Books On Books Collection – West Court Gallery, Jesus College, Cambridge UK, 21 May – 27 June 2022

Jessica Berenbeim, a University Lecturer at the Faculty of English and a Fellow of Jesus College, has selected works from the Books On Books Collection for this exhibition. With the assistance of Justine Provino, a doctoral student at Cambridge, Berenbeim has arranged the works to effect a certain conversation. As she writes,

Artists’ experiments with books and letters have taken many forms, some of which look more like books than others. This exhibition of book art, and book-inspired art, opens a view of one of its most intriguing stories: the tradition of reflections, riffs, and responses to one seminal work, Stéphane Mallarmé’s A Roll of the Dice Never Will Abolish Chance (Un Coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard). Mallarmé’s experimental work celebrates its 125th anniversary in May 2022, when this exhibition opens. The particular objects on display here, and on view at the screening events, play on two central ideas inspired by this work: chance and visible language. The works in the exhibition are in effect a conversation about the intersection of those themes. What part does chance have to play in the way language is depicted on (or off) the page, and how might accidents of language determine how it looks? How does meaning settle throughout the forms of letters, words, lines, pages, and books, as well as in what the words say?

The exhibition and screenings include works by Jérémie Bennequin, Isabella Checcaglini & Mohammed Bennis, Robert Filliou, Ernest Fraenkel, Rodney Graham, ‘Estelle J.’, Michel Lorand, André Masson, Reinhold Nasshan, Michalis Pichler, Man Ray, Mitsou Ronat & Tibor Papp, and Honorine Tepfer.

Berenbeim and Provino have suspended seven plates from Pichler‘s homage to hang over the cases containing works by Bennequin, Nasshan, Lorand, Tepfer and Estelle J.. and quietly cast shadows to pun with those works and the exhibition’s title.

Three other cases across from those above present a conversation of dice between Masson and Filliou, then a French and Arabic conversation between Checcaglini and Bennis, and then Tibor Papp and Rodney Graham joking with one another.

In a display case seemingly made for his particular work, the result of Bennequin’s long-distance performances of erasure with his colleague and publisher Antoine Lefebvre calls across the room to all the other works of chance and visible language.

Jérémie Bennequin, Un Coup de Dés jamais n’abolira le Hasard, Dé-composition (2009-2013)

With the sun streaming into West Court Gallery, the only things missing from the buzz of these conversations were perhaps canapés, champagne and name tags to celebrate the 125th anniversary of this strange poem’s publication.

Further Reading

“Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira l’Appropriation” — An Online Exhibition. 1 May 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Books On Books Collection – Isabella Checcaglini and Mohammed Bennis

POÉME: Un coup de Dés jamais n’abolira le Hasard (2007)

POÉME: Un coup de Dés jamais n’abolira le Hasard (2007)
Stéphane Mallarmé, Isabelle Checcaglini and Mohammed Bennis
Four volumes in slipcase. H380 x W280 mm, 40 pages per volume. Edition of 99, of which this is #57. Acquired from J.F. Fourcade, 7 January 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Ypsilon Éditeur’s editions of Un coup de Dés jamais n’abolira le Hasard bring together for the first time the three prints from Odilon Redon with the deluxe edition layout intended by Stéphane Mallarmé. Also for the first time, we have a translation into Arabic. Below, the central double-page spread of the poem is displayed in the French and Arabic editions to show how their mirror images of the layout heighten its movement.

In the additional French volume and its Arabic counterpart, Checcaglini adds a brief history about Mallarmé and Vollard’s plans for the deluxe edition and helpfully includes correspondence among them and Odilon Redon. Although the earlier edition published by Mitsou Ronat & Tibor Papp in 1980 does include Redon’s prints, they are placed in a separate folder along with other visual and textual tributes. The Redon prints may not be among his best, nor do they include the mooted but undiscovered fourth print, still at least we now have the three and the poem in relation to each other more nearly as intended, which makes it possible to compare and contrast this deluxe edition with the outpouring of works of homage to Mallarmé’s poem. Even with the prior absence of that chance, few if any of those hommageurs would be unaware of Redon’s images. Jean Lecoultre (1975) notes how his publisher’s solution to handling his soft varnish etchings honors the intended separation of text and images. By contrast, Christiane Vielle (1989) challenges Mallarmé’s layout and his unit of the double-page spread by altering the spatial relationships among lines, hiding text beneath panels and juxtaposing her artwork with the text.

The added volume with Checcaglini’s synopsis also includes a three-way dialogue among Mohammed Bennis, Isabelle Checcaglini and Bernard Noël about the light that the translation sheds on the poem.

Checcaglini’s edition also claims to have most closely reproduced the Firmin-Didot typeface that Mallarmé wished for his deluxe edition. The search for absolute fidelity to this font that has been unavailable for at least a century has been an obsession since the discovery of the poem’s proofs corrected and annotated in Mallarmé’s hand. The Further Reading provides a start for anyone inclined to join the search.

Further Reading

“Mitsou Ronat & Tibor Papp“. 16 November 2020. Books On Books Collection.

Honorine Tepfer“. 7 April 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Ian Tyson & Neil Crawford“. 7 February 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Arnar, Anna Sigrídur. 2011. The book as instrument: Stéphane Mallarmé, the artist’s book, and the transformation of print culture. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Pp. 231-35, 348n.

Cohn, Robert Greer. 1967. Mallarme’s masterwork: new findings. The Hague: Mouton.

Hurtig, Alain. 28 March 2012. “À propos du Coup de dés de Stéphane Mallarmé“. L’Outil Typographique. Accessed 25 January 2022.

Marchal, Bertrand. March 2015. “Petite Histoire du Coup de Dés“. Transversalités: Revue de l’Institut Catholique de Paris, No. 134: 109-113.