Letterpress Printing ABC (2004) David Clifford Miniature. H78 x W78 mm, 62 pages. Edition of 50 numbered copies, of which this is #48. Acquired from Bromer Booksellers, 1 August 2021. Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the publisher.
Among the several outstanding production features of Clifford’s miniature is its variation on Claire Van Vliet’s binding structure in The Gospel of Mary (2006). It first becomes apparent in the double-page spread below. As with most of the structures demonstrated in Woven and Interlocking Book Structures (2002), the binding structure consists of woven strips of paper to hold the folios together and attach the cover. The top-down view of Letterpress ABC shows the gathered folios and, if enlarged in a browser, also shows the paper tape running from the cover and across the gathers.
Staking his claim over Andrew Morrison as first past the post, Clifford starts his A-Z with the last symbol of the alphabet (“Ampersand”) and closes with the same Z term (“zinco”). There are other overlaps in terms, but the two efforts differ so rewardingly — Clifford’s woven binding, typeset definitions, miniature trim size and handmade paper versus Morrison’s children’s board book hinged binding, demonstrated definitions, larger trim and Somerset paper — that one cannot be chosen over the other.
An additional pleasure from Clifford’s book is its complement to two other Heavenly Monkey publications in the Books On Books Collection: Francesca Lohmann’s An Alphabetical Accumulation (2017) and Rollin Milroy’s Francesco Griffo da Bologna: Fragments and Glimpses (2020). If it were not for Rollin Milroy, the attentive reader and I would forever struggle with the puzzle of how Clifford’s 2004 binding came to be influenced by Van Vliet’s 2006 binding. Milroy writes:
Claire came to Vancouver in ’04 and gave a day-long class, which David (& his daughter Yasmine) attended. The project was already in development (probably even printed), and D showed Claire a dummy and got some pointers. I didn’t realize ABC preceded her own Gospel.
And here is the entry for Letterpress extracted from proofs for Heavenly Monkey’s checklist to be published in 2022:
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.
The art of the alphabet seems to be a rite of passage for graphic artists. Perhaps it is that art and the alphabet find common ground in the urge to make sense of the world. Perhaps it’s that the alphabet’s invention, development and artistic treatment present a rich tradition for artists to follow or challenge. Perhaps it’s that letterforms and the alphabet offer raw material, subject and organizing principle all in one. Semic or asemic. Calligraphic, typographic or even plastic. Representational or abstract. All are options. But most often, something bookish results. From Islam Aly’s 28 Letters(2013) to Ludwig Zeller’s Alphacollage (1979), a significant part of the Books On Books Collection is taken up with book art based on the ABCs and letterforms. The Collection’s two facsimiles of Geofroy Tory’s Champ Fleury provide a useful historical backdrop that throws into relief several of the Collection’s works and their performance of this rite of passage.
Geofroy Tory de Bourges (c.1480-1533) straddles the letters of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. Appointed by François I in 1530 as his printer, Tory operated on the Petit Pont under the sign of le Pot cassé (“the broken pot”) and was known for his workshop’s handwritten Book of Hours (1524). Rooted in the horae tradition reaching back to the 13th century, Tory’s Book of Hours is an early-to-mid-Renaissance version of its predecessors. As beautiful as his Book of Hours is, Champ Fleury (1529) became his best known work. Authored and designed by Tory, it was produced by hand typesetting and letterpress printing in Paris with Giles Gourmont. Printed less than 100 years after Gutenberg’s innovation, Champ Fleury represents the printed book toddling out of its incunabula period.
Book of Hours Geofroy Tory (1524) Bound in the 18th century, 113 leaves of vellum. Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection (Library of Congress). Accessed 30 May 2021.
According to Jeremy Norman’sHistory of Informationsite, the first separate printed title page appeared in 1463. Subject indices date back to the 13th century, originating at the University of Paris, and the first printed indices, to 1470. Champ Fleury‘s front matter boasts a title page, two prefaces to the reader, a statement of the King’s Privilege awarded for the book for ten years (a forerunner to the copyright page), a name index without location references and a subject index with folio references. Champ Fleury’s back matter consists of a colophon preceded by a lengthy appendix illustrating various forms of the alphabet (Hebrew, Greek, Latin, etc.).
Tory’s placement of the indices in the front matter rather than the back matter reflects the gradual development of the anatomy of the book towards the structure that would ultimately be codified in reference works like the Chicago Manual of Style. Paratextual elements like the title page, table of contents, page numbers, etc., did not spring up overnight. If, as Eric Havelock and others assert, society, the arts and culture are a superstructure erected on the foundation of the alphabet (see below), Champ Fleury and its “letterology” make for a particularly fitting exemplar of the book as an element of the superstructure arising from the alphabet.
Perhaps book artists sense this, which again leads to that alphabet art rite of passage and the elaborate variations on it. The illustration of various forms of the alphabet in the appendix also draws on another developing tradition: the typesetter/printer’s sample book advertising the firm’s fonts. Abecedaries and artist books have sprung from that tradition, too.
Tory was not the first to propose an art and science behind the letterforms of the alphabet. Predating his efforts were Giovanninno de’ Grassi (1390-1405), Felice Feliciano (1463), the Anonymous Chicagoensis and Anonymous Monachensis (1468?), Damianus Moyllus (1480), Fra Luca Pacioli (1509), Sigismondo Fanti (1514), Francesco Torniello (1517), Ludovico Arrighi (1522), Albrecht Dürer (1525) and Giovanni Battista Verini (1527). Leading up to Champ Fleury, these earlier efforts track the development of humanism. Arguably, Tory’s effort is a capstone, combining myth, allegory, metaphysics, geometry, linguistics, calligraphy, typography and cryptography.
Book One, concerned with the mythical origins of the French language, also addresses the fabled origins of the alphabet: the story of Jove, Io and Mercury behind the letters I and O and their claim to being the first letters and also the tale of Apollo’s accidental murder of Hyacinth explaining the letters A and Y and their similar claim. Two works in the Collection built on alphabet origin stories are Francisca Prieto’s Printed Matter series (2002-2008) William Joyce’s The Numberlys (2014), but many more follow in Champ Fleury’s art and science footsteps.
Tory’s late medieval/early Renaissance perspective gives way to 20th and 21st century poetics and phenomenology in most works of the Collection. Aaron Cohick’s The New Manifesto of the NewLights Press (third iteration) (2017) offers a good example. Another — closer to Tory’s moral and geometric perspective but of a more modern spirituality — is Jeffrey Morin and Steven Ferlauto’s Sacred Space (2003).
Compile all the abecedaries ever created and it would approximate the result of Adam and Eve’s task of naming all the creatures and things of the world. Leonard Baskin echoes that innocence in Hosie’s Alphabet(1972) with its words and animals supplied by his children. If Adam and Eve had had an alphabet, they might have been tempted into pareidolia, which is represented in the Collection by VUES/LUES: Un Abécédaire de Marion Bataille (2018) and Typographic Universe (2014) by Steven Heller and Gail Anderson. Heller and Anderson’s compendium extends to letters formed of natural and drawn objects from the real world, which Champ Fleury’s appendix foreshadows with its floral and fantastic alphabets.
Of course, Tory’s work is not an abecedary. In Books Two and Three, it develops into a full-blown treatise on letterforms whose meaning and appearance are explained allegorically and driven by the compass, rule and geometry expressed within a 10x10x10 cell cube. It would overstate the case to call it “typographic design”. As drawn, Tory’s diagrams would serve poorly for cutting and forming punches or matrices (although it has been done). Nevertheless, his geometric approach foreshadows the grids and algorithms of Wim Crouwel’s New Alphabet (1967), Timothy Epps and Christopher Evans’ Alphabet(1970) and Ji Lee’s Univers Revolved: A Three-Dimensional Alphabet (2004).
Before the age of computers and algorithms, though, the artist and designer Bruce Rogers did bring typographic design to bear on Champ Fleury. The Grolier Club sponsored the printing of George B. Ives’ English translation. Rogers’ design “translates” Champ Fleury just as much as Ives does, perhaps more so. The Grolier Club edition is one of only ten books to be set completely in the Centaur typeface designed by Rogers.
Of course, the translation entails a complete resetting of the text, and Centaur naturally delivers crisper letters. Also, in redesigning with Centaur, Rogers alters the original’s layout and, therefore, the reader’s experience of it. Notice in the OAHK pages above and in the three double-page spreads below how Rogers changes Tory’s flow or jumpiness to something fixed or stately. Attention to the page and its layout offers book artists as well as book designers yet another creative avenue. For proof of that, compare the Collection’s entries for Angel, Baskin and de Cumptich.
Architecture is another of Tory’s well-developed analogies and explanations of the ancients’ thinking behind the letterforms. In his drawings below, he aligns the letters AHKOIS with the parts of a building and letters IL with floor plans. He connects the circularity of the Coliseum’s exterior and the ovalness of its arena with the proper shape of the letter O. In the Colletion, the analogy reappears fantastically in Johann David Steingruber’s Architectural Alphabet (1773/1972), Antonio Basoli’s Alfabeto Pittorico (1839/1998) Antonio and Giovanni Battista de Pian’s efforts in 1839 and 1842.
The architectural analogy provides Tory with his segue from plane to solid geometry in aligning the shapes of letters with human anatomy and virtues. His three-dimensional analysis of letterforms also finds contemporary analogues in two of Pieter Brattinga’s Kwadraat Blad series: Crouwel’s, mentioned above, and Anthon Beeke’s Alphabet (1970). Tory’s three-dimensional letterforms foreshadow Crouwel’s investigation of units based on the assembly of organic cells and his later musings on a laser-generated four-dimensional typography (Elliman, 62). And it is hard to evoke anything more humanoid and three-dimensional — albeit far less analytical or prudish — than Beeke’s alphabet formed with naked female models. (Tory comments that in a correctly drawn A, the crossbar will virtuously cover the genitals of Vitruvian man inscribed in the 10×10 grid. Modesty seems to extend to H as well but not so much to O and K.)
The calligraphic impulse that underlies Champ Fleury‘s typographic representations shows itself clearest in the woodcuts for the Cadeaulx alphabet in the appendix. The Books On Books Collection has its share of calligraphic abecedaries such as Marie Angel’s An Animated Alphabet (1996) and Andrew Zega and Bernd Dam’s An Architectural Alphabet (2008) as well as more purely calligraphic alphabets such as Islam Aly’s, mentioned above, and Suzanne Moore’s A Blind Alphabet (1986) .
Two artists whose abecedaries blend the calligraphic and typographic are Robert de Vicq de Cumptich and Cathryn Miller. In de Cumptich’s Bembo’s Zoo (2000), letters and punctuation marks from the Bembo typeface form calligraphic animal shapes. Miller’s L is for Lettering(2011) joins up the alphabetic rite of passage, calligraphy and typography by allying each of her hand-drawn letters with the name of a typeface from “A is for Arial” to “Z is for Zapfino”.
The last page of Tory’s illustration of additional alphabets is not the end of his work. The colophon plays that role. Curiously, Tory misses out the character that plays that role for the alphabet itself: the ampersand. “Curiously” because the character & appears throughout Champ Fleury — even at the end of the colophon’s fourth line in French — and it is after all the most flowery of the alphabet’s characters. Perhaps some book artist will follow Bruce Rogers’ example in his joking Depression-era homage to Tory on the back of Champ Rosé and create an homage to Tory and Rogers of three-dimensional ampersands.
Golec, Michael. 2015. “Champ Fleury in the Machine Age”, lecture at the School of Visual Arts, NYC. Uploaded 4 June 2015. Accessed 12 May 2021. Good slides and a comparative look at Tory’s original and Rogers’ resetting.
Strange Papers: A Collection of the World’s Rarest Handmade Papers (1987)
Strange Papers(1987) Fred Siegenthaler Wooden, felt-lined briefcase, containing a large box enclosing a book and 101 rare handmade paper samples in individual portfolios. Covering paper for the box and book is two-layer handmade paper from Nepal made with the bast fiber of the Daphne papyracea. Briefcase: H x W x D mm. Box: H x W x D Book: H x W mm, 127 pages. Portfolios: Edition of 200 copies, of which this is #28, signed by Fred Siegenthaler. Acquired from Berkelouw Rare Books, 13 Aug 2020. Romana-Butten cover paper from Papierfabrik August Koehler in Oberkirch, W. Germany. Printed by G. Krebs in Basel, Switzerland.
As Siegenthaler explains in his preface, this is the work that started an international organization: the International Association of Hand Papermakers and Paper Artists (IAPMA). By 1986, Siegenthaler was well positioned to start this international association focused on paper art and the craft and science of papermaking. Since the late 1960s, he had been experimenting with strange material for paper — glass beads, hay, leather waste, stinging nettles, tobacco, wasps’ nests and much more. By the 1970s, he was supplying handmade custom papers to Helen Frankenthaler, Jasper Johns, Marisol, Claes Oldenburg among others. Travelling the world for business reasons (Sandoz), he began collecting paper samples from like-minded artists and papermakers in Mexico, Thailand, Viet Nam and more than 87 other countries. And he was “convinced that [he] had a duty to include these exclusive, beautiful and rare creations in [his] collection and preserve them for posterity”.
So, in November 1985, he began writing (by hand) to his network and, later, new association colleagues telling them of his plan for assembling Strange Papers. With the 200 samples of each paper, each selected contributor also provided a structured description of the raw materials and process used. The resulting book not only delivers a wealth of knowledge on the portfolios of samples but also contains items worth placing alongside the portfolios in an exhibition: a sample of a Taoist sacrificial money note on handmade rice paper with embossed gold leaf, plant drawings by Marilyn Wold and small samples of shifu and kinu-shifu (woven papers).
To hold a piece of papyrus and feel its natural curl toward scrolling, its roughness on one side and its smoothness yet segmentedness on the other, brings the history of paper alive. The differences among all the samples — in touch, appearance and, for some, even smell — is extraordinary. It is hard to choose what is most enjoyable about Strange Papers: reading the entries, holding each sample up to the light to examine it, comparing one sample with another, or deciding which is the strangest raw material.
The text — Browsing and reading the entries yields fascinating tidbits. Hawaii’s Akia plant has poisonous bark, roots and leaves, which are discarded in papermaking, but, according to Pam Barton, Hawaiians pound them, put them in a porous container and sink it in salt water pools to narcotize fish to be caught. Donna Koretsky advises observing the Fancy Manila Hemp paper under varying angles of light to see how the coloring changes. From the region where the Hollander beater was invented, De Zaanse Molen’t Weefhuis cites a letter from the paper scholar Henk Voorn that in large shipbuilding works, Moss Paper “was nailed to wood with so-called paper nails under the copper skin of the hull.” In making Jute Paper, Natan Kaaren in Israel “used old sacks … cut up into shreds and placed to rot in a barrel of water … about a year.” The confluence of patience, planning, sense of tradition, attention to detail, awareness of function with creative exuberance is the chief effect of the entries.
Inspection and comparison — Each of the 101 samples calls for inspection. Holding each one to the light and turning it side to side to see the change in effect is seductive. Photographing each paper backlit through its portfolio’s oval cutout shares some of this pleasure of inspection. To the oval cutout’s left, the number-stamped side is shown; to the right, the reverse side. Each sheet rests on its portfolio folder and is angled for viewing the surface. The six similarly named papers of the twelve composed of some form of grass leap out for comparison.
Sample 1.1 Composed of Poaceae — poa annua, poa trivialis. Netherlands. Not of the same family as the following sample, which goes to show how the same common name does not always identify the same substance. Both Lawn Grass samples were cut by lawn mower, but 1.1 was harvested over a longer period and fermented. Both were cooked for two hours, but 1.1 underwent another half hour of boiling. This sample’s darker color and slightly greater heft may be due to its difference in family or the washing process. Both feel brittle and make a crinkling sound when flexed.
Sample 19.5 Composed of Stenotaphrum secundatum. Israel. With this sample, the pulp was washed for a further two hours after boiling and then strained through a screen under high pressure, which may account for its greater translucence. Sample 19.5’s wrinkles are more shallow than 1.1’s and resembles wax paper. Both samples have a pungent dry grass smell.
Sample 14.2 Composed of Cortaderia selloana. Australia. The color and texture differ greatly from those of the next sample. This one is almost linen-like, not fully apparent from the photo, and is lighter, more flexible and less brittle than the next sample. It has almost no smell. The sample’s description is not extensive, which limits comparison of processing.
Sample 22.1 Also composed of Cortaderia selloana. USA. The darker color may be due to inclusion of stalks and fibrous plumes and possibly the season of harvesting. This sample is far less dense and far more brittle than 14.2. Where 14.2 has that linen-like texture on its number-stamped side, 22.1 is actually more polished between the bits of stalk or leaf. Its smell is slightly metallic.
Sample 15.5 Composed of Phragmites australis. Australia. Cut with a garden shredder before soaking then boiling in a solution of 17% caustic soda (500 gms in 30 liters). Beating occurred by chopping with a Chinese-style vegetable cleaver, then running through a sink garbage disposal unit, then running through a kitchen blender. Its color, lighter than the next sample’s, matches with its weight and stiffness, both less than the next sample’s.
Sample 18.1 Composed of Phragmites communis. USA. Cut into 2-3 inch length. Soaked then boiled in 20% caustic soda. Processed with a Hollander beater. The densest and least translucent of all the grass samples above. It has a huskier smell than the Common Reed sample above.
The strangest raw material — This is truly a contest. Carrots are a strong contender, but so are hemp from old fire brigade hoses, moss, peat and stinging nettles. The following are chosen due to their inorganic, silicate and worrisome nature. Except for the sample made of 100% polyethylene fibers, all others consist of organic material.
Sample 32.1 Composed of 100% asbestos fiber. Light and flimsy, it feels like cloth; seems odorless; but this is not one to handle or sniff too closely. Its white, greyish color and dimpled texture will be familiar to anyone who attended school in the latter half of the twentieth century and looked up the ceilings.
Sample 28.1 Composed of 70% strands of glass, containing about 200 tiny fibers, 20% Kozo and 10% polyvinyl alcohol fibers for binding. The glass strands feel tough and breakable; they shine like satin under glancing light; their pinkness comes from dye. Odorless.
Among the contributors with other works represented in the Books On Books Collection are Winifred Lutz, Maureen Richardson, Raymond Tomasso and Therese Weber. Each also appeared in one of the first seven books published for the Rijswijk Paper Biennial, which along with Siegenthaler’s works here, Helen Hiebert’s The Secret Life of Paper, paper samplers from Velma Bolyard and Maureen Richardson, works from Taller Leñateros, watermark art from Gangolf Ulbricht, and pulp painting works from Pat Gentenaar-Torley, John Gerard, Claire Van Vliet and Maria Welch form the core of the collection’s subset focused on paper. Other references are listed under Further Reading.
The Works and its update (below) are useful and valuable to have alongside Strange Papers. Both illustrate Siegenthaler’s breadth of artistry beyond papermaking, and the former includes a comprehensive essay on that artistry by Nana Badenberg. Along with John Gerard and Gangolf Ulbricht, Siegenthaler is one of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries’ masters at using watermarking to make art. His self-portrait, included in The Works, provides an outstanding example of watermark art, described at length by Badenberg. She records Siegenthaler’s watermark contributions to works by Horst Antes and Meret Oppenheim as well as his papermaking for the artists mentioned in this entry’s introduction. Her commentary on the technical, material and conceptual aspects of Siegenthaler’s work in each of its areas of development — “incorporation” (similar but more subtle than appropriation), “revealments”, book objects, paper castings of the human form, “repulpings” (recycling of precious papers), pulp painting and sculpturing, signage, erotica and religious works — enriches any encounter with his art.
Nachtrag zu: Fred Siegenthaler Das Werk: neue Arbeiten aus den Jahren 2010 bis 2015 / Addendum to: Fred Siegenthaler The Works: New Works from 2010 to 2015 (2016)
This double-page spread provides a snapshot of continuity and development. The cards made from repulping and recalling Siegenthaler’s earlier work with this technique speak to continuity — as does the juxtaposition of the overpaintings from 2000 and 2011 on the next page. The nature of Siegenthaler’s 2010-2015 absorption with color on the verso page contrasts with his earlier handling of color in the Kopfüssler and the facsimile leaf of the Gutenberg Bible on the recto. Like Strange Papers, the Addendum reflects the careful planning and exuberant creativity characteristic of Siegenthaler’s entire career.
Blue Whale (2015) Jane Paterson Self-covering accordion book. H140 x W155 x D10 mm (closed); W750 mm (open). Unique. Acquired from the artist, 15 April 2015. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
An acquisition early in the early days of this collection, Blue Whale forged the way for later acquisitions that painted with paper. At the time, the artist was asked how Blue Whale was created:
In answer to your questions about the processes I use, I should explain that I have a background in textile design and a great love for indigo dye. Since starting making books I have experimented with dyeing paper in an indigo vat. I use khadi and various mulberry papers that have excellent wet strength and allow me to use many of the decorative processes that I use with textiles. I also dye card board from boxes and have exciting results tearing the wet layers apart. I made the sea in the Blue Whale book from fine paper that had partly disintegrated in the vat. The cover was made by clamping khadi paper between 2 square blocks so that the dye seeped underneath in interesting ways. The whales are made from dyed khadi. Artist’s correspondence, 9 April 2015.
Paterson’s technique in Blue Whale occupies a middle ground between collage and pulp painting. The way the artist has manipulated the nearly disintegrated, indigo-dyed fine paper to evoke the depth, surface and spray of the sea is remarkable. Additional examples of her work with indigo dye as well as other book art techniques can be found in the Artists Book Club Dove (ABCD) site.
Khadi is also the name of a papermaking company founded in the 1980s in India. Based outside the village of Tarihal near Hubli, in Karnataka, South India, Khadi runs a mill that manufactures the 100% cotton-rag paper. The company also works with suppliers in Nepal (GET Paper) and Bhutan (Jungshi). The process is described here and demonstrated here.
Inscription: the Journal of Material Text – Theory, 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.
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.
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)
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).
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.
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.
“Artist of the Week“, Jaffe Center for the Book Arts, Florida State University. 5 January 2020.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.