Wednesday, 27 May 2015

against veneration: faux books

Maitland-Smith Aged Regency Finished Mahogany And Lacquer Occasional Table, Leather Faux Book Drawers


at Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen, Paris

On Monday, in Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen I noticed a piece of furniture in a row of decomposing wardrobes: a disintegrating drinks cabinet with a decaying faux books panel. €1200. Needs some restoration.
The faux books were not blank. Even though the titles were generally illegible, three of them read MUSEE DE VERSAILLES(?) 18XX-18XX and one of them read XXXXX DE MAISON. The cabinet was probably made at the turn of the century, possibly commissioned by a middle class Parisian who wished to be seen as the sort of person who might have offered you a glass of fashionable absinthe from the cabinet to complement an erudite conversation in a backdrop of books. After all, in iconographical tradition, book is a symbol of power and knowledge.

Faux books are a 19th-century phenomenon, unsurprisingly: born in the century of emerging optical spectacles, curiosity cabinets and all things magical.

Faux books are an Edwardian novelty. Often made of fine jewel-toned leathers with Moroccan leather binding and gold tooling, they usually filled library or study shelves in the homes of the well-to-do. When financial difficulties arose, the faux books were sold to help recoup losses. Cabinetmakers and designers quickly realized the potential in recycling these books-by-the-yard for their decorative and prestige value. Maitland-Smith, the first to incorporate the book motif into modern-day furniture, adheres to many of the norms of library binding in this coffee table and its other book-related items. (Architectural Digest, Volume 61, p 212.)
Maitland-Smith Stacked books coffee table with drawers.
Then there are faux libraries. Many faux libraries might be pointless (library interior in a restaurant?) and/or vain, however British Museum has something different - an entire The Kings Library, Age of Enlightenment exhibition room is composed of replica book spines, produced by FAUX BOOKS: they created exact replica book spines so that genuine books could be placed in environmentally controlled storage.

The newest addition to fake books are, of course, the reading tablet covers, which copy the aesthetics of codex books - sometimes even graphics and library stickers -  to imitate the real covers.

The British Library e-book covers.

Run For Cover PVC e-book covers.

Like that 19th century Parisian, 21st century faux book e-reader-cover owners wish to be seen as the sort of people who own and read books. 


A portrait of a man with an iPad may imply a modern man with a knowledge of technology, but it does not hold the same symbolism as a portrait of a man with a book. Even if it is a fake one.


Architectural Digest, Volume 61, p 212. 

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Carol Bove: Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges - a perfectly formed artwork

Over the past few weeks I've seen three excellent exhibitions: 'Carol Bove / Carlo Scarpa' at the Henry Moore Institute, 'Objects for Rebels & Lovers' by Clinton Hayden at Beers London and 'Five Issues of Studio International' at Raven Row.

The artworks in each had a very similar flavour - they were beautifully presented, simple in nature and thoughtful in different ways. A particular highlight was Carol Bove's work of art 'Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges' which takes the form of three shelves, holding various objects. Describing the artwork, the gallery states:

"Holding books, a metronome and string object, its references point to Bove's research into the subconscious, Utopian ideologies, meditation and the appropriation of Eastern thought in 1960s America. Frozen in Bove's chosen arrangement, this experiment tries to seize a picture of a particular cultural period."

There's something very satisfying about this tableau, it sits somewhere between being a sculpture, a still life, a ready-made or a physical bibliography. It has a strong visual appeal; the uniformity of the shelves and the mix of objects creates a bold image, and is intriguing; the choice of books and objects used evoke a narrative, they evoke a specific time period (through the choice of shelving, and the age of the chosen books) and hint at a certain academic discourse through the books chosen.

I would love to make an artwork that is so confident, but simple, one that creates such possibility, whilst appearing so restrained. A beautiful catalogue is available to accompany the exhibition.

'Carol Bove / Carlo Scarpa' at the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds (until 12th July 2015)
'Objects for Rebels & Lovers' by Clinton Hayden at Beers London (until 30th May 2015)
'Five Issues of Studio International' at Raven Row (finished)


Wednesday, 13 May 2015

GUEST POST → Text in the City (Robert Good)

 Robert Good (Art Language Location organiser) reflects on how other artists have relocated texts away from the printed page.

in the reflected sky was a three-part installation by Collective Investigations for Art Language Location (ALL), installed in Cambridge during October 2014. 

Whisper it, but books are boring.

Not the content - there are plenty of interesting texts to be found, sampled and enjoyed - but the context in which that text has been placed and offered to us for consumption is, too often, dull. The paperback, in particular, tends towards mere utility, with its frequently mealy paper, single digit font sizes and abhorrence of white space. But even a book which is without doubt an object of great beauty and desirability is like a mono recording in a stereo world.

For books are designed for the private, solitary consumption of words. We curl up with a good book, adopting the foetal position on the womb of the sofa. We become lost in a book, adrift from the anchors of the everyday. Turning inwards, there is no externality, nothing beyond. A book is the wafer of communion between reader and text: miraculous maybe, but nevertheless a functional go-between in a private exchange.
Artists who present text in other formats and in other places are therefore performing an act of liberation. The words are rescued from the confines of the printer's galley and set loose to breathe amidst the joyous possibilities of The Real World. Here, text can truly flourish: it becomes social.

In Art Language Location we see this transformation of text in a magnificent array of guises. Text on the wall, text on the floor, text on the river, text at the bus stop. Text to be sat on, text to be walked over, text to be eaten. Text inhabits the world.

This relationship between text and place can work in several ways.

Lilian Cooper, 24 hours in Cambridge, 2012

First, it is an interruption: an unexpected encounter and a confrontation. The consumption of words is no longer on the reader's own terms, for the reader has chosen neither the content of the text nor the time and place of the encounter. It is a violation of the quotidian routine. This provides the text with a force that it does not possess on the printed page.
In Lilian Cooper's work these interruptions are gentle yet insistent, beautifully realised reminders of the world around us that we so often forget to see.


Susie Olczak, Perception, 2014

Second, there is an enriched visual hit. The superimposition of text onto the everyday creates an additional layer. Our observed landscape is at once both aesthetically modified and also made to serve as a substrate, on top of which the text can lie.
So with Susie Olczak's work: its punchy playfulness creates a set of buzy new sense-data. Our retinas respond; then our brains set to work on the process of assimilation and interpretation.

Guy Bigland All the four-letter words I could find on the Casimir Lewy Library webpages 2015

But then there is a third relationship: the way in which the content of the text interacts with the borrowed landscape of its location. The words themselves, which on the sofa trigger private thoughts and private responses, now cannot avoid referencing public objects and the world beyond, conversing with the surrounding visual array.
In Guy Bigland's intervention for the Casimir Lewy Philosophy Library, the content of the text, its placement and its mode of display all echo and comment upon the library itself. Placed right outside the entrance to the library, it becomes a mirror with which the institution can view itself.


Adding of context to text is like adding sound to movies, or colour to photos. There is new vitality, a richness and an added dimension. A synaesthesia between text and context. Text becomes social, experiential. Of course the nature of the intervention between text and place is almost limitless in possibilities. But a successful intervention always seems to create a dynamic between the two, a buzz of interactivity where the visual and the verbal meet and spar. Context enhances text like switching on the surround sound and feeling the boom of the subwoofer.

[Robert Good]

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

a book with a view - a view with a book

a book with a view - a view with a book
the landscape of the book

I am interested a lot in the space within the book and how the physicality of the book can influence the space inside. How this space (the pages) stretch and compress themselves with opening and closing. How the landscape of the book is manipulated with the turning of a page.

I am going to look at three examples of the space inside, which all quite differently present a landscape that wouldn’t exist in any other form but the book. 

Humphry Repton - Wentworth Woodhouse, Yorkshire A.

A self taught landscape gardener Humphry Repton (1752-1818) produced books as a way of generating business. He would commission watercolours of clients estates with proposed alterations underneath flaps that could be revealed and covered over to display the extent of his plans. 1.

Repton's proposed landscaping for the Pavilion at Brighton: Before (above), after (below) B.

Red Book for Vinters, Kent, 1797. C.

These red books play with a before and after notion of time, which in a time before moving image has created a playful landscape that works only within the book.

Pauline Lamont-Fisher - Walking the Past D. 

Next I shall look at a book by the book artist Pauline Lamont-Fisher. It’s structure is integral to the landscape it is about. 

‘This artist's book documents the shape of a walk following a map found in the back of an old, discarded Health and Safety pamphlet illustrating how to get to an exhibition at HMSO in 1950. I was reflecting on how much the streets had changed in the intervening years. By printing the photographs in black and white, an impression is created of seeing the walk as it would have been seen in 1950, and therefore of seeing the future. This contrasts with other information found on the way which is grounded in the 21st century.’ 2.

The space of the book and the space of the walk are so interlinked the book takes the form of a meandering concertina. The book folds back on itself which makes an interesting correlation with Repton’s Red Books. The both present an object which is about finding and revealing as you interact with them. The shape and content of them changes as you read them. In the Red Books the landscape in the image changes as you reveal the flaps, in Pauline’s work the landscape in the structure of the walk is revealed as you interact with it. 

Colin Sackett - Black Bob E.

Lastly is a book by Colin Sackett called Black Bob. An image of a shepherd with his sheep walking along a riverside is repeated endlessly through the book, each page is identical. The structure of the book and the landscape of the image play against each other. 

‘This demonstration of direction, the page after page rightward movement of shepherd, dog, sheep, and the parallel flow of the river, is identical to the narrative of a book with blank stock as its subject…’ 3. 

The movement through the book is controlled by the image and the image controlled by the book. The landscape of one influences the landscape of the other. 

‘it doesn’t dictate a pace. That’s a curious thing about it and why I’m pleased with it. It has all sorts of paces. It’s absolutely static. I don’t know if it the front’s moving towards the back or vice-versa…’ 3.

Here the image has melded with the landscape of the book. In repeating the image it almost voids itself, as if it were a blank book. But what is important is it is a book and this repeated image creates a unique landscape to navigate through. Controlled by your movements as a reader as you interpret and interact with the space thats been created. 



1. A History of the Book in 100 Books, Roderick Cave and Sara Ayad - 2014