Dessine-moi une lettre (2004) Anne Bertier Casebound, sewn. H258 x W258 mm, 56 pages. Acquired from Amazon, 17 August 2021. Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.
Anne Bertier’s three alphabet books cross sub-genres of the ABCs with distinctive style and educational challenge. While the answers to the visual puzzles are offered at the end of the first and last books, considerable pleasure is missed by giving up too quickly. For the English speaker learning French, there’s the added pleasure of cementing a familiar word with Bertier’s images and discovering a new word that will also stick because of them.
Rêve-moi une lettre (2005)
Rêve-moi une lettre (2005) Anne Bertier Casebound, sewn. H135 x W132 mm, 52 pages. Acquired from Amazon, 30 August 2021. Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.
Here is the French version of the alliterative alphabet. Its opening with Alice suggests an underlying literary motif, but more likely at play is the association of the book’s title (“dream me a letter”) with Alice’s dreaming of Wonderland.
The English alphabet’s “go to” for the letter A does not work for the French pomme, but from the similarity between the image here and that in Dessine-moi un lettre, there seems to be one, too, for the French alphabet. With the cognate word in French and English, the letter B is too easy. But C is for ?
With the overlap between design, art and children’s education, Bertier’s numerous large-scale exhibitions in China, Italy, Japan, Korea as well as France come as no surprise. Think of Dik Bruna, Eleonora Cumer, Katsumi Komagata or Bruno Munari.
Giorgio Maffei’s 2008 definitive collection of book designs by Bruno Munari brings together two of Italy’s renowned book artists. Giorgio Maffei’s own work, his writing and gallery/bookshop (highlighted by his son Giulio Maffei’s extraordinary video catalogues Le vite dei libri) warrant a catalogue raisonné in their own right. The Italian edition published by Munari’s long-time publisher Maurizio Corraini was followed up in 2015 by this translation by Martin John Anderson and Thomas Marshall in 2015. For the Books On Books Collection, one of the great pleasures of Munari’s works is its attention to the alphabet, which this book documents.
Although not shown in Munari’s Books, an alphabet-related work that underscores Picasso’s calling Munari “our Leonardo” is ABC con fantasia (1973/2000). If we are to believe Fra Luca Pacioli, it was Leonardo da Vinci who inspired his “straight lines and curves” exposition for creating letters. Following in their footsteps, Munari provides the linear and curvilinear basics for the collector and offspring to join the game.
Although there are no words on numbered pages that have to fall in the right order, An Unreadable Quadrat-Print still presents the author/printer/binder with a challenge in imposition. White and red alternate, which is easy enough, but to cut or not cut a folio on the left and right, how to cut it, how to place the differently cut folios in the right order to achieve the variation in images when the pages turn, how to ensure a sewable area down the center for each folio whether it has a horizontal cut extending into the spine or a diagonal one extending from some point along the spine — that is impressive. It speaks to the sculptural process and result in making books, as well as the sculptural process of reading them.
The following sequences — the book’s first five double-page spreads and then its last six — take a normal page-turning approach, always turning from the upper right corner of whatever shape/page is available. Note how, in the last six double-page spreads, the pages and shapes become more complex.
Libro illeggibile (1966), below left, calls to mind Katsumi Komagata’s A Cloud (2007), and the one in the middle foreshadows Eleonora Cumer’s subtle artistry with transparent paper in Circoscrivere lo spazio No. 3 (2021). While Munari’s rare works press modest budgets, some of it — in its simplicity and popular appeal — has led Corraini Edizionito put it within easier reach. Numerous reissues of the 1984 Libro illeggibile MN 1 have pushed its price to €5. Short of the artist’s signature (which would likely obstruct the aesthetic intention), a copy from the latest 5000-copy print run will “perform” and deliver the same experiential value as one from the earliest run.
Munari’s many series of illegible books tap into book artists’ longstanding and ongoing preoccupation with whether a book without words can communicate information, narrative, sensations or feelings through material, shape or color and their permutations. The colors, shape, feel and binding of Libro illeggibile MN 1 evoke simple and sophisticated pleasure in their juxtaposition and sequence. The unchanging straightness of the top edge and the anchoring red thread of the binding set off the changeability of shapes and colors.
The Square (1960), The Circle (1964) and The Triangle (1976)
Although not a book of Munari’s making, David A. Carter’s Le sculture da viaggio di Munari is one way of bringing the spirit of Munari’s “travel sculptures” into the collection. Carter’s homage carries the blessing of Corraini Edizioni, further justifying its inclusion.
Travel sculptures started off as small sculptures (some even pocket-sized) to carry with you, so you could take part of your own culture to an anonymous hotel room. Later they were turned into ‘travel sculptures’, five or six metres tall and made of steel. One of these was seen for a few months in Cesenatico, another one in Naples. Others are sleeping among huge trees in the Alto Adige region.’ This is how Italian designer Bruno Munari (1907-1998) described his ‘travel sculptures’, which in turn inspired American illustrator and designer David A. Carter for this pop-up book. –Corraini Edizioni website. Accessed 3 August 2021.
Thirty-three years after this rare volume’s appearance, some renewed interest in Igarishi’s design and artistry has arisen. The Thames & Hudson volume noted below was widely noted but reviewed in depth in only a few places (see below).
In noting in their 1995 facsimile of Johann David Steingruber’s Architectonisches Alphabeth that three-dimensional alphabet design inevitably reflects its typographic and architectural milieu, Joseph Kiermeier-Debre and Fritz Franz Vogel single out Igarishi’s work in aluminum, concrete, wood and plastic as a perfect 20th century example. Unlike that of his European predecessors, Igarashi’s milieu has been both Eastern and Western. It shows not only in his design, surfaces and choice of material but also in the global attention paid to his work. The briefest search online yields sources in Poland, the Czech Republic, Spain, Singapore and many others besides those expected in the US and Japan.
Along with the works of Katsumi Komagata, Yasushi Cho and Zhang Xiaodong, Igarashi’s volume adds some Eastern balance to the Western bias in the Books On Books Collection.
Three small volumes with aphorisms by Aristotle, Euclid, and Antoine Lavoisier (one per volume, respectively, in both English and French); each printed letterpress in various fonts and typographical arrangements along with four intaglio prints on one sheet of paper. The paper is cut along some of the folds so that folding and unfolding reveals different combinations of the text and images. Typography by Vincent Auger on Rives 250 GSM. Engravings printed by René Tazé. Edition of 25 and 3 casebound. H215 x W120 mm. Acquired from the artist, 5 February 2019. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
According to Shirley Sharoff (Books On Books interview, 5 February 2019), the fold and form of these three books were inspired by Katsumi Komagata’s work, and “Making each one was like a different game I was playing or puzzle I was solving”. Although the fold and form of each book is the same, the effect differs in each because of the placement of text and image. The result is three works of book art teasing the reader/viewer into playing with the artwork or solving the puzzle of reading/viewing it — and appreciating how the text from Aristotle, Euclid or Lavoisier fuses with the fold, form, typography and prints in each book.
The game or puzzle of finding the order of unfolding the books has several interlocking levels. On one level, there are origami “mountain” and “valley” folds, there are kirigami cuts, and vertical and horizontal openings. As these present themselves, the process of discovering or reading the text — what it is and how its syntactic order suggests the direction and order of unfolding — emerges as another level in the game. In parallel are the dual levels of deciphering the order (if any) of the intaglio prints’ appearance and relating the images to the text. And then there is the level of the relation of French to English and vice versa.
While the sets of four prints occupy the same position in each of the three single sheets, they “illustrate” their texts in different ways. In Aphorism 1, the whole tree occupies the “concluding” position of the lower right-hand corner, making a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts depicted in the other prints. In Aphorism 2, the images of transportation — train, car, plane, feet — follow from the abstract image of parallel lines. And in Aphorism 3, the two images of leaves overlapping human creations — buildings and litter — are bracketed by a central image of nothing but litter and a lower right-hand image of nature and the human-made landing atop a protruding pair of legs and feet like those of the Wicked Witch under the house in the Land of Oz.
In their variety of relationship to the structure and text, the three sets of images feel a bit secondary. Not so the presence of two languages. From the start, the French title page backed by an English title page on translucent paper suggests some sort of centrality for this bilingual feature. The only variation among the three volumes is that in Aphorism 1 and Aphorism 2, the complete French expression appears in a single panel, whereas in Aphorism 3, the English expression takes up that position. Why the bilingualism at all? The breaking up the expressions across the folds and cuts, the interspersing of images among the phrases, and the summary panels (two in English, one in French) suggest a halting, fragmented relation of each language to the other. Despite the title pages’ implication, the bilingual expressions do not exist simultaneously in parallel in any one of the single sheet books. By extension, is the relationship of language-image-thought to reality (whether metaphysical, geometrical or chemical) similarly fraught?
Portfolio box with four hinged flaps; five gatherings of folios bearing seven prints, collages, photos and cut paper. Text in English and French. Portfolio box: H212 x W340 x D24 mm; Folios: H200 x W330 mm, closed; variable width open, maximum W780 mm. Edition of 35, of which this is #22. Acquired from the artist, 5 February 2019. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
In Impermanence subtile/Subtle Impermanence, Sharoff’s bilingual perception of the world displays itself as more parallel, simultaneous and integrated — more subtle — than in La Poésie de l’univers/Poetry of the Universe. Where Poetry of the Universe explores this perception through dual forms (single-sheet origami/kirigami and book), Subtle Impermanence uses a multiplicity of forms (portfolio, flap book and pop-up book).
The first gathering — a single-fold folio whose first page presents the photo-collage of litter, demolition, construction and warning signs and tape — opens to a double-page spread that performs the book’s half-title function and also announces the work’s bilingual theme with the English adjective leading and the French adjective following the noun equivalent in both languages: IMPERMANENCE.
The first page of the second gathering performs the “title page” function of the book. When it opens, the first flap-book feature appears, the French text initially covering the English and, then, revealing a more parallel existence of the English and French. This is subtlety layered on subtlety. The text that appears and disappears under the flaps, and unfolds across the gathered folios, proceeds syntactically in a similar way, unrolling its qualifying dependent clauses one after another seemingly without beginning or end. As if mentally preparing a translation, the reader has to hold in mind each qualifier until what is being qualified can be reached.
Those 5 flaps signal yet another subtlety. The text comes from the opening of Ian Monk’s Tri selon Tri (“sort by sort”), a concrete poem in the Oulipo tradition of Raymond Queneau, Italo Calvino and Georges Perec. Following this tradition means creating a literary work that adheres to some rule or constraint — like those in a game. In its original presentation, the poem works within a structural constraint consisting of 5 blocks of text, each 37 characters wide with the first and last blocks being 25 lines deep and the three middle blocks each being 22 lines deep. In self reference to its main theme that humanity is replacing the 4 elements (earth, air, fire and water) with categories of human detritus, the poem calls the first and last blocks poubelles (“trash cans”) and the three middle blocks “dumpsters” (bennes). In each middle block, a blank space — 7 characters wide by 3 lines deep — appears, mimicking the side openings of trash sorting bins. Sharoff’s subtle sculptural nod is 5 flaps (as well as 5 gatherings) for the 5 receptacles.
The third gathering above consists of a shortened single-fold sheet bearing the large print of commuters and shoppers and embracing a larger single-fold sheet divided by a loose black paper stencil. With its cutout human figures, the stencil overlaying another photo-collage of litter foreshadows the extract’s concluding metaphor: that, after the first three new elements of paper, plastic and glass comes the fourth new element — those things that finish up in their own trash can, i.e., humanity itself.
The fourth gathering above delivers yet another hint in the form of a pop-up feature: three receptacles, two of which have human-figure cutouts. These human figures have been appearing throughout in the intaglio prints, and in their over- (or under-?) printing of litter and construction, they too have been delivering the same hint.
Just as the first gathering’s closed flaps display French only, the fifth and final gathering’s closed flaps display English only. The three flaps on the left rise to reveal the final print showing human figures entangled in their fully constructed world and undercut by the fourth flap’s articulation of the metaphor and implicit identification of them as “those things that finish up in their own trash can”.
Beneath that fourth flap, the artist concludes in French and English, leaving the colophon to appear on the last page — oddly — in French only.
These two works by Sharoff are perhaps bettered only by two others not in the Books On Books Collection: Ovi (1988) and La grande muraille/The Great Wall (1991). It is interesting that, while the former reflects her preoccupation with the Oulipo circle (Ovi draws on Calvino’s work), it sticks to one language (French); whereas La grande muraille engages with three languages (French, English and Chinese) yet draws on the text of a Chinese modernist (Lu Xun), not the Oulipo circle. Both, however, reflect the same ingenuity of juxtaposition and integration of language, image and forms to be found in La Poésie de l’Univers/Poetry of the Universe and Impermanence Subtile/Subtle Impermanence, which makes them defining works in the Books On Books Collection.
The most extensive essay on Sharoff’s work can be found in Paul van Capelleveen’s Artists & Others(2016). It comments on La reparation (2001), The Waves (2003), Les amazones sont parmi nous (2005), Bruits de la ville (2007), Impermanence subtile (2013), La poésie de l’univers (2012-2013). He addresses La grande muraille (1991) in Voices and Visions (2009). The special collection at the Koninklijke Bibliotheek in The Netherlands is one of the few where several of Sharoff’s works — including La grande muraille — can be seen and handled in one place. Also prepared by Van Capelleveen is this entry “Impermanence subtile. Subtle impermanence“, KB National Library of the Netherlands, Koopman Collection, n.d. Accessed 26 July 2020.
Christophe Comentale’s essay captures the delight of exploration and discovery in the encounter with Sharoff’s art.
Shirley Sharoff, entre France et Etats-Unis, présente une pluralité d’inspiration consommée entre l’estampe et le livre devenu un média, entre unique et multiple. […] Magicienne des formes et des couleurs, Shirley Sharoff ne cesse de remettre en cause, par besoin autant que par défi personnel, tout ce qui pourrait ressembler au début d’un système de lecture, de vision, figé et donc clos. L’impossibilité de savoir -qui vaut aussi pour elle- de quoi sa prochaine oeuvre-livre-manuscrit-tableau-dépliant, ou tout cela à la fois, sera fait est assez excitant. La présence de textes sentis par affinités sensorielles, personnelles, avec des écrivains non encore classiques, autant de raisons d’apprécier de pénétrer dans cet univers où le conformisme est inexistant.
Christophe Comentale, “Shirley Sharoff, des livres a tenir debout et des estampes a voir aussi”, Art & Métiers du Livre, n°231 (Aout-Septembre 2002), p.63.
A catalog raisonné from Komagata’s early employer. Its photography captures the subtle layers and shadows of Komagata’s cutouts and his brilliant handling of colours and typography. Given the ongoing output of Komagata’s firm One Stroke, another catalogue will be needed in a few more years.
A Cloud (2007)
A Cloud (2007) Katsumi Komagata Perfect bound within hinged whiteboard; H250 x W310 mm; 26 pages. Tokyo: One Stroke, 2007. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
Komagata presents both a narrative and a cloudscape by combining a choice of different papers for each page with carefully placed die cuts of cloud shapes to match the French, English and Japanese texts.
Little tree/petit arbre (2008)
Little Tree/Petit arbre (2008) Katsumi Komagata Perfect bound in greyboard covers, gold-colored ink within hole-punched tree shape on front cover; card paper in various colours and textures; H210 x W210 mm; 28 pages. Tokyo: One Stroke, 2008. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
The pop-up is a key part of Komagata’s signature techniques, which include the masterful use of different coloured and textured papers, ink and typography. While this video and the collection photos here may provide a balanced view of those elements, they do not convey the integral trilingual text that is far more than a narrative of this little tree’s appearance and disappearance.
「Ichigu」(2015) Katsumi Komagata Eight 4-panel cards in a box. H235 x 77 x 28 mm. Acquired from One Stroke, 26 March 2020. Photo: Books On Books Collection.
In Buddhism, the word Ichigu is associated with a particular saying from the monk Saicho (767-822): 隅を照らす Ichigu wo terasu, which means “Light up one corner”. The word can also denote “landscape”.
One side of each card is screen printed black; the other remains white. The cards offer a wealth of views — individually and combined — landscapes that change with the light and from one juxtaposition to another. Komagata’s works have a philosophical and emotional profundity that makes them cherished and frequently revisited items in this collection.
Untitled (2006) Jenny Smith Matte-beige slot-and-tab case containing eight-panel leporello, four panels lasercut and three screenprint. Case: 167 x 167 mm; Book: 165 x 165 mm. Edition of 25 of which this is #21. Acquired from the artist, 31 July 2017. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.
This portable sculpture echoes the tradition of Bruno Munari and Eleonora Cumer. The handling of ink from matte gray to silver to reflective black plays beautifully behind the vertical and
Book of Beads (2008)
Book of Beads (2008) Jenny Smith Case of beige matte-finish, screenprint black interior, title lasercut: 165 x 165 mm; Book in accordion-fold, eight panels lasercut, taupe on one side, screenprint black on other, 160 x 160 mm Edition of 20 of which this is #13. Acquired from the artist, 31 July 2017. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.
The interlocking views of panels through panels foreshadow a work by Katumi Komagata:「Ichigu」(2015). The fine tendrils in the cutting may remind some of works by Béatrice Coron or Merrill Shatzman.
Little Black Book (2009)
Little Black Book (2009) Jenny Smith Matte-black slot-and-tab case containing matte-black single fold booklet; cover engraved with an abstract, calligraphic design that is cut out inside on the pop-up page and reappears in shadow against a gloss black screenprint insert behind the pop-up page. Case: 167 x 167 mm; Book: 160 x 160 mm; Pop-up page: H140 x W150 mm. Edition of 20, of which this is #14. Acquired from the artist, 31 July 2017. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
The grassy nature of the 2013 installation and its engagement with children may remind the reader/viewer of Water on the Border (1994) by Helen Douglas and Telfer Stokes. For some, the interaction of cage and words in the 2016 installation may recall Bird Language (2003) by Xu Bing.
“Medicinal Art”, Studio Pavilion, 19 September 2019. Accessed 2 May 2020.