Books On Books Collection – Philip Zimmermann

Landscapes of the Late Anthropocene (2017)

Landscapes of the Late Anthropocene (2017)
Philip Zimmermann
Offset. Two-staple binding. 44 pages. H134 x W107 mm
Acquired from Journal of Artists’ Books #41, 25 July 2017. Photos: Books On Books.

It opens with sunrise, closes with sunset. Each landscape shows water meeting land. Airport control towers appears in each landscape. Some stand on promontories, some are nearly submerged. Tinted pages of NOAA charts of the Bahamas, Florida Keys and Gulf of Mexico lay between the pages of landscapes. The sentences placed across the charts in silvery white come from the random-seeming, poetic-sounding “Harvard Sentences“, used by audio engineers and speech scientists in Harvard’s Psycho-Acoustic Laboratory from the mid-20th century to the present to test the effects of noise on comprehension.

There are 72 ten-sentence banks in the Harvard Sentences. The artist’s choice of three sentences for each chart page is like a painter’s choice of colors and strokes.

“Men think and plan and sometimes act” is the first chosen. “A pink shell was found on the sandy beach” is the last. In between come “reds” like “Let it burn, it gives us warmth and comfort”, “greens” like “Lush ferns grow on the lofty rocks” or “blacks” like “That move means the game is over”. The sentences seem to change their color or meaning as the eye moves among the landscapes. What color has “Canned pears lack full flavor”?

The only other man-made structure in the book appears halfway through: the roof of a log cabin with the water almost to the eaves.

A small work of book art with an overwhelming force.

Under his Spaceheater Editions imprint, Zimmermann also produced a limited hardback edition, which includes an eight-page sewn pamphlet describing the work.

Landscapes of the Late Anthropocene (2017)
Philip Zimmermann
Offset lithography, 4/c and duotone plus metallic silver. Paper: Mohawk Superfine. 142 x115 x 12 mm. Acquired from the artist, 23 February 2020. Photos: Books On Books.

High Tension (1993)

High Tension (1993)
Philip Zimmermann
5.5 x 7.9″; 96 pages. Pentagon with 4″ spine and each of the other sides 4.25″. Unmatched irregularly cut pages. Offset printed. Produced and printed for for Montage ’93, International Festival of the Image, Rochester, NY, 1993.

High Tension is a porcupine of a book. As Johanna Drucker put it, “It’s about anxiety, and it pricks your fingers as you turn the pages.”

The work has been well-described in The Cutting Edge of Reading:

[High Tension] overwhelms us with a surprisingly varied profusion of images. Each of the many double pages introduces at least one radically new picture having more often than not merely a marginal relationship with those that had preceded. We must process these words somewhat gingerly in terms of our own past experiences when immediate recognition fails. It would therefore appear that unpredictability characterizes the selection and succession of the graphics. Each new image has its own motif and its own color scheme. Dealing in its own way with representation, it imposes its own focus and its own scale to which the reader must adapt. Thus, each turning of a page practically guarantees a further disruption and reduces any hope that we may have entertained of discovering either a formal or a thematic continuity. Instead, it calls forth unsuspected resources within us. Surprise follows surprise without affording a moment of relaxation. Each page relentlessly renews the shock of novelty, but in so titillating a manner that we must dwell on each image without any desire to skip. The artist has of course abandoned or deliberately misapplied expected formats. The pages may overlap, but they never coincide with one another. Deviation happens on two levels: each page slants diagonally and, when turned, symmetrically prolongs across the gutter the preceding one. Thus, two successive pages point in opposite directions while jointly providing a partially coherent and integrated image — partially, because fragments of images from other double pages show a propensity to migrate or, if we may use a medical term in describing a pictorial and psychological venture, metastasize. As we move along, we can hardly avoid twisting and turning the book around for successive viewings of the double paged pictures. Obviously, we can no longer rely on the measured progress so characteristic of reading. Moreover, the angularity of the pages greatly increases the nervous energy of their graphic and verbal content. …

Renée Riese Hubert and Judd D. Hubert, The Cutting Edge of Reading: Artists’ Books (New York: Granary Books, 1999), pp. 168-73.

There are also third and fourth deviations to add to what the Huberts observed above. Note how the orientation of the text and images varies across the double-page spreads. Text runs at different diagonals and sometimes apparently horizontally as expected (for example, in all of the spreads below). Sometimes images are vertically aligned within the double-page spread but at an angle (for example, the graph below), and sometimes horizontally (for example, the Masaccio below that).

High Tension (1993)
Philip Zimmermann
Photos: Books On Books.

Zimmermann himself writes at length and self-critically about the work on his website:

This was the first book that I had ever done that was completely imaged and output on a computer. I used my Macintosh to lay out the pages and then output the film at Purchase College on the AGFA image setter we had there. I did all the film assembly and made the offset plates at my studio at home in Barrytown NY and then took the finished plates up to Rochester in April of 1993 for printing.  Pressman Paul Muhle did the presswork this time, on the same Heidelberg KORD press. …

I was at VSW for two weeks during the printing of High Tension, living in the artists’ apartment there at 31 Prince Street. The book was then packed up and sent out to Publisher’s Bookbindery in Long Island City for the die-cutting and foil stamping and finally the smythe-sewing. As it turned out, the book was sub-contracted to a bindery in western Massachusetts. Every aspect of the job was botched and I lost about a third of the edition of a thousand to mis-registered die cutting, torn pages, badly sewn books and many other problems. High Tension was a very difficult binding job, it is true. There are no right angles to line the signatures up by. However I think that when the bindery realized how difficult a job it was they decided to just slap it out with no care whatsoever rather than lose a lot of money on it. Because of the due date being the opening of Montage ‘93 in July of 1993 I had no choice but swallw [sic] the bad binding. If I had time, I would have forced the bindery to reprint the whole book and do the job over again. I had a very precise die-cut master sent with the job that somehow got lost and I later found out that was why the die-cutting was so poor.

The budget for the book was substantial both because of the rather large amount of production money from Montage ‘93 but also because of a Faculty Development award from Purchase. I also contributed some of my own money. Still the money was not enough to do the whole book by full color CMYK process printing. So I decided to try to output everything to three-color CMY separations, which required some special fiddling with Photoshop. That meant no black ink at all is used in the whole book, which few people realize. The entire book was done as three color “process”. This saved one set of plates and one press run for each side of every printing form, but it was much harder to print for the pressman because ink levels really had to be turned way up on the coated paper to get anything close to a black made up of just cyan, magenta and yellow. In retrospect I wish I had just found the money and printed it as normal CMYK sets because the blacks are not as good as normal and are uneven. 

One additional innovative production feature of the cover was that I made a duotone foil stamp, which as far as I know is the first time that had been done other than the cover I had done for an earlier book Interference published by Nexus Press.

Philip Zimmermann, “High Tension”, Spaceheater Editions. Accessed 27 February 2020.

As with Landscapes of the Late Anthropocene, reading Zimmermann about the process and technique is an education in how to look at book art.

Further Reading

An Online Annotation of The Cutting Edge of Reading: Artists’ Books“, Books On Books, 7 September 2017.

Interview with Colin Rafferty, Book Arts Podcasts, University of Alabama, 12 January 2006. Accessed 6 February 2014.

Van Wyk, Gary. Our Anthropocene: Eco Crises (New York: Center for Book Arts, 2018), p.18. Descriptive catalogue of an exhibition (19 January – 31 March 2018).

White, Tony. “From Democratic Multiple to Artist Publishing: The (R)evolutionary Artist’s Book“, Journal of the Art Libraries Society of North America, Vol. 31, No. 1 (Spring 2012), pp. 45-56. Accessed 17 January 2020.

Zimmermann, Philip. Artist’s statement on the work. Spaceheater Editions. See also a video of the hard bound edition.