Books On Books Collection – Aurélie Noury

Perhaps there is some peculiar feature of “the book as intellectual instrument” that explains the phenomenon of book-artist-cum-impresari. In the last century, we had Ulises Carrión and Dick Higgins among others. In this century, we have Alicia Bailey, Sarah Bodman, Hubert Kretschmer, Antoine Lefebvre, Laura Russell to mention only a few. They flourish and with such variety. Some manifest as curators, others as gallerists, and others as publishers. Some transform that manifestation into a form of art itself. Aurélie Noury verges on doing this with the works under her imprint Éditions Lorem Ipsum.

El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha by Pierre Ménard (after Jorge Luis Borges, “Pierre Ménard, auteur du Quichotte” in Fictions) (2009)

El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha by Pierre Ménard (after Jorge Luis Borges, “Pierre Ménard, auteur du Quichotte” in Fictions) (2009)
Aurélie Noury
Perfect bound with folded cover, H170 × W120 mm, 38 pages. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Borges would be the first to congratulate Noury on her persistence, diligence and taste. Of course, he would be biased, but what else to call her recovery of these pages so briefly mentioned in his short story “Pierre Ménard, author of Quixote”, how else to describe their careful resetting in the precise order mentioned, and what other choice of fonts could be suggested than Garamond for the cover and Times New Roman for the text?

For any reader finishing the discourse on what the narrator calls Ménard’s unfinished oeuvre, it is a solace to turn to Noury’s reproduction and see exactly where Ménard left things hanging in the fragment of Chapter XXII that the narrator mentions so tantalizingly. It is a vicarious thrill to share with the narrator the strangeness of that fragment appearing after the ninth and thirty-eighth chapters!

Given the intrepidness of our artiste éditrice, it may seem churlish to mention the acute accent that appears in the last name of the latter-day author of Don Quixote. No such accent appears in the original Spanish of Borges’ story. Perhaps the Argentinian or his secretary had a momentary lapse. Then again, to give Noury the benefit of doubt and Borges the gift of future vision, the narrator’s Pierre Ménard (or Menard) could very well have been the ancestor of the eponymous founder of a micro vineyard in the Loire Valley who cannot seem to settle on one spelling or the other. It cannot be an accident that this vineyard recently produced a vintage named “Chaos” (2017), a wine that, one critic writes, “should not exist”.

Borges invented other authors besides Ménard and his bio-bibliographical narrator. Borges and his life-long friend Adolfo Bioy Casares came up with Honorio Bustos Domecq, a fictitious detective under whose name they wrote numerous short stories and through whom they introduced other fictitious authors — one such was Federico Juan Carlos Loomis. In “A List and Analysis of the Sundry Books of F. J. C. Loomis”, “Bugsy” Domecq chronicles the work of the legendary writer and critic. Loomis’s chief claim to fame is his collection of six books, whose contents consist solely of their titles.

Were it not for Aurélie Noury’s translating and publishing skills, the Francophone population would have to remain content with Domecq’s Spanish listing and analysis. (Saving, of course, the one title that Loomis wrote in French: Béret Basque.) Regardless of fluency in French or Spanish, the attentive reader will appreciate how the publisher’s sensitive translations capture the denotative, connotative, spiritual and cultural intent of Federico Juan Carlos Loomis’s singular texts.

Each of the French versions is tastefully set in Cochin on the cover and Times Roman in the text. The works’ restrained design (H190 x W130 mm, four pages, three covers in black & white, three with the addition of colored rule) complements their minimal contents.

Many book artists have paid homage to Borges (see Further Reading below). These seven works surely secure a place of honor and humor among them for Aurélie Noury.

Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard (poster) (2008)

Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard (poster) (2008)
Aurélie Noury
H100 x W700 mm. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

Except for her Rubik’s Coup de Dés, Noury’s poster version of Mallarmé’s poem would be the thing for summarizing, critiquing, parodying and paying homage to le Maître‘s work. Why not collapse all of the spacing and text in its varied type sizes and styles into one double-page spread? But then, if the game is “the total expansion of the letter”, the dispersal of letters from keywords in the poem across the 54 spaces on a Rubik’s cube would be the thing. Unfortunately, at the moment, this particular thing does not reside in the Books On Books Collection, so the following photos (courtesy of the artist) stand as a collector’s reminder.

Noury’s inventive literary/artistic appropriation does not end with Borges and Mallarmé. Marcel Duchamp, Honoré de Balzac, John Irving and Louis Aragon also come in for varying treatments at her hands. Her choices for these reversals of ekphrasis — proceeding from an existing text to a newly created work of art, rather vice versa — are clever. But it is her combination of the techniques of appropriation, homage and parody and intermedial play with the various techniques of print and digital publications in a distinctive way for each target text that is ingenious.

No doubt there could be many more such works to come, but even the most ingenious of appropriators finds her time appropriated by other ventures. As directrice of the imprint Éditions Incertain Sens, she engages with the works acquired for Le Cabinet du livre d’artiste (CLA) at the University of Rennes 2 as well as with their documentation in the CLA’s newspaper Sans niveau ni mètre. These ventures have been apropos and obviously influential for Noury. Éditions Incertain Sens and the CLA were founded by Leszek Brogowski, who has written extensively on book artists such as Bernard Villers. The furniture of CLA was made by artist and writer Bruno di Rosa, who has appropriated and extended the works of Gustave Flaubert and Joachim du Bellay. The situation could be only more apropos if Éditions Incertain Sens had been founded by Mallarmé and Borges at some point in the future!

Further Reading

A Maze of Books for the Cultural Olympiad“, Bookmarking Book Art, 15 August 2012. For a sculptural homage to Borges.

Sean Kernan“, Books On Books Collection, 23 February 2013. For a photographic homage to Borges.

Barbara Tetenbaum”, Bookmarking Book Art, 26 June 2013. For more on reverse-ekphrasis.

Jacqueline Rush Lee”, Books On Books Collection, 8 October 2019. For more on reverse-ekphrasis.

Peter Malutzki“, Books On Books Collection, 11 November 2019. For an homage to Borges’ Encyclopedia of Tlön from the short story “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”.

Hanna Piotrowska (Dyrcz)“, Books On Books Collection, 13 December 2019. For an “earthy” homage to Borges.

Michalis Pichler”, Books On Books Collection, 19 August 2020. For a prolific hommageur of Mallarmé.

Antoine Lefebvre”, Books On Books Collection, 28 September 2020. For another artiste éditeur.

Gilbert, Annette (ed.). Publishing as Artistic Practice (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2016).

Books On Books Collection – Michalis Pichler

Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard: Sculpture (2008)

Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard (Sculpture) (2008)

Michalis Pichler

Offset and laser gravure, perfect binding. H325 x W250 mm, 32 pages. Acquired from Printed Matter, 10 April 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Appropriated and sculpted bookwork was taking off in numerous forms even before 1964 when Marcel Broodthaers half-embedded the last fifty copies of his poetry book Pense-Bête in plaster. Bruno Munari had introduced libri illeggibili (“unreadable books”) in 1949. John Latham had already encased books with plaster in Shelf Number 2 (1961) and much else in his various skoob works. Tom Phillips’ line-by-line, found-book alteration A Humument was underway, first appearing in 1970, as was Dieter Roth’s string of sausage books Literaturwurst (1961-74). So Broodthaers could have taken any of several directions before deciding to replace Mallarmé’s lines of verse in Un Coup de Dés N’Abolira le Hasard: Poéme (1914) with printed and engraved placeholders in paper and anodized aluminum, respectively, to create Un Coup de Dés N’Abolira le Hasard: Image (1969).

Le Vite dei Libri 26 directed by Giulio Maffei, 12 January 2016. Accessed 14 August 2020.

Son of Giorgio Maffei (bookseller, curator, scholar and book artist in his own right), Giulio Maffei has made video catalogues for Studio Bibliografico Giorgio Maffei since 2015. Each catalogue is a work of video. In this twenty-sixth outing, Maffei has created a video from the 1914 edition and Broodthaers’ 1969 Image version of Un Coup de Dés.

By 2008, Michalis Pichler had an even greater wealth of forms from which to choose for his double appropriation/homage to Mallarmé’s Poème and Broodthaers’ Image. Since the ’80s scores of book artists had been introduced to ingenious structures by Hedi Kyle and Keith A. Smith, among others, so why not an Aunt Sally’s shipwreck of string, canvas and torn paper? Long-Bin Chen had been sanding books and phone directories into busts since the ’90s, so why not a bust of Mallarmé from old editions of Un Coup de Dés and a bust of Broodthaers from catalogues of his works (a variation on Buzz Spector’s treatment)?

Instead Pichler appropriates Mallarmé through Broodthaers’ design and production: an efficient and direct double appropriation. He follows the trim size and layout of the 1914 and 1969 works. Further underscoring the double appropriation, he reprints verbatim Broodthaers’ preface (the full text of Mallarmé’s poem set in small type as a single paragraph with obliques separating the lines of verse). Like Broodthaers, he produced limited editions of three versions: 10 copies in plexiglas (rather than Broodthaers’ 10 in anodized aluminum), 90 copies in translucent paper (just as Broodthaers had done) and 500 copies in paper (rather than Broodthaers’ 300). Where Broodthaers had solid black stripes, though, Pichler substitutes laser cuts in the translucent and paper editions and engraving or abrasion in the plexiglas edition. Hence Sculpture (2008), rather than Image (1969) or Poème (1914).

Not until 2016, though, was Pichler able to cap his double appropriation. Just as Broodthaers had held an exhibition entitled “Broodthaers: Exposition littéraire autour de Mallarmé” (Antwerp, December 1969), Pichler held one entitled “Pichler: Exposition Littéraire autour de Mallarmé” (Milan, December 2016). Like the Broodthaers exhibition, Pichler’s was an opportunity to showcase his own work: it was his first solo exhibition in Italy. Like Broodthaers, he included the Nrf 1914 edition, but also included numerous other editions and translations that had occurred since. Also, key to Pichler’s artistic intent, he included a host of other artists who by appropriation had made homage to Un Coup de Dés … Poème and, in some cases, Broodthaers’ … Image.

Book art is so self-referential in its instances (think of Real Fiction: An Inquiry into the Bookeresque by Helen Douglas and Telfer Stokes) and as a genre (think Burning Small Fires by Bruce Nauman) that appropriation offers a natural next step. In Pichler’s case, the subtlety of that step comes in how he reaches through Broodthaers’ Image all the way back to elements of Mallarmé’s Poème to achieve his aims.

When Broodthaers first appropriated Mallarmé’s layout, type sizes and roman/italic styles, he was engaged in a kind of reverse ekphrasis. Usually ekphrasis runs from the work of art (say, a Grecian urn) to the text in response (“Ode on a Grecian Urn”). Here, the poem and its shape come first, then the work of art — the Image of the poem. By calling his exhibition an exposition littéraire, Broodthaers underscored this. By calling out the shapes on the page, he elevated the original’s semblances of waves, an abyss, a foundering ship and a constellation and, in exposing them, performed a kind of literary study as well as artistic work.

Count it down from Pichler’s appropriation of Broodthaers’ exposition littéraire, from the inclusion/appropriation of other artists’ appropriations of Poème and/or Image, from his own work of book art Sculpture, from his own other works: Pichler’s appropriative ekphrasis is squared, cubed or perhaps raised to the fourth power. Clearly, book art and appropriation are Pichler’s chief palettes — or rather his twin decks from which, as DJ, he mixes what he calls “Greatest Hits”. The phrase simultaneously names Pichler’s imprint on Sculpture‘s cover and the series on his website. The series includes other appropriations such as Every Building on the Ginza Strip (2018) from Ed Ruscha and Some More Sonnet(s) aka Poem(s) (2011) from Ulises Carríon. “Greatest Hits”, however, suggests another subtlety in Sculpture, albeit one best appreciated in the context of all the exhibitions.

The first instance of Broodthaers’ exhibition in Antwerp included a continuous playing of the artist’s tape-recorded reading of the poem. In Cologne for its second instance, Broodthaers renamed it Exposition littéraire et musicale autour de Mallarmé. Broodthaers was simply taking Mallarmé’s musical cue in Un Coup de Dés’s preface, which advises reading the poem as if it were a “score” for music to be heard at a concert and its blank spaces as “silences”.

Taking Mallarmé’s and Broodthaers’ musical cues and that of his piano-roll-like slots in Sculpture, Pichler created for his exhibition Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard: Musique, a piano-roll version of the poem to be played by any visitor who cared to sit and pedal the pianola on which it was installed. So in further appropriation of Mallarmé through Broodthaers, Pichler’s piano roll turns the empty spaces, where the words and black strips would be, into music while the blanks around them become what Magnus Wieland calls “white noise”.

Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard: Musique (2009) Michalis Pichler

In traditional literary ekphrasis, the referring text can stand on its own. Homer’s description of Achilles’ shield does not require a side-by-side engraving or painting of what Hephaestus forged. Nor does Auden’s exposition of Breughel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (c. 1560) need an art history book to hand.

But without the context of the exhibition, the presence of other appropriations, or even Pichler’s translucent and plexiglas editions, what to make of Pichler’s paper edition on its own? The traditional Nrf cover design suggests no surprise to come, although the trim size looks non-traditional in today’s market. The book’s slimness, subtitle and preliminaries also warrant a raised eyebrow: how can this be a sculpture? Turning the pages, the reader/viewer comes to the cuts and sees through to the pages beneath. Shadows move through the leaves. The laser cut technique hints at something that a die cut does not. Do the burnt edges where the laser has cut suggest a more surgical approach to book burning, an allusion to burning decks, or a 19th century and 20th century legacy to the white spaces?

Both Mallarmé and Broodthaers noted the intent to draw attention to the white space of the page. Pichler appropriates both the poet’s and artist’s form and intent. He sculpts a conceptual double-palimpsest not by overwriting the first level of overwriting but by removing it and the original layer altogether. The core subtlety of Pichler’s paper edition of Un Coup de Dés lies in those empty spaces defined at their burnt edges and by the blankness around them. For Sartre, Mallarmé was the poet of nothingness. Broodthaers appropriated the nothingness with black ink. Pichler has appropriated both. The paradox is a work that stands on its own by invoking and eliminating what it appropriates.

Further Reading

Durgin, Patrick. “Witness Marcel Broodthaers: The docile aphorism“, Jacket2, 24 October 2014. Accessed 6 August 2020.

Gilbert, Annette, and Clemens Krümmel. Thirteen Years: The Materialization of Ideas from 2002 to 2015 (Leipzig: Spector Books, 2015).

Sartre, Jean-Paul; Ernest Sturm, trans. Mallarmé, or the Poet of Nothingness (University Park: Penn State University Press, 2004).

Sowden, Tom. “Exploring Appropriation as a Creative Practice,” MDPI Arts / Issue 8 / Volume 4 (2019). Accessed 6 August 2020.

Wieland, Magnus. “Sculpture Lecture Reading Un coup de dés“. Accessed 6 August 2020.

Among the other artists in Pichler’s Exposition littéraire autour de Mallarmé were these whose works are also represented in the Books On Books Collection: Jérémie Bennequin, Jim Clinefelter, Sammy Engramer, Cerith Wyn Evans, Rodney Graham, Brian Larosche, Michael Maranda, Guido Molinari and Eric Zboya.