Books On Books Collection – Ofer Lellouche

UN COUP DE DÉS JAMAIS N’ABOLIRA LE HASARD
(1997)

UN COUP DE DÉS JAMAIS N’ABOLIRA LE HASARD (1997)
Stéphane Mallarmé
Ofer Lellouche (and Uzy Agassi, ed.)
Full black leather binding over marine plywood with dice, on a stand. H760 x W560 mm, 28 pages with 9 engravings. Edition of 40, of which this is #6. Acquired from Ido Agassi, 28 February 2022.
Photos: Courtesy of Ido Agassi; Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of Ido Agassi and the artist.

Ever since his “brick wall” encounter with Un Coup de Dés and its white-on-black, black-on-white aesthetic, Ofer Lellouche has felt its influence on his art — including self-portraiture, the figurative and landscapes. When first approached by the publisher Ido Agassi (Even Hoshen) to create an artist’s book, he considered working from the ground up with a contemporary but that longstanding influence turned him to Mallarmé. 

The homage consists of marine plywood covered in black leather, dice embedded in the spine and stand, trim size of H760 x W560 mm, Arches 250gsm printed in 22 pt Times New Roman and 9 etchings by Lellouche. The pages of text replicate those of the then-current Pléiade edition of Mallarmé’s Complete Works. Obviously from the size of the work, the pages have been scaled up. The replication of those pages means that the layout is not precisely as Mallarmé designated in the proofs for the deluxe edition. It also means that page numbers appear, and it accounts for the use of Times New Roman. But there are underlying reasons for the scaling up and replication despite the variance from Mallarmé’s plans. 

First, the scale accommodates the size of Lellouche’s largest prints. Tellingly, they require a double-page spread. The use of double-page spreads pays homage to Mallarmé’s elevation of the double-page spread over the single page as a basic structural unit in Un Coup de Dés

Second, the replication of the Pléiade pages begins a set of interconnected allusions and indirect homage to Mallarmé. Picasso was rumored to have used his copy of Mallarmé’s poems as a sketchbook. By replicating the Pléiade pages for his artist’s book, Lellouche inverts Picasso’s habit, draws Mallarmé’s double-page spreads into his artist’s book rather than drawing on them, and thus pays homage to both LES MAÎTRES. Also, through Picasso as inheritor of Mallarmé’s “invention” of modern art’s conception of space (according to Marcel Broodthaers), Lellouche pays a further indirect homage to the poem. The interconnectedness does not end there.

Considering that the main figure in the poem is LE MAÎTRE  (the captain of the shipwreck), the fact that Lellouche’s prints pass from an abstract human figure to self-portraits implies Lellouche’s identification with LE MAÎTRE. When the self-portraits give way to the first full double-page spread (the seventh image, an abstract seascape or image of the abyss to which the poem refers), the shift confirms that self-identification, for LE MAÎTRE likewise seemingly succumbs to l’Abîme. But it is not merely the captain with whom Lellouche is identifying. LE MAÎTRE is the term by which Mallarmé’s contemporaries referred to him. Still it is not so much that Lellouche identifies himself with Mallarmé the poet and social lion as it is that he identifies with the paradoxical and impersonal creative process that lies at the heart of Un Coup de Dés.  Indeed, it is through his own process that Lellouche asserts the identification. Beginning with black on white and progressing through aquatints to white on black, the self-portraits allude in an inverted way to Mallarmé’s paradoxical les blancs. The blank white space means as much as what it surrounds on the page, or rather it makes meaning along with the semantic and typographic elements that it surrounds.

Neither the poem nor the prints end with a definitive yielding to the abyss. The poem progresses to UNE CONSTELLATION. In Mallarmé’s case, the constellation comes at the end of the sentence RIEN N’AURA EU LIEU QUE LE LIEU / EXCEPTÉ PEUT-ÊTRE UNE CONSTELLATION (Nothing will have taken place but the place, except perhaps a constellation). In Lellouche’s case, the constellation takes the form of the multiple female figures ranged white on black across the two final double-page spreads. Again, Lellouche mirrors Mallarmé’s semantic and typographic juggling of symmetry and asymmetry across the center line of the double-page spread.

This brief note about this addition to the collection comes nowhere near exhausting Lellouche’s interaction with and interpretation of Un Coup de Dés. The artist’s book is also only one instance. Later etchings not in the collection underline this. By courtesy and with permission of the artist, here are three in which Lellouche pays even more direct homage to Picasso’s act of sketching on the pages of his copy of Mallarmé’s poems and by which he explores his own identification with this poem.

Further Reading

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.

Lellouche, Ofer. ND. “Ebauche pour une ébauche de “Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard” de Stéphane Mallarmé“. Artist’s site. Accessed 19 March 2022.

Restany, Pierre. April-May, 2001. “The Hand that Thinks“. Artist’s site. Accessed 19 March 2022.

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