow-on hardback providing behind-the-scenes insight into the making of Ilinx the portfolio. It shows Rassineux and Da Ros at work in the studio, images of cast and locked type, etching plates juxtaposed with their proofs, paste-up plans. Note how, to have more latitude for the typography and layout, Da Ros cut out the engravings from the plates. The plates have been gilded, which is more elegant than scoring the plates to fix in place the limited edition.

Ilinx – Collection VARIA (2019)
François Da Ros and Martin Rassineux
H278 x W326 x D12 mm, 60 pages. Edition of 50, of which this is #2. Acquired from the artists, 21 August 2020. Photos of pages: Books On Books Collection, displayed with artists’ permission.

Although printed offset rather than letterpress, Ilinx–Collection VARIA demonstrates the same art-making attention to detail shown in Ilinx. Printed with an HP Indigo offset digital press on Mohawk proPhoto beaded paper semi-gloss 190gsm, the full-color images printed do not mask the texture or surface of the paper as sometimes happens with some toner prints. Instead, the ink is absorbed by the paper as happens with traditional offset lithography. As Rassineux further explained in correspondence with Books On Books,

We chose the photos in relation to the round shape that often comes up in the concerns of François who made mechanics for two years to be able to build and troubleshoot his presses and because he always saw in the mechanical movement a relationship with the universal mechanical. The final image is a wind-up spinning toy that belonged to my mother…. All the elements we use come from our daily lives, and from our experiences, that are a whole. (Correspondence, 11 November 2020)

Colophon page. Photo of page: Books On Books Collection, displayed with artists’ permission.

For another example of art driven “from our daily lives”, the reader/viewer can do no better than to visit the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (KB, National Library, The Hague: Koopman Collection) to see the gilded plates mentioned above. They reside in a drawer removed from the Da Ros/Rassineux studio and finished off as a wooden case for the library’s copy of Ilinx.

Photos: Books On Books Collection. Shown with permission of the artists
and the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (KB, National Library, The Hague: Koopman Collection).

Rassineux sends you best wishes on the first year of the third millennium (2001)

This elegant New Year’s greeting came with the Books On Books purchase of Ilinx. A sweet gift of ephemera that freezes a fresh start in place with the artistry of movable type in motion and a print made by gravure au sucre (sugar etching). Rassineux’s explanation:

The basic technique of the sugar engraving is that on a perfectly degreased copper you draw with a solution of sugar and China ink (which is only used to make your drawing very black near your etching) then it is covered with varnish and the sugar mixture will burst the varnish because the sugar dilates and you will find again the design in copper version that you will have to weave by an aquatint. (Correspondence, 11 November 2020)

† Translation: Books On Books. The phrase “Le sang qui tourne jusqu’a monter en neige” turns on a French culinary expression — jusqu’a monter en neige — for whipping egg whites into a meringue. Régine Detambel prefers the less literal translation, which echoes earlier lines and images in the poem.

Further Reading

Caillois, Roger. Man, play and games (Urbana, Ill. : University of Illinois Press, 2001).

Capelleveen, Paul Van. Artist & Others: The Imaginative French book in the 21st century (Nijmegen: Vantilt, 2016), p. 37.

Capelleveen, Paul Van. “The Unlimited Artist’s Book“, TXT: Exploring the Boundaries of the Book (Leiden: Boom Uitgevers, 2014).

Books On Books Collection – Heavenly Monkey

Francesco Griffo da Bologna: Fragments and Glimpses (2020)

Francesco Griffo da Bologna: Fragments and Glimpses (2020)
Rollin Milroy
H234 x W159 mm, 114 pages. Edition of 50, of which this is #32. Acquired from Heavenly Monkey, 4 November 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Several collections of Aldine volumes made themselves known around 2015, the 500th anniversary of the death of Aldus Manutius. Several have digitized their collections to make them more accessible. By gathering these fragments and glimpses of the hand behind the roman, Greek, Hebrew and italic typefaces designed and cut in late 15th-century and early 16th century Venice for those volumes, Heavenly Monkey (founded and run by Rollin Milroy) has followed a different path. A collector himself and artist of the book, Milroy has created this work to bring himself and the reader closer to Francesco Griffo da Bologna and the historical and contemporary hunt to identify him and appreciate his typographic accomplishment.

He presents a letterpress work in the modern version of the Bembo typeface cut by Griffo for the Aldine printing of Pietro Bembo’s tract De Aetna (1495), whence the typeface gained its name. In another step closer to Griffo, not only does Heavenly Monkey use simplified versions of initial letters attributed to Griffo, he offers up a note and display page that include those letters not used in the text (see below).

Note that distortion of the letters is due to photography of the curved page.

Physically true to its title, the book consists — except for the frontmatter, backmatter and brief explanatory text — of fragments: extracts from secondary sources and an actual leaf from the Aldine edition of Ovid’s Heroidum Epistolae set in Griffo’s first italic type. The leaf comes from the second of the three-volume Aldine Ovid, which over time was subject to prudish excision of racier parts, which Heavenly Monkey speculates may have led to the break-up of the copy used here to supply the leaf included. Some historians and collectors may question the inclusion of the leaf. Others as well as artists of the book will thrill to it as an act of preservation, appropriation, dissemination and homage.

The book’s prologue is an English summary of a passage from Giuseppe Fumagalli’s 1905 lexicon of Italian typography that sets out and settles the 19th century debate about the identity of Griffo, a confusion that would resurface for the legendary typographer Stanley Morison in 1923. With a narrative technique similar to an epistolary novel, Milroy lays out extracts from histories of printing, prefaces to reprints of Aldine works, biographies of the historians in the debate, the Fine Arts Quarterly Review and bibliographical journal articles to tell the story of “which Francesco was he?” The same technique lays out the development and differing opinions in reception of Griffo’s cutting of the roman, Greek, Hebrew and italic types. While following the stories of those faces, the reader walks through a hall of illustrious historians and typographers — Nicolas Barker, Joseph Blumenthal, Philip Meggs, Giovanni Mardersteig, Stanley Morison again, Alfred Pollard, David Pottinger, Daniel B. Updike and many others. The next set of extracts explores the feud that led Griffo to leave Aldus Manutius and Venice to set up on his own in Fossombrone.

The next set of extracts attests to Griffo’s typographic legacy, and then comes the tipped-in foldout that protects the leaf taken from the Aldine Ovid, followed by the listing of Griffo’s six works published on his own, documented in F.J. Norton’s Italian Printers 1501-1520.

An important contribution comes in Appendices I-IV with Emma Mandley’s translations of key passages from books, letters and documents of the main protagonists in the debate over Francesco da Bologna’s identity: Antonio Panizzi, Giacomo Manzoni, Adamo Rossi and Emilio Orioli. Lovers of type specimens and the style of Stanley Morison will welcome the samples of the modern versions of the roman fonts for Poliphilus and Bembo and the italic fonts for Blado and Bembo. In a grace note, Heavenly Monkey includes samples for the italic and roman fonts of Mardersteig’s Dante, which Robert Bringhurst opined “has more of Griffo’s spirit than any other face now commercially available” (The Elements of Typographic Style, 1996, p. 213)”. Dante is the typeface Heavenly Monkey wanted initially to use but, on deciding that the main text would be set in italic, declined it. The Dante samples offer the reader the chance to compare and contrast it with the other faces and weigh Bringhurst’s opinion and Heavenly Monkey’s choice.

This fine press edition of Francesco Griffo da Bologna resonates with different works in the Books On Books Collection: Jacqueline Rush Lee‘s sculptural interpretation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Russell Maret‘s typographic adventure Hungry Dutch, Peter Koch‘s edition of Joseph Brodsky’s love letter to Venice Watermark and Bodil Rosenberg‘s sculptural evocation of that city in Canal Grande. But like Milroy’s other scholarly inquiry — About AgrippaFrancesco deserves an audience of students of book art and book arts as well as collectors. Here’s hoping that any library with a strong collection of fine press books and artist books will acquire Francesco.

Further Reading

Aldus Manutius, 6 February 1515 – 6 February 2015“, Bookmarking Book Art, 8 February 2015.

Milroy, Rollin. About Agrippa (a book of the dead): A Bibliographic History of the Infamous Disappearing Book (Vancouver, BC: Still Creek Press, 2015).

Milroy, Rollin. Francesco Griffo da Bologna: Fragments & Glimpses: A Compendium of Information & Opinions about his Life and Work (Vancouver, BC: A Lone Press, 1999). The first version of the work.

Books On Books Collection – Taller Leñateros

Incantations (2005)

Incantations (2005)
Mayan Women
Fathermothers of the Book: Ámbar Past with Xun Okotz and Xpetra Ernándes
Casebound, glued. H250 x W250 x D50 mm, 194 pages. Acquired from Taller Leñateros, Chiapas, Mexico, 23 July 2020.

Acquisition of this anthology of magical songs and ritual paintings of Tsotsil women from the Highlands of Chiapas came primarily from an interest in its “paper”. The artists and craftworkers at Taller Leñateros keep alive the tradition of amate (or huun in Mayan) making. It is a substrate formed of macerated bark fiber pounded until the required thinness is reached. If the term “paper” applies only to material made from fiber macerated until each individual filament is a separate unit, then mixed with water, sieved with a screen and drained to generate a thin layer of intertwined fiber (Dard Hunter, p. 5), amate is not paper. Only the endpapers of the book appear to be made of amate. The text block is a combination of recycled office paper and off-white art paper.

Also of sculptural interest was the book cover, a paper mask in high and low relief cast from recycled cardboard, corn silk, and coffee. Arriving tightly enclosed in a brown cardboard clamshell box, painted and stenciled in black, lined with the same black endpapers used in the book, it made a startling entrance, enhanced by the firm prying to free it.

Even once free, Incantations resists the reader. So tightly glued and bound to its spine, the book block must be prised open. Small flakes of the paper mask cover fall. Repeated use would surely break it down. At first, disheartening, the resistance begins to play to the strength of the text and illustrations. Non-Mayan eyes and fingers seem to be intruding in an occult space.

La Jicara (1998)


La Jicara (1998)
Leñateros Workshop
Double-sided accordion journal made of sheets of brown kraft paper joined to create 56 double-sided pages, wrapped with a string threaded through a carved gourd. Acquired from Taller Leñateros, 23 July 2020.

In contrast to the Incantations‘ European codex, La Jicara presents the pre-Hispanic accordion-fold codex. Including envelopes with enclosures, tipped-in artwork, foldout pages, inserted books and cards, a full-size news sheet and inserted postcards — almost all socially and politically charged — the journal invokes the brutal internecine and Hispanic destruction of first the Mayan and then the Aztec print legacies. The original story has been recounted, forgotten and recounted for centuries — one recent recounting embedded in The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books: Young Columbus and the Quest for a Universal Library (2019) and its forgetting reflected in the absence of any chapter recounting it in Lost Libraries: The Destruction of Great Book Collections since Antiquity (2004).

Dancers #51 and Aztec Warrior #53

Dancers #51 and Aztec Warrior #53 (N.D.)
Cristobal Vazquez
Woodcut serigraphy. Acquired from Taller Leñateros, 23 July 2020.

Further Reading

The First Seven Books of the Rijswijk Paper Biennial“, Books On Books Collection, 10 October 2019. See René Teygeler’s essay in the fifth book The Spirit of Paper (2004).

Hunter, Dard. Papermaking: The History and Technique of an Ancient Craft (New York: Dover, 1978).

Matthew, Heather. “Hand Papermaking in Mexico: Amate Paper & Traditional Mayan Techniques“, Paperslurry, N.D.

Books On Books Collection – Mitsou Ronat & Tibor Papp

Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’abolira le Hasard (1980)

Poème: Un coup de Dés jamais n’abolira le Hasard par Stéphane Mallarmé (1980)
Édition Mise en Oeuvre et Présentée par Mitsou Ronat, Réalisée par Tibor Papp.
Two sets of folded & gathered folios, enclosed in a portfolio with four flaps; Portfolio: H380 x W285 mm; Folios: H380 x W285 mm; Poème, 24 pages, including the cover; “Le Genre …”, 28 pages, not including cover. Acquired from Latour Infernal, 28 May 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Described as an “édition mise en oeuvre“, the Ronat/Papp 1980 publication of Un Coup de Dés is indeed as much a “production” as any theatrical or cinematic mise en scéne. Equally apropos or more so, the phrase calls to mind the French for page layout: mise-en-page. The layout of the work certainly calls attention to itself as much as to the page. While it represents an effort to reflect Mallarmé’s “true” intentions for the page layout of Un Coup de Dés, the Ronat/Papp production delivers the poem in a set of loose F&Gs (folded and gathered folios), paired with another set of F&Gs (artwork, poems and essays) and enclosed in a portfolio.

The first effort to follow Mallarmé’s intention as intimated in his corrected proofs of the abandoned Ambroise Vollard version was the 1914 NRF edition, which also called attention to itself with its oversized format, but it was sewn and bound into its paper cover as usual. Its lay-flat binding eased reading the lines of verse that run across the book’s gutter.

By unbinding that space that usually sinks into the gutter, Ronat and Papp retain the readability across the gutter but introduce an interesting instability. The unitary view of the double-page spread that Mallarmé intended falls prey to physical chance. Lines across pages can fall out of alignment as folios slip up or down. If the folios scatter, the reordering of the unnumbered pages relies on the guidance of the typography and memory. Oddly this forces a more hands-on engagement with the poem. No other edition intended for reading the poem feels as physical. The page and double-page spreads are felt.

Although also not bound, the order of the artwork, poems and essays in the right-hand set of F&Gs is traditionally fixed with pagination, as the front of its self-covering folio shows. More important is the cover title: “Le genre, que c’en devienne un …” (“the genre, that it becomes one …”). Those words begin the final sentence in the reproduction of Mallarmé’s reluctant note from the poem’s first publication. Cramped into the magazine Cosmopolis, the poem’s layout was still startling enough to the editors to require a preface from Mallarmé. Facetiously and seriously, his note explains how to read the poem. In varied ways, the F&Gs’ content also seriously and facetiously demonstrates how to read the poem. And starting and ending with Mallarmé’s words, the portfolio’s second half reflects the circularity of the poem it faces, which starts and ends with the words un coup de dés. An édition mise en oeuvre in deed.

So forget the debate over who was first to display the poem in the true form as Mallarmé intended. The second portfolio is proclaiming then proving by examples that Un Coup de Dés is a genre.

Mitsou Ronat‘s introduction sets the poem’s publishing history in context and explains this edition’s claim to reflect Mallarmé’s wishes for the poem’s presentation. In doing so, she puts forward her hypothesis that le Nombre (“the Number”) mysteriously posed in the poem is 12, the syllable count of each line in the French alexandrine couplet and ties this revelation to the page and double-page spread as units of meaning, culminating in the 24 pages of which the mise en oeuvre consists. Tibor Papp follows with his map of Déville (“Dice-town”). Overlapping inscriptions along the crisscrossing streets remind us of the sometimes overlooked humor in the Mallarmé industry. One street is labelled Saint-Mallarmé de la masturbation. Off one boulevard are the remparts des alexandrins (“battlements of the Alexandrines”), complete with a WC for passers-by. There is even a Métro stop named for Mallarmé’s Igitur, thematic predecessor to Un Coup de Dés. Another recalls the political cast of the times: premières allusions à la lutte des marginaux oubliées (“first allusions to the struggle of the forgotten marginalized”). But most important is the map as map, a poster, a sub-genre of the genre Un coup de Dés and forerunner to future works such as that by Aurélie Noury. In his essay near the end of the F&Gs, Papp asserts that Mallarmé was not preoccupied with print and typography for its haptic properties, rather he was simply seeking the tools appropriate to complete his text. This is Papp’s departure point for discussing the aims of Le Groupe d’atelier, which he founded with Paul Nagy and Philippe Dôme in 1972:

Pour l’écrivain, donc, d’aujourd’hui, l’attitude de mallarmé scrutant les caractères des affiches, travaillant ses épreuves par collage, déplaçant ses mots d’un millimétre, est une attitude parfaitement normale et logique, en même temps que son poème constitue un classique du genre.

Pour nous, l’écrivain assume son rôle jusqu’à la materialité de son texte.

“For today’s writer, then, the Mallarméan scrutiny of type display, working on his proofs by collage, moving his words by one millimeter, is perfectly normal and logical behavior, at the same time that his poem constitutes a classic of the genre.

For us, the writer’s role entails the materiality of the text.”

The remaining contributors traverse the ranges of the academic and artistic, the tongue-in-cheek and the serious, that Ronat and Papp establish. A more textual affair, “n’abolira Lazare” by Jacques Roubaud, a member of the OuLiPo movement, delivers an homage to Mallarmé replete with numerical and linguistic puns, appropriate to a professor of mathematics and literature, and a translator of Lewis Carroll. Bruno Montels‘ “Convoquer le peu” displays his signature combination of handwriting and typographic experimentation.

L’Entre croisement” by Jean Pierre Faye (a visual linguistic pun, “threshold” and “intersection”) reads like notes for an academic lecture but in a free-verse layout. The poet/essayist Claude Minière‘s “Le Risque Picaresque” foreshadows(?) his essay Un Coup de Dés (Tinbad, 2019), which proposes Pascal’s wager and Pensées as a predecessor to Mallarmé.

Peruvian poet and writer Rodolfo Hinostroza‘s “Le Dieu de la Page Blanche” (“The God of the Blank Page”) delivers a diagrammatic exploration of the placement of verses on the page in Un coup de Dés, reminiscent of but less abstruse than Ernest Fraenkel’s Rohrschach-like exposition. Philippe Dôme draws on his time as a French and Spanish teacher in London to put together pages of a multilingual study workbook for the reader of Un Coup de Dés. Clearly a lover of puns, he entitles his workbook with Spanish interrogatory marks around the face of a die, the 4 constructed with two colons.

Perhaps the most striking of the visual homages, Paul Nagy‘s contribution is a descendant of Un Coup de Dés by conscious or unconscious way of the earlier typographic and graphic gymnastics of Dada, Marinetti, Iliazd, Gomringer, the Brazilian Noigrandes movement and Fluxus.

In its unbound folios approach to the poem and juxtaposition of it with artistic interpretations of the poem, the Ronat/Papp production marked a pivot for future treatments of Un coup de Dés. Over the decades after it, three new editions — also aimed at reflecting the Master’s wishes — appeared as did dozens of inventive academic and artistic responses to Un Coup de Dés. The three explorations of the “true” edition (in French) are Michel Pierson‘s (2002), Françoise Morel‘s (2007) and Ypsilon Éditeur‘s (2008). Though the artworks paying homage since 1980 are too numerous to list for this entry, note that Books On Books is preparing a virtual 125th anniversary celebration for 2022 that will display images and links for all the homage paid since 1897 that it has uncovered — from Man Ray’s Les Mystères du Château de Dé (1929) to Sylvain Moore’s Troisième Coup de Dés (2019).

Further Reading

Arnar, Anna Sigrídur. The Book as Instrument: Stéphane Mallarmé, the Artist’s Book and the Transformation of Print Culture (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2011).

Fraenkel, Ernest. Les Dessins trans-conscients de Stéphane Mallarmé : à propos de la typographie de “Un Coup de dés” (Paris: Nizet, 1960).

Meillassoux, Quentin. The Number and the Siren (2012). Meissaloux argues the toss with Ronat over the identity of le Nombre.

Moulinier, Didier. “Pour une histoire de la poésie concrète“, La Poèsie Élèmentaire, 5 March 2011. Accessed 5 November 2020.

Stark, Trevor. Total Expansion of the Letter: Art and Language after Mallarmé (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2020).

Bookmarking Book Art – Adam Smyth

13 March 1911 (2019)

13 March 1911 (2019)
Adam Smyth
Perfect bound paperback. H175x W115 mm, 64 pages. Edition of 500. Acquired from Information as Material, 10 October 2020.

Although unremarkable in its production values, 13 March 1911 enters the collection as a brilliant composite with roots in OuLiPo, Grangerism and the collage technique, Walter Benjamin’s Illuminations and The Arcades Project and Stéphane Mallarmé’s “The Book, Spiritual Instrument”. The date is the birth date of Smyth’s grandfather, and it is what confronts us in a photographic detail of a newspaper masthead.

From OuLiPo, Smyth takes the rule of constraint to guide his creation. The constraint is that the content presented must refer to events occurring on 13 March 1911 and in chronological order. Added to the constraint are citability of each source, which often takes Smyth to the Internet and Wayback Machine. Although focused on a single day in time, the writer, book and reader fly back and forth as if tethered together in a time machine composed of print and digital reference material.

Strictly with Grangerism, there should be a previously published book into and onto which the reader/actor inserts, pastes and attaches clippings relevant to the book in hand. Instead of a book in hand, Smyth has a date in hand to which the clippings accrue. And in keeping with this non-material target for Grangerizing, Smyth’s collage technique eschews visual and physical overlapping, rather it lies more in overlapping different types of sources of “data”: newspaper articles, classified ads, advertisements, Captain Scott’s journal, weather reports, obituaries, theater reviews and much more.

In a sort of reversal of Benjamin’s unpacking his library, Smyth packs snippets from history into this one book that turns on his grandfather’s birth date. It is not that Smyth can recreate him with all these snippets, or that the reader can ever know the man from those snippets — anymore than a reader of every single book in Benjamin’s library could recreate Benjamin or know him from doing so.

Like Benjamin in Arcades, Smyth is a collector of fragments by which he tries to make the past present. But Smyth’s time machine is also richly multi-dimensional — especially in its being digitally and print powered. What Smyth gives himself and the reader is an extended moment of recognizing the wide-flung welter around any of us at any time and the wryness, despair, amusement, inspiration and poignancy of trying to define, find and memorialize others (however close) or ourselves by that welter — however retrievable or citable the elements of it.

Finally, Smyth gives us one day’s proof of Mallarmé’s dictum: “everything in the world exists to end up in a book”. And so it ends up in the Books On Books Collection.

Further Browsing

Information as Material (Smyth’s 13 March 1911 is a publication with IAM, which offers works from authors such as Derek Beaulieu, Francesca Capone, Craig Dworkin, Andrew Dodds, Sharon Kivland, Simon Morris and Nick Thurston).

Books On Books Collection – Aurélie Noury

Perhaps there is some peculiar feature of “the book as intellectual instrument” that explains the phenomenon of book-artist-cum-impresari. In the last century, we had Ulises Carrión and Dick Higgins among others. In this century, we have Alicia Bailey, Sarah Bodman, Hubert Kretschmer, Antoine Lefebvre, Laura Russell to mention only a few. They flourish and with such variety. Some manifest as curators, others as gallerists, and others as publishers. Some transform that manifestation into a form of art itself. Aurélie Noury verges on doing this with the works under her imprint Éditions Lorem Ipsum.

El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha by Pierre Ménard (after Jorge Luis Borges, “Pierre Ménard, auteur du Quichotte” in Fictions) (2009)

El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha by Pierre Ménard (after Jorge Luis Borges, “Pierre Ménard, auteur du Quichotte” in Fictions) (2009)
Aurélie Noury
Perfect bound with folded cover, H170 × W120 mm, 38 pages. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Borges would be the first to congratulate Noury on her persistence, diligence and taste. Of course, he would be biased, but what else to call her recovery of these pages so briefly mentioned in his short story “Pierre Ménard, author of Quixote”, how else to describe their careful resetting in the precise order mentioned, and what other choice of fonts could be suggested than Garamond for the cover and Times New Roman for the text?

For any reader finishing the discourse on what the narrator calls Ménard’s unfinished oeuvre, it is a solace to turn to Noury’s reproduction and see exactly where Ménard left things hanging in the fragment of Chapter XXII that the narrator mentions so tantalizingly. It is a vicarious thrill to share with the narrator the strangeness of that fragment appearing after the ninth and thirty-eighth chapters!

Given the intrepidness of our artiste éditrice, it may seem churlish to mention the acute accent that appears in the last name of the latter-day author of Don Quixote. No such accent appears in the original Spanish of Borges’ story. Perhaps the Argentinian or his secretary had a momentary lapse. Then again, to give Noury the benefit of doubt and Borges the gift of future vision, the narrator’s Pierre Ménard (or Menard) could very well have been the ancestor of the eponymous founder of a micro vineyard in the Loire Valley who cannot seem to settle on one spelling or the other. It cannot be an accident that this vineyard recently produced a vintage named “Chaos” (2017), a wine that, one critic writes, “should not exist”.

Borges invented other authors besides Ménard and his bio-bibliographical narrator. Borges and his life-long friend Adolfo Bioy Casares came up with Honorio Bustos Domecq, a fictitious detective under whose name they wrote numerous short stories and through whom they introduced other fictitious authors — one such was Federico Juan Carlos Loomis. In “A List and Analysis of the Sundry Books of F. J. C. Loomis”, “Bugsy” Domecq chronicles the work of the legendary writer and critic. Loomis’s chief claim to fame is his collection of six books, whose contents consist solely of their titles.

Were it not for Aurélie Noury’s translating and publishing skills, the Francophone population would have to remain content with Domecq’s Spanish listing and analysis. (Saving, of course, the one title that Loomis wrote in French: Béret Basque.) Regardless of fluency in French or Spanish, the attentive reader will appreciate how the publisher’s sensitive translations capture the denotative, connotative, spiritual and cultural intent of Federico Juan Carlos Loomis’s singular texts.

Each of the French versions is tastefully set in Cochin on the cover and Times Roman in the text. The works’ restrained design (H190 x W130 mm, four pages, three covers in black & white, three with the addition of colored rule) complements their minimal contents.

Many book artists have paid homage to Borges (see Further Reading below). These seven works surely secure a place of honor and humor among them for Aurélie Noury.

Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard (poster) (2008)

Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard (poster) (2008)
Aurélie Noury
H100 x W700 mm. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

Except for her Rubik’s Coup de Dés, Noury’s poster version of Mallarmé’s poem would be the thing for summarizing, critiquing, parodying and paying homage to le Maître‘s work. Why not collapse all of the spacing and text in its varied type sizes and styles into one double-page spread? But then, if the game is “the total expansion of the letter”, the dispersal of letters from keywords in the poem across the 54 spaces on a Rubik’s cube would be the thing. Unfortunately, at the moment, this particular thing does not reside in the Books On Books Collection, so the following photos (courtesy of the artist) stand as a collector’s reminder.

Noury’s inventive literary/artistic appropriation does not end with Borges and Mallarmé. Marcel Duchamp, Honoré de Balzac, John Irving and Louis Aragon also come in for varying treatments at her hands. Her choices for these reversals of ekphrasis — proceeding from an existing text to a newly created work of art, rather vice versa — are clever. But it is her combination of the techniques of appropriation, homage and parody and intermedial play with the various techniques of print and digital publications in a distinctive way for each target text that is ingenious.

No doubt there could be many more such works to come, but even the most ingenious of appropriators finds her time appropriated by other ventures. As directrice of the imprint Éditions Incertain Sens, she engages with the works acquired for Le Cabinet du livre d’artiste (CLA) at the University of Rennes 2 as well as with their documentation in the CLA’s newspaper Sans niveau ni mètre. These ventures have been apropos and obviously influential for Noury. Éditions Incertain Sens and the CLA were founded by Leszek Brogowski, who has written extensively on book artists such as Bernard Villers. The furniture of CLA was made by artist and writer Bruno di Rosa, who has appropriated and extended the works of Gustave Flaubert and Joachim du Bellay. The situation could be only more apropos if Éditions Incertain Sens had been founded by Mallarmé and Borges at some point in the future!

Further Reading

A Maze of Books for the Cultural Olympiad“, Bookmarking Book Art, 15 August 2012. For a sculptural homage to Borges.

Sean Kernan“, Books On Books Collection, 23 February 2013. For a photographic homage to Borges.

Barbara Tetenbaum”, Bookmarking Book Art, 26 June 2013. For more on reverse-ekphrasis.

Jacqueline Rush Lee”, Books On Books Collection, 8 October 2019. For more on reverse-ekphrasis.

Peter Malutzki“, Books On Books Collection, 11 November 2019. For an homage to Borges’ Encyclopedia of Tlön from the short story “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”.

Hanna Piotrowska (Dyrcz)“, Books On Books Collection, 13 December 2019. For an “earthy” homage to Borges.

Michalis Pichler”, Books On Books Collection, 19 August 2020. For a prolific hommageur of Mallarmé.

Antoine Lefebvre”, Books On Books Collection, 28 September 2020. For another artiste éditeur.

Gilbert, Annette (ed.). Publishing as Artistic Practice (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2016).

Books On Books Collection – Francesca Capone

we have a trick that we call language. Actually, we have many kinds of language, each of which is based on a formal system of codes and/or symbols through which we represent states of the world.
Frank R. Wilson, The Hand (2000)

Weaving Language: Language is Image, Paper, Code & Cloth (2018)


Weaving Language: Language is Image, Paper, Code & Cloth (2018)
Francesca Capone
Perfect bound paperback. H230 x W155 mm, 116 pages. Acquired from Book Depository, 10 October 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection, shown with permission of the artist.

Weaving Language examines the poetics of weaving traditions through historical research as well as contemporary practices. Attempting to dismantle and rebuild commonplace understandings of the history of writing, Weaving Language focuses on fiber-based forms as a longstanding but often overlooked medium for record keeping, storytelling, and poetry. The book is both a mapping of instances that exemplify textile poetics from the beginning of time to the present day, as well as a creative experiment in utilizing textile as code. Capone invites the reader to experience textile as something to be read, along with its tactile and visual functions. — from the book jacket.

Sadly, Weaving Language: Language is Image, Paper, Code & Cloth (2018) aka WL II is only a third of the trilogy sought after for the collection (the other two are out of print). Its brilliant content and typography make the absence more acute. As its table of contents shows, WL II is also composed of three parts. Initially the first part seems to be a chronologically organized commonplace book with a rich collection of quotations from primary and secondary sources (citations in gray), with some guiding comments interspersed from Capone. But with the source material printed in black, the citation lines in gray and author’s comments in blue, the feeling turns to that of holding a patchwork quilt or the Bayeux tapestry of weaving’s history. The image below provides an example of the color-coded typography, including the single and apt exception in red.

Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Capone’s choice not to reproduce an image of Elizabeth Parker’s sampler stitched in red (see below) but rather to use type and red ink draws subtle and effective attention to how the book’s own visual motif underpins the way Capone weaves her choices of content together into a unified fabric.

Linen, embroidered with red silk in cross stitch (c. 1830)
Elizabeth Parker (1813-89)
H858 x W744 mm. Photo: Victoria & Albert Museum, Textiles & Fashion Collection, T.6-1956.

The second part — “Woven Codes” — begins like a “how to” book with a key page followed by examples. Structurally more profoundly, it links to the first part’s concluding quotation of a quotation: the poet Susan Howe citing Gertrude Stein’s “Sentences” notebooks, in which she wrote “Think in stitches”. The link is made by coding three selections from Stein’s Tender Buttons into three forms — gridded writing, an erasure poem and then a woven draft. Again, aptly, Capone chooses for her samplers “A Cloth”, “A Paper” and “A Drawing”. The next two pages — one illustrating the grid-based coding of Braille, one showing the method of tying coded Quipu knots — also reach back into the first part to pick up threads introduced by citations of Joyce Carol Oates and David Antin.

The last page of this black-and-white section of “Woven Codes” alludes even more subtly to the first part. The page’s text describing the illustration below it reads

The weaving of alternating S and Z twisted yarns results in a historically sturdy cloth composition.

Among the patchwork sources in the first part, there is a brief quotation from one of Roland Barthes’ lectures in which he “introduced the metaphor of ‘unthreading’ for the act of describing”. Could the weaving of “S and Z” yarns refer to Barthes’ S/Z, the seminal structuralist deciphering of codes of meaning in Honoré de Balzac’s short story “Sarrasine”? Only if “historically sturdy” is tongue in cheek, as the post-structuralists would have it. Allusion notwithstanding, this illustration of sturdy woven cloth sets us up for the more colorful concluding section of “Woven Codes” in which Capone demonstrates the color coding of various verse forms such as the sestina (below).

By pairing the drawn plan with the front and rear views of the woven sestina from Dante and then pairing a right-reading setting with a reversed setting of the poem in color-coded type, Capone underscores her equation of language = image, paper, code and cloth.

The third part of the book — “Weaving>>Writing” — brings all of the elements together in reverse: fabric comes first and is translated into words. It is a reversal that depends on Weaving Language I: Lexicon, in which Capone set out the code where “fiber informs pronouns, weave structure informs verb, interlacing and tapestry techniques are prepositions, color informs nouns & adjectives, and any two colors beside each other result in conjunctions”.

Five of Capone’s woven>>written poems are followed by five works by artists Ruth Laskey, Alicia Scardetta, Tauba Auerbach, Kayla Mattes, and New Friends (Alexandra Segreti and Kelly Rakowski). As individually whole works, they are not illustrated here. To view them, buy WL II from its publisher Information as Material or a bookstore or consult a library. As mentioned, WL I is out of print, perhaps hampering a fuller appreciation of the ten woven>>written poems. With WL III also now out of print, perhaps Information as Material will come to the rescue and make it possible for Books On Books to complete its set of the trilogy without dropping a stitch.

Further Reading

Capone, Francesca. Weaving Language I: Lexicon (Portland, OR: East Egg Press, 2012).

Capone, Francesca, ed. Writing in Threads: Weaving Language III (Troy, NY: Publication Studio Hudson, 2015).

Costello, Lindsey. “Francesca Capone: Think of Seashells at Nationale“, 60 Inch Center, 2018.

Snack, Rachel. Interview with Warp & Weft Magazine, 2020.

Wilson, Frank R. The Hand (New York: Random House International, 2000).

Books On Books Collection – David Dernie & Olivia Laing

Shipwreck (2016)

David Dernie and Olivia Laing

Perfect bound softcover. H256 x W210 mm, 48 unnumbered pages. Edition of 100, of which this is #88 and signed. Acquired from the artist, 27 August 2020.

Shipwreck, a collaboration between artist/architect David Dernie and writer Olivia Lang, first appeared as an installation at the Cambridge School of Art’s Ruskin Gallery (3-19 November 2016). There are three works one might consider here: 1) the installation as event and environment, 2) its accompanying book presenting two parallel narratives, one composed of Laing’s text and the other of images of Dernie’s collages displayed at the exhibition and 3) Dernie’s essay juxtaposing those images with pages from Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard.

In his extensively illustrated textbook Exhibition Design, Dernie asserts that exhibition-making is an art in itself — “synonymous with image-making, communication, and the creation of a powerful experience”. Like the “book of the movie”, the exhibition catalogue rarely rises to that powerful experience. More rarely still does it surpass the exhibition. Unlike movies that can be purchased or rented, exhibitions are time-limited experiences. Even if revisited multiple times, an exhibition will close, move on and be replaced by another. The catalogue or online website may be the only media that document an exhibition. Attendees and non-attendees will experience them differently, and without that documentation, the exhibition as a work of art belongs only to the memories of its attendees and organizers.

Shipwreck is not a catalogue of the exhibition. More like an artist’s book, it juxtaposes a literary narrative with a set of prints. There’s no indication that the text was performed in the exhibition hall — live or recorded. If it was, then the attendees may have the memories to recall to make Shipwreck a satisfactory reminder of the event. Whether attendees and non-attendees find Shipwreck “the book” satisfactory as a standalone work is problematic given the third work to consider.

In his essay in Buildings, Dernie describes the collages as

Working in the tradition of the collage novel, and with original engravings from the popular French newspaper Le Grande Illustré (1904), [they] work with the thematic structure and spatiality of Stéphane Mallarmé’s revolutionary poem Un Coup de Dés written a few years earlier. (P. 324)

Like the poem, the collages are heterogeneous and their protagonists are “found”, both in terms of their scale and detail, in the dramatized newspaper of the period. The engravings are a snapshot of the terrible uncertainties, reported disasters and social unrest that colored Parisian life at the time. The re-invented figures, scenes and architectural settings are offered as spatial analogues to the poetic passages, exploring the non-perspectival space of the text, its content and poetic imagery as much as its solipsism and incoherence. (Pp. 330-31)

Drawing his collage material from Le Grande Illustré and analogizing the collage to Mallarmé’s imagery and use of the page’s non-perspectival space, Dernie replays in an original way what the Cubists, Futurists and Dada-ists learned from Un Coup de Dés and Mallarmé. In Total Expansion of the Letter (2020), Trevor Stark has laid out clearly how the collages of Picasso and Braque traced their technique back to Mallarmé. As for what they incorporated from the newspapers, however, the avant-gardists turned to the text of headlines and articles rather than illustrations. Dernie’s result is more reminiscent of Max Ernst’s surrealist novels than the Cubist collages of 1912.

Photos: Books on Books Collection.

The collages are clearly not simple illustrations of Mallarmé’s poem, but as Dernie points out, they work with the poem. Only in Dernie’s essay, however, can the pairings with pages from Un Coup de Dés be found and enjoyed. The eye moves from collage image to the shape of the text, from the verse and its images back to the collage, and back again.

From “Elevating Mallarmé’s Shipwreck”, pp. 334 and 337. Reproduced with permission of the author.

FromElevating Mallarmé’s Shipwreck“, pp. 331-32. Reproduced with permission of the author.

Were it not for the limited edition state of Shipwreck, the reader/viewer might be tempted to obtain a spare copy of Un Coup de Dés from the publisher Gallimard, “grangerize” it with Dernies’ collages and gaze on it at leisure.

Further Reading

Dernie, David. “Elevating Mallarmé’s Shipwreck”, Buildings, 3, 2013, pp. 324-340.

Dernie, David. Exhibition Design (London: Laurence King, 2007).

Stark, Trevor. Total expansion of the letter : Avant-Garde art and language after Mallarmé (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2020).

Books On Books Collection – La Perruque

La Perruque (2015 ~)
Olivier Bertrand, ed.
Box housing one complete set of “unbound” editions (Nos. 00-21) with one binding spool; two “bound” rolls including fourteen available issues; one offset paper sheet (70 × 100 cm, folded) with issues Nos. 9 & 10 printed in margins; “servez vous” tickets for Talk #2, a typographic discussion at Atelier BEK, Brussels, Belgium, 19 April 2017. Collector’s edition of 5, of which this is #2. Acquired from Olivier Bertrand, 30 October 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

In French, une perruque is a wig but also the slang term for something made for home on the sly while on the employer’s clock. In English, it’s called a “homer”. In the case of La Perruque, the entire typography magazine is a “homer”; it literally exists in the otherwise unused margins of print shop production sheets. As founder Olivier Bertrand explains on his site, however, this magazine “hack” is completely above board:

Year 2015. A first unspoken agreement with the print shop Media Graphic in Rennes allows Oliver Bertrand to use a blank surface in the margins of their regular prints. Ever since that founding experience, materials (unused print surfaces) and large scale production techniques (offset printing) have been the playgrounds for type designers, print shops and publishers to collaborate. Production time, number of copies, colors and type of paper depend on this economy of means.

Each issue is a 1 x 90 cm ribbon. A pointer to an issue printed in the otherwise blank margin of a sheet for another printing job.

Each issue is rolled up on a card spindle.

La Perruque’s unusual binding as well as its subject make it a desirable addition to the Books On Books Collection. Each issue is a tiny but long type specimen book. It is the combination rather than solely its status as specimen book that attracts. Some bookworks play with codex, scroll, folio and box structures, others play with paper’s folding, unfolding and self-encasing as in accordion and palm-leaf books. While spooled, spindled or bobbined books can replicate the scroll book structure, the narrow, ticker-tape-like linearity of La Perruque feels like a different structural game.

With La Perruque, this structural game has two fields: that of the otherwise unused margins of printed sheets for other products and that of the card spindle on which the issue is wound. The marginal space from which each issue comes comments on the subject of every issue. The comment may be socioeconomic, political, philosophical, aesthetic or all of these. Michel Anteby’s article cited below explores in general that kind of commentary. The way in which the “unwinding binding” forces us to examine these type specimens and to “close” the book also comments on each issue: look closely at both sides of the ribbon, look hard, watch and think how the words and letters unravel, and watch and think as they roll back onto their spindle.

Offset paper sheet (70 × 100 cm, folded) with issues Nos. 9 & 10 printed in the lower margin.

A card spindle may hold one issue (as with the first spindle above) or several (as with the spindle beneath the first).

La Perruque is more than its issues. It is also an online archive for the issues and online point of access to the type designers’ documented font design processes. The type specimens are mainly for the Web, but their material publication makes us read and think with our hands. This is publishing as artistic practice to which you can subscribe here for your own collection.

Further Reading

Anteby, Michel. “Factory ‘homers’: Understanding a highly elusive, marginal, and illegal practice“, Sociologie du travail, 45, 2003, pp. 453-71.

Books On Books Collection – Emily Speed

Unfolding Architecture (2007)

For a collection following architecturally themed book art, Emily Speed’s Unfolding Architecture (2007) is essential. The video above shows how the box’s opening and the title revealed hint at the substance of this work. What cannot be sensed from the video is how the feather weight of the box and balsa-bound book of Mohawk Superfine resonate with the unbearable lightness of being that the main character Gordon experiences as he witnesses his city structure unfold across the twenty-two panels of his story. Here is Elaine Speight and Charles Quick on the work and Gordon:

The diversity of experience enabled by the fold is made explicit in Speed’s Unfolding Architecture (2007) …, an accordion-folded book that recounts the tale of Gordon, a city dweller who witnesses the collapse of public buildings and, ultimately, his own home as the urban fabric begins to unfold around him. Housed in a balsa wood box that, somewhat alarmingly, unfolds upon opening, the fragility of the folded sheet provokes something of the protagonist’s anxiety about the undoing of his city. Yet, … the act of unfolding also produces “an open plain full of possibility” (Speed 2019). As Gordon asserts, unfolding is not the same as falling apart, and the artist’s book suggests that hope and potential may be achieved through the dismantling of existing structures.

The silk-screening adds texture and a just perceptible raised depth to the varying textures of the wood and the Canson Opalux slip that protects the colophon in the bottom of the box. Depth and varying texture repeat themselves in the accordion’s folds and paper attached to wooden covers that seem light as paper.

Gordon’s story ends with paper — an old, rolled up newspaper that reminds him of a tower (an image that appears on the colophon’s cover slip). It is a reminder that comes to him in his recognition that, in the end, “all he was able to do now was to contribute to the re-making” of his flattened world. The newspaper reminds me of the newsprint typo “manmoth” for “mammoth” that inspired Elizabeth Bishop to invent her poem “The Man-Moth”. The Man-Moth and Gordon share a surreality and a hope that resides in the imagination — that solitary tear, the man-moth’s only possession, that slipping from his eyelid, he will palm and swallow if you’re not watching …

… However, if you watch, he’ll hand it over,
cool as from underground springs and pure enough to drink.

The fusion of title, metaphor, narrative, image, technique of silk-screening, letterpress, texture of paper and wood, the workings of the accordion and box enclosure — all — with one another makes Unfolding Architecture as satisfying as the Man-Moth’s tear.

Unfolding Architecture (2007)
Emily Speed
Double-sided accordion book, attached to balsa wood covers, housed in a hinged, covered box of balsa wood. Book – H190 x W70 x D18 mm (closed), H190 x ~W2280 (open); Box – H203 x W88 x D63 mm; 24 panels, including cover panels. Edition of 90, of which this is #7. Acquired from the artist, 24 October 2020.

Further Reading

Architecture“, Bookmarking Book Art, 12 November 2018.

Emily Speed“, The Aesthetic Trust, 30 January 2012. Accessed 24 October 2020.

Speight, Elaine, and Charles Quick, “‘Fragile Possibilities’: The Role of the Artist’s Book in Public Art“, MDPI Arts 2020, 9(1), 32. Accessed 24 October 2020.