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.

Books On Books Collection – Eleonora Cumer

variazione (2015)

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)

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)

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)

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”

Further Reading

Eleonora Cumer”, WorldCat Identities. Accessed 5 September 2019.

Cumer, Eleonora. “At school of artist’s books”, Topipittori, n.d. Accessed 5 September 2019.

Cumer, Eleonora. “From travel sculpture to scenography”, Topipittori, n.d. Accessed 5 September 2019.

Cumer, Eleonora. “Books that are born from books”, Topipittori, n.d. Accessed 5 September 2019.

Quinz, Anna. “People I know: Eleonora Cumer and her world of books (artist’s)”, Franzmagazine, 25 July 2012. Accessed 5 September 2019.

Books On Books Collection – Jenny Smith

Untitled (2006)

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.

Photos: Books On Books Collection.


Little Black Book exemplifies Smith’s exploration of writing as a form of drawing, which also often finds expression in site-specific work such as What is the most important decision you have made? (2013) in Cupar, Fife, Scotland, and What is Shadow? and What is Freedom? (2016) in the same vicinity.

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.

Further Reading

Medicinal Art”, Studio Pavilion, 19 September 2019. Accessed 2 May 2020.

Blakeley, Deborah. “Jenny Smith, Edinburgh, Scotland”, Zone One Arts, 1 November 2015. Accessed 2 May 2020.

Bookmarking Book Art – Giorgio & Giulio Maffei

Display of Ed Ruscha's Various Small Fires and Milk, 1964, at Pliure: La Part du Feu, 2 February - 12 April 2015, Paris. Photo by Robert Bolick. Reflected in the lower left hand corner is the display of Bruce Nauman's Burning Small Fires; in the upper right corner, the film clip of Truffaut's 1966 Fahrenheit 451; and in the upper left, Maria Helena Vieira da Silva's La bibliotheque en feu, 1974.
Display of Ed Ruscha’s Various Small Fires and Milk, 1964
Pliure: La Part du Feu, 2 February – 12 April 2015, Paris, Fondation Calouste-Gulbenkian.
Photo by Robert Bolick, 11 April 2015.
Reflected in the lower left hand corner is the display of Bruce Nauman’s Burning Small Fires, 1968; in the upper right corner, the film clip of Truffaut’s 1966 Fahrenheit 451; and in the upper left, Maria Helena Vieira da Silva’s La bibliotheque en feu, 1974.

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.

1 – An Unreadable Quadrat Print, Bruno Munari

2 – The Sunset Strip, Ed Ruscha

3 – Nine Swimming Pools, Ed Ruscha

4 – Various Small Fires, Ed Ruscha

5 – Andy Warhol’s Children’s Book, Andy Warhol

6 – Choosing Green Beans, John Baldessari

7 – Kleve 2009, Ettore Spalletti

8 – Made in Machine, Jean-François Bory

9 – Cieli ad Alta Quota, Alighiero Boetti

10 – Il Merlo Ha Perso il Becco, Bruno Munari

11 – Mémoires, Guy Debord, Asger Jorn

12 – Zang Tumb Tuuum, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti

13 – Acervus, Luigi Ontani

14 – Toiletpaper JAN 2011, Maurizio Cattelan & Pierpaolo Ferrari

15 – Toiletpaper JUL 2012, Maurizio Cattelan & Pierpaolo Ferrari

16 – Les Illuminations, Fernand Léger & Arthur Rimbaud

17 – Man Ray, Man Ray

18 – The Biggest Art-Book in the World, Enrico Baj

19 – Fable, John Baldessari

20 – Air Condition, Allan Kaprow

21 – Andy Warhol’s Index (Book), Andy Warhol

22 – Some/Thing No.3, ed. David Antin, cover by Andy Warhol