Books On Books Collection – Mandy Brannan

30 St Mary Axe is a skyscraper in London's mai...

30 St Mary Axe is a skyscraper in London’s main financial district. Designed by Sir Norman Foster architectural studio, built in 2001-2003. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

London’s 30 St Mary Axe is referred to as “the Gherkin,” which a glimpse of the building on the skyline proves unmistakably appropriate.  Mandy Brannan’s bookwork homage to the Gherkin is as architecturally intricate as the building’s cladding, and somehow more satisfying, perhaps because it’s less pickled.

30 St Mary Axe: Cladding (2009)

30 St Mary Axe: Cladding (2009)
Mandy Brannan
Flagbook. H102 x W134 mm. Edition of 20, unnumbered. Acquired from the artist, 20 March 2019. Photo: Books On Books Collection

This work — 30 St Mary Axe: Diagrid (2009) — and 30 St. Mary Axe: Cladding (2009) are among several architecture-inspired works of book art that Brannan has created. The text in the one called Situated could have come straight from Pallasmaa, Bachelard or Merleau-Ponty:

Being situated is generally considered to be part of being embodied, but it is useful to consider each perspective individually. The situated perspective emphasizes that intelligent behaviour derives from the environment and the agent’s interactions with it.

Clearly we are not dealing with some mere mimetic piece of craftwork.

30 St Mary Axe: Diagrid (2009)

30 St Mary Axe: Diagrid (2009)
Mandy Brannan
Modified flagbook. H121 x W154 mm. Edition of 20, unnumbered. Acquired from the artist, 20 March 2019.
Photos: Books On Books Collection

Cladding uses a straightforward flagbook structure, but not only is it double-sided with the architectural photographs, it also places text on the inner side of the accordion support and a statement about the 5,500 panels of glass cladding on the Gherkin. The modification in Diagrid is the inward curving of the flags and their formation of the shape recalling the Gherkin. The wording on the reverse of the accordion is the definition of the architectural term diagrid: “a design element used for constructing large buildings with steel that creates triangular structures with diagonal support beams”.

In addition to the flagbook- and modified-flagbook arrangements of the photos, Brannan has enriched the substance of these works with her choice of etching technique and material: chine colle using pigmented gampi papers. Here is her description:

Chine colle is a process that introduces color and texture into an etching without having to prepare and print additional plates. Any number of lightweight papers can be successfully used for chine colle, but good quality, natural-fiber papers with some degree of lightfastness are most compatible with general etching papers, which are also used in chine colle.

The papers are cut or torn into desired shapes, then dampened between blotters until uniformly moist. A printing paper used for the etching is then blotted to remove excess water. The chine colle papers are then brushed with a coating of wheat paste on one side and placed on top of the inked plate in their desired locations, paste side up.

The chine colle papers adhere to the plate enough to remain undisturbed when the dampened printing paper is placed on top. The pressure from the bed laminates both the chine colle paper and the etching paper. The ink from the plate prints on top of the chine colle papers, creating some interesting and unusual effects with lines, tones, and values.

This description of the chine colle paper process, which adds to one’s appreciation of the bookwork, highlights a certain blend of visual perception and tactile perception that one experiences when confronted by her book as well as by the building itself. With each work, the artist demonstrates her behavior — her choices of material, subject, text and material in each work’s making — and how it derives from her environment and her interactions with it. By integration of text, image, color, structure and material, Brannan also situates the “Gherkin’s” architecture in our hands and gives us the opportunity to contemplate, appreciate and perhaps experience the sense of being situated and embodiment.

Further Reading

Architecture“, Bookmarking Book Art, 12 November 2018.

Bachelard, Gaston. The poetics of space (Boston: Beacon Press, 1994).

Hale, Jonathan A. Merleau-Ponty for architects (New York: Routledge, 2017.

Pallasmaa, Juhani. The eyes of the skin : architecture and the senses (Chichester: John Wiley, 2005).

“Total Expansion of the Letter”, Trevor Stark (MIT Press, 2020): Review

The 125th anniversary of the publication of Stéphane Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés Jamais 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.

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

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)

Clearly that passage links back to the touchstone of Mallarmé’s skepticism about language and communication. The strength of the touchstone is that it can also be fruitfully applied to the numerous works of homage to Mallarmé from contemporary book artists such as Jérémie Bennequin, Michael Maranda, Michalis Pichler, Eric Zboya and many others. Likewise it can used to shed light on the “material text” approach to understanding book art. A case in point is the first issue of Inscription: the Journal of Material Text – Theory, Practice, History, a work of book art in its own right.

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.

Further Reading

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

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.

Willette, Jeanne. “Cubism As Applied Design: Sonia Terk-Delaunay“, Art History Unstuffed, 16 August 2019. Although Robert and Sonia Delaunay are briefly mentioned in the third chapter (p. 248), it would have been interesting to see how Stark would use his touchstone to explicate the first “simultaneous poem”: La Prose du Transsibérien et de la Petite Jehanne de France (1913) by Blaise Cendrars and Sonia Delaunay.

The Yale University Press offset facsimile. Image courtesy of Accordion Publications

Bookmarking Book Art – Architecture

Architecture — be it theory, principles, practices or instances — inspires book art. Lay the book flat; you have a foundation. Open and turn it on its fore-edge; you have a roof beam or arcade. Stand it upright; you have a column or tower. Turn the front cover; you open a door. Put the text and types under a microscope; you have a cityscape. As the examples in this virtual exhibition show, architecture-inspired book art goes beyond these simple analogies.

There are seemingly unrelated texts that help considerably in going there. The Eyes of the Skin (2005) and The Embodied Image (2010) by Juhani Pallasmaa, architect, teacher and critic, are two of them. He writes as if he were an artist preparing an artist’s statement or descriptions of the book art below. The title of his earlier book gives away his alignment with the visual and tactile nature of book art. Pallasmaa’s two books will enrich anyone’s enjoyment of the works shown and mentioned here.

From the Books On Books Collection

Helen Malone

Malone’s Ten Books of Architecture is a good place to start in the collection. Like Pallasmaa, Malone takes a broad historical and, most important, haptic view of architecture from Vitruvius to Hadid. Each of the ten books is a bookwork that exemplifies its subject.

Photo: Books On Books Collection
Photo: Books On Books Collection

Marcus Vitruvius Pollio

The columns in this accordion book are made by embossing; the marbling effect comes from diluted Sumi ink.
Photo: Books On Books Collection

Abbot Suger of Saint-Denis

Adapted tunnel book with accordion sides
Photo: Books On Books Collection
A watercolour at the tunnel’s end to evoke the stained glass clerestory windows in the Basilique Saint-Denis, Paris
Photo: Books On Books Collection

The aspiration to fuse the cosmic and the human, divine and mortal, spiritual and material, combined with the systems of proportion and measure deriving simultaneously from the cosmic order and human figure, gave architectural geometries their meaning and deep sense of spiritual life. The Embodied Image, p. 23.

Leon Battista Alberti

Photo: Books On Books Collection
Photo: Books On Books Collection

The texture of this book, its adapted accordion structure and Alberti’s words remind me of Geoffroy Tory’s Champ fleury: The Art and Science of the Proportion of the Attic or Ancient Roman Letters, According to the Human Body and Face  (1529) and its argument for finding the ideal shape of the letters in the human form and face. The alphabet as book art’s bones, bricks and beams?

And further apropos the link between the book and architecture, consider the connection that Vasari drew between Gutenberg and Alberti:

In the year 1457 [sic], when the very useful method of printing books was discovered by Johann Gutenberg the German, Leon Batista [sic], working on similar lines, discovered a way of tracing natural perspectives and of effecting the diminution of figures by means of an instrument, and likewise the method of enlarging small things and reproducing them on a greater scale; all ingenious inventions, useful to art and very beautiful. Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors and Architects, vol. 1, trans. Gaston Du C. de Vere (London: Medici Society/ Philip Lee Warner, 1912-1914), 494.

Filippo Brunelleschi

Photo: Books On Books Collection
Photo: Books On Books Collection

In “An Architectural Confession”, Pallasmaa writes:

One’s most important teacher may have died half a millennium ago; one’s true mentor could well be Filippo Brunelleschi or Piero della Francesca. I believe that every serious artist — at the edge of his/her consciousness — addresses and offers his/her work to a superior colleague for approval. The Eyes of the Skin, p. 82.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh

“A paradox of enrichment and reduction”
Photo: Books On Books Collection
“New technologies”
Photo: Books On Books Collection
Photo: Books On Books Collection

Le Corbusier

This curiously textured cube sits perfectly alongside Pallasmaa’s observation: “The basic geometric shapes have their symbolic connotations, but more important than their conventional meanings are their conceptual and visual organising powers” (The Embodied Image, p. 58).

Photo: Books On Books Collection
Photo: Books On Books Collection
Photo: Books On Books Collection
Photo: Books On Books Collection

I.M. Pei

Photo: Books On Books Collection
Photo: Books On Books Collection
Photo: Books On Books Collection
A short trip around this small pyramid as a reminder of the entrances that were always on the far side of museums you visited
Photo: Books On Books Collection

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

Photo: Books On Books Collection
“Reading” the perspex accordion invites reconfiguring your own hi-rise and skyline.
Photo: Books On Books Collection

Daniel Libeskind

It is no surprise that Pallasmaa has written extensively on Libeskind.
Photo: Books On Books Collection
Photo: Books On Books Collection
Photo: Books On Books Collection
Photo: Books On Books Collection

Zaha Hadid

This edition of Malone’s Ten Books is unique in its inclusion of Hadid, who is not mentioned in either of Pallasmaa’s books but whose artistry and turn to the organic and curves of nature certainly fit with their spirit.
Photo: Books On Books Collection

Malone’s Ten Books has a predecessor in Laura Davidson’s contribution to the 1994 Smithsonian show on book art inspired by its collection of rare science books (see section below). Although there is also Karen Wirth’s sculptural take on the Ten Books as well as Ron Keller’s take (see section below) on Palladio’s Fours Books of Architecture, which is Palladio’s take on Vitruvius, I have not found any other Vitruvian-inspired works of book art. (Pointers welcome.)

Mandy Brannan

These two works — 30 St Mary Axe: Diagrid (2009) and 30 St. Mary Axe: Cladding (2009) — are among several architecture-inspired works of book art that Brannan has created. The text in one of those several — Situated — could have come straight from Pallasmaa, Bachelard or Merleau-Ponty:

Being situated is generally considered to be part of being embodied, but it is useful to consider each perspective individually. The situated perspective emphasizes that intelligent behaviour derives from the environment and the agent’s interactions with it.

30 St Mary Axe: Diagrid (2009)
Mandy Brannan
London has nicknamed the building at 30 St. Mary Axe “the Gherkin”.
Photo: Books On Books Collection
Photo: Books On Books Collection
30 St. Mary Axe: Cladding (2009)
Mandy Brannan
Photo: Books On Books Collection

By integration of image, colour and structure, Brannan situates the “Gherkin’s” architecture in your hands.

Sarah Bryant

The Radiant Republic (2019)
Sarah Bryant
Photo: Books On Books Collection

In the The Radiant Republic (2019), Sarah Bryant (Big Jump Press) brings together concrete, wood, glass, paper, ink and embossed printing, sewn binding, box container and texts from Plato and Le Corbusier.

Note the embossed text on the verso. Across the five volumes, the embossed text is the same as that printed in ink, but it runs in fragments backwards from this last page of the last volume to the last page of the first volume.
Photo: Books On Books Collection

Bryant’s insightful integration of Plato’s and Le Corbusier’s texts and ideas and her setting them in the physicality of the blond wood, linen cover, embossed type and sewn papers could easily be a response to Pallasmaa’s comment in The Eyes of the Skin: “The current overemphasis on the intellectual and conceptual dimensions of architecture contributes to the disappearance of its physical, sensual and embodied essence.” (p. 35)

Helen Douglas and Telfer Stokes

Chinese Whispers (1975) is conceptual, visual and spatial narrative that takes the reader into a “game of embedded games”: a game of Chinese Whispers used by the artists to combine the process of making a book with the process of recovering an old cottage, making a corner cupboard, making jam, making ideas and making an exit.

Chinese Whispers (1975), Helen Douglas and Telfer Stokes, Photo: Books On Books Collection

The selection of images above begins with the front cover’s photo of a patch of grass outside an abandoned farm building and ends with the back cover’s photo of the underside of the patch of grass. In between, the pages take the viewer through the trimmed hedge and the doorway into the room, through the building, the stocking of the shelves, using of the stock and closing of the shed cupboard, and so back to the other side of the patch of grass. As Stokes explained in the Journal of Artist’s Books (Vol. 12, 1999):

We started with the corner cupboard, that was the part that occupied our thinking most, that and the two colour vignettes (as we called them) printed on different stock. But then we started to think backward to what might be before the cupboard’s construction. To the thing before that, and the thing before that, and the thing before that which was cutting of the hedge and before that which was the boot brush which we called the hedgehog- that was where the book started. Then we started to photograph from that point forward, through the book.

The work blends the features of book structure, collage and montage to create something that resonates uncannily with Pallasmaa’s approving citations of Bachelard’s central idea of the hearth and domicile as central to our time-bound “being-in-the-world”.

Heather Hunter

Folded book pages rarely generate a work that rises above mere craft. Heather Hunter’s Observer Series: Architecture (2009) achieves the necessary height. It combines the altered book with an accordion book that incorporates a found poem composed of the words excised and folded outwards from the folded pages of The Observer’s Book of Architecture.

Observer Series: Architecture (2009)
Heather Hunter
Photo: Books On Books Collection
Photo: Books On Books Collection

The very fact of a found poem made of excised words that happen to fall at the folds shaping a column from a book on architecture chimes with the title of Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space.

Marlene MacCallum

Chicago Octet (2014) by Marlene MacCallum embodies the collaborative creative approach often taken in architects’ practices. Collaborative working arises almost as frequently in book art. Think of Blaise Cendrars and Sonia Delaunay, Helen Malone and Jack Oudyn, Julie Chen and Clifton Meador, Robin Price and Daniel Kelm. Many more can be added. As described by MacCallum:

From May 19 – 26, 2014 a group of eight gathered at the Columbia College Center for Book and Paper Arts for a final collaborative project. This event was organized by Clifton Meador and myself and included David Morrish, Scott McCarney, and four Grenfell Campus BFA (Visual Arts) grads, Stephen Evans, Maria Mercer, Virginia Mitford, and Meagan Musseau…. The letterpress printing consisted of a word selected by each participant printed on one of Scott’s folded structures. The images were a digital layering of every cityscape photograph that I made and then inkjet printed on top of the letterpress. The final folded structure was designed by Mary Clare Butler. The case was designed and built by Scott McCarney, the front cover embossment was by David Morrish and Clifton Meador.

Chicago Octet (2014)
Marlene MacCallum
Hand bound artist’s book with folded paper structure, letterpress and inkjet printing, 6.5 × 3 × 0.5 inches (closed dimension).
Photo: Books On Books Collection

Photo: Books On Books Collection

Chicago Octet fully unfolded, 17.5 × 11.5 inches
Photo: Books On Books Collection

Can you hear the traffic and sense the layers of experience? What Pallasmaa writes here of rock art in Africa and Australia reminds me of Chicago Octet (or is it vice versa?): “

At the same time that great works of art make us aware of time and the layering of culture, they halt time in images that are eternally new. … Regardless of the fact that these images may have been painted 50,000 years ago, … we can … hear the excited racket of the hunt. The Embodied Image, p. 109.

Salt + Shaw (Paul Salt and Susan Shaw)

Mill: A journey around Cromford Mill, Derbyshire (2006) is the result of the artists’ exploration of Cromford Mill in Derbyshire, the first water-powered, cotton-spinning mill developed by Richard Arkwright in 1771. Solid, plaster cast blocks are held softly between calico pages containing hidden texts, bound in recycled wooden library shelf covers that indicate there is history to be found within.

Mill: A journey around Cromford Mill, Derbyshire (2006)
Salt + Shaw (Paul Salt and Susan Shaw)
Photo: Books On Books Collection

Having Mill is like having the building inside your house.

Karen Wirth

Architecture plays more than an inspirational role in Karen Wirth’s portfolio. As mentioned above, she has created her own take on Vitruvius’ Ten Books. She designed the Gail See Staircase at Open Book and the Hiawatha Light Rail Station, both in Minneapolis. The collage work Paper Architecture is based on an architectural installation at the Minnesota Center for Arts Design and draws on Wirth’s photos of Ayvalik, Amsterdam, Florence, Istanbul, New York City, Rome, San Diego and Venice.

Paper Architecture (2017)
Karen Wirth
Photographs in the book © Karen Wirth
Photo: Books On Books Collection

In The Embodied Image, Pallasmaa singles out “the collaged image” as creating “a dense non-linear and associative narrative field through initially unrelated aggregates, as the fragments obtain new roles and significations through the context and dialogue with other image fragments” (pp.71-72). The materially disparate words in the title of Wirth’s work imply the dialogues she creates among paper, designs of letters and architecture, buildings across time and the globe, and photos tinted, four-colour, and black-and-white in palimpsest.

For Wirth’s own comments about the intersection of book art and architecture, see her interview with Betty Bright.

J. Meejin Yoon

Former professor and head of the Department of Architecture at MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning, Yoon is now Gale and Ira Drukier Dean of the College of Architecture, Art and Planning at Cornell University. She is also cofounder of Höweler + Yoon, a design-driven architecture practice. Absence appears to be her only work of book art so far.

When you hold this small white brick of paper and turn its thick pages, a small pinhole appears on the page. Then two larger square holes emerge, one of which falls over the pinhole. Page after page, the two square holes repeat, creating two small dark wells in the field of white, until on the last page they take their place in the cut-out schematic footprint of the city blocks and buildings surrounding the Twin Towers of New York City. What you hold in your hands at the end is an object of art and book of memorial prayer.

Absence (2003)
J. Meejin Yoon
Photo: Books On Books

Architecture-themed works from other sites

Twice a semester, the Environmental Design Library at the University of California, Berkeley hosts “Hands On: An Evening with Artists’ Books”. In 2017, one evening’s theme was “Building on the Built”, illustrated by 25 works of book art. Organised by 23 Sandy Gallery in the same year, “BUILT“ was an international juried exhibition featuring 66 artist books by 51 artists examining the relationship between contemporary book art practices and architecture, engineering, landscape and construction.

Arranged alphabetically by artist’s name, this section provides links to favourites from these two exhibitions as well as other collections, exhibitions and installations.

James Allen: The Golden Section (2016), Architectural Graphics (2018)

Architectural Graphics (2018)
James Allen
Photo: Courtesy of the artist

Charlene Asato: Black & White (2013)

Alicia Bailey: Cities & Eyes (2016)

Carli Boisjolie: Places of Theirs (2016)

Amy Borezo: Raising the Supine Dome (2010)

Raising the Supine Dome (2010)
Amy Borezo
Photo: Courtesy of the artist

Inge Bruggeman: A Crisis Ethicist’s Directions for Use: Or How to be at Home in a Residence-cum-Laboratory (2003)

A Crisis Ethicist’s Directions for Use: Or How to be at Home in a Residence-cum-Laboratory (2003)
Inge Bruggeman
Photos: Courtesy of the artist

On her site, Bruggeman writes, “This book/box project is built around excerpts from Architectural Body by Madeline Gins and Arakawa…. incorporates a blueprint of their Bioscleave House as part of the imagery….”. Somewhat like A Clockwork Orange or perhaps more like Heideigger’s tomes, the Gins and Arakawa book is a challenge to the reader’s expectations of diction and syntax.

R D Burton: Structures II (2015)

Carol Chase Bjerke: Homage to Peter Mullin (2014)

Julie Chen and Barb Tetenbaum: Ode to a grand staircase (for four hands) (2011)

Susan Collard: Work in Great Cities (2011); Quixity (2017)

Guylaine Couture: Everyone Needs a Home (2017)

Laura Davidson: Ten Books of Vitruvius (1994), Venice : Piazza San Marco (2010)

Olafur Eliasson: Your House (2006)

Elsi Vassdal Ellis: Here is the church. Here is the Steeple. Here are questions for the people. (2017)

Alisa Golden: Woods in the City (2013)

Woods in the City (2013)
Alisa Golden
Photos: Courtesy of the artist

Christiane Grauert: Folding City (2016)

Karen Hanmer: The model architect: the panic of ’09 (2010)

Hongtao Zhou: Textscape-TONTSEN Eye (2019)

Textspace-TONTSEN Eye (2019)
Hongtao Zhou
Photos: Courtesy of the artist

Johan Hybschmann: Book of Space (2009)

Ronald Keller: Palladio, Andrea (1508-1580): excerpts from the four books on architecture (2008)

Louise Levergneux: Finding Home (2016)

Marlene MacCallum: Townsite House Bookwork (2006). See also Gail Tuttle, The Architectural Uncanny (Newfoundland: Sir Wilfred Grenfell College of Art Gallery, 2007).

Richard Minsky: Model of Buckminster Fuller’s Tetrascroll (1979). See also Polly Lada-Mocarski, Richard Minsky and Peter Seidler, “Book of the Century: Fuller’s Tetrascroll“, Craft Horizons, October 1977 (Vol. 7, No. 35). For one (very helpful) reading of Tetrascroll see Jessica Prinz’s “The ‘Non-Book’: New Dimensions in the Contemporary Artist’s Book” in The Artist’s Book: The Text and its Rivals, a special two-issue volume of Visible Language, Vol. 25, Nos. 2/3, edited by Renée Riese Hubert (Providence, RI: Rhode Island School of Design, 1991), pp. 286-89.

Marta Minujín: El Partenon de Libros (1983)

Howard Munson: The Architects (2018)

Sumi Perera: Building Blocks Book XVII (2017). Further information available at Saatchi Art.

Building Blocks Book XVII (2017) Sumi Perera Photos by artist’s permission

Going against the usual structure of the book, that of a beginning, a middle and an end, Perera provides a space for infinite possibilities and multiple authors, creating “modules that can be re-sequenced and re-aligned to develop variable permutations and encourage participatory involvement, to share the final editorial control with the viewer to transform the ever-evolving work”. These possibilities for variable permutations are no more evident than in her constantly evolving project, Building Blocks Book, and its numerous subsequent iterations including The Negative Space of Architecture and The House That Jack Never Built (2008). Once again we find Perera exploring human interaction, not only with the concepts and her quizzical ideas surrounding architectural and public spaces and how we build between and move within, but also the physical interaction with the artists’ books she produces – the rearrangement and reinsertion of pages which allow the audience and participants new opportunities and pathways to proceed. Through the positive and negative space of the page or the type font, the Underground versus over ground, the artist takes us on journeys that are at once fluid and at other times obstructive. In these cityscapes, the U-turn is as common as the page turn – a necessary rupture in a free-flowing narrative. Chris Taylor, From Book to Book (Leeds: Wild Pansy Press, 2008).

Maria G. Pisano: Tunnel Vision (2004), Hecatombe 9-11 (2007)

Laura Russell: Casa Mila (2006)

Marilyn Stablein: Grids, Lines, Blocks: Basics Tools to Build Linear Habitats (2017)

Barbara Strigel: Visible Cities (2016)

Nikki Thompson: A Tribute to Alvar Aalto (2008)

A Tribute to Alvar Aalto (2008)
Nikki Thompson
Photos: Courtesy of the artist

Andrew Topel: Blueprints (2012)

Christine Trexel: Building the Universe (2017)

Amanda Watson-Will: The Great Library (2011)

Rachel Whiteread: Nameless Library (2000)

Thomas Parker Williams: Spiral Dome: Sculptures in Paper and Steel (2016)

Spiral Dome: Sculptures in Paper and Steel (2016)
Thomas Parker Williams
Photos: Courtesy of the artist

Further Reading

Sophia Kramer, “Variations of Vitruvius: Four Centuries of Bookbinding and Design”, The Met, 22 August 2018. This essay reviews and illustrates the conservation and rehousing of ninety-five copies of De Architectura libri decem (The Ten Books of Architecture) by Marcus Pollio in the collection of the Department of Drawings and Prints. They are part of a donation of 356 publications from the architect William Gedney Beatty (1869–1941). For book artists, the section on a 1556 edition with double volvelles to display a theater design should be of interest.

David Sume. The architectural nature of the illustrated books of Iliazd : (Ilia Zdanevich, 1894-1975, University of Montreal, 2019. This dissertation is a reminder that the importance of architecture to book art reaches back to the avant-garde and modernists of the early 20th century — and more important, that its importance may lie beneath the surface.

Elizabeth Williams, “Architects Books: An Investigation in Binding and Building”, The Guild of Book Workers Journal, Volume 27, Number 2, Fall 1989. This essay not only pursues the topic of architecture-inspired book art but turns it on its head. An adjunct professor at the time, Williams set her students the task of reading Ulises Carrión’s The New Art of Making Books (Nicosia: Aegean Editions, 2001) then, after touring a bindery, “to design the studio and dwelling spaces for a hand bookbinder on an urban site in Ann Arbor, Michigan”. But before producing the design, the students were asked “to assemble the pages [of the design brief and project statement] in a way that explored or challenged the concept of binding”. In other words, they had to create bookworks and then, inspired by that, create their building designs. Williams illustrates the essay with photos of the students’ bookworks. [Special thanks to Peter Verheyen for this reference.]