Books On Books Collection – Bernadette O’Toole

Bernadette O’Toole follows in a long line of distinguished “serial hommageurs”: Ian Wallace, Jérémie Bennequin, Marcel Broodthaers, Kathy Bruce, Marine Hugonnier, Jorge Méndez Blake, Alastair Noble, Michalis Pichler, Raffaella della Olga and Joëlle Tuerlinckx. Like many of them, she extends her work across multiple media. Like all of them, she is driven by the metaphysics and motifs expressed in Un Coup de Dés.

Variant Sail (2015); As If (2016)

Variant Sail (2015) and As If (2016)
Bernadette O’Toole
Presentation box. H240 x W172 mm. Acquired from the artist, 1 April 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist.

Bernadette O’Toole’s two small booklets first appeared in Sharon Kivland’s MA Bibliothèque and are now out of print. The presentation case in which they arrived conveys her recurrent practice or technique of recontextualizing. A copy or copies from an edition may be re-presented so as to create a new work or works. Variant Sail and As If constitute a case in point.

Variant Sail (2015)

Variant Sail (2015)
Bernadette O’Toole
Booklet, two-staple saddle-stitch. H190 x W130 mm, 24 pages. Edition of 25, of which this is #6.
Photos: Courtesy of Bernadette O’Toole. Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of artist.

The booklet Variant Sail contains reproductions of twelve digital prints (H38 x W57 cm). The prints were created by scanning and digitally manipulating each of the double-page spreads of Un Coup de Dés in Photoshop, producing twelve variants with each one foregrounding the gutter in a different way. The manipulation has made Mallarmé’s text faintly detectable but indecipherable and rendered the double-page spreads as entire blancs — variants, as it were, of the white spaces (les blancs) to which Mallarmé refers in his poem’s preface.

[From the NRF/Gallimard 1914 edition]

The ‘blanks’ indeed take on importance, at first glance; the versification demands them, as a surrounding silence, to the extent that a fragment, lyrical or of a few beats, occupies, in its midst, a third of the space of paper: I do not transgress the measure, only disperse it. The paper intervenes each time as an image, of itself, ends or begins once more, accepting a succession of others, and, since, as ever, it does nothing, of regular sonorous lines or verse – rather prismatic subdivisions of the Idea, the instant they appear, and as long as they last, in some precise intellectual performance, that is in variable positions, nearer to or further from the implicit guiding thread, because of the verisimilitude the text imposes. 

[A.S. Kline, “Mallarmé’s Preface of 1897“]

From Mallarmé’s marked-up proofs for his planned deluxe edition, we know that he viewed the double-page spread, not the single page, as the poem’s primary structural unit. Each of O’Toole’s blank double-page spreads can be seen as a voile alternative (“variant sail”), a phrase appearing on the NRF/Gallimard edition’s second double-page spread. With a different foregrounding of the gutter in each of her double-page spreads, O’Toole underscores both the variance within her Variant Sail and the important constancy of the double-page spread in the poem to which she is paying homage.

A bit more esoterically, the double-page spread suggests the quantity 2, an allusion to the result of thrown dice, their two faces up. It may also allude to the poem’s revolutionary versification, challenging French poetry’s Alexandrine, the traditional measure of 12 syllables usually divided into two hemistichs. It seem no accident that O’Toole has chosen a pattern of two-word titles for her booklets.

As If (2016)

As If (2016)
Bernadette O’Toole Booklet, two-staple saddle stitch. H205 x W140 mm, 16 pages. Edition of 25, of which this is #6.
Photo: Courtesy of Bernadette O’Toole; Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of artist.

The prints for Variant Sail in turn inspired paintings (same dimensions) that are reproduced in the second booklet As If, which takes its two-word title from the poem’s central double-page spread, the one beginning and ending COMME SI (“as if”). Mallarmé’s words are no longer detectable. What is detectable instead is each brushstroke on the painted surfaces. It is as if the work As If appropriates the work Variant Sail, just as Variant Sail appropriates Un Coup de Dés.

“Appropriation” may not be the right characterization. Re-contextualizing, re-purposing or re-cycling perhaps. Consider where O’Toole goes next with these two other works not in the Books On Books Collection at the moment.

Variant Sail II (2016)

For Variant Sail (II), O’Toole incorporates an inventive sculptural work that she calls a “gesture”. In a black presentation box, a translation of Un Coup de Dés rests beside a small painted gesture, oil on plaster. Here is her description of the process by which a gesture is created:

The process of making the work involved tracing my brush-stroke into a bed of clay, pushing into the surface which proved resistant at first. Plaster was poured into the indent, casting the absent gesture [brush-mark]. Once the form had set, I separated it from the bed of clay and took hold of the object. The absent gesture [brush-mark] had become embodied. The form was simultaneously liberated from the mould, and from the limitation of the painting surface. It was cast out, recalling the Japanese practice known as, ‘flung-ink’, which Norman Bryson observes is ‘thrown’ as one throws dice. — [Interview with Josie Jenkins, 22 November 2020]

Variant Sail II has appropriated, re-cycled, re-purposed or re-contextualized the works Variant Sail and As If in several ways — by transforming the surface brushstroke into a three-dimensional object, by juxtaposing those two works (through the gesture) with the translation

A Rare State (2018)

A Rare State consists of 12 booklets (H38 x W57 cm), each with its own cover and title. Each encloses 12 loose interchangeable folios. Each captures images from different performative readings (by the artist) of Un Coup de Dés or from animated patterns of marks and numbers appearing and disappearing. Some of the patterns occupy the positions of Mallarmé’s text on his double-page spreads. Others appear in sequences of 1-6 within a square or diamond suggesting the face of a die.

False Mansion~1 and Towards this Ultimate Conjunction with Probability~1 from A Rare State © Bernadette O’Toole. Images and permission to display, courtesy of Bernadette O’Toole.

A Rare State expands on the idea of a numerical or mathematical principle at play — be it 1-6 on the face of a die, the 12 syllables of the Alexandrine that the poem explodes, the 2 of the double-page spread, or the 4 triangles constituting the face of a die across the double-page spread. This expansion is also an expansion of O’Toole’s technique of appropriation, re-cycling, re-purposing or re-contextualizing to create new artwork. It is as if her every thought emits a throw of the dice.

Variant Sail, Ex Libris Gallery, 2016. © Bernadette O’Toole. Image and permission to display, courtesy of Bernadette O’Toole.

Further Reading

Jérémie Bennequin“. 15 December 2020. Books On Books Collection.

Kathy Bruce“. 23 December 2021. Books On Books Collection.

Marine Hugonnier“. 8 April 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Jorge Méndez Blake“. 16 September 2020. Bookmarking Book Art.

Michalis Pichler“. 19 August 2020. Books On Books Collection.

Raffaella della Olga“. 8 December 2020. Books On Books Collection.

Cohn, Robert G. 1966. Mallarme’s Masterwork: New Findings. The Hague: Mouton. Contains the photographs that inspired Neil Crawford’s typographic translation.

Cohn, Robert Greer. 1965. Toward the poems of Mallarmé. Berkeley: University of California Press. See in particular for his analysis of the relationship between Un Coup de Dé and the sonnet À la Nue Accablante Tu (pp. 229-36).

Davies, Gardner. 1992. Vers une Explication Rationelle du “Coup de Dés”. Paris: Corti.

Kline, A.S., trans. 2007. “Stéphane Mallarmé, Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard (A throw of the dice will never abolish chance). Poetry in Translation. © Copyright 2007 All Rights Reserved.

Meillassoux, Quentin, and Robin Mackay. 2012. The Number and the Siren: A Decipherment of Mallarmé’s Coup de Dés. Falmouth: Urbanomic.

Books On Books Collection – Sam Sampson

Derek Beaulieu (No Press) first published Sam Sampson’s homage to Un Coup de Dés as a handsewn pamphlet in 2020. To celebrate the 125th anniversary of Mallarmé’s initial publication of “the poem that made us modern”, Sampson enlisted Jacinda Torrance of Verso Visual Communications for design, the firm Centurion for printing, and Louise James of The Binding Studio for hand binding to produce this deluxe edition.

UN COUP DE DÉS JAMAIS N’ABOLIRA LE HASARD (((SUN-O))) (2022)

Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard ((( Sun-O )))
Sam Sampson
Handsewn book, H300 x W225 mm, 28 unnumbered pages. Edition of 20 (10, each enclosed in a hinged-lid box with magnetic flap; 10 unboxed), of which this is boxed # 2. Acquired from the artist, 7 April 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist.

As with most creative works, (((Sun-O))) had multiple points of inception. One of them was an essay Sam Sampson read by Susan Howe and Cole Swensen. They quote Mallarmé’s preface to the poem (“nothing new except a certain distribution of space made within the reading” and speak of his aim to fuse sequential and simultaneous perception, to fully engage the eye and ear, as a result pushing poetry in two directions – toward visual art and toward musical performance. This resonated with a series of poems Sampson was writing and manifests itself in (((Sun-O))):

The physical design and analogy in my rendition is aligned with what I would call the ‘O Poems’. ‘O’ Zero, being the sound that runs through these poems, but I’ve also been interested in the numerical concept of zero: the beginning point, but also the point of departure, the ‘O’ as an ideogram, giving the text a pictorial as well as vocalised movement. [Correspondence with Books On Books Collection, 29 March 2022]

Another of the “O Poems” is Zeroth. Sampson reads it here:

© Sam Sampson. Reprinted with permission of the author.

Zeroth leads to another point of inception: a conversation with Roger Horrocks, a New Zealand poet, writer, film-maker, educator and cultural activist, to whom (((Sun-O))) is dedicated. After reading Zeroth, Horrocks told Sampson that it reminded him of his favorite Seattle experimental metal band at the time – Sunn O))). Sampson describes their sound as slow, heavy, blending diverse genres including “drone, black metal, dark ambient and noise rock”. Sampson’s mulling over the very sound of the band’s name led to free associations with the secondary meanings of drone (surveillance, panopticon). Mulling over the name’s compression of word and the letter O led to his hybridized subtitle (((Sun-O))) “with its parentheses radiating out but never closing”. A potent visual and textual image for a poem touching on, if not touching, the sun, the abyss and the human.

But, of course, the zero point of inception is Un Coup de Dés. On a visually material level, (((Sun-O))) has a scaffolding of bullet-pointed rules, whose lengths are based on measuring each of Mallarmé’s lines, whose weights approximate the variable font sizes, and whose placement matches that in Un Coup de Dés. This lattice serves as the physical structure for the collage of words and O’s that Sampson layers like paint or screenprint onto the page. Some words and lines are upside down like the detritus of a shipwreck. Some words curve and drape between the lines like torn sails. Appropriately, some come from the precisely corresponding pages in Mallarmé’s poem. Faint lines of the circumferences of O’s leap across and down between the lines almost like musical notations.

Within this tangle, Sampson’s own elusive and allusive text plays. Some of its phrases come from traditional song; some fix the geographical location (“blue carbon” places the speaker in a coastal community); some “un-fix” the location (“over the hills and far away”); some are struck through, alerting the reader to be ready to discard and start again; some set the technological time frame (the reference to operating systems like Suse, Symbian and, of course, Solaris). As in Un Coup de Dés, the text’s syntax and placement on the page encourage reading in fits and starts, back and forth. As Sampson puts it:

I wanted [my] poem to somehow capture, as Mallarmé had described it, “the invitation of the great white space”, and the successive, incessant, back-and-forth motions of our eyes travelling from one line to the next, and beginning all over again. [Correspondence with Books On Books Collection, 29 March 2022]

Indeed, before writing Un Coup de Dés, Mallarmé foreshadowed more expansively this phenomenon toward which Sampson strives:

Pourquoi — un jet de grandeur, de pensée ou d’émoi, considérable, phrase poursuivie, en gros caractère, une ligne par page à emplacement gradué, ne maintiendrait-il le lecteur en haleine, la durée du livre, avec appel à sa puissance d’enthousiasme: autour, menus, des groupes, secondairement d’après leur importance, explicatifs ou dérivés — un semis de fioritures. [Oeuvres Complètes, 2, 227]

“Why — couldn’t a considerable burst of greatness of thought or emotion, carried in a sentence in large typeface, gradually placed with one line per page, hold the reader’s bated breath throughout the entire book by appealing to his or her power of enthusiasm: around this [burst], smaller groups of secondary importance, explicating or deriving from the primary phrase — a scattering of flourishes.” [Arnar, 234]

Whereas in Mallarmé’s poem there is a primary sentence in large typeface (“UN COUP DE DÉS JAMAIS N’ABOLIRA LE HASARD”) off which the secondary groups of phrases and sentences play, (((Sun-O)))‘s primary foil is the combination of two things: the collage made from shards of Mallarmé’s poem and that strange, enjambed subtitle (((Sun-O))). After all, the full title of Sampson’s work is UN COUP DE DÉS JAMAIS N’ABOLIRA LE HASARD (((SUN-O))).

The “Comme si … Comme si” center double-page spread.

Sampson calls Mallarmé’s poem a form of metaphysical gambling, reproducing the sensation of being both in and outside time. Being both in and outside of time — that could be the defining state of human consciousness. Unlike the abstract representation of humanity in Un Coup de Dés, however, (((Sun-O)))‘s representation is concretely personal. The traditional song “Over the Hills and Far Away“, which Sampson cites at the start of (((Sun-O))), can be read as a reference to Horrocks’ departure from New Zealand for the United States in the 1960s. At one point, the speaker addresses Horrocks directly: “Roger / what of these / parallels of blue / sea shanties / masquerading mind-sets / …”. Sampson takes the image of Roger Horrocks’ signature from Horrocks’ copy of an edition of Un Coup de Dés, fragments it and reproduces it on the pages of (((Sun-O))). Did Sampson have in mind the story of René Magritte’s loaning his copy of Un Coup de Dés to Marcel Broodthaers, which led to Broodthaers’ Image version of Mallarmé’s poem? (See Marine Hugonnier’s retelling of the tale here.) The scaffolding of bulleted-pointed lines certainly pays homage to Broodthaers and other “hommageurs by redaction” such as Michalis Pichler, Sammy Engramer and others. (((Sun-O))) is a work of many conversations on many levels across time and time zones.

One of the main topics in (((Sun-O))), however, naturally seems to defy the bridging of the personal and abstract: climate crisis. It is hard to miss the allusions to the global shipwreck that is the climate crisis, engendering rising ocean levels and spastic efforts towards zero carbon emissions based on a computational chaos of competing environmental models and competing economic and political systems. It is clearly of personal concern to the speaker, but that does not take the issue from the abstract to the concretely personal in the way that Horrocks’s signature in a copy of Un Coup de Dés does. Making the climate crisis personal could, of course, run the risk of descending into small talk about the weather.

The references to music and the poem’s demonstration of musicality throughout are also hard to miss, and given its zero point of inception, the poem would be seriously remiss without them. The aim for union of text, sound and graphic image is as central to Sampson’s poem as the manipulation of syntax and les blancs is to Mallarmé’s. The aim’s importance in Sampson’s poem even has the last note and oversized word in the poem:

... the Never / rolling / listing / pitch / & / fall / A solitary / THRUM

The frequency of achieved union may be what puts Sampson’s homage in the front rank.

The special edition of (((Sun-O))) enhances that union in material ways. The design and materials play off Sampson’s cutting into and out of, sticking on and sticking through Un Coup de Dés. Six circles foiled in white on the front cover of the box turn the subtitle into an emblem — a mark maker. On the box’s inside lining, a design of circles and broken circles echoing the collage of O’s in the poem (even hinting at musical notation) is used to designate the number of the copy in the edition of 10. For this copy (#2), straight lines cut through 2 of the circles.

Like the white circles, six die-cut circles on the book’s front cover correspond to the six parentheses of the subtitle and likewise one face of a die. They also recall the hemistich of French poetry’s twelve-syllable Alexandrine, which Un Coup de Dés shattered. An image peeks through the die cuts and, as the cover turns, reveals itself as a collage of the cut-up cover of Horrocks’ copy of the poem and pages of (((Sun-O))). On the back cover, a single large die-cut circle centers on a black-hole sun with a faint, almost invisible ((( Sun-O ))) disappearing into blank/blackness.

By chance or by sly humor, the typeface used is DTL Elzevir. (((Sun-O))) is obviously not in the hunt for absolute fidelity to the edition planned by Mallarmé and Ambroise Vollard in 1896-97, which collapsed with the poet’s death. When Mallarmé’s son-in-law Dr. Edmond Bonniot issued an edition with Gallimard/NRF in 1914, the typeface was Elzevir, allegedly a face that Mallarmé detested. With this special edition of (((Sun-O))), Sampson is in the hunt on his own terms for his own more personal Mallarméan prism, constellation or radiant (((Sun-O))) that syntactically, auditorily, visually and physically scatters and focuses his response to the human condition.

UN COUP DE DÉS JAMAIS N’ABOLIRA LE HASARD (((SUN-O))) (2020)

Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’abolira le Hasard: (((Sun-O))) (2020)
Sam Sampson
Handsewn pamphlet. H255 x W190 mm, 24 pages. Edition of 60. Acquired from No Press, 4 January 2021.
Photo of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist.

[Mallarmé’s] work is a constellation and trying to unpack and explicate what went into my response hopefully doesn’t remove the joy of just jumping in. I like what John Ashbery said about his own work: “my work is accessible, if you take the time to access it.” [Sampson in correspondence with Books On Books Collection, 29 March 2022]

Further Reading & Listening

Derek Beaulieu“. 19 June 2020. Books On Books Collection.

Arnar, Anna Sgrídur. 2011. The Book as Instrument: Stéphane Mallarmé, the Artist’s Book and the Transformation of Print Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Bloch, R. Howard. 2017. One toss of the dice: the incredible story of how a poem made us modern. New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, a division of W.W. Norton & Company.

Davenport, Philip. 27 March 2020. “‘France’, or… we are circles of cancelled stars’“, Synapse International: An international visual poetry gathering. Started by Karl Kempton and Davenport in February 2018, Synapse International quickly attracted online works of homage to Un Coup de Dés, including an early appearance in March 2018 of Eric Zboya‘s Translations and later a visually adapted essay by David W. Seaman and as well as an “ADVERTISEMENT” from Derek Beaulieu that links to his 3D rendering of Un Coup de Dés.

Howe, S., & Swensen, C. 2000. “A Dialogue“. Conjunctions, 35, 374–387.

Marchal, Bertrand. March 2015. “Petite Histoire du Coup de Dés“. Transversalités: Revue de l’Institut Catholique de Paris, 134, 109-113.

Sampson, Sam. 1 July 2015. “Six Pack Sound: Sam Sampson“. New Zealand Electronic Poetry Center. Accessed 8 April 2022.

Stark, Trevor. 2020. Total Expansion of the Letter: Avant-Garde Art and Language after Mallarmé. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Additional photos of the 2022 edition
Credit: Sam Hartnett.
Courtesy and permission to display: Sam Sampson

Bookmarking Book Art – Marine Hugonnier

The Bedside Book Project (2006-07)

The Bedside Book Project is a quintuple homage — Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898), Marcel Broodthaers (1924-1976), Odilon Redon (1840-1916), Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948) and Richard Hamilton (1922-2011) — and approaches its subjects in cinematic fashion. It begins with this anecdote:

In 1945 René Magritte gave Marcel Broodthaers a copy of Mallarmé’s poem as ‘a way of explaining his art to a young admirer without explaining it literally’. In 1969, Broodthaers modified an edition of the poem by covering all its words with black stripes that correspond directly to the typographic layout used by Mallarmé to articulate the text. In this way, Mallarmé’s poem, which Broodthaers considered had unconsciously invented modern space, is reduced to its structure. 

From here, Marine Hugonnier‘s imagination takes hold. As if in a film scene, she moves into the bedrooms of Redon, Schwitters and Hamilton, steals their copies of Un Coup de Dés from their bedside tables, alters each one by inserting images and then replaces them. The result is a series of installations in which the pages of their altered books are displayed on the gallery walls. Each has its “book title”: La forme du mystère (Odilon Redon), Altération (Kurt Schwitters) and L’espace social (Richard Hamilton). Here is Hugonnier’s description of Redon’s book and the installation performance in which it is presented:

Redon’s bedside book has been stolen and its pages have been folded to extend the space and time of the poem’s interlude bringing his dreams to a deeper sleep. ... The mise-en-scène is composed of a white space with an open window, a spider and a man dressed in a tuxedo who will change a solitary frame, containing a folded page of the poem, on the wall every hour. On the 12th hour, the room will be left empty.

The Bedside Book Project: La forme du mystère (Odilon Redon). Source: Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, displayed with permission of the artist.

Staging a performance in which the pages of Redon’s bedside book are parceled out over 12 hours is ambitious. As she introduces Schwitters and Hamilton into The Bedside Book Project, Hugonnier creates an even more ambitious immersion for the reader/viewer in different times, spaces and influence. Further temporal instability is involved as well: the pages on Redon’s 19th century bedside table come from a 2006 Gallimard edition of the poem.

Time travelling from Redon’s bedside table to that of Kurt Schwitters, Hugonnier also introduces a bit of temporal and linguistic instability: Schwitters’ bedside copy comes from the Tiber Press edition of Daisy Aldan’s translation into English, published in 1956 eight years after Schwitters’ death. Colored paper cut-outs conceal words, disrupt the gaps of the poem and alter its reading.

The Bedside Book Project: Altération (Kurt Schwitters). Source: Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, displayed with permission of the artist.

With Richard Hamilton, Hugonnier gives him the same edition as Redon — the Gallimard 2006 — and fills its interstices with images as a way to change its reading.

The Bedside Book Project: L’espace social No.2 (Richard Hamilton). Source: Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, displayed with permission of the artist.

As ghostly film director and actress in the film, Hugonnier wonders how these altered bedside books might have affected the way those three artists perceived art and practiced it in their times. As Hugonnier’s audience, we must surely wonder how she has altered the way we perceive Un Coup de Dés and its influence and very possibly how we perceive time, space and art.

Further Reading

Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’abolira le Hasard – L’Espace Social N2, 2007“. MACBA Collection. MACBA Foundation. Fundación Repsol Collection. Acquired 2009.