Books On Books Collection – Francesca Capone

we have a trick that we call language. Actually, we have many kinds of language, each of which is based on a formal system of codes and/or symbols through which we represent states of the world.
Frank R. Wilson, The Hand (2000)

Weaving Language: Language is Image, Paper, Code & Cloth (2018)


Weaving Language: Language is Image, Paper, Code & Cloth (2018)
Francesca Capone
Perfect bound paperback. H230 x W155 mm, 116 pages. Acquired from Book Depository, 10 October 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection, shown with permission of the artist.

Weaving Language examines the poetics of weaving traditions through historical research as well as contemporary practices. Attempting to dismantle and rebuild commonplace understandings of the history of writing, Weaving Language focuses on fiber-based forms as a longstanding but often overlooked medium for record keeping, storytelling, and poetry. The book is both a mapping of instances that exemplify textile poetics from the beginning of time to the present day, as well as a creative experiment in utilizing textile as code. Capone invites the reader to experience textile as something to be read, along with its tactile and visual functions. — from the book jacket.

Sadly, Weaving Language: Language is Image, Paper, Code & Cloth (2018) aka WL II is only a third of the trilogy sought after for the collection (the other two are out of print). Its brilliant content and typography make the absence more acute. As its table of contents shows, WL II is also composed of three parts. Initially the first part seems to be a chronologically organized commonplace book with a rich collection of quotations from primary and secondary sources (citations in gray), with some guiding comments interspersed from Capone. But with the source material printed in black, the citation lines in gray and author’s comments in blue, the feeling turns to that of holding a patchwork quilt or the Bayeux tapestry of weaving’s history. The image below provides an example of the color-coded typography, including the single and apt exception in red.

Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Capone’s choice not to reproduce an image of Elizabeth Parker’s sampler stitched in red (see below) but rather to use type and red ink draws subtle and effective attention to how the book’s own visual motif underpins the way Capone weaves her choices of content together into a unified fabric.

Linen, embroidered with red silk in cross stitch (c. 1830)
Elizabeth Parker (1813-89)
H858 x W744 mm. Photo: Victoria & Albert Museum, Textiles & Fashion Collection, T.6-1956.

The second part — “Woven Codes” — begins like a “how to” book with a key page followed by examples. Structurally more profoundly, it links to the first part’s concluding quotation of a quotation: the poet Susan Howe citing Gertrude Stein’s “Sentences” notebooks, in which she wrote “Think in stitches”. The link is made by coding three selections from Stein’s Tender Buttons into three forms — gridded writing, an erasure poem and then a woven draft. Again, aptly, Capone chooses for her samplers “A Cloth”, “A Paper” and “A Drawing”. The next two pages — one illustrating the grid-based coding of Braille, one showing the method of tying coded Quipu knots — also reach back into the first part to pick up threads introduced by citations of Joyce Carol Oates and David Antin.

The last page of this black-and-white section of “Woven Codes” alludes even more subtly to the first part. The page’s text describing the illustration below it reads

The weaving of alternating S and Z twisted yarns results in a historically sturdy cloth composition.

Among the patchwork sources in the first part, there is a brief quotation from one of Roland Barthes’ lectures in which he “introduced the metaphor of ‘unthreading’ for the act of describing”. Could the weaving of “S and Z” yarns refer to Barthes’ S/Z, the seminal structuralist deciphering of codes of meaning in Honoré de Balzac’s short story “Sarrasine”? Only if “historically sturdy” is tongue in cheek, as the post-structuralists would have it. Allusion notwithstanding, this illustration of sturdy woven cloth sets us up for the more colorful concluding section of “Woven Codes” in which Capone demonstrates the color coding of various verse forms such as the sestina (below).

By pairing the drawn plan with the front and rear views of the woven sestina from Dante and then pairing a right-reading setting with a reversed setting of the poem in color-coded type, Capone underscores her equation of language = image, paper, code and cloth.

The third part of the book — “Weaving>>Writing” — brings all of the elements together in reverse: fabric comes first and is translated into words. It is a reversal that depends on Weaving Language I: Lexicon, in which Capone set out the code where “fiber informs pronouns, weave structure informs verb, interlacing and tapestry techniques are prepositions, color informs nouns & adjectives, and any two colors beside each other result in conjunctions”.

Five of Capone’s woven>>written poems are followed by five works by artists Ruth Laskey, Alicia Scardetta, Tauba Auerbach, Kayla Mattes, and New Friends (Alexandra Segreti and Kelly Rakowski). As individually whole works, they are not illustrated here. To view them, buy WL II from its publisher Information as Material or a bookstore or consult a library. As mentioned, WL I is out of print, perhaps hampering a fuller appreciation of the ten woven>>written poems. With WL III also now out of print, perhaps Information as Material will come to the rescue and make it possible for Books On Books to complete its set of the trilogy without dropping a stitch.

Further Reading

Capone, Francesca. Weaving Language I: Lexicon (Portland, OR: East Egg Press, 2012).

Capone, Francesca, ed. Writing in Threads: Weaving Language III (Troy, NY: Publication Studio Hudson, 2015).

Costello, Lindsey. “Francesca Capone: Think of Seashells at Nationale“, 60 Inch Center, 2018.

Snack, Rachel. Interview with Warp & Weft Magazine, 2020.

Wilson, Frank R. The Hand (New York: Random House International, 2000).

Bookmarking Book Art – Patricia Silva

A particularly apropos video has arrived — apropos for its content, source and circumstances.

Patricia Silva, an artist working in Florence, Italy features in the Virginia Center for the Book’s Shelf Life video series. Virginia-based artist Lyall Harris interviewed Silva about Silva’s project Before We Forget 2020, a set of hand-bound artist’s journals. With each journal’s hand binding, unique cover of marbled paper, varied papers and inclusion of prompts to the owner, Silva draws on several rich traditions of book art.

Before We Forget (2020)
Patricia Silva
Thirty-six page journal (30 acid free writing pages + 6 specialty paper pages). Hand-crafted with hand-marbled paper and cloth covers. H215 x W145mm.

But in its technology, subject and circumstances, the video draws on an even more ancient literary tradition: Boccaccio’s Decameron. In March 2020, Italy was entering its months-long lockdown, and 4,461 miles away, the Virginia Festival of the Book was being cancelled due to the pandemic. Instead of decamping to the Blue Ridge or Tuscan hills with a handful of friends to escape the plague, Harris and Silva invited them via Zoom to their exchange.

Although a significant strain of book art falls into the conceptual and minimalist camps of art, an equally significant strain falls into the camp of the book arts and craft associated with them. Given the influence of her Italian mentor Carlo Saitta and University of the Arts professors like Hedi Kyle, it is no surprise that Before We Forget calls on the traditions of binding and paper marbling. The binding is a traditional case binding done with a link stitch on supports for sewing. The decorative papers come from several sources, almost all small artisans. Some are printed decorative papers, some are silkscreened, most are woodblock printed, of which several come from a small old-time family-run bindery in Venice that uses woodblocks dating back as far as the 1800s. Some of the paper is handmade by the artist.

The casual observer might mistake the journals of Before We Forget for the beautifully crafted blank journals that abound in outlets like Il Papiro or Paperchase. Yet there is surprise here to catch out the casual observer’s mistake and repay a bit of thought. At perhaps its most extreme, conceptual book art amounted to a set of instructions to the reader/viewer. The general interest in reader/viewer participation has several roots. One is craft-based and historical.

Recently in the context of the “other pandemic”, friendship journals and scrapbooks have drawn attention: for example, Amy Matilda Cassey’s Friendship Album (1833-56) and Alexander Gumby’s scrapbooks, including Negro in Bondage (1910-52). Older and more broadly, there are the Album Amicorum of Moyses Walens (1605-15) and Julia Chatfield’s Scrapbook (1845). Before We Forget does not present a set of completely blank pages. Each journal contains prompts to the owner to make notes, sketch, paste in, and add recollections of the days, weeks, and months of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic.

Encouraging the owner’s intervention recalls another historical phenomenon: Grangerism or extra-illustration, where the owner embellishes a book with inserts. Richard Bull’s extra-illustrated copy of Count Anthony Hamilton’s Mémoires du comte de Gramont (1794) is a good example. Before We Forget does not present a previously printed body of text for Grangerizing, but each journal presents a unique copy to be overwritten.

In that context of the Covid-19 pandemic, this urging of reader/viewer participation evokes — perhaps callous to say — literally, not just metaphorically, Roland Barthes’ poser of the “death of the author”. Before We Forget plays to and against that metaphorical notion. Until a reader/viewer/owner acts upon an acquired copy, is there an author? Is the participating act one of authoring or mere “extra-illustration”? Barthes wrote: “the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author” (p. 148). And if reader and author are one and the same?

Given Silva’s intentions stated in the interview, each copy acquired is meant to become a keepsake of events and time personal to its inscriber and be a memorial of the inscriber for future readers. Here is where the literalness of “death of the author” callously intrudes. Whether the owner/author falls prey to the virus or unrelated causes, the author dies.

The topic of the nature and experience of time recurs in book art sufficiently to warrant calling it a tradition. In Before We Forget, it plays out in general and in particular. On the general or theoretical side, we have Ulises Carrión and his definitions of “what a book is:

A book is a sequence of spaces.
Each of these spaces is perceived at a different moment – a book is also a sequence of moments.

Written language is a sequence of signs expanding within the space; the reading of which occurs in the time.
A book is a space-time sequence.

If seen as merely a blank journal, Before We Forget may seem not to warrant such “out there” statements. Or, on the contrary, those statements may seem not so “out there” when considered with Before We Forget in hand. On the particular and haptic side, we have in hand this object covered in a one-off piece of marbled paper and prodding our hands to mark it up and change the object to fix past time in it and to fix it in time to come. Theoretically or haptically, it engages the reader/viewer owner/author with the nature and experience of time.

Another tradition of book art in which Before We Forget is rooted, albeit loosely, is the found object and appropriation. In addition to its unique marbled paper cover, each journal contains six sheets of heavier or colored or patterned papers unique to the journal. In a sense, these papers are “found” as Silva has used only papers and cloth left over from older projects or collected (hoarded?) over the years. The marbled paper and specialist papers collected over time that found their way into Before We Forget are, however, only a part of the work — not the work itself as found object. Likewise, even if the owner/author fills the pages with pasted-in photos, postcards or other ephemera found or on hand, those found objects are not the work itself. It seems a stretch to deem the owned but yet-to-be-authored copy something that the owner/author has appropriated. In their collaboration Passato Prossimo (2017), Silva and Lyall Harris provide a magnificent demonstration of fusing book art with found objects and appropriation. The work is shown and discussed in the interview.

For Books On Books, the interview is a welcome reminder of another time. Patrica Silva teaches in both the Studio Arts College International (SACI) and Santa Reparata International School of Art (SRISA) and kindly arranged a visit to both in late September 2019. Florence was relatively empty at the time, and the visits to SACI and SRISA occurred at hours when there were no students around. The photos of the SACI’s gallery, library and grounds, the SRISA’s studio and equipment, and the works of Silva’s students will find their way into the Books On Books Collection’s copy of Before We Forget as strange harbingers.

By the end of September 2020, the Virginia Center for the Book had 40 episodes of Shelf Life on offer — well on the way to matching the Decameron‘s 100 stories. Unfortunately, with the current plague, the Center may be forced to exceed the Decameron‘s count, and Patricia Silva may face a demand for Before We Forget 2021.

Further Reading

Barthes, Roland. Trans. S. Heath. Image, Music, Text: Essays (London: Fontana, 1977).

Carrión, Ulises. “The New Art of Making Books”, Kontexts No. 6-7, 1975.

Chambers, Ross. Facing It: AIDS Diaries and the Death of the Author (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998).

Peltz, Lucy. Facing the Text: Extra-Illustration, Print Culture, and Society in Britain, 1769-1840 (San Marino, California: Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, 2017).

Bookmark for your browser or your ereader? | Updating the debate — the cloud gathers

The original posting (20120815) begins beneath the image.  The updates are flagged below.

 

 

Somewhat similar to the discussion kicked off by Jason Pontin in Technology Review, this collection of viewpoints pulled together by Anna Lewis of ValoBox for The Bookseller‘s digital blog FutureBook puts the case for HTML5 over the app/device.

“. . . HTML5 has laid down a new marker in browser standards. Not only does it enable offline capability through caching of content, it also lets you create websites that feel like native apps. The browser is certainly becoming a very different beast. So, does this mean publishers should rethink their approach to the browser, and see it as a way to deliver content, not just discover it?”

How the answers to this question play out affects the evolution of the book.   Bookmark the concept if not this web page.

Other books in browsers covered include 24symbols, Padify and the Internet Archive.  Follow these up on Lewis’s FutureBook posting.  Offline, commentators have suggested Amazon’s Cloud Reader and Firefox’s EPUB Reader as well.   

Also a three-part series of postings by Bill McCoy, Director of the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), has begun at Tools of Change today (20120816).  The first in the series articulates a key point about the book as content,

“. . . over time there will continue to be an increasing ability to conveniently publish directly to the cloud, as well as increasing acceptance by end users of cloud-based consumption. Perhaps someday the idea of a “file” will even become obsolete. But, at a minimum for many years to come – and possibly forever – it seems obvious that there will continue to be a significant role for reified content objects [italics added], particularly portable documents.”

Books On Books will add links to the second and third of McCoy’s postings by as they occur.  The concept of the book as a reified content object (techy as the phrase may be) has its bibliographic and critical forerunners (in the work of McKerrow, Benjamin, Barthes, Ong and others) and its contemporaries (in the work of Illich, Hayles, Michael Joyce and others).

On its surface, the debate in which HTML5, EPUB 3, iOS apps, the ebook, the cloud are swimming seems to be a competition of technical approaches and tools.  Beneath its surface, however, stirs something vital to the future of the book.

Updated bookmark begins here (20120817) . . .

Before Bill McCoy’s next posting (see above for the first), Jeremy Greenfield at Digital Book World (DBW) usefully flagged a timely collection of postings supporting “the cloud trumps the future” perspective on ebooks:  Hachette’s return on its investment in the cloud, the State Department backing off its Kindle deal in order to research other options (cloud-based being the implication), the major textbook publishers’ adaptation to Virtual Learning Systems and MOOCs (massive open online courses), etc.

The “cloud” view, however, recalls an apt caution Michael Joyce made in his Adam Helms lecture in Stockholm in 2001:

    Digital culture reels and swaggers like a drunken plowman who dreams of taking flight, relieved of mortal weight and presence. . . . an old dream, perhaps the oldest of human culture . . . . Much is made of how the digital escapes fixedness, . . . from electrons hurtling along copper corridors, upward to switched registers of transient values, and ultimately to brilliant phosphor letterforms which disappear like fireflies in a billion recurring twilights of a nanosecond’s duration.

    However we situate ourselves in place and time alike.  Cyberspace is not exempt from the mortal and moral geometry wherein we place our hope and find out future.

This from one of the pioneers of the ebook.  What is ironic here and now is that Joyce made these comments while comparing ebooks to print books, yet today they are equally applicable when comparing ebooks in ereaders to ebooks in the cloud.  As the ebook in the ereader stands with the printed book as a “reified content object,” the cloud gathers.

Bookmark for your browser or your ereader? | Updating the debate — the cloud gathers

The original posting (20120815) begins beneath the image.  The updates are flagged below.

 

 

Somewhat similar to the discussion kicked off by Jason Pontin in Technology Review, this collection of viewpoints pulled together by Anna Lewis of ValoBox for The Bookseller‘s digital blog FutureBook puts the case for HTML5 over the app/device.

“. . . HTML5 has laid down a new marker in browser standards. Not only does it enable offline capability through caching of content, it also lets you create websites that feel like native apps. The browser is certainly becoming a very different beast. So, does this mean publishers should rethink their approach to the browser, and see it as a way to deliver content, not just discover it?”

How the answers to this question play out affects the evolution of the book.   Bookmark the concept if not this web page.

Other books in browsers covered include 24symbols, Padify and the Internet Archive.  Follow these up on Lewis’s FutureBook posting.  Offline, commentators have suggested Amazon’s Cloud Reader and Firefox’s EPUB Reader as well.   

Also a three-part series of postings by Bill McCoy, Director of the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), has begun at Tools of Change today (20120816).  The first in the series articulates a key point about the book as content,

“. . . over time there will continue to be an increasing ability to conveniently publish directly to the cloud, as well as increasing acceptance by end users of cloud-based consumption. Perhaps someday the idea of a “file” will even become obsolete. But, at a minimum for many years to come – and possibly forever – it seems obvious that there will continue to be a significant role for reified content objects [italics added], particularly portable documents.”

Books On Books will add links to the second and third of McCoy’s postings by as they occur.  The concept of the book as a reified content object (techy as the phrase may be) has its bibliographic and critical forerunners (in the work of McKerrow, Benjamin, Barthes, Ong and others) and its contemporaries (in the work of Illich, Hayles, Michael Joyce and others).

On its surface, the debate in which HTML5, EPUB 3, iOS apps, the ebook, the cloud are swimming seems to be a competition of technical approaches and tools.  Beneath its surface, however, stirs something vital to the future of the book.

Updated bookmark begins here (20120817) . . .

Before Bill McCoy’s next posting (see above for the first), Jeremy Greenfield at Digital Book World (DBW) usefully flagged a timely collection of postings supporting “the cloud trumps the future” perspective on ebooks:  Hachette’s return on its investment in the cloud, the State Department backing off its Kindle deal in order to research other options (cloud-based being the implication), the major textbook publishers’ adaptation to Virtual Learning Systems and MOOCs (massive open online courses), etc.

The “cloud” view, however, recalls an apt caution Michael Joyce made in his Adam Helms lecture in Stockholm in 2001:

    Digital culture reels and swaggers like a drunken plowman who dreams of taking flight, relieved of mortal weight and presence. . . . an old dream, perhaps the oldest of human culture . . . . Much is made of how the digital escapes fixedness, . . . from electrons hurtling along copper corridors, upward to switched registers of transient values, and ultimately to brilliant phosphor letterforms which disappear like fireflies in a billion recurring twilights of a nanosecond’s duration.

    However we situate ourselves in place and time alike.  Cyberspace is not exempt from the mortal and moral geometry wherein we place our hope and find out future.

This from one of the pioneers of the ebook.  What is ironic here and now is that Joyce made these comments while comparing ebooks to print books, yet today they are equally applicable when comparing ebooks in ereaders to ebooks in the cloud.  As the ebook in the ereader stands with the printed book as a “reified content object,” the cloud gathers.