Books On Books Collection – Marlene MacCallum and the “Shadow Cantos”

Shadow Canto Series (2018-2019)
Marlene MacCallum

Shadow Canto One: Still Life (2018)

Shadow Canto One: Still Life (2018)
Marlene MacCallum.
Handbound artist’s book with slipcase, pamphlet binding with gatefold structure, digital pigment print on Aya. H237 × 175 × 10 mm (closed dimensions). Edition of 15, of which this is #3. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Opening the book’s gatefold. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Leafing through the book. Top view of binding and folds. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

According to the artist, Canto One had its dual inception in the death of a cedar waxwing at one of her windows and an image from Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire (1962), a novel consisting of the fictitious poet John Shade’s 999-line poem of the same title: “I was the shadow of the waxwing slain by the false azure in the windowpane…”. While MacCallum’s Canto One appropriates and overwrites Nabokov’s text and, in her images and constructions, alludes to Shade’s imagery of the viewer seeing reflections and doublings of the interior and exterior spaces, the work stands entirely on its own but, in light of what follows, also as the opening movement to what feels like a long poem or symphony.

Shadow Canto Two: Graffiti (2018)

Shadow Canto Two: Graffiti (2018)
Marlene MacCallum
Hand bound artist’s book with slipcase, accordion binding with hard covers, digital pigment print on Aya (bird images) and Niyodo (music images), slipcase constructed of stained Tyvek wrapped around eterno boards, H237 × W160 × D14 mm (closed). Edition of 15, of which this is #3. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Unfolding side one of Canto Two. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Canto Two layers images of a dead bird lying on the ground with photos of anonymous graffiti art depicting birds in flight against the concrete walls of an underpass in Rochester, NY. The sense of counterpoint raised by the images carries over to the reverse side of the accordion structure.

Unfolding side two of Canto Two. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Between a single bird image across the two end panels, MacCallum has overlaid further bird imagery on musical notations from Bach, Mendelssohn and Satie that are merged into composite images across the interior accordion panels. The way the images of birds, ground and wall, and musical notation dance with one another foreshadows another intricate play in Canto Three.

Shadow: Incidental Music (2019)

Shadow: Incidental Music (2019)
Marlene MacCallum.
Hand bound book work with image accordion suspended over text accordion. Images are digital pigment prints on Digital Aya, hand-set letterpress poem and blind embossed soundscape letterpress. Case bound with digital pigment print covers. Dimensions: H237 × W159 × D11 mm (closed), H236 × W30o mm (page spread). Edition of 16, of which this is #3. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Just as much as do the images, the structure of this work’s binding amazes — repeatedly. The top views show its intricacy but only partially.

Circling around the standing view from left to right, the view of a room unfolds and a dancer’s shadow appears and disappears.

After the standing view concludes and the horizontal view is to be indulged, yet another structural surprise comes from the printed text at the foot of the panels behind the folds and still another surprise at the head of those panels: single lines of embossed text evoking sound. Together, the images on the exterior panels and the printed and embossed texts on the interior appear to be reminders to look not only in the corners but to the floor and ceiling of the room as well.

With MacCallum’s other works (see Further Reading), the Shadow Cantos put her work in the same class as Michael Snow’s Cover to Cover (1975) and Abelardo Morrell’s A Book of Books (2002). If Shadow Cantos is an open series, a fourth volume has high hurdles to clear, which are perhaps raised even higher by the next work.

Shadows Cast and Present (2019)

The artist gratefully acknowledges the Canada Council for the Arts Digital Originals grant program for funding this project and the CBC/Radio Canada for partnering to provide a national platform for this new work.

Given the conceptual and synesthetic play within the three cantos, this digital re-imagination of them follows on with a natural ease. With the assistance of Matthew Hollett and David Morrish, the artist has created an online variation of the long-poem format. Images, text, video and soundscapes come together in an interactive presentation of shadows cast in domestic spaces and by daily activities. Click on the image above or here to view.

Further Reading

Marlene MacCallum“, Books On Books Collection, 2 September 2019.

Levergneux, Louise. “New Year, New Work“, Half-Measure Studio Blog, 5 January 2021.

Books On Books Collection – Charles Agel

Why do some books of photography lodge themselves in our minds as book art or artist’s books? Ed Ruscha’s books have done that, so much so that it seems almost odd to call them photobooks, although their deadpan presentation as such is essential to their artistic status. Why do works like Sean Kernan’s The Secret Books and Abelardo Morell’s A Book of Books defy relegation to the coffee table?

Published by the Visual Studies Workshop (1998)

In juxtaposing his photos with text from John Lloyd Stephens, the 19th century explorer of Mesoamerica, Charles Agel positions Monuments to the Industrial Revolution (1998) as more than a book of photos.  Quite a different conceptualizing strategy from the typologizing pursued from the 1970s onward by Bernd and Hilla Becher, mentioned by photographer John Pfahl in his introduction to Monuments.

Seeking the differences and similarities in strategies of composing the works as well as those of composing the photos adds to the appreciation and understanding of them.

Bookmarking Book Art – “Previously on …”

W is for %22window%22
W is for “window”.
© Myriapod Productions, 2013

“Previously on …”  Say the phrase and most listeners’ brains switch to a favorite channel and television series. It is part of our vernacular. It instantly evokes a compound state of remembering and anticipating.

Myriapod Productions embodies that state of mind in its animated alphabet-book film series Mysteries of Vernacular. Each book for each letter is an old yellowed or gray hardback whose pages turn by themselves to reveal silhouette figures that glide across the pages, accordioned illustrations from other works or carvings reminiscent of the book sculptures of Doug Beube, Brian Dettmer and Odires Mlászho – with each vernacular word and definition emerging from an old library card pocket or from beneath a flap or cutout on the page.  

The treatment of the letter W is particularly apropos to this compound artwork.  W is for “window”, which we are informed by Graham James (the narrator) is an example of the Old Norse technique of word invention called kenning. Kenning is the joining of two things (or rather two words for two different things) to designate a third thing: such as whale + road = whale-road = sea. Window is originally an Old Norse kenning word: windauga = vind (wind) + auga (eye). The book in the animation is Mikhail Sholokhov‘s The Don Flows Home to the Sea, a Nobel-prize-winning window on the life of the Don Cossacks during the Russian Revolution.

The book for the letter A (for “assassin”) is Karl Menninger‘s Love against Hate, whose theme of love’s shaping our instinctual aggressiveness suggests an ironic bent and wry, punning sense of humor in Jessica Oreck and her Myriapod team. The letter C for “clue” traces back to the ball of yarn (clew) that Ariadne gave Theseus to help him find his way out of the maze after killing the Minotaur, which is explained with an animation of George Bernard Shaw‘s The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism. C is also for “clever”.

D for “dynamite” plays out on the pages of A Number of Things, a satiric novel of Irish and British manners by Honor (Lilbush Wingfield) Tracy. Tracy became the fuse to a stick of dynamite planted by Bevis Hillier in his rival A.N. Wilson‘s biography of Sir John Betjeman. Hillier concocted a letter from Betjeman purporting to reveal an affair between Tracy and the Oxford don. Not only was the letter a hoax, but Hillier embedded an acrostic that spelled out “A N Wilson is a shit”.

Of course, X for “x-ray” is illuminated with George IlesLittle Masterpieces of Science, and naturally, Z for “zero” is accounted for with Teach Yourself Calculus. But this soupçon of humor runs out with H (what has “hearse” to do with Bernard Jaffe‘s story of chemistry?) and G (what has “gorgeous” to do with James Russell Lowell?) and F (what has “fizzle” to do with Mark Twain‘s Life on the Mississippialthough one can imagine his delight with the word’s eytmological kinship with flatulence?).

F is for %22fizzle%22
F is for “fizzle”.
© Myriapod Productions, 2013

Each letter, definition, chapter, volume, episode (?) of Mysteries of Vernacular elicits affection for, if not outright love of, words and language. Perhaps that is not just down to Oreck’s and team’s skill, humor and cleverness. After all, for most of us, the alphabet-book is our childhood entrée not only to letters and words but any aspect of the internal and external world we fancy. Just for ages 3-5, our bookstores and libraries have the ABCs of Asthma, Bible Verse, Colors, Dinosaurs, Engineering, Feelings, Golf, Halloween, Ice Cream, Jobs, Kangaroos, Love, Math Riddles, Nature, Origami, Pigs, Questions, Rocks, Sounds, Touch, Under the Sea, Vanishing (endangered species), Wildlife, Yoga and Zoos. And for the more app-minded, there is also Moonbot Studio‘s contribution to the ABCs: The Numberlys.

Screenshot from The Numberlys, William Joyce, Moonbot Studios, 2012
Screenshot from The Numberlys
William Joyce, Moonbot Studios, 2012

Myriapod starts with the advantage of this long, long “previously on …” in our hearts and minds. In exploiting its advantage, Mysteries of Vernacular takes us on a gentle rootle round the attic and cellar of our language and social history.  The tradition of the abecedary and the disciplines of history and etymology offer a natural canvas on which Myriapod’s animation projects numerous techniques of book art. The intaglio carving reminds us not only of Beube, Dettmer and Mlászho but more so of Nerhol (the collaboration persona of Ryuta Iida and Yoshihisa Tanaka) and the work entitled Oratorical Type.

Oratorical Type by Nerhol (Ryuta Iida and Yoshihisa Tanaka)
Oratorical Type by Nerhol (Ryuta Iida and Yoshihisa Tanaka)

Oratorical Type by Nerhol (Ryuta Iida and Yoshihisa Tanaka)
Oratorical Type by Nerhol (Ryuta Iida and Yoshihisa Tanaka)

The Mysteries’ wooden desktop framing recalls Abelardo Morell‘s A Book of Books.

Water Alphabet, 1998 Abelardo Morell
Water Alphabet, 1998
Abelardo Morell

The animated book folds are enchanting (although they might have but do not aspire to the level of origami achieved by artists and craftworkers like Heather Eddy).

The Alphabet Tutorial Heather Eddy, 2011
The Alphabet Tutorial
Heather Eddy, 2013

little letters Heather Eddy, 2013
little letters
Heather Eddy, 2013

More extensively used and in keeping with the more two-dimensional feel of Mysteries is the technique of papercutting (as distinct from carving) on display with the letter W. The technique dates to the Tang Dynasty (618 -906 AD) but, in this context, harks back more recently to Victorian silhouette artistry.

Victorian Silhouette Abecedary
Victorian Silhouette Abecedary

The series of 26 episodes so rich in content and technique is addictive. You will find yourself, as with any well-done abecedary, wishing for more letters in the alphabet. Although there is a vast vocabulary of other vernacular awaiting treatment, at a production cost of $80,000 per episode, it is likely those words will wait a long time. So we are left with having to remember our anticipation. Not all anticipation is more often enjoyed in itself rather than its resolution. You have 26 windows of opportunity to learn in Mysteries of Vernacular.

Do not wait.

Look here, here and here for more abcedaries. And here for the online exhibition at the University of Delaware.