Books On Books Collection – Salt+Shaw

Paul Salt and Susan Shaw collaborate under the name Salt+Shaw. Individually and together, they present a wide range of book art. Much of it finds its most striking expressions in unusual bindings, sometimes to the extent that the binding absorbs the content — as is the case with a spent bullet in Forest Beach Garden.


Salt + Shaw
Hardcover. H90 x W110 x 30 mm. Edition of 15, of which this is #7. Acquired from the artist, 13 December 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist.

The book block between the covers here is not a book block of pages. The only text in Forest Garden Beach is found on the tag attached to the work. On one side is the title, artists’ names, date and edition. On the other are UK National Grid Reference coordinates for locations in Scotland, South Yorkshire and East Yorkshire. The coordinates’ suggestion of precision, however, run into visual, tactile and textual ambiguities. This book shape opens on something concealed. The red leather case binding holds and withholds.

The shape seen and felt beneath it seems to be that of a bullet’s shell casing. There is an indentation, almost like a rifle chamber from which the casing is being ejected. According to the artists’ online description, it is a spent bullet “found in a forest, on a beach or in the garden”. But that is information apart, or evidence external to the work and its tag. Even if it were squeezed onto the tag somehow, the information leaves ambiguities: from which of the three locations did this single found object, now covered by leather, come; and why the precision of the coordinates if the source is uncertain?

Fusing location with the element(s) of the book form that they have chosen to exploit is another frequent characteristic of Salt+Shaw’s combined work. The next item is one of their most effective works of “local color”.

Mill (2006)

Mill (2006)
Wood and leather binding, using discarded library shelves, canvas and upholstery nails. Plaster cast and canvas pages with individual pamphlet book text inserts printed on Canson paper. Casts made using water extracted in dehumidifying the building.
H143 x W114 mm closed, H143 x W310 mm open.
Edition of 24, of which this is #2. Acquired from the artists, 25 November 2018.

The work is a tactile exploration of the interior and exterior space of a corn mill in Cromford, built c.1780 to grind grain for workers at Arkwright’s cotton mill.A journey around Cromford Mill, Derbyshire.

Mill is an investigation of the marks of passage, which have become part of the fabric of the space and reveal time, energy, endeavour and change:

(i) recording the interaction of the human body with the building

(ii) recording the impact of natural forces upon the built environment

(iii) locating the marks that reveal a momentary connection or repetitious action

(iv) examining clues and ephemera.

Silicone moulds were taken from marks of usage around the mill, including the spotwhere a door handle impressed upon a wall and the shape of a break in a pane of glass. Plaster casts were then produced, using water from a dehumidifier within the building to make the plaster. A text piece, contained within canvas pocket pages, creates a unique map of the mill and takes a journey through the building – both to experience the environment and locate the plaster casts. [Correspondence from the artists, 5 December 2018.]

Just as the spent object in Forest Garden Beach lies buried or hidden but still tangible beneath the cover of the work, the spent object of Mill is plain to the touch but only through plaster impressions of it. Where the text related to Forest Garden Beach plays a game with precision and ambiguity, the text of Mill plays a game of hide-and-seek or blind man’s bluff.

FOLD (2008-2015)

FOLD (2015)
Salt + Shaw
Cloth over board with eye-and-ribbon closing. H60 x W140 x D1.5 mm.   Edition of 35, of which this is #19. Acquired from the artists, 13 December 2021.
Photos: Provided by the artists and Books On Books Collection. Displayed with artists’ permission.

The cloth-over-board binding opens to reveal a single-fold title page on the inside front cover and a small book tucked into a receptacle on the inside back cover. Bolted to the inside front cover, a found miniature pair of Sheffield scissors. Glued to the inside spine, a small rock. And imprinted on the inside back cover, a rust-transferred reverse image of the scissors.

On removal and opening, the small book turns out to be a single sheet of paper in a “meander” fold.

On one side, it displays a close-up photograph of a beached whale’s skin lying in folds over rocks and shingle. On the other side is a close-up of human skin resting on a similar bed.

So here is a fourth option in the game of Rock-Paper-Scissors, but the game is one rather of Risk in which, whatever the craft, whatever the objects found and whatever the strategy played in rock-paper-scissors, the environment enfolds and binds.

This sort of implicit visual/verbal play becomes more explicit in the next work.

COIN (2017)

COIN (2017)
Salt + Shaw
Hardcover. H300 x W215 mm, 44 unnumbered pages. Edition of 9, of which this is #2. Acquired from the artists, 13 December 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artists.

Faint handprints from nine individuals. Light imprints from an ampersand and a series of words all prefixed with “de”. A gradually disappearing profile of Queen Victoria. A hand-worn 1860-1894 penny coin fixed to a splatter of copper leaf. Along with the front cover’s embossed, eroded letters, this progression of letterpress and stencil work toward that coin echoes the archaeological aura of Forest Garden Beach, Mill and Fold, but through its progression, COIN enacts the strange movement through time that such found objects take.

The brackets on either side of the word on the title page might suggest a coin dropped in a pool of time, except that the brackets narrow rather than widen outwards. So, maybe the coin is rising through time. Or, look again at the title page and the coin on the last page, and maybe the brackets should be seen as “leaking” from the word just as the copper leaf can be seen as “leaking” from the coin.

Like the tangible shell casing in Forest Garden Beach beneath the leather, the letters of the word “COIN” rise beneath the front cover cloth. Take another look at those letters, and it becomes clear that their forms beneath the cloth are eroded, just as the bullet is spent and just as the copper coin has been worn. The mix of “de” words and the handprints over the queen’s deteriorating profile add the kind of irony to be found in Shelley’s sonnet “Ozymandias“.

ITHACA (2015)

ITHACA (2015)
Salt + Shaw
Hardcover. 140 x 140 mm, 9 sheets of architectural tracing paper with hand-cut lines. Edition of 9, of which this is #7. Acquired from the artists, 13 December 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artists.

Ithaca gives a few twists both to the theme of the present’s interaction with the past and to the artists’ affection for blind printing. As the colophon indicates, the first copy of the edition of nine was left on the island of Ithaca and performs the act of an offering, much as objects left as offerings to the gods. “Journeys” and the work’s title, of course, suggest the most famous of journeying heroes — Odysseus; however,

the journeys to which the offering is dedicated are “inner and outer”, suggesting an allusion beyond the hero. The nine translucent sheets of architecture paper bear cuts whose shapes are each replicated by an embossed printing on the back (or front) cover of the work. If the sheets are rightly arranged, they will replicate the image of the circle and triangle embedded in the square on the front (or back cover).

The combined images of square, circle and triangle and the reference to inner and outer journeys suggest associations with sacred geometry (reflected elsewhere in the Books On Books Collection: Bruno Munari’s compendia on the square, circle and triangle and Jeffrey Morin’s and Steven Ferlauto’s two works) and with Zen (also reflected elsewhere in the collection: Julie Johnstone’s works).

The playing with the sheets of paper — a kind of inner and outer journey itself — to which Ithaca invites us highlights a growing insistence on audience interaction in all the works so far and especially so in the next.


Salt + Shaw
Pamphlet book. H70 x W105 mm, 12 unnumbered pages, half-sheet insert. Edition of 15, of which this is #11. Acquired from the artists, 13 December 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artists.

Liminal Keepsake realizes the sea:land allusion of Ithaca‘s title by presenting its audience with eleven photographs of sea and land meeting. The photos, unique to each copy in the edition, are held in hand-cut mounts. “Liminal” refers to “a space between” or “where edges meet”. The photos in Liminal Keepsake seem to be a collection of memories about where the edges of the sea and land meet.

But on the inside back cover is a list of references to literary works, each of which has a passage that aligns with the photo matching in the sequence. Here is another space between — the space between the images and the passages — a space into which any curious viewer is thrust. If the viewer expects to enjoy this work fully, the viewer has to seek out the passages in that list to see how the text matches the photo. Not that easy a task since each text is specific to a specific edition of the cited literary work. The For instance, the tenth photo in the sequence is aligned to a passage from Bram Stoker’s Dracula — specifically from page 85, line 17 of the 2003 Penguin edition. Fortunately, that edition can be easily found online. Here’s the passage (the 17th line is in bold):

… The day / was unusually fine till the afternoon, when some of the gossips / who frequent the East Cliff churchyard, and from that com- / manding eminence watch the wide sweep of sea visible to the / north and east, called attention to a sudden show of ‘mares’- / ‘tails’ high in the sky to the north-west. …

And here is the relevant photo in the collection’s copy of Liminal Keepsake.

So the viewer has to become researcher and reader to experience Liminal Keepsake fully, and the viewer/researcher/reader has to become something even more to finish Liminal Keepsake. Just as Ithaca invites its audience to arrange its translucent sheets to form the symbol on its cover, Liminal Keepsake invites its completion by the viewer/researcher/reader-cum-artist’s taking a photo of “the Liminal” and a bibliographical reference that echoes the photo.

In pondering completion of the work, would-be artists come across across other “spaces between” — the space between the visual and textual imaginations and the space between concept and execution. Apparently the artists took their photos, then found the texts to match. To hold an image in mind and be constantly on the lookout for matching text in whatever literary work happens to be in hand seems a tall order. To start the other way around — to have some sea:land text in hand and then seek a setting in which an appropriate image is likely to be found — looks easier to the more textual imagination. On top of this are the artist-manqué’s anxiety of crossing that space between concept and execution and the curator’s anxiety of sacrificing the object as-was and the aura of possibilities for perhaps a lesser object and one definitely without the aura of possibilities.

LOOK  (2021)

LOOK (2021)
Salt + Shaw
Hardcover, double-sided concertina book. H350 x W230 mm, 10 unnumbered panels. Edition of 3, of which this is #1. Acquired from the artists, 13 December 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artists.

The core features of two individuals’ faces head-on have been drawn on both sides of this concertina book — “core” meaning no delimitation by hair, ears or other details at the edges of the visages. The red thread connecting the pairs of eyes with one another draws attention back to the title: Is it an instruction for the viewer to look? Is it a noun referring to appearance, the look of the faces? Or to expression, the look in the faces? Is it a noun referring to an action occurring between the depicted faces — if only via the thread connecting the pairs of eyes? Only when the concertina is closed do the faces face one another. Yet the color red, echoed between the cover and thread, suggests an intensity connecting these looks, these gazes.

A more textual predecessor to Look is Whorl (2007).

WHORL (2007)

WHORL (2007)
Salt + Shaw
Hardcover, modified concertina and pamphlet book, H115 x W155 mm, 4 unnumbered panels, 2 unnumbered central sheets. Edition of 20, of which this is #4. Acquired from the artists, 13 December 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artists.

Here is a rare instance of a poem’s metaphysicality being physically enacted by the surface and structure on which the poem is inscribed. On a double-page spread at the work’s center, a poem begins at the center of its spiral, or whorl, with the words “We press tip to tip fingers ….” Pull the double-page spread outwards away from the spine. Because the spread’s centerfold serves to bind four panels into a diamond shape, two hand-cut stencils of two different fingerprints approach (“tremblingly” as the poem describes) to touch one another when the double-page spread is pulled completely outwards and away from the spine. If this does not renind the reader of John Donne’s poetry, nothing will.

The following works are individual to Susan Shaw and Paul Salt, respectively. Shaw’s individual works also deliver complete textual works — short stories or a poem — that fuse with their containers.

CRIMSON (2004)

Crimson (2004)
Susan Shaw
Hand-made paper cover. H155 x W110 mm, 8 unnumbered pages. Edition of 10, of which this is #2. Acquired from the artist, 13 December 2021.
Photos:Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist.

The washed-out cover, pressed fallen leaf and faded title signal the conclusion of the short story Crimson, in which a couple seemingly argue incessantly about choice of colors, both indoors and out in their garden.

Shaw’s attraction to fiction narrative perspective flutters recurs in the next work, but its leporello structure and photos add a different otherworldly touch.


Susan Shaw
Hardcover, double-sided concertina book. H220 x W160 mm, 15 unnumbered panels. Edition of 10, of which this is #3. Acquired from the artists, 13 December 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artists.

The story begins in a Prague cemetery covered in snow, to which the reader’s attention is directed by the narrator’s direct address in light blue type. As the type shifts into black, the narrator continues to address the reader, and with the reference to being perched on St. Francis’s shoulder, the narrator gives some of the game but then deflects with the introduction in blue of Klara’s arrival. As the leporello unfolds, so does Klara’s story and the narrator’s identity as the angel with whom Klara has an appointment.

Snow and evocative photos feature in the next work but with less drama.


Susan Shaw
Pamphlet book. H150 x W105 mm, 12 unnumbered pages. Edition of 17, of which this is #4. Acquired from the artist, 13 December 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist.

The front cover wraps around to overlap the back cover, which is rather like the way in which words often play multiple roles in poems. Here, the subject snow and its verb drops coincide with the flower’s name and its two photos that appear later. The center of the work presents the entire haiku, but more interesting and curious, the haiku’s traditional structure (lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables) breaks up into four segments (5, 6, 3, 3) to appear on verso pages facing a photo.

Daffodils face the first line. Snow drops face the words “ballet pink cyclamens”. More snow drops face the words “nod below”. A bee perched on a blossom faces the words “startled trees”. The effect is to send the reader back and forth across these spreads and page turns like a bee moving from flower to flower.

Paul Salt’s individual works in the collection take a more sculptural expression. Even though this next work is garden-inspired like Snow Drops, its physical presentation reflects the more sculptural garden that inspired it.


Paul Salt
Hardcover, folio. H300 x W220 mm close, W655 open. Edition of 24, of which this is #2. Acquired from the artist, 13 December 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist.

The garden in question here is the more severe but still playful Little Sparta, created by Ian Hamilton Finlay. On a visit there, Salt found a pair of wings at the base of one of the sculptures.

In its imagery and structure, the final work by Salt reflects the physicality and preoccupations found in many of the works above: especially Mill, Coin and Fold. Although it has less whimsy than Coin or Fold, its abrupt title recalls Ed Ruscha’s humorous rule of thumb for distinguishing between bad and good art: Bad art makes you say ‘Wow! Huh?’ Good art makes you say ‘Huh? Wow!’

What …? (2018)

What …? (2018)

Hardback, boxed-bound, black book cloth, concertina book with magnetised and elasticated fastening. Drawings and collages printed on black and orange Canson card. Letterpress. Hinges engineered in Canson card to create a spring in the turning of the pages.
H213 x W80 mm closed, H213 x W830 mm open
Edition of 5, of which this is #2. Acquired from the artists, 25 November 2018.

What? is a book about finding solutions, both in its construction and content. Made over a period of several years, from the first drawing to the final binding, it prefers to raise questions, rather than provide answers. Hence the title. The relationship between What? and viewer therefore depends upon response, perception and making connections. Clues could include: • William Blake • harbingers • manipulation • dislocation • loss • finding a way out • George Orwell. [Correspondence with artists, 5 December 2018.]

What? … Wow!

Further Reading

Sarah Bodman (University of Western England) has highlighted their work in a-n News with some outstanding photos:

“At the recent 21st International Contemporary Artists’ Book Fair in Leeds, they launched Ocean Bestiary, a unique book of strange and miraculous Medieval-inspired sea creatures that features a concertina construction, letterpress text, acrylic paint, gold foil, whale bone and a leather inlay.” Sarah Bodman, “Artists’ Books #28: Salt+Shaw, collaborative book makers“, a-n News, 6 March 2018.

Bookmarking Book Art – The Vedute Foundation

The Vedute Foundation was established in 1991 to create a special collection of “spatial manuscripts” — visualized, tangible and accessible objects to convey concepts of space. The key constraint on the invited artists, architects and designers: the work’s dimension must be that of the Gutenberg Bible, 44 x 32 x 7 cm in closed form. Given that constraint, it is odd how rarely the collection is mentioned in the domain of bookworks, book art or artist books. It shows up in Sarah Bodman and Tom Sowden’s 2020 “A comprehensive reading list for artists’ books”, but book artist and trained architect, Marian Macken has most thoroughly redressed this oddity in Binding Space: The Book as Spatial Practice (2018).

At the end of 2020, the Vedute collection stood at 223 items. Among them, Piranesian Window by Cees Nagelkerke performs the ideal introduction. Its form and title capture the multiple meanings of vedute (views), some intended by the collection’s founders, some not. Views are things seen — which this art object is. Views are prospects from which to see — which a window offers. Views are perspectives — for which Giambattista Piranesi’s etchings are famous. Views are thoughts held — which “Piranesian” implies. The work’s title could be that of a manuscript on art history and philosophy.

Piranesian Window (1996)
Cees Nagelkerke
Rojo Alicante marble (8 mm thick) and mirror panels (8 mm thick), secured between metal frames. H44 x W32 x D7 cm. Number 0070 in The Vedute Foundation Collection, Rotterdam. Photos: Reproduced with permission of the artist.

Piranesi’s mid-eighteenth century etchings Vedute di Roma (Views of Rome) and Carceri d’invenzione (Imaginary Prisons) are the obvious sources of inspiration. Alongside the images on the Foundation’s site, however, Nagelkerke relates a dream of about the work. The dream’s logic and the mirror in the window frame might recall for some Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass.

– … Please, continue relating your dream …
– I wandered through vast ruins … along wrecked bridges … feeling remarkably at ease.
– How did you find the window in this windowless world?
– When a cool breeze wafted inside, I suddenly saw it. It showed a landscape, within the distance a city. There was complete tranquillity and harmony there, like in a painting by Piero della Francesca … I stood there for some considerable time and I became increasingly saddened, because I discovered that I was looking at something that had vanished forever.
– But how did you manage to take the window?
– I wanted to touch it … as a result, I immediately fell down. The gap left in the wall closed by itself … I picked it up and continued on my way, meeting people who spoke to me saying that I should leave the Carceri. I was taken to a gateway. No one looked at, or said anything about, the window… In the square where I found myself, there was an intense, chaotic commotion. The window still reflected something of the vast space I had left. The exterior showed traces of the wall in which it had been mounted. I looked through it and saw everyday life …

Together, the embedded mirror-to-mirror view and the window enact multiple enigmas. The mirror-to-mirror view recreates that Escher-like perspective to which Piranesi’s Imaginary Prisons was a forerunner. The open window invites the reader/viewer to look through: “Reader/viewer, read and look by means of the Piranesian Window, read and look to the other side of the Piranesian Window“. In the context of Nagelkerke’s dream, the spatial manuscript brings dreams and traces of the vanished into everyday life. Imagination has created the form that captures imagination but also frees it.

In Piranesian Window, Nagelkerke has delivered a surreal object that, messing with our minds, embodies Piranesi’s distinctly non-neoclassical quip: Col sporcar si trova (“by messing about, one discovers”) (Lowe, p.19). It is a dictum well suited to The Vedute Foundation‘s 223 works (1990 to 2019) and those to come.

Further Reading

Architecture“, Bookmarking Book Art, 12 November 2018.

Bodman, Sarah, and Tom Sowden. “A comprehensive reading list for artists’ books“, University of West England, 2020. Accessed 29 December 2020.

Cridge, Nerma Prnjavorac. Drawing the Unbuildable: Seriality and Reproduction in Architecture (London: Taylor and Francis, 2015). For discussion of Carceri d’invenzione, see chapter 6.

Lowe, Adam. Messing About With Masterpieces: New Work by Giambattista Piranesi (1720-1778),” Art in Print Vol. 1 No. 1 (May–June 2011). Accessed 28 December 2020.

Macken, Marian. Binding Space: The Book as Spatial Practice (London: Taylor and Francis, 2018).

Macken, Marian. 2016. “0.009856 m3: Between the Book, the Model, and the Built in the Vedute Collection of Three-Dimensional Manuscripts“, Architecture and Culture, 4:1, 31-50.

Quevedo, Steven. “Enigmatic Constructions“, 95th ACSA Annual Meeting Proceedings, Fresh Air (2007), pp. 863-870.

The Vedute Foundation (1990 to the present).

Books On Books Collection – Elisabeth Tonnard

One of the most literary and conceptualist of book artists, Elisabeth Tonnard fuses the textual and visual in ways that consistently demand and reward close attention and even meditation. The works so far in the collection do not yet represent the breadth of her techniques (missing, for example, is the digest of 15 literary works through Microsoft’s auto-summary function to create Speak! eyes — En zie!), but in their individual ways, they do represent all of her works’ ability to make constraints yield surprise.

In this Dark Wood (2008)

In this Dark Wood (2008) Elisabeth Tonnard, perfect bound, 196 pages, 90 halftones on recto pages. Acquired from the artist, 5 March 2018.

Tonnard pairs images of 90 solitary people walking alone in nighttime city streets with 90 different English translations of the first lines of Dante’s Inferno. The images come from the Joseph Selle collection at the Visual Studies Workshop, which contains over a million negatives from a company of street photographers working in San Francisco from the 40’s to the 70’s. Male or female, Caucasian or Asian or African-American or Latino, the images are, as she puts it, “re-expressions of each other”. Likewise, the various translations are re-expressions of “Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita mi ritrovai per una selva oscura ché la diritta via era smarrita.”

In this video, Tonnard speaks of the work at the 21’25” mark.

The double-page spreads blur after a while of gazing on each face and reading the translation facing it. At the very start, though, the image has no facing text on the verso, and at the end, the last page of text has no facing image on the recto. Faced with this exception to the constraint of the double-page spread, the audience is torn between being reader/gazer and gazer/reader — precisely the thrust of Tonnard’s book artistry.

The Library (2015)

The Library (2015) Elisabeth Tonnard, exposed sewing, digital print, 56 pages. H105 x W148 mm. Edition of 150 copies. Acquired from the artist, 5 March 2018.

In the days before and after the end of World War II (May 1945), two fires in a flak tower broke out, destroying most of the Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum’s Gemäldegalerie artwork stored there. Starting in 1995, a multi-volume catalogue Dokumentation der Verluste recorded and illustrated as many of the losses as possible. The website of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, has drawn from its pre-war images collection and posted authenticated images of over 100 of the more than 700 works lost. Tonnard’s work of book art memorializes the loss in a different way.

In the colophon, she calls her little book of images “a library”. The images are details from paintings, and each displays one or more books — sitting on a shelf, held in a hand or lying on a lap — and indecipherable. The illustrations from which Tonnard has taken the details are those of the paintings lost in the fires. Her book’s colophon ends: “Out of the smoke we think up this library of unknown books.”

Tonnard has also created a series of eight prints in archival ink of the details. More images from the book can be found here, and an image of the prints, here.

A Dialogue in Useful Phrases (2010)

A Dialogue in Useful Phrases (2010) Elisabeth Tonnard, softcover with blind embossing, 7.25 x 7.25 inches, digital print, 178 pages. Edition of 250, of which this is #94. Acquired from the artist, 5 March 2018.

They had no conversation properly speaking. They made use of the spoken word in much the same way as the guard of a train makes use of his flags, or of his lantern.” Samuel Beckett, Malone Dies

Whether by Microsoft’s adjustable auto-summary function, by juxtaposition of photos and text or by compiling a library of lost indecipherable volumes, Tonnard probes at the nature of making and making meaning. A Dialogue in Useful Phrases probes both by generating text and structure under several constraints. One constraint restricts the author to “conversational phrases” found in Grenville Kleiser’s Fifteen Thousand Useful Phrases (1917), or “felicitous expressions for enriching the vocabulary.” A second constraint comes with the dialogic structure of “I” then “You”. The third constraint comes from alphabetizing the utterances of “I” down the verso pages.

By title and comment, Tonnard emphasizes that we are following “a” dialogue, not a series of dialogues: “A dialogue is formed from the random meetings of these phrases. It is a dialogue in the purest sense, a dialogue that expresses nothing other than itself.” Likewise, with a prefatory quotation from Malone Dies and the book’s “empty-room” square format, Tonnard pointedly places “I” and “You” in the tradition of Samuel Beckett’s dramatic dialogues. Going a step further in that direction, she has put together Project Gutenberg’s anonymous volunteers’ recordings of Kleiser’s book and staged audio installations in venues such as the Meermanno Museum in The Hague and the Sheffield International Artist’s Book Fair 2011. In this video, she speaks of the work at the 9’10” mark.

Further Reading

In order of the entries above:

Ladd, Jeffrey. “In this Dark Wood by Elisabeth Tonnard“, 5B4|Photography and Books, 14 November 2009. Accessed 3 June 2020.

Slade, George. “Book Review: In this Dark Wood“, Photo-Eye Blog, 6 March 2014. Accessed 3 June 2020.

Bodman, Sarah. “Artists’ Books #4: The Library by Elisabeth Tonnard“, A-N, 7 January 2016. Accessed 2 June 2020.

Elisabeth Tonnard: A Dialogue in Useful Phrases“, Bank Street Arts, 13 November 2010. Accessed 3 June 2020.

Partington, Gill. “What is Reading?“, London Review of Books, 11 December 2017. Accessed 3 June 2020.

Other works by Elisabeth Tonnard:

Recounted : after Edward Ruscha (1968). This was made as part of the ABCED project realized by ABC Artists’ Books Cooperative in celebration of Ed Ruscha’s 75th birthday in 2012. It was available for one year only, until December 2013, when Ed Ruscha turned 76. It “recounts Nine Swimming Pools and a Broken Glass by Edward Ruscha in textual snapshots. The snapshots are taken from modern American literature predating 1968 (they may even be imagined to have influenced Ruscha). They can be read but they can also be looked at: the words are objects in disguise”. — Artist’s website. Accessed 13 July 2021.

Bookmarking Book Art – Bristol Artist’s Book Event, 2019

A day’s visit with one hundred exhibitors hosted at the Arnolfini in Bristol leaves me reeling like a drunken sailor — drunk on colour, texture, light, line, shapes, words and artistry. Appropriate given the Arnolfini’s location on Narrow Quay in Bristol’s floating harbour.


Lucy May Schofield talked to me about her “search for the indigo that is infinity”. The Distance of Us is only one of several pieces demonstrating how close she is coming. The Longest Day on her site is one among many by which to enjoy her progress.

The Distance of Us
Lucy May Schofield
Photo: Books On Books

Mick Welbourn took time to explain how his search among inks, paper and geometric shapes kept leading him from a unique work (oil-based) to multiples and back to uniques. These colours reminded me of the work of Sonia Delaunay.

Mick Welbourn
Photo: Books On Books


Bodil Rosenberg, a member of the Danish collective CNG (Anna Lindgren, Bertine Knudsen, Birgit Dalum, Pia Fonnesbech, Susanne Helweg), appeared delighted that I was surprised by the colour and texture of Vandstand (“water level”). Somehow after the saturation of the paper with layer upon layer of paint, each page has a supple leather- or cloth-like feel — a coolness to the touch. I think Ken Campbell would relish Vandstand.

Bodil Rosenberg
Photo: Books On Books
Bodil Rosenberg
Photo: Books On Books

Caroline Penn’s works comprised by Notes from Chesil Beach made me reach out to pick up one of the pebbles on the page. The trompe l’oeil effect of turnable pages in the photos is enhanced in one variation by inclusion of an actual small gathering of pages. The role of trompe l’oeil in book art is one worth investigating.

Notes from Chesil Beach
Caroline Penn
Photo: Books On Books


Eileen White’s Haptic Narratives and her lumen prints for Printed Matter made a nice segue from texture to ghostly light. Printed Matter also looks forward to the “artistry” section here as book’s images are un-fixed and eventually fade away. To use the book form — the traditional form of permanent record — to present a language and reminder of material ephemerality: that is artistry.

Eileen White
Photo: Books On Books

Haptic Narratives
Eileen White
Photo: Eileen White
Printed Matter
Eileen White
Photo: Eileen White

Helen Douglas (Weproductions), fresh from exhibitions at Printed Matter in New York and Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh, was displaying her 2017/2018 series Field Works as well as a new book Summer Alight. The photographic effects, the visual narrative and structure achieved in Douglas’s works define artistry.

Helen Douglas
Photo: Weproductions


Elena Zeppou’s Parallels first caught my eye because of its size, but closer inspection yielded appreciation of line — vertical as well as horizontal — and its union with text and form. Note how the lines of poetry read across the accordion.

Elena Zeppou
Photo: Books On Books
Elena Zeppou
Photo: Zitrone Printmaking
Elena Zeppou
Photo: Zitrone Printmaking


Listening to Mandy Brannan talk about custom papers, French fold books and modified flag books is almost as good as handling them. The work 30 St Marys Axe (inspired by the building fondly known as the “Gherkin”) was what first drew me to her table. It has two variations — Diagrid and Cladding — which reward repeated handling as well as regarding.

Silk tie fibre pulp
Photo: Mandy Brannan
30 St Marys Axe: Diagrid
Mandy Brannan
Photo: Books On Books

At the ArtistBooksOnline table, the shape-changer Inside/Outside by Susie Wilson kept me as busy as if it were a Rubik’s cube or paper puzzle with a medical mystery inside — or outside.

Susie Wilson
Photo: Books On Books
Susie Wilson
Photo: Books On Books


Puns, slippery words and slipperier concepts seemed to explode from Guy Bigland‘s table.

My inner metaphysician of Structuralism, Post-Structuralism, Deconstruction and Post-Deconstruction found its element(s) at the Atlas Press.

Uniformbooks offered a new selection of essays by Colin Sackett, who cheerfully discussed with me Michael Hampton’s eclectic and insightful abecedarian Unshelfmarked: Reconceiving the artists’ book.


AM Bruno, run by Sophie Loss, and of which John McDowall is a founding member, is always a rich vein of artistry. The works from the 2018 theme-driven project, Cover, appear in the box below but warrant a closer inspection at the link behind the word. John McDowall had a new book on hand: Time-lapses. As I turned the brilliantly white pages, each segmented into squares like a comic-book page but only one square in each page holding an old black-and-white photo, the title began to sink home. And then came the idea that all the meaning that could possibly explain any one photo, its relation to the other squares or to other photos or to the author or to the reader/viewer — all of it — has to take place in the empty spaces between.

Janet Allsebrook displayed a Duchampian box with the Delaunay-esque title Nichoir. Although the drift of this work (“waste time making your own useless nest box”) is echoed in her other works, the echo reverberates with a deeper tone — often political or philosophical. The variety of book forms is impressive.

Janet Allsebrook
Photo: Books On Books

Next door was the artist of Zen book art — Julie Johnstone – Essence Press. In addition to extensions of her percentage tint series, she had on hand several explorations of breath, print and paper: each breath, a page; quietly breathing; five breaths; and ten breaths. Wherever they are, her books make a Zen garden.

Sarah Bodman and Arnolfini brought together a rich collection of talent and should be thanked for doing so and encouraged to repeat it in 2021. And to the artists mentioned — and those not — who took the time to share their thoughts on colour, texture, light, line, shapes, words and artistry: Encore!

Bookmarking Book Art – Publishing as an Artistic Toolbox, Vienna, 28 January 2018

Last Sunday, 28 January 2018, this ambitious exhibition curated by Luca Lo Pinto closed.

The metonymic metaphor of the glazed roof tiles’ evoking the concept of “home” in support of  the individual and common ritual experience of reading as being translated into space is a bit topsy turvy if not strained. Overall, though, the effect was pleasing, playful and distinctively European (as was the selection of artists) in the cast concrete hall. The simultaneous warmth and cold of the color proved a pleasing contrast with the items displayed, although its glare and the occasional protective plexiglas made viewing and photographing a challenge.

In Section 01 Artists’ Library and propped on stainless steel shelves were artists’ own publications and choices of books from 1989 to 2017 that have influenced their view of publishing. So then, with the usual sly humor of book art, we have “artists’ books” and artists’ “books” — from Cory Arcangel to Heimo Zobernig.

Arcangel’s The Source Digest (from his series in which he rings the changes on selling us annotated source code in varying metaphorically driven and recursive manifestations) struck the first of several common notes in the exhibition: the digitally driven artist’s book. At the far end of the hall, in Section 05 Expanded Publishing, Antoine Lefebvre‘s La Bibliotheque Fantastique (an online library of free artists’ books) echoed that note and added one of its own: book art’s genre-reflexive, form-reflexive and self-reflexive tradition.

The ninety-item display is a genre-reflexive nod to series such as Dick Higgins’ Great Bear Pamphlet series. One row here on its own embodies multiple forms of reflexivity: Jérémie Bennequin‘s homage to Marcel Broodthaers’ homage to Stéphane Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira Le Hasard. 

Bennequin’s homage is the result of a decomposition performance in which he and Lefebvre — sometimes each in two different cities — decompose Mallarmé’s poem by rolling a die then locating and erasing the syllable corresponding to the number rolled. 

The title’s missing “s” from “Dés”the subtitle’s missing “h” from “homage” and its isolation of  “dé” in the hyphenation of “decomposition” pun self-reflexively — as book art so often does — underscoring here the paradoxical technique of creation/de-creation. 

Section 02, devoted to periodicals and zines, occupied the most space in the hall. Although the coverage was wide, it seemed odd not to find Brad Freeman’s Journal of Artists’ Books or Sarah Bodman’s Bookarts Newsletter or The Blue Notebook. But Lo Pinto did not set out to present the encyclopedia of everything within each compartment of the toolbox. The unexpected — like Lefebvre’s display — and the provocative depth of resonance within Section 01 and across sections more than made up for omissions of the expected.

Among the “interventions” in Section 03 The Medium as Message was Michael Riedel‘s Frieze CMYK (2007), now, like so many other items in the exhibition, out of print — a reality-imposed dollop of self-reflexive irony given Riedel’s paradoxical view that an exhibition must generate ephemera to live on.

As with the echoing Section 05 that sent me back to look at Arcangel’s contribution in Section 01, the color play of Riedel’s Frieze CMYK returned me to Tauba Auerbach’s entry in Section 01. But I was misremembering and thinking of her work titled 2,3, (2011), RGB Color Atlas (2011) and their color play. On display here was her Z Helix (2014) behind plexiglas. Only the interlocking blue and red spiral bindings hinted at the color inside.

Strolling back to Section 05 and thinking of the physicality as well as color of Auerbach’s works, I stopped at Section 04 Autoretrospective, which focused on Philippe Thomas’ fictitious ad agency readymades belong to everyone® that he “installed” in the Cable Gallery in New York in 1987.  The section’s title seems ironically unfair to Thomas’ self-effacing, deconstructivist intent. Given what was on display in Vienna, it was inescapably — like the mythological World Turtles — Thomas “all the way down”. Perhaps there is something to the row-upon-row of roof tiles metaphor after all.

The remaining sections — one being a space for performances and readings, another a screen showing the home page of Silvio Lorusso’s Post-Digital Publishing Archive and another entirely elsewhere in the city — began to push the limits of the senses and imagination to make up for that lack of three-dimensionality that limited the impact of Auerbach’s and others’ shelves. (It was commendable, however, that visitors were allowed to touch the works not behind plexiglas.)

Being familiar with Lorusso’s site, I looked back over the roof top shelves and wall projections and momentarily found myself slipping into that  “consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions … in every nation, … A graphical representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the non-space of the mind, clusters and constellations of data” (William Gibson’s definition of “cyberspace” from Neuromancer, New York: Berkley Publishing Group, 1989, p. 128). As with all white cube spaces, though, the physical arrangement did not fail to reassert itself and draw me out of the exhibition through Section 11 The Bookshop as Medium, which much like Sections 01 through 05 offered unexpected tangible and intangible compensations.

Section 11 The Bookshop as Medium
Austellungsansicht: Publishing as an Artistic Toolbox: 1989–2017, Kunsthalle, Wien
Photo by Stephen Wyckoff

As noted at the beginning, an ambitious exhibition: one also reminiscent of Germano Celant’s  effort in 1973 Book as Artwork 1960/1972.  With the hope for more to come from this talented curator and the artists and publishers gathered, here are some favorites on the way out … best enjoyed with the downloaded or printed catalog close to hand (links after the favorites).

For a copy of the catalogue/journal, go to

See the following for interviews with the curator Luca Lo Pinto about the exhibition: