Books On Books Collection – Ursula Hochuli-Gamma

26 farbige Buchstaben

26 Colored Letters

26 farbige Buchstaben (1986) / “26 Colored Letters
Ursula Hochuli-Gamma
Afterword Rolf Kühni
Sewn paperbound. H240 x W152 mm. 36 unnumbered pages. Acquired from VGS Verlagsgenossenschaft, 7 June 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of VGS.

A is for Alphabet; The alphabet belongs to those who write and to those who read.
B is for Buchstaben: All letters fix words in the past, but they also bring them back again.

26 farbige Buchstaben is a gem of design and letter art, but its added text strains to transform it into an abecedary. Some are aphorisms (containing a grain of truth) like A, B and E. Some fall more toward religious or political dicta like F. Some play letter jokes as with Y, which is named Ypsilon in German and has been belabored in English as well for its “superfluitie“. Any translation into any language would be a struggle.

How to find substitutes for the capitalized German nouns to which the letters refer and to convey the gnomic tone? With its cognate “Alphabet”, letter A above is easy. “The Alphabet belongs to both the one who writes and the one who reads”. Even if occasionally a solution for non-cognates offers itself — as with E for Easy below — there remain B for Buchstaben (“letters”) above, F for Frage (“question”) below, Z for Ziel (“destination”) below and 21 more with which to contend.

E is for Einfache: “The simple left much behind before it became simple.” (or, Easy left much behind before it became Easy.)
F is for Frage: The question of “peace or freedom” will sound strange to those who have no bread.

Given the fundamental arbitrariness of the alphabet itself and the often bizarre range of sayings assigned to letters in other languages’ alphabet books, perhaps “strain” is unfair. Nevertheless, the text in 26 farbige Buchstaben is unnecessary to identify any of the letters in the images and generally is a distraction from the images, which as can also be seen below in Metamorphose and Zeichen, Ziffern, Lettern are the point. The art of 26 farbige Buchstaben foreshadows how the artist would use wooden letter type for collage, painting and inspiration in these later works.

From Metamorphose (“Metamorphosis”) on the left and Zeichen, Ziffern, Lettern (“Characters, Numbers, Letters”) on the right.
Metamorphose (2014) Softcover. H240 mm. 38 pages. Ursula Hochuli-Gamma and Jost Hochuli.
Zeichen, Ziffern, Lettern (2015) Softcover. H300 mm. 40 pages. Ursula Hochuli-Gamma.
Acquired from VGS Verlagsgenossenschaft, 9 August 2022. Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of VGS.

Given the scarcity of writing online about her work and the absence of any of her works in the British Library, the National Art Library (V&A) or Library of Congress, Ursula Hochuli-Gamma seems under-appreciated. Her exhibitions have tended to be local to St. Gallen, but her books can be acquired from Verlagsgenossenschaft St. Gallen and some booksellers.

Further Reading

Poor letter Z, even when it is giving Zen-like advice, it is relegated to the end of the queue.

Y is for ypsilon: The Ypsilon makes little sense. According to Bayern it is right in the middle.
Z is for Ziel: The destination is not as important as the journey, so we should start from the beginning.