“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.
LDK 2,020 (2020) Yasushi Cho Banderole bound, single sheet cut and folded accordion style. 75 x 75 mm. Edition of 45, of which this is #7. Acquired from the artist 10 April 2021. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
LDK 2,020, LDK FL00R and LDK 2,009 make up part of a series. Their letters L, D and K stand for Living, Dining and Kitchen and are the usual abbreviations in Japanese apartment/flat sales leaflets. Every day they arrive or can be picked up on the street, and Cho creates collages from them, digitally printing them on stiff translucent paper to be cut and creased, then folded into an accordion-style booklet. For the reader, the folds and cuts of the stiff translucent paper make a tricky “assembly and disassembly” — or reading — of the work to make it into a cube or other three-dimensional shape.
In the process of flattening the booklets into a single sheet, then folding and creasing and re-creasing, the reader wonders how the aspects of LDK may have fit together before their abstraction into the collage. Eventually though, the assembly creates objects whose interiors are their exteriors — and vice versa — and inevitably recall the shoji screens still used in traditional houses and even apartments.
LDK FL00R (2010)
LDK FL00R (2010) Yasushi Cho Banderole bound, single sheet cut and folded accordion style. 85 x 85 mm. Edition of 45, of which this is #3. Acquired from the artist, 10 April 2021. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
Like the commas in LDK 2,020 (above) and LDK 2,009 (below), the zeroes in LDK FL00R play on the apartment prices listed in the sales leaflets, but also allude to the apartments’ floor numbers. The wordplay of the titles echoes the playful multiple shapes that the sheets can take and the resulting multiple views of the collages. The collaged images in LDK FL00R, however, are of the floor surfaces only.
LDK 2,009 (2009)
LDK 2,009 (2009) Yasushi Cho Banderole bound, single sheet cut and folded accordion style. 75 x 75 mm. Edition of 45, of which this is #36. Acquired from the artist, 10 April 2021. Photos: Books On Books Collection
With smaller works of book art, size can disguise their depth and impact. In “reading” LDK 2,009 and its companions, an extraordinary depth and impact emerge. As the opened books assume their shapes and take their place in display, another element of the artful choice of material and printing technique emerges: the resulting play of light. This is a theme that Cho explores in two very different ways in the next works.
.interior (2010) Yasushi Cho Slipcase. Booklet, sewn. H150 x W98 mm, 24 pages. Edition of 30, of which this is #4. Acquired from the artist, 10 April 2021. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
The photos in Cho’s book display views of the outside world, some of which appear to have been taken from inside an apartment whose interior is reflected in its window. Other photos display interiors — a café, an empty store — taken from an exterior vantage, resulting in reflections from the establishments’ window fronts. Some — a carpark, a walkway — seem unmediated. The playful title .interior, taken from the transposition of ・インテリア printed in the window below, and displayed on the spine of the mirrored slipcase above, confirms the artist’s theme of exploring the paradox of interior vs exterior, reflection and the mediation of vantage points.
The work’s theme of reflection is also compounded by the flimsy mirrored paper interpersed between some (not all) of the recto and verso pages. Depending on the image reflected and how the mirrored paper is turned, the reader may find a simple duplicate or an extension of a pattern. Above, the shop’s interior duplicates itself upside down; below, the high rise against a blue sky duplicates itself.
Above, the staircase seems to curve behind itself, the reflected car extends the row of parked cars, and below, the ceiling and light fixtures extend their pattern into the mirror.
Where the recto and verso are not divided by the mirrored paper, other permutations on the theme of reflection occur. Below, in the center of the book, the window in the recto page seems to reflect the vantage point from which the verso page’s photo was taken. The virtuosity in manipulating vantage points here recalls that of Michael Snow’s Cover to Cover (1975) and Marlene MacCallum’s Theme and Permutations (2012) or Shadow Cantos(2018-19).
In its composition, the photography fascinates the eye, and Cho’s use of the book and mirrored paper to present and transform the photos fascinates the mind, provoking contemplation of the paradoxes of interior, exterior and their reflections. No doubt, a gallery show could deliver similar fascination, but as a book, .interior is more than a gallery of artwork: it is a work of art.
Ld (2003) Yasushi Cho Acetate sleeve. Booklet, handsewn. A5 nonstandard trim, 32 pages. Edition of 30, of which this is #18. Acquired from the artist, 10 April 2021. Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.
If the stylized letters “L” and “d” do not suffice to distinguish this work from the LDK series, its shape, content and source certainly do. The way the images, surfaces and shapes play off one another suggests that “L” stands for light, and “d” for dark. The very different source from which the work arises — a night-time walk and shoot in Tokyo — confirms it.
On the black pages, the artist has overprinted in black to give a shadowy depth to the images and surface. The images in the dark sometimes reflect the images in the light — sometimes from the facing page, other times from previous pages. Below, for instance, the film-sprocket shapes just visible on a previous verso page’s lower edge reappear faintly, enlarged and in black over the red lights. The red lights, in turn, reappear faintly, also enlarged and in black on the lower half of the narrowing recto page.
These reflections begin to suggest those retinal images that appear after a flash of light or when eyes are held too tightly closed — both of which conjure up a night-time photo shoot in an environment of contrasts between neon lights or spotlights and the shadows they cast. By staring at the bright images on one page (below), the reader may also experience additional retinal images on the facing page.
The irregularly shaped pages recall Philip Zimmermann’s High Tension (1993) or Helmut Lohr’s Visual Poetry (1995). Cho’s pages alternate at angles, narrow or widen. With the flashes between light and dark, they evoke the photographer’s searching eye, focusing lens and movement through night-time Tokyo.
Both .interior and Ld are sophisticated — materially, conceptually and in execution. With the LDK series, they make a strong addition to the Books On Books Collection.
Cover to Cover (1975) Michael Snow Cloth on board, sewn and casebound. H230 x W180 mm. 310 unnumbered pages. Published by Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. Unnumbered edition of 300. Acquired from Mast Books, 10 December 2020. Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.
After a long search since first sight of it in 2016 at Washington, D.C.’s now defunct Corcoran Gallery library, the original hardback edition of Michael Snow’s Cover to Cover (1975) finally joins the Books On Books Collection. Thanks to Philip Zimmermann, more readers/viewers have the chance to experience Cover to Cover — if only through the screen — than the original’s 300 copies and Primary Information’s 1000 facsimile paperback copies will allow.
Amaranth Borsuk describes the work and experience of it in The Book(2018), as do Martha Langford in Michael Snow (2014), Marian Macken in Binding Spaces (2017) and Zimmermann in his comments for the exhibition “Book Show: Fifty Years of Photographic Books, 1968–2018” (for all, see links below). Like Chinese Whispers by Telfer Stokes and Helen Douglas and Theme and Permutation by Marlene MacCallum, Michael Snow’s Cover to Cover has that effect — of evoking an urge to articulate what is going on and how the bookwork is re-imagining visual narrative, how it is making us look, and how it makes us think about our interaction with our environs and the structure of the book.
The already existing commentary about Cover to Cover sets a high hurdle for worthwhile additional words. One thing going on in the book, though, seems to have gone unremarked. Some critics have asserted that, other than its title on the spine, the book has no text. There is text, however. It occurs within what I would call the preliminaries, and they show us how to read the book.
Front cover and its endpaper
On the front cover, we see a door from the inside. Then, on its pastedown endpaper, the author outside the door with his back to us. On turning page “1” of the preliminaries, we see in small type a copyright assertion and the Library of Congress catalogue number appear vertically along the gutter of pages “2-3” (a tiny clue as to what is going on).
Over pages “4” through “14” from the same alternating viewpoints, the author reaches for the door handle, the door is seen opening from the inside, and the artist is seen walking through the door (from the outside) and into the room (from the inside). But who is recording these views?
Over pages “15” through “24”, two photographers appear. Facing us, they are bent over their cameras — first the one outside (clean shaven and wearing a short-sleeved shirt) behind the author, then the one inside (bearded and wearing shorts) in front of the author. As the author moves out of the frame, we see that the photographer inside is holding a piece of paper in his right hand. All of this occurs through the same alternating viewpoints. At page “21”, the corner of that paper descends into the frame of the inside photographer’s view of the outside photographer, and after the next switch in viewpoint that confirms what the inside photographer is doing, we see a completely white page “23”, presumably the blank sheet that is blocking the inside photographer’s camera aperture. Page “24” is the outside photographer’s view of the inside photographer whose face and camera are blocked by the piece of paper.
Pages “16-17”, pages “20-21” and pages “24-25”
Over pages “25” (from the inside photographer’s viewpoint) and “26” (from the outside photographer’s), something strange happens with that piece of paper. Fingers and thumbs holding it appear on the left and right: we are looking at photos of the piece paper as it is being held between the photographers. What’s more, on the outside photographer’s side of the paper is the developed photo he just took of the inside photographer with his face and camera hidden by the sheet of paper. We are looking at images of images. But what is on the other side of that photo paper? — a blank with fingers holding it, which is what page “27” will show us from the inside photographer’s perspective. But whose fingers are they?
From page “25” through page “38”, we see images of this piece of paper being manipulated by one pair of hands. The thumbs appear on the verso (the view from the outside photographer’s perspective), the fingers on the recto (the view seen by the inside photographer). By page “34”, it is upside down. By page “37”, we can see that the photo paper is being fed into a manual typewriter. But does the pair of hands belong to one of the photographers? Or a typist — the author?
For both pages “42” and “43”, the perspective is that of a typist advancing the paper and typing the title page. On both pages, we can see the ribbon holder in the same position. Pages “44-45” return to alternating perspectives, page “44” showing the photo paper descending into the roller. Page “45” presents itself as the full text of the book’s title page, curling away from the typist and revealing the inside photographer on the other side of the typewriter. Page “46” shows the upside-down view of the title page as it moves toward the inside photographer and reveals the outside photographer on the other side of the typewriter. Not only are we seeing images of images, we are witnessing the making of the book’s preliminaries.
From page “48” through page “54”, the photographers alternate views of blank paper advancing through the typewriter. By pages “55” and “56”, the typewriter has moved out of the frame. Look carefully at page “56”, however, and you can see the impression of the typewriter’s rubber holders on the paper. As a book’s preliminaries come to a close, there is often a blank page or two before the start of the book, which in this case is page “57”, showing a record player.
Zimmermann notes that, at somewhere near the book’s midpoint, the images turn upside down, and that readers who then happen to “flip the book over and start paging from the back soon realize that they are looking at images of images produced by the two-sided system, and indeed the very book that they are holding in their hands”. He notes this as another mind-bender added to the puzzlement of the two-sided system with which the book begins. Yet the prelims foretold us that the upside-downness, back-to-frontness and self-reflexivity of images of images were on their way. Without doubt, Cover to Cover is an iconic work of book art.
But as the scene “progresses,” an action is not completed within the spread, but loops back in the next one, so that the minimal “progress” extracted from reading left to right is systematically stalled each time a page is turned, and the verso page recapitulates the photographic event printed on the recto side from the opposite angle. This is the disorienting part: to be denied “progress” as one turns the page seems oddly like flashback, which it patently is not; it might be called “extreme simultaneity.” Two versions of the same thing (two sides of the story) are happening at the same time. Zimmerman.
It opens with sunrise, closes with sunset. Each landscape shows water meeting land. Airport control towers appears in each landscape. Some stand on promontories, some are nearly submerged. Tinted pages of NOAA charts of the Bahamas, Florida Keys and Gulf of Mexico lay between the pages of landscapes. The sentences placed across the charts in silvery white come from the random-seeming, poetic-sounding “Harvard Sentences“, used by audio engineers and speech scientists in Harvard’s Psycho-Acoustic Laboratory from the mid-20th century to the present to test the effects of noise on comprehension.
There are 72 ten-sentence banks in the Harvard Sentences. The artist’s choice of three sentences for each chart page is like a painter’s choice of colors and strokes.
“Men think and plan and sometimes act” is the first chosen. “A pink shell was found on the sandy beach” is the last. In between come “reds” like “Let it burn, it gives us warmth and comfort”, “greens” like “Lush ferns grow on the lofty rocks” or “blacks” like “That move means the game is over”. The sentences seem to change their color or meaning as the eye moves among the landscapes. What color has “Canned pears lack full flavor”?
The only other man-made structure in the book appears halfway through: the roof of a log cabin with the water almost to the eaves.
A small work of book art with an overwhelming force.
Under his Spaceheater Editions imprint, Zimmermann also produced a limited hardback edition, which includes an eight-page sewn pamphlet describing the work.
Landscapes of the Late Anthropocene (2017) Philip Zimmermann Offset lithography, 4/c and duotone plus metallic silver. Paper: Mohawk Superfine. 142 x115 x 12 mm. Acquired from the artist, 23 February 2020. Photos: Books On Books.
High Tension (1993)
High Tension (1993) Philip Zimmermann 5.5 x 7.9″; 96 pages. Pentagon with 4″ spine and each of the other sides 4.25″. Unmatched irregularly cut pages. Offset printed. Produced and printed for for Montage ’93, International Festival of the Image, Rochester, NY, 1993.
High Tension is a porcupine of a book. As Johanna Drucker put it, “It’s about anxiety, and it pricks your fingers as you turn the pages.”
The work has been well-described in The Cutting Edge of Reading:
[High Tension] overwhelms us with a surprisingly varied profusion of images. Each of the many double pages introduces at least one radically new picture having more often than not merely a marginal relationship with those that had preceded. We must process these words somewhat gingerly in terms of our own past experiences when immediate recognition fails. It would therefore appear that unpredictability characterizes the selection and succession of the graphics. Each new image has its own motif and its own color scheme. Dealing in its own way with representation, it imposes its own focus and its own scale to which the reader must adapt. Thus, each turning of a page practically guarantees a further disruption and reduces any hope that we may have entertained of discovering either a formal or a thematic continuity. Instead, it calls forth unsuspected resources within us. Surprise follows surprise without affording a moment of relaxation. Each page relentlessly renews the shock of novelty, but in so titillating a manner that we must dwell on each image without any desire to skip. The artist has of course abandoned or deliberately misapplied expected formats. The pages may overlap, but they never coincide with one another. Deviation happens on two levels: each page slants diagonally and, when turned, symmetrically prolongs across the gutter the preceding one. Thus, two successive pages point in opposite directions while jointly providing a partially coherent and integrated image — partially, because fragments of images from other double pages show a propensity to migrate or, if we may use a medical term in describing a pictorial and psychological venture, metastasize. As we move along, we can hardly avoid twisting and turning the book around for successive viewings of the double paged pictures. Obviously, we can no longer rely on the measured progress so characteristic of reading. Moreover, the angularity of the pages greatly increases the nervous energy of their graphic and verbal content. …
Renée Riese Hubert and Judd D. Hubert, The Cutting Edge of Reading: Artists’ Books (New York: Granary Books, 1999), pp. 168-73.
There are also third and fourth deviations to add to what the Huberts observed above. Note how the orientation of the text and images varies across the double-page spreads. Text runs at different diagonals and sometimes apparently horizontally as expected (for example, in all of the spreads below). Sometimes images are vertically aligned within the double-page spread but at an angle (for example, the graph below), and sometimes horizontally (for example, the Masaccio below that).
Zimmermann himself writes at length and self-critically about the work on his website:
This was the first book that I had ever done that was completely imaged and output on a computer. I used my Macintosh to lay out the pages and then output the film at Purchase College on the AGFA image setter we had there. I did all the film assembly and made the offset plates at my studio at home in Barrytown NY and then took the finished plates up to Rochester in April of 1993 for printing. Pressman Paul Muhle did the presswork this time, on the same Heidelberg KORD press. …
I was at VSW for two weeks during the printing of High Tension, living in the artists’ apartment there at 31 Prince Street. The book was then packed up and sent out to Publisher’s Bookbindery in Long Island City for the die-cutting and foil stamping and finally the smythe-sewing. As it turned out, the book was sub-contracted to a bindery in western Massachusetts. Every aspect of the job was botched and I lost about a third of the edition of a thousand to mis-registered die cutting, torn pages, badly sewn books and many other problems. High Tension was a very difficult binding job, it is true. There are no right angles to line the signatures up by. However I think that when the bindery realized how difficult a job it was they decided to just slap it out with no care whatsoever rather than lose a lot of money on it. Because of the due date being the opening of Montage ‘93 in July of 1993 I had no choice but swallw [sic] the bad binding. If I had time, I would have forced the bindery to reprint the whole book and do the job over again. I had a very precise die-cut master sent with the job that somehow got lost and I later found out that was why the die-cutting was so poor.
The budget for the book was substantial both because of the rather large amount of production money from Montage ‘93 but also because of a Faculty Development award from Purchase. I also contributed some of my own money. Still the money was not enough to do the whole book by full color CMYK process printing. So I decided to try to output everything to three-color CMY separations, which required some special fiddling with Photoshop. That meant no black ink at all is used in the whole book, which few people realize. The entire book was done as three color “process”. This saved one set of plates and one press run for each side of every printing form, but it was much harder to print for the pressman because ink levels really had to be turned way up on the coated paper to get anything close to a black made up of just cyan, magenta and yellow. In retrospect I wish I had just found the money and printed it as normal CMYK sets because the blacks are not as good as normal and are uneven.
One additional innovative production feature of the cover was that I made a duotone foil stamp, which as far as I know is the first time that had been done other than the cover I had done for an earlier book Interference published by Nexus Press.
Philip Zimmermann, “High Tension”, Spaceheater Editions. Accessed 27 February 2020.
As with Landscapes of the Late Anthropocene, reading Zimmermann about the process and technique is an education in how to look at book art.
Renée Riese Hubert and Judd D. Hubert’s The Cutting Edge of Reading: Artists’ Books (Granary Books, 1999) is a signal work of appreciation and analysis of book art. Nearly twenty years on, it can be read and appreciated itself more vibrantly with a web browser open alongside it.
To facilitate that for others, here follows a linked version of the bibliography in The Cutting Edge of Reading — a “webliography”. Because web links do break, multiple, alternative links per entry and permanent links from libraries, repositories and collections have been used wherever possible. These appear in the captions as well as the text entries. Also included are links to videos relating to the works or the artists. At the end of the webliography, links for finding copies of The Cutting Edge (now out of print) are provided.