Celebrating the 250th Anniversary of Steingruber’s “Architectural Alphabet”

What is it about artists’ books and architecture that they intersect so often? Architectural interiors and exteriors, ideas, themes, styles, landmark dwellings and edifices have found their metaphorical expression and embodiment in book art with such regularity that they make up a genre within the genre. Perhaps it is that, as Victor Hugo expresses it in Nôtre Dame de Paris (1831/1902),

the human race has two books, two registers, two testaments: masonry and printing; the Bible of stone and the Bible of paper. … The past must be reread upon these pages of marble. This book, written by architecture, must be admired and perused incessantly; but the grandeur of the edifice which printing erects in its turn must not be denied. (Book V, Chapter 2, p. 187)

Or perhaps it is even more fundamental. As Hugo asserts in his posthumous The Alps and the Pyrenees (1890/1895):

All letters were signs at first, and all signs were images at first…. Human society, the world, man as a whole, is in the alphabet…. A is the roof, the gable with its cross-beam, the arch, arx; … Z is the lightning, it is God. (pp. 64-65)

Beneath the mysticism and pareidolia, Hugo is on to something. Maybe the affinity of books and architecture lies in the origin of the raw material of books — the alphabet — whose second letter comes from a mark signifying shelter or house.

This wondering and wandering about the intersection of architecture and the artist’s book is prompted by the 250th anniversary of the publication of Johann David Steingruber’s Architectonisches Alphabeth(1773). This postcard-famous volume of print folios depicts architectural elevations and plans for residences in the shape of the letters of the alphabet. It is dedicated to Christian Friedrich Carl Alexander, Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach, not to be confused with the paying dedicatee of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, the Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt. By a baroque coincidence, however, the first Brandenburg concertos, the ones composed by Giuseppe Torelli and influencing Bach, are dedicated to the Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach, then George Friedrich II, Alexander’s great-uncle who employed Torelli as court composer. Unlike Bach, however, Torelli received no direct payment for his composition. Steingruber too had to be satisfied with his payment as an appointee (court and public surveyor, and later principal architect of the board of works).

Steingruber may have felt he had good reason to be miffed. After all he had published the volume in installments at his own expense and made sure that the Margrave’s monogram (and that of Carolina Frederica, his wife) in building form appeared in the span above the roman arch on the title page. His elevations and plans draw attention to the heating, kitchen, toilet and servants’ arrangements as if conferring with a prospective client ready to commission one of these typographic palaces. Perhaps he was thinking, Who would not want a serif with a view? Or conduct guests on a tour of the bowl, capline, crossbar, stem, stroke and tail of the property? In a flourish that illustrates the intersection of book and architecture, the title page presents the title and subtitle inside an arch and serves double duty as a Table of Contents with thumbnail images of the letter-shaped buildings to come inscribed on the columns.

Munich, Bavarian State Library

To celebrate the Architectural Alphabet‘s 250th anniversary, this online essay/exhibition explores sixteen propositions about the affinity of architecture and artists’ books. Examples supporting each proposition include works from within and without the Books On Books Collection, and each example includes a link or links for additional views of the work. Every effort has been made to provide bibliographical (or webliographical?) links from WorldCat and the Internet Archive. The former will allow the reader to find local libraries that hold a copy of the exhibited work to be viewed in person; the latter will partly address the problem of broken links. Where broken links (or factual errors) do appear, readers are encouraged to alert the curator in the Comments section at the end of the essay/exhibition.

Proposition #1: The affinity of architecture and artists’ books lies in the alphabet.

Architectural alphabet (1773/1972)
Johann David Steingruber
Published by Merrion Press.

Architectonisches Alphabeth (1773/1995)
Prepared by Joseph Kiermeier-Debre and Fritz Franz Vogel for Ravensburger Verlag.

Of course the first exhibit would be Steingruber’s Architectural Alphabet, but related works — before and after, published or built — will clamor for admission: Geofroy Tory’s Champ Fleury (1529/1927/1998), Antonio Basoli’s Alfabeto Pittorico (1839/1998), Giovanni Battista de Pian’s Alphabetto Pittoresque (1842), and Daniel Libeskind’s Contemporary Jewish Museum (2000), whose form within the walls of a former power substation is composed of two Hebrew letters — the Yud and the Chet — which make up the word Chai (“Life”).

Left to right: Tory/Rogers, Basoli, Battista de Pian (Photos by Books On Books Collection), Libeskind (The Yud Gallery, Photo by Paul Dyer).

Lanore Cady’s Houses & Letters (1977) is another work supporting the proposition, in this case with calligraphy, watercolor and verse.

Houses & Letters: A Heritage in Architecture & Calligraphy (1977)
Lanore Cady

Proposition #2: The affinity of architecture and artists’ books lies in telling stories.

As Daniel Libeskind has said, “For me, a building is a medium to tell a story.” Emily Speed’s Unfolding Architecture (2007) tells the tale of Gordon, a city dweller who witnesses the collapse of public buildings and, ultimately, his own home as the urban fabric begins to unfold around him — a story replicated by the housing’s structure and the book’s accordion fold.

Unfolding Architecture (2007)
Emily Speed

But Ulises Carrión denied that books are about narrative. Instead they are about space and time, which leads to the next proposition.

Proposition #3: The affinity of architecture and artists’ books lies in space and time.

Olafur Eliasson’s Your House (2006) is a laser-cut model of his residence in Copenhagen at a scale of 1:85, which means that each page equates to a 220 mm section of the actual house. In the film Russian Ark (2003), Aleksandr Sokurov made cinematic history with his one continuous shot in 90 minutes, depicting a 17th century time traveller moving through different periods of history as he moves through the rooms of St. Petersburg’s Winter Palace. The film inspired Johan Hybschmann’s Book of Space (2009).

Your House (2006)
Olafur Eliasson

Book of Space (2009)
Johan Hybschmann

How do you read works like this? The size, weight and delicacy of Eliasson’s book and the fragility of Hybschmann’s book and its need for an armature to freeze-frame it defy a simple turning of pages. They must be turned slowly and carefully. Both works heed the task of the arts as posed by architect Juhani Pallasmaa for our age of speed: to defend the comprehensibility of time, its experiential plasticity, tactility and slowness (The Embodied Image, p. 78).

Proposition #4: The affinity of architecture and artists’ books lies in process.

A trained architect and book artist, Marian Macken articulates and illustrates in her book Binding Space why and how the artist’s book can serve as an important tool for design, documentation and critique of architecture. Macken’s perceptive descriptions show how to observe materiality and its functioning and understand how they contribute to the making of art.

Investigating bookness results in the book becoming a highly productive intervening medium with which one can imagine, investigate, analyze, represent and exhibit particular qualities — haptically, and with narrative and ambiguity — of a built environment and the design process. Through the book, we read spatial practice anew (p. 163).

Reading Macken’s book will sharpen the ability of any reader or viewer to appreciate book art, especially her Ise Jingū: Beginning Repeated. Ise Jingū is a Shinto shrine complex in the Mie Prefecture, Japan. “Once every 20 years, since … the seventh century, every fence and building is completely rebuilt on an identical adjoining site, a practice of transposition known as shikinen-zōkan” (Binding Space, p. 101). For Macken, this ritualistic rebuilding poses architecture as performative process rather than as inert object; it “manifests the replication of a beginning, of a process” (p. 100).

Ise Jingū: Beginning Repeated (2011)
Marian Macken

Macken’s artwork consists of 61 loose sheets with a watermarked image within each, the number reflecting the 61 iterations of the shrine up until the making of this work of book art. The watermark is a perspective image based on Yoshio Watanabe’s photograph of the Inner Shrine, taken in 1953 on the occasion of the 59th rebuilding. The contrast of the watermark in kozo and the movement of its placement from one sheet to the next entice reflection on the phenomenon of representation and the architectural process of shikinen-zōkan.

Proposition #5: The affinity of architecture and artists’ books lies in phenomenology.

Architects such as Alfredo Muñoz and his firm ABIBOO, Juhani Pallasmaa and Peter Zumthor are among those often associated with architectural phenomenology, concerned with perception psychology, focused on the primacy of sensory and experiential qualities. Norman Foster and phenomenology are not so often yoked, but 30 St Mary Axe: Diagrid (2009) and 30 St. Mary Axe: Cladding (2009)– Mandy Brannan’s treatments of his iconic London office tower (aka “the Gherkin”) that refocus the perception and experience of it — might prompt reconsideration.

Top: 30 St Mary Axe: Cladding (2009). Bottom: 30 St Mary Axe: Diagrid (2009)
Mandy Brannan

Proposition #6: The affinity of architecture and artists’ books lies in geometry.

Sarah Bryant’s The Radiant Republic (2019) insightfully integrates Plato’s and Le Corbusier’s texts and ideas. The very physicality of the blond wood, linen cover, glass window, concrete representations of Platonic solids, embossed type and sewn papers could easily be a response to Juhani Pallasmaa’s comment: “The current overemphasis on the intellectual and conceptual dimensions of architecture contributes to the disappearance of its physical, sensual and embodied essence” (The Eyes of the Skin, p. 35).

The Radiant Republic (2019)
Sarah Bryant

Proposition #7: The affinity of architecture and artists’ books lies in modelling.

Helen Malone’s Ten Books of Architecture (2017) takes a broad historical and, most important, haptic view of architecture from Vitruvius to Hadid. Each of the ten books is a bookwork that models its architectural subject.

Ten Books of Architecture (2017)
Helen Malone

Proposition #8: The affinity of architecture and artists’ books lies in folding.

At the end of the 20th century, architects like Peter Eisenman, Jeffrey Kipnis and Greg Lynn latched on to computer-aided design and Gilles Deleuze’s Le pli: Leibniz et le baroque (1988) / The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque (1993). This led to real constructions such as Eisenman’s Rebstock Park in Frankfurt as well as to the seminal books Folding in Architecture (1993), edited by Lynn, and Folding Architecture 92003) by Sophia Vyzoviti.

Folded book pages rarely generate a work that rises above mere craft. Heather Hunter’s Observer Series: Architecture (2009) achieves the necessary height. It combines the altered book with an accordion book that incorporates a found poem composed of the words excised and folded outwards from the folded pages of The Observer’s Book of Architecture.

Observer Series: Architecture (2009)
Heather Hunter

Proposition #9: The affinity of architecture and artists’ books lies in light.

Marlene MacCallum’s Theme and Permutation (2012) is a response to the permutations and variations over time in five houses built to a common plan in Townsite area of Corner Brook, Newfoundland. MacCallum used digital tools to translate the original film source of eight different window images from the houses. A tritone image of a single Townsite window under translucent pages opens the book. As the pages turn, new window images appear and layer over each other, darkening up to the book’s mid-point. In the center spread, two text blocks appear speaking to the history, architectural permutations and economic shifts of the Townsite area. The tonality begins to lighten over the ensuing new combinations of window layers. A third text block of personal narrative is introduced, and a tritone image of one of the Townsite windows in its original condition concludes the work.

Theme and Permutation (2012)
Marlene MacCallum

Proposition #10: The affinity of architecture and artists’ books lies in perspective.

Cees Nagelkerke’s Piranesian Window (1996) resides in the Vedute Foundation’s collection of “spatial manuscripts”, invited works that must conform to the dimensions of the Gutenberg Bible. Piranesian Window‘s form and title capture multiple meanings of vedute (“views”). Views are things seen — which this spatial manuscript is. Views are prospects from which to see — which a window offers. Views are perspectives — for which Giambattista Piranesi’s etchings are famous. Views are thoughts held — which “Piranesian” implies (the work’s title could be that of a manuscript on art history and philosophy). Piranesi’s mid-eighteenth century etchings Vedute di Roma (“Views of Rome”) and Carceri d’invenzione (“Imaginary Prisons”) are the obvious sources of inspiration, but Nagelkerke provides an interview describing the dream source of the work:

– … Please, continue relating your dream …
– I wandered through vast ruins … along wrecked bridges … feeling remarkably at ease.
– How did you find the window in this windowless world?
– When a cool breeze wafted inside, I suddenly saw it. It showed a landscape, within the distance a city. There was complete tranquillity and harmony there, like in a painting by Piero della Francesca … I stood there for some considerable time and I became increasingly saddened, because I discovered that I was looking at something that had vanished forever.
– But how did you manage to take the window?
– I wanted to touch it … as a result, I immediately fell down. The gap left in the wall closed by itself … I picked it up and continued on my way, meeting people who spoke to me saying that I should leave the Carceri. I was taken to a gateway. No one looked at, or said anything about, the window… In the square where I found myself, there was an intense, chaotic commotion. The window still reflected something of the vast space I had left. The exterior showed traces of the wall in which it had been mounted. I looked through it and saw everyday life …

Piranesian Window (1996)
Cees Nagelkerke

Proposition #11: The affinity of architecture and artists’ books lies in archaeology.

Mill: A journey around Cromford Mill, Derbyshire (2006) by Salt + Shaw (Paul Salt and Susan Shaw) is the result of the artists’ exploration of Cromford Mill in Derbyshire, the first water-powered, cotton-spinning mill developed by Richard Arkwright in 1771. Bound in a cover of recycled wooden library shelves, three plaster cast blocks and seven calico pocket pages containing hidden texts imply the hidden archaeological history to be found. The forensic-like casts are taken from interior surfaces, and the texts walk the reader step by step through each area of the mill.


Mill
(2006)
Salt+Shaw

Proposition #12: The affinity of architecture and artists’ books lies in assemblage and collage.

Based on an architectural installation at the Minnesota College for Art and Design and drawing on her photos of Ayvalik, Amsterdam, Florence, Istanbul, New York City, Rome, San Diego and Venice, Karen Wirth’s Paper Architecture (2017) certainly prompts a revisit to MoMA’s “Cut ’n’ Paste: From Architectural Assemblage to Collage City“, 10 July 2013 – 5 January 2015, to prove this proposition.

Paper Architecture (2017)
Karen Wirth

Proposition #13: The affinity of architecture and artists’ books lies in luxe.

Early theorists, critics and artists of book art expended great effort to exclude livres d’artiste and deluxe productions from the definition of a form of art that struggled to find a name: artist’s book, artists’ books, bookworks, book art, etc. The spectrum from objects of conspicuous consumption to democratic multiples characterizes both architecture and book art. Antoni Gaudí’s architectural efforts easily span that spectrum — from his Casa Milà to his tiles found underfoot in Barcelona’s Passeig de Gràcia. Under the guidance of Juan José Lahuerta (chief curator at the National Museum of Art of Catalonia), the publisher Artika produced Gaudí Up Close (2020), enclosed in a wooden case with marble sculpture finished in paint, cement powder and anti-graffiti varnishes and lined with Naturlinnen fabric.

Gaudí Up Close (2020)
Published by Artika.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Proposition #14: The affinity of architecture and artists’ books lies in the memorial.

As you turn the corner into Judenplatz in Vienna, Rachel Whiteread’s great cube appears showing only the fore edge of book after book. As you hold J. Meejin Yoon’s small white brick of paper and turn its thick pages, a small pinhole appears on the page. Then two larger square holes emerge, one of which falls over the pinhole. Page after page, the two square holes repeat, creating two small dark wells in the field of white, until on the last page they take their place in the cut-out schematic footprint of the city blocks and buildings surrounding the Twin Towers. Whiteread’s Nameless Library (2000) and Yoon’s Absence (2004) surely underscore this proposition of memorial.

Nameless Library (2000)
Rachel Whiteread
Photo: Books On Books.


Absence
(2004)
© J. Meejin Yoon

Proposition #15: The affinity of architecture and artists’ books lies in the sacred.

Jeffrey Morin and Steven Ferlauto’s Sacred Space (2003) is an intimate monument of book art. Made intimate by the content and texture of its book, made more intimate by the viewer’s having to construct the chapel. Made monumental by the echo of typographic history, made more monumental in Galileo Galilei’s echo from its floor: Mathematics is the alphabet with which God has created the universe.

Sacred Space (2003)
Jeffrey Morin and Steven Ferlauto

Proposition #16: The affinity of architecture and artists’ books lies in collaboration.

In Victor Hugo’s Nôtre-Dame de Paris (1831), Archdeacon Claude Frollo points to the book in his hand and then to the cathedral and says, “This will kill that”. It is ironic that Hugo’s book (popularly known now by its English title The Hunchback of Nôtre-Dame) was written in large part to save the then-decaying cathedral (post-Revolution, it served as a warehouse), and it succeeded. It is also ironic that, while the fictional character’s metaphor has a point about the book’s permanence of replicability outlasting the building’s permanence of stone, it misses the collaborative foundations of both.

Created by ten students at Scripps College under the direction of Kitty Maryatt, Arch (2010) reminds us that the creation of a book — even a work of book art — is a collaborative effort.

Arch (2010)
Kitty Maryatt, Jenny Karin Morrill, Ali Standish, Alycia Lang, Jennifer Wineke, Mandesha Marcus, Catherine Wang, Kathryn Hunt, Ilse Wogau, Jennifer Cohen, Winnie Ding
Photos: Books On Books Collection

Maryatt’s preface to Arch is entitled “Blueprint” and is brief enough to warrant citing in full:

Books are inherently architectonic. Studying architecture would naturally be profitable to students building their own books.

On January 17, 2010, just days before class was to start, the Los Angeles Times published a fascinating article on contemporary women architects, highlighting a striking building by Jeannie Gang.

Earlier this year, the brand-new President of Scripps College chose The Genius of Women as her inaugural theme. What serendipity! This gave us the perfect inspiration for our artist book: the genius of women architects.

After extensive research and class discussion, a mission statement for the book evolved:

Architecture, like books, is a delicate balancing act between stability and motion, interior and exterior, aesthetic values and structural practicalities.

Books, like building, are fundamentally inhabited spaces. They are incomplete without human interaction.

The first portals were built of post and lintel construction. A curved arch is more difficult: the keystone is needed at the apex to lock the other pieces into position. Building a book is a similarly difficult feat. — Professor Kitty Maryatt

Conclusion: The affinity of architecture and artists’ books lies in our attraction to the beauty of form.

No doubt the proximity of the need for shelter and the need for oral and written language have played some gravitational role of mutual attraction for architecture and books (and latterly artists’ books). But equally, both architecture and artists’ books speak to our attraction to the beauty of form. All of the examples above are re-offered here in support of this proposition. Look at them again.

“Architecture”, “art” and “the book” are all fluid concepts. So it should be no surprise that we arrive at the equally fluid similes: architecture is like book art, book art is like architecture.


An earlier version of this essay appeared in The Blue Notebook, Volume 16 No 2, Spring – Summer 2022.

Further Reading

Carrión, Ulises. 1975. “The New Art of Making Books”. Reprinted in Lyons, Joan. 1993. Artist’s books: A Critical Anthology and Sourcebook. Rochester, NY: Visual Studies Workshop Press.

Côme, Tony. 2018. “The Typotectural Suites“, The Palace of Typographic Masonry. Accessed 5 April 2021.

Goldberger, Paul. 2008. Counterpoint: Daniel Libeskind. Basel: Birkhäuser Verlag.

Hugo, Victor, and Jessie Haynes, trans. 1831 (1902). Nôtre Dame de Paris. New York: D. Appleton & Co.

Hugo, Victor, and Nathan Haskell Dole, trans. 1890 (1895). Victor Hugo’s Letters to His Wife and Others (The Alps and the Pyrenees). Boston, MA: Estes and Lauriat.

Lynn, Greg. 2004. Folding in Architecture Rev. ed. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Academy. See for references to Mario Carpo, Gilles Deleuze and Peter Eisenman.

Macken, Marian. 2018. Binding Space: The Book as Spatial Practice. London: Taylor and Francis.

McEwen, Hugh. 12 January 2012. Polyglot Buildings. Issuu. Accessed 13 March 2021.

Niessen, Richard. 2018. The Palace of Typographic Masonry. Leipzig: Spector Books.

Pallasmaa, Juhani. 1996. The Eyes of the Skin. London: Academy Editions.

Pallasmaa, Juhani. 2009. The Thinking Hand. Chichester, UK: Wiley.

Pallasmaa, Juhani. 2011. The Embodied Image. Chichester, UK: Wiley.

Steingruber, Johann David. 1773 (1774). Architectonisches Alphabeth: bestehend in Dreysig … . Schwabach: Johann Gottlieb Mizler.

Tsimourdagkas, Chrysostomos. 2014. Typotecture: Histories, Theories and Digital Futures of Typographic Elements in Architectural Design. Doctoral dissertation, Royal College of Art, London. Accessed 13 March 2021.

Vyzoviti Sophia and BIS Publishers. 2016. Folding Architecture : Spatial Structural and Organizational Diagrams. 14th print ed. Amsterdam: BIS.

Williams, Elizabeth. 1989. “Architects Books: An Investigation in Binding and Building”, The Guild of Book Workers Journal. 27, 2: 21-31.

Books On Books Collection – Helen Malone

Alphabetic Codes (2005)

Alphabetic Codes (2005)

Helen Malone

Box containing three books: two concertina books of different sizes and one tetrahedron shape of three pages. Two layered canvases painted with acrylic paint mounted on both sides of Perspex pages in Perspex box. Box: H230 x W160 x D80 mm. Unique edition. Acquired from the artist, 2 July 2020. Photos above: Courtesy of the artist. Photos below: Books On Books Collection.

Artist’s description:

Referencing ancient writing systems, hieroglyphs and engravings, this book is an investigation of sign systems and shared cultural knowledge. Fragmented coded images derived from familiar letterforms lie beneath the surface of the canvas and although visible remain undecipherable and incomprehensible.

The alphabet has traditionally served as calligraphic and typographic seed for book art, perhaps with roots of expression in illuminated letters, the Kabbalah, tomes on penmanship and calligraphy and typography specimen books. In its material and technique, Alphabetic Codes has a rough and smooth tactility; the former pointing to ancient, haptic forms, the latter to current, screen-generated forms. It enriches the subset of alphabet books and abecedaries in the Books On Books Collection.

Exhibitions:

  • Books 05 Image as Text as Image, Noosa Regional Gallery 9 September – 17 October 2005.
  • Botanical Books, Coffs Calligraphers, Botanic Garden, Coffs Harbour, 29 September 29 – 7 October 2007.

Windows on the World (2005)

Windows on the World (2005)

Helen Malone

Perspex box containing two concertina books of different sizes made of recycled Perspex panels with mounted canvas painted with acrylics. Box: H360 x W125 x D75 mm. Unique edition. Acquired from the artist, 2 July 2020. Photo: Books On Books Collection.

Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Artist’s description:

Technological illuminations such as television screens, computer screens, big screens and advertising visually transmit images and act as carriers of global information, education and entertainment.  The medieval purpose of stained glass windows, besides aesthetic and mystical was to visually educate and enlighten.

Purely in color, Windows on the World recalls Albers, Chagall, Mondrian (even though he hated stained glass) or Joep Nicolas. In material, technique and theme, it may echo Alphabetic Codes and its allusion to computer-screen-based windows, but Windows has a more architectural feel that can also be found in the I.M. Pei and Mies van der Rohe “volumes” of Ten Books on Architecture (2017) further enriching the architectural subset of the Books On Books Collection.

Exhibition:

  • Books 05, Image as text as Image, Noosa Regional Gallery, 9 September – 17 October 2005.

Beautiful One Day,
Blown Away the Next (2011)

Beautiful One Day, Blown Away the Next (2011)

Helen Malone

Box containing circular concertina flag book of Fabriano paper, manipulated digital photographs cut and transferred to flags. H90 x W190 x D55 mm closed, 380 mm diameter open. Unique edition. Acquired from the artist, 2 July 2020. Photo: Books On Books Collection.

Artist’s description:

On the eve of 2 February 2011 Cyclone Yasi made landfall on the coast of Queensland. Sweeping through the coastal communities, the Category 5 Tropical Storm of historic proportions left a trail of mayhem and destruction that inspired the artist Malone to create this piece.

Photos: Courtesy of the artist.

Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Bringing together a flag book, concertina and tab-and-lot closure, Malone engineers an ideal structure to evoke the meterological pattern and order of the cyclone. The shattered, blue-filtered photographic images transferred to the flags contribute a kaleidoscopic chaos. The theme of the environment and the struggle between the human race and natural forces is a subset of the Books On Books Collection well represented by this work, Tsunami (below) and others such as Holuhraun by Chris Ruston and Landscapes of the Late Anthropocene by Philip Zimmerman.

Exhibition:

  • Books…beyond words evolution, East Gippsland Art Gallery, Bairnsdale,Vic., 6 August – 3 September 2011.

Tsunami (2011)

Tsunami (2011)

Helen Malone

Box containing “whirlwind” book of Japanese paper washed with sumi ink and water, Japanese stab binding, leather roll. H230 mm, variable width. Unique edition. Acquired from the artist, 2 July 2020. Photo: Books On Books Collection.

Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Artist’s description:

Part of the series of disasters explored by Malone through her art, this piece is her interpretation of the catastrophic tsunami that followed the massive earthquake that struck Japan in 2011.

The earthquake and tsunami were so powerful that their effects were felt around the globe: from Antarctica’s ice sheet to the fjords of Norway. Indeed the debris from the monstrous wave continues to wash up on North American shores nearly a decade later.

The combination of Japanese paper and mottled color of sumi ink and water, the way the work “fights back” as the scrolls are manipulated to display the work, the multiple displays generated by the piling wave-like scrolls — all evoke the picture of inescapable, roiling force of the 2011 tsunami.

Paper, Scissors, Uluru (2013)

Paper, Scissors, Uluru (2013)

Helen Malone and Jack Oudyn

Laser printed images of waxed drawing, collage, painting and Chinese paper covered boards painted by Jack Oudyn with earth pigments, acrylic and xanthorrhoea resin. Sculptural folded page book structure and box by Helen Malone. H105 x W95 x D15 mm. Editions: 6 and 1 A/P. Acquired from Helen Malone, 2 July 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

Artist’s description:

Malone and Jack Oudyn collaborated to create this representation of Uluru to resonate with the pleas of the indigenous Anangu people of the Northern Territory in Australia to “Wanyu Ulurunya Tatintja Wiyangku Wantima” (Respect our laws and culture).

For the Anangu the massive sandstone monolith is so sacred that they will not climb it nor photograph it. They ask visitors to respect the spirituality of the site and to follow their customs.

The blend of laser prints of wax drawings, Chinese paper, collage and painting seeks to capture the changing light of the rock as the sun passes over it throughout the day. The boards painted by Oudyn with earth pigments, acrylic and xanthorrhoea resin contribute a glowing depth of color to this homage to the Anangu. As with The Future of an Illusion (below), this collaboration presents an unusual unity of vision and integration of technique, materials and process with structural “rightness” for the subject at hand.

Exhibitions:

  • Art on Show Awards, Artspace Mackay Artist Book Award, Mackay Show Association, Mackay Qld, 16-19 June 2014.
  • Sheffield International Artists Book Prize, Bank Street Arts, Sheffield UK, 7-31 October 2015.

Collections:

  • Bank Street Arts, Sheffield UK.
  • Wim de Vos, Brisbane.
  • Private collection, Brisbane.
  • Private collection, Melbourne.

The Legacy of Absence and Silence (2016)

The Legacy of Absence and Silence (2016)

Helen Malone

Binding of French faux leather. Multiple accordions in Fabriano 200gsm HP paper and Strathmore papers, pigmented ink, acrylic ink, printing ink, gold leaf, chinagraph pencil and image transfers. Closed: H780 x W50 x D150mm; Open: W750 mm. Unique edition. Acquired from the artist, 2 July 2020. Photos: Courtesy of the artist.

Artist’s description:

The Legacy of Absence and Silence refers to the present-day Australians whose forbears were immigrants to the continent in the nineteenth century. Many of those who came to Australia during that period made such an effort to assimilate that they have left no clues for their descendants to discover their origins. In fact some immigrants went to great lengths to eradicate their beginnings. In this work Malone has designed the structure of the book to reflect the effort of a search for meaning. The black foreground requires the viewer to struggle to peer inside the construction to glimpse details. Beyond the visual obstruction the white pages reveal snippets of information but never the full story.

Photos: Books On Books Collection.

This is a work that demands display in-the-round on a table allowing viewers to lean far enough over to catch the details within the cells formed by the joined accordions, to circle it to see how emblems and signs emerge and disappear, and to move closer and step back to experience the shifting geometric patterns.

Exhibition:

  • Libris Awards, Artspace Mackay, Queensland, from 26 August – 16 October 2016.

The Future of an Illusion (2017)

The Future of an Illusion (2017)

Helen Malone and Jack Oudyn

Sculptural tunnel book structure (three joined four-fold leporellos) enclosed in a folder and protective boxin a box,. Box made with Lamali handmade paper, suede paper (lining), silk ribbon and Somerset Black 280 gsm; Folder: Canson black 200gsm, skull button and waxed thread; Leporello: center leporello made of Canson black 200 gsm, adjoining leporellos made of Arches watercolour paper 185 gsm with acrylic, soluble carbon, gouache and transfer ink jet images. Box: H275 x W313 x D34 mm; Folder: H258 x W295 x D21 mm; Book: H250 x W290 x D16 mm closed, D770 mm. One of an unnumbered, signed edition of 4. Acquired from Helen Malone, 12 September 2017. Photo: Books On Books Collection.

Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Like The Legacy of Absence and Silence, this work uses joined accordions, but builds on the cut-outs in the former to construct a tunnel book down the middle. The integration of structures here is further remarkable as a result of another collaboration between Malone and Jack Oudyn. Selected for the 2017 Manly Library Artists’ Book Award exhibition in New South Wales, Australia, The Future of an Illusion demonstrates an effective collaboration in a field of art densely populated with — almost defined by — collaborative efforts. One pair of artists to compare with Malone and Oudyn is Sonia Delaunay and Blaise Cendrars. Over a century ago and half a world away, they collaborated on La Prose du Transsibérien et de la Petite Jehanne de France, also in an accordion format modified perfectly to its subject with an aim to create a work in which color, image and words are experienced simultaneously. Malone writes that it “has always been very influential generally on my work(correspondence with Malone, 24 September 2017).

Rather than springing from an interaction over one poem, The Future of an Illusion springs from two imaginations struck by two literary works: Sigmund Freud’s eponymous book arguing against belief in an afterlife and Jim Crace’s novel Being Dead documenting the decomposition of a dead body left in nature. The choice of the two texts, the colors of putrescence, the void toward which the central tunnel leads, the coffin-like box in which the work is stored, locked with a button skull — all create a simultaneous tension of several emotions — fear, humor, sorrow, hope, despair, revulsion and aesthetic pleasure.

Photo: Books On Books Collection.

Exhibitions:

  • Between the Sheets, Central Gallery, Perth , WA, 18 March – 8 April 2017.
  • Second venue for Between the Sheets, Australian Galleries, Collingwood, Melbourne, Vic, 13 June – 2 July 2017.
  • Manly Library Artists Book Award, The Creative Space, North Curl Curl, NSW, 30 March – 2 April 2017.
  • Art on Show Awards, Artspace Mackay in association with Mackay Show Association, 11-22 June 2017.
  • 6th Artists Books Fair, Grahame Galleries in association with Griffith University, Brisbane, 7 – 9 July 2017.

Collections:

  • Artists (1/4 & 3/4), State Library of Queensland Artists Book Collection, Brisbane (4/4).

Ten Books of Architecture (2017)

Ten Books of Architecture (2017)

Helen Malone

Open-sided box containing ten individual adapted book structures. Closed: H175 x W440 x D110 mm; Open: H500 x W600 mm. Version 4. Acquired from the artist, 24 November 2017. Photo: Books On Books Collection.

Inspired by De Architettura by Vitruvius and De Re Aedificatoria by Leon Battista Alberti, Malone created her first version of this work in 2006. Three others followed: in 2012, for the Pratt Institute; in 2013, for the State Library of Queensland; and in 2017, for this collection. In the 2012 version, the sixth book — Queenslander — differentiates that version from the others. The 2017 version is differentiated by its tenth book — Zaha Hahid.

These differentiators signal the abundant variety of structures within each version. Their unerring “rightness” for the subject of each “volume” astounds.

Book One — Vitruvius — consists of embossed and cut concertina folds of Arches paper with diluted sumi ink; when displayed, the line of columns suggests a Roman temple. Book Two — Suger — celebrates the French patron of Gothic architecture with an adapted tunnel book with cut concertina sides in Canson and Arches paper, ink and watercolor; when displayed, the structure suggests the stained glass windows of St. Denis. Book Three — Brunelleschi — is a folded page construction of Canson paper with page inserts of Canson and Arches paper, PVC ribs and covers; when displayed, it references the dome of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, the internal colors of the cathedral and Brunelleschi’s credited invention of linear perspective. Book Four — Alberti — is a concertina fold book in Fabriano and Arches paper with PVC covers; its gutters and collaged pages make a structure resembling shallow facades on which several of Alberti’s statements elaborating Vitruvian principles are printed. Book Five — Mackintosh — adapts a French door construction in Arches paper, watercolor, ink and PVC to celebrate the Scottish architect and designer; when displayed, it echoes his design and its Japanese influences. Book Six — Le Corbusier — is a cube book of Fabriano paper and resembles a white concrete box; its page structure is adapted from Corbu’s internal construction plans with mezzanine floors. Book Seven — Mies van der Rohe — consists of a concertina of double Perspex pages linked with fishing line and containing digital photo images of Chicago taken by the artist; it can be manipulated to form various displays, with multiplying reflections suggesting the spread of the architect’s influence on twentieth-century cityscapes. Book Eight — Pei — is a folding triangular paged book made of Perspex and Canson paper, linked with fishing line; when displayed, the pyramid pays homage to Pei’s dome over the entrance to the Louvre. Book Nine — Libeskind — echoes the architect’s intentionally disorienting Jewish museum in Berlin; a slanted rectangular box book, made of kangaroo vellum and scored aluminum, presents its text in a way intentionally difficult to access and read. Book Ten — Zaha Hadid — consists of organic shapes and patterns on a folded pages construction of Arches paper mounted on PVC; when displayed, the book takes on a shape that echoes that of Hadid’s architectural designs.

Additional commentary and images for Ten Books of Architecture (2017) can be found here.

Exhibitions and collections:

  • 2006 version was exhibited in Books.06, Ten and Beyond, Noosa Regional Gallery, 22 September – 22 October 2006 and was purchased from this exhibition by a private collector.
  • 2012 version commissioned by The Pratt Institute, New York. The Collections on View at the Brooklyn Campus of the Pratt Institute and online, May – August 2013. Image published in 500 Handmade Books, Lark Publishers USA, September 2013.
  • 2013 version commissioned by the State Library of Queensland, Brisbane.
  • 2017 version commissioned by Books On Books Collection.

Further Reading

Abecedaries (in progress)“, Bookmarking Book Art, 31 March 2020.

Architecture”, Books On Books, 12 November 2018.

Albers, Josef. Interaction of Color (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1963).

Cascio, Davide. Travel Architecture (2006). Compare with The Legacy of Absence and Silence.

Crace, Jim. Being Dead (London: Picador, 2010).

Drucker, Johanna. The Alphabetic Labyrinth: The Letters in History and Imagination (London: Thames and Hudson, 1999).

Freud, Sigmund, et al. The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud. Vol. 21, 1927-1931, The future of an illusion, Civilization and its discontents and other works (London: Vintage, 2001).

Jupp, James. The Australian People: An Encyclopedia of the Nation, its People and their Origins, 2d ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).

Kramer, Sophia. “Variations of Vitruvius: Four Centuries of Bookbinding and Design” Thomas J. Watson Library, The Met, 22 August 2018. From biblio-tout.blogspot.co.uk April 14, 2015 8:48 PM.

Kyle, Hedi, and Ulla Warchol. The Art of the Fold: How to Make Innovative Books and Paper Structures (London: Laurence King Publishers, 2018).

Natural Disasters”, Art UK. Accessed 22 July 2020.

Salamony, Sandra; Thomas, Donna; and Thomas, Peter. 1000 Artists Books (Beverly, MA: Quarry Books, 2012). Includes images of Tsunami.

Warne, Kennedy. “Why Australia is banning climbers from this iconic natural landmark”, National Geographic, 15 September 2019. Accessed 22 July 2020.