Books On Books Collection – Pierre di Sciullo

L’Après-midi d’un Phonème (2019)

L’Après-midi d’un Phonème (2019)
Pierre di Sciullo
Greyboard on drawn-on-solid paper wrapper. H240 x W150 mm, 256 pages. Special edition of 40, of which this is #40. Acquired from ~zeug, 25 March 2020.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

The pun on Mallarmé’s L’Après-Midi d’un Faune certainly captures Pierre de Sciullo and his endeavors. He plays with typography as a medium, delving into letter forms and phonemes — drawing, writing and piping them into posters, signs, building façades, apps, stage designs and this book. The book is an extended and illustrated interview with di Sciullo, as faun of design, conducted by its publisher’s founders Sandra Chamaret and Julien Gineste (~zeug). The colophon credits the book’s design to Grand Ensemble, the design studio managed by Chameret and Gineste. Simon Renaud, author of the introduction and previously a student of di Sciullo, is also credited with involvement in the typography.

Physically this work’s first gesture toward playfulness is di Sciullo’s design for the jacket, which unfolds to a poster in two-color printing on Hahnemühle Natural 120 gsm. Then comes the binding (see above): embossed and inked text on greyboard glued to a drawn-on-solid wrapper of Munken Pure 300 gsm to which the sewn folios are glued.

Dust cover unfolding to poster

The colors blue and gold play a unifying role across the structure of the book and the text of the interviews that took place from July 2016 through July 2019. The colors of the paper and type play off each other and draw together the shift of double and single columns of text and the mix of full-color bled-off photos, single- and multi-color illustrations placed in the inner and outer margins, and single- and multi-color half-tones appearing in a variety of positions, nevertheless balanced.

The interviews roughly follow the chronology of di Sciullo’s career and naturally refer throughout to his serial publication Qui? Résiste, now in its 14th number. The discussion and illustrations demonstrate how his talents apply across numerous media, but always in the service of type and an offbeat representation of sound. Most of his experimental typefaces are covered: Minimum (1986), made of vertical and horizontal lines only; Quantange (1989), the phonetic alphabet named after the question Qu’entends-je? (“What do I hear?”); followed by Épelle-moi/Spell me (1998), in which each letter’s pronunciation is spelled out; in turn followed by Kouije (2005), “a flexible tool to embody the voice in writing” — to name but a few.

The phonetic is by no means the only note that the faun of design plays. “Visually haptic” describes this book as well as his sculptural typography. The eye feels the Bing/Bong versions of Minimum’s letters dancing in the signage of the Centre national de la Danse. “Semantically haptic” may be the best way to describe Floating Words, where the signage interacts with its surroundings to convey the meaning of the sign (which may, in fact, only allude to the place to which it points).

The Afternoon of a Phoneme also provokes socially and politically. It airs di Sciullo’s reactions to Chernobyl, the first Iraq war and the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina — reactions expressed in his publications or typography: Qui? Résiste No. 7, Qui? Résiste No. 8 and Sintétik. Of the latter, he says in one interview, “So since the world tolerates ethnic cleansing, I am going to conceive of an alphabetic cleansing. I am going to shoot off a part of the letters, which will allow me to shoot away a part of the words …. It is a purification of the language, with abuse of the language at every level!” (p. 105). A less futile gesture (though not addressed at any length) are his typefaces based on the Tifinagh script of the Tuareg — Aligourane (1995) and Amanar (2003) providing access to printed matter and the screen.

And in the end, L’Après-midi d’un Phonème embodies di Sciullo’s typographic reaction to the world. In that same interview he says,”My aim is to create a writing style that is made to be read if one is very very patient, …” (p. 107). The reader/viewer/holder of this book might be reminded of that experience of learning to read — or perhaps the experience of tending to a child. What you have in your hands squirms, turns this way and that, makes you laugh and cry out, hurts your head and warms your heart.

Further Reading

Biľak, Peter. 23 January 2005. “Experimental typography. Whatever that means.” Typotheque. Accessed 3 February 2022.

Devroye, Luc. 2 February 2022. “Qui Résiste [Pierre di Sciullo]“. Type Design Information Page. Accessed 3 February 2022.

Held, Ursula. 1996. “Pierre di Sciullo’s experimental alphabets interrogate the conventions that govern the way we read, write and talk“, Eye, no. 23 vol. 6. Accessed 3 February 2022.

Sciullo, Pierre di. 1 July 2016. TPTalks. Accessed 3 February 2022. In French, but easily followed visually. Go to the 50’02” mark to see Floating Words and hear his audience’s gasp of wonder.