Books On Books Collection – Ines von Ketelhodt

Alpha Beta (2017)

Alpha Beta (2017)
Ines von Ketelhodt, text by Michel Butor
Plexiglass slipcase (287 x 203 x 14 mm) containing two volumes (278 x 198 x 3 mm), 48 unnumbered pages. Edition of 35, of which this is #18. Acquired from the artist, 14 December 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with the artist’s permission.

Paul van Capelleveen, curator at the National Library of the Netherlands, writes in his contribution to Ines von Ketelhodt’s exhibition catalogue Bücher///Books (2019):

The artist’s book is, perhaps, more than other book forms, a stage where conventions and innovations may be brought to life. On this stage, typography is a means of text interpretation; it can be visual, decorative, or alienating. It should be noted that typography is only one of the key players in artists’ books. We have to consider the book’s materiality (paper, binding, weight, size, etc.), its images or blank spaces, and interventions such cutting, erasing, pasting, embossing, and covering. The reader is a spectator, listener, and in many cases an actor as well. (P. 18)

With Alpha Beta, we are reader, spectator, listener and actor. Its plexiglas slipcase must be shaken sharply to start the two thin volumes slipping out. On acetate, the first recto page presents an extract from an essay by Michel Butor describing a fantastical library. The acetate pages crinkle and mesmerize as they turn. Alphabetically, letter by letter, the transparency lifts from Butor’s text all the instances of that sans serif character into the air, falls leftward and settles onto the accumulation of clear verso pages showing the letters reversed.

Traditionally the cellophane or transparent overlay and their predecessor the “flap book” were meant to reveal the layers of the human body, a geological formation or an edifice — to show us how something is made or built up. With an alphabet and punctuation, an infinite number of words, sentences, essays and books can be made. In Alpha Beta, however, as letter by letter is removed, what was made becomes indecipherable, disintegrates. Page by page, what was there depends on memory, or the eye’s ability to decipher from what is left, or a willingness to flip back to the beginning. We know, of course, that Butor did not piece together his disintegrating text letter by letter alphabetically in the first place, but materially and typographically that is what von Ketelhodt did to present the full text to us on the first recto page. If we return to that page to fix the text in memory, we notice that not only is it justified left and right, its words break at the end of a line without hyphenation or regard for syllabification. This is not typography in transparent service to legibility but rather to its own materiality and a concept or concepts. But what is it, what are they?

Just as strange is that Alpha Beta is materially multilingual. The first volume, Alpha, presents and disintegrates Butor’s text in its original French. The second, Beta, does the same in German.

Why this multilingual materiality? Could it be the advantage of appealing to two language markets? Could it be as simple as the text’s being available in French and German? There’s no denying von Ketelhodt’s multilingual proclivity. Many of her solo works involve multiple languages, but it is how and why that count. Consider her sequential photographic work Times Square 1-2-3 (2014). In it, she uses a quotation from Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography in its French original for volume 1, German for volume 2, and English for volume 3. Von Ketelhodt took three photos in quick succession, with time exposure, from the same spot in Times Square. She then split the photos across the three volumes. To see the sequence, we have to look across the three volumes. By virtue of its focus on the effects of photography on the spectator and its availability in three languages, Camera Lucida was the ideal source from which to draw a quotation as inspiration and compositional material for Times Square 1-2-3.

So why this particular text from Michel Butor? A bilingual market advantage was probably decisive for Campus Verlag, publisher of Butor’s volume of essays in which von Ketelhodt found the text. If a trilingual market advantage had outweighed the additional production costs for Campus Verlag, von Ketelhodt might have created Alpha Beta Gamma instead. The essay she selected from Butor is “Les bibliothèques/Die Bibliotheken” (“The libraries”), which appears in the collection’s second part: “Itinéraires à travers l’univers de Maria-Helena Vieira da Silva/Reiserouten durch das Universum von Maria-Helena Vieira da Silva” (“Itineraries through the universe of Maria-Helena Vieira da Silva”). None of Butor’s essays are about the alphabet. So, still, why this particular text?

Butor wrote extensively in response to Da Silva’s works. A French-Portuguese abstract/figurative artist, she drew on cityscapes, railway stations, bridges as well as books and libraries for her source of figures. The libraries led to a series of canvases with titles such as Bibliothèque Humoristique, La Bibliothèque, and La bibliothèque en feu. The latter appears dimly reflected in the upper left-hand corner of this photograph from the Paris exhibition La Pliure (2015). A clearer image can be found on the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum’s site.

Display of Ed Ruscha’s Various Small Fires and Milk, 1964, at Pliure: La Part du Feu, 2 February – 12 April 2015, Paris. Photo: Books On Books. 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 bibliothèque en feu, 1974.

In its capture of Bruce Nauman’s referencing Ed Ruscha’s Various Small Fires, the photo is serendipitously apropos to Alpha Beta and its use of Butor’s “Les bibliothèques”. Butor’s essay is ekphrastic, built on the premise of referencing a visual artwork. It does not, however, describe the details of any particular one of the paintings; it is rather a fantasia on all of them, distilling them into a universal library. Von Ketelhodt’s ABC book is built on the very premises of Butor’s extract as well as on the premise of referencing the subject of Butor’s essay. Alpha Beta does not describe Butor’s essay; rather, it physically reaches into the text, extracts and abstracts from it an ABC book letter by letter. As the letters fly up, they could be those “birds that fly upward when you turn the pages”. The light reflected from the transparent pages could be that of the “soft lamps hovering”. The transparent pages recall the libraries’ “crystalline sonnets” and their “glass ceiling that reflects back the drowsiness, the leafing”. (See full English translation under Further Reading below.)

Von Ketelhodt’s work of art is far from an illustration of Butor’s universal library just as Butor’s essay is far from a verbal attempt to describe any one of Da Silva’s paintings. If this response to Alpha Beta seems “too clever by half”, consider the multilingual, self-referencing and self-referential complexity of the next work in the collection.

Zweite Enzyklopädie von Tlön (2007)

Zweite Enzyklopädie von Tlön (2007)
Ines v. Ketelhodt and Peter Malutzki
Catalogue casebound, thread-stitching, in printed linen-over-board cover with embossed spine title. H302 x W217 x D25 mm, 256 pages. Acquired from the artists, 21 August 2017. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artists.

Inspired by Jorge Luis Borges’ epilogue to his short story “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”, von Ketelhodt and Peter Malutzki embarked on their fifty-volume multilingual masterpiece Zweite Enzyklopädie von Tlön (2006), two decades before Alpha Beta (2017). Between 1997 and 2006, the fifty volumes appeared. For the catalogue, they collaborated with twenty-three authors. The site devoted to the project provides a look inside all of the volumes and its companion catalogue. The catalogue alone, however, works well as the tip “of the tip” of the book-berg as von Ketelhodt and Malutzki call it:

Now the fifty volumes lie before us, and we see they are actually only a tiny part of a huge ice-berg that is really a book-berg. Most of it we cannot see because it is below the surface, but we are aware of its existence. We see the project connected to a multitude of other books and are happy that, by the incorporation into public collections, it is now literally close to an enormous number of other books.

The fifty-volume work’s residence in libraries and collections around the world matters to the artists not only financially but conceptually. Only in that setting or frame does the artwork “converse” multilingually with simulacra of the Tlön library. The catalogue includes text in English, French, German and Spanish, and its own system of internal and external cross-referencing is enacted typographically and in color across Spanish, German and English in that order. After all, Borges’ short story was the origin of the work, and it is in Spanish.

Bücher /// Books (2019)

Bücher /// Books (2019)
Ines von Ketelhodt
Catalogue for the exhibition at the Klingspor Museum Offenbach, 3 March to 19 May 2019. Card slipcase (H281 x W233 x 21 mm), Perfect bound, photographic-board covered book (H280 x W230 x D19 mm), 192 pages. Acquired from the artist, 22 November 2018. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artist.

Catalogue entry for Alpha Beta. Photo: Books On Books Collection, displayed with artist’s permission.

Catalogue entry for Zweite Enzyklopädie von Tlön. Photo: Books On Books Collection, displayed with artist’s permission.

Catalogue entry for Times Square 1-2-3. Photo: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artist.

Photo: Books On Books Collection, displayed with artist’s permission.

Alpha Beta is von Ketelhodt’s primary solo work in the collection. As such, it does not reflect her extraordinary talent with photos (B/W and color) in making book art. The description above of Times Square 1-2-3, its representation in this catalogue of her work, and the catalogue’s cover have to suffice as place holders for now.

Further Reading

Princeton University holds Alpha Beta in its Graphic Arts Collection and provides two (unattributed) English translations of the extract. Accessed 18 August 2020. Here is one of them:

Arranged like bottles on their shelves, the volumes age in the large cellar, soft lamps hovering over creased or ringleted foreheads lowered in their attempts to decipher the comments. Here are the dictionaries, the espaliers of languages; in that aisle over there, the crystalline sonnets and haikus, the gemlike ballads. Opening a grating, you find yourself in a lofty reading room with a glass ceiling that reflects back the drowsiness, the leafing, the ecstasies. Like a climbing plant, the long sentence twines around the railing that runs along the galleries of the Romans-fleuves [sic; means “saga novels”] with their barges full of families, inheritances, conflicts, collapses, wearinesses and kisses. A bit farther on: the natural history shelves with their plant posters and flora; the birds that fly upward when you turn the pages and circle around the iron columns, touch their skulls [sic; “bump their heads”?] and then return to their leather and linen aviaries to sleep; the beasts of prey roaring and the fish gliding by the aquarium windows.

Peter Malutzki“, Books On Books Collection, 11 November 2019.

Butor, Michel, and Helmut Scheffel, trans. 1986. Fenster auf die Innere Passage = Fenêtres sur le Passage intérieur. Frankfurt a.M: Edition Qumran im Campus-Verlag.

Oppen, Monica. “Masterpiece: Zweite Enzyklopädie von Tlön”. Imprint: Journal of the Print Council of Australia. Volume 49, Number 4. Fitzroy 2014.

Van Capelleveen, Paul, and Jos Uljee, Clemens de Wolf, Huug Schipper, and Diane E. Butterman-Dorey. 2016. Artists & others: The Imaginative French Book in the 21th century: Koopman Collection, National Library of the Netherlands. Pp. 114-15.

Books On Books Collection – Aurélie Noury

Perhaps there is some peculiar feature of “the book as intellectual instrument” that explains the phenomenon of book-artist-cum-impresari. In the last century, we had Ulises Carrión and Dick Higgins among others. In this century, we have Alicia Bailey, Sarah Bodman, Hubert Kretschmer, Antoine Lefebvre, Laura Russell to mention only a few. They flourish and with such variety. Some manifest as curators, others as gallerists, and others as publishers. Some transform that manifestation into a form of art itself. Aurélie Noury verges on doing this with the works under her imprint Éditions Lorem Ipsum.

El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha by Pierre Ménard (after Jorge Luis Borges, “Pierre Ménard, auteur du Quichotte” in Fictions) (2009)

El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha by Pierre Ménard (after Jorge Luis Borges, “Pierre Ménard, auteur du Quichotte” in Fictions) (2009)
Aurélie Noury
Perfect bound with folded cover, H170 × W120 mm, 38 pages. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Borges would be the first to congratulate Noury on her persistence, diligence and taste. Of course, he would be biased, but what else to call her recovery of these pages so briefly mentioned in his short story “Pierre Ménard, author of Quixote”, how else to describe their careful resetting in the precise order mentioned, and what other choice of fonts could be suggested than Garamond for the cover and Times New Roman for the text?

For any reader finishing the discourse on what the narrator calls Ménard’s unfinished oeuvre, it is a solace to turn to Noury’s reproduction and see exactly where Ménard left things hanging in the fragment of Chapter XXII that the narrator mentions so tantalizingly. It is a vicarious thrill to share with the narrator the strangeness of that fragment appearing after the ninth and thirty-eighth chapters!

Given the intrepidness of our artiste éditrice, it may seem churlish to mention the acute accent that appears in the last name of the latter-day author of Don Quixote. No such accent appears in the original Spanish of Borges’ story. Perhaps the Argentinian or his secretary had a momentary lapse. Then again, to give Noury the benefit of doubt and Borges the gift of future vision, the narrator’s Pierre Ménard (or Menard) could very well have been the ancestor of the eponymous founder of a micro vineyard in the Loire Valley who cannot seem to settle on one spelling or the other. It cannot be an accident that this vineyard recently produced a vintage named “Chaos” (2017), a wine that, one critic writes, “should not exist”.

Borges invented other authors besides Ménard and his bio-bibliographical narrator. Borges and his life-long friend Adolfo Bioy Casares came up with Honorio Bustos Domecq, a fictitious detective under whose name they wrote numerous short stories and through whom they introduced other fictitious authors — one such was Federico Juan Carlos Loomis. In “A List and Analysis of the Sundry Books of F. J. C. Loomis”, “Bugsy” Domecq chronicles the work of the legendary writer and critic. Loomis’s chief claim to fame is his collection of six books, whose contents consist solely of their titles.

Were it not for Aurélie Noury’s translating and publishing skills, the Francophone population would have to remain content with Domecq’s Spanish listing and analysis. (Saving, of course, the one title that Loomis wrote in French: Béret Basque.) Regardless of fluency in French or Spanish, the attentive reader will appreciate how the publisher’s sensitive translations capture the denotative, connotative, spiritual and cultural intent of Federico Juan Carlos Loomis’s singular texts.

Each of the French versions is tastefully set in Cochin on the cover and Times Roman in the text. The works’ restrained design (H190 x W130 mm, four pages, three covers in black & white, three with the addition of colored rule) complements their minimal contents.

Many book artists have paid homage to Borges (see Further Reading below). These seven works surely secure a place of honor and humor among them for Aurélie Noury.

Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard (poster) (2008)

Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard (poster) (2008)
Aurélie Noury
H100 x W700 mm. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

Except for her Rubik’s Coup de Dés, Noury’s poster version of Mallarmé’s poem would be the thing for summarizing, critiquing, parodying and paying homage to le Maître‘s work. Why not collapse all of the spacing and text in its varied type sizes and styles into one double-page spread? But then, if the game is “the total expansion of the letter”, the dispersal of letters from keywords in the poem across the 54 spaces on a Rubik’s cube would be the thing. Unfortunately, at the moment, this particular thing does not reside in the Books On Books Collection, so the following photos (courtesy of the artist) stand as a collector’s reminder.

Noury’s inventive literary/artistic appropriation does not end with Borges and Mallarmé. Marcel Duchamp, Honoré de Balzac, John Irving and Louis Aragon also come in for varying treatments at her hands. Her choices for these reversals of ekphrasis — proceeding from an existing text to a newly created work of art, rather vice versa — are clever. But it is her combination of the techniques of appropriation, homage and parody and intermedial play with the various techniques of print and digital publications in a distinctive way for each target text that is ingenious.

No doubt there could be many more such works to come, but even the most ingenious of appropriators finds her time appropriated by other ventures. As directrice of the imprint Éditions Incertain Sens, she engages with the works acquired for Le Cabinet du livre d’artiste (CLA) at the University of Rennes 2 as well as with their documentation in the CLA’s newspaper Sans niveau ni mètre. These ventures have been apropos and obviously influential for Noury. Éditions Incertain Sens and the CLA were founded by Leszek Brogowski, who has written extensively on book artists such as Bernard Villers. The furniture of CLA was made by artist and writer Bruno di Rosa, who has appropriated and extended the works of Gustave Flaubert and Joachim du Bellay. The situation could be only more apropos if Éditions Incertain Sens had been founded by Mallarmé and Borges at some point in the future!

Further Reading

A Maze of Books for the Cultural Olympiad“, Bookmarking Book Art, 15 August 2012. For a sculptural homage to Borges.

Sean Kernan“, Books On Books Collection, 23 February 2013. For a photographic homage to Borges.

Barbara Tetenbaum”, Bookmarking Book Art, 26 June 2013. For more on reverse-ekphrasis.

Jacqueline Rush Lee”, Books On Books Collection, 8 October 2019. For more on reverse-ekphrasis.

Peter Malutzki“, Books On Books Collection, 11 November 2019. For an homage to Borges’ Encyclopedia of Tlön from the short story “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”.

Hanna Piotrowska (Dyrcz)“, Books On Books Collection, 13 December 2019. For an “earthy” homage to Borges.

Michalis Pichler”, Books On Books Collection, 19 August 2020. For a prolific hommageur of Mallarmé.

Antoine Lefebvre”, Books On Books Collection, 28 September 2020. For another artiste éditeur.

Gilbert, Annette (ed.). Publishing as Artistic Practice (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2016).

Books On Books Collection – Klaus Detjen

Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard – Ein Würfelwurf niemals tilgt den Zufall (1995)


Un Coup de Dés jamais n’abolira le Hasard: Poème – Ein Würfelwurf niemals tilgt den Zufall: Ein Gedicht (1995)

Klaus Detjen

Casebound, unopened binding. H300 x W255 mm, 85 pages. Acquired from Stefan Schuelke Fine Books, 30 June 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

This work strikes a curious chord with two exhibitions from 2016 and 2018 — “Reading as Art” at the Bury Art Museum and “The Art of Reading” at the Museum Meermanno, respectively. The works in both exhibitions not only challenged notions of the book and ways of reading but posed the act of making as a form of reading and the act of reading as a form of making. By prefacing this French-German edition of Un Coup de Dés with a book-arts-driven “transcreation”, Klaus Detjen demonstrates that the act of making also implies the act of translating. Typographer, designer, scholar and recipient of the Leipzig Gutenberg Prize for 2017, Detjen has used color, shape, line and binding here as his tools of translation and interpretation.

To use the term “transcreation” here may be taking liberties with Haroldo de Campos’s portmanteau for the idea of “translation as recreation”, or translating with creativity and therefore making “translation-art”. The term and definition perhaps better describe works such as those shown in The New Concrete: Visual Poetry in the 21st Century edited by Victoria Bean and Chris McCabe. But then De Campos and his brother, Augusto, singled out Un Coup de Dés as one of the cornerstones (along with Ezra Pound, James Joyce and e.e. cummings) for their group Noigrandres, and Mallarmé’s poem certainly fits the bill of the ideal target of transcreation:

The more intricate the text is the more seducing it is to “recreate” it. Of course in a translation of this type, not only the signified but also the sign itself is translated, that is, the sign’s tangible self, its very materiality (sonorous properties, graphical-visual properties…. Haroldo de Campos, “Translation as Creation and Criticism”, p. 315.

This notoriously difficult poem to translate (or even comprehend) with its cascade of metaphors and symbols (the central ones being a shipwreck and a constellation) appears three times in Detjen’s volume: first, in French with Detjen’s interpretive design, then in French and finally in German. All three instances follow the typography and layout of the first book edition of the poem as published in 1914 by Gallimard. Detjen’s own treatment of the poem very much focuses on the edition’s graphical-visual properties.

In that edition, the rhythm and position of the lines, the font and all the font sizes are precisely specified. Nine typographical motifs structure the poem. They are additionally highlighted in the front part of our book with colors, the meaning of which will be discussed later. Font sizes, styles (roman or italics) and the colors of the motifs used are as follows: First double-page spread: UN COUP DE DÉS, 11.25 mm, blue-violet / Second DS: QUAND BIEN MEME, 3.5 mm, cyan-blue / Third DS: que, 3.5 mm, green / Sixth DS: COMME SI, 5.25 mm, magenta; Une insinuation, 3.5 mm, yellow / Eighth DS 8: SI, 5.25 mm, magenta red / Ninth DS: C’ÉTAIT, 4.5 mm, orange red; autrement qu’hallucination, 2.5 mm, yellow; issu stellaire, 2.5 mm yellow. Klaus Detjen, “Zum Gestaltung”, p.81 (my translation).

The colored linear frames, threads and markings give the nine typographical motifs additional structuring. Detjen intends them to highlight the reading order to guide the reader through the text like a score. Detjen’s later discussion of their meaning, however, focuses mainly on les blancs, the white space around the text of the poem. Taking Mallarmé at his word in the poem’s foreword, Detjen seizes on the whiteness of the surrounding space and runs to the prismatic metaphor that the spectrum of colors is simply the decomposition of white light. Detjen also notes that the unorthodox Rien/Nichts printed on the volume’s opening page alludes to the expanse of blank space enclosing the lines of text and, in support, quotes from Mallarmé’s “Crisis of Verse”:

Everything is suspended, an arrangement of fragments with alternations and confrontations, adding up to a total rhythm, which would be the poem stilled, in the blanks; … Mallarmé, “Crisis of Verse”, p. 209.

From all this, Detjen avers that it is

as if Mallarmé did not want to have his poem depicted, that is, printed, but perhaps only thought or, at best, whispered. Or did the author see the poem printed in white on white paper? Detjen, “Zum Gestaltung”, p. 82 (my translation).

Following that line of thought, Detjen switched from Mallarmé’s preferred classical serif typeface to News Gothic Bold after experimentation showed that sans serif enabled him to print legibly in flat white on white paper. Confirming his primary focus on the expanse of blank whiteness, Detjen even concludes his afterword by quoting Jorge Luis Borges on Mallarmé:

The impersonal color white itself — is it not utterly Mallarmé? Borges, “Narrative Art and Magic”, p. 79.

In his heavy emphasis on les blancs, Detjen ends up not doing justice to other more subtle aspects of his design artistry. Before he comes to the poem’s expanse of whiteness, note how the opening page of Rien/Nichts follows the black pastedowns and endpapers — the absence of light contrasting as much with the cover’s pure white as with the poem’s blank spaces.

Note how the colors to come in his interpretive version appear in dice shapes arranged on the front and back white covers to suggest the faces of a pair of dice. The whole volume becomes ein Würfelwurf, un coup de dés, a throw of the dice, which echoes Mallarmé’s obsession with le Livre — that work that everything in the world comes to be.

More subtly, Detjen combines the uncut folios with the colored shapes and markings to suggest “rigging” for the foundering ship and a “mapping” for the constellation. The turning uncut folios become billowing sails or rising and falling waves, across which the rigging cuts and the constellation shines.

Detjen’s visual and physical “transcreation” underscores why the French and German translations are not side by side, page for page. How could they be given the way the poem’s words work with the type, the page, the double-page spread and folios? All of which meets de Campos’s definition of the ideal target for transcreation — where the work’s signified, sign and materiality are intricately bound to one another.

In Detjen’s version preceding the French and German versions, the act of translation and interpretation meets the act of creating a work of art.

Further Reading

Bean, Victoria, and Chris McCabe, eds. The New Concrete: Visual Poetry in the 21st Century (London: Hayward Publishing, 2015).

Borges, Jorge Luis. “Narrative Art and Magic” [1932]. Trans. Suzanne Jill Levine; ed. Eliot Weinberger. In Selected Non-Fictions (New York: Penguin Books, 1999), pp. 75-82.

Campos, Haroldo de. “Translation as Creation and Criticism” [1963]. Trans. Diana Gibson and Haroldo de Campos. In A. S. Bessa and O. Cisneros, eds., Novas: Selected Writings (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2007), pp. 312-326.

Cisneros, Odile. “From Isomorphism to Cannibalism: The Evolution of Haroldo de Campos’s Translation Concepts“, Érudit: At the crossroads of translating and writing: Poetics and experiments, Volume 25, Number 2, 2012, pp.15-44. Posted 8 October 2013. Accessed 22 August 2020.

Jaruga, Rodolfo. “Ezra Pound’s Arrival in Brazil“, Make It New: The Ezra Pound Society Magazine, Volume 4.1-2, September 2017. Accessed 22 August 2020.

Mallarmé, Stéphane. “Crisis of Verse” [1897]. Trans. Barbara Johnson. In Divagations (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009), pp. 201-11.

Paola, Modesta de. “Translation in Visual Arts”, Interartive, August 2013. Accessed 22 August 2020.

Books On Books Collection – Peter Malutzki

Doctor Diderot’s & Mister d’Alembert’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass (2018)

Doctor Diderot’s & Mister d’Alembert’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass (2018)
Peter Malutzki
Book: H368 x W120 x D80 mm; Slipcase: H374 x W124 x D140 mm
Acquired from the artist, 10 February 2019

Malutzki’s tall small work evokes memories of Max Ernst’s Une Semaine de Bonté (1934) but pushes back on them with the work’s fine book execution. The book’s startling height derives from the more startling source of the paper: original pages from the plates volumes (1762-72) of Diderot’s Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers (1751-72). Through antiquarian dealers, Malutzki collected loose sheets from the first Paris folio edition and some from Italian editions (Lucca or Livorno).

The original engraving-papers (printed on one side as usual) are folded and glued together on the fore-edge. The stack of folded leafs has been glued at the spine with a small strip of glue so that each double spread has just a fold in the gutter, but no stitching, which shows the complete copper engraving unharmed structurally.

The endpapers are dyed through, and the fly-leaves are glued on the fore-edges to the first and last leaf of the book-block. The dark blue material used for the end-papers and the slipcase is an industrial one (Napura Khepera marine by Winter & Company) and is used for the endpapers. The Xian scarlet cloth for the cover also comes from Winter & Company. Throughout the book’s brief narrative, the dark blue associates with Diderot, and the scarlet with d’Alembert.

While Malutzki combines Ernst-like elements of the comic book and collage, the work is more of a conversation among imagery and concepts of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries than an exercise in surrealism. It is a narrative built with the “pictures and conversations” that Alice finds lacking in the book her sister is reading by the river as Alice‘s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) opens. Malutzki piles this 19th century Victorian fantasy atop the 18th century by substituting the Enlightenment’s Encyclopédistes Doctor Diderot and Mister d’Alembert for Alice and her sister in the opening lines from Lewis Carroll’s story. The 20th century makes its appearance with the Playboy bunny in place of the White Rabbit and a clipart-like image of a book labelled “READ ME” in place of the bottle and cake labelled “DRINK ME” and “EAT ME”. The images in the 18th century engravings underlie the 19th century text in its speech bubbles. Nearly the only change to the text from Alice‘s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (1871) is the substitution of the characters Diderot and d’Alembert for those in Carroll’s world.

In further allusion to Through the Looking Glass‘s mirror-world and upside-down logic, Malutzki has set some of the banderolle text in reverse and placed pairs of mirrored images crosswise — all overprinted on those 18th century engravings. Malutzki‘s precision and extensive experience with overprinting and the transparency of oil-based ink was essential given the limited supply of paper from the 250-year old volumes.

Inevitably, the collector has to confront the print preservationist’s question: how can you countenance the destruction of these 18th century prints? There is a several-fold unease. First, a worry for the security of such historical material (even altered) in the collection. Second, perhaps ironically, a worry over its preservation. And third, the worry whether the artistic quality of the work justifies the trade-off of the lost prints.

With at least a thousand complete sets of the original Encyclopédie (including the plates volumes) safely ensconced in academic and national libraries from France to Australia and still more loose prints (and sets) available from antiquarians, the use of these loose sheets for artistic purpose is lighter in the scales than the use of something far more rare or, worse, unique.

The preservationist might argue, “why not use the plates from one of the 20th century reprints?” Response: not the same tactility, not the same authenticity, not the same challenge or risk — not the same unease that prods the mind.

More directly to the artistic quality of Doctor Diderot’s and Mister d’Alembert’s Adventures: The photos here do little justice to the work’s precision, the sound of the slipcase’s snug fit, the layering of colours on the page, the motion of the spine, and the different textures of the 21st century cloth binding, the slipcase, endpapers and leaves of engraving papers so neatly adhering to each other that they feel like a single leaf. It is refreshing to see Alice appear outside the tableaux to which so many book artists have turned when inspired by Carroll. It is genius to have merged Carroll’s fictive exploration of logic and epistemology with the Enlightenment’s attempt to encompass humankind’s knowledge of the sciences, arts and industries or crafts.

Doctor Diderot’s and Mister d‘Alembert’s Adventures falls outside the span covered by Malutzki’s autobiography buchstäblich Buch (see under Further Reading). As such, it occupies a prospect from which to view Malutzki’s decades-long musing about the visual arts, knowledge and whimsy, all evident from his work — both solo and in collaboration with Ines von Ketelhodt — in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Zweite Enzyklopädie von Tlön: Ein Buchkunstprojekt von Ines von Ketelhodt und Peter Malutzki, 1997-2006 (2011)

Zweite Enzyklopädie von Tlön: Ein Buchkunstprojekt von Ines von Ketelhodt und Peter Małutzki, 1997-2006 (2011)
Ines von Ketelhodt and Peter Malutzki
H302 x W220 mm
256 pages; printed linen-over-board cover with embossed spine title, thread stitched; LuxoCream 115 gsm text paper; Frutiger, typeface.

Through his fiction — especially his story ”Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” — Jorge Luis Borges has played as inspirational a role for artists and book artists as have Lewis Carroll, Stéphane Mallarmé and Laurence Sterne. An incomplete list includes Katie Holten’s About Trees, Sean Kernan’s Secret Books, Aurélie Noury‘s “Pierre Ménard, El Ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha“, Hanna Piotrowska (Dyrcz)‘s Jorge Luis Borges, The Maker, Liliana Porter’s prints, Elaine Sturtevant’s Sturtevant: Author of the Quixote and Daniel Temkin’s and Rony Maltz’s Borges: The Complete Works. For book art, though, Malutzki’s and Von Ketelhodt’s fifty-volume work must lead the list, closely followed by this descriptive catalogue, a bookwork in itself.

Eva Hanebutt-Benz (Gutenberg-Museum Mainz) introduces the catalogue by defining the various sorts of encyclopedic reference work, where the Zweite Enzyklopädie fits in, how it is organised, and the inspirational role played by Borges’ story “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”, which is reproduced complete in the catalogue in Spanish as well as German and English. Hanebutt-Benz’s essay, too, is given first in German, then in English, establishing the pattern for all of the essays from the other twenty-two contributors to the catalogue — librarians, artists and curators — each describing two or more volumes of the Zweite Enzyklopädie.

This multilingualism of the catalogue is characteristic across the fifty volumes and the works of Von Ketelhodt and Malutzki in general. More important, by echoing the exploration of multilingualism, language and meaning in Borges’ story, it joins the story as a unifying force in the catalogue and across the Zweite Enzyklopädie. Excerpts from the story appear in many of the volumes, as the relevant contributors note and elucidate. Another unifying force aligned with the story is the artists’ use of the primary colours in the catalogue.

Sampling several paragraphs from the opening and closing of each language version, we can see the red, blue and yellow inks that are used to signal those portions of Borges’ text that appear somewhere in the fifty volumes. In the margins, the volume’s title and specific page number are called out in the relevant colour. The double-page spread separating the contributor’s essays from the section of photos of the fifty volumes applies the primary colours and black across the names of the fifty volumes, leaving space for future volumes. This is the sort of maker’s detail linked with the larger organisational elements that contributes to the unity of a work that, in Hanebutt-Benz’s words, is an “encyclopedic collection of creative possibilities, generating a book cosmos, closed within itself, playfully and yet following strict guide lines.”

As a work in and of itself, the catalogue intensifies so many of the characteristics of the more traditional “artist’s book” that, without the monolithic presence of the fifty volumes, sight of its “book art-ness” could slip away. The artists have a dual preventative. One is to make the fifty volumes a visible presence by giving each volume its own double-page spread following the double-page spread shown above. This generates 300 colour photos.

Another is a gamble: a roll of the dice that the twenty-three contributors would deliver comments on each volume that rise to the occasion. It was a winning gamble, but there is one superlative pair of essays that rings like a tuning fork: COOKBOOK and QUIZ as explained by librarian James Henry Spohrer (University of California, Berkeley). They are at once Borgesian, Malutzkian and Von Ketelhodt-esque.

Only the discussion of COOKBOOK is offered here — an incentive to visit QUIZ. In QUIZ, Spohrer seamlessly carries on his conversation with his “colleague“ Extasio Antón in a way that proves Hanebutt-Benz’s statement true:

The world recorded in this encyclopedia is, in the end, an actual encyclopedic collection of creative possibilities, generating a book cosmos, closed within itself, playfully and yet following strict guide lines.

Further Reading

Ines von Ketelhodt”, Books On Books Collection, 1 February 2021.

Hale, Julie and Beth Sweet. Masters: Book Arts – Major works by leading artists (New York: Lark Books, 2011).

Long, Elisabeth. “Even More Books from the Hybrid Book Fair”, The Sign of the Owl, 6 July 2009. Accessed 23 October 2019.

Long, Elisabeth. “Second Encyclopedia of Tlön”, The Sign of the Owl, 23 July 2009. Accessed 23 October 2019.

Mellby, Julie. “Zweite Enzyklopädie von Tlön”, Graphic Arts, Princeton University Library, 17 June 2010. Accessed 24 October 2019.

Soltek, Stefan. “Epilog” in buchstäblich Buch: eine Autobiographie by Peter Malutzki (Florsheim/Offenbach, Germany: Peter Małutzki/Klingspor Museum, 2017).

Books On Books Collection – Sean Kernan

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Copyright 1999, Sean Kernan, Inc.

The Secret Books is a dialogue between the photography of Sean Kernan and the writings of Jorge Luis Borges.  It contains tritone photographs, short stories, poems and quotations as well as an essay by the artist.   Kernan explains how the dialogue began:

“There was an old book out on a table. I went to put it away, but instead I just opened it and gazed. I looked at the way the sharp metal type cut into the paper, at the blooms of foxing in the margins. I smelled its slight odor of papery rot, caught Latin words here and there and made out that they said something about the spirit and devotion. I stood there for the longest time. The book had stilled me.

On an impulse, I went to the closet where I keep a compost heap of props and got four black stones from a Japanese river. I set them out carefully in a line across the pages of the book. And suddenly it looked to me like…a poem. Or a kind of poem, at least. Maybe a Haiku or something by one of the Imagists, something that didn’t narrate or argue but just placed a few simple things before you and invited you to complete the work. This book with its stones was a pure image, the kind that can move from one mind to another and root there in some mysterious panspermic process. Joining things that didn’t logically go together–Latin meditations and Japanese rivers, black stones and creamy paper–broke apart some notion of what these things should say and set my imagination free to work. I had always wanted my photography to do this, and now I saw this wonderful composition open on the table before me.

I took a picture of this poem. And that was the beginning of these books.

After a while there were enough of them to suggest that they might themselves make a book, and indeed had to be a book. So I began to think about what might be necessary to make this happen. Perhaps it needed the armature of a text, but what that text might be and how it might work to unite the whole wasn’t clear. Then a designer friend, Lana Rigsby, saw the pictures and said they reminded her of Borges.

Of course! …

The Secret Books doesn’t attempt to illustrate Borges, and it doesn’t aspire to be a collaboration–as an artist I couldn’t hold his coat. I have simply found some instances in which he speaks directly about books and have put them with my images of books to make a kind of sequence, or perhaps a dialogue. And navigating thus under the star of Borges, I look at this book–words and images, side by side on the table before me–and find myself looking down dark, unfamiliar paths across the plane of the world with a rising sense, both exciting and ominous, that everything is about to change.”

The Secret Books was published in 1999 by Leete Island Books to coincide with the centennial of Borges’ birth and, by happenstance, with the start of the long journey to the EPUB standard.  The month before The Secret Books appeared the Open eBook Forum (now the IDPF) released the Open eBook Publication Structure (OEBPS) version 1.0.  A coincidence Borges would have relished.

English: The poem El apice of the Argentinian ...
English: The poem El apice of the Argentinian poet Jorge Luis Borges on a wall of the building at the Groenhovenstraat 18, Leiden, The Netherlands. Nederlands: Het gedicht El apice (De top) van de Argentijnse dichter Jorge Luis Borges op een muur van het gebouw aan de Groenhovenstraat 18 in Leiden, Nederland. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Further Reading

Hanna Piotrowska (Dyrcz)“, Books On Books Collection, 13 December 2019. In particular, see Twórca/The Maker.