Bookmarking Book Art – Patricia Silva

A particularly apropos video has arrived — apropos for its content, source and circumstances.

Patricia Silva, an artist working in Florence, Italy features in the Virginia Center for the Book’s Shelf Life video series. Virginia-based artist Lyall Harris interviewed Silva about Silva’s project Before We Forget 2020, a set of hand-bound artist’s journals. With each journal’s hand binding, unique cover of marbled paper, varied papers and inclusion of prompts to the owner, Silva draws on several rich traditions of book art.

Before We Forget (2020)
Patricia Silva
Thirty-six page journal (30 acid free writing pages + 6 specialty paper pages). Hand-crafted with hand-marbled paper and cloth covers. H215 x W145mm.

But in its technology, subject and circumstances, the video draws on an even more ancient literary tradition: Boccaccio’s Decameron. In March 2020, Italy was entering its months-long lockdown, and 4,461 miles away, the Virginia Festival of the Book was being cancelled due to the pandemic. Instead of decamping to the Blue Ridge or Tuscan hills with a handful of friends to escape the plague, Harris and Silva invited them via Zoom to their exchange.

Although a significant strain of book art falls into the conceptual and minimalist camps of art, an equally significant strain falls into the camp of the book arts and craft associated with them. Given the influence of her Italian mentor Carlo Saitta and University of the Arts professors like Hedi Kyle, it is no surprise that Before We Forget calls on the traditions of binding and paper marbling. The binding is a traditional case binding done with a link stitch on supports for sewing. The decorative papers come from several sources, almost all small artisans. Some are printed decorative papers, some are silkscreened, most are woodblock printed, of which several come from a small old-time family-run bindery in Venice that uses woodblocks dating back as far as the 1800s. Some of the paper is handmade by the artist.

The casual observer might mistake the journals of Before We Forget for the beautifully crafted blank journals that abound in outlets like Il Papiro or Paperchase. Yet there is surprise here to catch out the casual observer’s mistake and repay a bit of thought. At perhaps its most extreme, conceptual book art amounted to a set of instructions to the reader/viewer. The general interest in reader/viewer participation has several roots. One is craft-based and historical.

Recently in the context of the “other pandemic”, friendship journals and scrapbooks have drawn attention: for example, Amy Matilda Cassey’s Friendship Album (1833-56) and Alexander Gumby’s scrapbooks, including Negro in Bondage (1910-52). Older and more broadly, there are the Album Amicorum of Moyses Walens (1605-15) and Julia Chatfield’s Scrapbook (1845). Before We Forget does not present a set of completely blank pages. Each journal contains prompts to the owner to make notes, sketch, paste in, and add recollections of the days, weeks, and months of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic.

Encouraging the owner’s intervention recalls another historical phenomenon: Grangerism or extra-illustration, where the owner embellishes a book with inserts. Richard Bull’s extra-illustrated copy of Count Anthony Hamilton’s Mémoires du comte de Gramont (1794) is a good example. Before We Forget does not present a previously printed body of text for Grangerizing, but each journal presents a unique copy to be overwritten.

In that context of the Covid-19 pandemic, this urging of reader/viewer participation evokes — perhaps callous to say — literally, not just metaphorically, Roland Barthes’ poser of the “death of the author”. Before We Forget plays to and against that metaphorical notion. Until a reader/viewer/owner acts upon an acquired copy, is there an author? Is the participating act one of authoring or mere “extra-illustration”? Barthes wrote: “the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author” (p. 148). And if reader and author are one and the same?

Given Silva’s intentions stated in the interview, each copy acquired is meant to become a keepsake of events and time personal to its inscriber and be a memorial of the inscriber for future readers. Here is where the literalness of “death of the author” callously intrudes. Whether the owner/author falls prey to the virus or unrelated causes, the author dies.

The topic of the nature and experience of time recurs in book art sufficiently to warrant calling it a tradition. In Before We Forget, it plays out in general and in particular. On the general or theoretical side, we have Ulises Carrión and his definitions of “what a book is:

A book is a sequence of spaces.
Each of these spaces is perceived at a different moment – a book is also a sequence of moments.

Written language is a sequence of signs expanding within the space; the reading of which occurs in the time.
A book is a space-time sequence.

If seen as merely a blank journal, Before We Forget may seem not to warrant such “out there” statements. Or, on the contrary, those statements may seem not so “out there” when considered with Before We Forget in hand. On the particular and haptic side, we have in hand this object covered in a one-off piece of marbled paper and prodding our hands to mark it up and change the object to fix past time in it and to fix it in time to come. Theoretically or haptically, it engages the reader/viewer owner/author with the nature and experience of time.

Another tradition of book art in which Before We Forget is rooted, albeit loosely, is the found object and appropriation. In addition to its unique marbled paper cover, each journal contains six sheets of heavier or colored or patterned papers unique to the journal. In a sense, these papers are “found” as Silva has used only papers and cloth left over from older projects or collected (hoarded?) over the years. The marbled paper and specialist papers collected over time that found their way into Before We Forget are, however, only a part of the work — not the work itself as found object. Likewise, even if the owner/author fills the pages with pasted-in photos, postcards or other ephemera found or on hand, those found objects are not the work itself. It seems a stretch to deem the owned but yet-to-be-authored copy something that the owner/author has appropriated. In their collaboration Passato Prossimo (2017), Silva and Lyall Harris provide a magnificent demonstration of fusing book art with found objects and appropriation. The work is shown and discussed in the interview.

For Books On Books, the interview is a welcome reminder of another time. Patrica Silva teaches in both the Studio Arts College International (SACI) and Santa Reparata International School of Art (SRISA) and kindly arranged a visit to both in late September 2019. Florence was relatively empty at the time, and the visits to SACI and SRISA occurred at hours when there were no students around. The photos of the SACI’s gallery, library and grounds, the SRISA’s studio and equipment, and the works of Silva’s students will find their way into the Books On Books Collection’s copy of Before We Forget as strange harbingers.

By the end of September 2020, the Virginia Center for the Book had 40 episodes of Shelf Life on offer — well on the way to matching the Decameron‘s 100 stories. Unfortunately, with the current plague, the Center may be forced to exceed the Decameron‘s count, and Patricia Silva may face a demand for Before We Forget 2021.

Further Reading

Barthes, Roland. Trans. S. Heath. Image, Music, Text: Essays (London: Fontana, 1977).

Carrión, Ulises. “The New Art of Making Books”, Kontexts No. 6-7, 1975.

Chambers, Ross. Facing It: AIDS Diaries and the Death of the Author (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998).

Peltz, Lucy. Facing the Text: Extra-Illustration, Print Culture, and Society in Britain, 1769-1840 (San Marino, California: Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, 2017).

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.

Books On Books Collection – Judy Goldhill

Spiration (2018)

Spiration (2018)

Judy Goldhill

Belly band with edition details, spider style binding; eight leaves, 16 pages, 48 panels; laser printed onto 250gsm card glossy on one side. Open edition of signed copies. Acquired from AM Bruno, 9 November 2018. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

This spiral of imagery, is an allegory for breath, found in the material world,  photographed in the house I was building. A variety of modalities of folds – from the fold of our material selves, our bodies – to the folding of time, or simply memory, an interiority and exteriority. — Artist’s description

The “spider style” binding here is not quite the same as that designated by Hedi Kyle as the “spider book” in The Art of the Fold (2018). It is more a cross between an accordion fold, crown fold and spider book as explained by Kyle. It also recalls the effect of the Chinese dragon fold, exemplified by the re-creation of the Diamond Sutra by Zhang Xiaodong. Whatever its source or name, the fold and binding create a prismatic bookwork that invites teasing away each sheet and fold, poring over each panel as well as setting the work up in various display aspects.

Although Spiration is not currently listed in WorldCat, several of Goldhill’s other publications are: for example, In the Beginning and Sanguine Shifts, both of which arose from projects posed to the AM Bruno coalition of artists. Her work has drawn the attention of the British curator and writer David Alan Mellor.

Further Reading

Cor Aerssens, ‘Anarchist of bookbinders‘, Bookmarking Book Art, 26 September 2019. For an example of similar binding.

Hedi Kyle’s The Art of the Fold: How to Make Innovative Books and Paper Structures (2018)“, Bookmarking Book Art, 24 September 2018. A book review with illustrations.

Books On Books Collection – Cor Aerssens, “Anarchist of bookbinders”

Memories (2014)

Memories (2014)
Cor Aerssens
H190 x W200 mm

Punched holes used for pagination.

Aerssens and Hedi Kyle are long-time friends, whose correspondence has often consisted of an exchange of small models. Memories is an integrated variant of the Panorama Book structure, featuring as it does panels within panels, two 8-leaf booklets bound into front and back with paper hinges, and three pairs of mylar folders holding “found nature” items such as a feather, a grain stalk and whatever might have caught Aerssens’ eye.

Aerssen’s signature image of birds on his region’s wide, flat horizon.

Clamp (2016)

Clamp (2016)
Cor Aerssens
H298 x W214 mm

Aerssens loves cardboard as a material and created Clamp to illustrate its beauty. It illustrates, too, his constant search for elegant closures (whether with magnets, folds, pin/dowel or tabs and slots). As he put it in a conversation, “I’m a structure guy”.

The four tinted papers that hang like small abstract paintings in the framing pages speak to another of Aerssens’ comments about this leanings: “Presentation — display — has always interested me”.

Aerssens’s first employment was in bookbinding, but early on, he turned to carpentry and its engineering side before ultimately returning to bookbinding and containers of books and other objects. The experience of careful planning and a carpenter’s approach shines out of his every work. Look especially under Further Reading at his design work for Pierre Lecuire’s Dédale. Yet his quick answer when asked what other bookbinders probably have to say about him and his work? “The anarchist of bookbinders!”

A Visit to Cor Aerssens’ Studio, Warffum, The Netherlands (7 June 2018)

Remote as Warffum may seem from the armchair, it is easily accessible by train (Amsterdam-Groningen-Warffum). Artists from around the world book the small number of places in Aerssens’ workshops years in advance.

The large display objects and containers atop the bookshelf are finished in encaustic, another of the unusual features of Aerssens work.

Good luck spotting on his desk the Corfolder (a bonefolder for boxes). Sweden’s Monica Langwe can provide a Teflon one made to Aerssens’ design if you like.

Every work opens to reveal some element of ingenuity such as layered reveal-flaps, framed sheets of mica or double-hinged spines. One of Aerssens several innovations is the Groninger binding, which is generally a fully cardboard binding. Books with this binding open and lay perfectly flat.

The Groninger binding, designed by Cor Aerssens. Photo: Cor Aerssens site, row 18, no. 2.

Photo: Cor Aerssens site, row 18, no. 3.

A part of the book block is sewn with and integrated in the boards as is the spine, which obviates any need for endpapers or covering on the boards to keep book block and boards together. Other material can be used for a Groninger binding, such as kozo in the example below.

Photo: Cor Aerssens site, row 17, no. 2.

Further Reading

Hedi Kyle’s The Art of the Fold: How to Make Innovative Books and Paper Structures (2018)“, Bookmarking Book Art, 24 September 2018. A book review with illustrations.

Judy Goldhill“, Books On Books Collection, 29 June 2020.

Aerssens, Cor. Het dozen : activiteiten rond het begrip ‘dozen’ (Groningen: Cor Aerssens, 1998). Consists of two workbooks on creating boxes: part I ‘construction and covering of functional boxes’ and part II ‘step-by-step plan and objective boxes’. 

Aerssens, Cor. “‘Box’: A Monument to the Last Period of a Friendship.” New Bookbinder, vol. 32, July 2012, p. 23.

Aerssens, Cor. Ontwerp van Cor Aerssens voor Dédale van Pierre Lecuire. Met aantekeningen en schetsen (Warffum, 2003). The Koninklijke Bibliotheek commissioned Aerssens to create a display/binding for Lecuire’s artist’s book with André Lanskoy Dédale. In addition to the five boxes stacked in a pyramid (not pictured here), Aerssens delivered his detailed design notes and sketches (shown below), which demonstrate his carpentry background.

Goddijn, Peter. Westerse boekbindtechnieken van Middeleuwen tot heden: een handleiding voor het maken van boekmodellen (Amsterdam: De Buitenkant, 2001). Boekband. Met was behandeld bord in tinten goudbruin, en goudgeel (Warffum, 2002). The KB also commissioned this binding of Goddijn’s guidebook to making book models, based on his study of bookbinding techniques from the Middle Ages to the present. Note the encaustic finish of the cover and end papers. As the cover moves, the finish shimmers and changes colours across that spectrum of yellow-brown to yellow-gold in a way that the photos are hard-pressed to capture. In the preceding section, other works with an encaustic finish can been seen on the top shelf in the workshop photo. The binding itself takes a cue from the book’s content (see below), but it is in fact a Groninger binding (see section above).

My thanks to Paul van Capelleveen and the staff at the Dutch National Library in The Hague for their kind assistance.

Books On Books Collection – Joyce Cutler-Shaw

The Anatomy Lesson: Unveiling the Fasciculus Medicinae (2004)

The Anatomy Lesson: Unveiling the Fasciculus Medicinae (2004)
Joyce Cutler-Shaw
Middletown, CT: Robin Price, Publisher, 2004)
Housed in a custom-made, engraved stainless steel box (H370 x W326 x D44 mm), concertina binding co-designed with Daniel E. Kelm and Joyce Cutler-Shaw, produced at The Wide Awake Garage; twelve signatures of handmade cotton text paper, the central ten signatures each made up of one sheet H356 x W514 mm and one sheet H356 x W500 mm glued to the 14 mm margin of the first sheet, for a total of 96 pages, each measuring H356 x W253 mm.
Binding of leather covered boards (a hologram embedded in front cover) with an open spine, taped and sewn into a reinforcing concertina structure: H361 X W259 mm.
The hologram, produced by DuPont Authentication Systems, features an early eighteenth-century brass lancet. Edition of 50, of which this is a binder’s copy. Acquired from the binder, Daniel E. Kelm, 15 October 2018.

Twelve signatures of handmade cotton text paper, the central ten signatures each made up of one sheet H356 x W514 mm and one sheet H356 x W500 mm glued to the 14 mm margin of the first sheet, for a total of ninety-six pages, each measuring H356 x W253 mm.
Binding of leather covered boards (a hologram embedded in front cover) with an open spine, taped and sewn into a reinforcing concertina structure: H361 X W259 mm.
Contained in engraved steel box: H370 x W326 x D44 mm.

Clockwise: stainless steel box container, detail of sewing and detail of reinforcing accordion structure. For a description of this type of structure, see Hedi Kyle’s The Art of the Fold (London: Laurence King, 2018), pp. 82-85.

Top of photo: gives a view of the doublure, which is part of the reinforcing concertina structure.
Bottom of photo: gives a view of page 1, which precedes a blank page and half-title. Note that pages are unnumbered.

Title page of the third signature.

Opening of the third signature.

Internal four-page spread of the third signature.

Left-hand page (from the Fasciculus Medicinae) of the four-page spread above. Note that the pagination (lower right) refers to the page number in the source text.

Second page (from Fasciculus Medicinae) of the four-page spread. Again note that the pagination (lower left) refers to the page number in the source text.

Third page from the four-page spread above. Print by Joyce Cutler-Shaw

Fourth page from four-page spread above. Poem by Joyce Cutler-Shaw.

Alphabet of Bones (1987)

The Alphabet of Bones (1987)
Joyce Cutler-Shaw
Munich, West Germany: VerlagKretschmer and Grossman
Edition of 700. Acquired as a gift from Hubert Kretschmer, 10 January 2019

Twenty-six glossy photo cards, offset white on black, H70 x W114 mm
with trifold panel of glossy photo paper, offset white on black: H70 x W458 mm
Contained in pasted, open-ended box of matte card, offset white on black: H72 x W117 x D14 mm
Contained in fold-flap box: H73 x W118 x D15 closed, H72 x W498 open

Further Reading

Cutler-Shaw, Joyce. “Embodied/Disembodied”, LitMed Magazine, 10 March 2009. Accessed 3 September 2019.

Cutler-Shaw, Joyce. “Chinese Calligraphy Biennial 2008, Beijing”, artist’s website, 26 August 2008. Accessed 3 September 2019.

Hoffberg, Judith A. “Birds, Bones, and Books”, Episodes of The City – New York as a Source Book, Wallworks and Artists Books of Joyce Cutler-Shaw, exhibition catalogue (New York, NY: Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, New York University, 2007).

Lippard, Lucy. “Que viva el Rio Grande! Messages from the Great River”, Lightlines and Birds in Flight, East San Jose Carnegie Library, exhibition catalogue (San Jose, CA: East San Jose Carnegie Library, 2011).

Books On Books Collection – Cathryn Miller

Westron Wynde (2016)

Westron Wynde (2016)
Cathryn Miller
Double-sided accordion with swing panel structure, 4 double-page openings, based on Hedi Kyle’s panel or panorama fold. In wrapper with slip and slot closure. Initialed and numbered by the artist. Edition of 6, of which this is #3.

Cathryn Miller, colophon: “Part of an ongoing series of works based on exploration of colour-graphemic synesthesia. This book presents the poem ‘Westron Wynde‘ in a purely visual form. Letters become colours, and are used as graphic elements. The book manifests the essence, if not the sense, of the poem.”

Westron wynde when wyll thou blow,
The smalle rayne down can rayne – 
Cryst, yf my love wer in my armys
And I yn my bed agayne!

L is for Lettering

L is for Lettering (2011)
Cathryn Miller
Hand bound codex of 56 unnumbered pages. Laser printed on acid free recycled paper, hemp paper covers. The book was hand drawn, then scanned and resized in Photoshop. Text is Caflisch Script Pro. Hand annotated in red pencil. Edition of 26, of which this is #3.
H160 x W158 mm

An alphabet book based on the artist’s personal struggle to become a practicing artist. Cathryn Miller: “The trials and tribulations of the art education process as recalled from a satisfactory distance after the author learns that everything is useful after all.”

Further Reading

Cathryn Miller, “Almost There”, Byopia Press, 23 February 2020. Accessed 26 February 2020. The artist comments on L is for Lettering.

Bookmarking Book Art – Hedi Kyle’s The Art of the Fold: How to Make Innovative Books and Paper Structures (2018)

The [artists’ book] movement had its beginnings with a few individuals (conceptual artists Dieter Roth, Hansjörg Mayer, and Ed Ruscha immediately come to mind), but in the area of structural experiment and invention only one person seems to have been markedly influential (albeit seriously ignored): Hedi Kyle.

Alastair Johnston, “Visible Shivers Running Down My Spine”, Parenthesis, Fall 2013m Number 25.

While Alastair Johnston’s 2013 interview with Hedi Kyle is a rich one and welcome, it is inaccurate to say Hedi Kyle has been seriously ignored.  After all, in 2005, the Guild of Book Workers awarded her an honorary membership, and Syracuse University’s Library invited her to deliver that year’s Brodsky Series lecture. In 2008, the Philadelphia Senior Artists Initiative recorded her oral history and posted her artist’s statement along with an extensive list of prior exhibitions, honors, professional roles and board memberships stretching back to 1965.

If, however, Johnston’s assessment is accurate, subsequent events have rectified the situation. In 2015, Kyle delivered the keynote address “Four Decades under the Spell of the Book” for the Focus on Book Arts annual conference. In the same year, the 23 Sandy Gallery held a successful international juried exhibition entitled “Hello Hedi“, an echo of the 1993 exhibition organized by the New York Center for Book Arts entitled Hedi Kyle and Her Influence, 1973-1993. In 2016, the San Francisco Center for the Book held a solo exhibition for Kyle: “The World of Hedi Kyle: Codex Curios and Bibli’objets“.

And now, in 2018, Laurence King Publishers has brought out the eagerly awaited The Art of the Fold by Kyle and daughter Ulla Warchol, which is the immediate impetus for this essay. The authors aim their book at artists and craftworkers, but there is a secondary audience: anyone interested in book art or artists’ books or origami — and learning how better to appreciate them.

On picking up the book, the first thing its primary and secondary audiences should notice is the folded “dust jacket”. Why the quotation marks?  Just look:

“Dust jacket” unfolded, side 1
“Dust jacket” unfolded, side 2

This innovative, subject-appropriate cut, fold and print can set the reader on a hunt for precursors such as Peter and Pat Gentenaar-Torley’s Paper Takes Flight/Papier op de Vlucht, designed by Loes Schepens, where the multilayered dust jacket has small envelopes attached to hold paper samples from the contributing artists, or Doug Beube’s Breaking the Codex, designed by Linda Florio, where the dust jacket includes a perforated bookmark, whose removal implicates the reader in a bit of biblioclasm and challenges Western parochialism.

Paper Takes Flight/Papier op de Vlucht (2006) Peter and Pat Gentenaar-Torley Note how the book’s title is revealed on the second dust jacket from the bottom.
The five opened dust jackets displayed beneath the title page
Bottom-most dust jacket folded from the backboard to the right revealing the airmail envelope, which contains a blank sheet of airmail stationery

The Art of the Fold‘s clean, balanced design (Alexandre Coco) and excellent diagrams (authors) mesh well with the text. While this integrated clarity in the introductory section on Tools, Materials, Terminology, Symbols and Techniques will be appreciated most by artists and paper engineers, the secondary audience of library/gallery curators, aficionados and collectors will benefit from the description and comments in particular on materials, terminology and techniques. Knowing these points about an object of book art enhances appreciation of it and improves its handling, presentation and preservation.

Following this introduction, Kyle and Warchol provide 36 sets of detailed instructions across 5 sections:

  • The Accordion
  • Blizzards
  • One-Sheet Books
  • Albums
  • Enclosures

This double-page spread introducing the accordion structure shows off the the diagrams’ clarity, a feature throughout the book. Also in this spread are two important statements in the verso page’s final paragraph:

The accordion fold as an independent component is our focus point in this book…. Let us start with a brief visual display of a variety of folding styles. Hopefully they will inspire you to grab some paper and start folding. (p .28)

The focus on structure “as an independent component” is a strength and weakness. The strength is self-evident in the thoroughness and attention to detail. The weakness? More than occasionally, the authors make asides about the meaningful interaction of structure with content and, occasionally, with other components (type, color, printing technique, etc.). Some exemplars selected by the authors would have been welcome. The artist’s and reader’s challenge is to provide their own examples of how the structural component might work with different types of content, mixed media and other components that combine to deliver the artistic object.

The second statement — the exhortation “to grab some paper and start folding” —  illustrates an unalloyed strength of this book. As towering an authority and figure in the book arts and book art as Hedi Kyle is, she and her co-author go out of their way again and again to keep readers open to playing with the techniques and structures and finding their own  inventiveness and creativity. For those content to collect or curate, both statements push them to look for or revisit outstanding examples and inventive variants of the structures elucidated. After this section, a browse of Stephen Perkins’ accordion publications, a site running since 2010, would be a good start.

This double-page spread introducing the section on Blizzard structures delivers that blend of the anecdotal with essential engineering-like detail that is characteristic of the authors’ style throughout. Having explained how this family of folded structures that bind themselves got its name (a fold discovered in a daylong fold-a-thon due to a blizzard’s shutting everything down), the authors dive into the proportionality so key to getting them right. Perhaps because of its non-adhesive, origami-centric nature, the blizzard book structure generates more than its fair share of kitsch exemplars. When blizzard books do come along that rise to the level of art — integrating structure, content, printing, typography, color and other components of bookmaking in an artistically meaningful way — they stand out all the more. One such work took first place in the 23 Sandy Gallery’s juried exhibition in 2015, “Hello Hedi”:

Blizzard Book (2015)
Virginia Phelps

Next to The Accordion section, the One-Sheet Books section has the most models. It is also the section that most addresses that challenge mentioned above:

A book folded from a single sheet of paper, including covers, offers a unique opportunity to consider the content and cover as one comprehensive design exercise. We explore the coming together of printing, layout and folding. (P. 94)

Given this opportunity, some treatment of imposition would have been useful, especially for the Franklin Fold and the Booklet Fold Variations. For the Booklet Fold Variations, one could lightly pencil into the book’s clear diagrams the usual markings and enumerations as below.

Again, a few selected photographs of examples of One-Sheet Books that achieve the coming together of content, design, printing, layout and folding would have been welcome.

The double-page spread above with which the Albums section begins exemplifies the book’s quality of photography (by Paul Warchol, Ulla’s husband). Like the “dust jacket”, the crisply photographed Panorama Book structure (upper right) and the pages that explain it will send readers on a quest to make their own or hunt for outstanding examples such as these by Cathryn Miller and Cor Aerssens, a long-time friend and correspondent with Kyle.

Westron Wynde (2016)
Cathryn Miller
Author’s statement: “This book presents the poem ‘Westron Wynde‘ in a purely visual form. Letters become colours, and are used as graphic elements. The book manifests the essence, if not the sense, of the poem.”
Westron wynde when wyll thou blow,
The smalle rayne down can rayne – 
Cryst, yf my love wer in my armys
And I yn my bed agayne!


Memories (2012)
Cor Aerssens
Memories (2012)
Cor Aerssens
Memories (2012)
Cor Aerssens

A cautionary, or perhaps encouraging, note though: the fact that some structures can enfold others will frustrate readers with strict classificatory minds and exhilarate the more freewheeling. The Phelps’ Blizzard Book highlighted above includes in its sections items exemplifying the Flag Book and Fishbone structures. Aerssens’ Memories is even more so an integrated variant of the Panorama Book structure, featuring as it does panels within panels, two 8-leaf booklets bound into front and back with paper hinges, and mylar folders holding pressed flora from Aerssen’s northern Dutch environs.

The Enclosures section presents fascinating structures, not all of which are suited “to fit many of the projects in the previous chapters”. For example, the second-most fascinating form — the Telescoping Ziggurat, shown in the lower left corner of the recto page above — looks incapable of enclosing any of the other 35 structures. The authors acknowledge it is “less of a book and more of a toy — a stimulating and curious object whose inherent mathematical quality mesmerizes as it spirals inward and outward”. The most fascinating form, however, is as much a book as stimulating and curious object: the Sling Fold structure.

This structure looks suited to enclosing scrolls or narrow, collapsed accordion books of diminishing height, and its mechanics invite playful integration with content and variations of color, typography or calligraphy, printing method and materials.

It would not do to conclude a review of this book without touching on the Flag Book structure, for which Kyle is so well-known. It is found in The Accordion section. The outstanding works implementing this structure are legion. Here it is below in all its glory, which is exceeded only by the Two-Sided Flag book in the pages following it. 

The Art of the Fold should become an instant classic. If readers are tempted to “grangerize” their copies with photos and clippings of favorite examples and variants, they would do well instead to create one of the authors’ album structures in which to keep them. There could be many editions of this classic to come.

Update: for more on Kyle and Warchol, see their interview with Helen Hiebert in her series Paper Talk.

Bookmarking Book Art – Wilber Schilling

Henry James, The Beast in the Jungle, 1903. Allen Press, 1963. The copy shown is one of only 15 copies with an extra suite of 16 artist’s proofs, each titled, numbered 9/15 and signed by the artist in a separate portfolio.  Displayed online at Sophie Schneideman – Rare Books and Prints.

In his Books and Vines essays, Chris T. Adamson provides fresh, personal and insightful comments on fine book productions and their content such as Henry James’ “The Beast in the Jungle” from the Lewis and Dorothy Allen Press in 1963, pictured above.  An oenophile, as the title of his series suggests, Adamson also occasionally offers tips on the best wines with which to decant and read these works.

James is a favorite author at Books On Books as is Herman Melville. Indulge the punning coincidence of Adamson’s introducing us to Wilber Schilling’s Indulgence Press and his edition of Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street“.  Schilling’s edition of “Bartleby” – with Suzanne Moore’s original hand lettering of Bartleby’s classic statement “I would prefer not to” first appearing fully legible then becoming larger until it literally falls off the bottom of the final page – was an early career statement of an interest in more than fine press work but in book art as well.

Consider Schilling’s Half-Life/Full-Life and its binding a variation on the accordion/flag structure of Hedi Kyle and Claire Van Vliet.  The complexity of the form marries well with that of the intertwining, interleaving text and photos along the timelines of the Doomsday Clock and global warming.

Half Life/Full Life Wilber Schilling, 2009 ISBN: 0-9742191-5-0 Cover
Half Life/Full Life
Wilber Schilling, 2009
ISBN: 0-9742191-5-0
Cover

Schilling’s photography in Half Life/Full Life speaks to the importance of that craft in his overall portfolio. His photos of aging, decayed and unbound books are haunting and remind me of the found art of M.L Van Nice.

Natural History Multi-layered gum bichromate print 30" x 22" on Rives BFK 2004 Copyright © Wilber H. Schilling
Natural History
Multi-layered gum bichromate print
30″ x 22″ on Rives BFK
2004
Copyright © Wilber H. Schilling

Schilling has collaborated with Thomas Rose (visual artist and professor at the University of Minnesota),   Michael Dennis Browne (poet and librettist), Rick Moody (author of The Ice Storm) and Patricia Hampl (MacArthur Fellow poet and novelist). He has collaborated with Daniel E. Kelm (book artist, founder of the Garage Annex School for Book Arts and a collaborator with Suzanne Moore).

Given the influence of Marcel Duchamp and Joseph Cornell on works such as Arthur & Barbara (Arthur Danto and Barbara Westman) or Surplus Value Books: Catalog Number 13, you might say that Schilling has attempted to collaborate with them as well. The danger in that, of course, is highly derivative artwork. That early-career whiff of genius in commissioning the now famous calligrapher Suzanne Moore to hand letter “I would prefer not to” and spreading it in ever larger size across the pages might be what takes Schilling’s work beyond the derivative. His work is worth examining with that anticipation.