Books On Books Collection – Reinhold Nasshan

Google translate:

Es is ein versuch zu interpretieren und ein wurfelwurfnauf einer buchseite darzustellen sowie den moment der bewegung selbst den ubergang zwischen dem werfen und dem auftreffen der wurfel, graphisch hervortreten zu lassen. Um das bild des wurfes und des hervorquellens lebendig zu erhalten, sind die seiten gefaltet, geschnitten, ineinander gesteckt. So ergeben sich mehrperspektivishche leseebenen durch die buchstruktur

It is an attempt to interpret and to represent a throw of the dice on a book page as well as to let the moment of movement itself, the transition between the throw and the impact of the dice, emerge graphically. In order to keep the image of the litter and the spouting out alive, the sides are folded, cut, and interlocked. Thus, reading levels with multiple perspectives result from the book structure

Würfelwurf (1992)

Würfelwurf: fragmentarische Annäherung an Stéphan Mallarmé (1992)
Reinhold Nasshan
Slipcase, embossed spine, casebound in paper-covered boards, front cover decorated with title set on slip of paper woven into the cover, block sewn and glued, with relief prints as pastedowns. Slipcase: H360 x W248 mm; Book: 351 x 243 mm, 4 gatherings of folios of varying size cut, tucked or folded to fit within the binding’s dimensions. Unique. Acquired from the artist, 24 February 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with artist’s permission.

“Throw of the dice”, “dice throw” or “throwing dice” are all reasonable translations of Würfelwurf, but not “a throw of the dice”, which most German translators render as ein Würfelwurf when tackling Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés. But then Reinhold Nasshan is not translating the poem. As the subtitle indicates, he is making “a fragmentary approach”, an approximation.

The very structure and working of Nasshan’s Würfelwurf underscore his title’s distinction between a single act and repetition of the act. On its front cover, the word würfelwurf splits in two, one half printed over the other on the slip woven into the slits in the front cover. The slip angles downward from left to right suggesting action, which comes aplenty inside the book.

Some pages are cut, their corners folded and tucked in. One gathering consists of a sheet 688 x 470 mm that is creased with mountain- and valley-folds and untrimmed at the bottom edge so that it unfolds into a base that spills out beyond the covers. Pages take on dice-shaped edges and planes that seem to roll from within and against the book. The achieved effect of motion recalls Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2) or Umberto Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space.

Although the title of Mallarmé’s poem appears, most of the text scattered across the surfaces comes from his other writings; for example, peindre, non la chose, mais l’effet qu’elle produit (“to paint, not the thing, but the effect it produces”); tout, au monde, existe pour aboutir à un livre (“everything in the world exists to end up in a book”); and Das Buch ist eine totale Expansion des Buchstabens (“The book is a total expansion of the letter”). When that large folded gathering comes, though, the Mallarmé’s words begin to be jumbled: Ein Würfelwurf wird nie das Würfelspiel abschaffen (“A throw of the dice will never abolish the game of dice”) and Ein Wurf Gottes wird nie den Zufall abschaffen (“A throw from God will never abolish chance”).

Strangest of all is the mangling of émet from the poem’s final line Toute pensée émet un coup de dés (“All thought emits a throw of the dice”). The word becomes éinet. Not French, not German. Perhaps a typo of “in” for “m”? As it turns out, according to the artist, it is a fluke that the letter “m” available in the font on hand printed poorly, so “i” and “n” provided an alternative three vertical strokes.

Un Coup: Stéphane Mallarmé (1997)

Un Coup: Stéphane Mallarmé (1997)
Reinhold Nasshan
Flexible triangular cloth-covered book boards, 4 cotton paper squares folded into origami water bomb base and glued. Triangle: 127 x 127 x 179 mm; Square “pages”: 166 x 166 mm. Acquired from the artist, 24 February 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with artist’s permission.

Nasshan also refers to this as a “letter sculpture”. Inviting the reconfiguring as with the works of Eleonora Cumer or Bruno Munari, or simply constant fiddling as with a paper fortune teller, Un Coup is more three-dimensional than Würfelwurf. As with Würfelwurf, this work lets the “moment of movement itself, the transition between the throw and the impact of the dice, emerge graphically” (moment der bewegung selbst den ubergang zwischen dem werfen und dem auftreffen der wurfel, graphisch hervortreten zu lassen). With less surface than Würfelwurf, though, it has fewer extracts from Mallarmé’s writings. Indeed, along with the physical shape shifting, the enlarged letters overprinted at multiple angles to one another combine to make this work more abstract than extract. But because text and book are material from which, on which and with which Nasshan creates, the abstract retains its links to the book.

Also a painter, Nasshan’s works fall into two categories or surfaces — painted books and painted canvases. Though lacking the shape of a book, his abstract paintings retain that link to “the world of Letters” in shapes and figures that evoke hieroglyphics, Chinese characters, typography and even cave paintings. His influences appear equally eclectic — though more Kandinsky, Klee and Miró than Pollock or Rothko — which matches up with his choice of substrates in fiction and nonfiction. When not choosing works from the ancient, classical or Romantic periods (from Gilgamesh to Seneca to Hölderlin), he chooses Apollinaire, Beckett, Celan, Joyce or Wittgenstein among others from the Modern period.

A wider audience would profit from Nasshan’s works. At least these two and others that might enter the Books On Books Collection will be available in the 2022 exhibitions celebrating the 125th anniversary of the publication of Un Coup de Dés in Cosmopolis (May 1897).

Further Reading

Bolton, Ama. 4 November 2013. “Saturday 2 November at the Oxford Book Fair“. Barleybooks.

Guckes-Kühl, Karen. September 2008. “Entdeckungsreise in die Buchkunst“. Buchbinderei Köster.

Klein, Thomas. 7 July 2019. “Die Sprache der Träume“. Wochenblatt-Reporter.de.

Möthrath, Birgit. 29 July 2019. “Reinhold Nasshan zeigt Malerie und Buchobjekte im Frank-Loebschen Haus“. Die Rheinpfalz.

Nasshan, Reinhold. 20 September 2021. Correspondence with Books On Books.

Books On Books Collection – herman de vries

An Edition of Two (2014)

die wiese|the meadow & juniperus communis

die wiese|the meadow (2014): herman de vries, susanne de vries and peter foolen

juniperus communis (2014): herman de vries

(The artist always lowercases his name — to avoid hierarchy.)

Box folder of 36 postcards & box folder of juniper berries. Edition of 216, of which this is 189. Acquired from Peter Foolen Editions, November 2014. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

April 2012

February and November 2013

February 2014

This “edition of two”, as Peter Foolen has termed it, gives the reader/viewer slices of two much larger works. The first was a 320-page hardback edition of 750 copies, also entitled die wiese / the meadow but involving Marion Reissner for the concept and photography. Two copies of the special edition, signed and numbered, also included dried leaves that de vries selected from the 4000 square meters — the meadow — that is one of de vries’ most important works of art. In the Steigerwald near Eschenau, Germany, where they live, he and susanne de vries, his wife, started this work of nature’s sculpture in 1986. A peninsula anchored on the forest and surrounded by farmland, the meadow boasts a barrier of cultivated aspen and hedges. Within, a variety of shrubs, trees and wildflowers abound. A work of art in and of itself, it is also the source and palette for smaller works made of selections of leaves, arrays of briars and pressed vegetation. The dried juniper berries in juniperus communis signal that aspect of his art.

In small, juniperus communis reflects another important aspect: exhibitions and installations.

infinity in finity (2013)

infinity in finity (2013)

herman de vries

H166 x W210 mm. Edition of 1000. Acquired from Éditions incertain sens, 27 June 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

In the Books On Books Collection, infinity in finity occupies a mid-point between die weise|the meadow and argumentstellen. Whereas die weise|the meadow draws its art directly from nature or the artist’s interaction with nature, argumentstellen draws its art from the artist’s interaction with a book of philosophy and his visual translation/illustration of it through the book arts. Except for the photo of herman de vries as naturalist-cum-naturist, infinity in finity belongs more to that side of his work that focuses on wordplay and the book arts.

The single photo and the phrase “infinity in finity” point more toward intangible, abstract nature rather than the tangible nature of a meadow and handful of juniper berries. The strand under the artist’s feet and the repeated phrase evoke the lines of Blake’s “Auguries of Innocence”:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand 

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower 

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 

And Eternity in an hour

Grafix Centrum Poligrafii (Gdańsk, Poland) has precisely executed the genius of the design that aligns the repeated phrase across the double-page spread, into and out of the gutter, and sends it off the top, bottom and fore edges. The meaning of the words and form of the book align perfectly. The reader/viewer holds infinity in the finite form of a book held between two hands.

argumentstellen 1968 / 2003 (2003)

argumentstellen 1968 / 2003 (de wittgenstein — tractatus — ) (2003)

herman de vries

The first date 1968 is the year the artwork was conceived and drawn; the second date, the year it was published. H296 x W210 mm. Edition of 1250. Acquired from Éditions incertain sens, 27 June 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Argumentstellen (German for “arguing” or “making an argument”) roots itself even more in abstraction, allusion and the book arts than infinity in finity. Other than the title and colophon, there are no words in argumentstellen. Still, the little text on which it relies looms large.

The Dutch naar and French de translate as “after”; so argumentstellen is “after Wittgenstein — tractatus — 2. 0131 …” Here are English translations for the text from section 2.0131 of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus:

From Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus,
Side-by-Side-by-Side Edition
, curated by Kevin C. Klement, Department of Philosophy, University of Massachusetts – Amherst

Unlike most paintings and prints entitled “after [fill in the blank]” — but like many instances of reverse-ekphrasis in book art — argumentstellen is simultaneously a visual translation and interpretation of referenced text, not another artist’s visual work. Rather than the ekphrastic text/poem that proceeds from the visual or sculptural work of art, this is visual book art that proceeds from philosophical text. On each rich, thick, white page, the black dot (the “point in space”, full stop or period?) appears once but in different places from page to page. Against the texture and color of the page, each black dot almost performs a trompe l’oeil that surrounds it with ghostly text — implying that it marks the space or place where a statement or argument occurs, which differs from place to place, from perspective to perspective.

In the same year as the drawing for this work occurred, so did that for the lines (1968/1995). De vries’ comments on the lines shed light on argumentstellen as well as return our thoughts to walking into the ocean or through the meadow:

the position of a single line in the surface determines our experience of these surfaces, so that with another position of the line, an extension or a shortening, our experience of the surface is changed.

like every primary picture element, the line has its own unique effect. 
a point, for example, determines the space around it, creates an area of ​​tension out of it. a line does that too, but it is clearer that the line divides the area.

lines are like dams in water. the eye must overcome it like an obstacle. 
but it can also go around, flow. Another option is to follow the line, walk on the embankment and notice the changes in the area. because the place where the eye is located is a point of perception in relation to the surface. 
in this way the line is a series of 'arguments'. Walking along, around or over here means changing your perspective and viewpoint.herman de vries. Accessed 30 June 2020.

At which William Blake and those other Romantics — those ambler poets — John Clare, Samuel Coleridge and William Wordsworth must be nodding and smiling.

Further Reading

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

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

Fehr, Michael. herman’s Meadow. A Museum (1992). Accessed 29 June 2020.

Gooding, Mel. herman de vries: chance and change (London: Thames & Hudson, 2006)