Books On Books Collection – “Inscription: the Journal of Material Text”

I want the physicality of the book to create a physical message through the hands and the eyes that makes the reader more susceptible to the text.

Claire Van Vliet, “Thoughts on Bookmaking“, Poets House, 10 October 2019.  

Inscription: the Journal of Material TextTheory, Practice, History (2020)

Inscription: the Journal of Material Text – Theory, Practice, History
Edited by Gill Partington, Adam Smyth and Simon Morris
Dos-à-dos (flipped), perfect bound softcover, H314 x W314 mm, 132 pages (including the end pages left intentionally blank); fold-out double-sided print of Jérémie Bennequin’s erasure of Edgar Allen Poe’s “A Descent into the Maelstrom”, H940 x W940 mm; saddle-stitched chapbook of Craig Dworkin’s “Clock”, held in a mock 45 RPM record sleeve, H180 x W180 mm; vinyl LP recording of Sean Ashton’s novel Living in a Land, H314 x W314 mm; Acquired from Information as Material, 10 October 2020.

In its design, typography, format and media components, the first issue of Inscription: the Journal of Material Text – Theory, Practice, History embodies its domain. So much so that this metaphorical box of artifacts stands as a contribution to the study of material texts as much as any of the journal’s inaugural articles.

Jérémie Bennequin’s double-sided, bilingual print of his erasure of Poe’s “A Descent into the Maelstrom” recalls the palimpsest — a longstanding topic of material text study. Also, by standing in for Poe’s swirling maelstrom, the print’s image of spiralling erasure raises the domain’s recurrent theme of text-and-image interaction as well as that of the self-reflexiveness of such art. Using the book or text as physical material with which to create a work is central to book art as is the self-referencing that arises.

Bennequin’s choice of text also alludes to his other work. The short story’s themes of abyss, shipwreck and nothingness occur prominently in Poe-loving Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard, the 19th century poem that made us modern and launched (is still launching) scores of artists’ books paying material and conceptual homage. Bennequin is one of those artists.†

The print’s spiral erasure on a background of text serves as one of several voices in this journal issue’s intermedial†† harmony (or cacophony). The spiral reappears in Craig Dworkin’s meditation that scales up a pocket watch’s clock spring to the size of Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (1980). Dworkin finds the spiral in the fossil of a Holocene fish that swam over the bed that became the jetty. He “materializes” the watch’s minutes against the geological and evolutionary time frames of the formation of the Great Salt Lake and the fossil. On the back cover of the chapbook, its entire text is repeated in a spiral of text blocks. The chapbook slips back into its 45 RPM-size sleeve to echo the spiralling inscription of sound in vinyl grooves that actually occurs on the LP recording of Sean Ashton’s novel Living in a Land.

After Bennequin’s print, Dworkin’s meditation and Ashton’s LP, the journal itself appears, sporting the spiral as a logo on its trompe l’oeil cover. Not only drawn from Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, the logo draws from the stage costumes of Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi, which recur throughout the journal’s pages reminding us of drama as another medium in which the materiality of the text matters. In its own physical manifestation, the journal wears the materiality of the text on its sleeve and in its pages. The pages themselves spiral around a hole drilled through the center of the issue, echoing the sculptural extremity of inscribing, the book art technique of excising and the concept of nothingness central to many artists of inscription such as Robert Barry and Carl Andre, as this exchange shows:

RB: There is something about void and emptiness which I am personally very concerned with. I guess I can’t get it out of my system. Just emptiness. Nothing seems to me the most potent thing in the world.

CA: I would say a thing is a hole in a thing it is not. — Arts Magazine 47 (1972): 46

On its two page 2’s (a result of the dos-à-dos or back to back binding), Incription offers its own Magrittean take on holes:

In dos-à-dos binding, two codices are bound back to back in a Z form. So usually there are two fore-edges, two spines, and both codices have the same vertical orientation.

Example of traditional dos-à-dos binding: Odd Volumes: Book Art from the Allan Chasanoff Collection (2014). Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Inscription is bound dos-à-dos, but with only one fore-edge and one spine. Materially emphasizing the theme of inward spiralling, Inscription‘s two halves are upside down to one another. Their vertical orientations differ as can be seen in the following photo of the two front covers splayed away from the spine. The cover designer has obviously joined the fun by creating two fore-edges with the trompe l’oeil and “two” spines, one downward reading in the English style and, when flipped, one upward reading in the European style. Of course, therefore, there are two Tables of Content in opposite orders and two editorial prefaces, of which “one is considerably better: this is deliberate”. (Tongue-in-cheek humor seems to reside in the DNA of material text studies — and especially in book art.)

Two Tables of Content — naturally in reverse order for the dos-à-dos bound volume.

With the page layout spiralling from each end of the issue toward the spiral-set colophon placed in the center (usually part of the endmatter), we have spirals inscribed within spirals.

Left (or is it right?): the drilled hole centered on Ubu Roi‘s omphalic costume. Right (or is it left?): the spiral-set colophon.

Across the issue, the text block rotates like a vinyl record around the central hole.

By the time the colophon is reached, the reader/viewer’s head may be spinning, which could make it easier to read the colophon — wherein it is revealed that the book has been set in twenty different versions of Garamond type in a sequence such that the first letter of a line comes from the first version of Garamond, the second letter from the second version and so on, with the sequence starting anew with the next line. More spirals within spirals.

The materiality of this inaugural issue demonstrates how Inscription‘s focus “is not just on the meanings and uses of the codex book, but also the nature of writing surfaces (papery or otherwise), and the processes of mark-making in the widest possible sense”, as the editors put it. The care and creativity with which this first issue has been put together offer raw material with which to “take the study of material texts in new directions”. Mark-making by erasure, printing, juxtaposing, drilling, vinyl inscription, land erosion, evolution, land art, stage costumes, choice of type, page layout, binding, sleeving — all this even before we come to the articles themselves (see the photos of the Table of Contents above)!

For academics, book artists, printmakers, poets, and artists – and every permutation of roles, subsidiary roles and sub-subs of role — Inscription is rich, exuberant, eye-opening and eye-twisting, and eminently collectible as a work of art in its own right. Which is why it is in the Books On Books Collection.

† For Bennequin’s homage to Un Coup de Dés, see “Jérémie Bennequin“, Books On Books Collection, 11 April 2020.

†† “Intermedial” is taken from Trevor Stark’s Total Expansion of the Letter: Avant-Garde Art and Language after Mallarmé (2020), p.9. It refers to “the zone of indeterminacy between mediums, social practices, and temporalities” into which Mallarmé’s question “Does something like Letters exist?” threw the poet and avant-gardists. The question is ultimately a phenomenological one, which the study of material text inherently addresses.

A similar, related neologism — “intermediation” — was adopted from Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1965 by the language-, book-, and publishing-artist Dick Higgins in “Intermedia“, republished in Leonardo, Volume 34, Number 1, February 2001, pp. 49-54. It is not the same thing as intermediality or mixed media. As Higgins expressed it, “Many fine works are being done in mixed media: paintings which incorporate poems within their visual fields, for instance. But one knows which is which. In intermedia, on the other hand, the visual element (painting) is fused conceptually with the words.”, p. 52. It can be argued that works of intermedia are one way in which artists address intermediality.

Books On Books Collection – Maria Welch

the lists (2020)

the lists (2020)

Maria Welch

Chapbook, handmade paper covers, risograph printed on French Paper. H180 x W78 mm, 16 unnumbered pages. Edition of 200, of which this is #8. Acquired from the artist, 20 August 2020.

Created as a handout for an exhibition, this small chapbook delivers a powerful haptic effect with its pulp-painted handmade paper cover and risograph printing on French paper. The cover feels like bark, the paper like dry leaves. The tree-branch layout of lines echoes the sensation, and the content recalls “Silent Poem” by Robert Francis, which itself begs for a book artist’s interpretation.

This work of pulp painting that sits so well with that of Pat Gentenaar-Torley and Claire Van Vliet deploying the same technique came into the collection because of Welch’s contribution below to the tenth Artists’ Book Cornucopia, organized by Alicia Bailey.

Erratic Obsession (2019)

Erratic Obsession (2019)

Maria Welch

Single sheet cut and accordion folded. H116 x W 71 mm (closed), H420 x W561 (open). Wrapped in sleeve with slot-and-tab closure, housed in four-flap linen box with ribbon tie. Edition of 10, of which this is #8. Acquired from the artist, 20 August 2020.

Erratic Obsession speaks to several obsessions in the Books On Books Collection. The first is one with the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” (1892) by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (Stetson), an obsession provoked by book art from Harriet Bart and Caroline Penn (and teaching a class in Philadelphia on American fiction). The text in Erratic Obsession comes in part from the Gilman short story about a woman driven mad by social and marital pressures, and in part from Annie Payson Call’s Nerves and Commonsense (1909). The latter is a collection of Call’s self-help articles in the Ladies’ Home Journal and runs contrary to the subversive early feminism of Gilman’s story.

What Maria Welch has done with a single piece of paper speaks to a second obsession: the fusion of structure and content.

Unfolding this mirrored spiral-cut, single-sheet booklet feels like pulling strips of wallpaper from the wall, as the main character does in “The Yellow Wallpaper”. By printing on both sides of the single sheet, Welch has doubled down on the mirrored structure. By going dark on one side and light on the other, she has tripled down on the structure. All of these structural choices echo the oxymoronic face-off of the title — the erratic vs the obsession — which in turn echoes the themes of Gilman’s story: a wife’s freedom vs a husband’s control, the individual’s mind and self vs society’s expected behavior. Welch’s structural tensions are also responding to the tension between Gilman’s and Call’s perspectives.

Interesting that the artist provides instructions on how the work should be displayed. Preferably in the round. Preferably that folds 1 and 31 (the first and last) stand upright, that folds 2-6 and 26-30 lay flat, that folds 7-9 and 23-25 stand upright, that folds 10-12 and 20-22 create mountain peaks, and that folds 13-19 form the central upright accordion. But the work displays equally well in an erratic spill. Again, a fusion of structure and content.

In its techniques of pulp painting, blow-out papermaking, kirigami (paper cutting) and origami (paper folding), Erratic Obsession rings a third obsession in the collection: the fusion of technique with content. With pulp painting and blow-out papermaking, the image or patterns are intrinsic to the paper, just as a character might think its personality and will are intrinsic to its self. With paper folding and cutting, the techniques are external to the paper, just as societal and marital pressures bend and sever the character’s self. Of course, Call would likely have it the other way round: socialization and commonsense provide the wholesome; willful personality cuts and bends it. No wonder: another of Call’s books was How to Live Quietly (1918).

Further Reading

Wallpaper: An Altered Book Experiment“, Bookmarking Book Art, 10 June 2018.

Claire Van Vliet”, Books On Books Collection, 8 August 2019.

First Seven Books of the Rijswijk Paper Biennial (1996 – 2008)”, Books On Books Collection, 10 October 2019.

Alicia Bailey and the Artists’ Book Cornucopia”, Bookmarking Book Art, 12 November 2019.

Caroline Penn”, Books On Books Collection, 11 June 2020.

Call, Annie Payson. Nerves and Commonsense (Boston: Little, Brown, 1909).

Books On Books Collection – Jaz Graf

Trophic Avulsions (2016)

Trophic Avulsions (2016)
Jaz Graf
Cyanotype accordion book with thread drawing, paper lithography and laser engraving on wood. Closed: H6 x W8.5 x D1.0 inches; Open: W80 inches. Unique. Acquired from the artist, 14 March 2018. Photos: Books On Books Collection.


Graf has used satellite photos of various river deltas around the world to create the cyanotype prints in this work. The patterns from which are exposed come from paper litho prints made on fabric. The result is a blurring, softening yet “nearing” of the otherwise sharp, scientific and remote images normally viewed on digital screens or photographic paper. As Graf points out in her description, the word trophic “relates to an ecological concept of the trophic cascade, in which one action leads to another in an ecosystem, implying ideas of interconnectivity.”  

That interconnectivity and the impact we have on “the separation of land from one area and its attachment to another”, which is what avulsion means, is implied by the streams of thread meandering across and off the panels of the accordion form from beginning to end. Even though the panels fold to fit within their laser-engraved birch panels, they vary in width, which breaks up the expected regularity of the accordion when it is extended. The engravings show a delta emptying into a desert and are mounted on wood blocks covered in muslin bearing the printed delta image made with paper lithography. 

Thread drawing is a technique common to several outstanding works of book art: Jody Alexander’s Felix’s Notebook (2008), Marion Bataille’s Vues/Lues (2018), Dianna Frid’s Reversal (2009), Candace Hicks’ Composition (2009~), Helen Hiebert‘s Nebulae (2017), Shellie Holden’s Maps (2006), Lisa Kokin’s Partial History of Jewish Life in Modern Times (1997), Ines Seidel’s Changed Constitution (2015) and Mireille Vautier‘s Agenda (2001) among others. Graf’s handling of the technique and its combination with cyanotype printing and lithography in the treatment of her theme, though, make it distinctive and original.

The environmental focus of Trophic Avulsions places it in a well-loved tradition in book art. Other works by Graf, such as Mother Water (2018) below, would be comfortably at home in an exhibition with

Biography (2010) by Sarah Bryant, who creatively connects the human body’s elements with those of the periodic table to bear witness to our impact on the environment and vice versa;

the Ice Books series (2007-17) by Basia Irland, who selects local seeds and embeds them as “text” in a block of frozen river water, carved into the shape of a book to be released into the local river where it melts, releasing the seeds;

the Whorl series (2013- ongoing) by Jacqueline Rush Lee, who returns books to their botanical origins by sculpting books and inserting them into the cavity of a tree to allow time, changing weather conditions and insect activity to rewrite them into the shape of a whorl in a tree hollow;

Batterers (1996) by Denise Levertov, Kathryn Lipke and Claire Van Vliet, who combine Levertov’s powerful poem extending a metaphor of abuse to the earth with Lipke’s clay paperwork set into a wooden tray as the base of this sculptural book, whose pages Van Vliet makes unfold into a fiery landscape; or

Silent Spring Revisited (2016) by Chris Ruston, who uses her frequent visits to natural history museums to inspire works that blend science and art that highlight extinction and the interdependence of humans and nature.

If such an exhibition — a twentieth anniversary of Betty Bright’s 1992 “Completing the Circle: Artists’ Books on the Environment”? — were organized, Trophic Avulsions would be available to loan!

Mother Water (2018)
Laser-etched acrylic, cyanotype, porcelain
Dimensions variable (15 panels – each 14”x11”)
The river featured is Thailand’s Chao Praya. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

Books On Books Collection – Claire Van Vliet

Woven and Interlocking Book Structures (2002)

Claire Van Vliet and Elizabeth Steiner, Woven and Interlocking Book Structures (Newark, Vermont: The Janus Press, 2002). Number 13 of two hundred copies signed by Claire Van Vliet. Four slipcases containing 16 book models are enclosed with the book in a cloth-covered clamshell box. The binding models are:
A — Aunt Sallie’s Lament; Aunt Sallie’s Lament without Flags; Aunt Sallie’s Lament non-adhesive version; Moeraki Boulders; Designating Duet. Papers used include Elephant Hide, Fabriano cover and Miliani Ingres, French’s recycled, Marblesmith, Bristol and Saunders laid.
B — Beauty in Use; Beauty in Use with text leaves; Deep in the Territory; Night Street. Papers used include Elephant Hide, French’s recycled, Bristol, Mohawk Superfine and Fabriano cover.
C — Gioia I; Gioia II; Sing Weaving; Compound Frame. Papers used include Elephant Hide, French’s recycled, Bristol, Mohawk Superfine, Linen Index, Neenah UV Columns and Marblesmith.
D — Bone Songs; A Landscape with Cows in It; Well-Heeled. Papers used include Elephant Hide, Mohawk Superfine, Arches laid, and Fabriano text and Miliani Ingres.

Tumbling Blocks for Pris and Bruce (1996)

Claire Van Vliet, Tumbling Blocks for Pris and Bruce (Newark, Vermont: The Janus Press, 1996). Number 134 of two hundred. Created from offcuts from Praise Basted In: A Friendship Quilt for Aunt Sallie (1995). Issued in a non-adhesive paper box; housed in a clear plastic box. Each leaf consists of two cut letters glued back to back; leaves folded and glued to permit book to open into a variety of shapes. “Pris and Bruce” are the Hubbards, Janus Press patrons.

Batterers (1996)

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Batterers (1996)

Denise Levertov, Kathryn Lipke Vigesaa and Claire Van Vliet

Slipcase: H307 x W387 x D73 mm; Tray: H296 x W380 x D61 mm; Accordion: H270 x W356 x D33 (closed), H270 x W1115 mm (open). Edition of 500, of which this is #5, signed. Acquired from Van Vliet via Vamp & Tramp, 17 July 2020.

What is remarkable about this sculptural book is its fusion of collaborators’ efforts, of art forms, and of text, materials, techniques and structures.

In the late 1980s, Claire Van Vliet and Kathryn Lipke (née Vigesaa) were seeking a collaborative project. After Van Vliet spotted Denise Levertov’s poem “Batterers” in the American Poetry Review (1990:6), they agreed that the poem, which enfolds our abuse of the earth within a metaphor of domestic abuse, was the appropriate text to join somehow with Lipke’s series of structural artworks called Earthskins.

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Earthskins (1988-96)

Kathryn Lipke (Vigesaa)

Installation views of the works created from paper pulp, clay and pigments; some reaching 69 feet in length. Photos: Courtesy of the artist.

When letterpress printers consider the reproduction of a short poem, the broadside is the most common art form adopted. Van Vliet’s adoption of it is anything but common. Instead, she has orchestrated a combination of structures and art forms. From the maroon-printed, brown linen slipcase slides a tray made of tamarack wood to which Lipke’s vacuum-formed panel of clay mixed with paper is fixed. As the black tray is lifted, layers of multi-folded paper attached to a backing appear.

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The top two layers are glued and sewn with multi-stranded red thread to the third and bottom layer, displaying the names of the author, work and Van Vliet’s press. The bottom layer is glued to a backing of three strong card panels tightly glued to two wood runners, sawn or routered into a slight U shape.

As the top layer is unfolded by pulling it apart, left and right, three tabs drop down to reveal Levertov’s poem.

Van Vliet’s combination of structures and forms offers multiple orders in which to read the poem, which pleased Levertov because she liked the poem in both the stanzaic orders of 1-2-3 and 1-3-2 (correspondence with Kathryn Lipke and Claire Van Vliet, 20 July 2020). In a book-like way, the covering tray slides from its slipcover, the cover is removed, and the accordion pages unfold to be read left panel first, right panel second and center panel third, emphasizing the embedded and central metaphor.

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Spread fully open, the structure assumes a single-sheet broadside form, and the “center” stanza moves from third to second in order. But there is a third order of reading, as it were. The broadside form “leans” into the art forms of print, painting and bas-relief sculpture. The text, images and design become a whole experience, an object to be taken in as a whole.

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Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Not only in form does Batterers “lean” into the form of painting: the imagery and colors arise from the technique of pulp painting, a technique defined by the work of Marius Péraudeau in the mid-twentieth century. Pat Gentenaar’s still life Water Dragon in this collection provides another example of the technique.

Top: cover image of Marius Péraudeau: Pulp Paper Paintings (Paris: Ernst Maget, 1991). Photo taken at British Library: Books On Books. Bottom: Water Dragon (n.d.) Pat Gentenaar-Torley. Photo: Books On Books Collection.

In pulp painting, the paper is the painting. Assisted by Katie MacGregor and Bernie Vinzani in their paper studio in Whiting, Maine, Van Vliet poured different colors of paper pulp into prepared forms to create three sheets of paper on which to print and then collage into the image that suggests dual images: that of a volcano and that of a woman reclining on her side or face down. The fusion of shapes, the fusion of color and fiber in pulp painting, and the fusion of clay and pulp in the covering bas-relief (which can also be used as a stand for the broadside) fuse with the poem’s words and metaphor. Once this artwork has been experienced, reading the poem printed in a traditional book can never be the same.

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Further Reading

The First Seven Books of the Rijswijk Paper Biennial“, Books On Books Collection, 10 October 2019.

Auburn, Luke. “Typographer and founder of Janus Press Claire Van Vliet to be presented with Goudy Award Nov. 2“, University News, Rochester Institute of Technology, 25 October 2017.

Craft in America, PBS Series, Claire Van Vliet (N.D.) Includes a short video with Kathleen Walkup (Mills College) 7 October 2009.

Library of Congress, The Janus Press, 19 October 2017.

Sullivan, James D. “A Poem Is a Material Object: Claire Van Vliet’s Artists Books and Denise Levertov’s “Batterers”“, Humanities, 2019, 8, 124; doi:10.3390/h8030124.

University of Wisconsin, Woven and Interlocking Book Structures, 9 November 2018.

Van Vliet, Claire. “Thoughts on Bookmaking by Claire Van Vliet of The Janus Press“, Poet’s House, 10 October 2019.

Bookmarking Book Art – Wilber Schilling

Henry James, The Beast in the Jungle, 1903. Allen Press, 1963. The copy shown is one of only 15 copies with an extra suite of 16 artist’s proofs, each titled, numbered 9/15 and signed by the artist in a separate portfolio.  Displayed online at Sophie Schneideman – Rare Books and Prints.

In his Books and Vines essays, Chris T. Adamson provides fresh, personal and insightful comments on fine book productions and their content such as Henry James’ “The Beast in the Jungle” from the Lewis and Dorothy Allen Press in 1963, pictured above.  An oenophile, as the title of his series suggests, Adamson also occasionally offers tips on the best wines with which to decant and read these works.

James is a favorite author at Books On Books as is Herman Melville. Indulge the punning coincidence of Adamson’s introducing us to Wilber Schilling’s Indulgence Press and his edition of Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street“.  Schilling’s edition of “Bartleby” – with Suzanne Moore’s original hand lettering of Bartleby’s classic statement “I would prefer not to” first appearing fully legible then becoming larger until it literally falls off the bottom of the final page – was an early career statement of an interest in more than fine press work but in book art as well.

Consider Schilling’s Half-Life/Full-Life and its binding a variation on the accordion/flag structure of Hedi Kyle and Claire Van Vliet.  The complexity of the form marries well with that of the intertwining, interleaving text and photos along the timelines of the Doomsday Clock and global warming.

Half Life/Full Life Wilber Schilling, 2009 ISBN: 0-9742191-5-0 Cover
Half Life/Full Life
Wilber Schilling, 2009
ISBN: 0-9742191-5-0
Cover

Schilling’s photography in Half Life/Full Life speaks to the importance of that craft in his overall portfolio. His photos of aging, decayed and unbound books are haunting and remind me of the found art of M.L Van Nice.

Natural History Multi-layered gum bichromate print 30" x 22" on Rives BFK 2004 Copyright © Wilber H. Schilling
Natural History
Multi-layered gum bichromate print
30″ x 22″ on Rives BFK
2004
Copyright © Wilber H. Schilling

Schilling has collaborated with Thomas Rose (visual artist and professor at the University of Minnesota),   Michael Dennis Browne (poet and librettist), Rick Moody (author of The Ice Storm) and Patricia Hampl (MacArthur Fellow poet and novelist). He has collaborated with Daniel E. Kelm (book artist, founder of the Garage Annex School for Book Arts and a collaborator with Suzanne Moore).

Given the influence of Marcel Duchamp and Joseph Cornell on works such as Arthur & Barbara (Arthur Danto and Barbara Westman) or Surplus Value Books: Catalog Number 13, you might say that Schilling has attempted to collaborate with them as well. The danger in that, of course, is highly derivative artwork. That early-career whiff of genius in commissioning the now famous calligrapher Suzanne Moore to hand letter “I would prefer not to” and spreading it in ever larger size across the pages might be what takes Schilling’s work beyond the derivative. His work is worth examining with that anticipation.