Neiw Kunstliches Alphabet (1595/1995) Johann Theodor de Bry Facsimile edition created by Joseph Kiermeier-Debre and Fritz Franz Vogel as part of the boxed set Alphabets Buchstaben Calligraphy, published by Ravensburger Buchverlag (1998). H275 x W255 mm, 80 pages. Acquired from Antiquariat Terrahe & Oswald, 14 March 2021. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
Johann Theodor de Dry and his sons were copperplate engravers, best known for their Grands and Petits Voyages (1590-1634) of 57 separate parts, containing over 500 different engravings illustrating the explorations of the world beyond the shores of 16th and 17th century Europe. While the De Brys’ place in the history of book art might be traced from their illustrations of Hans Staden’s tales of Brazilian cannibals to Oswald de Andrade’s “Manifesto Antropófago” [Cannibal Manifesto] (1928) and Moussa Kone’s Nowhere Land (2017), their equally strong, if not better, claim rests on the Neiw Kunstliches Alphabet (1595) and the Alphabeta et characteres (1596).
The Neiw Kunstliches Alphabet presents the letters of the alphabet adorned with Judaeo-Christian allegorical figures, vegetation, birds and animals, instruments, implements, weapons and regal emblems. An octave in Latin and one in German provide hints for identifying the allegorical and emblematic references. At the end of the De Brys’ alphabet atlas Alphabeta et characteres, iam inde a creato mundo ad nostra usq. tempora, apud omnes omnino nationes usurpat (1596) depicting dozens of alphabets — the Chaldaic, Egyptian, Hebrew, Greek, Slavonic, Hispanic, Latin and so on — another decorated alphabet and an alphabet formed of human figures make their appearance.
Letters R&S and the human alphabet from Alphabeta et characteres, iam inde a creato mundo ad nostra usq. tempora, apud omnes omnino nationes usurpat (1596). Images: Bibliothèque nationale de France.
Kiermeier-Debre and Vogel reproduce to scale the letters from the Neiw Kunstliches Alphabet and present thumb-nail versions of the alphabets as well as the decorated letters from Alphabeta et characteres. Their facsimile is not the first for these works. J.N. Stoltzenberger printed Alphabeta et characteres in translation for William Fitzer in 1628, and George Waterston & Sons published Neiw Kunstliches Alphabet as The New Artistic Alphabet in 1880 (albeit without the original’s text and verses). By juxtaposing all these originals, Kiermeier-Debre and Vogel provide a concentration of what makes the De Brys partial forerunners in the history of book art: images embracing letters (and letters embracing images).
Joseph Kiermeier-Debre and Fritz Franz Vogel facsimile (1995) of Neiw Kunstliches Alphabet (1595), pp. 12-13. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
The intention of this work is to take an inquisitive look at language, and to apply the unique properties of the system to the system itself.Subjecting language to its own idiosyncrasies and inconsistencies in iteration after iteration in turn brings about major changes and remarkable patterns. … My focus on the flaws or glitches of language is not in the spirit of criticism, but in the interest of cultivating a new idea of possibility or perfection.
It is also in the spirit of artistic playfulness. “How to Spell the Alphabet” is the title of one of Auerbach’s best-known works. A work of ink and pencil on paper (2005), it begins “EY BEE CEE DEE” and was featured in MoMA’s “Ecstatic Alphabet” exhibition (6 May – 27 August 2012). That shows just one way in which How to Spell the Alphabet‘s artistic playfulness makes the letters of the alphabet ecstatic (“to stand outside themselves”). In keeping with the book’s cover and the name of Auerbach’s publishing operation established in 2013 (Diagonal Press), each of those ways adds another angle, another way into, another perspective on her work. This entry, however, deals with only one of them: what Auerbach calls “letter worship”. Expanding on that, she writes:
These pieces are an exaggeration of the slowness of hand-drawing letters. Taking several weeks to draw, each one is a meditation on the form of a single letter on its own, isolated from meaning or context. … These specific letters are inspired by a German alphabet designed by Paulus Franck in 1601. In the tradition of illuminated manuscripts, such an ornamental font treats each letter both as an object of worship and as a means of expressing worship towards what is written. But … they are also an expression of the idea that celebration — in this case, through embellishment — can lead to obliteration. They are meant to teeter on the edge of decipherability, oscillating between legibility and abstraction.
“A” by Tauba Auerbach (left) and Paulus Franck (right). Photos: Books On Books Collection.
“E” by Auerbach (left); “E” and “F” by Franck (center); “F” by Auerbach (right).
“I” by Auerbach (left) and by Franck (right).
“Q” by Auerbach (left); “Q” and “R” by Franck (center); “R” by Auerbach.
That reference to oscillation between legibility and abstraction also draws attention to Auerbach’s fascination with helix-like and chiral (handedness) images and phenomena, which lies at the heart of her major 2021-22 exhibition and even finds expression in its title SvZ. Auerbach’s work oscillates between the world of the alphabet and the world of science and math, just as the letter and the world oscillate when we grasp at the meaning of their relationship.
… 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 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.
It took a long look at the development of Ioana Stoian’s work to show me the relationship of trompe l’oeil to book art — and to appreciate how an artist can invent herself.
Stoian’s apprenticeship as an artist began with the decorative arts in 2004 in Lower Normandy, France, and has taken her to New York (MoMA), Cologne, Vienna, Salzburg, Minneapolis, Ostende (Belgium), Kadoide (Japan), Amsterdam (the Stedlijk) and, as of 2015, back to Minneapolis, where she is a Jerome Foundation fellow at the Minnesota Center for the Book Arts.
Stoian’s time as an assistant artist with the Scottish painter Lucy McKenzie, starting in 2008, honed her skills in deceiving the eye with faux woodgrain and faux marbling. For example, see McKenzie’s 2008 installation at MoMA, 2009 installation at the Ludwig (Cologne), 2011 installation at the Galerie Buchholz and 2013 installation at the Stedelijk. One may wonder whether Daniel Buchholz’s roots in antiquarian books or the Stedelijk’s in artists’ books prepared the ground for Stoian’s artistic direction toward book art and paper art, but book art and trompe l’oeil joined spectacularly in 2014 when Stoian had the chance to work with Tauba Auerbach in 2014 on the completion of Auerbach’s Wood and Bent Onyx. Stoian handpainted the fore, top and bottom edges of the book blocks in watercolor pencil and paints to match the color and grain of the prints of wood and marble digitally offset on pages of Mohawk superfine paper. As a technique, fore edge painting dates to the 16th century, and the “vanishing” variety, where the painting appears only when the pages are pressed and fanned out, dates to the 17th century. Over time, a standard type of press developed to hold the “canvas” of page edges evenly fanned to accept the painting.
Despite this established history of fore-edge painting, Stoian had to fall back on a mastery and technique that come from her apprenticeship work, inventiveness and meticulousness. These books were very heavy and the pages were very thick …. There was absolutely no way to fan the pages. I went through the book, page by page, and made marks of where the wood/ marble veins were located.
Then I clamped the book so that water wouldn’t seep in and using my ‘map’, I recreated the wood/ marble. As you can imagine, it was challenging to match the inside spreads. I had to constantly unclamp, verify that I was matching the spreads, re-clamp, paint, wait…
I used both watercolour pencils and paints. Needless to say, it’s very hard to erase watercolour without using lots of water and saturating the page. I had to be careful with every single brush stroke I made.
There is something Zen-like about trompe l’oeil in the attentiveness to detail, to material, to execution. But there is more. To mangle a Zen saying: Trompe l’oeil is more than a pointing at the moon; those who gaze only at the pointing will never see beyond — never see the beauty of the moon, never see the beauty of the pointing. With the best of trompe l’oeil, that moment in which the eye is fooled recurs again and again for the attentive viewer. In its recurrence, the work of art alternates between the self-referential (the mind drawn to the pointing) and the mimetic (the mind drawn to the pointed at).
So it is not surprising that Stoian has “always been interested in Japanese art and culture”. As early as 2008, origami appears in her commercial decorative work. She is the author of two books: Origami for All with her partner Eric Gjerde (2013) and The Origami Garden (2016). In reviewing both books for The Fold , Jane Rosemarin commented:
… as I paged through her first book, “Origami for All,” I eventually began to understand that Stoian is an artist who has chosen origami as her medium. Her work is not hard to fold, but it has a consistency of style and a real beauty.
Recognized not only for their origami, Stoian and Gjerde were invited in 2013 to exhibit their paper art at the prestigious Salon des Artisans et Métiers d’Art, held at La Propriété Caillebotte in the village of Yerres outside Paris. While Gjerde’s folds explicitly explore the mathematical (for example, Voronoi tessellations and hyperbolic paraboloids), Stoian’s explore shapes more suggestive of the oriental: cranes and flowers as in Strelizia (2010).
Where Gjerde’s interest in his material has led him to bio-art (paper grown from bacterial cellulose), Stoian’s has hewed to traditional papermaking, which figures consistently in her work: for example, Hidden Within (2010). In 2012, that interest in traditional
western papermaking had turned eastward:
After discovering western papermaking, I became fascinated with thin, strong sheets, which obviously led me to washi – the Japanese paper made from mulberry. I naturally had the desire to go to Japan and see how this paper was made.
It so happens that a friend of mine, Tomoko Fuse (a very talented and well-known female origami artist and perhaps the most published origami author in the world), was at a paper folding event in France. I casually mentioned that I wanted to go to Japan to learn papermaking. Next thing I know, she had very kindly organised for me to spend a month with Yasuo Kobayashi, master paper maker and owner of Kadoide Washi – an offer I could not refuse.
I spent a magical month in the mountains, during the Kozo harvest (December) and had an amazing time learning from a great master.
Yasuo Kobayashi is a fifth-generation papermaker but also a writer and philosopher, whose unique views on papermaking warranted his inclusion in the American Folklore Society’s sponsored report on apprenticeship and papermaking. Yasuo Kobayashi told the report’s author, Aimee Lee: “I wanted the kozo to tell me what kind of paper it wants to become, not to force it to be what I want. This is not typical for papermakers. I want kozo to be my teacher.” When asked to elaborate,
… Kobayashi compared bunka (culture) and bunmei (civilization). “Bunka is what you think from your heart.” In contrast, bunmei’s goal is to develop constantly, exemplified by the western desire for progress: people do not want today and tomorrow to be the same—they want things to be less difficult and more convenient. This mindset cannot translate to making real paper. His grandfather’s and father’s lives were not very different. His father’s and his lives were a little different. But his son’s and his lives are so different that it is hard to relate across that rift. He sees two roots for the future of paper: growers and makers. Real kozo goes with the heart but is inconvenient and does not follow progress. Kigami [paper] comes from the root “to be born,” and this word also relates to breathing. When born, paper is like a child: weak, but growing stronger over time until it dies. He knows that his point of view is rare, but also said people must balance bunka and bunmei, rather than to go absolutely one way or another. Today, the balance is too heavy on the professional side, so he tries to balance this by leaning towards the growing side.
Stoian’s jump at the chance to learn from him is consonant with her “journeyman’s” approach to her artistic development. Note that the visit to Kadoide Washi precedes the work on Wood and Bent Onyx for Tauba Auerbach in 2014. The methodical diligence required in making washi and the resulting appreciation of the properties of paper re-present themselves in Stoian’s mapping of the grain and perceiving what the works and the paper “wanted”. The impressive fore-edge work with Wood and Bent Onyx now seems inevitable, rising from a combination of technique and deep appreciation of color, material, form and structure in the service of illusion. In her own work, Stoian strives toward bunka, which is evident in works like Strelizia and Hidden Within, where the form and color her handmade paper takes combine to convey feeling — or “heart” as Kobayashi might put it. Her aim has become even clearer during the Jerome Foundation stage of her “journeyman’s” journey.
Stoian received the Jerome Foundation Mentorship grant for 2014/15 at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts to create an artist book — an extraordinary artist book. The mentorship program offers emerging artists the resources to create a book, fusing together newly acquired skills with aspects of their own artistic practice. The grant provided one year of 24-hour access to the Center’s facilities, a mentor, and a series of introductory workshops on paper making, letterpress printing, and book binding.
Responding to her new wintry environment, Stoian embarked on l’hiver (2014), a new work consisting of 80+ individually hand-made and dyed pieces of paper. L’hiver is reminiscent of Hidden Within (2010) in its pursuit of a harmony of color, structure, and form. The former is perhaps more open than the latter and lets each part’s snowflake-like uniqueness assert itself.
The congruence and continuity of those two works do nothing to prepare the viewer for Nous Sommes (2015), the artist’s book that follows them. While Nous Sommes continues Stoian’s aim of harmony among color, structure and form, while its intensity of colors harks back to the stencil work for Lucy McKenzie’s Stedelijk exhibition in 2013, the structure and form Stoian chose marks a bold departure.
The cover and binding of Nous Sommes has the feel of a Solander box. The book opens in a particular order of lifting the triangular flaps, one of which displays the “Table of Contents” and another the colophon.
Nous Sommes has nine “chapters” or differently sized, shaped and colored slipcases whose material matches that of the cover and binding. The chapters fit precisely together (tangram-like), but the order of their reading lies with the reader’s choice of color, shape or size. The video provided by Stoian and Gjerde offers one of many readings of the work.
Within each chapter is a precisely fitted paper structure to be “read” by unfolding, positioning, displaying, contemplating and, in conclusion, returning it to its chapter/slipcase.
Commenting on Strelizia, shown earlier, Stoian writes,
I am interested in intuitive color experiments; this work represents the flow from mood to colour, with the final form of the paper manifesting itself from these captured emotions.
In Kandinsky’s footsteps, perhaps, this artist finds and aims to offer the spiritual in art. The title Nous Sommes suggests so. Whether the expression “we are” applies to the art object (self-referentially) or to its audience (individually or collectively), form, structure and colors assert community, inclusion and a fitting together.
We can look forward to Stoian’s next chapter as she has received a follow-on appointment from the Minnesota Center for the Book Arts: the 2017/18 Jerome Foundation Fellowship.
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.
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.
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).