Books On Books Collection – Martine Rassineux

Ilinx (2010)

Ilinx (2010)
Régine Detambel and Martine Rassineux
Slipcase H322 x W406 x D16 mm, Portfolio cover H280 x W385 x D8 mm, Folio H279 x W380, 6 folios. Slipcase made of wood and celloderm, Portfolio cover made of Japon nacré Torinoko Kozu 180 gsm, Folios made of Lana Velin édition blanc supérieur 180 gsm. Edition of 27, of which this is #18. Acquired from the artists, 21 August 2020. Photos of work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist.

Emerging from its snugly fitting box constructed by François Da Ros, Régine Detambel’s and Martine Rassineux’s livre d’artiste hints at a debt to the legacy of Iliazd with its pearlescent case over a tapered paper cover for the loose folios, although the case’s fixed spine winks at differentiation. With the curling, diagonal and spiralling letterpress, the hint grows stronger. Yet, there is a roundness — almost softness — in the typographical acrobatics, leading away from the hint at the more linear, angular works of Iliazd. That is the mark of François Da Ros, typographer for Ilinx. Rassineux and Da Ros diverge as much from Iliazd as he diverged from the tradition of Ambroise Vollard, Daniel Kahnweiler and Aimé Maeght.

With folios removed. Note the tapering of the inner folder at both ends.

In its text and etchings, Ilinx also shouts and laughs a kinship with Pieter Breugel the Elder’s Children’s Games (1560). Ilinx does not share any tut-tutting at childish foolishness that may reside in Breugel’s depiction; rather it celebrates a shared exuberance and recognition of significance in child’s play. Where Breugel finds that significance in drawing parallels with adult activities and rituals, Detambel’s text and Rassineux’s etchings find it in sheer phenomenological physicality, which Da Ros’s typography enhances.

Just as Breugel must have observed children closely to show the eighty or so games in his painting, so has Rassineux. Ilinx began in a playground where Rassineux watched over her pupils (600 per week) and noticed one of the African girls, the first in Ilinx, turning her face to the sun and spinning in place. Over time, she noticed others, regardless of origin, doing the same — as if something universal were engraved unconsciously in each child. From this, came the Cours series — washes, charcoal drawings and some 40 engravings on rectangular plates.

Presented with some of these works, Régine Detambel introduced Rassineux to Roger CailloisLes jeux et les homines (1958), in which he outlined four basic categories of play or games:

  • Agon, or competition.
  • Alea, or chance.
  • Mimicry, or mimesis, or role playing.
  • Ilinx (Greek for “whirlpool”), or games inducing vertigo or disorientation.

With this background, Detambel insisted that the title of this livre d’artiste must be Ilinx. With their text and images, Detambel and Rassineux follow the children’s spinning games with a beginning and five “turns”, which appear in twelve pages across three folios. Caillois suggests that the spinning games are grounded in both a natural exuberance and need to escape the “tyranny of perception”. Rassineux’s drawings deliberately vary the perspective from which the children are viewed and encourage the viewer, paradoxically, to perceive that escape from the tyranny of perception. Likewise Detambel’s final verse. Likewise Da Ros’s cutting out the children from the etchings and positioning them in action on the page. And, most of all likewise, Da Ros’s spiral setting of lines, “re-enacting” the artist’s drawings, the poet’s words and the Ilinx (whirlpool).

At the last turn, there is no age. Only life in the blood. Flurrying as if into snow. Blood rose-red, flickering red-rose, clinging to a thread.

Curious about the sixth and blank folio after the colophon folio, I wrote to ask about its purpose. After the opening manipulations — removal of the encased portfolio from its celloderm and wood slipcase and then removal of the portfolio from its cover in Japanese nacré Torinoko Kozu (180 gsm) — there is no further prefacing to the loose folios. There is the title folio, then commencement folio, and the whirling has begun. So that the reader/viewer’s eyes and hands do not leave the book too abruptly, the sixth folio acts as a counterweight, a pause to allow the spinning to stop, a blank on which the pulse behind the eyes can project.

Ilinx – Collection VARIA (2019)

Ilinx – Collection VARIA is a follow-on hardback providing behind-the-scenes insight into the making of Ilinx the portfolio. It shows Rassineux and Da Ros at work in the studio, images of cast and locked type, etching plates juxtaposed with their proofs, paste-up plans. Note how, to have more latitude for the typography and layout, Da Ros cut out the engravings from the plates. The plates have been gilded, which is more elegant than scoring the plates to fix in place the limited edition.

Ilinx – Collection VARIA (2019)
François Da Ros and Martin Rassineux
H278 x W326 x D12 mm, 60 pages. Edition of 50, of which this is #2. Acquired from the artists, 21 August 2020. Photos of pages: Books On Books Collection, displayed with artists’ permission.

Although printed offset rather than letterpress, Ilinx–Collection VARIA demonstrates the same art-making attention to detail shown in Ilinx. Printed with an HP Indigo offset digital press on Mohawk proPhoto beaded paper semi-gloss 190gsm, the full-color images printed do not mask the texture or surface of the paper as sometimes happens with some toner prints. Instead, the ink is absorbed by the paper as happens with traditional offset lithography. As Rassineux further explained in correspondence with Books On Books,

We chose the photos in relation to the round shape that often comes up in the concerns of François who made mechanics for two years to be able to build and troubleshoot his presses and because he always saw in the mechanical movement a relationship with the universal mechanical. The final image is a wind-up spinning toy that belonged to my mother…. All the elements we use come from our daily lives, and from our experiences, that are a whole. (Correspondence, 11 November 2020)

Colophon page. Photo of page: Books On Books Collection, displayed with artists’ permission.

For another example of art driven “from our daily lives”, the reader/viewer can do no better than to visit the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (KB, National Library, The Hague: Koopman Collection) to see the gilded plates mentioned above. They reside in a drawer removed from the Da Ros/Rassineux studio and finished off as a wooden case for the library’s copy of Ilinx.

Photos: Books On Books Collection. Shown with permission of the artists
and the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (KB, National Library, The Hague: Koopman Collection).

Rassineux sends you best wishes on the first year of the third millennium (2001)

This elegant New Year’s greeting came with the Books On Books purchase of Ilinx. A sweet gift of ephemera that freezes a fresh start in place with the artistry of movable type in motion and a print made by gravure au sucre (sugar etching). Rassineux’s explanation:

The basic technique of the sugar engraving is that on a perfectly degreased copper you draw with a solution of sugar and China ink (which is only used to make your drawing very black near your etching) then it is covered with varnish and the sugar mixture will burst the varnish because the sugar dilates and you will find again the design in copper version that you will have to weave by an aquatint. (Correspondence, 11 November 2020)

† Translation: Books On Books. The phrase “Le sang qui tourne jusqu’a monter en neige” turns on a French culinary expression — jusqu’a monter en neige — for whipping egg whites into a meringue. Régine Detambel prefers the less literal translation, which echoes earlier lines and images in the poem.

Further Reading

Caillois, Roger. Man, play and games (Urbana, Ill. : University of Illinois Press, 2001).

Capelleveen, Paul Van. Artist & Others: The Imaginative French book in the 21st century (Nijmegen: Vantilt, 2016), p. 37.

Capelleveen, Paul Van. “The Unlimited Artist’s Book“, TXT: Exploring the Boundaries of the Book (Leiden: Boom Uitgevers, 2014).

Books On Books Collection – François Da Ros

Anakatabase: en hommage au Sacré d’avant le Temps du Signe et du Verbe (1991)

Anakatabase: en hommage au Sacré d’avant le Temps du Signe et du Verbe (1991)

François Da Ros

Slipcase: H331 x W179 mm. Board case: H323 x W177 mm. Paper case: H319 x W169 mm. Loose folios (9): H315 x W164 mm. Leporello: H312 x W168 mm (closed) and W3024 mm (open). Edition of 63, of which this is #7 signed by the artist and engraver. Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist.

In the Petit Sèminaire de Flavigny-sur-Ozerain, where François Da Ros was enrolled in 1953, a metal staircase led from the playground to the chapel. From an onomatopoeic word game, passed down through generations of classical Greek students ascending (ana) and descending (kata) those steps (base), it came to be known as ana-kata-base. The word game followed Da Ros in his choice of typography and printing over religious orders, with Anakatabase becoming the name of the typesetting/publishing house, founded with Martine Rassineux in 1991.

Photo: Books On Books Collection.

Anakatabase celebrates the alphabet as the root of its maker’s art. Indeed, it presents an entirely invented alphabet. It displays the artist’s manifesto in anakatabasien and twenty other languages. In its play with the letter, languages as well as the structural, functional and material elements of the book, this work of art gives life to Mallarmé’s cryptic pronouncement: Le livre, expansion totale de la lettre, doit d’elle tirer, directement, une mobilité et spacieux, par correspondances, instituer un jeu, on ne sait, qui confirme la fiction (“The book, total expansion of the letter, must directly depict a mobility and spaciousness that — by analogy — constructs an unknown game that confirms the fiction”).

Consider first the structural, functional and material elements. If judged by its cover (or rather, covers), Anakatabase has depths, a roughness and smoothness, a stiffness and suppleness, yet harmonious in its contrasts and variety. A tightly turned-in slipcase, covered in rough papier de paille (a paper made of straw, traditionally for packaging sugar), holds a case of board. In turn, the board case — with the book’s title set vertically in Nicolas Cochin (36pt) on smoother almost parchment-like paper covering the neatly chamfered spine, front and back boards — holds a paper case. Not attached to the board case, the paper case made of Lana Pur Fil folds around a single sheet of Arches Velin 160 gsm, which rests between the paper case and the loose endpapers. The loose endpapers are handmade papier de Chine au liseré rouge (60 or 65 gsm). It is the same paper used for the nine loose single-fold folios. For the leporello making up the last “gathering” in the “book block”, the artist and engraver selected a Japanese paper more commonly used to make interior walls. 

Left: supply of papier de Chine au liseré rouge. Photo: Courtesy of the artist. Right: paper case open to show of “book block” of nine loose folios and leporello. Photo: Books On Books Collection.

These multiple papers of differing weights, finish, opacity, drape or stiffness, rattle and color work together loosely yet harmoniously to cover and uncover (or dis-cover) the artist’s statement.

Like many artist’s statements, Anakatabase is also a philosophical statement. It is also as much an ode to a lifelong coming of age as typographer, printer and master of the book — even, as much, a love letter to “the language of the Sign”. As a work of book art, it lovingly enacts the letter.

The Sacred, lived on a daily basis, for more than four long years of thoughtful silence, woke very early in the twelve-year old child a pressing need for response to the exacting perception of Life. And, since then, this intimate, unremitting quest — between needful poise, the choice of the happy space and the outstandingly possible way — has never ceased. …The adolescent, carried away by his seventeen springtime’s, did not experience love at first sight, not even a hint of it — on the contrary, in the beginning, nearly rejected it — and oft-times felt the temptation of unfaithfulness. When he did reply to this mysterious questioning — the meaning of which sooner or later challenges us — he did not imagine for one instant that this lead which intoxicated him and which, manfully, he learned to lift, would one day over-run him on all sides, as if driven from one book to the other by an invading tide. …In this way, for months they skirted each other, brushed against each other, put up with each other during thousands of seven-point marks, without really recognizing the bond which already cemented them together. At an age where the rising sap pushes one towards the instinct of the species, there is no time for reflection. … With the passage of time, the apprentice was patiently transformed by these silent letters, and simultaneously a special relationship arose between the hand and the lead which henceforward recognized and accepted each other. The new man was then fascinated by the music of these letters — raised high in the composing stick, giving rhythm to the silence of a giant stave where each word is waiting for a sign — these letters of lead that, in a slow drift — underway since the remote times of ancient China with its first signs in clay, until our own day — have imperceptibly drawn closer to man until the point where each carries the mark of the other. For centuries, and for as long as the faith transmitted and shared will melt them down, they have always stood side by side, stepped off on the same foot — of lead or flesh, flesh and of lead — striking light, the shining eye turned towards the sky, capable of living while being distributed a sparkling ballet, where, under a shower of caseshot, each letter recognizes its specific location in the line — and, avoiding the fate of being thrown into the faulty type box (the “Devil”), throws itself into its place, in a confusion of consonants and vowels, spaced with fortes, justified with medium-size, interlettered with fine, punctuated with tildes, grave accents and circumflex accents, in a mingling of exclamation and question marks, where the oe fights for its place with the unseldom ae; disorder ordered by language, words, the Spirit of words. The distribution of type which follows the dissection of as book’s body is not just the putting back into the case of each letter. Here it is stripping away of the flash, lived as sacred ritual — in towering silence — all or nothing. …Struck by lightning, the silent eye, surprised by the eternal instant, ravished by this lead festooned with light, going before or following the hand which cuts crossing, and overlapping furrows into emptiness, discovers again the language of the Sign, hitherto lost in the Babel of letters. This is the moment at which man became typographer. Trans. John Gaynard.

Spaced out across six folios, the statement’s French version appears in large display type and carmine ink. It also appears in nineteen other languages in smaller type in black ink between the lines of the French, their words broken up by the red characters’ ascenders and descenders. At the end of measures, words break without hyphens. This is “the Babel of letters” in Baskerville type. The more ancient leporello form presents the statement in the calligraphy-like anakatabasien face and language. For the reverse of the leporello, Rassineux used the technique of gravure au sucre (“sugar lift”) on her etching plates. The effect’s appearance is suminagashi-like. Underlying the characters on the front of the leporello, those hand-drawn elements on the reverse side evoke the strokes and marks that precede the anakatabasien characters or perhaps all letters.

The artist and engraver (his wife and co-founder of Éditions Anakatabase, Martine Rassineux) kindly provided much-appreciated ephemera for the Books On Books Collection. In addition to the 1991 announcement of Anakatabase, they include items that show a characteristic of Da Ros’s craft that is otherwise hidden away in the linearity of Anakatabase — the magic he performs with the “furniture” of letterpress typesetting.

Photos: Books On Books Collection. Shown with permission of the artist.

The outward-spiralling sentence in the announcement above of Ovi (1988) by Shirley Sharoff exemplifies this legerdemain, as does the open Christmas card celebrating the designation Magister Artium awarded to François Da Ros in 1998. Another example of the mastery of furniture behind the scenes can be seen in the following photo sent by Martine Rassineux of type prepared for a page in Ilinx, also in the Books On Books Collection.

Type preparation; Ilinx (2010)

Régine Detambel (original text), Martine Rassineux (original etchings), François Da Ros (typography). Photos: Courtesy of Martine Rassineux.

For the Books On Books Collection, Anakatabase is at once a work of fine art and an unusual fusion of the collection’s themes of interest in the alphabet, the multilingual, typography, the structural and material elements of the book, and aesthetic enquiry into the very nature of the book.

François Da Ros is third in the second row from the right, in a light jacket and tie. Photo: Courtesy and permission of the artist.

Further Reading

Birchem, Nathalie. “François Da Ros, poète du plomb“, La Croix, 16 July 2007. Accessed 1 September 2017.

Capelleveen, Paul Van; Sophie Ham; Jordy Joubij. Voices and Visions: The Koopman Collection and the Art of the French Book (Zwolle: Wanders, 2009) , pp. 196-98.

Capelleveen, Paul Van. Artist & Others: The Imaginative French book in the 21st century (Nijmegen: Vantilt, 2016), pp. 30-37.

Da Ros, François. “Le Mystère du Livre“, Éditions Anakatabase, 2000. Accessed 12 September 2020.

Da Ros, François. “La lettre de plomb mobile“, Éditions Anakatabase, 2001. Accessed 12 September 2020.

Mallarmé, Stéphane. “Le livre, instrument spirituelle”. Trans. Barbara Johnson. Divagations (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009).