Books On Books Collection – “Inscription: the Journal of Material Text”, Issue 2

Inscription: the Journal of Material Text – Theory, Practice, History, Issue 2 (2021)
Edited by Gill Partington, Adam Smyth and Simon Morris
Perfect bound softcover, H314 x W314 mm, 180 pages. Editions included: Fiona Banner (aka Vanity Press), Full Stop, front & back covers; Kendell Geers, Stripped Bare, end papers; Carolyn Thompson, The Beast in Me, H1180 x W1180 mm; Erica Baum, Piano Rolls, H120 x W120 closed, W960 mm open; Harold Offeh, Crystal Mouths, H210 x W105 closed, W480 mm open; David Bellingham, Cigar Burn Apertures, H210 x W105 mm; Miranda July, Bookmark, H302 x W54 mm; Christian Bök, Supermassive, LP. Acquired from Information as Material, 10 October 2021.
Photos of the issue: Books On Books Collection.

How materially perverse is it that the second issue of Inscription is devoted to “the hole”, yet it is the first issue that actually has a hole in it? The first issue of Inscription did set a seriously playful — or playfully serious — tone, and the second issue does not fail to maintain it. The second issue continues the dos-à-dos binding but with only the front and back covers as the external giveaway. In the middle of this single-spine paperback, pages 1-90 meet an inverted pages 90-1 in the middle, which prompts the reader to turn the open book 180° and flip back to page 1. From either direction, the reader meets the traditional backmatter of a journal in the middle.

Inverted cover and center of Inscription (2021).

Such reversals of expectation call for a countervalent design element to avoid too much confusion. In this issue, that element consists of constant earth-tone backgrounds framing constant black-on-white text boxes (square holes?) for each article. Even within these constants, reversals of expectation play out. The backgrounds are drawn from 14 different sources, ranging from laid paper samples, parchment, pulp and brown boards to a slice of Emmental cheese (sorry, Gromit, no Wensleydale), and the layouts for each square hole differ, being taken from 16 other journals such as The Criterion, The Egoist and National Geographic.

List of backgrounds used throughout the issue.

List of publications whose layouts are used throughout the issue.

The Emmental cheese background around the opening of Marcinkowski’s essay; Hybrid wove/laid paper made for James Watt & Co around the opening of Lüthi’s essay.

There is an even more recurrent “bass” line in this issue. It comes from the South African artist Kendell Geers, interviewed by the Editors. Even this bass line plays with variable perspective. Marking the start of most articles is a sheet bearing on recto and verso pages the image of a bullet hole (entry then exit) taken from Geers’ work Point Blank (2004). Bullet holes in glass — from Geers’ Stripped Bare (2009) — punctuate inversely the inside covers, bringing two symmetric/asymmetric openings to this topsy turvy production.

Kendell Geers, Point Blank (2004), front and back covers; Stripped Bare (2009; inside covers of Inscription (2021).

Long-time admirers of the 1960s-70s multimedia magazine Aspen, the editors have continued their practice of including unbound elements. In this issue, they have included Carolyn Thompson enormous poster The Beast in Me, whose sentences and part-sentences beginning with “I” have been cut from eight different novels and pasted down to form the hole seen below. Also included are Erica Baum’s Piano Rolls, Harold Offeh’s Crystal Mouths, David Bellingham’s Cigar Burn Apertures, Miranda July’s, Bookmark and Christian Bök’s Supermassive LP.

Carolyn Thompson, The Beast in Me, H1180 x W1180 mm. Photo: Ricky Adam. Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

Erica Baum, Piano Rolls, H120 x W120 closed, W960 mm open. Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

Harold Offeh, Crystal Mouths, H210 x W105 closed, W480 mm open; David Bellingham, Cigar Burn Apertures, H210 x W105 mm; Miranda July, Bookmark, H302 x W54 mm; Christian Bök, Supermassive, LP. Photos of the works: Books On Books Collection.

Like the famous combined Aspen issue Nos.5/6 — an homage to Stéphane Mallarmé — Inscription manages to pull off an eclectic unity with the essays included, which unlike Aspen was accomplished after a double-blind review process. Inscription‘s editors have turned on its head Robert Frost’s dismissive characterization of free verse as playing tennis without a net; they are playing doubles with a net and blindfolded and have created a work of art. This issue’s entries range from Paul Reynold’s erudite and whimsical definitions of all sorts of holes; the scholarly detective work on the holes that bind (pin holes and punch holes by Craig Robertson and Deirdre Lynch and filing holes by Heather Wolfe); James Mission’s tracking the crafts of scribe, typesetter and coder in representing lacunae, gaps or holes in the text; Louis Lüthi’s puncturing juxtaposition of W. Somerset Maugham’s 1948 abridgment of Moby-Dick, Orion Books’ 2007 Moby-Dick in Half the Time and Damion Searls’ 2009 riposte ; or The Whale; to Fiona Banner’s photo-essay on her hole-creating Full Stop‘s, granite sculptures of full stops (periods) created from the Peanuts , Klang and Orator typefaces, two of which were dropped into the marine protected area of Dogger Bank to put a sure stop to industrial fishing there. Here is the table of contents:

Michael Marcinkowski — “house / table”
Galina Oustinova-Stjepanovíc — “Reading the Hole on the Last Address Memorial Plaques in Moscow”
Fiona Banner — “Full Stop intervention with Greenpeace”
Simon Morris — “Perspective Correction”
Dianna Frid, Carla Nappi and Ian Truelove — “Wormholes, The Cascabel Butterfly and an AR collaboration”
Aleksandra Kaminska and Julian De Maeyer — “The Perfect Cut: Talking with Myriam Dion”
Paul Reynolds — “A Glossary of Holes”
Louis Lüthi — “A Snow Hill in the Air”
James Mission — “Signifying Nothing: Follow a Hole Through Three Text Technologies”
Editors — “An Interview with Kendell Geers”
Heather Wolfe — “On Curating Filing Holes”
Craig Robertson and Deirdre Lynch — “Pinning and Punching: A Provisional History of Holes, Paper, and Books”

Inscription continues to provide one of the liveliest examples of what Anne M. Royston calls “artistic arguments (my emphasis), a term that indicates theory that pushes back against the expectations of the theory or criticism genre, specifically by employing signification that exceeds the semantics of printed text”.

Further Reading

“Inscription: the Journal of Material Text”, Issue 1. 15 October 2020. Books On Books Collection.

Royston, Anne M. 2019. Material Noise: Reading Theory as Artist’s Book. MIT Press.

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.

Further Viewing

Artist of the Week“, Jaffe Center for the Book Arts, Florida State University. 5 January 2020.