Books On Books Collection – Olafur Eliasson

Your House (2006)

Your House (2006)
Olafur Eliasson
Hardback handbound with 454 laser cut leaves. H273 × W432 × D114 mm. Edition of 225, of which this is #210. Acquired from Carolina Nitsch Contemporary Art, August 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artist.

Your House is a laser-cut model of Olafur Eliasson’s residence in Copenhagen at a scale of 1:85, which means that each page equates to a 220 mm section of the actual house. How do you read a work like this — physically? At the 22″ mark in the video below, the pages fall in a cascade like a flipbook, but for the most part, their size, accumulated bulk and weight — and delicacy — defy that handling. They must be turned slowly and carefully. Your House heeds the task of the arts as posed by the architect Juhani Pallasmaa, “in our age of speed, …to defend the comprehensibility of time, its experiential plasticity, tactility and slowness” (The Embodied Image, p. 78).

Your House (2014)
Studio Olafur Eliasson

As you move from Your House‘s entrance to its exit, the outlines of walls, floors, stairs, doors, domes, windows, fireplaces and bookcases tremble in the air. Is this what Gaston Bachelard calls “the material imagination”? What Juhani Pallasmaa calls “the embodied image”?

Video: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of Studio Olafur Eliasson.

Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of Studio Olafur Eliasson.

There is something meditative about reading Your House properly. The cautious repetitive turning of pages can induce a daydream of inhabiting the space revealed. At some point in turning the pages, the empty shapes begin to become “your house”. Perhaps you see yourself moving through its spaces, and imagined furnishings occupying its rooms.

Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of Studio Olafur Eliasson.

Or perhaps as in the sequence above — the end of one room (or chapter or part) and the start of another — you become a ghost — with all the work’s past and future readers — passing through the walls.

Video: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of Studio Olafur Eliasson.

In The Poetics of Space, Bachelard writes of poetic time and prosodic time. The one is vertical, a spot in time, a frozen moment; the other is horizontal, a narrative, a continuity. But they are not mutually exclusive. Your House is a site where poetic and prosodic time occupy the same space. More than that, it is a site where temporality, as Eliasson puts it, “becomes something you perform by involving yourself physically over time” and thereby you become, “in the end, the createur” (“Not how, but why!”, p. 108).

Contact is Content (2014)

Contact is Content (2014)
Olafur Eliasson
Casebound, cloth mesh-covered board. H345 x W310 x D50 mm, 416 pages. Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist.

Like Your House, this work requires a slow, careful interaction in which viewing becomes learning the language of Eliasson’s images, discovering its syntax and exploring its rhymes and rhythms — reading the content presented with it. Unlike Your House, which focuses on contact with one source of content, Contact is Content draws on multiple sources: photographs Eliasson took in Iceland between 1986 and 2013 as well as images from his other projects and artworks. Over 80 different series make up the content of this work. The overwhelming number of round images — artificial and natural — in Contact is Content might suggest that Eliasson is completely sold on Bachelard’s pronouncement in The Poetics of Space that all being is round. But Eliasson’s world is spikier.

Within Contact is Content, images converse with one another — over near and far subjects, over aerial and ground level perspectives, over contrasting textures, over colors and their absence or presence, over artifice and nature

Often the conversations are reverse echoes: the reflective surface of blocks of ice echoes that of basalt.

The echo of near and far becomes a theme in itself: black-and-white aerial views of landscapes elide into black-and-white close-ups.

The absence and presence of color also emerges as a theme in its own right that interweaves with that of “near and far”: waterfalls without color vs waterfalls with the barest hint of color; close-ups of rocky terrain without color vs those dotted with intensely green or blue flora.

Some reverse echoes are the artificial conversing with nature: a gallery room containing a construction pumping water upwards over four levels echoes an Icelandic waterfall; or shorescapes under fog echo human outlines swallowed up in gallery rooms flooded with color-lit mists. Down to up; outside to inside; black-and-white to color; nature to artifice. And back.

Some of these artifice/nature echoes are compressed into one image: a brightly half-painted stick of driftwood echoes the multiple color wheels used to punctuate the stretches of landscape images.

Other echoes occur within the span of artifice (whole color wheels echoed by sliced black ones) before colliding with nature (a piece of driftwood impaled by a glass triangle) and then jumping back to artifice (round mirrors bisected at floor and wall and cascading upwards to be bisected by wall and ceiling).

Some echoes occur across dozens and dozens of pages. Still others occur in the single turn of a page.

These are but a few of the themes that Eliasson weaves into a narrative with his images, artworks and projects. Every encounter with this book as container seems to reveal a new theme.

Contact (2014)

Contact (2014)
Olafur Eliasson
Front and back covers and center spread of exhibition catalogue in paperback. Designed by Irma Boom. Acquired from Artbooksonline.eu, 27 September 2020. Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of Studio Olafur Eliasson.

Contact interprets the eponymous site-specific exhibition, commissioned by the Fondation Louis Vuitton and held in its Frank Gehry-designed building, 17 December 2014 through 23 February 2015. Here is the artist’s statement on Contact:

being in contact is the opposite of being disconnected. to be in contact is to be aware of the consequences that your actions have in and on the world. contact is about experience rather than consumption. to be in contact is to be in touch with the good things in life as well as with the difficult things in life. contact can be a greeting, a smile, the feeling of another person’s hand in your hand. contact is not a picture, it is not a representation; it is about your ability to reach out, connect, and perhaps even put yourself in another person’s place. for me, contact is where inclusion begins. contact is the highest luxury of all. olafur eliasson

Contact is also between page and page. Eliasson and Irma Boom, “the queen of books”, have worked together on several works. Boom’s mastery of the full bleed, double-page spread and gutter is the perfect match for this volume that brings the virtual into contact with the material.

Contact is also between paper and ink, between black and white as well as between dark and light when the book’s fluorescent title glows in a darkened room. The cover’s fluorescent ink, however, is not integral enough with the rest of the book to rise above an amusing touch; whereas contact between black and white extends to the division of the book into black and white halves.

In the first half of the book, photographs on entirely black paper present a codex-experience of the exhibition. In the second half of the book, drawings take the viewer behind the scenes of the exhibition’s design and, retrospectively, train the eye to read the book as exhibition.

This incorporation of design drawings draws attention to time, and Contact is very much about our perception of time. In her book Binding Space: The Book as Spatial Practice, Marian Macken refers to “the tenses of the book”. Especially when presented in a book, architectural plan drawings “are not fixed in their sequence, but instead may be read and interpreted as existing within a range of times, such as the time of their making, of the present of the reader, the future they may refer to, and the contextual moment of apprehension” (p. 157). In the case of this “book of the exhibition”, published to coincide with the exhibition, the plan drawings and photographs exist in the exhibition’s past and present. For an exhibition attendee, they exist as a reminder of a personal past performance of contact with the exhibition. For attendees and non-attendees, they bring the exhibition’s past and future together in the present in a performance of contact guided by the architecture of the book.

How appropriate it is that, in her essay in the book’s white section, Caroline A. Jones writes, “Personally, I will not have seen the installations that the present text accompanies” — as is/will be the case for many of us experiencing Contact only in its book form. Jones’ essay is entitled “Event Horizon: Olafur Eliasson’s Raumexperimente”, which confirms that contact is not only about perception of time, but of space as well. While Jones teases out how the exhibition will play/plays/played with the astrophysical conundrum, she cites a comment from Eliasson in conversation that captures a simpler view: “There is a tradition of the horizon as a boundary between the known and unknown. But as you approach, it fades in, or comes into your experience. You can think of it as a space” (p. 133).

Space — which brings up the awkward point of the setting in which the exhibition occurred. Since the Renaissance, imagination in art and science has sat sometimes uneasily, sometimes too easily with wealth and privilege. There may be nothing democratic in Eliasson’s expensive, spectacular art, but Contact’s fusion of science, art, nature (Earth-bound and cosmic) and social connectedness contrasts pointedly and paradoxically with its setting in the opulent property of a global luxury brand — “the blandishments of follies and bling” as Jones puts it. As Eliasson’s artist statement asserts: “contact is about experience rather than consumption….is where inclusion begins….is the highest luxury of all”. But without the Fondation’s patronage, the experience of Contact in situ or even in these artfully designed pages would be denied.

Somewhat less reconcilable is the statement “contact is not a picture,… is not a representation”. Placing contact with art (a picture, a representation) in opposition to contact through human touch and empathy is not quite right. Just as Your House resonates with the perspective of the physicist/philosopher/humanist Bachelard, for whom the image is language, so too does the language of Contact as exhibition, images, objects, book — and experience. We cannot have contact without it.

Studio Olafur Eliasson. 2015. Olafur Eliasson, Contact, Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris 2014 – 2015.

Further Reading, Looking & Listening

Architecture“, Bookmarking Book Art, 12 November 2019.

Bachelard, Gaston, M. Jolas, and Etienne Gilson. 1964. The poetics of space. Boston: Beacon Press.

Chavasse, Paule. Interviewer. 1959. “Gaston Bachelard – Entretien : La poétique de l’espace.” Radiodiffusion Française (RDF). 1959. Accessed 8 February 2021.

Denis, Claire. 2016. Contact by Olafur Eliasson. Video. 8 March 2016. Accessed 7 February 2021.

Eliasson, Olafur. 2009. “Not how, but why!” in Concrete Design Book on Implicit Performance. Eds. Siebe Bake and Billy Nolan. Brussels: FEBELCEM.

Fondation Louis Vuitton. 2015. Contact – Olafur Eliasson. Video. 13 January 2015. Accessed 7 February 2021.

Jones, Caroline A. 2014. “Event Horizon: Olafur Eliasson’s Raumexperimente”, pp. 132-37, in Contact. Paris: Flammarion.

Marian Macken. 2018. Binding Space: The Book as Spatial Practice. London and New York: Routledge.

Pallasmaa, Juhani. 2016. “Matter, Hapticity and Time Material Imagination and the Voice of Matter.” Building Material, no. 20: 171-89. Accessed February 8, 2021.

Pallasmaa, Juhani. 2011. The embodied image: imagination and imagery in architecture. Chichester: J. Wiley & Sons.

Razzall, Katie. 2013. “Celebrating books… with pages made of glass“, Channel 4 News, 20 September 2013. Accessed 3 November 2020.

Books On Books Collection – Edward Andrew Zega & Bernd H. Dams

An Architectural Alphabet : ABC (2008)

An Architectural Alphabet : ABC (2008)
Edward Andrew Zega & Bernd H. Dams

Slipcase, casebound in a variation of the Chinese fashion. H210 x W178 x D25 mm, 96 pages. Edition of 400, of which this is #21. Acquired from Architectural Watercolors, 8 April 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of the artists.

Since 1995, Zega & Dams have published several volumes of their architectural watercolors, almost all focused on the Ancien Régime but with some diversions to New York’s Central Park and Russia’s Tatarstan. An Architectural Alphabet is, however, not quite a diversion and certainly more than a divertissement. Two elegant essays — “Letter Pictures” and “Artists’ Alphabets” — bracket the elevational drawings of A to Z with their accompanying illustrations. The essays weave together reference points from the history of the Latin alphabet, architectural history, histories of architectural and natural science illustration and those of typography and graphic design. They do this lightly and knowingly just as the letters and images do, which play simultaneously with typographic and calligraphic traditions and the vocabulary of the architecture and decorative arts of the Ancien Régime and the Grand Tour.

The acanthus leaf commonly used to decorate a column’s capital, hence the gentleman’s upward gaze.

Balustrade: a rail supported by balusters (vase-shaped columns), used for balconies from which a lady might like to peer.

The authors/artists’ choice and use of fonts offer other examples of their subtle erudition. The body text is set in Capsa italic, a rather allusive and self-allusive choice. Dino dos Santos, its designer, was inspired by fonts created by the 18th-century type-founder Claude Lamesle. One of those Ancien Régime fonts is Gros Romain Ordinaire, whose name draws further attention to Zega & Dams’ decision to use italic in place of the usual Roman for the body text. With its “Romain” roots, Capsa italic performs as the perfect foil to the choice of display font, which also serves as the template for the “letter pictures”: Carol Twombly’s Trajan. The name and design are based on the Roman capitals entwining Trajan’s Column in Rome. The fact that the ancient Roman capitals had no letter U, only the letter V to stand in for both, provides the artists with the opening for the following visual joke.

Urn versus Vase

The authors take the stylistic development of chinoiserie during the Ancien Régime for two rides in the work: one for vocabulary with the letter C and another for structural allusion with the binding.

The binding is a variation on Chinese casebinding. Here the sewn book block has been placed on the middle board of three hinged boards and is attached to the left-hand and middle boards by the endpapers (CD and YZ, respectively). The right-hand board is hinged to fold on top of the left-hand board. The Curtis by Curtis 1.5 paper (a 200 gms vellum stock) is stiff, and the sewing is so tight that the book does not easily open or lie flat. The casing, however, allows extensive pressure without the hazard of breaking the spine’s covering. In two finishing Oriental touches, the artists called for grey silk for the board coverings and green for the inside of the right-hand board and hinge.

With its architectural and alphabetic themes, An Architectural Alphabet makes a fitting addition to the Books On Books Collection, and its essays serve as welcome reminders of the more discursive volumes by Laurence de Looze, Marian Macken, Hugh McEwen and Chrysostomos Tsimourdagkas (see Further Reading).

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“, Books on Books Collection, 31 March 2020.

Architecture“, Books on Books Collection, 12 November 2018.

Federico Babina“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Antonio Basoli“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Antonio & Giovanni Battista de Pian“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Richard Niessen“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Paul Noble“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

Johann David Steingruber“, Books On Books Collection, 20 April 2021.

De Looze, Laurence. 2018. The Letter and the Cosmos: How the Alphabet Has Shaped the Western View of the World. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Macken, Marian. 2018. Binding Space: The Book as Spatial Practice. London and New York: Routledge.

McEwen, Hugh. Polyglot Buildings. 12 January 2012. Issuu. Accessed 13 March 2021.

Tsimourdagkas, Chrysostomos. 2014. Typotecture: Histories, Theories and Digital Futures of Typographic Elements in Architectural Design. Doctoral dissertation, Royal College of Art, London. Accessed 13 March 2021.

Books On Books Collection – Michael Snow

Cover to Cover (1975)
Michael Snow
Cloth on board, sewn and casebound. H230 x W180 mm. 310 unnumbered pages. Published by Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. Unnumbered edition of 300. Acquired from Mast Books, 10 December 2020. Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

After a long search since first sight of it in 2016 at Washington, D.C.’s now defunct Corcoran Gallery library, the original hardback edition of Michael Snow’s Cover to Cover (1975) finally joins the Books On Books Collection. Thanks to Philip Zimmermann, more readers/viewers have the chance to experience Cover to Cover — if only through the screen — than the original’s 300 copies and Primary Information’s 1000 facsimile paperback copies will allow.

Amaranth Borsuk describes the work and experience of it in The Book (2018), as do Martha Langford in Michael Snow (2014), Marian Macken in Binding Spaces (2017) and Zimmermann in his comments for the exhibition “Book Show: Fifty Years of Photographic Books, 1968–2018” (for all, see links below). Like Chinese Whispers by Telfer Stokes and Helen Douglas and Theme and Permutation by Marlene MacCallum, Michael Snow’s Cover to Cover has that effect — of evoking an urge to articulate what is going on and how the bookwork is re-imagining visual narrative, how it is making us look, and how it makes us think about our interaction with our environs and the structure of the book.

The already existing commentary about Cover to Cover sets a high hurdle for worthwhile additional words. One thing going on in the book, though, seems to have gone unremarked. Some critics have asserted that, other than its title on the spine, the book has no text. There is text, however. It occurs within what I would call the preliminaries, and they show us how to read the book.

Front cover and its endpaper

On the front cover, we see a door from the inside. Then, on its pastedown endpaper, the author outside the door with his back to us. On turning page “1” of the preliminaries, we see in small type a copyright assertion and the Library of Congress catalogue number appear vertically along the gutter of pages “2-3” (a tiny clue as to what is going on).

Pages “2-3”

Over pages “4” through “14” from the same alternating viewpoints, the author reaches for the door handle, the door is seen opening from the inside, and the artist is seen walking through the door (from the outside) and into the room (from the inside). But who is recording these views?

Pages “10-11”

Over pages “15” through “24”, two photographers appear. Facing us, they are bent over their cameras — first the one outside (clean shaven and wearing a short-sleeved shirt) behind the author, then the one inside (bearded and wearing shorts) in front of the author. As the author moves out of the frame, we see that the photographer inside is holding a piece of paper in his right hand. All of this occurs through the same alternating viewpoints. At page “21”, the corner of that paper descends into the frame of the inside photographer’s view of the outside photographer, and after the next switch in viewpoint that confirms what the inside photographer is doing, we see a completely white page “23”, presumably the blank sheet that is blocking the inside photographer’s camera aperture. Page “24” is the outside photographer’s view of the inside photographer whose face and camera are blocked by the piece of paper.

Pages “16-17”, pages “20-21” and pages “24-25”

Over pages “25” (from the inside photographer’s viewpoint) and “26” (from the outside photographer’s), something strange happens with that piece of paper. Fingers and thumbs holding it appear on the left and right: we are looking at photos of the piece paper as it is being held between the photographers. What’s more, on the outside photographer’s side of the paper is the developed photo he just took of the inside photographer with his face and camera hidden by the sheet of paper. We are looking at images of images. But what is on the other side of that photo paper? — a blank with fingers holding it, which is what page “27” will show us from the inside photographer’s perspective. But whose fingers are they?

Pages “26-27”

From page “25” through page “38”, we see images of this piece of paper being manipulated by one pair of hands. The thumbs appear on the verso (the view from the outside photographer’s perspective), the fingers on the recto (the view seen by the inside photographer). By page “34”, it is upside down. By page “37”, we can see that the photo paper is being fed into a manual typewriter. But does the pair of hands belong to one of the photographers? Or a typist — the author?

For both pages “42” and “43”, the perspective is that of a typist advancing the paper and typing the title page. On both pages, we can see the ribbon holder in the same position. Pages “44-45” return to alternating perspectives, page “44” showing the photo paper descending into the roller. Page “45” presents itself as the full text of the book’s title page, curling away from the typist and revealing the inside photographer on the other side of the typewriter. Page “46” shows the upside-down view of the title page as it moves toward the inside photographer and reveals the outside photographer on the other side of the typewriter. Not only are we seeing images of images, we are witnessing the making of the book’s preliminaries.

From page “48” through page “54”, the photographers alternate views of blank paper advancing through the typewriter. By pages “55” and “56”, the typewriter has moved out of the frame. Look carefully at page “56”, however, and you can see the impression of the typewriter’s rubber holders on the paper. As a book’s preliminaries come to a close, there is often a blank page or two before the start of the book, which in this case is page “57”, showing a record player.

Zimmermann notes that, at somewhere near the book’s midpoint, the images turn upside down, and that readers who then happen to “flip the book over and start paging from the back soon realize that they are looking at images of images produced by the two-sided system, and indeed the very book that they are holding in their hands”. He notes this as another mind-bender added to the puzzlement of the two-sided system with which the book begins. Yet the prelims foretold us that the upside-downness, back-to-frontness and self-reflexivity of images of images were on their way. Without doubt, Cover to Cover is an iconic work of book art.

Further Reading

Borsuk, Amaranth. The Book (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2018).

Langford, Martha. Michael Snow: Life & Work (Toronto: Art Canada Institute, 2014).

Macken, Marian. Binding Space: The Book as Spatial Practice (London: Taylor and Francis, 2017).

Michelson, Annette, and Kenneth White. Michael Snow (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2019).

Zimmermann, Philip. “Book Show: Fifty Years of Photographic Books, 1968–2018“, Spaceheater Editions Blog, 3 February 2019. Accessed 16 December 2020.

But as the scene “progresses,” an action is not completed within the spread, but loops back in the next one, so that the minimal “progress” extracted from reading left to right is systematically stalled each time a page is turned, and the verso page recapitulates the photographic event printed on the recto side from the opposite angle. This is the disorienting part: to be denied “progress” as one turns the page seems oddly like flashback, which it patently is not; it might be called “extreme simultaneity.” Two versions of the same thing (two sides of the story) are happening at the same time. Zimmerman.

Books On Books Collection – Marian Macken

Ise Jingū: Beginning Repeated (2011)

Ise Jingū: Beginning Repeated (2011)
Marian Macken
Black Cotona bookcloth portfolio, with embossed base; 61 sheets of handmade washi paper, made from kozo, with watermark images. H245 x W330 x D80 mm. Papermaking undertaken at Primrose Paper Arts, Sydney, with assistance from Jill Elias. Unique. Acquired from the artist, 5 February 2021. Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist.

Ise Jingū is a Shinto shrine complex in the Mie Prefecture, Japan, consisting of the Kōtai Kaijijingū, or Naikū (Inner Shrine), and the Toyouke Kaijingū, or Gekū (Outer Shrine). “Once every 20 years, since the reign of Emperor Tenmu in the seventh century, every fence and building is completely rebuilt on an identical adjoining site, a practice of transposition known as shikinen-zōkan. While empty and awaiting the next iteration of building, the unused site or kodenchi sits silently, covered with an expanse of pebbles” (Binding Space, p. 101). For Macken, this ritualistic rebuilding poses architecture as performative process rather than as inert object; it “manifests the replication of a beginning, of a process” (“Reading time”, p. 100).

What better suited phenomenon to be captured with book art?

Referring to the shikinen-zōkan process, Ise Jingū: Beginning Repeated consists of 61 loose sheets with a watermarked image within each, the number reflecting the 61 iterations of the shrine up until the making of Ise Jingū: Beginning Repeated. The watermark is a perspective image based on Yoshio Watanabe’s photograph of the East Treasure House of the Inner Shrine, taken in 1953 on the occasion of the 59th rebuilding. The contrast of the reduction of a photo to a drawing with the subtle embodiment of that image in kozo entices reflection on the phenomenon of representation.

By shifting the image’s placement on every other sheet to mirror its placement on the preceding one, Macken makes the reader’s page turning replicate the process of shikinen-zōkan. As one sheet yields to the next, the differences between them, arising from the washi papermaking process, reflect the subtle variations within similarity arising in the shrine’s transposition from one site to the other. When the last sheet is removed from the portfolio, the position of the temple supports are revealed.

Macken’s book Binding Space: The Book as Spatial Practice offers further insight into Ise Jingū: Beginning Repeated, but more than that, it provides penetrating discussion of various forms of book art and specific works such as Olafur Eliasson’s Your House, Michael Snow’s Cover to Cover and Johann Hybschmann’s Book of Space. Although the book’s principal argument is why and how the artist book can serve as an important tool for design, documentation and critique of architecture, Macken’s perceptive descriptions show how to observe materiality and its functioning and understand how they contribute to the making of art. Reading Macken’s book will sharpen the ability of any reader or viewer to appreciate book art.

Exhibition: “The Book as Site”, Research Gallery, Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney, Australia, 2012. Photos: Joshua Morris. Displayed with permission of the artist.

Further Reading

Architecture“, Bookmarking Book Art, 12 November 2018.

Fred Siegenthaler“, Books On Books Collection, 10 January 2021. For more on “watermark art”.

Macken, Marian. 2018. Binding Space: The Book as Spatial Practice. London and New York: Routledge.

Macken, Marian. 2015. “Reading time: the book as alternative architectural practice“. Cowley, Des, Robert Heather, and Anna Welch. Creating and collecting artists’ books in Australia. Special issue of The LaTrobe Journal.

Pallasmaa, Juhani. 2019. The eyes of the skin: architecture and the senses. Chichester: Wiley. Another whetstone for sharpening the ability to appreciate book art.

Tange, Kenzō, Noboru Kawazoe, Yoshio Watanabe, and Yusaku Kamekura. 1965. Ise. Prototype of Japanese architecture. Kenzo Tange, Noboru Kawazoe. Photographs by Yoshio Watanabe. Layout and book design by Yusaku Kamekura. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.