“The Poetics of Reason” was the title and theme for the fifth Lisbon Architecture Triennale in 2019 (the first was in 2007). Awarded the ADG Laus 2020 Golden Prize in the category of editorial graphic design, this work stands well with Bruno Munari’s three small 1960’s books on the square, circle and triangle, now available in a single volume, and calls to mind several works testifying to the relationship between architecture and book art. In the first of the five volumes, Éric Lapierre even interweaves with his text on architectural rationality illustrations from book artists such as Bernd and Hilla Becher, Sol Lewitt and Ed Ruscha — all without comment, in itself conveying their implicit relevance. His similar display of a page from Stéphane Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard — that progenitor of modern and post-modern book art — speaks to the role that space — les blancs, as Mallarmé calls it — plays in these adjacent communities.
The second volume, by Ambra Fabi and Giovanni Piovene, draws in Leon Battista Alberti, of course, whose columns ornament works by Mari Eckstein Gower, Helen Malone and many other book artists.
Drawing on Gaston Bachelard and Juhani Pallasmaa as it does, the third volume, by Mariabruna Fabrizzi and Fosco Lucarelli, calls to mind the work of Olafur Eliasson and Marian Macken here in the Books On Books Collection and elsewhere. Anyone familiar with Richard Niessen’s The Typographic Palace of Masonry will appreciate Fabrizzi and Fosco’s exploration of where architecture, imagination and memory intersect.
In the lengthiest of the five volumes, Sébastien Marot takes us into the territory of urban architecture and the anthropocene, also occupied by book artists Sarah Bryant, Emily Speed, Philip Zimmermann and many others.
The last and shortest volume, put together by Laurent Esmilaire and Tristan Chadney, consists mostly of photos that may remind the viewer of Irma Boom’s Elements of Architecture, with Rem Koolhaas, or Strip, with Kees Christiaanse — especially in conjunction with the tinted fore edges.
Referenced below, Pedro Vada’s review of the Triennale and the five separate sites across which it occurred in Portugal provides more insight into the five volumes themselves. Marco Ballesteros LETRA website provides additional images of the five volumes’ design.
“Architecture“. 12 November 2018. Books On Books Collection.
SOCKS Studio, an extraordinary website run by Fabrizzi and Lucarelli.
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).
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) 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.)
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.
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)
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”.
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 this video, 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. As in the video below, 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).
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.
Chicago Octet (2014) byMarlene 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Other sites, other works
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 favorites from these two exhibitions as well as other collections, exhibitions and installations.
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.
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.
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).
Spiral Dome: Sculptures in Paper and Steel (2016) Thomas Parker Williams Photos: Courtesy of the artist
Update: With the addition of Marian Macken’s book Binding Space, mentioned above, comes the Vedute Foundation, a collection of objects/manuscripts by artists/designers/architects created within the constraint that each work has the proportion of the Gutenberg Bible and the relationship of ‘Text’ and ‘Form’ as its subject. For this essay in Books On Books and for the Books On Books Collection’s acquisition of the Merrion edition of Johann David Steingruber’s Architectural Alphabet, the most apropos and favorite work in the Vedute collection is K (1996) by Peter Wilson.
K(1996) Peter Wilson “This contribution (a double volume) is based on the letter ‘K’ (an atom of language), materialised within the Gutenberg proportions in sturdy plywood. It is the responsibility of an architect not only to ‘give form’ but also to explore latent interiorities, potential spatialities. Here the ‘K’ interior has its own inherent geometric agenda − a tunnel, a tube, an inverting telescope (apex mirror). Object becomes instrument (a window to the antipodes even), a trigger for multiple ‘K’ vectors (textural and spatial).” Bolles+Wilson
Macken, Marian. Binding Space: The Book as Spatial Practice (London: Taylor and Francis, 2018). A trained architect and book artist, Macken articulates and illustrates the how and why of the overlap between architecture and book art.
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.]
Ruston’s art celebrates the natural world and human spirit, inviting viewers “to follow, to unravel secrets, and to pay close attention to the world around them”.
Part of a series called Ocean Blue, the book She Returns uses a double concertina fold and ink on Fabriano watercolor paper to invite us to follow the image of a leatherback turtle making its way through the deep, which fluctuates between the depth of blue-black and the shallows of blue-white. The text reads
SheReturns BLACK and GLEAMING
in the Moonlight
her Primordial needs Roaming WaveWashedDreams.
Originating from the Tang dynasty (A.D. 618-908) in China as the Orihon, the concertina fold is also called the accordion fold and sometimes the leporello*. For “She Returns”, Ruston employs a variant of the binding approach in Figure 9. It is
essentially two pages folded together into a concertina fold, but in origami terms, the “mountain” fold of one page is inverted to a “valley” fold, which creates “small boxes” between the pages when the concertina is opened as seen below. The single signature of transparent paper with text is sewn into the centre page. It is bound by a simple stitch top and bottom of each fold.
Painted board covers were then attached.”The stitches at the top and bottom of the page work well as it allows some small movement of the two concertina folds. As I saturate it with water and ink it needs to be a bit more robust but this means it can be bulky when put together.”
The Bárðarbunga volcano in Holuhraun, Iceland, is active. From August 2014 to February 2015, it erupted for 181 days.
Ruston responded to that natural event with the work Holuhraun, 2014-2015.
The box contains “181 individually painted pages, signed and dated for each day the volcano erupted producing ‘new land’.”
Ruston’s Holuhraun reflects that duality of nature’s destructive creation and creative destruction. The sides of the box falling away mimic the volcano’s production of new land. But the work is more subtle than that; it implicates the viewers in that duality. In taking apart the closed object, we “create” or, at least, reveal another object of art.
Ice is the countervailing passion in Ruston’s art.
What a sight to wake up to on a cold winter’s morning – a blanket of thick frost over everything. Armed with camera, and a thick warm coat, I couldn’t resist taking a detour on my way to the studio. The air was still, the grasses and branches coated with ice crystals, all bathed in a soft gentle light. I spent a pleasant hour surrounded by the gentle rustle of ice crystals softly falling to the ground. (12/12/2012)
In response to her natural surroundings, as well as powerful films such as James Balog’s Chasing Ice (PBS, Nova, 2102) and installations like Olafur Eliasson’s Your Waste of Time (MoMA, New York, 2013), Ruston created Are We Listening?, a work of small pieces of handmade paper into which random text is incorporated and overlaid with transparent paper. Human time and earth time, destruction and creation, recurrently emerge as central themes in Ruston’s art whether touched by fire or ice.
In capturing these themes, The Great Gathering (2015) may be Ruston’s masterpiece — so far — in making visible how the world touches us, and how we touch the world. In this work, she has drawn her inspiration from ammonite fossils on display in the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, Cambridge, and the Colchester Natural History Museum. The Great Gathering first appeared as an installation at the Colchester Natural History Museum, which is housed fittingly — especially for this work — in a deconsecrated church.
Using the ammonites spiral shape as a starting point, these books represent the unfolding story of evolution. The humble ammonite is an abundant index fossil, easily recognised, and a regular feature in museum collections. Often associated with journeys, symbolically these particular fossils are believed to have absorbed the knowledge of the Universe from across the centuries.
Science and art are the presiding geniuses over many works of book art.
In The sciences of the artificial (1969), Herbert Simon emphasized: “The natural sciences are concerned with the way things are” and engineering, with the way things ought to be to attain goals. Like the scientist, the artist, too, is concerned with the way things are. They are the raw material with which the artist works or to which he or she responds. But like the engineer or the designer, the artist is concerned with the way things ought to be to make visible “the way things are”:
how a solander box ought to be constructed to operate with the work and, in enclosing it, be “the work”;
what materials (photos from the Hubble telescope) ought to be used to reflect a moment in time;
how thread, tape and stitch ought to be to hold together a spine that will flex and spiral into the shape of a fossil;
how the color of the material ought to be juxtaposed with the material’s altered shape to carry meaning;
how the shift from content to blankness ought to be juxtaposed with the material’s altered shape to carry meaning;
how the selection and alteration of text ought to be made to show the fixity and flux of knowledge and ourselves;
and how our reflection in the mirror in Volume VII under the maker’s tools and the made thing ought to implicate us — a theme echoed above by Holuhraun, 2014-2015 — in an ongoing process of making and remaking.
For her next invitation to the viewer to follow, unravel secrets and attend closely, Ruston is returning to the ocean.
Inspired by Philip Hoare’s Leviathan and his fascination with Melville’s Moby Dick, Ruston recently began research into whales and whaling logs for her next work. Like evolution, here is a subject of grandeur, expanse and time, even fire and ice. The sketchbook pages below tantalize. How will the artist, this time, make visible how the world touches us?
Dare you see a soul at the white heat? Then crouch within the door. Red is the fire’s common tint; But when the vivid ore Has sated flame’s conditions, Its quivering substance plays Without a color but the light Of unanointed blaze. Least village boasts its blacksmith, Whose anvil’s even din Stands symbol for the finer forge That soundless tugs within, Refining these impatient ores With hammer and with blaze, Until the designated light Repudiate the forge. – Emily Dickinson, Part One, Life, XXXIII
MARC STRAUS, the contemporary art gallery in the Lower East Side of New York, opened “an exhibition of white paintings and sculptures by an international selection of artists” on 3 June 2017. It runs through 3 July, and its title The White Heat comes from the first line of Dickinson’s poem above.
Books on Books offers this “white book report” on book art not included to put attendees in the mood for their experience of the works in white by artists such as
Joan Levison and others.
Irwin Susskind‘s “Book Faced Down” is an example of the technique of mixed media – a stark white plaster block facing down the objectified cookbook – to create book art. A piece of sheet cake, a cutting board?
Jonathan Callan‘s piece denies viewers the colorful still lifes of Francisco de Zurbarán and leaves them with this drained-of-color, chiselled double-page spread of a book on the artist.
Where Callan chisels away from the edges inward, Noriko Ambe carves from the inside almost to the edges in her work above.
As the Straus exhibition notes, “In Chinese cultures, White is associated with Death.” In J. Meejin Yoon’s book Absence, the absence of color in a solid white block of thick stock cardboard pages and the “text” of one pinhole and two identical squares die-cut into each of its 120 pages – one for each story of New York’s Twin Towers including the antenna mast – lead the reader down through the missing buildings to the final page where the footprint of the absent structures ends in a die cut of the entire site of the World Trade Center.
Olafur Eliasson seems to have followed Yoon’s technical approach in Your House, 2006, although the effects are far more intricate.
Echoing Yoon’s somber note, Julie K. Dodd‘s paper and book art often dwell on environmental issues, such as the death of a coral colony above and the contours of the natural landscape versus manmade as shown in Untitled.
A more hopeful note is struck in the whiteness of Chris Ruston’s final “ammonite” book in the series The Great Gathering, inspired by Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. The mirror under the maker’s tools and the made thing implicate the viewer here and now in an optimistic ongoing evolutionary process of making and remaking.
Where the white of Yoon’s and Dodd’s works evokes absence and the white of Ruston’s work evokes the blank invitation to singular creativity, Michael Mandiberg‘s installation of multiples, Print Wikipedia, evokes the plenitude of white noise that is our online lives.
And just as technologically allusive, M.L. Van Nice‘s Swiss Army Book poses (tongue in cheek?) the single volume as somehow able to capture, store and transmit knowledge in ways it need not, albeit the meaning of the whiteness here is a bit elusive.
Werner Pfeiffer’s works constitute an extensive treatment in white. The installation at UConn Storrs represents a small proportion of the works shown in retrospectives in the last ten years at Bucknell, Cornell and the Toledo (Ohio) Museum of Art. Pfeiffer’s works touch on censorship, and from his Cornell exhibition, he explains:
The objects I create are made with real books. They are not casts, nor are they sculpted imitations. At its core each piece has bound, printed pages. Glued together and painstakingly covered with gesso, they are silenced and sealed for good. I practice this destruction, this obvious censorship, simply as metaphor. It is to visualize, to demonstrate, to provoke. For these acts of violence are not about the damage done to stacks of paper, to books. The objects are about the harm inflicted on the human spirit. The ropes, the nails, the clamps, the hooks and knifes are real as well. They are symbols of pain, of torture, of suppression which are inevitably brought on by the censor’s act.
With the advent of ebooks, Pfeiffer celebrates the tangibility of the book with his white gessoed book objects and their punning titles as well as origami-like works such as Zig-Zag.
But back to the white works of art at the MARC STRAUSS gallery. Book art is not entirely neglected. Following in their tradition since 1984, Tim Rollins and K.O.S. (“Kids of Survival”) pondered, discussed and “jammed” on 1895 novella by H.G. Wells to produce THE TIME MACHINE (after H.G.Wells), which is included in the exhibition.
According to the artists, “We believe that every total work of art is a time machine – a synthesis of a living past and present located in an object that can only be completed by the social experience of a viewer in the future. The total work of art exists in the invisible fourth dimension of space/time and it is this notion that unites the works in the exhibition. We paint on historic texts in the present so that they can haunt our futures.”
Suitably prepared? Jump in your time machine and head over to 299 Grand Street, on the Lower East Side in New York, and immerse yourself in “The White Heat“.