Books On Books Collection – Francisca Prieto

The Antibook (2002)

The Antibook (2002)
Francisca Prieto
Book: 205 x 105 mm Icosahedron: 15 x 17 x 19 cm

The Antibook deliberately opposes convention by challenging our ideas of what a book should be. Using the text of Nicanor Parra’s AntiPoems Francisca visualises the poem’s idea of ‘Anti’, creating a work that reacts both with and against its deconstructed material.

Francisca uses modular origami to extend the dimensions of the flat page and change the lines of its folds, producing a book that only makes sense when assembled as a three-dimensional icosahedron. When in a conventional format, bound with one spine, Francisca’s pages cannot be read. Creating a visual defiance from a material usually confined,

Francisca forges new meanings for the resistant ‘Anti’ – and for the book as an object itself.

Artist’s description. Accessed 20 September 2019.

To hold and turn The Antibook in your hands to read Parra’s poems makes the book of poems strangely more palpable than the conventionally bound version. The work as a whole has its maximum effect when the reader/viewer engages with both the icosahedron and bound book, weighing the experience of each against the other.

Printed Matter Series (2002-2008)

Printed Matter (2008)
Francisca Prieto
Ten prints. H594 x W420 mm. Edition of 15, of which this is #14. Acquired from the artist, 4 December 2020.
Photos © Francisca Prieto, displayed with permission of the artist.

By investigating the nature of print, numerical and alphabetic characters, the Printed Matter Series alludes to, or poses, a partial origin story for the alphabet. Archaeological finds suggest that numbers preceded letters, and the Hebrew alphabet includes numbers with its letters.

Graphic artists and, especially book artists, seem to place the characters we use to express any word or message right alongside ink, paint, paper as just one more raw material for making art. As Prieto writes on her site,

Breaking down the lines of typographical characters, meaning is celebrated for its form, abstracting the shapes of these figures curious yet perfunctory flicks, curves and flourishes. Type’s personality is felt through its familiarity, so when these recognisable symbols are split, adjoined and turned on their head, the results are playful and stylised – questioning our own oblivious acceptance of the way things ought to be or read.

Francisca Prieto (2018)

Hill, Sophie. Francisca Prieto (Santiago, Chile: Fundación Lustro, 2018).
Hardback – slipcased, 300 pages, 250+ Ills
Bilingual: English and Spanish
Limited edition of 2200 230 x 280 x 35 mm

Having seen Composition No. 1, I can attest to the precision of its folds. Like The Antibook and all of Prieto’s works I have seen, it is nearly impossible to resist touching it. By using this old cricket club record book and placing it on a diagonal like a falling wicket stump, the artist adds paper-dry humour to a beautiful work of book art.

Further Reading

Francisca Prieto I”, Books On Books, 25 May 2014.

Francisca Prieto II”, Books On Books, 4 March 2015.

The Antibook – Francisca Prieto”, Collection Items, British Library, n.d. Accessed 13 September 2019.

Banks, Caroline. “Francisca Prieto – work with paper and metal”, One-minute blog of interesting things, 2 July 2018. Accessed 13 September 2019.

Trench, Anna. “Francisca Prieto’s Between Folds series creates origami windows into the past”, It’s Nice That, 26 February 2013. Accessed 19 September 2019.

A PPPS to Bookmarking “imposition” – the craft of learning by doing

Wynken de Worde’s printer’s device.

Under the blog name “Wynken de Worde,” Sarah Werner  writes about books, early modern culture, and those of us who may be postmodern readers — when she is not preparing the syllabus for her course at the Folger Shakespeare Library.   Wynken (not related to Blynken or Nod) was the primary assistant to William Caxton the first printer of English-language books — Malory’s Morte d’Arthur,  Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and The Golden Legend.

If Sarah Werner channels Wynken de Worde in her classroom as well as she does through her website, her students are to be envied.  She makes what she writes tangible, palpable, haptic. Three brief examples, the last of which prompts this bookmark:

Imposition is “the arranging of pages in a chase [a steel or iron frame for holding them tightly for the letterpress] in a particular sequence . . .  so that when folded the printed pages will be in consecutive order.”  Glaister, Encyclopedia of the Book (2001).  But the earliest books did not have page numbers, so how were old Bill and Wynk to know which to place where?   Here’s Werner:

Lerner’s newsbook ready for folding.

Above is a numbered example of the same newsbook that I used as an image in my last post. The red numbers are page numbers: folded in the right way, you’d get an 8-page booklet in the order indicated. But if you look closely, you’ll see that the actual news sheet doesn’t have page numbers. Instead, there are signatures: at the bottom of the first page is a tiny, blotted “L”; at the bottom of the 5th page is a tiny “L3″ (the “L2″ has been cut off at some point when the page was trimmed). These are signature marks that count off by leaves. What’s a leaf, you ask? It’s a physical unit of paper: when you turn the page in a book, you are actually turning a leaf of paper. Early modern printers would have thought in terms of sheets and leaves, not pages, when they were figuring out how to print a work. Depending on the imposition (how the text is laid out on the sheet), you could end up with different numbers of leaves: 1, 2, 4, 8, 12, 16, 24.  A quarto imposition results in a sheet of paper being turned into 4 leaves; there are 2 pages to each leaf (a recto side and a verso side), so there are 8 pages in all. The blue letters and numbers show the signatures. One thing that throws off beginners is understanding how recto and verso relate to each other.  They do not mean right and left but front and back.

Providing a downloadable PDF with which to follow along, Werner walks the reader through the exercise and proves her point:  “it’s a handy way to understand and demonstrate to others the general principle of early modern format: multiple pages are printed onto a single sheet in the correct order so that when folded, they appear sequentially.”

The second example of the pedagogically palpable or the palpably pedagogic comes in the same posting:

“When you’re done, you can try folding it into a tiny little pressman’s cap, following the instructions that appear in this lovely piece, “The Newspaper Man is Defunct,” from The Cape Cod today.”

That bit of fun was two years ago.  The brilliance is undiminished today; if anything it’s brighter.   For this year’s course, Werner is handing out her syllabus in unpaginated quarto format.  To figure out the syllabus, the students have to fold the imposition correctly!  Try it yourself and grasp the meaning of the “book arts.”

Ah, the books arts.  Imposition.  The dying arts?  You need look no further than the end of your Proboscis to see that that is not true.   Proboscis is a London-based non-profit studio that commissions and facilitates new works and publications, some of which can be found in the DIFFUSION library.

DIFFUSION ebooks are hybrid digital/material publications. They bring together the “tactile pleasures of tangible objects with the ease of sharing via digital media.” Shareable paper books, free to download as PDFs, print and make up,  DIFFUSION eBooks “can be shared electronically or as material objects – scanned, photocopied, emailed or posted. The eBooks bridge analogue and digital media by taking the reader away from the computer screen and engaging them with the handmade.”

And just a bit further along the continuum is Francisca Prieto, also in London. Inspired by the serio-comical poet Nicanor Parra’s “antipoems,”  Prieto offers up The ANTIBOOK.


The reader must fold the pages of the book (20.5 x 10.5cm) to form the icosahedron (15 x 17 x 19cm) in order to read Parra’s antipoems in order.

Whether Prieto’s ANTIBOOK or the DIFFUSION ebooks are book, art, both or neither, they and Wynken de Worde make us think with our hands as well as our minds about what can be done with the form and concept of the book.  And that makes the concept of imposition worth a bookmark.

PS: “Books On Books” acknowledges David Pearson‘s Books as History (New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll, 2008 and 2011), p. 75, for the inspiration of the wording of the conclusion here.

PPS: Another opportunity to learn by doing can be found at the end of a short and witty book called A Dodo at Oxford: An Unreliable Account of a Student and His Pet Dodo. Under the guise of explaining, presenting and annotating a diary found in a charity shop, Philip Atkins and Michael Johnson deliver a history of the book. Appendix 7 provides the offer to engage in imposition.

PPPS (6 January 2021): Weeks into a third Corona virus lockdown, another contribution for learning imposition by doing has appeared. Appropriately this time in the Quarantine Public Library started by Katie Garth and Tracy Honn in May 2020. It comes from Barb Tetenbaum; check out the download and instruction video here.

Untitled Tetenbaum imposition

Barbara Tetenbaum
Chemistry stencils (Prague, 1993); colored pencils (Madison, WI, 1975); and press-on letters from the model train industry are combined with a 100-year old Encyclopedia Brittanica page.