Alphabatics (1986) Suse MacDonald Paper on board, casebound sewn. H236 x 285 mm, 56 pages. Acquired from Book Depository, 10 September 2021. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
While Suse MacDonald’s Alphabatics can find its ancestor in Bruno Munari’s ABC Con Fantasia (1960), it also finds some clever descendants in Nicolas McDowall’s A Bodoni Charade (1995), David Pelletier’s The Graphic Alphabet (1996) and Anne Bertier’s Construis-moi une lettre (2008).
As the letters are put through their acrobatic paces in three to four steps on the verso page to become the image on the right, the book gently pushes the left-to-right reading direction. Mahmoud Tammam has created animals composed of their names in Arabic script. It would be interesting to see a right-to-left Arabic version (Alefbatics?) of Alphabatics.
Dessine-moi une lettre (2004) Anne Bertier Casebound, sewn. H258 x W258 mm, 56 pages. Acquired from Amazon, 17 August 2021. Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.
Anne Bertier’s three alphabet books cross sub-genres of the ABCs with distinctive style and educational challenge. While the answers to the visual puzzles are offered at the end of the first and last books, considerable pleasure is missed by giving up too quickly. For the English speaker learning French, there’s the added pleasure of cementing a familiar word with Bertier’s images and discovering a new word that will also stick because of them.
Rêve-moi une lettre (2005)
Rêve-moi une lettre (2005) Anne Bertier Casebound, sewn. H135 x W132 mm, 52 pages. Acquired from Amazon, 30 August 2021. Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.
Here is the French version of the alliterative alphabet. Its opening with Alice suggests an underlying literary motif, but more likely at play is the association of the book’s title (“dream me a letter”) with Alice’s dreaming of Wonderland.
The English alphabet’s “go to” for the letter A does not work for the French pomme, but from the similarity between the image here and that in Dessine-moi un lettre, there seems to be one, too, for the French alphabet. With the cognate word in French and English, the letter B is too easy. But C is for ?
With the overlap between design, art and children’s education, Bertier’s numerous large-scale exhibitions in China, Italy, Japan, Korea as well as France come as no surprise. Think of Dik Bruna, Eleonora Cumer, Katsumi Komagata or Bruno Munari.
Würfelwurf: fragmentarische Annäherung an Stéphan Mallarmé (1992) Reinhold Nasshan Slipcase, embossed spine, casebound in paper-covered boards, front cover decorated with title set on slip of paper woven into the cover, block sewn and glued, with relief prints as pastedowns. Slipcase: H360 x W248 mm; Book: 351 x 243 mm, 4 gatherings of folios of varying size cut, tucked or folded to fit within the binding’s dimensions. Unique. Acquired from the artist, 24 February 2021. Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with artist’s permission.
“Throw of the dice”, “dice throw” or “throwing dice” are all reasonable translations of Würfelwurf, but not “a throw of the dice”, which most German translators render as ein Würfelwurf when tackling Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés. But then Reinhold Nasshan is not translating the poem. As the subtitle indicates, he is making “a fragmentary approach”, an approximation.
The very structure and working of Nasshan’s Würfelwurf underscore his title’s distinction between a single act and repetition of the act. On its front cover, the word würfelwurf splits in two, one half printed over the other on the slip woven into the slits in the front cover. The slip angles downward from left to right suggesting action, which comes aplenty inside the book.
Some pages are cut, their corners folded and tucked in. One gathering consists of a sheet 688 x 470 mm that is creased with mountain- and valley-folds and untrimmed at the bottom edge so that it unfolds into a base that spills out beyond the covers. Pages take on dice-shaped edges and planes that seem to roll from within and against the book. The achieved effect of motion recalls Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2) or Umberto Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space.
Although the title of Mallarmé’s poem appears, most of the text scattered across the surfaces comes from his other writings; for example, peindre, non la chose, mais l’effet qu’elle produit (“to paint, not the thing, but the effect it produces”); tout, au monde, existe pour aboutir à un livre (“everything in the world exists to end up in a book”); and Das Buch ist eine totale Expansion des Buchstabens (“The book is a total expansion of the letter”). When that large folded gathering comes, though, the Mallarmé’s words begin to be jumbled: Ein Würfelwurf wird nie das Würfelspiel abschaffen (“A throw of the dice will never abolish the game of dice”) and Ein Wurf Gottes wird nie den Zufall abschaffen (“A throw from God will never abolish chance”).
Strangest of all is the mangling of émet from the poem’s final line Toute pensée émet un coup de dés (“All thought emits a throw of the dice”). The word becomes éinet. Not French, not German. Perhaps a typo of “in” for “m”? As it turns out, according to the artist, it is a fluke that the letter “m” available in the font on hand printed poorly, so “i” and “n” provided an alternative three vertical strokes.
Un Coup: Stéphane Mallarmé (1997)
Un Coup: Stéphane Mallarmé (1997) Reinhold Nasshan Flexible triangular cloth-covered book boards, 4 cotton paper squares folded into origami water bomb base and glued. Triangle: 127 x 127 x 179 mm; Square “pages”: 166 x 166 mm. Acquired from the artist, 24 February 2021. Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with artist’s permission.
Nasshan also refers to this as a “letter sculpture”. Inviting the reconfiguring as with the works of Eleonora Cumer or Bruno Munari, or simply constant fiddling as with a paper fortune teller, Un Coup is more three-dimensional than Würfelwurf. As with Würfelwurf, this work lets the “moment of movement itself, the transition between the throw and the impact of the dice, emerge graphically” (moment der bewegung selbst den ubergang zwischen dem werfen und dem auftreffen der wurfel, graphisch hervortreten zu lassen). With less surface than Würfelwurf, though, it has fewer extracts from Mallarmé’s writings. Indeed, along with the physical shape shifting, the enlarged letters overprinted at multiple angles to one another combine to make this work more abstract than extract. But because text and book are material from which, on which and with which Nasshan creates, the abstract retains its links to the book.
Also a painter, Nasshan’s works fall into two categories or surfaces — painted books and painted canvases. Though lacking the shape of a book, his abstract paintings retain that link to “the world of Letters” in shapes and figures that evoke hieroglyphics, Chinese characters, typography and even cave paintings. His influences appear equally eclectic — though more Kandinsky, Klee and Miró than Pollock or Rothko — which matches up with his choice of substrates in fiction and nonfiction. When not choosing works from the ancient, classical or Romantic periods (from Gilgamesh to Seneca to Hölderlin), he chooses Apollinaire, Beckett, Celan, Joyce or Wittgenstein among others from the Modern period.
A wider audience would profit from Nasshan’s works. At least these two and others that might enter the Books On Books Collection will be available in the 2022 exhibitions celebrating the 125th anniversary of the publication of Un Coup de Dés in Cosmopolis (May 1897).
Given the effectiveness of Svensson and Diaz’s Letters alphabet book-in-a-box effort, it is surprising that they did not follow up the alphabetical theme from Animals, especially since animals have made up the most popular category of alphabet books for centuries. Another 24 or 25 books in boxes beckon. Alphabetical cubes of birds, cats, dogs and the zemmi! And what about the ampersand? And what different paper artistry might Diaz have performed if requested to fill out the series with further innovation? Consider Claire Van Vliet’s alphabetical Tumbling Blocks for Pris and Bruce (1996), Helen Hiebert’s Alpha Beta (2010) and Karen Hanmer’s The Spectrum A to Z.
Before its acquisition by Harpers in 1985, William Collins & Sons settled on the less risky venture of four books in boxes: Animals, Letters, Numbers and Colors. First with Elgin Davis Studios, James Diaz was the paper engineer behind all four and later joined David A. Carter (see his tribute to Bruno Munari here) to produce The Elements of Pop Up: A Pop Up Book for Aspiring Paper Engineers (1999), still used as a primary textbook.
Of course, B. S. Johnson and Marc Saporta pioneered boxes containing loose pages or leaves to be read in any order, but to find contemporary books in boxes where the box is not just a storage mechanism but functionally integrated, we have to look to Ed Hutchins, Sue Johnson and Hedi Kyle among others.
Giorgio Maffei’s 2008 definitive collection of book designs by Bruno Munari brings together two of Italy’s renowned book artists. Giorgio Maffei’s own work, his writing and gallery/bookshop (highlighted by his son Giulio Maffei’s extraordinary video catalogues Le vite dei libri) warrant a catalogue raisonné in their own right. The Italian edition published by Munari’s long-time publisher Maurizio Corraini was followed up in 2015 by this translation by Martin John Anderson and Thomas Marshall in 2015. For the Books On Books Collection, one of the great pleasures of Munari’s works is its attention to the alphabet, which this book documents.
Although not shown in Munari’s Books, an alphabet-related work that underscores Picasso’s calling Munari “our Leonardo” is ABC con fantasia (1973/2000). If we are to believe Fra Luca Pacioli, it was Leonardo da Vinci who inspired his “straight lines and curves” exposition for creating letters. Following in their footsteps, Munari provides the linear and curvilinear basics for the collector and offspring to join the game.
Although there are no words on numbered pages that have to fall in the right order, An Unreadable Quadrat-Print still presents the author/printer/binder with a challenge in imposition. White and red alternate, which is easy enough, but to cut or not cut a folio on the left and right, how to cut it, how to place the differently cut folios in the right order to achieve the variation in images when the pages turn, how to ensure a sewable area down the center for each folio whether it has a horizontal cut extending into the spine or a diagonal one extending from some point along the spine — that is impressive. It speaks to the sculptural process and result in making books, as well as the sculptural process of reading them.
The following sequences — the book’s first five double-page spreads and then its last six — take a normal page-turning approach, always turning from the upper right corner of whatever shape/page is available. Note how, in the last six double-page spreads, the pages and shapes become more complex.
Libro illeggibile (1966), below left, calls to mind Katsumi Komagata’s A Cloud (2007), and the one in the middle foreshadows Eleonora Cumer’s subtle artistry with transparent paper in Circoscrivere lo spazio No. 3 (2021). While Munari’s rare works press modest budgets, some of it — in its simplicity and popular appeal — has led Corraini Edizionito put it within easier reach. Numerous reissues of the 1984 Libro illeggibile MN 1 have pushed its price to €5. Short of the artist’s signature (which would likely obstruct the aesthetic intention), a copy from the latest 5000-copy print run will “perform” and deliver the same experiential value as one from the earliest run.
Munari’s many series of illegible books tap into book artists’ longstanding and ongoing preoccupation with whether a book without words can communicate information, narrative, sensations or feelings through material, shape or color and their permutations. The colors, shape, feel and binding of Libro illeggibile MN 1 evoke simple and sophisticated pleasure in their juxtaposition and sequence. The unchanging straightness of the top edge and the anchoring red thread of the binding set off the changeability of shapes and colors.
Although not a book of Munari’s making, David A. Carter’s Le sculture da viaggio di Munari is one way of bringing the spirit of Munari’s “travel sculptures” into the collection. Carter’s homage carries the blessing of Corraini Edizioni, further justifying its inclusion.
Travel sculptures started off as small sculptures (some even pocket-sized) to carry with you, so you could take part of your own culture to an anonymous hotel room. Later they were turned into ‘travel sculptures’, five or six metres tall and made of steel. One of these was seen for a few months in Cesenatico, another one in Naples. Others are sleeping among huge trees in the Alto Adige region.’ This is how Italian designer Bruno Munari (1907-1998) described his ‘travel sculptures’, which in turn inspired American illustrator and designer David A. Carter for this pop-up book. –Corraini Edizioni website. Accessed 3 August 2021.
“The Poetics of Reason” was the title and theme for the fifth Lisbon Architecture Triennale in 2019 (the first was in 2007). Awarded the ADG Laus 2020 Golden Prize in the category of editorial graphic design, this work stands well with Bruno Munari’s three small 1960’s books on the square, circle and triangle, now available in a single volume, and calls to mind several works testifying to the relationship between architecture and book art. In the first of the five volumes, Éric Lapierre even interweaves with his text on architectural rationality illustrations from book artists such as Bernd and Hilla Becher, Sol Lewitt and Ed Ruscha — all without comment, in itself conveying their implicit relevance. His similar display of a page from Stéphane Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard — that progenitor of modern and post-modern book art — speaks to the role that space — les blancs, as Mallarmé calls it — plays in these adjacent communities.
The second volume, by Ambra Fabi and Giovanni Piovene, draws in Leon Battista Alberti, of course, whose columns ornament works by Mari Eckstein Gower, Helen Malone and many other book artists.
Drawing on Gaston Bachelard and Juhani Pallasmaa as it does, the third volume, by Mariabruna Fabrizzi and Fosco Lucarelli, calls to mind the work of Olafur Eliasson and Marian Macken here in the Books On Books Collection and elsewhere. Anyone familiar with Richard Niessen’s The Typographic Palace of Masonry will appreciate Fabrizzi and Fosco’s exploration of where architecture, imagination and memory intersect.
In the lengthiest of the five volumes, Sébastien Marot takes us into the territory of urban architecture and the anthropocene, also occupied by book artists Sarah Bryant, Emily Speed, Philip Zimmermann and many others.
The last and shortest volume, put together by Laurent Esmilaire and Tristan Chadney, consists mostly of photos that may remind the viewer of Irma Boom’s Elements of Architecture, with Rem Koolhaas, or Strip, with Kees Christiaanse — especially in conjunction with the tinted fore edges.
Referenced below, Pedro Vada’s review of the Triennale and the five separate sites across which it occurred in Portugal provides more insight into the five volumes themselves. Marco Ballesteros LETRA website provides additional images of the five volumes’ design.
“Architecture“. 12 November 2018. Books On Books Collection.
SOCKS Studio, an extraordinary website run by Fabrizzi and Lucarelli.
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).
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’spreface, 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”.
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.
variazione (2015) Eleonora Cumer Linocut on card and tarlatana. Unique. H287 x 416 mm closed. Showing front and back covers. Acquired from the artist, 16 September 2017.
Centrally open view, showing printed linen crape (tarlatana) pages.
Views of the three “double-page spreads.
Open envelope for note of thanks. Container for the work. Both with pin-pricked and thread-sewn images. Container initialed and dated on reverse.
scultura da viaggio dipinta n.2 (2017)
scultura da viaggio dipinta n.2/ sculpture de poche peinte n. 2 (2017) Eleonora Cumer Single sheet of card, cut and painted front and back. Unique, embossed with artist’s stamp and initialed. H250 x W116 mm closed, H250 x W270 mm open. Acquired from the artist, 16 September 2017.
Cumer’s scultura da viaggio builds on Bruno Munari’s portable or “travelling sculptures”, but they could just as easily have emerged from her own earlier works such as l’attesa, visioni urbani and contaminazione.
l’attesa/ l’attente (2010)
l’attesa/ l’attente (2010) Eleonora Cumer Three-dimensional accordion book with painted front and back pages in painted case. H135 x W125 mm closed, H135 x W 1200 mm open. Unique. Acquired from the artist, 16 September 2017. Selected for the Abracadabra Bookcase Exhibition, Barcelona, May 2010.
Internal and external views of open cover.
“Reading” the opened concertina l’attesa (“the wait”).
Front view of l’attesa.
Rear view of l’attesa.
visioni urbane/ visions urbane (2015)
visioni urbani/visions urbane (2015) Eleonora Cumer Three cards, tri-fold, painted front and back, and cut, encased in a duo-fold sheet, painted on one side. H240 x 150 mm closed, H240 x 600 mm open Unique. Acquired from the artist, 16 September 2017.
Opening the work.
Rear view, top view.
contaminazione (2015) Eleonora Cumer Four sheets of card, each cut and folded into three panels. H300 x W300 mm closed, H300 x 900 mm open. Acquired from the artist, 16 September 2017.
View of the four component cards.
Duo-fold gray cover H302 x W315 mm closed, H302 x W943 mm open. Fourth component card, initialed and dated by the artist.
il giardino della mia VITA (2015)
il giardino della mia VITA (2015) Eleonora Cumer Hand-sewn booklet of hand-stamped photo-collaged paper. Glassine envelope, glued to page 6, contains shards of coloured glass. H288 x W205 mm closed, H288 x W410 open. Edition of 50 numbered and signed, of which this is #20. Acquired from the artist, 16 September 2017.
The text in English: “The garden of my life: my life like a garden or better”
Parole (2015) Eleonora Cumer Hand-sewn booklet of hand-stamped photo-collaged paper. Glassine envelope, glued to page 2, contains slip of lined paper hand-stamped with the letters of the word “parole” superimposed on one another in two groups. H288 x W205 mm closed, H288 x W410 open Edition of 50 numbered and signed, of which this is #20. Acquired from the artist, 16 September 2017.
The text in English: ”Words: unreadable words, incomplete words, unspoken words”
Conflitti (2015) Eleonora Cumer Hand-sewn booklet of hand-stamped photo-collaged paper. German air rifle training disc (distance 10 m) sewn with red thread and glued to cover; exiting on page 1, the red thread crosses to pages two and three; page two includes a pastedown grid, labelled in its margin with the abbreviation for an anti-cholergenic incapacitating chemical weapon. H288 x W205 mm closed, H288 x W410 open. Edition of 50 numbered and signed, of which this is #16. Acquired from the artist, 16 September 2017.
The text in English: “Conflict: the flight to the sea to meet death in search of a new land”
Circoscrivere lo spazio (2021)
Circoscrivere lo spazio No. 3 (2021) Eleonora Cumer Edition of 15, of which this is #10. Acquired from the artist, 26 May 2021. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
The thick stroke of black on the front cover runs downwards, then veers diagonally and upwards to the right. As it does, it narrows, reddens and loops over a leftward thrust suggesting a needle crossing under the moderately thick red stroke that tilts off center. The two thin red stitch-like lines further down the length of that off-center stroke strengthens the suggestion. Something is being bound or stitched together.
When the booklet opens, a translucent page appears on the right. It bears three black squares, but an off-center fourth peeks through them. As the translucent page turns, a crackling sound startles while the page with the off-center square comes into view. It is made of the same paper as the front cover but inked slightly less yellow than is the inside of the front cover. The smudges lightening the upper righthand corner of the fourth black square fool the eye into seeing another translucent layer, an illusion strengthened by another illusion. Looking to the left, the eye sees through the real translucent sheet the white margins at the foot and center of the inside front cover, and it appears that the translucent sheet has the same margins and an undertone of yellow aligned with that on the inside front cover. Not so.
The next two double-page spreads tease and hint to the eye in the same and different ways. Stitching images like those on the front cover reappear but now enlarged. Another crackling sheet of translucent paper covers an enlarged black square, which turns out to be an insert of black paper embroidered with red thread. When the hooked-needle image overlays the other stitchery images on the white verso page, it becomes clear that the insert hides another smaller insert. Smaller, yes, but with its own widening surprise — two valley folds that are really mountain folds when the insert unfolds completely over the double-page spread.
All of these “deceptions” — and others to come in the booklet — involve circumvention of circumscription. Circoscrivere lo spazio (“To circumscribe space”) and the next work are Cumer’s most sophisticated metaphoric works in the Books On Books Collection.
Cercare nella memoria (2021)
Cercare nella memoria (2021) Eleonora Cumer Booklet of translucent papers, center sewn, hole-punched and strung together with a single thread. H195 x W140 mm. Edition of 15, of which this is #1. Acquired from the artist, 26 May 2021. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
Each copy is printed with a photocopier, then subjected to different manual interventions: embroidered images in red thread, ink and watercolor, wax seals, a translucent white single-sheet insert, and collage with tarlatana. The binding is twofold: a single brown thread sewn through the fold of the gathered folios, and a punched hole through which a single red thread is loosely strung, secured with a single stitch through the spine and two drops of sealing wax, one on the back and one on the front over a knot in the thread.
Each of these material and technical details, by itself and together, contributes to the meaning of this work, spelled out in its title: Cercare nella memoria (“To seek in memory”). When we speak of searching our memories, we speak in metaphors and images. Many of them are here in this booklet: pulling on a thread, losing the thread, picking up the thread, tying a string around a finger, circling in on something, holes in recollection, and peeling back layers of memory. The drops of sealing wax might jog the memory of Giordano Bruno’s Thirty Seals, the third volume in his Art of Memory. Pulling on that thread might lead to the discovery of a resemblance between Bruno’s seals and Cumer’s images.
Cercare is smaller than Circoscrivere. It may, perhaps, have fewer moving parts. But it is more dense, more crowded, more delicate, and more violent with its splashing red and lines crashing across one another — and, for anyone who thinks seriously about memory, more frightening.
Giordano Bruno’s “The Bookbinder” seal from Julia Buntaine Hoel’s “The Art of Memory” (2018 to present). Accessed 27 June 2021.
Untitled (2006) Jenny Smith Matte-beige slot-and-tab case containing eight-panel leporello, four panels lasercut and three screenprint. Case: 167 x 167 mm; Book: 165 x 165 mm. Edition of 25 of which this is #21. Acquired from the artist, 31 July 2017. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.
This portable sculpture echoes the tradition of Bruno Munari and Eleonora Cumer. The handling of ink from matte gray to silver to reflective black plays beautifully behind the vertical and
Book of Beads (2008)
Book of Beads (2008) Jenny Smith Case of beige matte-finish, screenprint black interior, title lasercut: 165 x 165 mm; Book in accordion-fold, eight panels lasercut, taupe on one side, screenprint black on other, 160 x 160 mm Edition of 20 of which this is #13. Acquired from the artist, 31 July 2017. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.
The interlocking views of panels through panels foreshadow a work by Katumi Komagata:「Ichigu」(2015). The fine tendrils in the cutting may remind some of works by Béatrice Coron or Merrill Shatzman.
Little Black Book (2009)
Little Black Book (2009) Jenny Smith Matte-black slot-and-tab case containing matte-black single fold booklet; cover engraved with an abstract, calligraphic design that is cut out inside on the pop-up page and reappears in shadow against a gloss black screenprint insert behind the pop-up page. Case: 167 x 167 mm; Book: 160 x 160 mm; Pop-up page: H140 x W150 mm. Edition of 20, of which this is #14. Acquired from the artist, 31 July 2017. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
The grassy nature of the 2013 installation and its engagement with children may remind the reader/viewer of Water on the Border (1994) by Helen Douglas and Telfer Stokes. For some, the interaction of cage and words in the 2016 installation may recall Bird Language (2003) by Xu Bing.
“Medicinal Art”, Studio Pavilion, 19 September 2019. Accessed 2 May 2020.
The Studio Bibliografico Giorgio Maffei specializes in original texts and book art by twentieth century visual and literary avant-garde artists such Baldessari, Lewitt, Munari, Man Ray, Ruscha and Warhol among others. Recently the owner’s son – Giulio Maffei – “started making film as a side activity” and introduced a series of short animations “to put on the social networks and reach new potential customers”. An anonymous pair of hands displays a variety of the books and book art in stock.
But Giulio’s videos are not always the straightforward marketing effort intended. They provide an experience of book art or artists’ books that most of us will never hold or touch. And that may be Maffei’s point in his series “Le Vite dei Libri” (The Lives of Books) in which these usually glassed-off works are playfully handled, gently made fun of and still honored.
Some of the videos are derivative artworks in their own right in the same vein as Bruce Nauman’s Burning Small Fires, 1968. Nauman poked fun at Ed Ruscha’s Various Small Fires and Milk, 1964, by composing a book of photos recording the burning of a copy of Various Small Fires. Maffei’s Nauman-esque handling of Various Small Fires and Milk involves flash paper or its Photoshop equivalent. His celebration of Ruscha’s The Sunset Strip is still more endearing with its soundtrack and toy convertible. His cheeky animations of the pop-ups in Warhol’s Index (Book) and the ironically daring destruction of Papa Maffei’s copy of Some/Thing No.3 are even better. In the latter, the plastering of a Banksy-like mural with Warhol’s “Bomb Hanoi” stickers torn from the perforated cover is a sharp-edged example of the arch, reflective commentaries throughout Maffei’s videos.
Most of the films’ credits pay typographical homage to the work at hand, which is a nice self-deprecating and affectionate touch. At my last viewing, there were twenty-two works in the Lives series. They are listed below, but once you reach one on YouTube, the others follow. Giulio Maffei has also created a longer video catalogue for his father’s enterprise: Tra Libro e Oggetto (Between Book and Object). The Maffeis are a knowing team. The catalog title can be read as the beginning of a statement displayed on the cover.
BETWEEN BOOK AND OBJECT
The artists’ book, the multiple and the object
become an artwork
A statement that refers not only to the works in the catalog but to the video catalog itself and to the elder Maffei’s lifework of collecting, selling and writing about book art.