Books On Books Collection – Michalis Pichler

Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard: Sculpture (2008)

Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard (Sculpture) (2008)

Michalis Pichler

Offset and laser gravure, perfect binding. H325 x W250 mm, 32 pages. Acquired from Printed Matter, 10 April 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Appropriated and sculpted bookwork was taking off in numerous forms even before 1964 when Marcel Broodthaers half-embedded the last fifty copies of his poetry book Pense-Bête in plaster. Bruno Munari had introduced libri illeggibili (“unreadable books”) in 1949. John Latham had already encased books with plaster in Shelf Number 2 (1961) and much else in his various skoob works. Tom Phillips’ line-by-line, found-book alteration A Humument was underway, first appearing in 1970, as was Dieter Roth’s string of sausage books Literaturwurst (1961-74). So Broodthaers could have taken any of several directions before deciding to replace Mallarmé’s lines of verse in Un Coup de Dés N’Abolira le Hasard: Poéme (1914) with printed and engraved placeholders in paper and anodized aluminum, respectively, to create Un Coup de Dés N’Abolira le Hasard: Image (1969).

Le Vite dei Libri 26 directed by Giulio Maffei, 12 January 2016. Accessed 14 August 2020.

Son of Giorgio Maffei (bookseller, curator, scholar and book artist in his own right), Giulio Maffei has made video catalogues for Studio Bibliografico Giorgio Maffei since 2015. Each catalogue is a work of video. In this twenty-sixth outing, Maffei has created a video from the 1914 edition and Broodthaers’ 1969 Image version of Un Coup de Dés.

By 2008, Michalis Pichler had an even greater wealth of forms from which to choose for his double appropriation/homage to Mallarmé’s Poème and Broodthaers’ Image. Since the ’80s scores of book artists had been introduced to ingenious structures by Hedi Kyle and Keith A. Smith, among others, so why not an Aunt Sally’s shipwreck of string, canvas and torn paper? Long-Bin Chen had been sanding books and phone directories into busts since the ’90s, so why not a bust of Mallarmé from old editions of Un Coup de Dés and a bust of Broodthaers from catalogues of his works (a variation on Buzz Spector’s treatment)?

Instead Pichler appropriates Mallarmé through Broodthaers’ design and production: an efficient and direct double appropriation. He follows the trim size and layout of the 1914 and 1969 works. Further underscoring the double appropriation, he reprints verbatim Broodthaers’ preface (the full text of Mallarmé’s poem set in small type as a single paragraph with obliques separating the lines of verse). Like Broodthaers, he produced limited editions of three versions: 10 copies in plexiglas (rather than Broodthaers’ 10 in anodized aluminum), 90 copies in translucent paper (just as Broodthaers had done) and 500 copies in paper (rather than Broodthaers’ 300). Where Broodthaers had solid black stripes, though, Pichler substitutes laser cuts in the translucent and paper editions and engraving or abrasion in the plexiglas edition. Hence Sculpture (2008), rather than Image (1969) or Poème (1914).

Not until 2016, though, was Pichler able to cap his double appropriation. Just as Broodthaers had held an exhibition entitled “Broodthaers: Exposition littéraire autour de Mallarmé” (Antwerp, December 1969), Pichler held one entitled “Pichler: Exposition Littéraire autour de Mallarmé” (Milan, December 2016). Like the Broodthaers exhibition, Pichler’s was an opportunity to showcase his own work: it was his first solo exhibition in Italy. Like Broodthaers, he included the Nrf 1914 edition, but also included numerous other editions and translations that had occurred since. Also, key to Pichler’s artistic intent, he included a host of other artists who by appropriation had made homage to Un Coup de Dés … Poème and, in some cases, Broodthaers’ … Image.

Book art is so self-referential in its instances (think of Real Fiction: An Inquiry into the Bookeresque by Helen Douglas and Telfer Stokes) and as a genre (think Burning Small Fires by Bruce Nauman) that appropriation offers a natural next step. In Pichler’s case, the subtlety of that step comes in how he reaches through Broodthaers’ Image all the way back to elements of Mallarmé’s Poème to achieve his aims.

When Broodthaers first appropriated Mallarmé’s layout, type sizes and roman/italic styles, he was engaged in a kind of reverse ekphrasis. Usually ekphrasis runs from the work of art (say, a Grecian urn) to the text in response (“Ode on a Grecian Urn”). Here, the poem and its shape come first, then the work of art — the Image of the poem. By calling his exhibition an exposition littéraire, Broodthaers underscored this. By calling out the shapes on the page, he elevated the original’s semblances of waves, an abyss, a foundering ship and a constellation and, in exposing them, performed a kind of literary study as well as artistic work.

Count it down from Pichler’s appropriation of Broodthaers’ exposition littéraire, from the inclusion/appropriation of other artists’ appropriations of Poème and/or Image, from his own work of book art Sculpture, from his own other works: Pichler’s appropriative ekphrasis is squared, cubed or perhaps raised to the fourth power. Clearly, book art and appropriation are Pichler’s chief palettes — or rather his twin decks from which, as DJ, he mixes what he calls “Greatest Hits”. The phrase simultaneously names Pichler’s imprint on Sculpture‘s cover and the series on his website. The series includes other appropriations such as Every Building on the Ginza Strip (2018) from Ed Ruscha and Some More Sonnet(s) aka Poem(s) (2011) from Ulises Carríon. “Greatest Hits”, however, suggests another subtlety in Sculpture, albeit one best appreciated in the context of all the exhibitions.

The first instance of Broodthaers’ exhibition in Antwerp included a continuous playing of the artist’s tape-recorded reading of the poem. In Cologne for its second instance, Broodthaers renamed it Exposition littéraire et musicale autour de Mallarmé. Broodthaers was simply taking Mallarmé’s musical cue in Un Coup de Dés’s preface, which advises reading the poem as if it were a “score” for music to be heard at a concert and its blank spaces as “silences”.

Taking Mallarmé’s and Broodthaers’ musical cues and that of his piano-roll-like slots in Sculpture, Pichler created for his exhibition Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard: Musique, a piano-roll version of the poem to be played by any visitor who cared to sit and pedal the pianola on which it was installed. So in further appropriation of Mallarmé through Broodthaers, Pichler’s piano roll turns the empty spaces, where the words and black strips would be, into music while the blanks around them become what Magnus Wieland calls “white noise”.

Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard: Musique (2009) Michalis Pichler

In traditional literary ekphrasis, the referring text can stand on its own. Homer’s description of Achilles’ shield does not require a side-by-side engraving or painting of what Hephaestus forged. Nor does Auden’s exposition of Breughel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (c. 1560) need an art history book to hand.

But without the context of the exhibition, the presence of other appropriations, or even Pichler’s translucent and plexiglas editions, what to make of Pichler’s paper edition on its own? The traditional Nrf cover design suggests no surprise to come, although the trim size looks non-traditional in today’s market. The book’s slimness, subtitle and preliminaries also warrant a raised eyebrow: how can this be a sculpture? Turning the pages, the reader/viewer comes to the cuts and sees through to the pages beneath. Shadows move through the leaves. The laser cut technique hints at something that a die cut does not. Do the burnt edges where the laser has cut suggest a more surgical approach to book burning, an allusion to burning decks, or a 19th century and 20th century legacy to the white spaces?

Both Mallarmé and Broodthaers noted the intent to draw attention to the white space of the page. Pichler appropriates both the poet’s and artist’s form and intent. He sculpts a conceptual double-palimpsest not by overwriting the first level of overwriting but by removing it and the original layer altogether. The core subtlety of Pichler’s paper edition of Un Coup de Dés lies in those empty spaces defined at their burnt edges and by the blankness around them. For Sartre, Mallarmé was the poet of nothingness. Broodthaers appropriated the nothingness with black ink. Pichler has appropriated both. The paradox is a work that stands on its own by invoking and eliminating what it appropriates.

Further Reading

Durgin, Patrick. “Witness Marcel Broodthaers: The docile aphorism“, Jacket2, 24 October 2014. Accessed 6 August 2020.

Gilbert, Annette, and Clemens Krümmel. Thirteen Years: The Materialization of Ideas from 2002 to 2015 (Leipzig: Spector Books, 2015).

Sartre, Jean-Paul; Ernest Sturm, trans. Mallarmé, or the Poet of Nothingness (University Park: Penn State University Press, 2004).

Sowden, Tom. “Exploring Appropriation as a Creative Practice,” MDPI Arts / Issue 8 / Volume 4 (2019). Accessed 6 August 2020.

Wieland, Magnus. “Sculpture Lecture Reading Un coup de dés“. Accessed 6 August 2020.

Among the other artists in Pichler’s Exposition littéraire autour de Mallarmé were these whose works are also represented in the Books On Books Collection: Jérémie Bennequin, Jim Clinefelter, Sammy Engramer, Cerith Wyn Evans, Rodney Graham, Brian Larosche, Michael Maranda, Guido Molinari and Eric Zboya.

Bookmarking Book Art — Ed Ruscha

Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1966) Ed Ruscha Opened and described by Cathy Chambers.
Giulio Maffei, Edward Ruscha's The Sunset Strip, 1966, 2015
From his series Le Vite dei Libri (The Lives of Books), Giulio Maffei provides a clever catalog entry on the Sunset Strip.
Display of Ed Ruscha’s Various Small Fires and Milk (1964) at “Pliure: La Part du Feu”, 2 February – 12 April 2015, Paris. Photo credit: Robert Bolick.
Reflected in the lower left hand corner is the display of Bruce Nauman’s Burning Small Fires; in the upper right corner, the film clip of Truffaut’s 1966 Fahrenheit 451; and in the upper left, Maria Helena Vieira da Silva’s La bibliotheque en feu (1974).

 At 79 he is still breaking fresh artistic ground. He pads through his studio, followed by his shaggy rescue dog Lola, to a table where he opens a large flat cardboard package. Inside is a horseshoe-shaped length of clay with a series of laser cut metal letters sticking out of it, like birthday candles on a cake. The letters read: “WEN OUT FOR CIGRETS N NEVER CAME BACK”. It’s funny, baffling and characteristic of an artist who says he aims for “a kind of ‘huh?’ ” effect with a lot of his work. It is also something new. Once cast in bronze it will become, Ruscha says proudly, his first sculpture.

Ben Hoyle, “Ed Ruscha, the pop painter with ‘the coolest gaze in American art’“, The Times, 25 February 2017.

Ben Hoyle’s easygoing interview with Ed Ruscha introduces his work as the heart of the British Museum’s exhibition “The American Dream: pop to the present” (9 March 9 to 18 June 2017).  That is a bold assertion as the show included Claes Oldenburg, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Cy Twombly, Louise Bourgeois, Robert Rauschenberg and others recognizable to anyone who was briefly awake in a college art history class — even as long ago as the 70s. But, back then, not so much “Ed Ruscha”. Hoyle’s article – with its paragraphs’ casual packing in of news, telling descriptive detail and sharp observations (whether his or others’) of Ruscha’s art – makes a persuasive case.   

Abigail Cain’s comments in Aperture on the Harry Ransom Center’s 2018 exhibition Ed Ruscha: Archaeology and Romance, which uses 150 displayed items to focus on 16 of Ruscha’s books, contextualizes Various Small Fires neatly. Quoting the Center’s photography curator Jessica S. Macdonald, Cain writes:

… lack of artistry is one of the hallmarks of Ruscha’s artist books. “The photographs of gas stations are bad photographs on purpose,” McDonald noted. “He’s trying to do the opposite of what a photographer trying to make an artistic photograph would be doing.” In a 1965 Artforum interview concerning his second book, Various Small Fires and Milk (1964), Ruscha explained that it didn’t even matter to him who took the photographs. “In fact, one of them was taken by someone else,” he said. “I went to a stock photograph place and looked for pictures of fires, there were none.” 

Abigail Cain, “Unpacking Ed Ruscha“, Aperture, 27 September 2018.

Ruscha on the future of the artist book:

I am wide awake when I see artist books. Here are people using actual ink on paper in the eventual age of total digital. For this reason I am retaining my hope and expectation of more books.

From interview with Stephanie LaCava, “Artist Books/Artist’s Novels (Vol. 5): Ed Ruscha”, The Believer, 20 February 2017.

Bookmarking Book Art – Animated!

Michelle Ku, The Swimmer, 2014
Michelle Ku, The Swimmer, 2014

John Cheever’s short story “The Swimmer” is an all-time favorite. After seeing the short film of it with Burt Lancaster, I can’t imagine Ned Merrill’s appearance any other way. Even in Michelle Ku’s animated book art version, I see Burt Lancaster’s big grin and its sorrow.

Before seeing Ku’s work, which has planted the urge to seek even more examples of animated book art, I had enjoyed Regan Avery’s The Groton Avery Clan at the CT(un)Bound exhibition in New Haven, Connecticut. The work consists of a handmade book, metallic thread, motor and an Arduino microcontroller. The Avery clan has inhabited the state since the 1600s. Regan Avery’s handmade book is a copy of the family history published over 100 years ago. From it, the name of each descendant of Christopher Avery, the original immigrant, has been excised and the ten thousand names handwritten on miniscule scraps of  yellowed paper that emerge from the book along interconnected threads put into motion by the motor and microcontroller.

Regan Avery, The Groton Avery Clan, 2015
Regan Avery, The Groton Avery Clan, 2015

When the motor engages, the name slips become “a teeming mass of humanity”.

In 2011, Saara Tuulia posted City and Snow Book on YouTube, which is a simple stop motion animation comparable to Ku’s more complex The Swimmer.

Saara Tuulia, City and Snow Book, 2011
Saara Tuulia, City and Snow Book, 2011

In 2013, Danielle Lathrop posted Book Art, whose stop motion animation highlighted the figurative and origami-based vein of the art form and its practitioners’ obsession with Alice in Wonderland.

Danielle Lathrop, Book Art, 2013 The White Rabbit and Alice sequence
Danielle Lathrop, Book Art, 2013
The White Rabbit and Alice sequence

Danielle Lathrop, Book Art, 2013 The White Rabbit and Alice sequence
Danielle Lathrop, Book Art, 2013
The White Rabbit and Alice sequence

Danielle Lathrop, Book Art, 2013 The White Rabbit and Alice sequence
Danielle Lathrop, Book Art, 2013
The White Rabbit and Alice sequence

Danielle Lathrop, Book Art, 2013 The White Rabbit and Alice sequence
Danielle Lathrop, Book Art, 2013
The White Rabbit and Alice sequence

More recently, and posted here, another example of animated book art – Giulio Maffei’s series Le Vite dei Libri (The Lives of Books) – demonstrates the increasing engagement and sophistication in this variant form of book art.

Giulio Maffei, Edward Ruscha's The Sunset Strip, 1966, 2015
Giulio Maffei, Edward Ruscha’s The Sunset Strip, 1966, 2015

The search is on; “roll camera”.

 

Bookmarking Book Art – Giorgio & Giulio Maffei

Display of Ed Ruscha's Various Small Fires and Milk, 1964, at Pliure: La Part du Feu, 2 February - 12 April 2015, Paris. Photo by Robert Bolick. Reflected in the lower left hand corner is the display of Bruce Nauman's Burning Small Fires; in the upper right corner, the film clip of Truffaut's 1966 Fahrenheit 451; and in the upper left, Maria Helena Vieira da Silva's La bibliotheque en feu, 1974.
Display of Ed Ruscha’s Various Small Fires and Milk, 1964
Pliure: La Part du Feu, 2 February – 12 April 2015, Paris, Fondation Calouste-Gulbenkian.
Photo by Robert Bolick, 11 April 2015.
Reflected in the lower left hand corner is the display of Bruce Nauman’s Burning Small Fires, 1968; in the upper right corner, the film clip of Truffaut’s 1966 Fahrenheit 451; and in the upper left, Maria Helena Vieira da Silva’s La bibliotheque en feu, 1974.

The Studio Bibliografico Giorgio Maffei specializes in original texts and book art by twentieth century visual and literary avant-garde artists such Baldessari, Lewitt, Munari, Man Ray, Ruscha and Warhol among others. Recently the owner’s son – Giulio Maffei – “started making film as a side activity” and introduced a series of short animations “to put on the social networks and reach new potential customers”.  An anonymous pair of hands displays a variety of the books and book art in stock.

But Giulio’s videos are not always the straightforward marketing effort intended. They provide an experience of book art or artists’ books that most of us will never hold or touch. And that may be Maffei’s point in his series “Le Vite dei Libri” (The Lives of Books) in which these usually glassed-off works are playfully handled, gently made fun of and still honored.

Some of the videos are derivative artworks in their own right in the same vein as Bruce Nauman’s Burning Small Fires, 1968.  Nauman poked fun at Ed Ruscha’s Various Small Fires and Milk, 1964, by composing a book of photos recording the burning of a copy of Various Small Fires. Maffei’s Nauman-esque handling of Various Small Fires and Milk involves flash paper or its Photoshop equivalent.  His celebration of Ruscha’s The Sunset Strip is still more endearing with its soundtrack and toy convertible. His cheeky animations of the pop-ups in Warhol’s Index (Book) and the ironically daring destruction of Papa Maffei’s copy of Some/Thing No.3 are even better.  In the latter, the plastering of a Banksy-like mural with Warhol’s “Bomb Hanoi” stickers torn from the perforated cover is a sharp-edged example of the arch, reflective commentaries throughout Maffei’s videos.

Most of the films’ credits pay typographical homage to the work at hand, which is a nice self-deprecating and affectionate touch.  At my last viewing, there were twenty-two works in the Lives series.  They are listed below, but once you reach one on YouTube, the others follow. Giulio Maffei has also created a longer video catalogue for his father’s enterprise: Tra Libro e Oggetto (Between Book and Object). The Maffeis are a knowing team. The catalog title can be read as the beginning of a statement displayed on the cover.

BETWEEN BOOK AND OBJECT

The artists’ book, the multiple and the object

become an artwork

A statement that refers not only to the works in the catalog but to the video catalog itself and to the elder Maffei’s lifework of collecting, selling and writing about book art.

1 – An Unreadable Quadrat Print, Bruno Munari

2 – The Sunset Strip, Ed Ruscha

3 – Nine Swimming Pools, Ed Ruscha

4 – Various Small Fires, Ed Ruscha

5 – Andy Warhol’s Children’s Book, Andy Warhol

6 – Choosing Green Beans, John Baldessari

7 – Kleve 2009, Ettore Spalletti

8 – Made in Machine, Jean-François Bory

9 – Cieli ad Alta Quota, Alighiero Boetti

10 – Il Merlo Ha Perso il Becco, Bruno Munari

11 – Mémoires, Guy Debord, Asger Jorn

12 – Zang Tumb Tuuum, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti

13 – Acervus, Luigi Ontani

14 – Toiletpaper JAN 2011, Maurizio Cattelan & Pierpaolo Ferrari

15 – Toiletpaper JUL 2012, Maurizio Cattelan & Pierpaolo Ferrari

16 – Les Illuminations, Fernand Léger & Arthur Rimbaud

17 – Man Ray, Man Ray

18 – The Biggest Art-Book in the World, Enrico Baj

19 – Fable, John Baldessari

20 – Air Condition, Allan Kaprow

21 – Andy Warhol’s Index (Book), Andy Warhol

22 – Some/Thing No.3, ed. David Antin, cover by Andy Warhol