Books On Books Collection – Alexandra Leykauf

Alexandra Leykauf: Chateau de Bagatelle (2010)

Alexandra Leykauf: Chateau de Bagatelle (2010)

Alexandra Leykauf

Perfect bound softcover in black case (Claro Bulk 135 gsm) and dust jacket (Gmund Colors 300 gsm). H210 x 182 mm, xxx unpaginated sheets for photos (Claro Bulk 115 gsm) and 24 concluding text pages (Claro Bulk 90 gsm). Acquired from Saint George’s Bookshop, 6 July 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection. Shown with permission of the artist.

When a book enters a collection because of one photo, the collector needs to ask whether the theme driving the collection has become a hammer and every item collected a nail.

The photo in question is the 78th among 81 photos that mirror and document an installation exhibited at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 2010. In the photo, a double-page spread has been removed from a book, folded and creased into a three-dimensional shape. Or perhaps, as hinted in the interview at the end of the book, it is an enlarged re-creation staged for the photo. The catalogue provides no caption for it or any other image. The text concluding the catalogue does not clarify what it is. Only for someone familiar with Marcel Broodthaers’ homage to Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard are the pages recognizable.

So, for the collector with a hammer, there sits the nail: this photo of a manipulated double-page spread from Broodthaers’ Image version of Mallarmé’s poem. Across the book’s gutter, the image in the double-page spread seems to take on the face of a tilted die. The tilt and multiple creases at the edges of the die face create an illusion of motion. Behind the die, the shadowed edges of the pages add their blur to the imagined throw. Are there clues/clews embedded in the book’s other photos — the suggestion of a shipwreck, a hint of a constellation? As with Un Coup de Dés, images of the surreal and real interleave. Motifs on one page carry over to others. The images play with the white space (les blancs) to the left and around them. As with the various homage by Broodthaers, Michalis Pichler, Jorge Méndez Blake, Cerith Wyn Evans and many others that eschew text in favor of the image and three-dimensional shape, Leykauf’s photos convey motion and simultaneity. (Too strained? The hammer hesitates.)

So from there, the collector’s eye turns back to the occasion of the catalogue: “Salle Noire, Château de Bagatelle”, Musée d’Art Moderne, Paris, 6 May – 27 June 2010. The Salle Noire is an exhibition space in the basement of the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris. According to François Michaud, Leykauf said she wanted to turn the Salle Noire inside out like a glove. To that end, she surveyed and photographed its rooms, its auditorium-like space and, from three viewpoints, its longest wall.

Installation views. Photos: Courtesy of the artist.

These monochrome photos along with others — wooden triangles comprising a psychological test, segments of a gothic arch, a Walter Gropius building, a stained glass window, an image from a paper activities book, the folded pages from Broodthaers’ Image, etc., and collaged in some instances — were made into slides. For the exhibition, five slide projectors, each holding 81 slides and running at different speeds, shone the images against the walls at different angles. In the interview concluding the book, Leykauf comments:

I consider the totality of the images to be a kaleidoscope … There is no development, no narrative — for example, nothing which might chart an architectural history. The kaleidoscope image or indeed, that of a round dance, sums it up very nicely! Leykauf to Rahn, p. 18.

Kaleidoscope! Does that not describe Mallarmé’s juxtaposition of fragments of verses in different sizes and styles of type and their imagery, which the homageurs highlight?

No development, no narrative! Does that not echo Mallarmé’s preface to Un Coup de Dés — “Everything takes place in a foreshortened, hypothetical state; narrative is avoided” (Collected Poems, p. 263)?

Salle Noire! Could the choice of the black room be a reference to the nothingness, the abyss of the poem?

Château de Bagatelle, a slide show! Could it be a reference to that other great photographer’s cinematic homage to Mallarmé — Man Ray’s Les Mystères du Château de Dés?

As intriguing as it is to tap-tap-tap away at the Château de Bagatelle, the impact of the book’s 81 images and the imagined disorientation from the barrage of five simultaneous, differently paced slideshows overcomes and defeats the most determined, hammer-wielding collector. All that motion and simultaneity echoing the modernists — the Cubists, the Delaunays, Dada, Bauhaus, Schwitters, the Surrealists, the Vorticists — cannot be reduced to an homage to Mallarmé, even if his was the poem that made us modern.

Photos of pages from Château de Bagatelle: Books On Books Collection. Shown with permission of the artist.

Folded Paper (2010)
Alexandra Leykauf
Print. H500 x W700 mm. Photo: Courtesy and permission of the artist.

For the book art collector taking a wider view with a lowered and stilled hammer, Leykauf’s works subsume aspects of the book. Works such as Katoptrische Experimente (2012), A Student at Ease Among the Books, (2013) Everybody’s Autobiography (2014), La Statue Intèrieure (2015), Cumberland Farm (Ben Nichols) (2017) — all challenge perspective. Wall-sized photos of a double-page spread turn the corner of the display room; book covers larger than the viewer are coated in reflective material and form a fun house maze of angled mirrors and open title-page spreads; aerial views, recto/verso views, proscenium views, and inside/outside views play with the structures of landscapes, the theater and amphitheater, cupolas and arches, trees and caves, and the structure of the book. Perhaps everything in the world does not exist to end up as a book — or a photo — but as perspective.

Further Reading

“Alexandra Leykauf in conversation with Kathleen Rahn”, 19 February 2010, trans. Timothy Connell, in Alexandra Leykauf: Chateau de Bagatelle (Nürnberg : Verlag für moderne Kunst Nürnberg, 2010), pp. 15-18.

Alexandra Leykauf en conversation avec Sophie Berrebi”, 6 Mai 2010. Accessed 6 September 2020.

Salle Noire, Château de Bagatelle”, 2010. Accessed 27 March 2019.

Mallarmé, Stéphane. Trans. E.H. and A.M. Blackmore. Collected Poems and Other Verse (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Michaud, François. “The Sense of Loss”, 26 February 2010, trans. John Tittensor, in Alexandra Leykauf: Chateau de Bagatelle (Nürnberg : Verlag für moderne Kunst Nürnberg, 2010), pp. 4-6.

Books On Books Collection – Derek Beaulieu

Tattered Sails (2018)

Tattered Sails (2018) Derek Beaulieu

Saddle-stitched, one staple, colored endpapers; 12 unnumbered pages. H217 x W140 mm. Acquired from Above/Ground Press, 12 March 2019. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Few book artists inspired by Broodthaers’ homage to Mallarmé have seized on aligning a key textual and visual metaphor of the poem with a distortion of Broodthaers’ treatment. That is what Beaulieu has done with Mallarmé’s metaphor of the shipwreck, his typographic replication of it and Broodthaer’s black bars. Tattered Sails also recalls Broodthaers’ A voyage on the North Sea (1973).

Photos: upper, Books On Books Collection; lower, Artists’ Books. Accessed 18 June 2020.

In one sense, Tattered Sails seems to underline the notion that image has supplanted text (W.J.T. Mitchell), which is a little less extreme than image’s having saturated all cultural space (Frederic Jameson) or than art’s just being now a “leeching of the aesthetic out into the social field in general” (Rosalind Krauss). But in another sense, by harking back to the low-tech era of democratic multiples and, nevertheless, enriching the interplay of text and image that spans four different artworks (counting the image on the cover) across the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, Beaulieu pushes back on those 20th century critical notions.

Away from the critical theories’ abyss, Tattered Sails refreshes perception — of the work in itself and those on whose metaphors and techniques it stands. Turning our eyes into hands, it is part of a book art genre –“a genre of Un Coup de Dés“– in which works not only recall the original’s words, their shapes on the pages, the shipwreck tangling and untangling of syntax, the images and meanings bouncing into view like numbers on the side of rolling dice but also recall the rolls of the dice by others before.

Further Reading

Jérémie Bennequin“, Books On Books Collection, 11 April 2020.

Bright, Betty. No Longer Innocent: Book Art in America, 1960-1980 (New York: Granary Books, 2005)

Drucker, Johanna. The Century of Artist’s Books (New York: Granary Books, 2013)

Sammy Engramer”, Books On Books Collection, 1 June 2020.

Cerith Wyn Evans”, Books On Books Collection, 16 April 2020.

Jameson, Frederic. The Cultural Turn: Selected Writings on the Postmodern 1983-1998 (London: Verso, 2000)

Krauss, Rosalind. A voyage on the North Sea : art in the age of the post-medium condition (London: Thames & Hudson, 2000)

Michaud, François. Alexandra Leykauf: Chateau de Bagatelle (Nürnberg: Verlag fur moderne Kunst Nürnberg, 2010)

Mitchell, W.J.T. The Language of Images (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997).

Guido Molinari”, Books On Books Collection, 13 April 2020.

Eric Zboya“, Books On Books Collection, 1 June 2020.

Books On Books Collection – Benjamin Lord

The Abolition of Chance: Sequence (2019)

The Abolition of Chance: Sequence (2019)
Benjamin Lord
Laid finish card cover; hand-assembled perfect binding with inlaid red linen thread;
70 pages printed on translucent cellulose paper. H10 1/2″ x W8 1/4.
Edition of 50, unnumbered. Acquired from the artist, 24 April 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

The title of Benjamin Lord’s book names what Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés declares can never be accomplished: the abolition of chance. Taking the predicate of Mallarmé’s title (its verb and object), elevating it to the title position, substituting the word “sequence” for the subtitle Poéme, and placing it in a cover layout reminiscent of the 1913 NRF edition of Mallarmé’s book, Lord’s cover raises expectations and questions. Perhaps chance can be abolished? Perhaps by a certain sequence — of words?

Bowling over the textual expectations raised by the cover, the interior pages offer only images — images that gradually shift from linearly arranged black rectangles to what seem to be digitally generated Rorschach tests, shifting QR codes or snapshots of a bitmap computer game, all blurred by the turning of the translucent paper. The translucency and images add another layer to each page and double-spread of images and also add another set of expectations and questions. What determined the starting point of those arranged rectangles? What drives the sequence of their change?

Without Lord’s own description of the work, a highly developed form of art-historical, science-historical visual genius is required to answer those questions. A genius with the visual recall to recognize that “The first spread of the book copies the last spread of Marcel Broodthaer’s book Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard (A throw of the dice will never abolish chance), made in 1969.” A genius that can recognize the sequence as being “generated using a simple mathematical formula known as the Game of Life, originally devised by the mathematician John Conway, also in the year 1969.

Blocking out Mallarmé’s words with black bars of varying sizes corresponding to the poem’s typography and turning Poème into Image, Broodthaers’s homage has provided the starting point to several works of visual homage: Derek Beaulieu, Jérémie Bennequin, Klaus Detjen, Sammy Engramer, Cerith Wyn Evans, Rainier Lericolais, Alexandra Leykauf, Michael Maranda, Guido Molinari, Michalis Pichler and Eric Zboya. To their common starting point, each brings to bear his or her own approach. For Lord’s approach, the term “starting point” is more properly “seed”. In Conway’s Game of Life, a seed is any pattern of square cells, some filled (“live”), some unfilled (“dead”). Here are two basic patterns:

On the left is a “still-life” seed known as “Boat”; on the right is “Gosper’s glider gun”, an obviously more complicated pattern named after its creator, Bill Gosper. A forerunner of simulation games, Conway’s game poses a set of simple rules to be played out within an infinite grid:

  1. Any live cell with fewer than two live neighbours dies, as if by underpopulation.
  2. Any live cell with two or three live neighbours lives on to the next generation.
  3. Any live cell with more than three live neighbours dies, as if by overpopulation.
  4. Any dead cell with exactly three live neighbours becomes a live cell, as if by reproduction.

Here is Gosper’s glider gun, activated by the Game of Life’s rules encoded in a GIF:

Lord’s seed is the image of the last double-page spread in Broodthaers’ version of Un Coup de Dés.

Like a more complex glider gun, it generates the subsequent double-page spread images, each image being the seed for the next image. As Lord puts it,

The lines of Mallarmé’s poem inflate into balloons which expand and then pop into nothingness, or collide with each other to generate debris, or collapse into thicker bars. The image fragments into a vibratory bitmap constellation of expansions and contractions, in which interactions between forms continuously generate new forms, in a way that is neither random nor intuitive.

This 21st century American artist turning with a 20th century paintbrush dipped into the words of a 19th century French poet via a 20th century Belgian artist calls to mind The Education of Henry Adams. Throughout, Adams refers to himself in the third person. Post-Broodthaers, there is something “third-person-ish” — of being at two removes — in Lord’s homage and those of Beaulieu et al. above. But there is more to the recollection than grammar. Consider this passage from The Education in which “one” writes,

Historians undertake to arrange sequences,–called stories, or histories–assuming in silence a relation of cause and effect. These assumptions, hidden in the depths of dusty libraries, have been astounding, but commonly unconscious and childlike; so much so, that if any captious critic were to drag them to light, historians would probably reply, with one voice, that they had never supposed themselves required to know what they were talking about. Adams, for one, had toiled in vain to find out what he meant….he insisted on a relation of sequence, and if he could not reach it by one method, he would try as many methods as science knew. Satisfied that the sequence of men led to nothing and that the sequence of their society could lead no further, while the mere sequence of time was artificial, and the sequence of thought was chaos, he turned at last to the sequence of force; and thus it happened that, after ten years’ pursuit, he found himself lying in the Gallery of Machines at the Great Exposition of 1900, his historical neck broken by the sudden irruption of forces totally new. Chapter XXV

Adams and his third-person self were in Paris in May 1897, when Un Coup de Dés first appeared in the quarterly Cosmopolis. Despite their proximity, a common interest in quarterlies and the popular press, and a near obsession with the electrical forces of the dynamo, the men’s two paths did not cross. Adams mentions Mallarmé in a letter only in passing.

Sartre called Mallarmé the poet of nothingness. Its title and Lord’s description of The Abolition of Chance as a “constellation of expansions and contractions, in which interactions between forms continuously generate new forms, in a way that is neither random nor intuitive” suggest an alternative to nothingness. The final double-page spread does present a pattern of live cells. Lord, perhaps like his fellow American, responds to nothingness with a type of Buddhist repose, if not affirmation, much as Adams responded to the memorial for his wife that he had commissioned from Augustus St. Gaudens:

His first step, on returning to Washington, took him out to the cemetery known as Rock Creek, to see the bronze figure which St. Gaudens had made for him in his absence. Naturally every detail interested him; every line; every touch of the artist; every change of light and shade; every point of relation; every possible doubt of St. Gaudens’s correctness of taste or feeling; so that, as the spring approached, he was apt to stop there often to see what the figure had to tell him that was new; but, in all that it had to say, he never once thought of questioning what it meant. … From the Egyptian Sphinx to the Kamakura Daibuts; from Prometheus to Christ; from Michael Angelo to Shelley, art had wrought on this eternal figure almost as though it had nothing else to say. The interest of the figure was not in its meaning, but in the response of the observer. Chapter XXI

Further Reading

Derek Beaulieu”, Books On Books Collection, 19 June 2020.

Jérémie Bennequin“, Books On Books Collection, 11 April 2020.

Sammy Engramer”, Books On Books Collection, 1 June 2020.

Cerith Wyn Evans”, Books On Books Collection, 16 April 2020.

Michaud, François. Alexandra Leykauf: Chateau de Bagatelle (Nürnberg: Verlag fur moderne Kunst Nürnberg, 2010)

Guido Molinari”, Books On Books Collection, 13 April 2020.

Eric Zboya“, Books On Books Collection, 1 June 2020.