Giorgio Maffei’s 2008 definitive collection of book designs by Bruno Munari brings together two of Italy’s renowned book artists. Giorgio Maffei’s own work, his writing and gallery/bookshop (highlighted by his son Giulio Maffei’s extraordinary video catalogues Le vite dei libri) warrant a catalogue raisonné in their own right. The Italian edition published by Munari’s long-time publisher Maurizio Corraini was followed up in 2015 by this translation by Martin John Anderson and Thomas Marshall in 2015. For the Books On Books Collection, one of the great pleasures of Munari’s works is its attention to the alphabet, which this book documents.
Although not shown in Munari’s Books, an alphabet-related work that underscores Picasso’s calling Munari “our Leonardo” is ABC con fantasia (1973/2000). If we are to believe Fra Luca Pacioli, it was Leonardo da Vinci who inspired his “straight lines and curves” exposition for creating letters. Following in their footsteps, Munari provides the linear and curvilinear basics for the collector and offspring to join the game.
Although there are no words on numbered pages that have to fall in the right order, An Unreadable Quadrat-Print still presents the author/printer/binder with a challenge in imposition. White and red alternate, which is easy enough, but to cut or not cut a folio on the left and right, how to cut it, how to place the differently cut folios in the right order to achieve the variation in images when the pages turn, how to ensure a sewable area down the center for each folio whether it has a horizontal cut extending into the spine or a diagonal one extending from some point along the spine — that is impressive. It speaks to the sculptural process and result in making books, as well as the sculptural process of reading them.
The following sequences — the book’s first five double-page spreads and then its last six — take a normal page-turning approach, always turning from the upper right corner of whatever shape/page is available. Note how, in the last six double-page spreads, the pages and shapes become more complex.
Libro illeggibile (1966), below left, calls to mind Katsumi Komagata’s A Cloud (2007), and the one in the middle foreshadows Eleonora Cumer’s subtle artistry with transparent paper in Circoscrivere lo spazio No. 3 (2021). While Munari’s rare works press modest budgets, some of it — in its simplicity and popular appeal — has led Corraini Edizionito put it within easier reach. Numerous reissues of the 1984 Libro illeggibile MN 1 have pushed its price to €5. Short of the artist’s signature (which would likely obstruct the aesthetic intention), a copy from the latest 5000-copy print run will “perform” and deliver the same experiential value as one from the earliest run.
Munari’s many series of illegible books tap into book artists’ longstanding and ongoing preoccupation with whether a book without words can communicate information, narrative, sensations or feelings through material, shape or color and their permutations. The colors, shape, feel and binding of Libro illeggibile MN 1 evoke simple and sophisticated pleasure in their juxtaposition and sequence. The unchanging straightness of the top edge and the anchoring red thread of the binding set off the changeability of shapes and colors.
Although not a book of Munari’s making, David A. Carter’s Le sculture da viaggio di Munari is one way of bringing the spirit of Munari’s “travel sculptures” into the collection. Carter’s homage carries the blessing of Corraini Edizioni, further justifying its inclusion.
Travel sculptures started off as small sculptures (some even pocket-sized) to carry with you, so you could take part of your own culture to an anonymous hotel room. Later they were turned into ‘travel sculptures’, five or six metres tall and made of steel. One of these was seen for a few months in Cesenatico, another one in Naples. Others are sleeping among huge trees in the Alto Adige region.’ This is how Italian designer Bruno Munari (1907-1998) described his ‘travel sculptures’, which in turn inspired American illustrator and designer David A. Carter for this pop-up book. –Corraini Edizioni website. Accessed 3 August 2021.
The New Manifesto of the NewLights Press (third iteration) (2017)
The New Manifesto of the NewLights Press (third iteration) (2017) Aaron Cohick Booklet, saddle-stapled, risograph, letterpress/collagraph, and hand painting. H165.1 x W139.7 mm (closed), 20 pages. #000611, unlimited, iterative edition. Acquired from New Lights Press, 11 December 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist.
The New Manifesto of the NewLights Press (third iteration) has multiple starting points. Even in its first iteration, we have
The book is a dangerously unstable object, always between, continuously opening. It is interstitial, occupying many planes at once.
Digital technology has killed the book, finally.
The book is an impossible thing — comprised entirely of edges and full of holes. It moves. It happens in between.
Readers move through authors and books. Books move through readers and authors. Authors move through books and readers. They exist between each other’s pages. They only exist in between.
The form of the book, the history of the book, and the processes involved in its production provide a foundation for rethinking and re-evaluating the dominant discourse(s) of contemporary art.
The book … exemplifies a model that expands beyond form and content…. It is a field, whose axis points [form, content, production and reception] are always held in tension. In this model a piece or practice is a “zone of activity.”
Moreover, there are ten refinements on these starting points, touching on Julia Kristeva’s “intertextuality”, Roland Barthes’ “death of the author”, Michel Foucault’s “death of the book” and much more in the same vein. Each iteration even has diagram and footnotes, underscoring the academic nature of the starting points.
By its third iteration, The New Manifesto‘s words been further refined as a combination of announcement, exposition, lyric and prayer. It soars beyond literary theories and finds birds of a closer feather among Ulises Carrión and Michalis Pichler.
The book is a dangerously unstable object // It is a series of edges // Once clustered and knotted // Now open and spreading // Now cutting and bending // Mostly // The book betrays // Mostly // The book howls // The book falls apart in the face of our anguish // In the face of our quiet // In the silence of our slipping // Mostly // It will also always be something else // That we did not // Can not yet // See // The book is a remarkable technology // It is a shimmering substance // It is a noise of the hands and thought // The book is perhaps now a dead thing // In the hands of the dead // So be it // We never mattered much anyway // Beyond our capacity to consume // Our capacity to labor // We are fuel // So be it // We remain in the dark // With these books // The original autonomous window technology that is us looking through // At // In // Against // With care // The book returns our labor to us //
If a new edition of Publishing Manifestos is ever issued, Cohick’s hortatory words should be considered. The words, however, cannot be considered alone. Over the three iterations, The New Manifesto — the only one in the collection and, therefore, the only one tangible for the visitor — has “participated more & more in the world of visual art”. Cohick’s use of the collagraphic technique increases. It adds painterliness to the booklets as well as a sense of depth and spatial play within the page, across the gutter and from recto to verso pages. In a series of online essays for the College Book Art Association, Cohick confirms the pleasure and intent here:
Collagraph is a well-known technique and is usually taught as part of introductory letterpress courses. It has an immediacy and fidelity that is very exciting—you can stick a leaf or other flat object to a block, print it, and get a decent image of that object. Unfortunately it usually stops there. Those flat objects are hard to push beyond that initial single-color print. Linoleum, photopolymer, wood and metal type, and to some extent woodcut are all made to be “neutral” printing surfaces—flat and smooth. Trying to get collagraph to be flat and smooth begs the question: why use collagraph at all? In collagraph the material that makes the plate is not neutral—the material is exactly the point. That embrace of material and its many, varied effects and marks is what moves collagraph closer to the direct markmaking of drawing/painting. It makes all of those “unacceptable” (or abject?) marks readily available. Relief collagraph printed with letterpress equipment can be a method of painting or drawing in multiple, with control as good as—if not better than, but also different from—the hand. “You’re doing it all wrong (Part 2)“
From the first iteration of the manifesto, black & white details of Jan Van Eyck’s The Arnolfini Marriage appear and are manipulated on the cover and throughout. Although they recede in the second iteration, they move strikingly to the fore in the third. Constantly alongside the Arnolfini details has been the ampersand, enlarged, reversed, in different colors, and present — almost ornamentally — within the text line. The increased visuality of the third iteration announces itself on the booklet’s cover and inside with the grainy enlarged detail of the mirror from The Arnolfini Marriage. What do the Arnolfini details signify? Although Van Eyck’s original itself is straightforwardly representational, its meanings are not always any clearer than that of its use in Cohick’s collage. With his slices of black (“a series of edges”) obscuring the image of the groom, perhaps Cohick is compounding obscurities to present “something else // That we did not // Can not yet // See”.
And what about the large overlapping ampersands in red and gray, systematically reversed and alternating in color? Are they emphasizing the “and so on and so on” of tradition in Cohick’s painterly printing technique? Are they alluding to the joining of hands in the marriage? Are they alluding to, and performing, a marriage of the book and visual art? On a verso page in the manifesto’s first iteration, he writes, “The form of the book, the history of the book, and the processes involved in its production provide a foundation for rethinking and re-evaluating the dominant discourse(s) of contemporary art.” On the facing recto page, the Arnolfini bride in reverse from the original extends her hand to a reversed ampersand.
In perhaps the most important enhancement of the third iteration’s visuality, Cohick’s full-blown typographic redesign of the alphabet occupies the visual foreground, middle ground and background. It is as if Cohick sets out to demonstrate Mallarmé’s proposition that the book is the “total expansion of the letter”. The first iteration’s completely legible Palatino, Arial and Placard Condensed typefaces used in the text line have yielded to what Cohick calls a “dislegible” font, which he often reverses, lays out as occasional “running sides” rather than “running heads”, and subjects increasingly to collagraphic layering. In his “You’re doing it all wrong” series, Cohick explains:
If “legible” and “illegible” are binary opposites, then the term “dislegible” is about looking at the space between those two poles. Dislegibility displaces, dislocates, deforms, and/or disrupts the process of reading, with the ultimate goal of making that process of reading (dis)legible to the reader. The dislegible can be read, but it resists closure or certainty. “You’re doing it all wrong (Part 1)“
Also contributing to dislegibility is the reversal of images, the ampersand and letters. More than that, the reversal reminds us of what is involved in letterpress production — the inked relief surface and its reversed image or letter to be transferred to paper. Always in tension with form, content and reception, production makes up the open field from which the artist’s book emerges. The third iteration exudes production’s physicality. A black saturated endleaf bleeds over onto a stark white sheet that faces a stamped title page, intensifying a feel of mechanical working. Letterforms behave as so much raw material — as if they were oil, acrylic, brick or mortar — to be re-seen from different angles, noted for more than one function and their text read for more than one meaning.
According to Cohick, “For art to thrive, form and content must be in a dynamic relationship… It must contain enough disruptions, ambiguities, and peculiarities to resist the deadly state of stable signification.” The iterations of The New Manifesto enact that statement.
Alphabet One: A Submanifesto of the NewLights Press (2017)
Alphabet One: A Submanifesto of the NewLights Press (2017) Aaron Cohick Booklet, center-stapled. Letterpress printed from woven collagraph blocks on newsprint. H165 x W140 mm, 28 pages. Acquired from the artist, 11 December 2020. Edition of 250, unnumbered. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artist.
Alphabet One, “companion book to the third iteration of The New Manifesto of the NewLights Press”, presents Cohick’s “complete ‘noise’ alphabet, in order, in condensed and full form”. In The New Manifesto, Cohick has described the book as “a noise of the hands and thought”. Well then, being a book, Alphabet One demonstrates that the manifesto is the alphabet, and the alphabet is the manifesto, and “woven collagraph blocks” could hardly be less “a noise of hands and thought”. Lest those inferences seem strained, continue reading the passage Cohick reproduces from The New Manifesto immediately after the reference to the “complete ‘noise’ alphabet”:
This is not a utopian program // This is not an alphabet for saving the world // Such a thing is a dangerous lie // This is one possibility // Not a tool // But a movement-between // An object-between // A growing // Changing thing // Meant to do just that // It is about attention and its revitalization // It is about structure and our being in it //
A, B, C, D. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
W, X, Y, Z. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
It cannot be an accident that the “noise” alphabet’s letterforms arise from varyingly shaded bricks: rose, gray, reddish gray and reddish black. To left and right of each letter, the rose color dominates. A reddish gray bar tops and tails each letter. The color gray forms the “strokes” of each letter. Reddish black fills the counters. Extracting the signal from the noise of the alphabet or books does not come easily. This is intentional. Just as The New Manifesto says,
With these books // The original autonomous window technology that is us looking through // At // In // Against // With care //The book returns our labor to us //
Days Open Air (2016)
Days Open Air(2016) Aaron Cohick Booklet, center-stapled, H203 x W152, 12 pages. Edition of 100, of which this is #40. Acquired from the artist, 11 December 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with artist’s permission.
Days Open Air is one of those books returning our labor to us that The New Manifesto announces. Cohick call it “an artists’ book/poem thing … an experiment: with our new Risograph, with the alphabet, with writing, with random numbers, and with noise.” Letterforms stretch. Words run sideways, they break in the middle across lines, even across pages.
Look-See (REAED) (2014)
Look-See (REAED) (2014) Aaron Cohick Print. H300 x W456 mm. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with artist’s permission.
More evocative of barcode stripes than bricks, the letterform strokes in this poem-print-poster stretch even more than in Days Open Air. Printed on a Vandercook 219 from vinyl and gesso collagraph blocks, the letterforms challenge us to “look” and “see”. An angle at the top right, two angles midway on the right and two counters condensed to small squares suffice to define the first letter — R. The letters E and A are more efficient, requiring only the placement of two counters each. Note how the textural effect of the gesso and letterpress printed collagraph on chipboard joins The New Manifesto‘s celebration of the physicality and noise of production.
In Cohick’s world, the book and art make, and should be perceived as, a “strange” continuity. His vision and embrace of the collagraph suggest a 21st century version of William Blake. He names his nearer contemporaries as Ken Campbell, Walter Hamady, Amos P. Kennedy, Jr., Karen Kunc, Emily McVarish, Dieter Roth and Nancy Spero. In the Books On Books Collection, those far and near can also be found in Eleonora Cumer, Raffaella della Olga and Geofroy Tory.
variazione (2015) Eleonora Cumer Linocut on card and tarlatana. Unique. H287 x 416 mm closed. Showing front and back covers. Acquired from the artist, 16 September 2017.
Centrally open view, showing printed linen crape (tarlatana) pages.
Views of the three “double-page spreads.
Open envelope for note of thanks. Container for the work. Both with pin-pricked and thread-sewn images. Container initialed and dated on reverse.
scultura da viaggio dipinta n.2 (2017)
scultura da viaggio dipinta n.2/ sculpture de poche peinte n. 2 (2017) Eleonora Cumer Single sheet of card, cut and painted front and back. Unique, embossed with artist’s stamp and initialed. H250 x W116 mm closed, H250 x W270 mm open. Acquired from the artist, 16 September 2017.
Cumer’s scultura da viaggio builds on Bruno Munari’s portable or “travelling sculptures”, but they could just as easily have emerged from her own earlier works such as l’attesa, visioni urbani and contaminazione.
l’attesa/ l’attente (2010)
l’attesa/ l’attente (2010) Eleonora Cumer Three-dimensional accordion book with painted front and back pages in painted case. H135 x W125 mm closed, H135 x W 1200 mm open. Unique. Acquired from the artist, 16 September 2017. Selected for the Abracadabra Bookcase Exhibition, Barcelona, May 2010.
Internal and external views of open cover.
“Reading” the opened concertina l’attesa (“the wait”).
Front view of l’attesa.
Rear view of l’attesa.
visioni urbane/ visions urbane (2015)
visioni urbani/visions urbane (2015) Eleonora Cumer Three cards, tri-fold, painted front and back, and cut, encased in a duo-fold sheet, painted on one side. H240 x 150 mm closed, H240 x 600 mm open Unique. Acquired from the artist, 16 September 2017.
Opening the work.
Rear view, top view.
contaminazione (2015) Eleonora Cumer Four sheets of card, each cut and folded into three panels. H300 x W300 mm closed, H300 x 900 mm open. Acquired from the artist, 16 September 2017.
View of the four component cards.
Duo-fold gray cover H302 x W315 mm closed, H302 x W943 mm open. Fourth component card, initialed and dated by the artist.
il giardino della mia VITA (2015)
il giardino della mia VITA (2015) Eleonora Cumer Hand-sewn booklet of hand-stamped photo-collaged paper. Glassine envelope, glued to page 6, contains shards of coloured glass. H288 x W205 mm closed, H288 x W410 open. Edition of 50 numbered and signed, of which this is #20. Acquired from the artist, 16 September 2017.
The text in English: “The garden of my life: my life like a garden or better”
Parole (2015) Eleonora Cumer Hand-sewn booklet of hand-stamped photo-collaged paper. Glassine envelope, glued to page 2, contains slip of lined paper hand-stamped with the letters of the word “parole” superimposed on one another in two groups. H288 x W205 mm closed, H288 x W410 open Edition of 50 numbered and signed, of which this is #20. Acquired from the artist, 16 September 2017.
The text in English: ”Words: unreadable words, incomplete words, unspoken words”
Conflitti (2015) Eleonora Cumer Hand-sewn booklet of hand-stamped photo-collaged paper. German air rifle training disc (distance 10 m) sewn with red thread and glued to cover; exiting on page 1, the red thread crosses to pages two and three; page two includes a pastedown grid, labelled in its margin with the abbreviation for an anti-cholergenic incapacitating chemical weapon. H288 x W205 mm closed, H288 x W410 open. Edition of 50 numbered and signed, of which this is #16. Acquired from the artist, 16 September 2017.
The text in English: “Conflict: the flight to the sea to meet death in search of a new land”
Circoscrivere lo spazio (2021)
Circoscrivere lo spazio No. 3 (2021) Eleonora Cumer Edition of 15, of which this is #10. Acquired from the artist, 26 May 2021. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
The thick stroke of black on the front cover runs downwards, then veers diagonally and upwards to the right. As it does, it narrows, reddens and loops over a leftward thrust suggesting a needle crossing under the moderately thick red stroke that tilts off center. The two thin red stitch-like lines further down the length of that off-center stroke strengthens the suggestion. Something is being bound or stitched together.
When the booklet opens, a translucent page appears on the right. It bears three black squares, but an off-center fourth peeks through them. As the translucent page turns, a crackling sound startles while the page with the off-center square comes into view. It is made of the same paper as the front cover but inked slightly less yellow than is the inside of the front cover. The smudges lightening the upper righthand corner of the fourth black square fool the eye into seeing another translucent layer, an illusion strengthened by another illusion. Looking to the left, the eye sees through the real translucent sheet the white margins at the foot and center of the inside front cover, and it appears that the translucent sheet has the same margins and an undertone of yellow aligned with that on the inside front cover. Not so.
The next two double-page spreads tease and hint to the eye in the same and different ways. Stitching images like those on the front cover reappear but now enlarged. Another crackling sheet of translucent paper covers an enlarged black square, which turns out to be an insert of black paper embroidered with red thread. When the hooked-needle image overlays the other stitchery images on the white verso page, it becomes clear that the insert hides another smaller insert. Smaller, yes, but with its own widening surprise — two valley folds that are really mountain folds when the insert unfolds completely over the double-page spread.
All of these “deceptions” — and others to come in the booklet — involve circumvention of circumscription. Circoscrivere lo spazio (“To circumscribe space”) and the next work are Cumer’s most sophisticated metaphoric works in the Books On Books Collection.
Cercare nella memoria (2021)
Cercare nella memoria (2021) Eleonora Cumer Booklet of translucent papers, center sewn, hole-punched and strung together with a single thread. H195 x W140 mm. Edition of 15, of which this is #1. Acquired from the artist, 26 May 2021. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
Each copy is printed with a photocopier, then subjected to different manual interventions: embroidered images in red thread, ink and watercolor, wax seals, a translucent white single-sheet insert, and collage with tarlatana. The binding is twofold: a single brown thread sewn through the fold of the gathered folios, and a punched hole through which a single red thread is loosely strung, secured with a single stitch through the spine and two drops of sealing wax, one on the back and one on the front over a knot in the thread.
Each of these material and technical details, by itself and together, contributes to the meaning of this work, spelled out in its title: Cercare nella memoria (“To seek in memory”). When we speak of searching our memories, we speak in metaphors and images. Many of them are here in this booklet: pulling on a thread, losing the thread, picking up the thread, tying a string around a finger, circling in on something, holes in recollection, and peeling back layers of memory. The drops of sealing wax might jog the memory of Giordano Bruno’s Thirty Seals, the third volume in his Art of Memory. Pulling on that thread might lead to the discovery of a resemblance between Bruno’s seals and Cumer’s images.
Cercare is smaller than Circoscrivere. It may, perhaps, have fewer moving parts. But it is more dense, more crowded, more delicate, and more violent with its splashing red and lines crashing across one another — and, for anyone who thinks seriously about memory, more frightening.
Giordano Bruno’s “The Bookbinder” seal from Julia Buntaine Hoel’s “The Art of Memory” (2018 to present). Accessed 27 June 2021.
It can be hard to find the time to experiment with your art. Often you feel everything we create should be a finished artwork but it is extremely valuable to take the time to just play. It can feel like a waste of time but often from these opportunities the most fascinating results, techniques and […]
Untitled (2006) Jenny Smith Matte-beige slot-and-tab case containing eight-panel leporello, four panels lasercut and three screenprint. Case: 167 x 167 mm; Book: 165 x 165 mm. Edition of 25 of which this is #21. Acquired from the artist, 31 July 2017. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.
This portable sculpture echoes the tradition of Bruno Munari and Eleonora Cumer. The handling of ink from matte gray to silver to reflective black plays beautifully behind the vertical and
Book of Beads (2008)
Book of Beads (2008) Jenny Smith Case of beige matte-finish, screenprint black interior, title lasercut: 165 x 165 mm; Book in accordion-fold, eight panels lasercut, taupe on one side, screenprint black on other, 160 x 160 mm Edition of 20 of which this is #13. Acquired from the artist, 31 July 2017. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.
The interlocking views of panels through panels foreshadow a work by Katumi Komagata:「Ichigu」(2015). The fine tendrils in the cutting may remind some of works by Béatrice Coron or Merrill Shatzman.
Little Black Book (2009)
Little Black Book (2009) Jenny Smith Matte-black slot-and-tab case containing matte-black single fold booklet; cover engraved with an abstract, calligraphic design that is cut out inside on the pop-up page and reappears in shadow against a gloss black screenprint insert behind the pop-up page. Case: 167 x 167 mm; Book: 160 x 160 mm; Pop-up page: H140 x W150 mm. Edition of 20, of which this is #14. Acquired from the artist, 31 July 2017. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
The grassy nature of the 2013 installation and its engagement with children may remind the reader/viewer of Water on the Border (1994) by Helen Douglas and Telfer Stokes. For some, the interaction of cage and words in the 2016 installation may recall Bird Language (2003) by Xu Bing.
“Medicinal Art”, Studio Pavilion, 19 September 2019. Accessed 2 May 2020.