Books On Books Collection – Buzz Spector

With the exception of Unpacking my Library, Spector’s works in the Books On Books Collection fall into the category of ephemera. Unlike much other ephemera such as invitations, broadsides and the like, however, these items have that self-reflexiveness so characteristic of book art.

The Book Made Art (1986)

The Book Made Art: A Selection of Contemporary Artists’ Books, exhibited in the Joseph Regenstein Library, The University of Chicago, February through April 1986.
Curated and edited by Jeffrey Abt; catalogue designed by Buzz Spector.
Saddle-stitched, staples; H200 x W200 mm.
Chicago: University of Chicago Library, 1986.

Artist, curator and historian Jeffrey Abt wrote that the “irresistible” idea of placing an exhibition of artists’ books alongside the University of Chicago Library’s collection “broadly representative of the history of the book” started with a visit to famed art dealer Tony Zwicker‘s studio. It was also, however, almost as if he were taking a cue from this statement by artist-printers Betsy Davids and Jim Petrillo just the year before:

A representative collection of artists’ books often does not seem visually remarkable in a gallery, where a wide range of visual experience is the norm. The same collection, installed in a library or bookstore, can seem visually startling almost beyond the limits of decorum. — “The Artist as Book Printer: Four Short Courses”).

While Abt’s introductory essay rings the historical changes on the roots of book art — once there was Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira Le Hasard, but before Mallarmé, there was William Blake — the works included and the catalogue’s design ring some chimes of their own about book art. One way or another, all book art self-consciously draws attention to some particularly bookish element. For the most part, the 49 works listed in this catalogue ring true. The catalogue’s design itself, however, not only chimes to that notion of self-reflexiveness but also to wider notions about the nature of book art within contemporary art.

Not long after this exhibition, Spector wrote of “the language of the book” and all its parts — pages, signatures, cover, letter forms and their placement on the page, etc. — as having a syntax (“Going Over the Books”). With its pencil-circled numbers, alignment guides, pastedowns and other designer’s marks appearing throughout — as if a printer’s devil had run amok and let the marked-up proofs go to press unchanged — the catalogue draws attention to that syntax, the underlying processes of bookmaking and, therefore, this object’s “bookness”. The colophon’s note initialed by Jeffrey Abt to Buzz Spector and “pasted” on the last page jokingly rings the self-reflexive chime of the markings throughout the catalogue.

The second chime comes in the catalogue’s verbal and visual punning. Like book art, punning is self-reflexive, words playing on words. The title ”the book made art” can be read with different meanings: “the book made into art”, “art that is bookish” and so on. The catalogue’s trim and two-dimensional representation of three-dimensions create the visual pun of a glass or white cube. The verbal and visual puns also play with Abt’s “irresistible” context. Here in the Joseph Regenstein Library was an exhibition catalogue, teasing the viewer with a reminder that vitrines separated them from the bookworks. Reviewing two other exhibitions of book art, Spector elaborated explicitly on his visual tongue-in-cheek irony:

The dilemma in staging exhibitions of books as art objects is the denial of access to the work that conservation necessarily demands. … and it is a more than passing irony that implications of hermeticism and elitism should surround books shown to a public using the library as a means of gaining access to texts. — “Art Readings”.

The catalogue also teases with its title and design by suggesting that once books have been placed on display like this, the setting is no longer a library but a “white cube gallery“. As the catalogue progresses, black-and-white photos of items from the exhibition appear on the verso page in frames that appear to be hanging on the trompe l’oeil cube’s rear wall.

Poster distributed on the University of Chicago campus.
The image combines Michael Kostiuk’s Airplane Shadow Book (1981/82) with a variation of the catalogue cover.
Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

But a viewer standing in the “brutalist” construct of the Regenstein Library and holding the finished catalogue might have asked, “What makes these objects I cannot touch — or, in some cases even if I could, cannot read — art?” There is the catalogue’s third chime. From the start, book art has faced a constant definitional or identity crisis and even the challenge “but is it art?” The catalogue’s title echoes Lucy Lippard’s Duchampian proposition: “It’s an artist book if an artist made it, or if an artist says it is”. The catalogue’s design says, “This is the gallery, these are the objects on display in it, they are art”.

The “white cube gallery” brings on a fourth and final ironic chime. In the 1970s and early ‘80s, artists’ books were pitched as a “democratic” medium and means by which art could escape the clutches of the gallery and reach a wider public. In another catalogue — the one for the 1973 Moore College exhibition, nominated as the first of book art — John Perreault writes:

Books as art, from the artist’s point of view and the viewer’s point of view, are practical and democratic. They do not cost as much as prints. They are portable, personal, and, if need be, disposable. Because books are easily mailed, books as art are aiding in the decentralisation of the art system. — “Some Thoughts on Books as Art”.

By the mid-80s, lo and behold, The Book Made Art’s catalogue-cum-gallery jokingly recaptures “books as art”. And in a further irony, by the mid-80s and since, the increased rareness and price of such bookworks have made them into galleries‘ and museums’ expensive objects of desire. Including this catalogue.

The Library of Babel (1991)

The Library of Babel
Curated and edited by Todd Alden; catalogue designed by Buzz Spector.
Dos-à-dos binding, offset. H241 x 177 mm
Buffalo, NY: Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center, Hallwalls Inc., 1991.

As with The Book Made Art, Spector uses the cover (this time with a photograph of The Library of Babel) to introduce the self-reflexivity so characteristic of book art, but he does not stop there. Pagination and the back-to-back binding structure work together to evoke a mirror’s reflection; the last page of the first half “faces” the last page of the second half.

The first half contains Todd Alden’s essay “The Library of Babel: Books to Infinity”, Paul Holdengräber’s “Unpacking Benjamin’s Library: Bibliomania in Dark Times”, and a checklist of the 34 works by their 10 artists.

The second half contains half-tones of selected works and brief CVs of the artists. Among the half-tones are also photographs of works referenced by Alden (one by Jasper Johns, two by Marcel Broodthaers). Notice how the rules change position in the footers of the two halves, again evoking the back-to-front theme of the dos-à-dos binding.

As in The Book Made Art, Spector had an entry in “The Library of Babel“ exhibition. With its torn pages, North Sea (for M.B.) (1990) echoes Altered LeWitt, but it is instead a work 10 feet long and presented on a table appropriately jutting out from the wall like a pier. “M.B.” is Marcel Broodthaers, to whose works there are multiple and layered references. The eleven “waves” of torn pages placed in a row on top of the steel shelf are the excised material from another of Spector’s works: Marcel Broodthaers, made from eleven copies of the Walker Art Center’s 1987 catalog to Broodthaers’s first U.S. retrospective. Spector painted all the pages in each copy with white gesso before excising them and leaving behind his 1990 “altered Broodthaers”.

Marcel Broodthaers (1990)
Buzz Spector
An altered copy of: Marcel Broodthaers. Minneapolis/New York: Walker Art Cente/Rizzoli, 1989.

He saved the excised “wedges” and bound them at the fore edges. Because the gesso does not completely obscure the text and images from the catalogs, viewers who come close to the work can see slivers of some of Broodthaers’ works along with the word fragments typical of Spector’s altered books.

North Sea (for M.B.) (1990)
Buzz Spector
Books, steel, gesso, 25 x 96 x 10 inches
Collection Orange County Museum of Art,CA; Museum purchase with additional funds provided by Peter and Eileen Norton and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency. Photo: Courtesy Orange County Museum of Art.

Spector’s library contains a copy of Broodthaers’ 1974 artist book, A Voyage on the North Sea. These layered references and self-references — direct references to Broodthaers’ A Voyage, indirect references through the self-reference to Spector’s Marcel Broodthaers (1990) — bring into sparkling focus two features of book art and, in particular, late 20th century book art: reverse ekphrasis and bookworks in conversation with one another.

When a visual work of art inspires poetry or prose, the literary result is called ekphrastic:  “the verbal representation of visual representation”. But where the poets Keats, Auden and Jarrell, for example, use words to “recreate”, re-present, evoke or respond to works of art — an antique urn, a painting by Brueghel and Donatello’s sculpture of “David” — book artists have in turn used the letter, words, actual books, the physical materials of the book or even the shape of books, their functions or processes of making them to create works of art. A kind of ekphrasis in reverse. 

Not only does Spector perform this reverse ekphrasis with exhibition catalogs in North Sea (M.B.), he does it in conversation with a multimedia work by Broodthaers. Works in conversation with one another is also a common occurrence in poetry. An entire anthology showcases these poems that talk to other poems. The later work not only evokes the earlier work, it illuminates and adds to it. In book art, other instances include Bruce Nauman’s Burning Small Fires (1968), a one-sheet folded book of photos of Ed Ruscha’s Various Small Fires and Milk (1964) being set on fire and burning to ash, and Dennis Oppenheim’s Flower Arrangement for Bruce Nauman (1970), a leporello which refers to Nauman’s Flour Arrangements (1967), a video in which the artist pours over 50 pounds of flour on a mock talk-show studio floor and then sculpts it into ephemeral shapes. Nauman’s shift to an ingenious folded single-sheet structure and Oppenheim’s shift (and pun) to an accordion view of flowers are part of the addition to their conversations with their very structurally different counterparts. Spector’s shift to the sculptural is part of the addition to his conversation with Broodthaers’ book and video. Consider not only Spector’s gessoed sea of pages and the pier, but also those two 19th century black bronze sailing ship bookends evoking the 19th century nautical painting that Broodthaers appropriated in A Voyage on the North Sea.

North Sea (for M.B.) (1990)
Buzz Spector
Books, steel, gesso, 25 x 96 x 10 inches
Collection Orange County Museum of Art,CA; Museum purchase with additional funds provided by Peter and Eileen Norton and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency. Photo: Courtesy Orange County Museum of Art.

Unpacking my Library (1995)

Unpacking my Library (1994-95)
Buzz Spector
Leporello full-colour offset printed; folded H100 x W155 mm, unfolded W3600 mm; Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art.
Installation exhibited at the San Diego State University Art Gallery, 1-31 October 1994.

Clearly from his entry in The Library of Babel, Spector’s artistic output extends beyond altered books and catalogue design to larger scale installations. One of the more well-known, Unpacking my Library imposes multiple orders on what Walter Benjamin called “the chaos of memories”. How “multiple orders”? First, because of its subtleties; second, because of its several forms.

From the start at the San Diego State University Art Gallery, 1-31 October 1994, the installation imposed the order of “descending height” on Spector’s library, unpacked and displayed across one shelf attached along the white walls of a room in the gallery. The single shelf ran 188 feet.

Although Spector is rejecting the library’s traditional method of making sense of a collection of books — ordering by academic category — in favor of a physical criterion, the title imposes another method of making sense — allusion. The installation makes “more” sense if you have read Walter Benjamin’s essay “Unpacking My Library — A Talk on Collecting” (1931). If you haven’t, then, on the reverse of the leporello produced with the Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art, are these two sentences from the essay:

This or any other procedure is merely a dam against the spring tide of memories which surges toward any collector as he contemplates his possessions. Every passion borders on the chaotic, but the collector’s passion borders on the chaos of memories.

So what has ordering by height to do with the chaos of memories? Well, if the order of the personal library had been chronological by acquisition, that would be an assertion against chaos, a kind of aide- mèmoire. If the order had been by the library’s traditional method, again that would be an assertion against chaos. Benjamin and Spector embrace the chaos. Spector’s at-first amusing and puzzling organization of his library prods the viewer into the chance to do somewhat the same — to wander along the shelf with that phrase of process hovering in the mind and be reminded of books once read (when? where?), familiar and almost-familiar names and places (from when or where?) and subjects studied (what did that cover?). But the viewer also experiences a surge of unknown names, places and subjects, and spines that mystify.

The allusion to Benjamin’s essay offers another way of making sense of this experience into which the viewer is prodded. If a personal library is a kind of self portrait you can detect from the clues that its usual groupings into fiction, biographies, history, science, etc., give us about the owner, then here the order by height washes them and the portrait away. And if the viewer knows the essay, Benjamin’s last sentence may come to mind:

So I have erected one of [the real collector’s] dwellings, with books as the building stones, before you, and now he going to disappear inside, as is fitting. — Walter Benjamin, “Unpacking My Library”

Spector mentions this disappearance in a video record of the making and showing of the installation. Whether or not the installation’s spectator knows Benjamin’s essay, the installation’s title is a clue to the imposition of a fictional order. “Unpacking my library” is a phrase implying an activity that is just getting going. For his essay, Benjamin created the fiction of the reader’s being present as the library is being unpacked. Likewise for Spector’s installation, any spectator walking into it has entered a fiction. Spector’s library has already been unpacked, sorted on the floor and placed on the single shelf running around the room.

Of course, however, the owner of the leporello form of Unpacking my Library does not experience this fiction as directly. The opening and arranging of the leporello is a hands-on activity; the unpacking of Spector’s library occurs panel by panel in the reader’s hands. The library’s arrangement by height appears more gradually than in the gallery. Once the bookwork is fully extended, the installation’s fiction then becomes more readily available to the leporello’ s reader/viewer.

As fictions, Benjamin’s essay and Spector’s installation need an ending. Benjamin’s technique is to disappear into his collection. Spector chooses a different technique. In correspondence with Books On Books, he writes:

The length of all the publications in my library was 165 feet; the single shelf, at the UCSD Art Gallery, on which they were placed ran 188 feet. That additional space implied a future, and life-affirming, growth of my collection. — Buzz Spector, 26 March 2020.

Whether it is leporello or installation, the reader/viewer of Unpacking my Library is launching and launched on this open-ended ending.

The Book Maker’s Desire (1995)

The Book Maker’s Desire: Writings on the Art of the Book
Buzz Spector
Pasadena, CA: Umbrella Editions, 1995. 2nd printing.
Cover design by Buzz Spector. Image: History of Europe (1983) by Buzz Spector; plaster over found book, 10.5 x 12 x 15 inches.

Spector’s essays are tonic. His comments on Margaret Wharton’s bookworks could refresh any reader and viewer lucky enough to see her works (Union League Club-Chicago or Yale) or remind the viewer of them when looking at works by later artists such as Thomas Wightman or the “Mystery Book Artist of Edinburgh”. In the past few months, Walter Hamady and John Baldessari have died, and Spector’s essays on them bring them both and particular works of theirs to present life. His essay and letter on Broodthaers would enhance any reading of the artists who have stood on Broodthaers’ shoulders to address Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés: Bennequin, Mutel, Pichler, Wyn Evans, Zboya. The essay “Going Over the Books” may have inspired Alden’s curation of ‘The Library of Babel” exhibition.

The essays are not entirely the point of having The Book Maker’s Desire in the Books On Books Collection. What completes the point is the cover design. The object on the book’s front cover is Spector’s own work History of Europe (1983), which pays homage to Broodthaers’ Pense-Bête (1964). But look closer. The cover stock has elements of text and colour seeping through, almost as if it were made of shredded books. The aptness and artistry of the cover design make The Book Maker’s Desire an object of desire in and of itself.

Further Reading

Buzz Spector“, Bookmarking Book Art, 12 March 2016.

Benezra, Neal. “Buzz Spector: The Library of Babel and Other Works“, [exhibition] 16 February – 17 April 1988, The Art Institute of Chicago. Accessed 26 March 2020.

Davids, Betsy, and Jim Petrillo. “The Artist as Book Printer: Four Short Courses” in Artists’ Books: A Critical Anthology and Sourcebook, edited by Joan Lyons (Rochester, NY: Visual Studies Workshop Press, 1985), p. 160.

Krauss, Rosalind. “A Voyage on the North Sea”: Art in the Age of the Post-Medium Condition (London: Thames & Hudson, 1999). Accessed 26 March 2020.

Lippard, Lucy. “New Artist’s Books” in Artists’ Books. A Critical Anthology and Sourcebook, edited by Joan Lyons (Rochester, NY: Visual Studies Workshop Press,1985), p. 53.

Mathews, Emily, and Sylvia Page. “Off the Shelf and Into the Gallery: Librarians on Spector”, Buzz Spector: Off the Shelf, Grunwald Gallery of Art, October 19 — November 16, 2012 (Bloomington, IN: Grunwald Gallery of Art, Indiana University, 2012), pp. 9-15.

Otten, Liam. “A sea of torn pages“, The Source, Washington University in St. Louis, 26 February 2010. Accessed 26 March 2020.

Perrault, John. “Some Thoughts on Books as Art” in Artists Books, Moore College of Art, 23 March – 20 April 1973, curated by Dianne Perry Vanderlip (Philadelphia, PA: Moore College of Art, 1973), p. 21.

Platzker, David. “Marcel Broodthaers : A Voyage on the North Sea”, Specific Object, New York, New York, 28 January — 20 March 2009. Accessed 31 March 2020.

Schlesinger, Kyle. “The Missing Book”, Buzz Spector: Off the Shelf, Grunwald Gallery of Art, October 19 — November 16, 2012 (Bloomington, IN: Grunwald Gallery of Art, Indiana University, 2012), pp. 17-25.

Spector, Buzz. “Going Over the Books” in The Book Maker’s Desire (Pasadena, CA: Umbrella Editions, 1995), p. 8.

Spector, Buzz. “Art Readings” in The Book Maker’s Desire (Pasadena, CA: Umbrella Editions, 1995), p. 13.

Spector, Buzz. “I stack things. I tear stuff up”, Buzz Spector: Shelf Life: selected works, Bruno David Gallery, January 22 — March 6, 2010 (Saint Louis, MO: Bruno David Gallery, 2010).

Bookmarking Book Art – Architecture

Architecture — be it theory, principles, practices or instances — inspires book art. Lay the book flat; you have a foundation. Open and turn it on its fore-edge; you have a roof beam or arcade. Stand it upright; you have a column or tower. Turn the front cover; you open a door. Put the text and types under a microscope; you have a cityscape. As the examples in this virtual exhibition show, architecture-inspired book art goes beyond these simple analogies.

There are seemingly unrelated texts that help considerably in going there. The Eyes of the Skin (2005) and The Embodied Image (2010) by Juhani Pallasmaa, architect, teacher and critic, are two of them. He writes as if he were an artist preparing an artist’s statement or descriptions of the book art below. The title of his earlier book gives away his alignment with the visual and tactile nature of book art. Pallasmaa’s two books will enrich anyone’s enjoyment of the works shown and mentioned here.

From the Books On Books Collection

Helen Malone

Malone’s Ten Books of Architecture is a good place to start in the collection. Like Pallasmaa, Malone takes a broad historical and, most important, haptic view of architecture from Vitruvius to Hadid. Each of the ten books is a bookwork that exemplifies its subject.

Photo: Books On Books Collection
Photo: Books On Books Collection

Marcus Vitruvius Pollio

The columns in this accordion book are made by embossing; the marbling effect comes from diluted Sumi ink.
Photo: Books On Books Collection

Abbot Suger of Saint-Denis

Adapted tunnel book with accordion sides
Photo: Books On Books Collection
A watercolour at the tunnel’s end to evoke the stained glass clerestory windows in the Basilique Saint-Denis, Paris
Photo: Books On Books Collection

The aspiration to fuse the cosmic and the human, divine and mortal, spiritual and material, combined with the systems of proportion and measure deriving simultaneously from the cosmic order and human figure, gave architectural geometries their meaning and deep sense of spiritual life. The Embodied Image, p. 23.

Leon Battista Alberti

Photo: Books On Books Collection
Photo: Books On Books Collection

The texture of this book, its adapted accordion structure and Alberti’s words remind me of Geoffroy Tory’s Champ fleury: The Art and Science of the Proportion of the Attic or Ancient Roman Letters, According to the Human Body and Face  (1529) and its argument for finding the ideal shape of the letters in the human form and face. The alphabet as book art’s bones, bricks and beams?

And further apropos the link between the book and architecture, consider the connection that Vasari drew between Gutenberg and Alberti:

In the year 1457 [sic], when the very useful method of printing books was discovered by Johann Gutenberg the German, Leon Batista [sic], working on similar lines, discovered a way of tracing natural perspectives and of effecting the diminution of figures by means of an instrument, and likewise the method of enlarging small things and reproducing them on a greater scale; all ingenious inventions, useful to art and very beautiful. Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors and Architects, vol. 1, trans. Gaston Du C. de Vere (London: Medici Society/ Philip Lee Warner, 1912-1914), 494.

Filippo Brunelleschi

Photo: Books On Books Collection
Photo: Books On Books Collection

In “An Architectural Confession”, Pallasmaa writes:

One’s most important teacher may have died half a millennium ago; one’s true mentor could well be Filippo Brunelleschi or Piero della Francesca. I believe that every serious artist — at the edge of his/her consciousness — addresses and offers his/her work to a superior colleague for approval. The Eyes of the Skin, p. 82.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh

“A paradox of enrichment and reduction”
Photo: Books On Books Collection
“New technologies”
Photo: Books On Books Collection
Photo: Books On Books Collection

Le Corbusier

This curiously textured cube sits perfectly alongside Pallasmaa’s observation: “The basic geometric shapes have their symbolic connotations, but more important than their conventional meanings are their conceptual and visual organising powers” (The Embodied Image, p. 58).

Photo: Books On Books Collection
Photo: Books On Books Collection
Photo: Books On Books Collection
Photo: Books On Books Collection

I.M. Pei

Photo: Books On Books Collection
Photo: Books On Books Collection
Photo: Books On Books Collection
A short trip around this small pyramid as a reminder of the entrances that were always on the far side of museums you visited
Photo: Books On Books Collection

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

Photo: Books On Books Collection
“Reading” the perspex accordion invites reconfiguring your own hi-rise and skyline.
Photo: Books On Books Collection

Daniel Libeskind

It is no surprise that Pallasmaa has written extensively on Libeskind.
Photo: Books On Books Collection
Photo: Books On Books Collection
Photo: Books On Books Collection
Photo: Books On Books Collection

Zaha Hadid

This edition of Malone’s Ten Books is unique in its inclusion of Hadid, who is not mentioned in either of Pallasmaa’s books but whose artistry and turn to the organic and curves of nature certainly fit with their spirit.
Photo: Books On Books Collection

Malone’s Ten Books has a predecessor in Laura Davidson’s contribution to the 1994 Smithsonian show on book art inspired by its collection of rare science books (see section below). Although there is also Karen Wirth’s sculptural take on the Ten Books as well as Ron Keller’s take (see section below) on Palladio’s Fours Books of Architecture, which is Palladio’s take on Vitruvius, I have not found any other Vitruvian-inspired works of book art. (Pointers welcome.)

Mandy Brannan

These two works — 30 St Mary Axe: Diagrid (2009) and 30 St. Mary Axe: Cladding (2009) — are among several architecture-inspired works of book art that Brannan has created. The text in one of those several — Situated — could have come straight from Pallasmaa, Bachelard or Merleau-Ponty:

Being situated is generally considered to be part of being embodied, but it is useful to consider each perspective individually. The situated perspective emphasizes that intelligent behaviour derives from the environment and the agent’s interactions with it.

30 St Mary Axe: Diagrid (2009)
Mandy Brannan
London has nicknamed the building at 30 St. Mary Axe “the Gherkin”.
Photo: Books On Books Collection
Photo: Books On Books Collection
30 St. Mary Axe: Cladding (2009)
Mandy Brannan
Photo: Books On Books Collection

By integration of image, colour and structure, Brannan situates the “Gherkin’s” architecture in your hands.

Sarah Bryant

The Radiant Republic (2019)
Sarah Bryant
Photo: Books On Books Collection

In the The Radiant Republic (2019), Sarah Bryant (Big Jump Press) brings together concrete, wood, glass, paper, ink and embossed printing, sewn binding, box container and texts from Plato and Le Corbusier.

Note the embossed text on the verso. Across the five volumes, the embossed text is the same as that printed in ink, but it runs in fragments backwards from this last page of the last volume to the last page of the first volume.
Photo: Books On Books Collection

Bryant’s insightful integration of Plato’s and Le Corbusier’s texts and ideas and her setting them in the physicality of the blond wood, linen cover, embossed type and sewn papers could easily be a response to Pallasmaa’s comment in The Eyes of the Skin: “The current overemphasis on the intellectual and conceptual dimensions of architecture contributes to the disappearance of its physical, sensual and embodied essence.” (p. 35)

Helen Douglas and Telfer Stokes

Chinese Whispers (1975) is conceptual, visual and spatial narrative that takes the reader into a “game of embedded games”: a game of Chinese Whispers used by the artists to combine the process of making a book with the process of recovering an old cottage, making a corner cupboard, making jam, making ideas and making an exit.

Chinese Whispers (1975), Helen Douglas and Telfer Stokes, Photo: Books On Books Collection

The selection of images above begins with the front cover’s photo of a patch of grass outside an abandoned farm building and ends with the back cover’s photo of the underside of the patch of grass. In between, the pages take the viewer through the trimmed hedge and the doorway into the room, through the building, the stocking of the shelves, using of the stock and closing of the shed cupboard, and so back to the other side of the patch of grass. As Stokes explained in the Journal of Artist’s Books (Vol. 12, 1999):

We started with the corner cupboard, that was the part that occupied our thinking most, that and the two colour vignettes (as we called them) printed on different stock. But then we started to think backward to what might be before the cupboard’s construction. To the thing before that, and the thing before that, and the thing before that which was cutting of the hedge and before that which was the boot brush which we called the hedgehog- that was where the book started. Then we started to photograph from that point forward, through the book.

The work blends the features of book structure, collage and montage to create something that resonates uncannily with Pallasmaa’s approving citations of Bachelard’s central idea of the hearth and domicile as central to our time-bound “being-in-the-world”.

Heather Hunter

Folded book pages rarely generate a work that rises above mere craft. Heather Hunter’s Observer Series: Architecture (2009) achieves the necessary height. It combines the altered book with an accordion book that incorporates a found poem composed of the words excised and folded outwards from the folded pages of The Observer’s Book of Architecture.

Observer Series: Architecture (2009)
Heather Hunter
Photo: Books On Books Collection
Photo: Books On Books Collection

The very fact of a found poem made of excised words that happen to fall at the folds shaping a column from a book on architecture chimes with the title of Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space.

Marlene MacCallum

Chicago Octet (2014) by Marlene MacCallum embodies the collaborative creative approach often taken in architects’ practices. Collaborative working arises almost as frequently in book art. Think of Blaise Cendrars and Sonia Delaunay, Helen Malone and Jack Oudyn, Julie Chen and Clifton Meador, Robin Price and Daniel Kelm. Many more can be added. As described by MacCallum:

From May 19 – 26, 2014 a group of eight gathered at the Columbia College Center for Book and Paper Arts for a final collaborative project. This event was organized by Clifton Meador and myself and included David Morrish, Scott McCarney, and four Grenfell Campus BFA (Visual Arts) grads, Stephen Evans, Maria Mercer, Virginia Mitford, and Meagan Musseau…. The letterpress printing consisted of a word selected by each participant printed on one of Scott’s folded structures. The images were a digital layering of every cityscape photograph that I made and then inkjet printed on top of the letterpress. The final folded structure was designed by Mary Clare Butler. The case was designed and built by Scott McCarney, the front cover embossment was by David Morrish and Clifton Meador.

Chicago Octet (2014)
Marlene MacCallum
Hand bound artist’s book with folded paper structure, letterpress and inkjet printing, 6.5 × 3 × 0.5 inches (closed dimension).
Photo: Books On Books Collection

Photo: Books On Books Collection

Chicago Octet fully unfolded, 17.5 × 11.5 inches
Photo: Books On Books Collection

Can you hear the traffic and sense the layers of experience? What Pallasmaa writes here of rock art in Africa and Australia reminds me of Chicago Octet (or is it vice versa?): “

At the same time that great works of art make us aware of time and the layering of culture, they halt time in images that are eternally new. … Regardless of the fact that these images may have been painted 50,000 years ago, … we can … hear the excited racket of the hunt. The Embodied Image, p. 109.

Salt + Shaw (Paul Salt and Susan Shaw)

Mill: A journey around Cromford Mill, Derbyshire (2006) is the result of the artists’ exploration of Cromford Mill in Derbyshire, the first water-powered, cotton-spinning mill developed by Richard Arkwright in 1771. Solid, plaster cast blocks are held softly between calico pages containing hidden texts, bound in recycled wooden library shelf covers that indicate there is history to be found within.

Mill: A journey around Cromford Mill, Derbyshire (2006)
Salt + Shaw (Paul Salt and Susan Shaw)
Photo: Books On Books Collection

Having Mill is like having the building inside your house.

Karen Wirth

Architecture plays more than an inspirational role in Karen Wirth’s portfolio. As mentioned above, she has created her own take on Vitruvius’ Ten Books. She designed the Gail See Staircase at Open Book and the Hiawatha Light Rail Station, both in Minneapolis. The collage work Paper Architecture is based on an architectural installation at the Minnesota Center for Arts Design and draws on Wirth’s photos of Ayvalik, Amsterdam, Florence, Istanbul, New York City, Rome, San Diego and Venice.

Paper Architecture (2017)
Karen Wirth
Photographs in the book © Karen Wirth
Photo: Books On Books Collection

In The Embodied Image, Pallasmaa singles out “the collaged image” as creating “a dense non-linear and associative narrative field through initially unrelated aggregates, as the fragments obtain new roles and significations through the context and dialogue with other image fragments” (pp.71-72). The materially disparate words in the title of Wirth’s work imply the dialogues she creates among paper, designs of letters and architecture, buildings across time and the globe, and photos tinted, four-colour, and black-and-white in palimpsest.

For Wirth’s own comments about the intersection of book art and architecture, see her interview with Betty Bright.

J. Meejin Yoon

Former professor and head of the Department of Architecture at MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning, Yoon is now Gale and Ira Drukier Dean of the College of Architecture, Art and Planning at Cornell University. She is also cofounder of Höweler + Yoon, a design-driven architecture practice. Absence appears to be her only work of book art so far.

When you hold this small white brick of paper and turn its thick pages, a small pinhole appears on the page. Then two larger square holes emerge, one of which falls over the pinhole. Page after page, the two square holes repeat, creating two small dark wells in the field of white, until on the last page they take their place in the cut-out schematic footprint of the city blocks and buildings surrounding the Twin Towers of New York City. What you hold in your hands at the end is an object of art and book of memorial prayer.

Absence (2003)
J. Meejin Yoon
Photo: Books On Books

Architecture-themed works from other sites

Twice a semester, the Environmental Design Library at the University of California, Berkeley hosts “Hands On: An Evening with Artists’ Books”. In 2017, one evening’s theme was “Building on the Built”, illustrated by 25 works of book art. Organised by 23 Sandy Gallery in the same year, “BUILT“ was an international juried exhibition featuring 66 artist books by 51 artists examining the relationship between contemporary book art practices and architecture, engineering, landscape and construction.

Arranged alphabetically by artist’s name, this section provides links to favourites from these two exhibitions as well as other collections, exhibitions and installations.

James Allen: The Golden Section (2016), Architectural Graphics (2018)

Architectural Graphics (2018)
James Allen
Photo: Courtesy of the artist

Charlene Asato: Black & White (2013)

Alicia Bailey: Cities & Eyes (2016)

Carli Boisjolie: Places of Theirs (2016)

Amy Borezo: Raising the Supine Dome (2010)

Raising the Supine Dome (2010)
Amy Borezo
Photo: Courtesy of the artist

Inge Bruggeman: A Crisis Ethicist’s Directions for Use: Or How to be at Home in a Residence-cum-Laboratory (2003)

A Crisis Ethicist’s Directions for Use: Or How to be at Home in a Residence-cum-Laboratory (2003)
Inge Bruggeman
Photos: Courtesy of the artist

On her site, Bruggeman writes, “This book/box project is built around excerpts from Architectural Body by Madeline Gins and Arakawa…. incorporates a blueprint of their Bioscleave House as part of the imagery….”. Somewhat like A Clockwork Orange or perhaps more like Heideigger’s tomes, the Gins and Arakawa book is a challenge to the reader’s expectations of diction and syntax.

R D Burton: Structures II (2015)

Carol Chase Bjerke: Homage to Peter Mullin (2014)

Julie Chen and Barb Tetenbaum: Ode to a grand staircase (for four hands) (2011)

Susan Collard: Work in Great Cities (2011); Quixity (2017)

Guylaine Couture: Everyone Needs a Home (2017)

Laura Davidson: Ten Books of Vitruvius (1994), Venice : Piazza San Marco (2010)

Olafur Eliasson: Your House (2006)

Elsi Vassdal Ellis: Here is the church. Here is the Steeple. Here are questions for the people. (2017)

Alisa Golden: Woods in the City (2013)

Woods in the City (2013)
Alisa Golden
Photos: Courtesy of the artist

Christiane Grauert: Folding City (2016)

Karen Hanmer: The model architect: the panic of ’09 (2010)

Hongtao Zhou: Textscape-TONTSEN Eye (2019)

Textspace-TONTSEN Eye (2019)
Hongtao Zhou
Photos: Courtesy of the artist

Johan Hybschmann: Book of Space (2009)

Ronald Keller: Palladio, Andrea (1508-1580): excerpts from the four books on architecture (2008)

Louise Levergneux: Finding Home (2016)

Marlene MacCallum: Townsite House Bookwork (2006). See also Gail Tuttle, The Architectural Uncanny (Newfoundland: Sir Wilfred Grenfell College of Art Gallery, 2007).

Richard Minsky: Model of Buckminster Fuller’s Tetrascroll (1979). See also Polly Lada-Mocarski, Richard Minsky and Peter Seidler, “Book of the Century: Fuller’s Tetrascroll“, Craft Horizons, October 1977 (Vol. 7, No. 35). For one (very helpful) reading of Tetrascroll see Jessica Prinz’s “The ‘Non-Book’: New Dimensions in the Contemporary Artist’s Book” in The Artist’s Book: The Text and its Rivals, a special two-issue volume of Visible Language, Vol. 25, Nos. 2/3, edited by Renée Riese Hubert (Providence, RI: Rhode Island School of Design, 1991), pp. 286-89.

Marta Minujín: El Partenon de Libros (1983)

Howard Munson: The Architects (2018)

Sumi Perera: Building Blocks Book XVII (2017). Further information available at Saatchi Art.

Building Blocks Book XVII (2017) Sumi Perera Photos by artist’s permission

Going against the usual structure of the book, that of a beginning, a middle and an end, Perera provides a space for infinite possibilities and multiple authors, creating “modules that can be re-sequenced and re-aligned to develop variable permutations and encourage participatory involvement, to share the final editorial control with the viewer to transform the ever-evolving work”. These possibilities for variable permutations are no more evident than in her constantly evolving project, Building Blocks Book, and its numerous subsequent iterations including The Negative Space of Architecture and The House That Jack Never Built (2008). Once again we find Perera exploring human interaction, not only with the concepts and her quizzical ideas surrounding architectural and public spaces and how we build between and move within, but also the physical interaction with the artists’ books she produces – the rearrangement and reinsertion of pages which allow the audience and participants new opportunities and pathways to proceed. Through the positive and negative space of the page or the type font, the Underground versus over ground, the artist takes us on journeys that are at once fluid and at other times obstructive. In these cityscapes, the U-turn is as common as the page turn – a necessary rupture in a free-flowing narrative. Chris Taylor, From Book to Book (Leeds: Wild Pansy Press, 2008).

Maria G. Pisano: Tunnel Vision (2004), Hecatombe 9-11 (2007)

Laura Russell: Casa Mila (2006)

Marilyn Stablein: Grids, Lines, Blocks: Basics Tools to Build Linear Habitats (2017)

Barbara Strigel: Visible Cities (2016)

Nikki Thompson: A Tribute to Alvar Aalto (2008)

A Tribute to Alvar Aalto (2008)
Nikki Thompson
Photos: Courtesy of the artist

Andrew Topel: Blueprints (2012)

Christine Trexel: Building the Universe (2017)

Amanda Watson-Will: The Great Library (2011)

Rachel Whiteread: Nameless Library (2000)

Thomas Parker Williams: Spiral Dome: Sculptures in Paper and Steel (2016)

Spiral Dome: Sculptures in Paper and Steel (2016)
Thomas Parker Williams
Photos: Courtesy of the artist

Further Reading

Sophia Kramer, “Variations of Vitruvius: Four Centuries of Bookbinding and Design”, The Met, 22 August 2018. This essay reviews and illustrates the conservation and rehousing of ninety-five copies of De Architectura libri decem (The Ten Books of Architecture) by Marcus Pollio in the collection of the Department of Drawings and Prints. They are part of a donation of 356 publications from the architect William Gedney Beatty (1869–1941). For book artists, the section on a 1556 edition with double volvelles to display a theater design should be of interest.

Elizabeth Williams, “Architects Books: An Investigation in Binding and Building”, The Guild of Book Workers Journal, Volume 27, Number 2, Fall 1989. This essay not only pursues the topic of architecture-inspired book art but turns it on its head. An adjunct professor at the time, Williams set her students the task of reading Ulises Carrión’s The New Art of Making Books (Nicosia: Aegean Editions, 2001) then, after touring a bindery, “to design the studio and dwelling spaces for a hand bookbinder on an urban site in Ann Arbor, Michigan”. But before producing the design, the students were asked “to assemble the pages [of the design brief and project statement] in a way that explored or challenged the concept of binding”. In other words, they had to create bookworks and then, inspired by that, create their building designs. Williams illustrates the essay with photos of the students’ bookworks. [Special thanks to Peter Verheyen for this reference.]

Bookmarking Book Art — Andrew Eason

clock
Clock Watching, 2006, Andrew Eason
“What happens when we’re not watching the clocks? A short piece where ordered Newtonian time gives out and something a bit more interesting takes over instead.”

Based in Bristol, Andrew Eason creates and teaches book art.   One of his more interesting bookworks is Clock Watching, but he is more than a book artist watching the clock or posterity.  Consider these concluding paragraphs to “The Critical Commonwealth,” his essay contributed to the 2010-11 Book Artists’ Yearbook.

If we are to say that artists’ books count in contemporary art practice, we have to connect those circuits up with the wider critical discussion. Books have made this difficult, because in themselves, as objects, they harbour an insular perfection of their own. They have a persuasive individual completeness that only a wider context can begin to describe and elucidate. This security is part of their appeal, of course. But it also trips us up as we try to write about them, as the temptation is to treat every book as a world in itself, separate from any other and from the world outside. Walter Benjamin, writing of the early books of his childhood, confides, ‘whereas now content, theme and subject-matter are extraneous to the book, earlier they were solely and entirely in it’.

We should move towards a perception of practice, tactics and desires extraneous to the insufficiently-permeable identity of ‘artists books’. Like Benjamin, we should allow our perception of what is inside books to be informed by that which is outside them.  The critical commonwealth that artists’ books belong to is none other than that of contemporary art practice. This realisation reframes the question of how to discover the relevance of artists’ books. It has nothing to do with their definition, or categorisation, and everything to do with what they say and what they make possible. They’re art.

The digital revolution is one of those extraneities that Eason and other book artists must have in mind.  As is evident from the link, his Clock Watching is a pdf flipbook and seems to be viewable only on his website — a book in a browser.  Any critique of the work would take into account the artist’s accommodation for non-Flash browsers and his choices of the application’s functionalities (automated page-turning, click to turn, click and drag to turn, thumb-nail presentation, print not allowed, download not allowed, etc.).  On the iPad, the ability to zoom in to appreciate the chalk-drawn figures over the tinted collage of landscape foreground and background surpasses that of the cursor-bound MacBook Pro (circa 2009), but the work is dated 2006, and one would have hoped for greater visual control to pore over the tinted rocks and roots in the twilight scenes.  But attention to technical extraneities are not the only ones Benjamin or Eason expect of the artist and viewer.

The work poses its question of measured time in words and then in images that suggest the vegetal, cultural and mortal passage of time.  The strangely tinted foliage is moving through its seasons.  The chalked characters are from different times and suggest Ovid’s Metamorphoses and the influence of other literary and artistic forebearers.  But does Clock Watching succeed in bringing what is outside the clock and outside its medium — book, book-in-browser, book art — within itself?   Time, as they say, …

In addition to making his own bookworks and inviting us onto the grounds of the critical commonwealth, Andrew Eason has posted a tunnel book:  The Thames Tunnel.   Be sure to hover over the holes in the cover and click on the dropdown “Look through.”

Here is the collection citation should you happen to be near the Brunel Collection in Bristol and wish to make an appointment to see the work:

Repository University of Bristol Library Special Collections 

Level Collection  Ref No DM327

Title  Illustrated booklet advertising the Thames Tunnel

Date  1827
Extent  1 item
Description  ‘Sketches and Memoranda of the works for the Tunnel under the Thames from Rotherhithe to Wapping [London]: published and sold at the Tunnel Works, Rotherhithe, and by Harvey and Darton, 55 Gracechurch Street, 1827’.

26 p., [13] leaves of plates (4 folded). Copy available in the Eyles Collection, TA820.L6 SKE.

Bookmark for your browser or your ereader? | Updating the debate — the cloud gathers

The original posting (20120815) begins beneath the image.  The updates are flagged below.

 

 

Somewhat similar to the discussion kicked off by Jason Pontin in Technology Review, this collection of viewpoints pulled together by Anna Lewis of ValoBox for The Bookseller‘s digital blog FutureBook puts the case for HTML5 over the app/device.

“. . . HTML5 has laid down a new marker in browser standards. Not only does it enable offline capability through caching of content, it also lets you create websites that feel like native apps. The browser is certainly becoming a very different beast. So, does this mean publishers should rethink their approach to the browser, and see it as a way to deliver content, not just discover it?”

How the answers to this question play out affects the evolution of the book.   Bookmark the concept if not this web page.

Other books in browsers covered include 24symbols, Padify and the Internet Archive.  Follow these up on Lewis’s FutureBook posting.  Offline, commentators have suggested Amazon’s Cloud Reader and Firefox’s EPUB Reader as well.   

Also a three-part series of postings by Bill McCoy, Director of the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), has begun at Tools of Change today (20120816).  The first in the series articulates a key point about the book as content,

“. . . over time there will continue to be an increasing ability to conveniently publish directly to the cloud, as well as increasing acceptance by end users of cloud-based consumption. Perhaps someday the idea of a “file” will even become obsolete. But, at a minimum for many years to come – and possibly forever – it seems obvious that there will continue to be a significant role for reified content objects [italics added], particularly portable documents.”

Books On Books will add links to the second and third of McCoy’s postings by as they occur.  The concept of the book as a reified content object (techy as the phrase may be) has its bibliographic and critical forerunners (in the work of McKerrow, Benjamin, Barthes, Ong and others) and its contemporaries (in the work of Illich, Hayles, Michael Joyce and others).

On its surface, the debate in which HTML5, EPUB 3, iOS apps, the ebook, the cloud are swimming seems to be a competition of technical approaches and tools.  Beneath its surface, however, stirs something vital to the future of the book.

Updated bookmark begins here (20120817) . . .

Before Bill McCoy’s next posting (see above for the first), Jeremy Greenfield at Digital Book World (DBW) usefully flagged a timely collection of postings supporting “the cloud trumps the future” perspective on ebooks:  Hachette’s return on its investment in the cloud, the State Department backing off its Kindle deal in order to research other options (cloud-based being the implication), the major textbook publishers’ adaptation to Virtual Learning Systems and MOOCs (massive open online courses), etc.

The “cloud” view, however, recalls an apt caution Michael Joyce made in his Adam Helms lecture in Stockholm in 2001:

    Digital culture reels and swaggers like a drunken plowman who dreams of taking flight, relieved of mortal weight and presence. . . . an old dream, perhaps the oldest of human culture . . . . Much is made of how the digital escapes fixedness, . . . from electrons hurtling along copper corridors, upward to switched registers of transient values, and ultimately to brilliant phosphor letterforms which disappear like fireflies in a billion recurring twilights of a nanosecond’s duration.

    However we situate ourselves in place and time alike.  Cyberspace is not exempt from the mortal and moral geometry wherein we place our hope and find out future.

This from one of the pioneers of the ebook.  What is ironic here and now is that Joyce made these comments while comparing ebooks to print books, yet today they are equally applicable when comparing ebooks in ereaders to ebooks in the cloud.  As the ebook in the ereader stands with the printed book as a “reified content object,” the cloud gathers.

Bookmark for your browser or your ereader? | Updating the debate — the cloud gathers

The original posting (20120815) begins beneath the image.  The updates are flagged below.

 

 

Somewhat similar to the discussion kicked off by Jason Pontin in Technology Review, this collection of viewpoints pulled together by Anna Lewis of ValoBox for The Bookseller‘s digital blog FutureBook puts the case for HTML5 over the app/device.

“. . . HTML5 has laid down a new marker in browser standards. Not only does it enable offline capability through caching of content, it also lets you create websites that feel like native apps. The browser is certainly becoming a very different beast. So, does this mean publishers should rethink their approach to the browser, and see it as a way to deliver content, not just discover it?”

How the answers to this question play out affects the evolution of the book.   Bookmark the concept if not this web page.

Other books in browsers covered include 24symbols, Padify and the Internet Archive.  Follow these up on Lewis’s FutureBook posting.  Offline, commentators have suggested Amazon’s Cloud Reader and Firefox’s EPUB Reader as well.   

Also a three-part series of postings by Bill McCoy, Director of the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), has begun at Tools of Change today (20120816).  The first in the series articulates a key point about the book as content,

“. . . over time there will continue to be an increasing ability to conveniently publish directly to the cloud, as well as increasing acceptance by end users of cloud-based consumption. Perhaps someday the idea of a “file” will even become obsolete. But, at a minimum for many years to come – and possibly forever – it seems obvious that there will continue to be a significant role for reified content objects [italics added], particularly portable documents.”

Books On Books will add links to the second and third of McCoy’s postings by as they occur.  The concept of the book as a reified content object (techy as the phrase may be) has its bibliographic and critical forerunners (in the work of McKerrow, Benjamin, Barthes, Ong and others) and its contemporaries (in the work of Illich, Hayles, Michael Joyce and others).

On its surface, the debate in which HTML5, EPUB 3, iOS apps, the ebook, the cloud are swimming seems to be a competition of technical approaches and tools.  Beneath its surface, however, stirs something vital to the future of the book.

Updated bookmark begins here (20120817) . . .

Before Bill McCoy’s next posting (see above for the first), Jeremy Greenfield at Digital Book World (DBW) usefully flagged a timely collection of postings supporting “the cloud trumps the future” perspective on ebooks:  Hachette’s return on its investment in the cloud, the State Department backing off its Kindle deal in order to research other options (cloud-based being the implication), the major textbook publishers’ adaptation to Virtual Learning Systems and MOOCs (massive open online courses), etc.

The “cloud” view, however, recalls an apt caution Michael Joyce made in his Adam Helms lecture in Stockholm in 2001:

    Digital culture reels and swaggers like a drunken plowman who dreams of taking flight, relieved of mortal weight and presence. . . . an old dream, perhaps the oldest of human culture . . . . Much is made of how the digital escapes fixedness, . . . from electrons hurtling along copper corridors, upward to switched registers of transient values, and ultimately to brilliant phosphor letterforms which disappear like fireflies in a billion recurring twilights of a nanosecond’s duration.

    However we situate ourselves in place and time alike.  Cyberspace is not exempt from the mortal and moral geometry wherein we place our hope and find out future.

This from one of the pioneers of the ebook.  What is ironic here and now is that Joyce made these comments while comparing ebooks to print books, yet today they are equally applicable when comparing ebooks in ereaders to ebooks in the cloud.  As the ebook in the ereader stands with the printed book as a “reified content object,” the cloud gathers.