An ongoing chance-based publication project in the spirit of Ed Ruscha. Images are randomly-selected Google streetviews (which are often captured at noon to avoid shadowing) of cities like Paris, Tokyo, etc. The copy is compiled from all tweets containing the phrase “this is where” between noon and 12:15pm local time for each city. Consequently the text and imagery for each 15-minute issue originates from the same, albeit ambiguous, time and place. And though text and image are randomly paired, surprising narratives often emerge. Included in the collection of the Library of the Printed Web.
This is where is where the tradition of Ed Ruscha meets the Web. Go there and see for yourself.
A search of Lafayette College’s Artists’ Books Collection on the genre yields 1284 entries, including works by Alicia Bailey, Julie Chen, Maureen Cummins, Steven Daiber, Karen Hanmer, Margaret Kaufman, Clifton Meador, Lois Morrison, Werner Pfeiffer, Gerhard Richter, Maryann Riker, Edward Ruscha, Buzz Spector, Barbara Tetenbaum, Erica Van Horn and Sam Winston.
Check out the archives for the Werner Pfeiffer exhibition.
Worth a visit to the Skillman Library if you’re in Easton, PA.
Stimulating offers of paper art and book art abound in The Hague in June and July 2018.
Museum Rijswijk celebrates its twelfth Paper Biennial (12 June – 7 October). The Pulchri Studio hosts a major exhibition (1-22 July) for the founders of the Paper Biennial — Peter and Pat Gentenaar-Torley. In advance of the latter exhibition, I visited the Biennial and then the Gentenaar-Torleys in their studio as they were preparing for the show and, as it turned out, rushing to fill last-minute orders from the Middle East.
The Twelfth Paper Biennial
As you enter the Museum Rijswijk, the large paper chess set in the courtyard elicits a smile and, with the overcast, a cocked eyebrow — a good combination for this exhibition and museum. The building neatly combines contemporary and 18th century Dutch interior features that deceive the visitor into thinking it small then being surprised by the number of rooms. Cheerful (or somber) deception combined with delightful (or startled) surprise are a common thread in book art and paper art. So is looking back and forward. The 12th Paper Biennial is no exception in its fitting environment.
Eighteen artists are each represented by multiple works, enough in most cases to appreciate style and technique and to compare and contrast within each display as well as across the artists’ displays. While many items in the Paper Biennial 2018 are of the “stop you in your tracks” variety, perhaps my planned visit to the Gentenaar-Torley studio or the museum shop’s selection of the Genetenaar-Torley books from the first seven biennials had primed my eyes for the particular works below. Large but airy paper fabrications floating from the ceiling or wall. Abstraction melded with the figurative. Vegetal and handmade paper. Saturation of colors. Innovativeness. Although, missing was an example of Pat Gentenaar-Torley’s hallmark technique of painting with thin layers of colored pulp.
On entering the most spacious room, my eye was caught by Mathilde van Wijnen’s Ruimte. In English, “ruimte” translates variously as space, room, area, place, capacity, location, aerospace, range, wideness, spot, compass and largeness. Under Van Wijnen’s hand and tools, it also translates into rhythms of light and shadow, evoking an expanse of dunes.
Another of Van Wijnen’s work in the same room plays with light in a different way: Helios.
The shifting metallic sheen and trompe l’oeil effect of Mathilde van Wijnen’s Helios (2014) and, in different rooms, of Lei (2016) and Bouten (2016) are mesmerizing and made me retrace my steps more than twice.
I like it that the technique is not very obvious and it remains mysterious.I also like to hear about my black works that people think it is made of a different material than paper, sometimes leather or fabric. (Correspondence from Mathilde van Wijnen, 20 June 2018)
Another artist in the show capable of making the abstract tangible is Annita Smit. Her piece called Frivool is a good example. In English, “frivool” means frivolous, light-hearted, flighty, shallow and flippant. In Smit’s hands, calque or tracing paper becomes all of that and more — a feathery embodiment of those Dutch winds that swirl every which way.
Smit’s material and colorful works reminded me of Beate Hoffmeister’s similar use of telephone directories (featured in the second Paper Biennial book put together by the Gentenaar-Torleys) and the textural effects achieved by Pavlos (featured in the sixth Paper Biennial book).
Comparing/contrasting this earlier work with that of Smit is like comparing the techniques and palettes of the Impressionists with that of Hundertwasser.
Andy Singleton sticks to white for all of his pieces in the show.
What is special about this paper is its ability to absorb water without damaging the paper. … The process I use to create the forms is called wet folding. I cut each piece of paper to the shape I want, this spray the paper with water to dampen the material. This allows me to manipulate the paper in ways that would be difficult when dry without damaging it. I then dry the paper rapidly with a heater (hair dryer or electric fan heater) to hold it on position. The paper is now set in its new form. (Correspondence from Andy Singleton, 22 June 2018)
As with many of the artists’ works in the show, Andy Singleton’s are clustered in different rooms. While this curatorial approach might irritate some, I found that it worked to lead me back and forth to spend more time with the individual works. The smaller wraith-like productions by Singleton on the floor above sent me back downstairs for another look at the large Silk series, where I was reminded of Katrin Zutter’s Tranquillity from the third Paper Biennial book (2000).
Throughout the exhibition, works draw attention to their material in differing degrees and with differing intentions. Angelique van der Valk’s is one of the more organic, almost raw in degree, and takes us back to the origin of paper and, by extension, culture: vegetable papyrus.
The Groente Abstract (Vegetable and Abstract) series are a result of many experiments. Every kind of vegetable has its own intrinsic qualities and the way of treating each material differs….The tension between abstraction on one side and the organic forms of this material on the other hand, is what I find most interesting. It reflects, to my mind, the way we live: culture on the one hand, nature on the other. I strive for harmony between these two, or to make their tension and friction visible. (Correspondence from Angelique van der Valk, 21 June 2018)
Fittingly entitled Tijdloos Papier/Timeless Paper, the fourth Paper Biennial book (2002) carried a guide to making vegetable papyrus. Gentenaar’s inclusion of such an article follows naturally from his own early sculptures’ borrowing from plant shapes.
My inspiration is a plant bud, which, in spring, unfolds into a leaf. A compact folded form feeds itself with water and turns into a great spacious form. In autumn, this leaf falls off of the tree, the water evaporates and a small web of fibers curling around the spine is the new form.
Peter’s leanings toward nature/abstraction and Pat’s, as seen in the 2017 Suzhou exhibition, would certainly lead them to cheer on Jocelyn Châteauvert’s process and her contributions to the Paper Biennial 2018.
As to the process, understand that I am the papermaker and thus determine a number of aspects such as fiber, sheet thickness, translucency and color. I also have to anticipate shrinkage. As the paper for this had fiber beaten for 4 hours, there is at least 30% shrinkage. I use this aspect to create structural integrity in the piece without having to introduce other materials for support. So all the necks of the birds actually hold the piece up. (Correspondence from Jocelyn Châteauvert, 21 June 2018)
Only on exiting through the museum’s shop did I notice how the early Paper Biennials’ books explicitly and ingeniously showcased paper samples such as Nepalese lokta paper (as above), handmade abaca, Japanese washi paper and many other varieties of handcrafted paper. Later on, I learned that from the start in 1996 with Voelbaar Papier/Tactile Paper (1996), all seven books included “papier monsters” (paper samples).
Perhaps the Gentenaar-Torleys’ books made it possible for the twelfth Paper Biennial to assume its viewers would appreciate implicitly or simply take in stride the variety of paper types used by the exhibition’s eighteen artists. But for this viewer, that assumption just gives reason for another revisit, and the Paper Biennial 2018 does reward a lingering visit.
In my case, however, the lingering made me late for my visit to the Gentenaar-Torley studio.
A Visit with the Founders
Despite the size of The Netherlands, each locale seems more spacious than possible. Like the country and Museum Rijswijk, the Gentenaar-Torley studio seems to hold more space than it should contain. From the quiet of the “front house”, as Pat calls it, she led me to noise of saws, drills and industrial-size fans whirring. Shaking her head at the noise and activity, she explained that the Address Downtown Hotel, Dubai, which reopened in early June, had placed a rush order for 10 sculptures, reduced it to 5, then ordered 12 more, and just as those had been dispatched, a Qatari order delayed a year due to the blockade was reactivated — all in the midst of preparing for the Pulchri Studio exhibition. A workman with saw and drill was preparing the crates for the shipment to Doha. Peter drying a piece for the retrospective was the source of the whirring fan’s noise. Suspended by twine, the piece could have been a cloud or massive version of Pat’s koi caught in a net over the large custom-built vacuum table.
This is the constant state of affairs at the Gentenaar-Torley studio. Consider these events from May 2017 through June 2018:
Exhibition at the Suzhou Jinji Lake Museum (April-June 2017)
Installationat the Galerie de Minéralogie et de Géologie, in Paris for the Iris van Herpen Couture Collection (January 2018)
Installation at 1355 Peachtree, a building with mixed businesses in Atlanta, Georgia (March 2018)
Inclusion in the Jinji Lake Biennale, Suzhou China (May-June 2018)
The Pulchri Studio exhibition — “Is beauty only skin deep” (July 2018) — will include older and newer works. That title is equally appropriate to each artist although in different ways. Starting with layers of dyed paper pulp clinging to large frameworks of bamboo or raffia palm, Peter coaxes a two-dimensional sheet into a three-dimensional object.
Pat, on the other hand, coaxes a sense of three dimensionality from layers of dyed pulp, applying them wet on wet and, literally, working backwards, up from what will be the top layer of the painting to the next layer, then the next without disturbing the fibers that she has nudged into the shapes she wants in each layer. Think of it as the reversal of the steps in oils or frescoes in which first comes the background, then layering upwards and ending at the top.
In those different ways, surface breeds depth from within which beauty rises.
I made my second visit to the studio on the day Peter, Trude (daughter) and Pim (son-in-law) were loading a truck with the works for the Pulchri Studio. Pat had the task of preparing the price list but took a break to allow for photos of the “well-ordered chaos” of the works remaining for transport.
Among the items readied for the Pulchri Studio were other items destined for different locations. This one scheduled for installation in one of the Holland America Line cruise ships reminded me how lucky one might have to be to see the works from the Gentenaar-Torley studio. Other installations have been commissioned by the TUI cruise line, the top-floor restaurant in Disney World’s Hotel Four Seasons and Yas Mall in Abu Dhabi. If you live in Atlanta, Georgia, you can see Ruby Takes Flight at 1355 Peachtree Street, NE.
Better luck still if you are within striking distance of The Hague. Along the linden-lined Lange Voorhout, the Pulchri Studio stands at number 15, and in its large Mesdagzaal, the exhibition runs from 1 July through 22 July. Art sometimes requires that you make your own luck.
The National Library of the Netherlands advises, “for [Shirley Sharoff’s La grande muraille/The Great Wall (1991)] to be read, the book first must be rolled out”. And that is what I did, using the large table in the Special Collection’s seminar room.
Enjoyable as that was, enjoying it again with the video afterward, something seemed awry. The texts had gaps, or so I thought. So I returned a second time. Perhaps if I re-shot the video. Perhaps if I took more stills and close-ups. Perhaps if I shot the rolling up as well as the unrolling.
No doubt, the second effort added to the pleasure. Looking at the videos and stills, I can again feel between my fingers the Arches paper and engravings’ impressions on it. But still I detected gaps, seeming mismatches between the French and English. I wondered to what degree they
followed the Chinese text or whether some of Lu Xun’s text had been omitted. So, I returned a third time, and then came my “ah hah” moment. Unrolled, La grande muraille looks like a double-sided leporello or accordion book like this one: In Mexico by Helen Douglas.
To read La grande muraille as the double-sided leporello it appears to be, however, is to overlook the multi-page spreads that Sharoff conceived with François Da Ros (her typography and print collaborator) in putting together this forme en escargot (snail-shell form as she calls it). The snail-shell form, its multi-page spreads and the text demand that you read La grande muraille as you unroll it, or rather, as you unfold it.
With the book laid flat, the “page spreads” are easier to recognize, the text is easier to read, and the forethought needed for the “imposition” of text and images to deliver the sequential text, easier to marvel at. As each recto page is turned to the right, two new pages appear to the right. This unfolding approach to reading the book offers several intriguing “double- and multi-page spreads” and an experience of the texts and eight prints in the sequence driven by the text. When you have finished reading in this sequence, you will have read both sides of the scroll.
Reading the text
Now that the so-called gaps in the English and French texts were resolved, I wanted to understand how the English and French matched up to the Chinese text. For that, I asked help from two acquaintances in The Hague: Bee Leng Bee and Yingxian Song. They obtained a copy of Lu Xun’s text, traced it through the photos I had taken and found that the three languages run almost in parallel as the work unfolds.
“Almost” because the order of the languages is not alway the same. On pages one and two, we see the French and English titles but must wait until page five before the Chinese title appears. Then, on page six the order changes: English first, then French, then the corresponding ten Chinese characters. On pages seven and eight, this order is maintained. Later, with the turning of page fifteen, the French comes before the English and Chinese; the first Chinese character aligning to the French and English (其) appears on page seventeen. Then, as page seventeen is turned to the right, the order changes back to French then English on page eighteen, but on page nineteen, it moves to French first then Chinese. The book’s textual conclusion on pages fifty-six through fifty-nine runs Chinese, English, then French.
The juxtaposition and weaving of the three languages often seems painterly as if intended to evoke the layering of the bricks and the intertwining vines and foliage along stretches of The Great Wall. Here is the uninterrupted Chinese text:
Even though following the forme en escargot results in having reading both sides of the scroll in the end, Sharoff also uses it to play with the notion of intended sequence. Completely unrolled and standing on its edge, the work echoes the Great Wall. The tint of red along the top edge recalls the blood spilled in the Great Wall’s construction. The prints echo the Great Wall’s bricks, the vegetation in its crumbling gaps, even the gates. The completely unrolled work is an intended sequence, also — an invitation to walk the wall. Coming upon each of the eight copperplate engravings in the unfolding sequence is a different experience than walking up and down the “outer wall” and then the “inner wall” to see them. Five are on the outer wall, three on the inner.
Reading the form “in time”
As the force of the snail-shell binding resists the unscrolling and pulls the standing pages inward, the work has another echo: the eroding maze in the Ancient Summer Palace (Yuan Ming Yuan) outside Beijing. The faint markings on the paper, created by printing the results of repeated photocopies of a manuscript, amplify the echo.
Although Lu Xun’s text does not mention the maze, Sharoff introduces contemporary text that, alongside the interweaving Chinese, English and French of Lu Xun’s text, evokes a maze-like, time-travelling effect. The autobiographical texts from the English-language students she taught at the Central Institute of Finance and Banking (1987-88) reflect on their childhood and adolescence in the Maoist era and their recollection of representations of foreigners in books and television. These “new bricks” in their modernness and fracturedness interrupt the flow of Lu Xun’s prose praising and cursing the Great Wall. Yet, in their segmentation and placement, they also physically echo the prints and reinforce Lu Xun’s expression of the paradox in the construction, fragmentation, reconstruction and erosion of the real Wall.
Sharoff’s La grande muraille is a treasure that rewards repeated visits and contemplation: not only for itself but also as a parallel or forerunner.
La grande muraille’s physical impetus (The Great Wall), the seemingly decipherable/indecipherable characters on the Arches paper, the wry paradox of Lu Xun’s observations, the socio-political-cultural implications of the “new bricks”, the work’s innovative form and the pulling of past and present together parallels the work of Xu Bing and his play with language across East and West. His Book from the Sky first appeared in 1988.
Sharoff’s use of Lu Xun’s contemplation on The Great Wall also foreshadows Jorge Méndez Blake‘s Capítulo XXXVIII: Un mensaje del emperador / A Message from the Emperor (2017?). The title refers to an anecdote in the story “The Great Wall of China” by Franz Kafka, a contemporary of Lu Xun. The narrator tells the reader how the emperor has dispatched from his deathbed a message to the reader, entrusted to a herald who, struggling as he might, cannot escape from the confines of the palace to deliver the message — yet which we the reader await hopelessly and with hope.
What more should we expect from art?
*For help and permissions, thanks to Paul van Capelleveen and the staff at Koninklijke Bibliotheek, Den Haag, and Shirley Sharoff, Paris. For help with the Chinese and calligraphy, thanks to Bee Leng Bee and Yingxian Song.
In 1774 the House of Lords declared that perpetual copyright was illegal and that the fourteen year limit established in 1710 was the law of the land. What this meant in practical terms is that anyone with a press could now print up their own editions of Chaucer, Milton, Swift, Dryden, Spencer, and others. If everyone could print the same texts, one way to differentiate your product from the inferior output of your competition was through editorial apparatus — introductions, author portraits, and notes. … I just want to call attention to one item in the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections that was sold by one of the more enterprising publishers of public domain material.Between 1777 and 1782, John Bell published a set of 109 volumes under the title Bell’s Edition. The Poets of Great Britain Complete from Chaucer to Churchill. He launched the series with Milton’s Paradise Lost in April 1777 and attempted to maintain a regular schedule of issuing one new volume each week. Mike Kelly, Head of the Archives & Special Collections at Amherst College, commenting on William St. Clair’s The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period (Cambridge, 2004).
The photo here, presumably taken by Kelly, shows two boxes, hinged and stacked on one another and shaped like a stack of four or five large folios. Together the two boxes hold 109 small volumes, bound in Morocco leather and gilt-edged, constituting “Bell’s Edition: The Poets of Great Britain Complete from Chaucer to Churchill” (1777-83). The Kindle of its age, as Kelly puts it.
Anyone who downloads (or ever has downloaded) the free or cheap Kindle versions of the Complete Works of [name your favorite classic author] will know how little “there” there is to differentiate the products in accuracy, quality or even typography much less editorial apparatus. Possibly a sign that we are still in the Age of e-Incunabla.
Kelly’s photos and words led me on to PhD student Jacob Halford’s related comments in “Remediation, or How Digitisation is Changing the Meaning of Texts, Part 1“. Halford explores how digitization affects how we read texts, understand and find meaning in them. The digital text gives the reader a whole new experience of the text as the printed book’s structure, font, layout and tangibility of the book are distorted or eliminated. That may seem an exaggeration, but look at Halford’s photos of Galileo’s “A Dialogue concerning the two chief world systems.” In one, he holds the book in his hands; in another it appears on a microfilm reader; in yet another it is shown on a computer screen. The perceptual differences are stark.
In Part 2, Halford illustrates equally well how digitization alters the experience of meaning through how we locate or find the work — from its position on a shelf among related works, to its entry form on the Early English Books Online (EEBO) screen or its entry lines on a screen of search results. As he says, “Historians when trying to understand the past need to understand the meaning of the book, to understand how it was read, what its value within society was. To forget this because of the removal of the various indications found in a physical book when it is placed in digital collections provides the risk of us distorting our interpretation of the past. We can exaggerate the value of a particular book and in that process miss out on, or undervalue, other crucial books because there is little to inform us of a book’s value and meaning when it is accessed through EEBO. So whilst EEBO gives us access to more books, in that process it loses part of a book’s history, and it is a book’s history that helps us to know its value, meaning and significance.”
This is not to raise another Gutenberg Elegy but rather to ask, What functions and features should we demand of today’s e-incunabula that will make one worth more than another and, more important, will urge them “out of the cradle”? And what affordances “in the network” do we need to understand the social history of ebooks?
From the e-codices project, here’s something the history of the book can teach us going forward.
Well designed digital work will be machine-actionable, but will also be capable of expressing its content when moved to other media, even non-digital media. Neel Smith, College of Holy Cross, Boston, MA.
The manuscript page in the photograph above comes from a copy of Plato’s “Phaedo,” the description of Socrates’ death. Its round humanistic script belongs to a single scribe, who identifies himself in red thus, “Marcus Speegnimbergensis scriptsit“ (fol. 75).
The attribution for the image associated with this item is Pellegrin Elisabeth, Manuscrits latins de la Bodmeriana, Cologny-Genève 1982, pp. 330-331. The item has a Digital Object Identifier: DOI: 10.5076/e-codices-cb-0137, which provides a fair bit of that metadata needed for Dr. Smith’s purposes.
Lesson? It might be a good idea for every book and ebook to have a DOI, but then the International DOI Foundation and its registration agencies would need to find a sustainable business model to provide easily accessed DOI-generators for everyone seeking to publish those items.
Smith’s comments on the Fondation Martin Bodmer Collection at Cologny also imply a tangential and harder question, In the absence of some persistent unique identifier like the DOI and well-provided and maintained metadata associate with it, what are the digital (but technology-agnostic) forensic tools with which we will uncover our ebooks’ “Marcus Speegnimbergensis” and the evidence of the social contexts and creative tools with which “our Marcus” worked? That’s a “poser” for the likes of Matthew Kirschenbaum and webliographic scholars to come.
2 July through 10 August — “Wallpaper: an altered book experiment”, Traffic Zone Center for Visual Art Mission, 50 Third Avenue North
15 June through 21 October — “Formation: A Juried Exhibition of the Guild of Book Workers”, Minnesota Center for Book Arts, 1011 Washington Avenue South, Suite 100
20 July through 30 September — “Freud on the Couch: Psyche in the Book”, Minnesota Center for Book Arts, 1011 Washington Avenue South, Suite 100
The result is a mixed media exhibition well worth pondering. Below is a sampling of photos from the exhibition (links lead to the artists’ sites).
As always with book art, there is the self-reflexive, self-referring humor: Jon Neuse’s pun on the book scroll housed in a house-shaped codex in which miniature scrolls of wallpaper are housed and Scott Helmes’ pronunciation-entitled work subtitled with a joke to which the work’s sculpture is the punchline. The exhibition also covers a good variety of the forms book art has taken and may pursue even further in the future: Vesna Kittelson’s carving, Joyce Lyon’s accordion book, Doug Beube’s eroded tunnel book (not shown), and Harriet Bart’s painted-book homage to Charlotte Perkins Gilmore’s short story “The Yellow Wall-Paper” and Yu-wen Wu’s digital take on the challenge.
With apologies to the preacher: Of making many books [on books] there is no end.
With the choir of its forebearers, Amaranth Borsuk’s The Book (MIT Press, 2018) sounds an “amen” to that truth. The proliferation of degree programs in book studies covering the history of the book, the book arts and even book art ensures The Book will not be the last. What distinguishes Borsuk’s book are her perspective as an artist and the book’s breadth and depth despite its brevity.
The book has a long history of existential crises. What is a book? Is the end of the book nigh? For more than a century, those questions have returned again and again. The most recent recurrence stems from the ebook’s threat to dematerialize the book and the online world’s threat to take us into a post-text future. Even before these latest threats, book artists have long lived and worked with their own existential questions, a kind of higher existential calculus, or derivative of, the book’s crises: What is an artist’s book? What is book art? Stephen Bury, Riva Castleman, Johanna Drucker, Joan Lyons, Stefan Klima, Clive Philpott and many others in the last quarter of the 20th century dwelt on defining and categorizing book art.
Borsuk belongs to a later generation of book artists that has embraced these existential crises and recognized that the book’s existential crises are what make the book a rich medium in which and with which to create art — from bio-art miniature to the biblioclastic human-scale to large-scale installations and performances. Even to the digital.
Performance artist and academic as well, Borsuk brings that later generational and creative perspective to the existential question — What is the book? — and, with an artist’s perception of her medium of choice, displaces the old companion existential question — Is the end of the book nigh? — with an altogether more interesting one — Where next for the book?
To see where books might be going, we must think of them as objects that have experienced a long history of experimentation and play. Rather than bemoaning the death of books or creating a dichotomy between print and digital media, this guide points to continuities, positioning the book as a changing technology and highlighting the way artists in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have pushed us to rethink and redefine the term. (pp. xiii-xiv)
In The Book, the future is not far from the physical past. Where once we had text on scrolls, now we scroll through text (albeit more vertically than horizontally). Where once human consciousness changed with the invention of the alphabet and writing, now it may be altering with our reading and writing through networked digital devices. Like the many historians before her, Borsuk starts with cuneiform (those wedge-shaped accounting marks on baked clay), hieroglyphics and the invention of the alphabet to set the scene for the advent of the book and its ongoing physicality:
its shape (scroll, accordion, codex)
its material (papyrus, vellum, paper, charcoal or mineral-based watercolor and ink)
its manufacture (scribing, printing by woodblock and movable type, design and typography, illumination and illustration, folding into pages, methods of binding)
its constituent and navigational parts (cover, book block, title page, table of contents, page numbering, index).
But Borsuk reminds us — from Sumer’s clay to Amazon’s Kindle, from Johannes Gutenberg to Project Gutenberg — the book as human artifact exists in a social, political, technological, economic and even ecological context. Who is allowed to make it, how it is transacted, how and where we use it, how we perceive and speak of it — all have affected the physicality of the book object and are reflected in it.
In the first half of The Book, Borsuk steers us through these interdependencies to a turning point. That turning point is where the pinnacle of the book arts — Beatrice Warde‘s and Jan Tschichold‘s vision of the book as a crystalline container of content — and the book’s commodification combine to cause the book’s physicality to disappear because it is so taken for granted, leaving us with “the book as idea”.
With the perception that books are ideas bestowed on readers by an authorial genius whose activity is purely intellectual, the book’s object status vanished for much of the reading public as we raised a glass to happily consume its contents…. Even though innumerable material elements come together to make the book, these features have been naturalized to such a degree that we now hardly notice them, since we have come to see content as the copyrightable, consumable, marketable aspect of the work. (pp. 106-9)
At this turning point — where “the historic relationship between materiality and text is severed” (p. 112) — the second half of The Book introduces book art. It is telling that the longest chapter in the book begins the second half, that it is called “The Book as Idea” and that it comes before any extended engagement with the digital dematerialization of the book. It is a wry pivot: the artistic genius supplants the authorial genius; what the latter takes as invisible background, the former re-makes as self-regarding foreground. As Borsuk shows and her book’s cover neatly demonstrates, works of book art are inevitably self-referential and self-aware.
As such, works of book art
have much to teach us about the changing nature of the book, in part because they highlight the “idea” by paradoxically drawing attention to the “object” we have come to take for granted. They disrupt our treatment of the book as a transparent container for literary and aesthetic “content” and engage its material form in the work’s meaning. (p. 113)
Rather than offer a chronological history of book art to explore what “artists’ books have to teach us about a path forward for the book”, Borsuk offers “flashpoints” that represent “the energies motivating artwork in book form”(p. 117). These “flashpoints” are William Blake, Stéphane Mallarmé, Ed Ruscha and Ulises Carrión. Following these flashpoints, Borsuk organizes the rest of the chapter into “key themes that recur throughout artists’ books of the twentieth century: spatiotemporal play, animation, recombinant structures, ephemerality, silence, and interactivity” (pp. 146-47).
Oddly, Blake as flashpoint does not illuminate these six particular themes. Rather Borsuk notes three other recurrent themes or “energies motivating artwork in book form” that Blake and his work represent: centering or re-centering the production processes on the author/artist; using the book as a sociopolitical and visionary platform; and redefining, developing and challenging the relationship between word and image.
Blake refers to himself as “The Author & Printer W. Blake,” making clear the union of creativity and craft in his work. (p. 121)
Blake’s engagement with the social issues of his day, and his use of book form to respond to child labor, urban squalor, and slavery, established an important trend in both artists’ books and independent publishing—the utility of the book as a means of spreading social justice. (pp. 121, 124)
Blake used his craftsmanship to develop the relationship between word and image (p. 140)
One need not look far among twentieth and twenty-first century book artists for resonance with those themes. That Blakean union of creativity and craft resurfaces in artists such as Ken Campbell (UK), Cathryn Miller (Canada), Pien Rotterdam (Netherlands), Barb Tetenbaum (US) and Xu Bing (China) — some of them even to the point of carving or setting their own type, making their own paper, pulp printing on it themselves or binding the finished work themselves. Vision and sociopolitical observation have risen up in the works of artists such as Doug Beube (Canada), Julie K. Dodd (UK), Basia Irland (US), Diane Jacobs (US), Anselm Kiefer (Germany) and Chris Ruston (UK). Blake’s redefining the relationship of word (or text) to image often reappears in book artists’ abcedaries and their children’s books such as A Dictionary Storyby Sam Winston (UK). As for emulators of Blake in technical innovation, consider the analogue example of Australian Tim Mosely’s works created with his patented pulp printing process, where the “ink” is actually colored pulp, or the digital example of Borsuk’s work Between Page and Screen, where the pages contain no text—only QR codes that, when scanned with a webcam, activate the text’s appearance on the reader’s browser screen.
For her second flashpoint, Borsuk selects another visionary, Stéphane Mallarmé, who like Blake was reacting to his own perceived Satanic mills draining poetry of its spirituality. Mallarmé’s Satanic mills dispensed rigid columns of newsprint to the masses and bland expanses of poetry and fiction set by Linotype machines in the neo-classical Didot font. With his famous visionary dictum — “everything in the world exists in order to end up as a book” (p. 135) — Mallarmé nudged the book toward pure concept and opened its mystical covers to the Dadaists, Surrealists, Futurists, Vorticists, Lettrists, Conceptualists and biblioclasts. With spatiotemporal play — mixing type sizes and fonts, breaking up the line and even breaking the page — Mallarmé used text to evoke image and, in his view, remake the book as a “spiritual instrument”. His post-humous book-length poem Un coup de Dés jamais n’abolira le Hasard (A Throw of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance), published in 1897, embodies that vision and continues to cast its flashpoint light across multiple generations of book artists’ efforts. From Marcel Broodthaers in 1969, we have his homage to Un Coup de Dés. From Jérémie Bennequin in 2014, we have his serial “omage” to Broodthaers’ homage. And, most recently, we have the 2015 new bilingual edition A Roll of the Dice by Jeff Clark and Robert Bononno, for which Borsuk provides a perceptive reading.
Where Mallarmé’s flashpoint enlisted his vision alongside the cry “épater le bourgeois” from Baudelaire and other late nineteenth-century poets, Ed Ruscha’s later flashpoint illuminates a democratic counterpoint, a Zen-like vision and a very different way of changing the relationship of text to image. Ruscha’s self-published photobooks were cheap and distributed outside the gallery-controlled channels of art. As Borsuk shows — directly with Ruscha and indirectly with the many book artists influenced by him — the text is restricted to the book’s title, which interacts with a series of deadpan photos and their layout to deliver a wry, tongue-in-cheek work of book art. Ruscha’s spatiotemporal play manifests itself across the accordion book format and out-of-sequence juxtapositions. Ironically Ruscha’s works now command thousands of dollars per copy, and one has more chance of seeing them in an exhibition than in a roadside stop’s rack of newspapers, magazines and mass-market paperbacks.
Mexico’s Ulises Carrión — polemicist, European bookshop owner, conceptual artist and Borsuk’s fourth choice of flashpoints — is a counter-flashpoint to Ruscha. Where Ruscha reveled in self-publishing commodification, Carrión sneered at the book in its traditional commercial form. Where Ruscha has resisted the label “conceptual artist”, Carrión played the role to the hilt. Where Ruscha’s work has elicited numerous homages (see Various Small Books from MIT Press in 2013) and achieved a high profile, Carrión’s work, much lower in profile, has provided a more compelling range of hooks or influences on which to hang many different manifestations of book art (or bookworks as Carrión preferred). In fact, Borsuk’s six stated key themes or “energies motivating artwork in book form” come from Carrión’s manifestos (pp. 146-47).
The first theme — “spatiotemporal play” — comes from Carrión’s initial definition of the book as a “sequence of spaces”, which Borsuk traces to tunnel books, pop-ups and even large-scale constructs, the latter illustrated by American Alison Knowles‘ inhabitable The Big Book (1968). One more possible future of the book implied by spatiotemporal play manifests itself in Borsuk’s own augmented-reality (AR) works, those of Caitlin Fisher (Canada) and Carla Gannis’ Selfie Drawings (2016), in which portraits on the hardcover book’s pages animate and change when viewed through smartphone or tablet.
Borsuk takes the second theme, that of “animation”, from Carrión’s dictum: “Each of these spaces is perceived at a different moment— a book is also a sequence of moments”. As her several examples illustrate, much book art is cinematic. Borsuk’s exposition of Canadian Michael Snow‘s Cover to Cover (1975) comes closest to reproducing the experience I enjoyed of “watching” that photo bookwork from cover to cover several times at the now closed Corcoran Art Gallery. Borsuk is quick and right to remind that the cinematic future of the book has been with us for a long time, even before the cinema. She bookends her exposition of Snow’s book and and the text animation of American Emmett Williams‘ Sweethearts (1967) on one side with Victorian flip-books and on the other with American Bob Brown‘s 1930s TheReadies (presumably pronounced “reedies” to follow Brown’s comparison of his scrolling one-line texts with the cinema’s “talkies”).
A forgotten modernist, Brown declared the obsolescence of the book, predicted a new form of reading and technology to enable it, an optical projector emitting text into the ether and directly into the eyeball. But what does this tell us about the future of the book? Borsuk notes Craig Saper‘s resurrection of Brown’s Roving Eye Press and how he even put together a website that emulates Brown’s reading machine. In her phrase describing the machine’s effect of “turning readers themselves into a kind of machine for making meaning” (p. 168), Borsuk hints at a future of digitally interactive books, which she takes up in the next section and more extensively in the next chapter. At this point, however, the reader could use a hint of practicality and skepticism. Linear-one-word-at-a-time reading, however accelerated, eliminates affordances of the page, ignores graphics and strains against the combination of peripheral vision and rapid eye movement we unconsciously (even atavistically?) deploy as we “read” whatever we see. Although in the next section Borsuk does bring on more likely examples of the book’s future exploitation of its cinematic affordances (manga, graphic novels and children’s books), this section’s treatment of animation misses the chance to cite actual recent successes like Moonbot Studios‘ The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (2012) and others.
Once into the third theme — “recombinant structure” — it is clear that Borsuk’s chosen Carriónesque themes overlap one another. Like the cinematic, the recombinant structure manifests itself in accordion books. It extends, however, to something more interactive: volvelles (or medieval apps as Erik Kwakkel calls them), interactive pop-ups, harlequinades (flap books) and more. Borsuk uses Raymond Queneau‘s harlequinade Cent mille milliards de poèmes ( One hundred thousand billion poems, 1961), Dieter Roth‘s slot books and works by Carolee Schneemann to illustrate book art’s celebration of the concept. The fact that Queneau’s book is still easily available on Amazon vouches for book art’s predictive qualities. The example of Marc Saporta’s Composition No. 1 (Éditions du Seuil, 1962), “a box of 150 leaves printed on only one side that the reader is instructed to shuffle at the outset”, goes Queneau one better —ironically. In 2011, Visual Editions reissued Composition No. 1 in print and app forms. Alas, the former is out of print, and the latter is no longer available for download.
Borsuk draws her fourth theme — ephemerality — from Carrión’s dictum:
I firmly believe that every book that now exists will eventually disappear. And I see here no reason for lamentation. Like any other living organism, books will grow, multiply, change color, and, eventually, die. At the moment, bookworks represent the final phase of this irrevocable process. Libraries, museums, archives are the perfect cemeteries for books. (p. 145)
To illustrate, Borsuk begins with the physical biblioclasts — those who in Doug Beube‘s phrase are “breaking the codex“. They include Beube himself, Bruce Nauman (see above), Brian Dettmer, Cai Guo-Qiang, Marcel Duchamp, Dieter Roth and Xu Bing. While some of these artists reflect a twenty-first century surge of interest in altered books and book sculpture, “facilitated by the overarching notion that the book is an artifact not long for this world” (pp.82-84), others have taken a more generative archaeological approach — erasing or cutting away a book’s words to reveal another. Examples include Tom Phillips‘ A Humument (1966-2014) and Jonathan Safran Foer‘s Tree of Codes(2010). Phillips’ bookwork serves multiple purposes for Borsuk’s arguments. Not only does it represent the book art of “erasure”, its success across multiple editions, digital formats and presence in art galleries supports her notion of book art’s predictive qualities.
There is a variant on her theme that Borsuk does not illustrate and is worth consideration for her next edition: the self-destructing yet regenerative work of book art. Examples could include American Basia Irland‘s series ICE BOOKS: Ice receding/Books reseeding (2007-), which gives a formidably tangible and new meaning to “publishing as dissemination”; and Canadian Cathryn Miller‘s tail-chasing Recomp (2014); and Argentinian Pequeño Editor‘sMi Papa Estuvo en la Selva (2015), which after reading can be planted to grow into a jacaranda tree.
The last section in this chapter expands on the fifth theme — silence — drawn from Carrión’s statement:
The most beautiful and perfect book in the world is a book with only blank pages, in the same way that the most complete language is that which lies beyond all that the words of a man can say. Every book of the new art is searching after that book of absolute whiteness in the same way that every poem searches for silence. Ulises Carrión, Second Thoughts (1980), pp. 15-16.
Among her several examples are Pamela Paulsrud‘s Touchstones (2007-10), which look like stones but are books sanded-down into stone-like shapes, and Scott McCarney‘s 1988 Never Read(Opposed to Ever Green), a sculpture composed of stacked library discards that narrows as it ascends. Paulsrud’s, McCarney’s, Irland’s and Miller’s works are what Borsuk calls “muted objects”, but they speak and signify nevertheless:
Muted books take on a totemic [metaphoric] significance…. The language of the book as a space of fixity, certainty, and order reminds us that the book has been transmuted into an idea and ideal based on the role it plays in culture…. Defining the book involves consideration for its use as much as its form. (pp. 193-95)
Borsuk is a superb stylist of the sentence and expository structure. The words above, concluding chapter three, launch the reader into Borsuk’s final theme of interactivity and her unifying metaphor: “the book as interface”. Owners of Kindles, buyers from Amazon, perusers of Facebook — we may think we know what’s coming next in The Book and for the book, but Borsuk pushes the reader to contemplate the almost real-time evolutionary change we have seen with ebook devices and apps, audiobooks, the ascension of books to the cloud via Project Gutenberg, the Internet Archive and Google Books, and their descent to Brewster Kahle‘s physical back-up warehouse (to be sited in Canada in light of recent political events) and into flattening ebook sales of late. Chapter 4 is a hard-paced narrative of the book’s digital history from the Memex in Vannevar Bush‘s 1945 classic “As we may think” to T.L. Uglow‘s 100-author blockchain collaboration in 2017, A Universe Explodes from Visual Editions’ series Editions at Play.
Borsuk reminds us:
Our current moment appears to be much like the first centuries of movable type, a cusp. Just as manuscript books persisted into the Gutenberg era, books currently exist in multiple forms simultaneously: as paperbacks, audiobooks, EPUB downloads, and, in rare cases, interactive digital experiences. (p. 244)
Borsuk weaves into this moment of the book’s future a reminder that print affordances such as tactility (or the haptic) and the paratextual (those peripheral elements like page numbers, running heads, ISBNs, etc., that Gary Frost argues “make the book a book”) have been finding fresh ways into the way we read digitally. The touchscreen enables us to read between the lines literally in the novella Pry (2014) by Samantha Gorman and Danny Cannizaro (2014). Breathe (2018) by Kate Pullinger, another work in the Editions at Play series, uses GPS to detect and insert the reader’s location, the time and weather, and when the reader tilts the device or rubs the screen, hidden messages from the story’s (the reader’s?) ghosts appear.
At this point, an earlier passage from The Book should haunt the reader:
Artists’ books continually remind us of the reader’s role in the book by forcing us to reckon with its materiality and, by extension, our own embodiment. Such experiments present a path forward for digital books, which would do well to consider the affordances of their media and the importance of the reader, rather than treating the e-reader as a Warde-ian crystal goblet for the delivery of content. (p. 147)
Borsuk convinces. Art, artifact, concept — wrought by hand and mind, hands and minds — the book is our consensual tool and toy for surviving beyond our DNA. So now what? Metaphor, hints and historical flashpoints may illuminate where we have been, how it shows up in contemporary books and book art and where we may be going with it. In ten or one hundred years though, how will a book publisher become a book publisher? Given the self-publishing capability today’s technology offers, will anyone with a file on a home computer and an internet connection consider himself or herself a book publisher? Borsuk thinks not:
The act of publication — of making public — is central to our cultural definition of the book. Publication might presume some cultural capital: some editorial body has deemed this work worthy of print. It might also presume an audience: a readership clamors for this text. But on a fundamental level, publication presumes the appendage of elements outside the text that help us recognize it as a book, even when published in digital form. (pp. 239-40)
How will future book publishers learn to master the appendage of these elements outside the text (the paratext) that make a book a book “even when published in digital form”? Borsuk’s commentary on the ISBN as one of these elements sheds oblique light on that. She points to the artist Fiona Banner’s uses of the ISBN under her imprint/pseudonym Vanity Press — tattooing one one her lower back, publishing a series Book 1/1(2009) consisting of sixty-five ISBN’d pieces of mirrored cardstock and then collecting them in a photobook entitled ISBN 978-1-907118-99-9 in order to deposit those one-offs with the British Library as required by the UK’s Legal Deposit Libraries Act. What can a future ebook publisher deduce from this?
That the use of a globally unique identifier (GUID) matters.
The backstory of the transition from ISBN10 to ISBN13 and that of ebooks, ISBNs and Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs) might provide interesting fodder. The notion that the book industry was running out of 10-digit ISBNs was a red herring used to convince industry executives to adopt the more widely used format of unique identifiers overseen by GS1. The real reason for moving to ISBN13 — reduced friction in the supply chain — was too hard to sell. About the same time, some major publishers proposed incorporating the ISBN into the DOI for an industry-standard ebook identifier. The DOI offered an existing digital, networked infrastructure already being used by most of the world’s scientific, technical and medical journals publishers. It is an offshoot of the Handle System, established by Robert Kahn. Sad to say, few book publishers adopted the DOI for their ebooks; still fewer used the DOI’s application- and network-friendliness to enable their ebooks to take advantage of the network’s digital affordances.
The DOI shares with the ISBN a feature that Borsuk points out as a limitation to more widespread use: it is not free. A significant percentage of ebooks exist without ISBNs, much less DOIs. If a digital GUID is to be used in ways that help us recognize the identified digital object as a book, future book publishers and their providers of a network ecosystem supporting ebooks, linking with the print ecosystem and reducing friction in the supply chain still have wide gaps in commerce and knowledge to close. Perhaps this particular paratextual element is unnecessary for the book’s digital future, but until those gaps are narrowed, the ecosystem for eBooks will remain balkanized by Amazon, Apple, Google, Lulu and the more digitally literate denizen of the print publishing industry. In the meantime, as Borsuk’s examples throughout her book show, there are boundless other print and digital affordances with which publishers, authors, editors, designers, typographers, developers and readers can play as they continue to shape the book.
The Book‘s publication month, June 2018, is auspicious, being the same for the Getty Center’s exhibition “Artists and Their Books/Books and Their Artists“, June 26 – October 28. The Center and MIT Press would do well to have stacks of The Book on hand. The Book will also serve as an excellent introductory textbook for courses on book art or the history of the book. And by virtue of its style and artist’s perspective, Borsuk’s book will appeal to anyone with even a passing interest in this essential technology of civilization and its growing role as a material and focus of art in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
Rotch Library offers a small but growing collection of contemporary artists’ books. The collection focuses on artists’ books published from the 20th century to the present and explores a range of techniques and technologies employed by the books’ creators.
Yellow Submarine? Monty Python? Heath Robinson? Rube Goldberg? Hieronymus Bosch? Albrecht Durer? Quentin Massys? Whatever the influence, David M. Moyer has created choice work under The Red Howler Press. MIT has chosen well.