The 125th anniversary of the publication of Stéphane Mallarmé’s Un Coup de DésJamais N’Abolira le Hasard (1897) approaches, and Trevor Stark’s book is a welcome harbinger. Its title comes from Mallarmé’s essay/poem “The Book, Intellectual Instrument”:
The book, total expansion of the letter, should derive from it directly a spacious mobility, and by correspondences institute a play of elements that confirms the fiction (p. 6).
Often with Mallarmé, context is all (not to mention translation in the face of elliptical syntax!) — context is wrapped in self-enshrouded context. His seemingly cryptic sentence above becomes clearer only when the precedent to the word “it” (elle) is understood as la composition typographique from the essay/poem’s preceding paragraph, extolling the alphabet, language and typography.
Un miracle prime ce bienfait, au sens haut ou les mots, originellement, se réduisent à l’emploi, doué d’infinité jusqu’à sacrer une langue, des quelque vingt lettres — leur devenir, tout y rentre pour tantôt sourdre, principe — approchant d’un rite la composition typographique. (my emphasis)
So, the sentence is a proscription for what “the book” should get from typographic composition. Metaphorically (fictionally), the book is a total expansion of the typeset letter, or mark. As such, it should derive from the “near rite of typographic composition” a spaciousness and mobility and a play among elements that confirms the metaphor that it is a “total expansion of the letter”. Still a bit cryptic, but after all, this is what Mallarmé calls a “critical poem”, and the sentence is hardly more cryptic than the opening pronouncement: “everything in the world exists to end up in a book”.
It is a good choice of title for Stark’s endeavor. “Total expansion of the letter” juggles Mallarmé’s “heroic” vision for the book with the material world of metal type, idea with ink, the sacred with the profane. In painting, sculpture, music, dance, theater and film, the avant-gardists certainly brought together intellectuality and physicality forcefully. Stark shows that, in doing so, they also consciously and unconsciously raided Mallarmé’s open larder of skepticism about language and communication. The letter (or any mark of signifying, for that matter), scraps of newspaper, musical scores, dance notation, dresses and costumes (or lack thereof), wanted posters, financial bonds, and much more became ready objects for avant-garde art but only on the condition of their “becoming dysfunctional and incommunicative” (p. 7). Stark wants to know why.
Mallarmé’s skepticism about language and communication is Stark’s touchstone throughout: that language has an “ineradicable degree of chance built into” it; that there is inherently a suspension — a temporal gap, blank, void, lacuna, an “unfinished” state — between the sign’s expressed materiality and its meaning; and that, therefore, every act of communication as a historical and aesthetic phenomenon is like an anonymous, “impersonified” throw of the dice, “tossed into eternal circumstances’” (p.29). Applying that touchstone, he crosses the borders insightfully time and again “between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, between dance, music, and letters, and between art history, the philosophy of language, politics, and poetics” (p. 30). Never reductive, he explores the continuities and variations between Mallarmé’s achievements and those of Paul Cezanne, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Francis Picabia, Tristan Tzara, Hugo Ball, F.T. Marinetti, Marcel Duchamp, the Laban school of dance and others of the avant-garde. As he offers a reciprocal interpretation of Mallarmé and of avant-garde art, individual poems, paintings, collages, performances of dance and theater yield new clarities and sharpened expression of received assessments.
Consider Stark’s comparative reading/viewing of Mallarmé’s “Sonnet en X” (1887) and Picasso’s The Dressing Table (1910). Across eight pages of text and photographs of art, Stark helps the reader to follow Mallarmé’s “quest for a word that literally means nothing, ptyx, a word produced by the frolic of language”, a signifier that “attains a materiality and an opacity, allowing the poem to display a linguistic Void, to raise it from the latent to the patent.” The materiality to which Stark draws our attention is twofold: the bright rhymes (-yx, -ix, -ixe) that almost single-handedly drive the invention of the word ptyx and the mirror on the credenza in the poem that captures the empty room, its window and the constellation Ursa Major showing through it. Across the same pages, Stark conducts the viewer through Picasso’s painting — again a mirror, the surface of a dressing table, the drawer from which a key protrudes, a drawer handle, a glass with the long handle of a toothbrush and its bristles poking out, but all scattered into planes of reflection and refraction, their shapes “mutually implicated to the point of structural ambiguity”. Then, he draws them together: “In Mallarmé and Picasso, representation destroyed the object in order to proclaim its own mute materiality and, thereby, regain continuity with the world by becoming simply one more thing within it”(pp. 101-108).
In pursuing these reciprocal readings of Mallarmé and his avant-garde descendants, Stark keeps a bright light on the “between” — between an object and its reflection, between a word’s or sound’s utterance and its meaning, the blanks between words, the blanks between brushstrokes or those between them and the boundary of the painting, between the cosmic and domestic, between one media and another when brought together in a work, between the individualism of subjective imagination and impersonal modes of production, between author/artist and word/image and reader/viewer. His term for these spaces is intermedial. In her endorsement of Stark’s book, Julia Robinson (New York University) calls his neologism “luminous”. The term refers to “the zone of indeterminacy between mediums, social practices, and temporalities” into which Mallarmé found himself outwardly propelled even as he inwardly sought “absolute language”.
Looking back on the avant-gardists and his own contemporaries, Dick Higgins — the late twentieth century language-, book-, and publishing-artist — rejuvenated Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s term intermediation, a neologism similar and related to intermedial. It is not the same thing as intermediality or mixed media. As Higgins expressed it, “Many fine works are being done in mixed media: paintings which incorporate poems within their visual fields, for instance. But one knows which is which. In intermedia, on the other hand, the visual element (painting) is fused conceptually with the words” (p. 52). It can be argued that works of intermedia are one way in which artists address intermediality — that zone of indeterminacy.
The argument is ultimately a phenomenological one, a perspective that Stark embraces. When he applies the ideas of Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Theodor Adorno, Maurice Blanchot and others to Mallarmé’s poems and the artistic expressions of his “descendants”, both the philosophers and the artists become more accessible. Consider this passage summarizing Maurice Blanchot’s account of the history and function of language and its four stages:
The first was that of an Adamic or nomenclaturist model of language, which conceived words as names for the objects of the world. The second, dominant from Plato to Descartes, was the idealist model in which language constituted the link between sensible reality and the eternal realm of the Idea, and thus the guarantee of our ‘entrance into the intelligible world.’ [fn 223] Third, the ‘expressionist model’ of Hegel and Leibniz considered language itself the embodiment of what is sayable, thinkable, and possible at any given historical juncture, serving, therefore, as the medium of the progress of Spirit. Finally, illustrated with a quote from Valèry, the fourth stage was the ‘dialectical function of discourse,’ in which language regained an ‘essential power of constestation’ in the negativity of modern literature:
‘Literature seeks to revoke from language the properties that give linguistic signification, that make language appear as an affirmation of universality and intelligibility. But it doesn’t arrive at this goal (if it does arrive at this goal) by destroying language or through contempt of its rules. It wants to render language to what it believes to be its veritable destiny, which is to communicate silence through words and to express liberty through rules, which is to say to evoke language itself as destroyed by the circumstances that make it what it is.’ [fn 224] (pp. 110-11)
Consider the hole drilled through the center of the journal. Does it not echo Stark’s reminder of Braque’s citing Mallarmé’s utterance: “‘The point of departure is the void'” (p. 88)? Consider the journal’s spatial challenge to the act of reading (a dos-à-dos binding, a text block that rotates around that hole). Does that not echo this passage from Total Expansion of the Letter?
But what remains after the ‘suspension’ of the represented object and the objectification of the means of representation? For Mallarmé, the ‘residuum’ was the act of reading itself, conceived not as a process of cognitive reconstruction, but instead as a gamble on the very possibility of forging meaning out of opacity and contingency of linguistic matter. As Mallarmé wrote in ‘The Mystery of Letters’
‘To read —
That practice —
To lean, according to the page, on the blank, whose innocence inaugurates it, forgetting even the title that would speak too loud: and when, in a hinge [brisure], the most minor and disseminated, chance is conquered word by word, unfailingly the blank returns, gratuitous earlier but certain now, concluding that there is nothing beyond it [rien au-delà] and authenticating the silence –‘” (pp. 108-109).
Not since Anna Sigrídur Arnar’s The Book as Instrument: Stéphane Mallarmé, the Artist’s Book and the Transformation of Print Culture (2011) has there been as useful a tool for appreciating Mallarmé, art and artist’s books as Trevor Stark’s Total Expansion of the Letter. On the eve of the 125th anniversary of Un Coup de Dés, it will be interesting to see whether Stark and others extend his work to art and book art after the avant-garde.
Higgins, Dick, and Hannah Higgins. “Intermedia“, republished in Leonardo, Volume 34, Number 1, February 2001, pp. 49-54.
McCombie, Elizabeth. Mallarmé and Debussy: Unheard Music, Unseen Text (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). It would have been interesting to see how Stark would relate his exploration with McCombie’s exploration of Mallarmé’s views on poetry and music.
Artist, curator and historian Jeffrey Abt wrote that the “irresistible” idea of placing an exhibition of artists’ books alongside the University of Chicago Library’s collection “broadly representative of the history of the book” started with a visit to famed art dealer Tony Zwicker‘s studio. It was also, however, almost as if he were taking a cue from this statement by artist-printers Betsy Davids and Jim Petrillo just the year before:
A representative collection of artists’ books often does not seem visually remarkable in a gallery, where a wide range of visual experience is the norm. The same collection, installed in a library or bookstore, can seem visually startling almost beyond the limits of decorum. — “The Artist as Book Printer: Four Short Courses” in Artists’ Books: A Critical Anthology and Sourcebook, edited by Joan Lyons (Rochester, NY: Visual Studies Workshop Press, 1985).
The handful of images below would lead anyone to suspect that the 49 works (many loaned by Zwicker) were selected to startle and, in a subtle way, challenge the notion that ”a representative collection of artists’ books often does not seem visually remarkable in a gallery”. The peculiar shape of the exhibition catalogue deepens the suspicion. The rest of its design and identity of its designer — Buzz Spector — clinch it.
While Abt’s introductory essay rings the historical changes on the roots of book art — once there was Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés, but before Mallarmé, there was William Blake — the works included and the catalogue’s design ring some chimes of their own about book art. One way or another, all book art self-consciously draws attention to some particularly bookish element. For the most part, the 49 works listed in the catalogue ring true. The catalogue design itself, however, chimes not only to that notion of self-reflexiveness but also to wider notions about the nature of book art within contemporary art.
Not long after this 1986 exhibition, Spector wrote of “the language of the book” and all its parts — pages, signatures and cover as well as its letter forms and their placement on the spread page — as having a syntax. With its pencil-circled numbers, alignment guides, pastedowns and other designer’s marks appearing throughout — as if a printer’s devil had run amok and let the marked-up proofs go to press unchanged — the catalogue draws attention to that syntax, the underlying processes of bookmaking and and this object’s “bookness”. The colophon’s note initialed by Jeffrey Abt to Buzz Spector and “pasted” on the last page seals the self-reflexive joke of the markings throughout the catalogue.
Page 36 and cover 3 from The Book Made Art (1986) Permission of the curator and designer.
The second chime comes in the catalogue’s verbal and visual punning. Like book art, punning is self-reflexive, words playing on words. The title ”the book made art” can be read with different meanings: “the book made into art”, “art that is bookish” and so on. The catalogue’s trim and two-dimensional representation of three-dimensions create the visual pun of a glass or white cube. The verbal and visual puns also play with Abt’s “irresistible” context. Here in the Joseph Regenstein Library was an exhibition catalogue, teasing the viewer with a reminder that vitrines separated them from the bookworks. Reviewing two other exhibitions of book art, Spector elaborated explicitly on his visual tongue-in-cheek irony:
The dilemma in staging exhibitions of books as art objects is the denial of access to the work that conservation necessarily demands. … and it is a morethan passing irony that implications of hermeticism and elitism should surround books shown to a public using the library as a means of gaining access to texts. — Buzz Spector, “Art Readings” in The Book Maker’s Desire (Pasadena, CA: Umbrella Editions, 1995), p.13.
The catalogue also teases with its title and design by suggesting that once books have been placed on display like this, the setting is no longer a library but a “white cube gallery“. As the catalogue progresses, black-and-white photos of items from the exhibition appear on the verso page in frames that appear to be hanging on the trompe l’oeil cube’s rear wall.
Pages 14 and 20 of The Book Made Art (1986) Permission of the curator and designer.
But a viewer standing in the “brutalist” construct of the Regenstein Library and holding this catalogue of The Book Made Art might have asked, “What makes these objects I cannot touch — or, in some cases even if I could, cannot read — art?” There is the catalogue’s third chime. From the start, book art has faced a constant definitional or identity crisis and even the challenge “but is it art?” The catalogue’s title echoes Lucy Lippard’s Duchampian proposition: “It’s an artist book if an artist made it, or if an artist says it is”. The catalogue’s design says, “This is the gallery, these are the objects on display in it, they are art”.
The “white cube gallery” brings on a fourth and final ironic chime. In the 1970s and early ‘80s, artists’ books were pitched as a “democratic” medium and means by which art could escape the clutches of the gallery and reach a wider public. In another catalogue — the one for the 1973 Moore College exhibition, nominated as the first of book art — John Perreault writes:
Books as art, from the artist’s point of view and the viewer’s point of view, are practical and democratic. They do not cost as much as prints. They are portable, personal, and, if need be, disposable. Because books are easily mailed, books as art are aiding in the decentralisation of the art system. — John Perreault, “Some Thoughts on Books as Art”, in Artists Books, Moore College of Art, 23 March – 20 April 1973 (Philadelphia, PA: Moore College of Art, 1973), p. 21.
By the mid-80s, lo and behold, The Book Made Art’s catalogue-cum-gallery jokingly recaptures “books as art”. And in a further irony, by the mid-80s and since, the increased rareness and price of such bookworks have made them into galleries‘ and museums’ expensive objects of desire.
With the catalogue for The Book Made Art being so scarce and with its inclusion of images of only 13 of the 49 works displayed, it is difficult to reconstruct and imagine what the exhibition must have been like. Why try? By the mid-80s, book art had opened its arms to a variety of works not existing in the 1960s to mid-70s when the Moore College of Art and the Nigel Greenwood landmark exhibitions occurred. From what the catalogues for Dianne Perry Vanderlip’s Artists’ Books and Germano Celant’s Book as Artwork: 1960/72 convey, from the images for each that can be found, the experience in Philadelphia and London must have differed greatly from that in Chicago with The Book Made Art.
What follows is a resource for comparing and contrasting The Book Made Art with the two earlier catalogues. Although he is present in The Book Made Art through Spector’s Altered LeWitt entry, Lewitt and many of the earlier catalogues’ illuminati are missing: Art-Language (Atkinson, Baldwin, Burn, Hurrell, Kosuth and Ramsden), Carl Andre, John Baldessari, Mel Bochner, Stanley Brouwn, John Cage, Robert Filliou, Mario Merz, Bruce Nauman, Claes Oldenburg, Tom Phillips, Dieter Rot, Ed Ruscha, Daniel Spoerri, Lawrence Weiner and Emmet Williams. These omissions leave The Book Made Art with fewer works that are purely text-based, algorithmic or typographic (as in construction poetry). The overarching impression — urged on by Spector’s inspired design — is that The Book Made Art emphasizes more of the painterly and sculptural and offers a new group of claimants to the circle of book art illuminati: Beube, Broaddus, Löhr, Share, Smith, Spector, Van Horn and several others shown below.
In addition to images retrieved or provided by the artists, links to information about the artists, to sources or images of the displayed work or to images of similar work are offered. Where possible the links provided are persistent links (avoiding “Page Not Found” messages). As with the online annotation of Celant’s Book as Artwork: 1960/72 (see Further Reading), this one offers some comparison/contrast links to earlier and later bookworks to aid in appreciating continuities and departures.
Also under Further Reading, Jeffrey Abt has kindly provided additional context about the roles played by Tony Zwicker and Robert Rosenthal, Curator of Special Collections at the University of Chicago Library, in making The Book Made Art possible.
Caveat lector/observator: Even with a work’s measurements supplied by the catalogue, it is difficult to call to the mind’s eyes and hands the presence of the object — even harder to imagine the experience of an exhibition and its environment. Measure or scale is not the only issue. As one of the artists below — Timothy Ely — puts it: “Time is scale” and “On the scale of time, some books may well last a thousand years and a drawing on a beach only a few hours. Exhibits end and fortunes change.” But then that’s why it’s called an essay.
The Artists and their Works
Algardi, Alessandro. L’Immagine della scrittura [maquette]. Milan? (1983). Paint and graphite pencil over paper; codex binding in calf; 12 leaves. Signed. 20 3/16” x 14 1/4” x 3/4”. [No image of the work found]
Some of Algardi’s works can be seen here and more extensively and clearly in the online version of Ubeir Peeters’ book Alessandro Algardi (2006), pages 112-20 in particular. As a maquette, L’Immagine della scrittura (“The image of writing”) would have required the viewer to project in the mind the executed work. Algardi’s work ranges widely in materials: acrylic, oils, cementite, titanium, vinyl tempera, emulsified canvas and from large paintings to oversized and lesser books constructed of overpainted card and even plexiglas in various bindings, including the accordion. His constant subject (the written word) and use of impasto make Algardi’s work distinctive.
Allen, Roberta. The Traveling Woman, Book IV (1985). Paint and ink over paper; codex binding with string loops and painted boards; 6 leaves. Signed. 8 15/16” x 6 5/8” x 5/8”.
The Traveling Woman, Book I (1985) Roberta Allen Photos: Courtesy of the artist.
Allen has provided images of Book I as all four books were similarly formatted. She notes, however, that the binding for all four books consists of archival paper, not boards. These artist’s books are one manifestation of The Traveling Woman oeuvre. Several stories from this vein of Roberta Allen’s imagination appeared in WhiteWalls, the magazine of writings by artists founded in Chicago in 1978, continuing up to 2002. In 1986, The Traveling Woman morphed into a novel.
The technique of roughly painted-over paper appeared among many of the works in The Book Made Art, thereby contributing to the exhibition’s painterly ambiance. While The Traveling Woman’s size is close to the US standard of 6 x 9 in., together with several other much larger painted-over paper bookworks, it must have created a colourful overall effect. It is a technique varying but traceable at least to the ‘70s if not earlier (for example, John Latham’s Skoob works) and continues today (for example, Bodil Rosenberg’s Vandstand).
Appel is mentioned in the Umbrella archives as being associated with the short-lived review/cooperative KLAB, but there is little else online. This image of the encounter of Dante with Beatrice comes from the Walker Art Center Library (see the image’s lower right hand corner) and yields two of the seven panels of the twenty-edition work in accordion form, published out of Amsterdam by Da Costa Editions. Zooming in on the image behind the link, one can detect considerable and vigorous overdrawing. Vibrant turquoise, orange and lavender distinguish this work from these images of other works by Appel in the Bibliotheca Librorum apud Artificem. Appel’s Postkarten in the Joan Flasch Artists’ Book Collection shows up only in its slipcase.
Baltazar/Michel Butor.Zodiaque des Nuages (1984). Watercolor, ink, and pastel over paper; in codex gathering but not sewn; with rigid publishers’ cloth cover and slip case; 18 leaves with paper wrapper. Script in author’s hand. Signed by artist and author. With autograph postcard, decorated with collage, Butor to Baltazar, 10.19.85. 11 5/16” x 7 9/16” x 1 3/8”. [No image of the work found]
Baltazar is Hervé Lambion‘s nom de plume. He has created numerous livres d’artiste with many authors in addition to those with Butor. No online image of Zodiaque des Nuages is readily located. The image below shows a similar work: Entre Deux Avalanches (1980).
Two other artist’s books by Baltazar can be seen here in the Champetier Gallery, and several images and an analysis of another (with Butor’s text) — La main sur le mur — can be viewed here from the Koninklijke Bibliotheek in The Hague. Baltazar’s work with the author Michel Butor has been extensive enough to warrant this lengthy (but minimally illustrated) essay. As can be gathered from the images of these other works and from the essay, Baltazar’s contribution to The Book Made Art served as an exemplar of the traditional artist’s book.
Beube, Douglas. Ashes: The Effect of Fire on Paper (1980). Cloth, fabric edging and cords, marbled and found papers, and specimen bottles; mounted on found and hinged compartment trays. Signed. 16 11/16” x 11 5/8” x 2 5/16”.
Pages 12 and 13 of The Book Made Art (1986) Permission of the curator and designer.
No online image seems available, and the one in the catalogue is black and white. Framed on the back wall of the page, it hangs there like a religious diptych. This work became the second in the M.A.D. trilogy (matches, ashes, dust), and full-color images of Ashes and the trilogy have been provided here by the artist. These can also be seen in full color and context in Beube’s Breaking the Codex (New York: Etc. Etc. The Iconoclastic Press, 2011), p. 186.
M.A.D. trilogy. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
Beube has been extraordinarily inventive with the book as raw artistic material. His works have altered the codex form and deployed nearly every element of its “syntax” to address recurring political, social and philosophical themes. His outcomes range as well across larger sculptural works as well as action installations. Breaking the Codex documents the impression that Beube has foreshadowed and/or echoed nearly every variation of book art in play. With Beube’s Ashes and works below by Lori Christmastree, David Horton, Andrew Masullo, Anne Hicks Siberell and Paul Zelevansky, The Book Made Art gives a significant nod toward the tradition of the Cornellian “box” in book art (see “The Box from Duchamp to Horn” in Further Reading below).
____________. My Book Journal: 1980-1982. Graphite pencil, watercolor, coloured marking pens, stamping, coloured pencil, found and layered papers, photographs, miscellaneous materials, small objects, and ephemera; codex binding in printed fabric-wrapped boards; 33 leaves. Unsigned. 5 13/16” x 10 5/8” x 1 9/16”. [No image of the work found]
Images of bound sketchbooks from other date ranges can be found on the artist’s website. Here is Sketchbook #1: My Book Journal (1979), which comes closest to the work described for the exhibition.
Sketchbook #1: My Book Journal (1979) Doug Beube Collage, fabric, paper, gouache, graphite, water color, thread, silver gelatin print, rubber stamp. H6 x W10 x D2 1/2 in.
Brater, Meryl.Black Pool White Pillow #2 (1984). Graphite, graphite pencil, coloured pencil, and printing ink over paper with ribbon ties; combination codex and accordion bindings; four principal panels. Signed. 23 7/8” x 16 11/16” x 1 5/8”. [No image of the work found]
As described in the catalogue, this work combined codex and accordion structures. Another of Brater’s works — Hidden Agenda — appears to do the same but adds a protective four-fold envelope. The accordion form is well represented among the catalogue’s entries: Appel, Brater, Haynes, McCarney, Polansky, Robinson, Schnabel, Senser, Van Horn and Vogel.
This image of Brater’s Hidden Agenda (1991) appeared on AbeBooks (23 January 2020); a thumbnail image of the same appeared on Printed Matter’s website the same date; and an exterior-only view can be found in the Joan Flasch Artists’ Book Collection.
Broaddus, John Eric. Meridian Passage (1979). Paint and ink over paper; codex binding in painted boards; 9 leaves. Unsigned. 22 7/16th x 22 3/8” x 7/8”.
This unique work now resides with the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Its record is “John Eric Broaddus, American, 1943–1990. Meridian Passage, 1979 Unique book, each page hand painted with acrylic, tempera, watercolor, and ink with abstract cut-outs Folio: 572 x 616 mm (22 1/2 x 24 1/4 in.) L15.99.2“.
Along with Allen’s, Apple’s and several others’ works below, the bold colours and cutouts of Meridian Passage underscore the painterly and sculptural nature of the book art celebrated by The Book Made Art. Despite the strong theme of democratic multiples around him, Broaddus explored the unique bookwork. Meridian Passage and the next work by Broaddus are unique, not limited editions or multiples.
____________. France I (1983). Found printed codex [popular geography] altered with paint, ink, coloured pencil, glitter, and cutting; with painted slip case and painted cloth outer wrapper; 104 leaves. Signed. 12 1/8” x 9 1/16” x 1 11/16”.
At 104 leaves, this was one of the larger works in the exhibition. The three small black-and-white images of double-page spreads in the catalogue do not do the work justice, nor does the one in The Cutting Edge of Reading by Renée Riese Hubert and Judd D. Hubert. With the latter, however, we have this bit of description to aid in visualising the work:
By cutting away large sections of pages, Broaddus playfully establishes astonishing connections between well-known monuments as well as between them and his own imaginative creations. … By clever cutting, a cute photograph showing children observing an artist drawing, it would seem, their portraits, metamorphoses on the other side of the leaf into a gigantic statue consisting of Watteau’s famous Arlequin partly framed within a dark blue Broaddus abstraction. — Hubert, Renée Riese, and Judd D. Hubert. The Cutting Edge of Reading: Artists’ Books (New York: Granary Press, 1999), p. 230.
Best of all, though, for visualising the work, we have the tribute video from the Jaffe Center for Book Arts, which includes full-colour images and discussion by the Huberts and others.
Christmastree, Lori.You Have to Break the Glass to Get Out (1984). Graphite pencil, colored ink, watercolor, found materials, and glass shards over layered papers; unbound in double-lidded box with ribbon ties; 9 leaves. Signed. 25 1/4” x 19 1/8” x 2 3/16”.
You Have to Break the Glass to Get Out (1984) Lori Christmastree Photos of pages 3, 6 and 7: Courtesy of Misha Tomic via Buzz Spector.
Much of Lori Christmastree’s work and documentation of it were destroyed in a house fire. The artist Misha Tomic, her partner, kindly provided the images above, which echo her other works’ characteristic use of collage, ink and watercolour.
Crawford, Elsie. Willow Waterway (1985). Colored ink over wood veneer-backed paper scroll mounted on wooden dowel with leather tie; with hollowed-out tree stump case. Unsigned. 6 1/2” x 4 5/8” x 4” [No image of the work found]
Ely, Timothy C.Field Points 3 (1985). Ink and watercolor over pigment, foil-stamped, and embossed paper; in codex binding with painted boards with collage elements, and pigment and foil stamping; in drop-spine book box with buckram covering; 26 leaves. Signed. 16 3/4” x 11 5/16” x 1 1/2”. [No image of the work found]
Synesthesia, a work that in some ways exemplifies Ely’s output but in others does not, provides a stand-in here. It contains drawn and painted images by Timothy Ely and text by Terence McKenna. The typography and printing are by Philip Gallo and The Hermetic Press; the binding is by Daniel E. Kelm and The Wide Awake Garage; and the publishing, by the Granary Press. It is a limited edition (75). Note the precision of production, especially in the binding, as well as the distinctive effect of ink and watercolor over pigment. Compare it with the Baltazar/Butor work above. This is a distinctively American livre d’artiste.
Synesthesia (1992) Timothy C. Ely Bound between black boards blind stamped with multiple symbols and shapes; boards have touches of copper, blue, and pink paint; copper triangle with symbols written on it is mounted on front board; exposed spine shows 3 bands of sewing attached at each end to a metal rod running through each board. In black cloth box. 250 mm in box of 270 mm. Photos: Books On Books.
Forget, Carol.The Diplomat’s Handbook (1981). White cloth gloves stuffed with miniature flags of various nations, sewn end to end. Signed on display instructions. 8 1/4” x 4 1/4” x 3 9/16”. [No image of the work found]
With its flag-stuffed gloves punning on its title, The Diplomat’s Handbook hands us the catalogue’s first “book-alluding object“. The use of gloves finds later echoes in the work of Jules Allen (below):
The Book of White (in progress) Jules Allen Kid leather gloves, hand made paper, housing a collection of utilitarian antiques and collectibles from the mid to late 20th century. H270 x W80 x D50 mm
Forget’s tongue-in-glove tendency is evident from these images of another work — Margin Release (1976), a collection of loose cards (no binding, thus releasing the margins) — and from the New York Times’ mention of yet another of her works: “A Formica steak on a base of shredded newsprint, for instance, is titled ’Model for the Historical Novel (Meat Plus Filler)’ by the artist Carol Forget of New York.“
____________. VHF Salvation (1984). Found printed codex [Bible] altered with cloth ribbons. Signed on display instructions. 11 3/8” x 5 11/16” x 1 5/8”.
The caption for this work tantalisingly refers to signed display instructions. With that (and unable to enact the instructions), the viewers must have felt their noses being rubbed in both the catalogue’s joking “vitrine” and the exhibition’s real glass case. It is a guess that the instructions helped the viewer to decipher this instance of an “altered-book object” (or, in keeping with its spirit, an altared-book object) that preserves the altered book.
VHF Salvation is a King James Version of the Holy Bible altered with a multitude of ribbon placeholders protruding from its lower edge to provide the “very high frequency” means of “saving one’s place“. In a special issue of Visible Language, Renée Riese Hubert describes the work as an “aggressive antibook” (p. 130). Even though VHF Salvation preserves the book being altered — unlike Beube’s Ashes diptych (above), which alters the book or books beyond recognition — some viewers might nevertheless have felt as uneasy as some viewers of Meg Hitchcock’s more aggressive alterations of the Bible, Koran and Bhavagad Gita.
Freeman, Jane. The Book of Sisters (1978). Watercolor and color marking-pen ink over collage elements including packaging ephemera, postcards, clippings from magazines and books, and photographs; in codex binding with cloth-covered boards and fore-edge ties; 23 leaves. Unsigned. 5 9/16” x 8 7/8” x 1 9/16”.
The Book of Sisters (1978) Jane Freeman Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
As with Forget’s work, images of Freeman’s early works are hard to find. The description of the 23 leaves as a collage of packaging ephemera, postcards, magazine and book clippings and photographs — all covered by watercolour and colour-marking pen ink — serves well to capture Freeman’s approach in these additional images of another work — A Freelance Life (1988).
A Freelance Life (1988) Jane Freeman 9” x 6 1/2“ Photos: Courtesy of the artist.
____________. Worse Verse (1983). Found printed codex [poetry] altered with watercolor, color marking pen, and collage elements including string, postage stamps, and clippings from magazines and books; in codex binding in publisher’s cloth altered with paint; 12 leaves. Signed. 8 13/16” x 5 3/8” x 9/16”. [No image of the work found]
The New York Center for Book Arts shows four images of another work by Freeman — New, Improved (1985) — which is an altered Sotheby Parke-Bernet Inc. fine art auction catalogue. The artist has provided images of a similar work — Highly Important Paintings (1985) — shown below. With their heavily overpainted layers of acrylic and gouache obscuring and/or revealing parts of the underlying work and text and with tipped-in images and found bits of ephemera, these two works likely give an impression comparable to Worse Verse.
Highly Important Paintings (1985) Jane Freeman Auction house catalogue, each page collaged and painted. 10 1/4” x 8” closed. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
As mentioned in the entry for Robert Allen, the technique of painted-over pages has been widespread. So has the technique of painting over book and magazine pages and selectively allowing text to show through. Tom Phillips’ A Humument is perhaps the best known of the type that creates a new novel, a type not represented in the Chicago exhibition. The type that comments on the underlying form and content is well represented by Broaddus and Freeman.
Hartmann, Werner. Krankengeschichten (1979). White pencil over slate; assembled in cloth sleeves in codex format in cloth wrapper with ties; 10 slates. Signed. 11 5/16” x 7 7/8” x 2 1/4”.
In the catalogue, two images show Krankengeschichten (“Medical Records”) closed and open. Closed, it is a codex shape made up of page-size cloth sleeves; two cloth ties hold it closed like a hospital gown. Open, it displays one of ten dark slates removed from its sleeve and showing white-pencilled text and an image (a cross section? an X-ray?). Hartmann worked with images on slate in at least two other instances, but nothing as book-like as Krankengeschichten.
Haynes,Ric.Early Fish (1984). Paint, ink, and rubber stamping over layered papers in combination with decorative and marbled papers; in accordion-fold binding with rubber stamping and marbled-paper decorated slip case; 8 panels. Signed. 9 5/16” x 20 1/4” x 4 1/2”. [No image of the work found]
The description of Haynes’ entry conjures a work very different from his other work self-published under his Joke Bone Press imprint. With no image of Early Fish readily discoverable, Haynes’ Aquatic Yoga with Dangerous Foods (1984) may serve as an alternative with which to imagine what Early Fish depicts and to have a sense of Haynes’ sense of humor as well as to remind us of humor’s presence throughout The Book Made Art.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.
Aquatic Yoga subjects a number of targets to parody — including the New Age as well as the artist’s book as democratic multiple. His anecdote recounted in The Sun (March 1984) captures this:
Ric says that when he first published the book, “I took it to a ‘New Age’ bookstore and was thrown out for being insulting to the Art and Life of Yoga. However, I know that Yoga people, like the rest of us, get off on a nice chocolate mint-chocolate chip ice cream sundae with kaluha syrup on top and a shot or two of creme de cacao on the side once in a while. Maybe at least they dream of it. I am sure.” — The Sun (March 1984).
Along with her partner Dieter Froese (d.2006), Hines pioneered video installation art and co-founded Dekart Video. Both were part of the Fluxus movement. Displayed in the same space as Jana Kluge’s Untitled (see below), this loop of film altered with ink and mounted as a Möbius strip would certainly have contributed to the exhibition’s startle factor. The video behind the link shows the work more clearly and includes its reading by the performance artist Arleen Schloss. What a boon to book art exhibitions if each work displayed under glass were accompanied by similar videos.
Hines writes that the inspiration for The Endless Filmscript was twofold:
It was based on 2 concepts. One I wanted to correlate individual film frames with alphabet letters. And two, I was interested in the Möbius loop concept where the last sentence of a story leads back to the first. — Correspondence with Books On Books, 31 March 2020.
The Möbius strip is not uncommon in book art. Two outstanding examples are Daniel E. Kelm‘s Neo Emblemata Nova (2005) and Doug Beube’s Red Infinity #4 (2014). But combining the use of film with the allocation of one letter per film frame is one of the more uncommon challenges in book art to the page as a syntactic unit.
Hocks, Paula.No Caryatids(1982). Multiple: one of two. Black-and-white and color photocopy reproductions of collages; in codex binding with publisher’s cloth with inner and outer cloth wrappers; 115 leaves. Unsigned. 9 1/16” x 10 11/16” x 1 9/16”. [No image of the work found]
Founder of Running Women Press, Hocks (d.2003) relied on a photocopier to reproduce imagery and text that was hand written, typed, or clipped from printed material. This seems to have been more of financial necessity than allegiance to the ”democratic multiple”. Images of her other works can be found here. The Otis College of Art and Design has images of four of her works, including Head and Bodies 2, which illustrate the likely techniques of No Caryatids. The Paula Hocks archive resides at the New Mexico Museum of Art Library.
Horton, David.In Celebration of the Discovery of the Abandoned Star Factory(1982). Multiple: one of thirty. Paper maché and electric motor in commercial salesman’s samples case; with cloth pouch containing: David Horton. In Celebration of the Discovery of the Abandoned Star Factory. Atlanta, Georgia. Nexus Press, 1982 [halftone illustrations and text printed lithographically with serigraphed designs over paper and string collages, and silver print (photograph); in codex binding in publisher’s cloth; 12 leaves]. Construction: unsigned. 11 15/16” x 15 1/8” x 5 11/16”. Codex: signed. 9 15/16” x 8 11/16” x 1”. [No image of the work found]
As noted in Ric Haynes’ entry, Horton can be associated with the comic or cartoon book tradition in book art. Although In Celebration does not fall into that category, it predicts Horton’s fictional character “Dr. Thelonious Tinker, Cosmic Archeologist”. According to Horton’s entry at William Paterson University, “In addition to making artifacts, appliances and notebook pages, he is currently drafting writings and drawings for a series of graphic novels on this character’s life and adventures“. This work by Horton with its commercial salesman’s sample case reflects the Duchampian “boîte-en-valise” tradition in book art, and its introduction of moving parts and motors reflects another sub-genre in the field. See Regan Avery’s The Groton Avery Clan (2014) or Doug Beube’s Dis/Solve(2018).
Kluge, Jana.[Untitled] (1984). Found printed codex [Spanish/English dictionary] altered with seawater borne vegetable and mineral matter. Signed. 4 9/16” x 5 7/8” x 1 11/16”.
The description above matches that for her work entitled se(e)a book (1984) displayed by Galerie Horst Dietrich in Berlin in 1987 as well as that for the description of the work entitled Book Written by the Sea, Cadaqués, Spain (1984) listed and shown in Odd Volumes: Book Art from the Allan Chasanoff Collection (2014). In correspondence with Books On Books, Kluge writes that the work was one of a series created over the summers of 1983-85 in Cadaqués, Spain. The technique or tradition in book art of creating a work by exposing it to the elements runs back to Marcel Duchamp’s Le Readymade Malheureux (1919) and forward to Mark Cockram’s Kintsugi (2013) and Decomp (2013) by Stephen Collis and Jordan Scott.
se(e)a book (1984) Spanish/English dictionary, covered under water with seaweed and seashells, being formed by movements of the sea, dried in the wind and by the sun); 23 x 18 x 7 cm. Photographer: Horst Dietrich. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
Photo of page from Odd Volumes: Book Art from the Allan Chasanoff Collection (2014) Photo: Books On Books
From the late 80s though, Kluge felt another force impinging on the book form, and her work moved from collaboration with the elements to the communal and expanded into the digital. Her collaboration Gutenberg‘s Galaxy (2014) represents Marshall McLuhan’s themes of alphabetization, print culture and electronic medias altered by a “village” of artists employing audiovisual fantasies, video-works, digital art on paper and twelve electro-acoustical compositions.
Image: Courtesy of the artist
Kostiuk, Michael. Airplane Shadow Book (1981/82). Found codex, plastic airplane model, wood, and photolithography-offset reproduction altered with paint. Signed. 7 7/16” x 16 1/16” x 16 1/16”.
The found codex is apparently penetrated by a diving plastic model airplane (cut in two and attached to the back and front covers). From the Franklin Furnace “New Zealand Tour” of artists’ books, Kostiuk’s comments on his approach shed some light on Airplane Shadow Book, and images on his FaceBook page use an approach similar to that in Airplane Shadow Book.
I use the book format to involve the viewer personally and tactually [sic] by elements of surprise within the motion of opening and viewing the pop-up books and the physical or visual three-dimensionality of various works. Sometimes clear vinyl is used for pages, instead of paper, and are loose-leaf/ring bound, giving the viewer an option of hand viewing or, by attaching each grommeted page with push pins to a wall, linear viewing.
I use various artistic experiences to create an imagery that is both clearly stated and contradictory. The concepts are seen as paired imagery, visible speech narratives, and three-dimensional pop-ups, incorporated in various media of drawing, painting, and sculpture on photographic surfaces to create a personal style.
Kostiuk’s book penetration is quite distinct from those of, say, John Latham and Doug Beube. The Michael Kostiuk Collection is held at the University of Texas at Austin, but no online images are currently available there, and Airplane Shadow Book seems not to be part of the collection. Images of Kostiuk’s photography can be found in the Dallas Museum of Art.and archival material resides with New York’s MoMA.
Lavater, Warja.Jeu : livre en “papier modulé” (1980). Multiple: One of twenty-two. Cast paper, some color-dyed; in codex gathering but not sewn; in drop-spine book box with publisher’s cloth covering; 10 leaves. Signed. 18 1/2” x 11 11/16” x 1 7/16”. [No image of the work found]
Lazaron, Edna (d.2007). Terror (1985). Multiple: One of four. Black-and-white and color photocopies of collages over paper and transparent polyester, altered with ink, paint, and color photographs; in codex binding with foil over heavy paper front board altered with paint and string, and colored plastic back board, with electrical coil cord, string, and field clasp tie; in matte plastic draw-string bag; 6 leaves. Unsigned. 9” x 12 1/4” x 1 7/8”.
The catalogue shows two images of this work: closed and open. A related work — Terrorism (1985) — resides in New York’s Center for Book Arts and is shown in the catalogue Multiple, Limited, Unique (2011), p.88. The Joan Flasch Artists’ Books Collection holds two other works — Souvenir vignette/Yucatán (1982) and Markings (1985) — that suggest a penchant on Lazaron’s part for soft containers for her bookworks, further confirmed by the plastic sleeve enveloping Worth the Wait?, four images of which can be seen in the Artists’ Book Collection, University of Louisville Margaret M. Bridwell Art Library.
Worth the Wait? (197?) Edna Lazaron Unbound artists’ book folded to 11 x 11 cm with illustrations; 22 x 22 cm unfolded. Artists’ Book Collection, University of Louisville Margaret M. Bridwell Art Library.
Löhr, Helmut(d.2010). Blablabla (1985). Found codex wrapped in layered and rubber stamped colored tissue papers. Signed. 11 5/16” x 7 13/16” x 3 1/4”. [No image of the work found]
The many instances of Löhr’s works in the National Art Library at the Victoria & Albert Museum are nothing like that described in The Book Made Art. In Visual Poetry (1987), below, Löhr distorts blocks of type and the type within the blocks and presents them in irregular pentagrams. The text may be found text, but the production value is unlike that in most found codex works.
Visual Poetry (1987) Helmut Löhr Artist’s book, featuring typewriter art printed on double leaves cut in the shape of an irregular pentagram. Photos: Books On Books at National Art Library, Victoria & Albert Museum.
Mud Hand Prints was published by an early champion of Long, Coracle Press, which is also represented in The Book Made Art by Erica Van Horn (below). The incorporation of raw natural material in book art has a long tradition and ongoing
Masullo, Andrew.Pandora (1985). Twenty tablets wrapped in letterpress- and photolithography-offset-printed papers; in hinged box with glass-covered compartments containing dried flowers, a photograph, and found papers; box covered with found and painted papers. Unsigned. 2 5/16” x 6 5/8” x 4 5/8”.
Masullo retains the work, and the only view of it is that in the catalogue. Like Beube’s entry in The Book Made Art, the description of Masullo’s will remind the viewer of Joseph Cornell’s boxes. According to Masullo, the work’s full title is 1029; Pandora. His subsequent works (mostly paintings in vibrant colours and numbered sequentially), the titles are simply the number reflecting the order in which they were created. According to most articles about Masullo, the numbers reflect his aim “to prevent the viewer from being unduly influenced by words“. More than that, as Masullo writes: “using words to explain my visual life is something I do my best to avoid“ (correspondence with Books On Books, 17 February 2020).
So if the work had been named only 1029, how might the viewer in 1986 have responded to this hinged box, closed with a “P”-shaped clasp and containing dried flowers in their glass-covered compartments, images of classical busts and the Sphinx, medical drawings of the human organs, a globe and twenty tablets wrapped in paper and embedded in the upper half of the box? From that clasp, might the viewer have sussed that it was “Pandora’s” box? Would the viewer have known what had been irretrievably released by opening the box? Hard to say: like Pandora, the viewer/reader today cannot un-know what is known when responding to this work of art. The conundrum does, however, focus attention on the role of words and text in book art.
McCarney, Scott.Home Sweet Home(1985). Multiple: One of four. Paper in accordion-fold binding with decorative and marbled paper-covered Boards; with paper-covered slip case. Signed. 11 5/8” x 9 1/12” x 1 3/4”.
Home Sweet Home (1985) Scott McCarney Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
The role of words and text in Scott McCarney’s art runs long and deep. McCarney’s use of the pop-up and leporello forms is most often seen in his abecedaries, a common genre in book art that is surprisingly not represented in The Book Made Art. As Spector might put it, in Home Sweet Home, McCarney is a master of the syntax of the book. Using the leporello and pop-up structures, the forms of letters and their placement on the spread page, he creates a striking effect of simultaneity.
Miller, Brenda. The Aleph (1985). Pastel over stencil pattern-cut decorative paper [correction per correspondence with artist, 8 May 2020: “Blue editing pencil on hand made paper from sisal, cut from alphabet stencil“]; in codex binding with leather over boards and gold foil title stamping by Gérard Charrière; 31 leaves. Signed. 16 13/16” x 15 1/16” x 1 5/8”.
Miller’s other alphabet-related works differ from The Aleph in their size and in this work’s more literary inspiration (the Borges story, according to Miller in correspondence with Books On Books, 21 March 2020). This “blue editing pencil on hand made paper from sisal, cut from alphabet stencil“ and Miller’s Horizontal alphabet (26) south-east in the Harry Ransom Center Book Collection, University of Texas Austin, share Gérard Charrière as binder. Clearly from the title of the latter, it is closer to the spirit of the installations under the titles Vertical Alphabet and Horizontal Alphabet, which can be seen on the New York MoMA site. An interview with Barbara Haskell on the occasion of an exhibition at the Whitney explains Miller’s conceptual and systematic creative technique.
Osborn, Kevin.Vector Rev (1983). Multiple: One of one hundred. Color offset lithography over decorative die-cut papers with glass marbles; in fan-shape binding (hinged near base); with brushed aluminum outer covers and cloth ribbon tie with aluminum clasp; 140 leaves. Unsigned. 19 3/16” x 2 1/16” x 1 7/8”.
Like Kay Hines’ The Endless Filmscript and many other works displayed in The Book Made Art, Osborn’s Vector Rev challenges to the very structure of the book. But this challenge is rooted in the book’s historical structure. Books shaped like fans are an Asian and Indian tradition, dating back to manuscript sutras.
Photos: Left – “Pattra”, Cangminzho • CC BY-SA 4.0; Right – “Palm leaf manuscripts of 16th century in Odia script”, Manoj Choudhury • CC BY-SA 3.0.
Phillips, Nicholas. Egyptian Hours (1980). Multiple: One of ninety. Color intaglio over paper altered with cutting, watercolors, thread, and graphite pencil; unbound in paperback edition leather folding case; 8 panels. Signed. 6 7/16” x 6 7/16” x 1 3/4”
Egyptian Hours falls somewhere between book and portfolio box. Somewhat like photos and captions in a photobook, text and relief images play off one another, but mediated by glyphs in the “table of contents”, the named hours are distant from the images associated with them. If the table of contents were held apart, the distance would shorten, but the images are so evocative, there is more pleasure in guessing the nature of the hour that the image represents: the image of a window lattice through which to watch, an image of a tile fragment or the image of archivally numbered shards.
Egyptian Hours (1980) Nicholas Phillips Photos: Books On Books at the National Art Library, Victoria & Albert Museum.
____________. Tales of the Floating World (1983). Multiple: One of forty-five. Color intaglio over paper; unbound with two protective boards in publisher’s cloth and paper-covered telescoping box; 9 leaves. Signed. 10 1/4” x 10 3/16” x 1 1/16”.
Photos: Courtesy of the artist.
A sequence of images where the viewer floats away from the earth and its orbit to the far reaches of the universe. Starting with a view of the pyramids at Kareima (from drawings I’d done from high up on the Gebel Berkal), thence a low earth orbit view of cloud formations over the ocean, and so on past the moon to be amongst the exploding galaxies. The images increase in size as we travel: from the single squares at the start to the doubles for space walk and moon to the final image where the view opens out across 3 side-by-side sheets. The colophon text, a quote from a 17th cent Buddhist priest [Tales of the floating world, by Asai Ryoi] says it all. — Nicholas Phillips
The words of Asai Ryoi, partially hidden in the first row’s center image, are
Living only for the moment, turning our full attention to the pleasures of the moon, the snow, the cherry blossoms, and the maple leaves; singing songs, drinking wine, diverting ourselves in just floating, floating …Tales of the Floating World (Columbus, OH: Ohio State University, 1984).
Polansky, Lois.Anatomical Digressions (1985). Gold ink, graphite pencil, charcoal, printing ink, watercolor, paint, and dry transfer and self-adhesive lettering over cast and machine-made papers; in accordion-fold binding; 12 panels. Signed. 15 3/8” x 11 1/2” x 3 3/4”. [No image of the work found]
U&LC, February 1985, Vol 11, No 4 contains “The Metamorphosis of a Book”, an essay on Polansky’s bookworks. A small thumbnail appears on the “Art in Embassies” site, and two loose album pages have been offered for sale by RoGallery (see below).
The Heart Leves (n.d.) Lois Polansky From “Lois Polansky”, Art in Embassies, U.S. Department of State, accessed 3 February 2020.
Album Pages IX & X (n.d.) Lois Polansky From RoGallery, accessed 5 February 2020.
Robinson, Aminah Brenda Lynn.Sapelo Hog Hammock Community (1984). Cloths, buttons, and embroidery yarns; in accordion-fold binding; 3 panels. Signed. 24” x 16 5/8” x 2 3/4”.
A halftone image of the bookwork is included in the catalogue, so the full glory of the work has to be appreciated by a look at its quilt work companion. The quilt work shown below surpasses the book work in size, but both thrust a vibrant narrative grounded in the African concept of Sankofa, “learning from the past in order to move forward“. Both works draw on her extended visits to Sapelo Island, Georgia, USA. [Image of the book art from Artnet]
Senser, Andreas.I remember Italy (1985). Paint, graphite pencil, and ink over layered papers, found illustrations and text, photographs, and clear polyester; in accordion-fold binding; 11 panels. Unsigned. 13 3/16” x 10 3/16” x 15/16”. [No image of the work found]
Images of thirteen works by Senser can be viewed at Visual AIDS. The one below is the only accordion-fold among them.
Share, Susan Joy.The Bell Show (1982). Game board and game board pieces, black-and-white and color photocopies of packing ephemera, found illustrations, and text, altered with watercolor, paint, and rubber stamping; mounted on painted publishers’ cloth-wrapped panels; in end-to-end gate-fold binding with brass snap-buttons on buckram band closure; 4 panels. Signed. 14 7/8” x 14 5/8” x 1 9/16”.
The Bell Show (1982) Susan Joy Share Photos: Courtesy of the artist.
Another example of Share’s “architectural” flair in making art of the book’s form, Vivian’s Photos (below) from the same period combines discarded photos of buildings and sidewalks with painted papers to create changing atmospheres and architectural formats. This work did not appear in The Book Made Art but did show up in Book Ar(t)chitecture, curated by Richard Minsky the year before.
Vivian’s Photos (1984) Susan Joy Share Cloth, board, photo, paper, acrylic, cord. The eight signatures are made from board-weight collaged panels, laminated to linen hinges. The signatures are oversewn onto a single common cord, creating a clothesline-like appearance. A collage folding-box contains the piece. 7” x 6.25” x 2.5” opening to 6.25” x 13″” x 30”. Photos: Hiro Ihara. Courtesy of the artist.
Shaw, Karen.Petit Larousse: Various Editions (1980). Found materials including twelve miniature blank books, pins, metal title plate, glass-lidded box, cotton, and small labels altered with dry-transfer lettering. Signed. 12 3/16” x 16 1/4” x 2 1/2”.
The catalogue provides a halftone image, but the zoomable, online images at the Yale Art Gallery, where the work is part of the Allan Chasanoff Collection, provides some of the color’s impact. Shaw’s bookworks have a great sense of humor, as does the best of book art. These images of another of her dictionary-related works demonstrate that humor well.
Entomological–Etymological Specimens Karen Shaw From a series of nine. Open: 14” x 22”. When these works were displayed, they were only partially open and mounted on the wall to resemble the shape of butterflies. Photos: Courtesy of the artist.
Siberell, Anne Hicks. Wotan (1984). Colored and cast plasters imbedded with found objects including photographic slide mount altered with paint, packaging labels, and ruler fragment; with wood box and cover and elastic band closure containing ink on vellum manuscript poem. Unsigned. 8” x 5 15/16” x 1 3/8”.
Wotan (1984) Anne Hicks Siberell Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
Unboxed: Wotan (1984) Anne Hicks Siberell Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
Clockwise from top left: Goddess Doormat (), Archaeology (), Three Blind Mice (), He Said She Said () and Pisa (). Anne Hicks Siberell. Photos: Courtesy of the artist.
Skuber, Berty.A Different Game (1977). Ink, graphite pencil, and watercolor over paper in combination with black-and-white photocopies, black-and-white photographs, color photographs, and postage stamp; unbound in publishers’ cloth drop-spine book box; 16 leaves. Signed. 9 1/16” x 6 3/4” x 15/16”.
Last two pages of the bottom row from A Different Game (1977) Berty Skuber Photos: Courtesy of the artist.
This work has “long, strong legs”. It appeared as recently as 7 March – 7 June 2019 in the exhibition called Anatomia del linguaggio at the Galleria dell’Accademia di Belle Arti in Macerata, Italy. In requesting that the work be framed in two rows, one above the other, each eight pages long, and shown on a wall, or displayed in a vitrine, Skuber makes clear that she does not think of A Different Game as exclusively a book. In correspondence, she also notes, “This was the form most typical of my work at that time, most of which, like this piece, made use of photographs, India ink, watercolor, and elements of collage.“ In 2002, Henry Martin wrote an insightful piece in NY Arts Magazine about Skuber’s work then. Skuber’s work will be shown in New Orleans in 2020, and for that show she writes: “Words are an essential part of [my work], and another of its features is a constant return to grids and grid-like stuctures that also have something to do with a sense of the scansion of time. This is particularly clear, moreover, in my animated video collages, all of which are visible on my website, and three of which I’d especially call to your attention: Widdershins, parts 1 & 2 (2015-2016); Epicycles/eclipse (2013); and Sieben Farbraeume, for which the best English title might be “Seven Spaces, Seven Colors” (1996).
Smith, Keith A.Book 91 (1982). Multiple: One of fifty. Die-cut and embossed paper with string; in quarter publishers’ cloth and paper-sides binding; 24 leaves. Signed. 10 3/16” x 14 3/8” x 1 1/8”.
Phil Zimmerman published Book 91 under Spaceheater Editions 1984 and released the video above in 2013. Another example of how an accompanying video can somewhat counter the glass case. Also known as the ”String Book”, Book 91 boasts images at the Boston Athenaeum] and the Jaffe Center for Book Arts, which has an excellent descriptive essay by Judith Klau.
Spector, Buzz.Altered Lewitt (1985). Multiple: One of five. Found printed book [Sol Lewitt. (untitled. n.p.:) Sperone/Fisher, 1974. Edition: one of fifteen hundred.] altered by tearing and mounting text block in open position. Signed. 17 11/16” x 8 7/8” x 7/8”.
Photo: Courtesy of the artist. Taken during preparation for June 2020 exhibition at Saint Louis Art Museum.
Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
At the 1’55” mark, this video provides a view of Spector’s handling a similar work (a Jasper Johns catalogue). The technique of altering another book artist’s work or another artist’s catalogue of works is a recurrent practice among artists. Bruce Nauman’s 1968 Burning Small Fires plays with Ed Ruscha’s 1964 Various Small Fires and Milk, and Dennis Oppenheim’s 1970 Flower Arrangement for Bruce Nauman returns the favour. Noriko Ambe has come closest to Spector’s variation; she has altered catalogues of Koons, Lichtenstein, Richter, Warhol and several others.
Terauchi, Yoko.Terra (1984). Multiple: One of ten. Powdered pigment and paper; in codex binding with cloth ribbon fore-edge ties. Unsigned [correction per artist’s correspondence: “the title Terra on the first page is handwritten by myself and it is my ‘signature’ for all my art works”]. 14 5/8” x 10 15/16” x 5/8”.
Terra was the first of several works that Terauchi published with Coracle.
Toparovsky, Simon. Companions in Spirit (1985). Sequins, wire, thread, and cloth over synthetic mesh in silk-wrapped mats; in accordion-fold binding with silk over shallow bas-relief covers; with drop-spine book box in silk-wrapped, embossed, and shallow bas-relief outer covers; 6 panels. Unsigned. 19 1/8” x 15 3/4” x 2 3/8”. [No image of the work found]
Bruce Schnabel taught bookbinding at the Otis College of Design. Around 1990, he abandoned book art and began sculptural work under the name Simon Toparovsky. Toparovsky writes, “I believe ‘Companions in Spirit’ is in Special Collections at the University of Southern California… The most similar book about which I have a record is in the Getty Research Institute– ‘Chaos Should be Regarded as Extremely Good News’.” (correspondence with Books On Books, 24 April 2020). Although a full description of the latter can be found under its link, there is no image there. The artist has been kind enough to provide images of other bookworks from the same period.
Healing Hand (1983) Simon Toparovsky Photos: Courtesy of the artist.
Tikal Codex (1982) Simon Toparovsky Photos: Courtesy of the artist.
The Mind Sees What the Eye Misses (1986) Simon Toparovsky From the artist’s collection: A screen book made of hand-dyed silk, heat tooled with gold and color foils over boards with onlays of hand-dyed silk. Bound with silk insertion stitches and glass seed beads. Edition of 9. Photos: Courtesy of the artist.
Permission of the artist. Additional images can be found in Yale University’s Beinecke Digital Collections.
The work is one sheet constructed of six sheets sewn together and folded accordion style. Displayed unfolded, the work exceeds seventeen feet. Nancy Kuhl’s The Book Remembers Everything (2010) shows images of La Ville aux Dames and places the work in context of Van Horn’s other works of that period.
Vogel, Cornelia.6 Livres (1982). Each book containing a number of collage elements including ink, graphite pencil, paint, and watercolor over paper with string, intaglio prints, color photographic transparencies, and cloth mesh; in accordion-fold bindings with similarly prepared paper covers; 6 leaves each. All signed. With painted compartment box. Unsigned. 3 1/2” x 3 11/16” x 4 15/16”. [No image of the work found]
Wygonik, Melanie (d.2005). Lost Playground (1985). Colored pencil, graphite pencil, ink, and paint over layered and sewn papers in combination with collage elements including fabrics, fabric edgings; embroideries, embroidery threads, buttons, sequins, and charms; in codex binding; 7 leaves. Signed. 22 1/4” x 15 3/16” x 1 3/8”. [No image of the work found]
Images of some of the artist’s two-dimensional works can be easily found, not so for the three-dimensional. From the same decade, Just Desserts (1980) and Shimmering (1983) are representative; unfortunately the images are black and white. The detail from this untitled watercolour can be found here (accessed 25 February 2020).
Detail of untitled watercolor (1977) Melanie Wygonik From eBay, accessed 25 February 2020.
Zelevansky, Paul.The Case for the Burial of Ancestors, Book I (1979-81). Ink, watercolor, graphite and blue graphic layout pencils, rubber stamping, dry-transfer lettering, and typewriter printing over paper in combination with photographs and photolitho-offset reproductions; unbound in solander case with carrying handle; 101 leaves. Signed. [Partial manuscript for: Paul Zelevansky. The Case for the Burial of Ancestors, Book I. New York: Zartscorp, Inc. Books and Visual Studies Workshop, 1981.] 2 15/16” x 15 3/8” x 13 1/2”.
Zush. Portrait of New York City (1976-82). Found blank codex, with fore-edge leather ties, altered with ink, graphite pencil, and watercolor with the addition of found objects including photographs, string, metal scraps, fabric, vegetable matter, map fragment, and postcard. 23 leaves. Signed. 12 15/16” x 10 3/16” x 1 5/16”. [No image of the work found]
The Catalan artist Alberto Porta y Muñoz assumed the name Zush in 1968 and gradually switched to Evru starting in 2001. Portrait of New York City may have looked like the work Untitled (1979-1984) in Colleció “La Caixa”. Another work Uroxos (2000) is one of the last bookworks by Porta under the name Zush. Although Uroxos is an accordion-fold, its appearance alongside those of the accompanying prints and Untitled may stand in here for that of Portrait of New York City.
Credit for the exhibit’s inception goes to Tony Zwicker (1925-2000) a passionate, knowledgeable, courageous, and caring dealer of modern and contemporary artists books. I first met her on a visit to her home/gallery located in a former artist’s studio in the National Arts Club building overlooking Gramercy Park (on 20th Street in New York) around 1983 or 1984. With its nearly two-story tall glass wall facing north over the park, it was a memorable setting. I was visiting her in the company of Robert Rosenthal, Curator (head) of the Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library, where I worked as exhibition coordinator. In addition to that job, I also advised Bob on the acquisition of artists books for the rare book collections; and we were there to learn and perhaps make some purchases. Tony not only knew the history of artists books and kept up to date on the latest developments, she was also discerning, insightful, and generous with her learning. When the idea for doing this show came about in thefollowing year, we did not–originally–intend to rely so heavily on her holdings, but it became inevitable because she was so widely connected and the artists she represented trusted her (nearly all the works in the exhibit were very fragile and had to be prepared for shipment by fine arts packers). Bob, who was nothing if not adventuresome in his approach to book culture, enthusiastically backed my proposal for the exhibition despite its cost and encouraged the University’s Library Society to fund it and publication of the exhibit catalogue.
Tony’s importance at this particular point in the development of contemporary artists books warrants further exploration. Her papers are preserved at the Art Institute of Chicago: Tony Zwicker Archive. — Jeffrey Abt, Professor Emeritus, James Pearson Duffy Department of Art and Art History, Wayne State University, 12 May 2020.
With apologies to the preacher: Of making many books [on books] there is no end.
With the choir of its forebearers, Amaranth Borsuk’s The Book (MIT Press, 2018) sounds an “amen” to that truth. The proliferation of degree programs in book studies covering the history of the book, the book arts and even book art ensures The Book will not be the last. What distinguishes Borsuk’s book are her perspective as an artist and the book’s breadth and depth despite its brevity.
The book has a long history of existential crises. What is a book? Is the end of the book nigh? For more than a century, those questions have returned again and again. The most recent recurrence stems from the ebook’s threat to dematerialize the book and the online world’s threat to take us into a post-text future. Even before these latest threats, book artists have long lived and worked with their own existential questions, a kind of higher existential calculus, or derivative of, the book’s crises: What is an artist’s book? What is book art? Stephen Bury, Riva Castleman, Johanna Drucker, Joan Lyons, Stefan Klima, Clive Philpott and many others in the last quarter of the 20th century dwelt on defining and categorizing book art.
Borsuk belongs to a later generation of book artists that has embraced these existential crises and recognized that the book’s existential crises are what make the book a rich medium in which and with which to create art — from bio-art miniature to the biblioclastic human-scale to large-scale installations and performances. Even to the digital.
Performance artist and academic as well, Borsuk brings that later generational and creative perspective to the existential question — What is the book? — and, with an artist’s perception of her medium of choice, displaces the old companion existential question — Is the end of the book nigh? — with an altogether more interesting one — Where next for the book?
To see where books might be going, we must think of them as objects that have experienced a long history of experimentation and play. Rather than bemoaning the death of books or creating a dichotomy between print and digital media, this guide points to continuities, positioning the book as a changing technology and highlighting the way artists in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have pushed us to rethink and redefine the term. (pp. xiii-xiv)
In The Book, the future is not far from the physical past. Where once we had text on scrolls, now we scroll through text (albeit more vertically than horizontally). Where once human consciousness changed with the invention of the alphabet and writing, now it may be altering with our reading and writing through networked digital devices. Like the many historians before her, Borsuk starts with cuneiform (those wedge-shaped accounting marks on baked clay), hieroglyphics and the invention of the alphabet to set the scene for the advent of the book and its ongoing physicality:
its shape (scroll, accordion, codex)
its material (papyrus, vellum, paper, charcoal or mineral-based watercolor and ink)
its manufacture (scribing, printing by woodblock and movable type, design and typography, illumination and illustration, folding into pages, methods of binding)
its constituent and navigational parts (cover, book block, title page, table of contents, page numbering, index).
But Borsuk reminds us — from Sumer’s clay to Amazon’s Kindle, from Johannes Gutenberg to Project Gutenberg — the book as human artifact exists in a social, political, technological, economic and even ecological context. Who is allowed to make it, how it is transacted, how and where we use it, how we perceive and speak of it — all have affected the physicality of the book object and are reflected in it.
In the first half of The Book, Borsuk steers us through these interdependencies to a turning point. That turning point is where the pinnacle of the book arts — Beatrice Warde‘s and Jan Tschichold‘s vision of the book as a crystalline container of content — and the book’s commodification combine to cause the book’s physicality to disappear because it is so taken for granted, leaving us with “the book as idea”.
With the perception that books are ideas bestowed on readers by an authorial genius whose activity is purely intellectual, the book’s object status vanished for much of the reading public as we raised a glass to happily consume its contents…. Even though innumerable material elements come together to make the book, these features have been naturalized to such a degree that we now hardly notice them, since we have come to see content as the copyrightable, consumable, marketable aspect of the work. (pp. 106-9)
At this turning point — where “the historic relationship between materiality and text is severed” (p. 112) — the second half of The Book introduces book art. It is telling that the longest chapter in the book begins the second half, that it is called “The Book as Idea” and that it comes before any extended engagement with the digital dematerialization of the book. It is a wry pivot: the artistic genius supplants the authorial genius; what the latter takes as invisible background, the former re-makes as self-regarding foreground. As Borsuk shows and her book’s cover neatly demonstrates, works of book art are inevitably self-referential and self-aware.
As such, works of book art
have much to teach us about the changing nature of the book, in part because they highlight the “idea” by paradoxically drawing attention to the “object” we have come to take for granted. They disrupt our treatment of the book as a transparent container for literary and aesthetic “content” and engage its material form in the work’s meaning. (p. 113)
Rather than offer a chronological history of book art to explore what “artists’ books have to teach us about a path forward for the book”, Borsuk offers “flashpoints” that represent “the energies motivating artwork in book form”(p. 117). These “flashpoints” are William Blake, Stéphane Mallarmé, Ed Ruscha and Ulises Carrión. Following these flashpoints, Borsuk organizes the rest of the chapter into “key themes that recur throughout artists’ books of the twentieth century: spatiotemporal play, animation, recombinant structures, ephemerality, silence, and interactivity” (pp. 146-47).
Oddly, Blake as flashpoint does not illuminate these six particular themes. Rather Borsuk notes three other recurrent themes or “energies motivating artwork in book form” that Blake and his work represent: centering or re-centering the production processes on the author/artist; using the book as a sociopolitical and visionary platform; and redefining, developing and challenging the relationship between word and image.
Blake refers to himself as “The Author & Printer W. Blake,” making clear the union of creativity and craft in his work. (p. 121)
Blake’s engagement with the social issues of his day, and his use of book form to respond to child labor, urban squalor, and slavery, established an important trend in both artists’ books and independent publishing—the utility of the book as a means of spreading social justice. (pp. 121, 124)
Blake used his craftsmanship to develop the relationship between word and image (p. 140)
One need not look far among twentieth and twenty-first century book artists for resonance with those themes. That Blakean union of creativity and craft resurfaces in artists such as Ken Campbell (UK), Cathryn Miller (Canada), Pien Rotterdam (Netherlands), Barb Tetenbaum (US) and Xu Bing (China) — some of them even to the point of carving or setting their own type, making their own paper, pulp printing on it themselves or binding the finished work themselves. Vision and sociopolitical observation have risen up in the works of artists such as Doug Beube (Canada), Julie K. Dodd (UK), Basia Irland (US), Diane Jacobs (US), Anselm Kiefer (Germany) and Chris Ruston (UK). Blake’s redefining the relationship of word (or text) to image often reappears in book artists’ abcedaries and their children’s books such as A Dictionary Storyby Sam Winston (UK). As for emulators of Blake in technical innovation, consider the analogue example of Australian Tim Mosely’s works created with his patented pulp printing process, where the “ink” is actually colored pulp, or the digital example of Borsuk’s work Between Page and Screen, where the pages contain no text—only QR codes that, when scanned with a webcam, activate the text’s appearance on the reader’s browser screen.
For her second flashpoint, Borsuk selects another visionary, Stéphane Mallarmé, who like Blake was reacting to his own perceived Satanic mills draining poetry of its spirituality. Mallarmé’s Satanic mills dispensed rigid columns of newsprint to the masses and bland expanses of poetry and fiction set by Linotype machines in the neo-classical Didot font. With his famous visionary dictum — “everything in the world exists in order to end up as a book” (p. 135) — Mallarmé nudged the book toward pure concept and opened its mystical covers to the Dadaists, Surrealists, Futurists, Vorticists, Lettrists, Conceptualists and biblioclasts. With spatiotemporal play — mixing type sizes and fonts, breaking up the line and even breaking the page — Mallarmé used text to evoke image and, in his view, remake the book as a “spiritual instrument”. His post-humous book-length poem Un coup de Dés jamais n’abolira le Hasard (A Throw of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance), published in 1897, embodies that vision and continues to cast its flashpoint light across multiple generations of book artists’ efforts. From Marcel Broodthaers in 1969, we have his homage to Un Coup de Dés. From Jérémie Bennequin in 2014, we have his serial “omage” to Broodthaers’ homage. And, most recently, we have the 2015 new bilingual edition A Roll of the Dice by Jeff Clark and Robert Bononno, for which Borsuk provides a perceptive reading.
Where Mallarmé’s flashpoint enlisted his vision alongside the cry “épater le bourgeois” from Baudelaire and other late nineteenth-century poets, Ed Ruscha’s later flashpoint illuminates a democratic counterpoint, a Zen-like vision and a very different way of changing the relationship of text to image. Ruscha’s self-published photobooks were cheap and distributed outside the gallery-controlled channels of art. As Borsuk shows — directly with Ruscha and indirectly with the many book artists influenced by him — the text is restricted to the book’s title, which interacts with a series of deadpan photos and their layout to deliver a wry, tongue-in-cheek work of book art. Ruscha’s spatiotemporal play manifests itself across the accordion book format and out-of-sequence juxtapositions. Ironically Ruscha’s works now command thousands of dollars per copy, and one has more chance of seeing them in an exhibition than in a roadside stop’s rack of newspapers, magazines and mass-market paperbacks.
Mexico’s Ulises Carrión — polemicist, European bookshop owner, conceptual artist and Borsuk’s fourth choice of flashpoints — is a counter-flashpoint to Ruscha. Where Ruscha reveled in self-publishing commodification, Carrión sneered at the book in its traditional commercial form. Where Ruscha has resisted the label “conceptual artist”, Carrión played the role to the hilt. Where Ruscha’s work has elicited numerous homages (see Various Small Books from MIT Press in 2013) and achieved a high profile, Carrión’s work, much lower in profile, has provided a more compelling range of hooks or influences on which to hang many different manifestations of book art (or bookworks as Carrión preferred). In fact, Borsuk’s six stated key themes or “energies motivating artwork in book form” come from Carrión’s manifestos (pp. 146-47).
The first theme — “spatiotemporal play” — comes from Carrión’s initial definition of the book as a “sequence of spaces”, which Borsuk traces to tunnel books, pop-ups and even large-scale constructs, the latter illustrated by American Alison Knowles‘ inhabitable The Big Book (1968). One more possible future of the book implied by spatiotemporal play manifests itself in Borsuk’s own augmented-reality (AR) works, those of Caitlin Fisher (Canada) and Carla Gannis’ Selfie Drawings (2016), in which portraits on the hardcover book’s pages animate and change when viewed through smartphone or tablet.
Borsuk takes the second theme, that of “animation”, from Carrión’s dictum: “Each of these spaces is perceived at a different moment— a book is also a sequence of moments”. As her several examples illustrate, much book art is cinematic. Borsuk’s exposition of Canadian Michael Snow‘s Cover to Cover (1975) comes closest to reproducing the experience I enjoyed of “watching” that photo bookwork from cover to cover several times at the now closed Corcoran Art Gallery. Borsuk is quick and right to remind that the cinematic future of the book has been with us for a long time, even before the cinema. She bookends her exposition of Snow’s book and and the text animation of American Emmett Williams‘ Sweethearts (1967) on one side with Victorian flip-books and on the other with American Bob Brown‘s 1930s TheReadies (presumably pronounced “reedies” to follow Brown’s comparison of his scrolling one-line texts with the cinema’s “talkies”).
A forgotten modernist, Brown declared the obsolescence of the book, predicted a new form of reading and technology to enable it, an optical projector emitting text into the ether and directly into the eyeball. But what does this tell us about the future of the book? Borsuk notes Craig Saper‘s resurrection of Brown’s Roving Eye Press and how he even put together a website that emulates Brown’s reading machine. In her phrase describing the machine’s effect of “turning readers themselves into a kind of machine for making meaning” (p. 168), Borsuk hints at a future of digitally interactive books, which she takes up in the next section and more extensively in the next chapter. At this point, however, the reader could use a hint of practicality and skepticism. Linear-one-word-at-a-time reading, however accelerated, eliminates affordances of the page, ignores graphics and strains against the combination of peripheral vision and rapid eye movement we unconsciously (even atavistically?) deploy as we “read” whatever we see. Although in the next section Borsuk does bring on more likely examples of the book’s future exploitation of its cinematic affordances (manga, graphic novels and children’s books), this section’s treatment of animation misses the chance to cite actual recent successes like Moonbot Studios‘ The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (2012) and others.
Once into the third theme — “recombinant structure” — it is clear that Borsuk’s chosen Carriónesque themes overlap one another. Like the cinematic, the recombinant structure manifests itself in accordion books. It extends, however, to something more interactive: volvelles (or medieval apps as Erik Kwakkel calls them), interactive pop-ups, harlequinades (flap books) and more. Borsuk uses Raymond Queneau‘s harlequinade Cent mille milliards de poèmes ( One hundred thousand billion poems, 1961), Dieter Roth‘s slot books and works by Carolee Schneemann to illustrate book art’s celebration of the concept. The fact that Queneau’s book is still easily available on Amazon vouches for book art’s predictive qualities. The example of Marc Saporta’s Composition No. 1 (Éditions du Seuil, 1962), “a box of 150 leaves printed on only one side that the reader is instructed to shuffle at the outset”, goes Queneau one better —ironically. In 2011, Visual Editions reissued Composition No. 1 in print and app forms. Alas, the former is out of print, and the latter is no longer available for download.
Borsuk draws her fourth theme — ephemerality — from Carrión’s dictum:
I firmly believe that every book that now exists will eventually disappear. And I see here no reason for lamentation. Like any other living organism, books will grow, multiply, change color, and, eventually, die. At the moment, bookworks represent the final phase of this irrevocable process. Libraries, museums, archives are the perfect cemeteries for books. (p. 145)
To illustrate, Borsuk begins with the physical biblioclasts — those who in Doug Beube‘s phrase are “breaking the codex“. They include Beube himself, Bruce Nauman (see above), Brian Dettmer, Cai Guo-Qiang, Marcel Duchamp, Dieter Roth and Xu Bing. While some of these artists reflect a twenty-first century surge of interest in altered books and book sculpture, “facilitated by the overarching notion that the book is an artifact not long for this world” (pp.82-84), others have taken a more generative archaeological approach — erasing or cutting away a book’s words to reveal another. Examples include Tom Phillips‘ A Humument (1966-2014) and Jonathan Safran Foer‘s Tree of Codes(2010). Phillips’ bookwork serves multiple purposes for Borsuk’s arguments. Not only does it represent the book art of “erasure”, its success across multiple editions, digital formats and presence in art galleries supports her notion of book art’s predictive qualities.
There is a variant on her theme that Borsuk does not illustrate and is worth consideration for her next edition: the self-destructing yet regenerative work of book art. Examples could include American Basia Irland‘s series ICE BOOKS: Ice receding/Books reseeding (2007-), which gives a formidably tangible and new meaning to “publishing as dissemination”; and Canadian Cathryn Miller‘s tail-chasing Recomp (2014); and Argentinian Pequeño Editor‘sMi Papa Estuvo en la Selva (2015), which after reading can be planted to grow into a jacaranda tree.
The last section in this chapter expands on the fifth theme — silence — drawn from Carrión’s statement:
The most beautiful and perfect book in the world is a book with only blank pages, in the same way that the most complete language is that which lies beyond all that the words of a man can say. Every book of the new art is searching after that book of absolute whiteness in the same way that every poem searches for silence. Ulises Carrión, Second Thoughts (1980), pp. 15-16.
Among her several examples are Pamela Paulsrud‘s Touchstones (2007-10), which look like stones but are books sanded-down into stone-like shapes, and Scott McCarney‘s 1988 Never Read(Opposed to Ever Green), a sculpture composed of stacked library discards that narrows as it ascends. Paulsrud’s, McCarney’s, Irland’s and Miller’s works are what Borsuk calls “muted objects”, but they speak and signify nevertheless:
Muted books take on a totemic [metaphoric] significance…. The language of the book as a space of fixity, certainty, and order reminds us that the book has been transmuted into an idea and ideal based on the role it plays in culture…. Defining the book involves consideration for its use as much as its form. (pp. 193-95)
Borsuk is a superb stylist of the sentence and expository structure. The words above, concluding chapter three, launch the reader into Borsuk’s final theme of interactivity and her unifying metaphor: “the book as interface”. Owners of Kindles, buyers from Amazon, perusers of Facebook — we may think we know what’s coming next in The Book and for the book, but Borsuk pushes the reader to contemplate the almost real-time evolutionary change we have seen with ebook devices and apps, audiobooks, the ascension of books to the cloud via Project Gutenberg, the Internet Archive and Google Books, and their descent to Brewster Kahle‘s physical back-up warehouse (to be sited in Canada in light of recent political events) and into flattening ebook sales of late. Chapter 4 is a hard-paced narrative of the book’s digital history from the Memex in Vannevar Bush‘s 1945 classic “As we may think” to T.L. Uglow‘s 100-author blockchain collaboration in 2017, A Universe Explodes from Visual Editions’ series Editions at Play.
Borsuk reminds us:
Our current moment appears to be much like the first centuries of movable type, a cusp. Just as manuscript books persisted into the Gutenberg era, books currently exist in multiple forms simultaneously: as paperbacks, audiobooks, EPUB downloads, and, in rare cases, interactive digital experiences. (p. 244)
Borsuk weaves into this moment of the book’s future a reminder that print affordances such as tactility (or the haptic) and the paratextual (those peripheral elements like page numbers, running heads, ISBNs, etc., that Gary Frost argues “make the book a book”) have been finding fresh ways into the way we read digitally. The touchscreen enables us to read between the lines literally in the novella Pry (2014) by Samantha Gorman and Danny Cannizaro (2014). Breathe (2018) by Kate Pullinger, another work in the Editions at Play series, uses GPS to detect and insert the reader’s location, the time and weather, and when the reader tilts the device or rubs the screen, hidden messages from the story’s (the reader’s?) ghosts appear.
At this point, an earlier passage from The Book should haunt the reader:
Artists’ books continually remind us of the reader’s role in the book by forcing us to reckon with its materiality and, by extension, our own embodiment. Such experiments present a path forward for digital books, which would do well to consider the affordances of their media and the importance of the reader, rather than treating the e-reader as a Warde-ian crystal goblet for the delivery of content. (p. 147)
Borsuk convinces. Art, artifact, concept — wrought by hand and mind, hands and minds — the book is our consensual tool and toy for surviving beyond our DNA. So now what? Metaphor, hints and historical flashpoints may illuminate where we have been, how it shows up in contemporary books and book art and where we may be going with it. In ten or one hundred years though, how will a book publisher become a book publisher? Given the self-publishing capability today’s technology offers, will anyone with a file on a home computer and an internet connection consider himself or herself a book publisher? Borsuk thinks not:
The act of publication — of making public — is central to our cultural definition of the book. Publication might presume some cultural capital: some editorial body has deemed this work worthy of print. It might also presume an audience: a readership clamors for this text. But on a fundamental level, publication presumes the appendage of elements outside the text that help us recognize it as a book, even when published in digital form. (pp. 239-40)
How will future book publishers learn to master the appendage of these elements outside the text (the paratext) that make a book a book “even when published in digital form”? Borsuk’s commentary on the ISBN as one of these elements sheds oblique light on that. She points to the artist Fiona Banner’s uses of the ISBN under her imprint/pseudonym Vanity Press — tattooing one one her lower back, publishing a series Book 1/1(2009) consisting of sixty-five ISBN’d pieces of mirrored cardstock and then collecting them in a photobook entitled ISBN 978-1-907118-99-9 in order to deposit those one-offs with the British Library as required by the UK’s Legal Deposit Libraries Act. What can a future ebook publisher deduce from this?
That the use of a globally unique identifier (GUID) matters.
The backstory of the transition from ISBN10 to ISBN13 and that of ebooks, ISBNs and Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs) might provide interesting fodder. The notion that the book industry was running out of 10-digit ISBNs was a red herring used to convince industry executives to adopt the more widely used format of unique identifiers overseen by GS1. The real reason for moving to ISBN13 — reduced friction in the supply chain — was too hard to sell. About the same time, some major publishers proposed incorporating the ISBN into the DOI for an industry-standard ebook identifier. The DOI offered an existing digital, networked infrastructure already being used by most of the world’s scientific, technical and medical journals publishers. It is an offshoot of the Handle System, established by Robert Kahn. Sad to say, few book publishers adopted the DOI for their ebooks; still fewer used the DOI’s application- and network-friendliness to enable their ebooks to take advantage of the network’s digital affordances.
The DOI shares with the ISBN a feature that Borsuk points out as a limitation to more widespread use: it is not free. A significant percentage of ebooks exist without ISBNs, much less DOIs. If a digital GUID is to be used in ways that help us recognize the identified digital object as a book, future book publishers and their providers of a network ecosystem supporting ebooks, linking with the print ecosystem and reducing friction in the supply chain still have wide gaps in commerce and knowledge to close. Perhaps this particular paratextual element is unnecessary for the book’s digital future, but until those gaps are narrowed, the ecosystem for eBooks will remain balkanized by Amazon, Apple, Google, Lulu and the more digitally literate denizen of the print publishing industry. In the meantime, as Borsuk’s examples throughout her book show, there are boundless other print and digital affordances with which publishers, authors, editors, designers, typographers, developers and readers can play as they continue to shape the book.
The Book‘s publication month, June 2018, is auspicious, being the same for the Getty Center’s exhibition “Artists and Their Books/Books and Their Artists“, June 26 – October 28. The Center and MIT Press would do well to have stacks of The Book on hand. The Book will also serve as an excellent introductory textbook for courses on book art or the history of the book. And by virtue of its style and artist’s perspective, Borsuk’s book will appeal to anyone with even a passing interest in this essential technology of civilization and its growing role as a material and focus of art in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
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.
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.
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.
In his review in Domus, Zachary Sachs describes this MoMA exhibition which “courses through the history of twentieth-century art animated by language and language given artistic form.” The works of art “tease apart the connection between sign and signified through modes of interruption largely inspired by the technology of printing.” And the catalogue includes “texts that attempt at intervals to rationalize and idealize language, at once to purify it and to demonstrate its essential muddiness.”
Why bookmark this exhibition?
It is apropos to our unease, excitement or dismay about the digital metamorphosis of the book. As Sachs puts it, “The historical works here swing between anxiety and ambivalence, emotions seemingly inevitable in response to the immense power (and attendent limitations) of written communication.” The same is true of our reaction to the moiling of books, ebooks and apps.
And the MoMA exhibition is one of those “full circle” phenomena, a recapitulation, a reminder of how, in trying to ground the history or evolution of the book, in reading its situation, we often go right back to the alphabet, the word, language itself.
Of David Diringer‘s two substantial volumes on the history of the book, the first is entitled The Alphabet (1968). In Helmut Lehmann-Haupt’s brief but important One Hundred Books about Bookmaking (1949), an entire section is given to writing and lettering, and that is preceded by a bibliographical entry for Edward Chiera‘s They Wrote on Clay (1938), on how the tablets of the Babylonians still speak to us today. For another instance, see also the posting here on Norma Levarie‘s The Art & History of Books (1968).
Art can be a means to, or cause of, ecstasy — extasis, to stand outside one’s self. Book art and specifically in this case the “ecstatic alphabets” exhibition can encourage us to stand outside what is happening to the book in order to reflect on it. If the exhibition were open to further curation, two “bookend” additions the exhibitors might agree would fit are
the Holy Kinship from the St Servatius Cathedral Treasury in Maastricht, which exults in the letter, scroll and book in the service of sacred art, and
even compared with other artist books . . . is an unusual textual artifact. Beyond the materiality of the book and realia themselves lies the issue of authorship. The text of the poem on the self-erasing diskette is by the novelist William Gibson, and the copperplate aquatint etchings inside the book were created by artist Dennis Ashbaugh. Gibson and Ashbaugh are most frequently cited as the book’s “co-authors.” However, the project was conceived by publisher Kevin Begos, Jr., and the code for the software that scrolls Gibson’s poem as well as for the encryption program (sometimes mistakenly called a “virus”) that subsequently erases that poem was written by a programmer signed “Brash” (who desired to remain anonymous) with help from John Perry Barlow and John Gilmore (founders of the Electronic Frontier Foundation).”
James J. Hodge, “The Agrippa Files, an online archive of Agrippa (A Book of the Dead).