Bookmarking Book Art – Xu Bing

I count myself “magpie lucky”.

Bird Swallowing a Fish, 1913-14 Henri Gaudier-Brzeska Kettle's Yard exhibition, 2015
Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Bird Swallowing a Fish, 1913-14
Kettle’s Yard exhibition, 2015

The Gaudier-Brzeska exhibition, the finale before Kettle’s Yard would close for years, had drawn me to Cambridge. I spent hours there. Exhausted, I was walking back to the train past the Fitzwilliam Museum. I had read somewhere that Xu Bing would have a small solo exhibition at the Fitzwilliam.

from Xu Bing, Book from the Ground: From Point to Point (MIT Press, 2014)
from Xu Bing, Book from the Ground: From Point to Point (MIT Press, 2014)

I own a copy of Xu Bing’s Book from the Ground: From Point to Point – a pictographic account of twenty-four hours in the life of “Mr. Black,” a typical urban white-collar worker – and I had seen Book from the Sky at the Odd Volumes exhibition of Yale’s Allan Chasanoff Collection. So I took a chance.

Book from the Sky, 1991 Xu Bing The Allan Chasanoff Collection, Yale University Museum of Modern Art Photograph taken 31 January 2015
Xu Bing, Book from the Sky, 1991
The Allan Chasanoff Collection, Yale University Art Gallery

After first not recognizing my mispronunciation of Xu Bing and then hunting through some brochures, the attendants at the information desk directed me downstairs to a room of Chinese porcelain just outside the museum shop.  Among the glass cases of blue and white: Bird Language (2003), four brass and copper birdcages, containing toy birds that sing at the clap of your hands.  The mesh of two of the cages are composed of words in the Latin alphabet, the other two in Xu Bing’s faux Chinese calligraphy. According to his site, “The words are questions that people have asked Xu Bing about art, and his answers.”

Xu Bing, Bird Language, 2003 Four brass and copper birdcages containing sound-activated toy birds, the cage mesh composed of English and "square word calligraphy", gravel.
Xu Bing, Bird Language, 2003
Four brass and copper birdcages containing sound-activated toy birds, the cage mesh composed of English and “square word calligraphy”, gravel.
Detail. Xu Bing, Bird Language, 2003 Four brass and copper birdcages containing sound-activated toy birds, the cage mesh composed of English and "square word calligraphy", gravel.
Detail. Xu Bing, Bird Language, 2003

They remind me of Gaudier-Brzeska’s Bird Swallowing a Fish, just a question of timing and the juxtaposition of two artists fascinated with a union of the animistic and mechanistic? Maybe it is these few other degrees of separation: Gaudier-Brzeska’s catalyzing effect on Ezra Pound in 1913, Pound’s creative misunderstanding of Chinese calligraphy, Pound’s disputably indisputable influence on the author of “Sailing to Byzantium” (1927), whose birds are “Of hammered gold and gold enamelling … set upon a golden bough to sing ….”, and now Xu Bing’s toy birds that require the body not the “Soul [to] clap its hands” and let the birds do the singing.

Xu Bing’s Book from the Sky must have been even more impressive in its Metropolitan Museum display (2013/14) than its partial form at the Yale Gallery (2015) as shown above, but that’s part of the pleasure of conceptual art. Whether billowing overhead on scrolls suspended from the ceiling and walls or juxtaposed in their bound book form with their wooden case, these hand-bound deliberately indecipherable, meaningless Chinese calligraphic forms printed from hand-carved wood blocks sing in the mind and soul. But what is that song? We have the impression of meaning, an impression conveyed by graphic gesture and the traditional containers of meaning. But there is a slippage between the impression of meaning and grasp of meaning.  Perhaps that is Xu Bing’s song.

The Khan Academy’s socio-political take on Xu Bing’s Book from the Sky — comparing it to Ai WeiWei’s performance art of smashing a Han dynasty vase — may usefully decipher the song for some. I think it misses a more profound point that Charlie Bennett approaches in his Aesthetica review of Xu Bing’s installation version of Book from the Ground (just closed on 28 February 2016 at the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Arts in Manchester, UK). The interactive mixed-media installation recreated Xu Bing’s art studio, including double-page spreads of the book pinned up on a wall, over-sized blow-ups of the pictographs from the book and two computers for visitors’ use.

Book from the Ground is also the name of Xu’s language-learning software program, which attendees can access on PCs in the gallery space. When words are typed into the tool, they are transformed into Xu’s pictographic language. It recalls a previous work of Xu’s, Introduction to [New] English Calligraphy (1994), which combines installation and interactive art, as visitors of a simulated classroom attempt to write what seems to be traditional Chinese calligraphy. But in the act of copying out the symbols on display, they realise the characters are reconfigured Roman letters that spell out words in legible English. Book from the Ground goes further in questioning transcultural communication; it instigates dialogue across borders only by negating all cultural differences in a de-localised set of coded representations.

With its English and Chinese birdcages, Bird Language, too, echoes Introduction to New English Calligraphy. But in the viewer’s interaction with the latter, the meaning that emerges is not what the viewer “intends” by copying out pretty lines. The experience of “communicated meaning” or “almost communicated meaning” seems accidental or magical. Likewise in Bird Language, we know that the sensor activates the toy bird and suspect a connection between the “magically activated” songs and the word-mesh cages. We suspect meaning.  We know the artist’s hand formed metal letters to form metal words in two different languages.  We suspect that each cage forms a narrative. We suspect there are differences in the narratives from the difference in round and square cage, English and Chinese cage. For some, that experience of suspicion might be frustrating; for others, delighting.

On further reflection, I think Xu Bing’s art challenges that modernist “union” of the animistic and mechanistic. With the sound-activation of digital birdsong and software-translation of words into pictographs, Bird Language and Book from the Ground (the installation) offer the slippery  intersection of the animistic, the mechanistic and the digital. Intersection is not always union, if by “union” we mean equivalence, meaning and clarity. “Made in China” birds are not swallowing or regurgitating brass symbols. Animistic and mechanistic input to digital translation or replication do not always yield union — equivalence, meaning or clarity. But in Xu Bing’s hands and mind — in their intersection with our hands and minds — they yield a suspicion of union. They yield art.

Detail. Xu Bing Bird Language, 2003
Detail. Xu Bing, Bird Language, 2003
Detail. Xu Bing, Bird Language, 2003
Detail. Xu Bing, Bird Language, 2003

Bookmarking Book Art – ABCs

Remember the entry about the alphabet-book film series Mysteries of Vernacular? 

W is for "window". © Myriapod Productions, 2013
W is for “window”.
© Myriapod Productions, 2013

With his “Medieval Letter People“, the marvelously named Eric Kwakkel opens my eyes yet again to the materiality of the letter in books and book art – and prompts this renewed but brief hunt for abecedaries.

The human body is one of the most common objects encountered in art, whether in paintings, sculptures or other objects. Things have not changed much since medieval times, when artists loved to fill their work with human figures – commonly saints or individuals affiliated with biblical stories. Among the great diversity of depictions, there is one type that stands out in that the body is used (or rather, abused) to express something other than itself. These particularly fascinating and often amusing depictions are found on the medieval page. We see people bent and stretched into unnatural shapes in order to change them into something for which the book was created: letters (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1 – British Library, Add. MS 8887 (15th century) – Source
Fig. 1 – British Library, Add. MS 8887 (15th century) – Source

Kwakkel teaches at the University of Leiden, about ten miles from where I am writing. His online essays wear their learning lightly on the screen and bring the past to life, repeatedly connecting it with our not-so-different present thinking. Seeing the date of the letter G above made me wonder, how did we think about the ABCs during the overlap between illuminated scribal books and the printed book? Kwakkel’s entry on the model or pattern books from which scribes and illuminators would learn to form and decorate those introductory letters adds to my curiosity. Even as late as 1530, eighty years after the invention of movable type, these model books were still being created in parchment. For how long do technologies overlap and co-exist?

In 1529, Geoffroy Tory — “born typographic” —  published Champ fleury, more treatise than abecedary, to explain the design of type according to the Golden Mean. As his subtitle declares, Tory was not bending the human form to the letter but rather explaining The Art and Science of the Proportion of the Attic or Ancient Roman Letters, According to the Human Body and Face – finding the ideal shape of the letters in the human form and face.

Geoffroy Tory, Champ fleury; translated into English and annotated by George B. Ives. New York, Grolier, 1927.
Geoffroy Tory, Champ fleury; translated into English and annotated by George B. Ives. New York, Grolier, 1927.

The 1927 translation into English, magnificently designed by Bruce Rogers, one of the preeminent typographers of the twentieth century, can be found online in the University of Delaware’s ABC: An Alphabet Exhibition and even on CD from Octavo Editions, which also includes the original French and so brings the overlap from the born typographic to the born digital – at least in the medium if not the author.

As more recent evidence supporting Kwakkel’s assertion “things have not changed much since medieval times”, I offer up the New York Museum of Modern Arts’ 2012 exhibition “Artists’ Alphabets”, which celebrated book art abecedaries.

John Rieben. A Is the First Letter of the Alphabet. Printer: Screen Print Diversified. 1965-66. Lithograph, 50 x 35" (127 x 88.9 cm). Gift of the designer (not on view) Literacy begins with the alphabet. From the early twentieth century to today, modern artists have used the familiar ABC book, or abecedary, as a point of departure for diverse themes. In this exhibition, each letter of the alphabet is represented by a publication, revealing the abecedary as a learning device enjoyed well beyond childhood. From the Museum of Modern Art exhibition organized by Jennifer Tobias, Reader Services Librarian, MoMA Library. August - October 2012.
John Rieben. A Is the First Letter of the Alphabet. Printer: Screen Print Diversified. 1965-66. Lithograph, 50 x 35″ (127 x 88.9 cm). Gift of the designer (not on view). From the Museum of Modern Art exhibition organized by Jennifer Tobias, Reader Services Librarian, MoMA Library. August – October 2012.

One entry in particular – Stop the Violence: Character Studies by photographer Francois Robert  – contributes to this medieval heritage of the flesh made into word: his letters are formed of human bones.

Tien-Min Liao, a New York-based designer whose work surely deserved a place MoMA’s 2012 exhibition, offers a far gentler and more gestural ABC for my last specimen. Early in 2012 before the MoMA exhibition, she created her alphabet in what she calls a “typographic experiment” to explore the relationships between upper-case letters and lower-case letters and record how they transform into one another.

Inking shapes onto her fingers, hands and arms, she manipulated or “gestured” them into the corresponding shape of an upper-case letter. Then, without removing or redrawing the inked-on shapes, she adjusted her gestures or the perspective on them to change the upper-case letter to a lower-case of the same letter.  As shown in her illustrations below, she even created an italic version of her “Handmade Type”.

Handmade Type: a typography experiment Tian-Min Liao, March 2012
Handmade Type: a typography experiment,Tien-Min Liao, March 2012

The videos she created to show the transformation of each letter are exceptional, delightful. The banner headline on her site runs forward and backward, turning the HANDMADE into handmade and vice versa.

Unlike my other specimens, though, Tien-Min Liao’s abecedary is available only online. Without my imagining it as a book as well – bound in linen, with a metal handclasp closure or in a solander box including ink, brush and a CD with instructions on handmaking my own alphabet and with a Digital Object Identifier to keep up with her work –  the technological overlap has now run backwards or full circle: the flesh become letter, the fleshly letter become digital.

 

Bookmarking Book Art – Wilber Schilling

Henry James, The Beast in the Jungle, 1903. Allen Press, 1963. The copy shown is one of only 15 copies with an extra suite of 16 artist’s proofs, each titled, numbered 9/15 and signed by the artist in a separate portfolio.  Displayed online at Sophie Schneideman – Rare Books and Prints.

In his Books and Vines essays, Chris T. Adamson provides fresh, personal and insightful comments on fine book productions and their content such as Henry James’ “The Beast in the Jungle” from the Lewis and Dorothy Allen Press in 1963, pictured above.  An oenophile, as the title of his series suggests, Adamson also occasionally offers tips on the best wines with which to decant and read these works.

James is a favorite author at Books On Books as is Herman Melville. Indulge the punning coincidence of Adamson’s introducing us to Wilber Schilling’s Indulgence Press and his edition of Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street“.  Schilling’s edition of “Bartleby” – with Suzanne Moore’s original hand lettering of Bartleby’s classic statement “I would prefer not to” first appearing fully legible then becoming larger until it literally falls off the bottom of the final page – was an early career statement of an interest in more than fine press work but in book art as well.

Herman Melville, Bartleby the Scrivener: A Tale of Wall Street, 1853. Indulgence Press, 1995.
Herman Melville, Bartleby the Scrivener: A Tale of Wall Street, 1853. Indulgence Press, 1995.

Consider Schilling’s Half-Life/Full-Life and its binding a variation on the accordion/flag structure of Hedi Kyle and Claire Van Vliet.  The complexity of the form marries well with that of the intertwining, interleaving text and photos along the timelines of the Doomsday Clock and global warming.

Half Life/Full Life Wilber Schilling, 2009 ISBN: 0-9742191-5-0 Cover
Half Life/Full Life
Wilber Schilling, 2009
ISBN: 0-9742191-5-0
Cover

Schilling’s photography in Half Life/Full Life speaks to the importance of that craft in his overall portfolio. His photos of aging, decayed and unbound books are haunting and remind me of the found art of M.L Van Nice.

Natural History Multi-layered gum bichromate print 30" x 22" on Rives BFK 2004 Copyright © Wilber H. Schilling
Natural History
Multi-layered gum bichromate print
30″ x 22″ on Rives BFK
2004
Copyright © Wilber H. Schilling

Schilling has collaborated with Thomas Rose (visual artist and professor at the University of Minnesota),   Michael Dennis Browne (poet and librettist), Rick Moody (author of The Ice Storm) and Patricia Hampl (MacArthur Fellow poet and novelist). He has collaborated with Daniel E. Kelm (book artist, founder of the Garage Annex School for Book Arts and a collaborator with Suzanne Moore).

Given the influence of Marcel Duchamp and Joseph Cornell on works such as Arthur & Barbara (Arthur Danto and Barbara Westman) or Surplus Value Books: Catalog Number 13, you might say that Schilling has attempted to collaborate with them as well. The danger in that, of course, is highly derivative artwork. That early-career whiff of genius in commissioning the now famous calligrapher Suzanne Moore to hand letter “I would prefer not to” and spreading it in ever larger size across the pages might be what takes Schilling’s work beyond the derivative. His work is worth examining with that anticipation.

 

Bookmarking Book Art – New England Guild of Book Workers

For 2014-15, the New England Guild of Book Workers have organized a traveling exhibition: Geographies: New England Book Workits itinerary covering each of the 6 New England states.  Last year, the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), the Wishcamper Center at the University of Southern Maine and the Bailey Howe Library at the University of Vermont hosted it. This year, the show has appeared at Williams College Library and is scheduled for Dartmouth College Library and the Creative Arts Workshop in New Haven, CT. Criss-crossing geographical boundaries as well as those of book art and the book arts, Geographies calls to mind the last line of Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Map“:

More delicate than the historians’ are the map-makers’ colors.

Or, in this case:

More delicate than the historians’ are the [book-artists’] colors. 

Although born in Nova Scotia, Elizabeth Bishop grew up as a New Englander in Massachusetts with her paternal grandparents. As a far-traveller and visual artist as well as poet, she would have enjoyed this exhibition and found it fitting if it had included a broadside of “The Map”.

Nevertheless, what a range of “colors” from all the New England states and beyond – from historic to modern, from fine and design bindings to traditional and creative bookbinding, from artist books to calligraphic manuscripts, from masters to apprentices and from object to narrative. The latter finds a wintry exemplar in Snow Bound in September: A Re-Imagining by Laurie Whitehill Chong, retired Special Collections librarian and curator of Artists’ Books at RISD.

Snow Bound in September: A Re-Imagining © Laurie Whitehill Chong Artist Book, Text in Book Antiqua letterpress printed on Rives Lightweight paper using polymer plates, with 13 fold-out two and three-color linocut illustrations. Folded map in inside back cover pocket, letterpress printed using polymer plate and linocut; edition of 25 15.24 x 8.89 x 2.54 cm
Snow Bound in September: A Re-Imagining © Laurie Whitehill Chong
Cloth covered binding with flap and front pocket, smythe sewn.
Text in book Antiqua letterpress printed on Rives Lightweight paper using polymer plates, with 13 fold-out
two and three-color linocut illustrations. Folded map in inside back cover pocket, letterpress
printed using polymer plate and linocut. 
15.24 x 8.89 x 2.54 cm 
Edition of 25

The artist made this book the same size as her grandfather’s Appalachian Mountain Club hiking guide. Snow Bound is an invented ancestral narrative, in which the artist uses a surviving photograph and her grandfather’s notes about being stranded with his wife for five days on Mount Washington by a hurricane-driven snowstorm in September 1915 to re-imagine the ordeal from her grandmother’s perspective. Note the slotted front cover into which the flap extending from the back cover fits to keep the book closed, snug against the elements.

Snow Bound in September: A Re-Imagining © Laurie Whitehill Chong
Snow Bound in September: A Re-Imagining © Laurie Whitehill Chong

Julie B. Stackpole’s creative re-binding of Samuel Eliot Morison’s Spring Tides takes us from the New England mountains to the shore as can be seen from the layered binding.

Spring Tides by Samuel Eliot Morison Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Co., 1965. Julia B. Stackpole, Design binding  21.8 x1 5.0 x 1.6 cm  January 2014
Spring Tides
by Samuel Eliot Morison
Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Co., 1965.
Julia B. Stackpole, Design binding
21.8 x1 5.0 x 1.6 cm
January 2014

In Stackpole’s words:

The traditional tight-joint binding is covered in navy blue Niger goatskin with waves in the lower parts created by paring before covering. Cut-outs in the onlays of the lighter blue leather of the water help it transition from the dark of the navy to the sky’s azure. Onlays of other leathers create the forested landscape of the shoreline and hills. These blues were chosen because the only blue leather in a large enough piece to cover the whole binding was the dark navy, while I only had scraps of the water and sky’s blue. The endpapers are a Cockerell marbled paper over-painted with blue, with leather hinges.

Pictures of the works in the catalog (and others not) can also be found at the Williams College Flickr site (for now). I say “for now” because they will be  pushed downstream inevitably in the way of today’s digital flow.  They may even disappear; although as Matthew Kirschenbaum has explained in Mechanisms, something digitally forensic will remain. That boundary of the tangible and the digital, the haptic and the virtual, is only lightly but evocatively touched in this collection.

When Julia Stackpole writes in the online catalog about that Cockerell marbled paper that it “felt to me like the waves and the shoals and ledges of Maine waters”, you long to lay hands on the Spring Tide. Anne McClain’s Place includes photographs taken digitally of places on Maine’s midcoast that have been special to her her “entire life and will continue to be a constant as other things change and move on”. What is captured digitally is reproduced physically to fix those places that will “continue to be a constant”. But places do change.

Anne McClain, Place Drum Leaf Binding  19 x 15 x 1.8 cm  February 2014
Anne McClain, Place
Drum Leaf Binding
19 x 15 x 1.8 cm
February 2014

Rutherford Witthus’ contribution touches the boundary between the digital and physical most directly. His artist’s book is entitled 28 Fort Square: What Charles Olson wrote on the window casings of his apartment in Gloucester, Massachusetts, of which there are eleven copies. 

Rutherford Witthus, 28 Fort Square: What Charles Olson wrote on the window casings of his apartment in Gloucester, Massachusetts, 2014
Rutherford Witthus, 28 Fort Square: What Charles Olson wrote on the window
casings of his apartment in Gloucester, Massachusetts, 2014

In these 11 copies, Witthus digitally reconstructs the windows of Charles Olson’s apartment at 28 Fort Square where he wrote his main work, The Maximus Poems, and covered the window casings with meteorological data. The artist book “presents for the first time all of the images of the window casings”.

Rutherford Witthus 28 Fort Square: What Charles Olson wrote on the window casings of his apartment in Gloucester, Massachusetts Artist book Edition of 11 42 x 28 x 2.5 cm 2014
Rutherford Witthus
28 Fort Square: What Charles Olson wrote on the window casings of his apartment in Gloucester, Massachusetts
Artist book
42 x 28 x 2.5 cm
2014
Edition of 11

 

Athena Moore, chapter secretary of The New England Guild of Bookworkers, produced the catalog for this itinerant exhibition organized by Stephanie Wolff, Exhibitions Coordinator and Todd Pattison, Chapter Chair. If you have the chance to see the exhibition in its next venue, take it.

Just as Elizabeth Bishop questioned the depiction of the boundary between land and water on her map – “Shadows or are they shallows at its edges …”, you will find the juxtaposition of these works reminds you that the boundary between book art and the book arts can be shadowy or shallow indeed.

 

 

Bookmark – Margins and making objects that live forever

Craig Mod modulates on margins here in Medium (18 August 2014).

Text printed on the best paper with no margins or unbalanced margins is vile. Or, if we’re being empathetic, sad. (For no book begins life aspiring to bad margins.) I know that sounds harsh. But a book with poorly set margins is as useful as a hammer with a one inch handle. Sure, you can pound nails, but it ain’t fun. A book with crass margins will never make a reader comfortable. Such a book feels cramped, claustrophobic. It doesn’t draw you in, certainly doesn’t make you want to spend time with the text….

On the other hand, cheap, rough paper with a beautifully set textblock hanging just so on the page makes those in the know, smile (and those who don’t, feel welcome). It says: We may not have had the money to print on better paper, but man, we give a shit. Giving a shit does not require capital, simply attention and humility and diligence. Giving a shit is the best feeling you can imbue craft with. Giving a shit in book design manifests in many ways, but it manifests perhaps most in the margins.

Reiterating his point by analogy, Mod channels the late designer George Nakashima:  “in order to produce a fine piece of furniture, the spirit of the tree must live on. You give it a second life … You can make an object that lives forever, if used properly.

For the fundamentals underlying Mod’s scatologically and poetically emphatic truth, you cannot find much better than Alexander Ross Charchar’s essay on the craft and calculations of “page canons” by Villard de Honnecourt (13th century!) , J.A. Van de Graaf, Raúl Rosarivo and Jan Tschichold:  “The Secret Law of Page Harmony“. Most delightful is Charchar’s dynamic diagram “The Dance of the Four Canons” illustrating the workings of each page canon:

Copyright 2010, Alexander Ross Charchar.

The Further Reading suggested by Charchar and his commenters is excellent, and I would only add Marshall Lee’s Bookmaking. For those who are irritated with the imposition of the print paradigm on the digital reading experience, there is a useful pointer to applying the page canons to website design that will cause a rethink of that irritation and equally make the imposers think harder as well.

For those who care about the book, what it is evolving into and the role that heart, mind and design still play in that process, read Charchar’s”The Secret Law of Page Harmony” –again and again.

Bookmarking Book Art — Francisca Prieto (I)

Trained at Central St Martins, Francisca Prieto is a Chilean artist living and working in London where her work has featured in collections at the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Tate Gallery and the British Library among others. From 29 May through 21 June, her solo exhibition Underlined runs at Jagged Art, off Marylebone High Street in London.

Underlined extends — or rather deepens — her series Between Folds, which according to her artist’s statement “explores pages of rare and damaged books or forgotten ephemera, emphasising the beauty and detail of print that would otherwise go unseen.” Prieto’s grounding in typographical design drives Between Folds as is obvious from the letters created from the pages of Grays Anatomy and Bartlett’s British Scenery.Between Folds - Anatomy - Letter M

Between Folds - British Scenery - Letter O

 

Detail of Between Folds/Anatomy
Detail of Between Folds/Anatomy

The precision of the folds in Prieto’s work becomes even more evident in the eight compositions of Underlined, which is fitting as she now delves through source material past the letterforms and down to the line. Look how the folds align and intersect with the lines of the source material in the detail below.

Detail - Composition No. 1 © Francisca Prieto, 2014
Detail – Composition No. 1: A Diagonal Line
© Francisca Prieto, 2014

The source material in this case is The Wanderers Cricket Club Logbook, whose red lines strike vertically down the diagonal, the folds of the work “playing with direction and motion, as the ball of the game dictated each log of play”.  Prieto’s art is not only playful but thought-provoking, the cause of a sudden intake of breath from delight or even shock — what we most seek in our experiences of art. Do you not draw in your breath as you read between the folds and past the title and shape of Composition No. 2: One Horizontal Line to see that it is the line drawn under the life from whose last will and testament Prieto has created this work?

This dialogue between the parts and the whole to which Prieto’s craft and vision continuously draw the eye, heart and mind elevate her work and its audience.

Additional commentary on her work can be found at www.blankproject.co.uk.

 

 

 

Bookmark – Phoenix in an Elegy for Paper?

fahrenheit-451In another elegy for paper, Mark Fox in Designers & Books leaps from the famous conversation between Ray Bradbury’s characters Professor Faber and Fireman Montag in Fahrenheit 451 that begins, “Do you know why books such as this are so important? Because they have quality. And what does the word quality mean?” to Jaron Lanier’s assertion that the remix culture is responsible for “the digital flattening of expression into a global mush.” Fox sets this against Professor Faber’s elaboration of what he means by “quality”: 

To me it means texture. This book has pores. It has features. This book can go under the microscope. You’d find life under the glass, streaming past in infinite profusion. The more pores, the more truthfully recorded details of life per square inch you can get on a sheet of paper, the more ‘literary’ you are. That’s my definition, anyway. Telling detailFresh detail. The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies.

Consider, however, this conversation between the artists Stefan Saalfeld and Gerhard Mantz published in the February 2013 issue of the Lumas Gallery Magazine, “The Liberation of Art“:

Saalfeld – … I’m interested in the changes that take place over time. In nature, the old sits alongside the new. There are always tensions, and injuries.

Mantz – That is exactly what characterises your images. This breaking apart and breaking through as if the colours were peeling off to reveal fragments of completely different pictures behind.

Saalfeld – Gaps appear through these breaks and dislocations. This allows something different to emerge from the image. There is always an unexplained story behind the story, another version. I no longer believe in a single, individual image.

Here is a healthy “anxiety of influence” that overcomes qualms about tradition, builds upon it and, yes, perhaps devours it as if it were seed corn. Its analogs in book publishing can be found in the work of Tom Abba, Duncan Speakman and others associated with WeAreCircumstance or in the works of Jonathan Safran Foer and others published by Visual Editions, all of which represent an intersection of narrative and the plastic visual arts.

Paper is not dead, digital is not still-born, creativity is a phoenix.

These Pages Fall Like AshThese Pages Fall Like Ash, Tom Abba

Short Films for YouShort Films for You, Tom Abba, Els Viaene, Reinout Hiel and Yoko Ishiguro

Foer2Tree of Codes, Jonathan Safran Foer

Composition-1Composition No. 1, Marc Saporta

WhereYouAreWhere You Are, Visual Editions

Bookmarking Book Art – A Good Book

What is “A Good Book“?

A hard question? A trick question? Yes and no. Since 2011, Bernd Kuchenbeiser, the Munich-based book designer, has been attempting an answer. He began by posting entries to a database on Twitter. With the demise of Twitter’s gallery function, Kuchenbeiser migrated the diary-like collection of photos and comments to A Good Book site with help from Simon Zirkunow. Below is a screenshot of part of the 232nd entry.

A Good Book
Screenshot of Méthodes, cover designed by Manuela Dechamps Otamendi, Entry #232 in A Good Book.

Until recently, the entries were Kuchenbeiser’s alone. The entries started on a daily basis, but as with many diary projects, the execution flagged. With 349 entries of his own (plus 3 from friends), he is now inviting entries from far and wide. Notice “Submit” in the upper righthand corner of the screenshot. Behind it lie the instructions and requirements for submission. Kuchenbeiser’s own entries are often brief, but his choices and comments are interesting because Kuchenbeiser and his oeuvre are interesting. See Michael Cina’s interview with him in The New Graphic (15 August 2011). For this venture to reward constant revisiting beyond that interest, however, Kuchenbeiser wisely holds potential contributors to the following standard:

Here’s what you need in order to submit a book:

– A short description of your book or the aspect that makes it ‘good’. From 140 characters to a maximum of 560, including spaces.

– The bibliographic details: author, title, year of publication, publisher, designer (if known). A questionnaire is already set up within the email that opens when you click ‘Submit now’.

– One to five photos of your book (at least 1400 pixels wide for landscape format and 1200 pixels high for portrait format).

Think of Pinterest or Flickr with serious feeling and intellectual rigor behind them. Kuchenbeiser’s design work and his own words exude that feeling:

Books have personalities. They can be our companions and friends. A good book doesn’t deserve to languish on a bookshelf; it wants to be opened, read, savoured, displayed, recommended. That’s why this website exists.

This site is like a message in a bottle hoping to be discovered. It will work only if it manages to generate communication.

The London Centre for Book Arts must have picked up the bottle from one of the Thames overswellings last week and placed a notice on its home page about the website. Although Kuchenbeiser does not promote it as such, if A Good Book thrives, it could generate a rich database worth semantic analysis for the book art and book arts community. All materials on A Good Book are being made available for noncommercial and educational use only.

Bernd Kuchenbeiser Projects, Schwanthalerstraße 7780336 München (Germany)

Bookmarking Book Art – Helen Yentus

On Such a Full Sea Chang-rae Lee credit: Riverhead Books
On Such a Full Sea
Chang-rae Lee
credit: Riverhead Books

“This limited, numbered edition of Chang-rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea will be available on January 7th, 2014. Riverhead art director Helen Yentus and members of the MakerBot team designed the slipcase, and 200 of them will be made with the MakerBot® Replicator® 2 Desktop 3D Printer with MakerBot PLA filament, a bioplastic made of corn, fabricated by MakerBot in Brooklyn, New York. Each copy is signed and numbered by the author.” From www.riverheadbooks.com  Is this the first 3D-printed slipcase?  Yea or nay, this effort is clever.  As the book slips from its case, the words of the title on the slipcase are completed. The design will surely make purchasers give “pride of space” to this book on their bookshelves and renewed sense to the word “outstanding”.

Additional cover design and art direction by Helen Yentus can be viewed here.

Related articles:

Lindsay Ballant, “Helen Yentus”, Print, 1 June 2007, accessed 5 January 2014: http://www.printmag.com/article/nva_2007_helen_yentus/

Todd Halterman, “Print Is Not Dead – Pulitzer Prize Hopeful Wraps His Novel In A 3D Printed Slipcase”, 3D Printer World, 12 December 2013, accessed 5 January 2014: http://www.3dprinterworld.com/article/print-not-dead-pulitzer-prize-hopeful-wraps-his-novel-3d-printed-slipcase

“Cover Designer: Helen Yentus”, DecorWrite, 1o February 2011, accessed 5 January 2014: http://www.decorwrite.com/?p=458

“Helen Yentus”, The Book Cover Archive, nd, accessed 5 January 2014: http://bookcoverarchive.com/Helen_Yentus

“MakerBot Creates First-of-Its-Kind 3D Printed Hardcover Book Slipcase for Award—Winning and New York Times—Bestselling Author Chang-rae Lee”, press release, 10 December 2013, accessed 5 January 2014: http://investors.stratasys.com/releasedetail.cfm?releaseid=812980

“Riverhead Goes 3D for Chang-rae Lee”, Publishers Weekly, 11 December 2013, accessed 5 January 2014: http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/publisher-news/article/60331-riverhead-goes-3d-for-chang-rae-lee.html

Bookmark – Bodoni’s Bicentennial

English: Comparative Bauer Bodoni versus Bodon...
English: Comparative Bauer Bodoni versus Bodoni Català: Comparativa Bauer Bodoni vs Bodoni (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the passing of a great contributor to the linked histories of the book and typography:  Giambattista Bodoni (1740-1813).  Bodoni among others such as Fournier and Didot established the “Modern” fonts, typefaces characterized by the extreme contrast of their thick and thin strokes, delicate and sharp serifs and a chilly sparkling engraving-like quality heightened by generous leading and made possible by improvements in 18th and 19th century typecasting and manufacture of ink and paper.  Bodoni planned and formed the royal printing house for the Duke of Parma in the Palazzo della Pilotta, where the Museo Bodoniano resides today.  Associated with Pope Sixtus V, Carlos III of Spain and the Duke of Parma, Bodoni became one of the most celebrated printers in Europe.

View of Palazzo della Pilotta. The rebuilt par...
View of Palazzo della Pilotta. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although Bodoni’s fame in his lifetime was of a piece with that of the Romantic figures Chopin, Liszt, Byron, Goethe and Shelley, his output was Neoclassical with editions of Homer, Catullus, Virgil, Horace and the English poets Thomas Gray and James Thomson.  His two-volume Manuale Tipografico (1788, 1818) is a meticulous monument of typographic art with more than 14o sets of roman and italic typefaces, a wide selection of decorative designs and symbols and alphabets from the Greek, Hebrew, Russian, Arabic, Phoenician, Armenian, Coptic, and Tibetan languages.  The 1818 two-volume edition can be viewed online at the Bibiloteca Bodoni.

Portrait of Bodoni (c. 1805-1806), by Giuseppe...
Portrait of Bodoni (c. 1805-1806), by Giuseppe Lucatelli. Museo Glauco Lombardi. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This flowering of typography and design – reflective of the age and technical developments of book printing – prompts a thought toward the impact of today’s technology – screen display, ereaders, XML and HTML, cascading style sheets, etc. – not only on type and design but their purpose as well.

“The type and pages beg to be admired – that is looked at – which is well and good, except that looking and reading are quite different, actually contradictory, acts…. To look at things, we either disengage and let them flow by on their own or we stop them in their tracks.  To look we hold our breath or (in the worst of cases) pant.  To read we breathe.”  So say Warren Chappell and Robert Bringhurst in their critical comments on Bodoni and the Moderns. (A Short History of the Printed Word, pp. 173-74; 1970,1999.)

Perhaps we are still in the age of e-incunabula and have not reached the point where type and design on the screen beg to be admired.   The improvements delivered by Readmill and Readability have been welcome for their contribution to ease of reading.  It may be perverse to wish for developments that may interfere as Chappell and Bringhurst assert the Modern faces interfere with reading.  But that assumes that they are right in their hieratic statement “To read we breathe.”   Might it be as legitimate to assert “To read we click.  To read we link.  To read we dim or brighten.  To read we tilt from portrait to landscape causing the page to reflow.”?  

Will High Definition play the role that improved paper surfaces played to allow those thinner strokes and delicate serifs in the 18th and 19th centuries?  And if it does, what on-screen design, comparable to Bodoni’s increased leading, will perform the same heightening effect for new faces and design that beg to be admired?  

Bodoni Ornaments
Bodoni Ornaments (Photo credit: Bene*)
For more on the subject of Bodoni, see “Biblioteca Bodoni Launched on Bicentennial Anniversary of Giambattista Bodoni’s Death” by Yves Peters, The Font Feed, 11 December 2013.