Books On Books Collection – Johannes Lencker

Perspectiva Literaria (1567/1972)

Perspectiva Literaria (1557/1972)
Johannes Lencker, Ed. Eberhard Fiebig
Perfect bound paperback. H235 x W197 mm. 60 unnumbered pages. Acquired from Antiquariat Bernard Richter, 11 November 2021.
Photo: Books On Books Collection.

About a dozen institutions hold copies of the 1567 original from which this 1972 facsimile was made. They list Johannes (or Hans) Lencker (German, active by 1551–died 1585) as the author and Matthias Zündt (German, probably ca. 1498–1572) as the artist, meaning engraver. Lencker’s hand lies behind the book’s images and Perspektivische Buchstaben (“Perspectival Letters“), a pen and brown ink and wash print auctioned in 2019.

Perspektivische Buchstaben
Johannes Lencker
Pen and brown ink and wash. 289 x 182 mm. From Mutual Art.

Portrait of the Nuremberg Goldsmith Hans Lencker (1523-1585) and his 9-year old son Elisius the Younger (1570)
Nicolas Neufchâtel (1533-1587)
National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen.

Lencker and Zündt’s achievements with perspective, letters and geometric shapes stand on the shoulders of Leonardo da Vinci (ca. 1490) and Albrecht Dürer (1525), just as theirs stand on those of the rediscoverers of linear perspective: Filippo Brunelleschi (1415), Leon Battista Alberti (1435) and Piero della Francesco (ca.1460). Lencker’s originality lay in designing his letters as solids leaning against geometrical solids and resting on a horizontal shelf. The shelf’s thick, grainy fore edge and the thin parallel line above it, suggesting the shelf’s intersection with a blank wall, set up a field of depth in which the geometrical models’ mass and shape set off the three-dimensionality of the foreshortened letters balanced on and against them. Some letters’ feet and edges seem to enter the viewer’s space, an effect enhanced by a hand-colored version of the original. Sadly the facsimile contains no examples of the hand-colored images.

Perspectiva literaria. Das ist ein clerliche fürreyssung wie man alle Buchstaben des gantzen Alphabets… in die Perspectif einer flachen Ebnen bringen mag (1567)
After drawings by Hans Lencker, engraved by Matthias Zündt
Limp binding in vellum. H307 x W200 mm. 21 of 22 plates.
From Bonhams auction, 19 August 2020.

From 1972 facsimile.

These are not letters for calligraphic or typographic use. They are objects the viewer wants to touch, pick up and play with — something that can also be found in works by Takenobu Igarashi, Ji Lee and Johnson Banks.

Further Reading

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

Boeckeler Erika Mary. 2017. Playful Letters : A Study in Early Modern Alphabetics. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press.

Fahn M. 2019. Christoph, Zacharias und Johannes Lencker: Studien zum Werk einer augsburger Goldschmiedefamilie um 1600 (dissertation). Frankfurt-am-Main: Peter Lang.

Morley, Madeleine. 4 October 2016. “Berlin’s Buchstabenmuseum is the World’s First Collection of 3D Lettering“. Eye on Design(AIGA). Accessed 31 August 2022.

Books On Books – E.N. Ellis

An Alphabet (1985)

An Alphabet (1985)
E.N. Ellis
Terracotta card slipcase, casebound sewn, quarter terracotta cloth and red patterned paper covered boards with white-paper label stamped in red, colored endpapers, Velin d’Arches paper. Slipcase: H138 x W108 mm; Book: H135 x W107 mm, 32 pages. Edition of 75, of which this is #31. Acquired from David Miles Bookseller, 30 September 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist.

An Ashmolean exhibition called “Scene through Wood” (10 August–15 November 2020) featured the work of Edwina Ellis among others in a century overview of wood engraving. Here is the exhibition’s description of Ellis and her work

Born in Australia in 1946, Ellis is a pioneering artist responsible for ‘some of the most technically elaborate engravings ever made’. Her work is held in international collections around the world. Her treatments of mundane objects like pieces of paper are virtuoso achievements, so realistic they take on surreal dimensions.

Less concerned with realism or surreality, her wordless alphabet reveals a sly humor: U for an upside down unicorn and X for a Dodo, and animal anatomy drawing attention to letter parts (for example, tails).

With Ellis and her humor, the traditional tension between text and image in artists’ books falls into reveling with entwining letters and even hiding them with their animal associates and striking the balance just right.

Also on display is her appreciation for predecessors: a hint of Johannes Lencker on the title page while squeezing the tools of the trade in between an armadillo and zebra, and a nod toward Aldus Manutius and his dolphin and anchor trademark.

Distinguished abecedarians and typographers have an interesting history with the black and white coat of arms and title piece atop the masthead of The Times of London. In 1953, it was Reynolds Stone; in 1966, Berthold Wolpe; and in 2006, Edwina Ellis. Look under Further Reading for more.

Further Reading

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

Poster artwork; London’s new architecture, by Edwina Ellis, 1996“. London Transport Museum. Accessed 29 October 2021.

Driver, David. 20 November 2006. “After 221 years, the world’s leading newspaper shows off a fresh face“. The Times. Accessed 29 October 2021.

Stone Reynolds. 1974. An Alphabet. London: Warren Editions.

Hall, Alistair. 29 September 2017. “The Wolpe Collection.” We Made This. Accessed 29 October 2021. Wolpe was also a scholar of typography, One of the works with which he was involved is in the Books On Books Collection: Johann David Steingruber’s Architectonisches Alphabeth (1773/1972).

Books On Books Collection – Bernard Heidsieck

Abécédaire n° 6 clef de sol : été 2007 (2015)

Abécédaire n° 6 clef de sol : été 2007 (2015)
Bernard Heidsieck
Accordion book in slipcase. Closed: H230 x W170 mm. Open: W442 mm. 26 panels. Acquired from Gallix, 17 July 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

In French, wouldn’t an abecedary in the key of G (the fifth note “sol” in the Do-Re-Mi song) have to be associated with the summer (été) and sun (soleil)? That may be the nearest to the fixed association of letters with objects you will find in this work by one of the 1950s creators of Sound Poetry (Poésie sonore).

The collage mixes uppercase and lowercase, serif and sans serif and numerous families of type.

Like beauty and a Rohrshach test, any significance to the collage of each letter is left to the eye of the beholder. Or the ear. Do the positions of the main A, B and C suggest the opening notes of the ABC song?

The confetti-like N’s and n’s look like stemless notes being drawn up and down the staves. The O in the center of the staves surrounded by a rectangle of O’s resembles the sound hole in a cigar box guitar. The P’s are dripping in three dwindling streams of p’s. The Q’s and q’s seem bottled up and rising to spout onto the staves.

The X’s make an X, or perhaps the struts of a drum with a bass drum stick tucked in. Y forms a mosaic banjo. While Z looks like a bird of prey with its wings at the peak of an upbeat, readied for a powerful downbeat and lift off, it could the horned helmet of a nineteenth-century opera soprano.

Other artists in the collection have used the musical stave in their alphabet-related works: Karl Kempton and Jim Avignon & Anja Lutz. But Heidsieck uses the stave like a musical note and the leporello structure like a musical stave itself. Across its panels, the image of the stave sometimes keeps to the same position, sometimes descends or ascends across two or more panels — like musical notes. Sometimes it supports the letters, sometimes it suspends them, sometimes it embraces them, sometimes it embeds itself among them. The letters defy any expectation of behavior of notes fixed to the stave, but they are never independent of it. Rather than asserting synesthesia as Rimbaud or Nabokov do with words, Heidsieck’s work enacts it by conflating the structures and elements of musical notation, the alphabet, the accordion book and painting.

Further Reading

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

Jeremy Adler“. 29 October 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Jim Avignon and Anja Lutz“. 29 October 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Karl Kempton“. 29 October 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Alix, F. 2014. “Bernard Heidsieck, Tapuscrits – Poèmes – Partitions, Biopsies, Passe-partout“. Critique d’art.

Bobillot, J.-P. 1996. Bernard Heidsieck: Poésie action. Paris: J.M. Place.

Bobillot, J.-P. (2003). Trois essais sur la poésie littérale: De Rimbaud à Denis Roche, d’Apollinaire à Bernard Heidsieck. Romainville: Al Dante.

Collet, F. (2009). Bernard Heidsieck plastique. Lyon: Fage.

Froger, G. (2016). “Bernard Heidsieck, Abécédaire n°6 – « clef de sol » – été 2007 “. Critique d’art. Accessed 17 July 2022. 

Kempton, Karl. 2018. A History of Visual Text Arts. Berlin: Apple Pie Editions. Accessed 15 December 2020.

Books On Books Collection – Jim Avignon & Anja Lutz

Neoangin: Das musikalische ABC (2014)

Neoangin: Das musikalische ABC (2014)
Jim Avignon and Anja Lutz
Paperback, saddle stitched, staples. H330 x W240 mm, 60 pages. Acquired from Gallix, 25 July 2022. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Jim Avignon’s website describes Neoangin: Das musikalische ABC (2014) as a “synaesthetic experiment, [on] which Lutz and Avignon have worked together again after almost 15 years, [in which] music, illustration and typography mix in the most cheerful and unsparing way”. For each letter of the alphabet, Avignon has written a song, presented on a double-page spread designed by Lutz and Avignon. The book and performance were prepared and premiered at Typo Berlin 2014.

Songs A through C are “Animal Hypnotist”, “Bad Photoshop” and “City of Strangers”.

The song for Q is “Q Typology of Letters”. The tails of various Qs straddle female, male and epicene symbols and characters as well as emotional quotients and characters.

The songs for X, Y and Z are “X-Files: All Deleted Pages”, “Yeah” and “ZZZZZ”.

Synesthesia of the alphabet can be found elsewhere in the Books On Books Collection: Jean Holabird’s Vladimir Nabokov: AlphaBet in Color (2005) and Le Cadratin’s rendition of Rimbaud’s Voyelles (1871/1883/2012) under Jean-Renaud Dagon. And so can conjunctions of the alphabet and musical notation: Karl Kempton’s playground (2013-14) and Bernard Heidsieck’s Abécédaire n° 6 clef de sol : été 2007 (2015). But Avignon and Lutz have the claim to the only combination of the two and certainly when the musical performance is added.

Further Reading

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

Jeremy Adler“. 29 October 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Le Cadratin“. Books On Books Collection.

Bernard Heidsieck“. 29 October 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Jean Holabird“. 8 February 2022. Books On Books Collection.

William Joyce“. 18 June 2021. Books On Books Collection. For the more innocent end of literary synesthesia where the cold gray-black of numbers gives way to an alphabet of jelly bean colors.

Karl Kempton“. 29 October 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Cohut, Maria. 17 August 2018. “Synesthesia: Hearing colors and tasting sounds“. Medical News Today. Accessed 2 February 2022.

Campen, Crétien van. 26 July 2012. “Bibliography: Synesthesia in Art and Science“. Leonardo. Accessed 2 February 2022.

Cytowic, Richard E. 2018. Synesthesia. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Books On Books Collection – Jeremy Adler

Alphabet Music (2d ed., 1992)

Alphabet Music (2d ed. 1992)
Jeremy Adler
Loose folios. H252 x W354 mm. 7 folios. Edition of 25, of which this is #23. Acquired from Antiquariat Willi Braunert, 2 August 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Clearly the alphabet has held an especially productive place in Jeremy Adler’s imagination.

From 1972 to 1977, he issued A: an envelope magazine of visual poetry. His Alphabox (1973) was the first issue in the Writers Forum Object Series, founded by Bob Cobbing, and he named his Alphabox Press after it. Alphabox consisted of four sheets, printed on one side only, each folded six times and fixed at three edges in total, folding out concertina-style to show twenty-eight panels with one letter of the alphabet per panel. The following years brought Alphabet Music (1st ed., 1974), two alphabet-themed exhibitions (1975-77), Vowel Jubilee (1979), Alphabet (1980), Soapbox (1991) including “Alphabet Spaghetti”, and The Electric Alphabet/Elektrická Abeceda (1996) with Jiří Šindler. What makes most of these works — and particularly Alphabet Music — stand out is their synesthetic suggestion and calculated complexity.

The colophon to Alphabet Music, a separate folio accompanying seven loose folios, says, “Each sheet of Alphabet Music contains 15 letters, either whole, or split up into fragments, except the last, where the sequence breaks off… For a full reading, the sheets should be laid out in sequence… Colour denotes key.”

In Oulipo-esque fashion, that limit appears to be determined by the sum of the first five letters’ numerical position in the alphabet (1+2+3+4+5 = 15, so sheet one has 1 A, 2Bs, 3Cs, 4Ds and 5Es). Sheet two, likewise, has 6Fs, 7 Gs, and 2Hs to make 15 letters. Sheet three continues with the remaining 6 Hs for this eighth letter in the alphabet plus 9 Is for the ninth letter, adding up to 15 letters. Sheet four includes 10 Js and 5 letter Ks, and sheet five continues with the remaining 6 Ks for the eleventh letter plus only 9Ls of the twelfth letter, leaving sheet six to pick up the remaining 3 Ls and 12 Ms of the thirteenth letter. Contrary to the explanation, the seventh and last sheet doesn’t break off the sequence; its 1 M and presumably 14 fractured Ns add up to 15.

But why does the music end there? The letters tumble, leap and cascade like musical notes or expressions on the page. Why not additional sheets? Having come this far with the constraint of 15, perhaps Adler worked out that no sum from any summative series from the start of the alphabet could provide a constraint that would work out “evenly” in the end. There would always be leftover or remainder Zs. Alphabet Music has always to be unfinishable — much like the textual expressions the alphabet can yield.

The first edition of Alphabet Music was published in 1974 in an edition of 130 copies by Adler’s Alphabox Press (London) and was first performed with Paul Burwell, Bob Cobbing, and Bill Griffiths at the Poetry Festival in Münster 1979. Extracts first appeared in Kroklok 3 (December 1972), Poetry Review 63:3 (Autumn 1972), and Typewriter (NY) 3 (1973). Although online searching has not uncovered any recording of this performance, or instructions for performing Alphabet Music, perhaps an impression can be gleaned from this recording of Alphabox. Given the title of Alphabet Music, the visual impression it makes, its expressed intent and its reported performance, Alphabet Music would seem an exemplar of Dick Higgins’ definition of an intermedial work: “a conceptual fusion of scenario, visuality and, often enough, audio elements”.

Further Reading

Jim Avignon & Anja Lutz“. 29 October 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Ernest Fraenkel“. 30 October 2021. Books On Books Collection. Jeremy Adler’s uncle was Ernest Fraenkel, author of Les Dessins Trans-conscients de Stéphane Mallarmé à propos de la Typographie de Un Coup de Dés (1960), also in this collection.

Bernard Heidsieck“. 29 October 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Karl Kempton“. 29 October 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Adler, Jeremy D. 1972. A: an envelope magazine of visual poetry. London: Jeremy Adler.

Adler, Jeremy D. 1973. Alphabox. London: Jeremy Adler.

Adler, Jeremy D. 1979. Vowel Jubilee. Aachen: Fachhochschule, Fachbereich Design.

Higgins, Dick, and Hannah Higgins. 1965 / February 2001. “Intermedia“. Leonardo, Volume 34:1, pp. 49-54.

Scholz, Christian, ed. 1987. Laut­poesie: Eine An­tho­lo­gie. Obermichel­bach: Ger­traud Scholz Ver­lag.

Shutes, Will. (April 2019). Test Centre Books Catalogue 12. Accessed 1 August 2022.

Books On Books Collection – Karl Kempton

26 Voices / January Interlude (2020)

Front cover / Back cover

26 Voices / January Interlude (2020)
Karl Kempton
Sewn booklet. H190 x W177 mm. 28 pages. Edition of 60 unnumbered. Acquired from Derek Beaulieu, 4 January 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist.

Derek Beaulieu deserves a vote of thanks for bringing this work back into print, even if for a limited edition. 26 Voices / January Interlude first appeared under the title Rune 2: 26 voices/ january interlude as number 10 in Robert Caldwell’s Typewriter series, published by Bird in the Bush Press (1980). In the Acknowledgements, Kempton writes that the series “was composed in January, 1978 in 28 days. After the letter K the flow stopped until a dream of L’s form arrived unblocking the flow”.

The series of patterns, each made from an upper case letter of the alphabet typed over and over, range in appearance — some like Amish quilts, some like Byzantine rugs, some like Celtic knots, but like snowflakes, no two alike. Given how some pairs of letters are mirror images of each other (bd, pq) or inverse (bp, dq), you would expect some close affinity in their two patterns, but no. No pairs of those patterns look at all alike. You would also be mistaken to expect a pattern to reflect the letter that constitutes it. Instead, you find one pattern resembling the letter X, but it is made of letter U’s. There are naturally some similarities between patterns at the broadest level — E and N, L and M or R and S — but these have little to do with the letters themselves, and the similarity recedes as details come to the fore or falls into the background with illusory three dimensionality. The shapes are not rune like, but individually and sequentially, they have the associative dream-like qualities of runes.

A close up

Double-page spread B&C

B close up

C close up

Center double-page spread N&O

Double-page spread X&Y

X close up

Y close up

Z close up

Actual runes appear in the following work, similarly in black and white and with similarly illusory three dimensionality. Not technically in the Books On Books Collection, playground (2013-14) can be found online. Surprisingly, it has not been in print.

playground (2013-14)

playground (2013-14)
karl kempton
Online, 78 pages (screens). Accessed 7 August 2022.
Screenshots reproduced with permission.

What an opportunity for collaborators to join with Kempton to produce playground in different editions varying in color (black and white, red and white, green and white, blue and white, etc.), in paper (handmade, watercolor, washi, high gloss, matte, etc.) and in binding (accordion, stab binding, case bound, scroll, etc.). Perhaps such an extravaganza is not in keeping with Kempton’s style and approach over the years, but this playground is such an invitation to play.

Games and sports are depicted together with letters and punctuation marks on platforms made of the musical staff or stave, all of which offer Kempton multiple means of metaphor. FIrst, inked martial arts figures break a K of karate boards. Then, a baseball player bats the dot of a lowercase i into the air. A basketball player jumps and aims at a basket formed of a half note. A golfer chips toward a half-note hole flagged with a pennant bearing the treble clef G. A boxer punches the bowl of a large P.

The images become more worked as the book proceeds. A weightlifter atop a lowercase e lifts a set of weights composed of the umlaut above the e, and the shadow of the image is cast across the stave lines behind the letter. Shadows of gymnasts appear behind an uppercase G, lowercase o and lowercase i.

Animation sequences occur, such as the platform diver leaping from the body of a lowercase i and creating an exclamation-point splash in a pool formed by a circle that widens across the stave as the diver submerges.

Around the same time of playground‘s inception, this combination of letters and musical notation found expression among other artists: for example, Jim Avignon & Anja Lutz in Neoangin: Das musikalische ABC (2014) and Bernard Heidsieck in Abécédaire n° 6 clef de sol : été 2007 (2015). Metaphorically linking textual expression, if not individual letters of the alphabet, with musical scores goes back at least as far as Stéphane Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard (1897) and carries forward into explicit linkage by Michalis Pichler (2009) and Rainier Lericolais (2009) in their works of homage to Un Coup de Dés.

To return to Kempton’s playground, an interlude occurs to associate the alphabet with magnetism, then breaks off to return to the games motif, this time in the form of winter sports. The musical notation motif is still there, but Kempton modifies it with a piano keyboard at both ends of the stave and with manicules fingering the keyboards at both ends while articulating a variation on sign language. Musically and metaphorically, matters become more complex with the introduction of two pairs of staves, pyramids of squares and circles and one manicule using the lowercase i to bring back the magnetism interlude.

From here on, additional motifs are developed, and words and phrases appear: a physics experiment punningly labeled “period piece”, a night game lit by inverted question and exclamation marks, and juxtaposed opposites (“covered/uncovered” and “sunrise/sunset”).

All these motifs, textual and visual puns, and images seem concerned with the development of symbols for interpreting the world and communicating that interpretation. With the appearance on black background of an exclamation mark with an open book inside its point, then a pair of rectangles each suspended by the sentence “volumes lines speak / lines speak volumes”, an animated sequence begins an extended narrative drawing everything together.

After the descending hand squeezes out the yin yang symbol onto the stave from the image of an open book, Kempton joins this theme of interconnected opposite forces with the development of language, which is where the runes come in, held in an unclosed fist. Eventually the book concludes with an open pair of hands, centered on reversed-out stave/keyboards and holding a point of light radiant against the blackness.

Further Reading

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

Jeremy Adler“. 29 October 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Jim Avignon & Anja Lutz“. 29 October 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Bernard Heidsieck“. 29 October 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Kempton, Karl. 2018. A History of Visual Text Arts. Berlin: Apple Pie Editions. Accessed 15 December 2020.

Books On Books Collection – Anja Lutz

Marginalia (2017)

Marginalia (2017)
Anja Lutz
Open back sewn spine with dust jacket 245 x 330 mm. 112 pages. Acquired from The Greenbox Press, 3 August 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist.

In 1964, the Fluxus artist George Brecht created a work called Book, which Michael Werner published in 1972 and which Moritz Küng reintroduced in facsimile in 2017. Also sometimes called This is the cover of the book, it proceeds to label each of the otherwise blank pages with its structural label: “These are the end pages of the book”; “This is the page before the title page of the book that tells you what the title is or was, or is going to be”; “This is the title page”; “This is the other side of the title page …” and so on. Like most self-referential or tautological artists’ books, it has its facetiousness. One page is labeled “This is the page with text on it”; another, “This the page that rustles when you turn it (maybe)”. Individual pages and perhaps the whole will lead to pauses to reflect on the thing being defined by labels and self-reference and how the mental funny-bone is being tickled. In the end, the structure or skeleton of the book as a thing — one thing — has been defined by the naming of parts.

Anja Lutz ‘s Marginalia proceeds differently. Her pages are the pages without text on them — or images, running heads, page numbers, etc. Lutz has taken thirty-four of the books she has designed under her imprint The Greenbox Press and carefully excised from each the text and images layer by layer until the empty spaces define the blank spaces that previously supported the content. But this does not result in the definition of a generic book structure or skeleton.

While Lutz’s technique might be similar to that of other book artists who have altered books by excavating or strip mining them, she is not offering precisely the same invitation that, say, Brian Dettmer offers with Tristram Shandy (2014). Dettmer, too, has excised layers away from an underlying work — the Folio Society’s illustrated edition of Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759-67). While both works invite us to think about the book as thing (or the guts and structure of this thing the book), Dettmer is inviting us to look into the specific underlying work in a different way or consider how the new shape is his response to the underlying work. Sterne’s novel remains present, and we can peer into its crevices and nooks to pick out words, sentences and images — to look into the novel in a new way. Lutz’s surgery does not leave enough of the underlying work to permit a “look in”. We look through instead. Even though she provides a list of the designed books she used, they are not present as Tristram Shandy is.

Each of the books with which Lutz start is, as she puts it, “unique in its choice of format, material, layout, composition, and rhythm”. Despite her nod and the listing of books, this does not mean that she wants us to respond to the results of her surgery with “before and after” comparisons. Rather she invites us to look only at the newly created works. In the end, each has its own structure or skeleton — the struts or bones of the marginal space defined by the negative space of removed content.

But the means of that invitation is this codex entitled Marginalia. With its dust-jacket-like wrapper around the exposed sewn spine, is Marginalia being offered as an artist’s book itself or a catalogue with artist’s book-like features? Beautifully produced, Marginalia is nevertheless not a limited edition. Besides the book, a limited number of collages shown in it are available, each framed floating between two panes of glass. They certainly qualify as works of sculptural book art, and if the artist were to turn her scalpel to copies of Marginalia itself, they too would surely qualify as artist’s books. A collection that held one of the collages, a copy of Marginalia and an altered copy of it would have won a trifecta.

Front and back of the book block, showing the exposed spine.

Neoangin: Das musikalische ABC (2014)

Neoangin: Das musikalische ABC (2014)
Jim Avignon and Anja Lutz
Paperback, saddle stitched, staples. H330 x W240 mm, 60 pages. Acquired from Gallix, 25 July 2022. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

For the entry on Neoangin and Further Reading, see “Jim Avignon & Anja Lutz“. 29 October 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Books On Books Collection – Mikko Kuorinki

The Order of Things:
An Archaeology of the Human Sciences


The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (2011)
Mikko Kuorinki and Michel Foucault
Paperback, perfect bound. H175 x W105 mm. 432 unnumbered pages. Edition of 500. Acquired from XYZ Books, 18 September 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with artist’s permission.

Kuorinki’s alphabetical ordering/disordering of one of the sacred texts for literary theorists — Michel Foucault’s 1967 Les Mots et Les Choses: Une Archéologie des Sciences Humaines in its later English translation — rises above that too-frequent result in book art and conceptual art: the one-trick pony. Kuorinki accomplishes this by his choice of appropriation, his choice to use a translation of it and his choice of the alphabet and book art as technique and material.

The alphabet’s arbitrariness and the codical illusion of order and fixity make them the ideal artistic tools with which to make an artwork responding to Foucault’s sweeping treatise on the contingency of knowledge and language. The hefty, tightly bound block of paper and its cover title evoke the memories of anticipation on first picking up any book promising a vision of the order of things. But this book does not even offer a contextualizing preface, an orderly table of contents, chapters, page numbers or index.

When a text becomes canonical — a sort of common expression — how else to respond to it as a visual artist than “to take the mickey”? Of course, as the book’s bellyband tips us off, Kuorinki’s The Order of Things is a joke. And of course, on further reflection, it is serious.

In creating his artist’s book, did Kuorinki know the term calque — the literal, word-for-word translation that becomes a common expression in the borrowing language as in the English it goes without saying from the French ça va sans dire or the English word-hoard from the Anglo-Saxon wordhord? If so, it goes without saying that his work of book art is a calque itself — a literal, word-for-word translation of une alphabétisation of Foucault’s word-hoard for Les Mots et Les Ordres. And if granted its appropriation of the status of calque as a means of appropriating Foucault’s canonical text, Kuorinki’s The Order of Things is a pony of many different colors and tricks. Or to visit another attraction in the fun fair, hasn’t Kuorinki turned Foucault’s sacred text into an artifactual carnival of mirrors?

Further Reading/Viewing

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

Popper Simon and James Joyce. 2006. Ulysses. Belgium: Die Keure.

Videen Hana. 2022. The Wordhord : Daily Life in Old English. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Bookmark – “Building the Book from the Ancient World to the Present Day: Five Decades of Rare Book School & The Book Arts Press”

In late 2022, the New York’s Grolier Club and Charlottesville’s Rare Book School/The Book Arts Press joined to create this online exhibition.

We have all been taught how to read books. But what can we learn by looking closely at their material forms? This exhibition celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of Rare Book School and the Book Arts Press, which teaches leading curators, librarians, conservators, book historians, and collectors how to analyze books as physical objects, along with the materials and equipment used to make them.

With its catalogue-esque subtitle and its outline in black-and-white body text, the exhibition might slip past the casual scroller. But ignore the eye-candy poster and the all-caps title/subtitle and look closely at that clear and logical outline. Behind each of the links from the outline, the curators Barbara Heritage (Associate Director & Curator of Collections) and Ruth-Ellen St. Onge (Associate Curator & Special Collections Librarian, Rare Book School at the University of Virginia) have provided definitions, explanations and illustrative images that will satisfy novice and expert alike interested in the evolution of the book.

Never mind if the text often reads as a lure to enroll in the Rare Book School. What is here is a companion to any general or specialist course. For the self-taught, it is a companion to any popular book on the subject (for example, Keith Houston’s The Book) or to specialist books (for example, Bamber Gascoigne’s How to Identify Prints).

The final topic in the outline feels like an outlier. Or perhaps only because it is the last. An additional section on book art (not just the book arts) and a section on the digital study and exploration of the book would be welcome.

Here is an archival link to the resource.

Books On Books Collection – Nick Wonham

The Charm of Magpies (2018)

The Charm of Magpies (2018)
Nick Wonham
Casebound, cloth spine and paper over boards with specially printed flyleaves from Roger Grech at his Papercut Bindery. H370 x W260 mm. 27 pages unnumbered. Edition of 160 copies, of which this is #98. Acquired from Incline Press, 1 August 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

A long admiration for magpies has always threatened to crowd the Books On Books Collection beyond this beautiful work from Nick Wonham and Incline Press and the relief sculpture in paper by Calvin Nichols below. But one pair of works will have to be enough for joy.

Calvin Nicholls
Acquired from the artist, 1 September 2016. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

On the Incline Press website, Graham Moss and his team write:

Collective nouns A parliament of magpies has to be a favourite, especially if you’ve heard a group of them cackling together in the Springtime. But we prefer the alternative, a charm of magpies, which certainly suits this poem better. It is one version of a folk rhyme which has many local variants, all superstitiously foretelling the future through random occurrence.

Magpies are often known a thugs in the garden, stealing eggs and chasing off their more delicate rivals. As printers, though, we have a fondness for them because of their “ink on paper” plumage and their latin name pica pica, which recalls the printshop unit of measure.

In the interview under Further Reading, Wonham mentions Kurt Schwitters as a compositional influence, but in color and boldness, Joseph Crawhall‘s, William Nicholson‘s, C.B. Falls‘ and Christopher Wormell‘s alphabet books spring more to mind.

Left to right: Joseph Crawhall (1884), William Nicholson (1898), C.B. Falls (1930) and Christopher Wormell (1995).

As Moss and team point out on their site, the Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes does not include the magpies among the counting rhymes, which is odd with so many versions to be had. Birdspot, formerly British Bird Lovers, favors Nick Wonham’s chosen version. For magpies interested in shiny trivia, the site also provides a link to a BBC television program whose theme song was based on the magpie rhyme. It was “composed and played by the Spencer Davis Group under the alias The Murgatroyd Band, just after Steve Winwood had left to join the supergroup Blind Faith with Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, and Ric Grech”.

And to note just one touch of Nick Wonham’s subtlety, here is the page before the colophon. In all the other images, the magpies are roosting. This one in flight is also the only one in black and white. A brilliant “The End”.

Postscript: In correspondence, the artist has provided further insight on influences and his handling of color:

A note on the colour – the biggest influence on this was Rigby Graham, whose work Graham Moss introduced me to through the Old Stile Press book Kippers and Sawdust. Graham had just printed my first book, which had black and white linocuts, and was trying to inspire me to try colour. It worked; I was blown away by the majestic woodcuts and aspired to create books in a similar vein. Rigby liked an unusually coloured sky, he also liked to position his illustrations through the book so that the colours of prints on adjacent pages contrasted with each other to create dynamism and visual interest, something I have attempted in my book. Correspondence with Books On Books Collection, 9 September 2022.

Wonham also adopts and owns a compositional feature from Rigby Graham’s Kippers and Sawdust: the juxtaposition of the mechanical and the natural. His ownership is particularly apparent in his setting for the rhyme’s seventh verse.

Rigby Graham’s flight formation over a landscape (from 2022 Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association);
Wonham’s surveillance cameras for a perch.

Further Reading

Enid Marx“. 1 August 2022. Books On Books Collection.

One For Sorrow … Magpie Nursery Rhyme“. November 2020. Birdspot. Accessed 5 August 2022.

Campbell, Gordon. July 2008. “Rigby Graham – Doctor of Letters – Artist“. University of Leicester, News and Events. Accessed 10 September 2022.

Nicholls, Calvin. 2005. Paper sculptures, 1995-2005. McHenry, IL: Follett Library Resources.

Opie, Iona Archibald, and Peter Opie. 1951. The Oxford dictionary of nursery rhymes. Oxford: Oxford UP.

Young, Richard. 15 December 2016. “Meet artist Nick Wonham“. Great British Life. Accessed 1 August 2022.