Bookmarking Book Art – Ximena Pérez Grobet

Around the Corner (2020)

Around the Corner (2020)
Ximena Pérez Grobet
Japanese bound in slip case open at both ends. H200 x W175 x D70 mm. Edition of 20, of which this is # 2. Acquired from the artist, 1 December 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Since 2008, the AM Bruno coalition has sponsored artist book challenges. The one in 2020 was entitled “One and Many Pages” and challenged the participants to respond to the image below:

One and many pages“, AM Bruno. Accessed 6 July 2021.

Clive Philpott reviewed the various proposals and selected twelve to go forward. Pérez Grobet’s Around the Corner was one. On the fore-edge you can see the whole image reproduced. As you remove the book from its slipcase, you are gradually astounded that, in fact, the image produces the book. Like a flip book, each page holds a segment of the whole image: “one and many pages”. As each segment appears as a full-page bleed, this image of a book un-builds and re-builds within and around the corners of the book in your hands.

While the video below conveys some of the visual experience to be enjoyed with this artwork, it does not convey the tactile and spatial experience of how the image of “a book” becomes “the book” in your hands.

Nowhereman Press 1994-2019 (2019)

The year 2019 marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of Ximena Pérez Grobet’s Nowhereman Press. To celebrate, she issued the catalogue below illustrating twenty-five of her works. (Books On Books declares an interest, having provided twenty-five words for the opening page and owning two of the works in the catalogue in addition to the one above.)

Nowhereman Press 1994-2019 (2019)
Ximena Pérez Grobet
Overlapping clothbound folder attached to Japanese bound book. H210 x W180 mm, 25 pages. Edition of 25, of which this is #2. Acquired from the artist, 1 May 2019.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

The catalogue itself demonstrates this artist’s ingenious engagement with what the critic Gérard Genette called “seuils” or the “thresholds” of the book — its features such as cover, binding, edges, the page, title page, preface, index, colophon, typography, printings, etc., that make up “this fringe at the unsettled limits that enclose with a pragmatic halo the literary work” (quoted by Richard Macksey in his preface to Genette’s Paratexts (Cambridge University Press, 1997), p. xvii).

For example, the catalogue opens right-ward rather than left-ward — despite the false hint to open it left-ward given by the “almost” quarter-paperbound appearance of the front cover. Inside is the catalogue’s true spine, with its externalised sewing. Turning the inner cover and first page to the left reveals that each recto landscape page holds a photo of a double-page spread from one of the twenty-five works.

These are the catalogue’s first reminders of Pérez Grobet’s playful embrace of the “book” as her chosen form of art. Only a few pages in, though, and her serious — political, thoughtful and philosophical —side shows itself. The page above shows the first and last pages from 2.10.1968 – 2.10.2018 (2018), which commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of the Tlatelolco massacre that occurred in Mexico City.

The work Dis-Cover (2019) pictured above and below exhibits Pérez Grobet’s play with the paratext of the book — in this case, select two- and three-dimensional aspects of the book: the cover, fore-edge and double-page spread. The title splitting across the French fold opening enacts one pun while the trompe l’oeil effect inside, done with the simplest of papers and bindings, enacts another. Like Around the Corner above, Dis-Cover is a response to an AM Bruno challenge.

Another and richer example of the depth of Pérez Grobet’s work — and another response to an AM Bruno challenge — is words (2016). In its colophon, she makes a statement that is both finishing touch and starting point to words: “The word is possible considering the space of the letter.” Rather than follow the tradition of the “fine press” edition, Pérez Grobet appropriates Wallace Stevens’ poem “The house was quiet and the world was calm”, breaks it into lines and letters, and creates an original work of book art.

In depicting a reader becoming “the book”, speaking its words “as if there was no book” and wanting to be “The scholar to whom his book is true”, Stevens’ poem seeks to lead us to “The access of perfection to the page”: a state of mind and situation. The state of mind is that in which the truth of meaning is as much a pose, perception and act of the body as it is of the mind. The situation is the threshold of object and subject, of being and the possibility of meaning, where the summer night we feel is “like the conscious being of the book” and where the act of perceiving meaning is simply being there, “leaning late and reading there”.

Pérez Grobet’s work challenges the reader/viewer to re-enact this. As the pages turn, the poem explodes into letters scattered across the recto pages. The letters “T”, “h” and “e” that first separately appear suggest a linear decomposition — a letter by letter representation of the poem. But “The” is followed by “o”, other random letters and even a comma — each dispersed in different patterns across its allocated page.

What’s more, the seemingly indecipherable book can be opened in more than one direction and read. Along the mountain folds of the open spine, the poem appears line by line.

Book or object, which way to read it? Which way to open it? Whichever way, the texture of the Cordenons paper combines with that traditional font of the periodic table (Helvetica) to provide a reassuring background for the mental and tactile challenge.

As an object — in its structure and its placement of text, especially Stevens’ text — words embodies both the sense of Pérez Grobet’s statement in the colophon and the sense of the poem. The possibility of meaning (the word) rests in the space of the letter and at the threshold between the physical and idealised fact of the cover, spine and page, on the one hand, and our physical and mental acts as readers/viewers, on the other.

The catalogue has twenty-two more works — equally engaging with different structures, colors, papers, type, techniques and content. More than enough to warrant another solo exhibition, and as always with book art, the challenge will be how to let the readers/viewers engage with the possibilities before them.