Bookmarking Book Art – Werner Pfeiffer and Anselm Kiefer

Werner Pfeiffer, Zig Zag, 2010 Laid into drop spine case: One folded sheet (20 x 20 cm.) which unfolds into a paper structure with various panels containing text printed in red and black, including instructions for use of the work. "The structure used in this book is a combination of two accordion folds. Both are first creased, then each segment is cut halfway through at the center and finally the two strips are merged together where the cuts have been made." Sheet laid into case. Limited ed. of 60 copies.
Werner Pfeiffer, Zig Zag, 2010 Laid into drop spine case: One folded sheet (20 x 20 cm.) which unfolds into a paper structure with various panels containing text printed in red and black, including instructions for use of the work. "The structure used in this book is a combination of two accordion folds. Both are first creased, then each segment is cut halfway through at the center and finally the two strips are merged together where the cuts have been made." Sheet laid into case. Limited ed. of 60 copies. Werner Pfeiffer, Zig Zag, 2010
Laid into drop spine case: One folded sheet (20 x 20 cm.) which unfolds into a paper structure with various panels containing text printed in red and black, including instructions for use of the work. “The structure used in this book is a combination of two accordion folds. Both are first creased, then each segment is cut halfway through at the center and finally the two strips are merged together where the cuts have been made.” Limited edition of 60 copies.

“The book is one of the most powerful weapons ever invented.”  — Werner Pfeiffer, Book-Objects & Artist Books, online exhibition, Cornell University Library’s Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections.

Anselm Kiefer, The Rhine 1982-2013 Collages of woodcuts on canvas with acrylic and shellac in a leporello structure
Anselm Kiefer, The Rhine 1982-2013 Collages of woodcuts on canvas with acrylic and shellac in a leporello structure Anselm Kiefer, The Rhine, 1982-2013
Collages of woodcuts on canvas with acrylic and shellac in a leporello structure

“The book, the idea of a book or the image of a book, is a symbol of learning, of transmitting knowledge … I make my own books to find my way through the old stories.”   — Anselm Kiefer, publication entry for Brünhilde schläft, in Toledo Museum of Art Masterworks (Toledo, 2009).

Like Anselm Kiefer, though eight years older, Werner Pfeiffer grew up in the shadow of Nazi Germany.  The works of both artists are rooted in the book and its peculiar place in that culture. Pfeiffer’s book-objects consist of deconstructed, dismantled library discards that are reassembled with glue and coated in gesso.  “Gagged and tormented” (with nails, screws, rope and various physical distortions), the works are “symbols of pain, of torture, of suppression which are inevitably brought on by the censor’s act”, the real remnants of which Pfeiffer recalls from his earliest childhood.

Pfeiffer’s artist books on the other hand run the gamut of foldouts, scrolls, flexagons, walk-in environments and rely on traditional bookmaking craft: handset type, letterpress printing, sophisticated binding as well as original print techniques such as wood cuts or linoleum blocks and etchings on archival papers. The emotional range of Pfeiffer’s art is also wide — humorous, playful, piquant, simultaneously angry and sorrowful, concerned. The overriding concerns are straightforwardly explained in the text to the online Cornell University exhibition.

The first schoolbooks I can remember, leftovers from the previous regime, were heavily “edited.” They were books with words and sentences blackened out. Chapters were deleted; entire pages were missing. This was information declared unsuitable for a post-war generation, a generation who six months earlier had been practically obliterated by the events now deemed unfit to be read about. Part of what they had lived through, their own history, had been blocked out, hidden behind those black marks.

Measured by the perceived fears an innocently bound codex seems capable of instilling, the book is one of the most powerful weapons ever invented. And yet we find ourselves at a threshold where its power and influence seem to be waning.

… As in the past, we find at the core of our current socio-political realignment the process of communication…. The new cultural footprint is a set of digits and their application, made possible by the microchip and the speed of electricity….

My book-objects have their origin partly in this ambiguous realm, a period of change as radical as it is dramatic. Superimposed over this perceived uncertainty is my personal concern about censorship. By making books which are deliberately mute I try to raise questions. Words are lost; they are no longer important. The books take on new forms; they become provocative statements. No longer instruments for reading they become sculptures, they become Book-Objects.

As with all superior sculpture, Pfeiffer’s works make the hands twitch to touch and manipulate them. In a few exhibitions, that interaction has even been encouraged. There is something inherently haptic about his book art (for example, Zig Zag and Abracadabra) and his book-objects (for example, Drawing Blood), which can be enjoyed vicariously in these videos: Youtube 1, Youtube 2, Youtube 3 and Youtube 4.

Kiefer’s materials are more varied, more monumental than Pfeiffer’s, and his concerns are decidedly not straightforward. Considering his sprawling studio complex at Barjac, in southeastern France, and its towers and installations, to say that Kiefer’s oeuvre extends beyond book art is an understatement. But for Books on Books, his most moving works — even those in which the book’s material presence is greatly subordinate — remain tethered to book art. The ache to touch Kiefer’s art, however, is different from what you feel with Pfeiffer’s. What little playfulness there may be in some of Kiefer’s earliest pieces is overshadowed by monumental works evoking an urge and dread at the same time.

You feel it walking up the stairs in the Royal Academy, looking up and seeing the sculpture Für Fulcanelli – die Sprache der Vögel, its great wings of beaten lead spread and rising above you.  Between the wings, the body is made of a stack of elephant and double elephant folio books lying flat (or rather gathered folios made of lead like the wings). Interleaved with the closed and open books are rusted metal folding chairs with wooden seats and backs, the kind found in city parks. Thick metal wedges that appear to be wood are inserted at various points to balance out the angular, tilting pile. Separate and lying before this huge bird is a carved wooden snake, elongated and heading right to left as you view the work. The pages of the books curl and fold and roll up as if sodden or aflame. Some are rusted. The bottom-most book has lead binder boards, water stained and looking like marbled paper. Not all of them have binding boards, but all are spineless. You want to touch but know that if you do, your fingers will come away with some alchemical residue of history that will not come off and may burn the skin.

Pfeiffer’s works from a major exhibition in 2011 at Cornell remain on view online. Another major exhibition followed in 2012 at Vassar College.  A new exhibition is scheduled for February 2015 in Toledo, Ohio. More about it in The Blade.

A major retrospective of Kiefer’s art at the Royal Academy of Art concluded in December 2014, coinciding with an hour-long BBC program. An interview with the artist and several podcasts are available on the RA’s site, and the rich and extensive exhibition catalogue provides articles exploring the complex themes of Kiefer’s art.

Bookmarking — A Variable Redletter Day?

In a report possibly falling under the category “What the Font?” or  simply “Sans Clue,” PoliceSpecials.com carried this story from the BBC today:

“Thousands of motorway speeding convictions could be overturned because the font used to display the numbers on some variable speed limit signs may not have complied with traffic regulations.  The Crown Prosecution Service said the signs showed mph numbers taller and narrower than they should have been.”

The typefaces mandated by the Department of Transport for traffic speed limit signs are Transport Medium, Transport Heavy and Motorway Permanent.  The designers were Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert.   Simon Garfield provides an amusing chapter in Just My Type on how their design came to be adopted.  But the typeface in question on which the BBC has belatedly reported (see the Daily Mail for the original scoop last December) is this:

variable

According to roadsuk.com (well, that is the URL, although a bit of blue in the letters “u” and “k” help to disambiguate the message),  the font seems to be named (imaginative this) “Variable Message Sign.”   But in the Daily Mail article, neither the “wrong” nor “right” signs illustrated seems to be in the Variable Message Sign typeface.  So, what the font?

article-2251985-169E2590000005DC-278_634x671 article-2251985-169E2560000005DC-717_634x668

Can Print and E-Books Coexist? Ceci n’est pas un signet!

grWJH

“So a video journalist goes into a bookstore …”  and finds little to report.  Beset by the BBC’s wallowing in non-events and the trivial, I am probably flailing out unfairly at the PBS’s “dog bites man” story or perhaps indigesting a bit of humbug this Christmas season.   MediaShift . VIDEO: Can Print and E-Books Coexist? | PBS.*

At least one commentator (gfrost; Gary Frost?), however, points out what video journalist Joshua Davis and his interviewees failed to explore:  “[M]issed is an inherent interdependence between print and screen books. An eerie complementary fit of the different affordances means that neither will flourish without the other.” Now there is a premise worth exploring, which Gary Frost does (see previous posting).

And what would Joshua Davis and his interviewees make of David Streitfield’s story in the NY Times that sales of e-reading devices seem to have reached a plateau?  “Even as prices fall, though, the dedicated e-reader is losing steam. The market peaked last year, with 23.2 million devices sold, IHS iSuppli said in a report this month. This year, sales will be 15 million. By 2016, the forecast is for seven million devices — as opposed to 340 million tablets, which allow for e-reading and so much more.”

Streitfield’s story actually begins with “the dog that didn’t bark”:  the prices for ebooks themselves have not fallen, despite the predicted result of the US Justice Department’s case against and settlements with six of the big publishers (five, now that two are merging).    For Frost’s premise that neither form — ebook or print — will flourish without the other, does that raise the question of whether either will decline without the other’s declining?   The rules of logic alone suggest otherwise, but consider Streitfield’s “more counterintuitive possibility … that the 2011 demise of Borders, the second-biggest chain, dealt a surprising blow to the e-book industry. Readers could no longer see what they wanted to go home and order.”

Perhaps the ebook and print are more intertwined than even Frost’s premise implies. Simba’s Jonathan Norris is quoted in Streitfield’s article:  “The print industry has been aiding and assisting the e-book industry since the beginning.”    Of course, someone needs to point this out with a cattle prod to the publishers withholding their ebooks from public and academic libraries.  The site TeachingDegree offers a succinct collection of data (PBS take notes) on the topic in a sort of dialectical digital poster.

Perhaps the whole story is just “human reads book” and is not worth a bookmark, but then where would have been the fun of finding out in punning

Magritte-pipe

with Magritte’s painting that the French for bookmark is either un signet (digital) or un marque-page (print), and in English we can make no distinction?

*In fairness to PBS, readers should take a look at the series “Beyond the Book 2012.”

Still, Frost’s Future of the Book goes far deeper.