Wednesday, 29 July 2015

sewing single sheets

‘Bookbinding at its ultimate realisation is not a physical act of sewing or gluing, but a conceptual ordering of time and space.’ Keith Smith

I was recently commissioned to bind a book. This meant I had to think in a very different way to how I would normally go about making books.The content while being important was not mine so I had to make a book that acted as a carrier for someone else’s work. 

When I have an idea for a book usually the structure and the content are formed together. A certain size of page or binding method will seem appropriate for the idea or are often essential for the book to communicate what I intend. 

For this project though I had to make an album. The album contains 44 placemats that guests to a wedding have illustrated. The brief was to create a book that contained them but did not bind them. The sheets themselves are quite large so to make a page so I ended making large sleeves with a large window cut out that they could slide into. As a result there were no folded page to bind together as I would bind a traditional book. I was left with a stack of loose sleeves. 

To work with this and produce a book I came across a book by Keith Smith called ’Smith's Sewing Single Sheets’. I have come across these manuals for book binding before and refer to them regularly and if you have an interest in bookbinding I would highly recommend them. With this single sheet binding method I was able to bind the whole book in a nondestructive way to the paper placemats contained inside. 

As a result I am really pleased with the structure and the overall look of the book. It has got me thinking that the structure of the book has a lot to offer the content and the methodical process of binding helps you shape and understand the object that you are dealing with. I think this process of binding someone else’s work has given me more of an impulse to explore the binding structure, after all it influences your reading, handling and overall experience of the book. 


This will be the last Wednesday Post as we will be taking a break for the summer. Join us again in September when we will be continuing are posts along with more guest posts. Thank you for your continued interest in our blog.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

→ illegible writing (almost)/ #asemic

Some time ago I had a pleasure to see Bruno Munari's libre Illegible at Estorick Collection in London. Libre illegible contained no texts, titles or tables of content. Instead, they could only be "read" as a tactile, acoustic and visual experience. Libre illegible later became one of the key sources of inspiration for our project between one hand and another. Investigation into those illegible books has led me to uncover a world of non-textual "reading" and "writing" - visually beautiful illegible and almost-illegible pieces produced by writers, scientists, poets, artists, spies, adventurers and scribblers of all sorts: some - as a philosophical artistic investigation; some - as communication; others - as encrypted communication.

↓  philosophical artistic investigation
Bruno Munari. Scrittura Illeggibile di un Popolo Sconosciuto

Bruno Munari himself had produced a series of works titled Scritture illeggibili di popoli sconosciuti (Illegible Writings of Unknown People), using asemic writing, based on Arabic and Chinese characters. Asemic writing implies presence of written communication. However, due to it's a-semic nature, interpretation relies on the implications drawn from visual information.

Cecil Touchon, Palimpsest Asemic Correspondence 
Cy Twombly, Letter of Resignation
Mirtha Dermisache, Diario Noº 1 Año 1
Cui Fei, Manuscript of Nature V
Donna Maria de Creeft, Asemic Journal
Guy Beinin, So is the one (a visual poem)* 

Asemic script suggests presence of written communication. It relies on apophenia - a human tendency to see meaningful patterns where they do not exist.Of course, asemic witting is created by people who have experience of reading and writing texts in their native languages - it is based on the knowledge of what a legible written communication looks like. As a result, any asemic language can only exist as a conscious reduction of that experience and unconscious imitation of the languages the writer does not understand - which probably explains, why much of European asemic writing looks like Arabic or Asian scripts.

↓  communication

This is not really an example of illegible writing, rather it is an example of visually beautiful writing practice from the 19th century, when it was a custom to cross-write letters in order to save paper. It look only little experience, they say, to read and write successfully in this way, learning to ignore the overlapping text.

Jane Austen

Charles Darwin

Another 19th century example is a translation. It is produced by an Alaskan Eskimo shaman, who having converted to Christianity attempted to translate the Bible into his tribe’s native script. Biblical names are in English/Latin script -  as there was no equivalent. This page appears to be from Genesis 19, about the two angels who visited Lot, before Sodom and Gomorrah were destructed (currently at Basel Paper Mill, Museum for Paper, Writing and Printing).

↓  encrypted communication

 The most famous example of yet unresolved encrypted writing is Voynych Manuscript, of course. It is generally agreed that the manuscript is written in an unknown writing system. As speculations on the nature and the source of the text multiply, the manuscript remains undeciphered. It remains illegible, or - an example of a beautiful asemic writing.

Voynich manuscript

A rather better story lies behind The Copiale Cipher - a mysterious 18th century document that no one could read until 2011. The Copiale Cipher describes the rituals and some of the political ideals of a German secret society in the 1730s. Bellow is an interesting extract about one of the rituals involving reading.

The master places a piece of paper in front of the candidate and orders him to put on a pair of eyeglasses. “Read,” the master commands. The candidate squints, but it’s an impossible task. The page is blank. The candidate is told not to panic; there is hope for his vision to improve. The master wipes the candidate’s eyes with a cloth and orders preparation for the surgery to commence. He selects a pair of tweezers from the table. The other members in attendance raise their candles. The master starts plucking hairs from the candidate’s eyebrow. This is a ritualistic procedure; no flesh is cut. But these are “symbolic actions out of which none are without meaning,” the master assures the candidate. The candidate places his hand on the master’s amulet. Try reading again, the master says, replacing the first page with another. This page is filled with handwritten text. Congratulations, brother, the members say. Now you can see.

The Copiale Cipher

Every language is an example of encrypted communication: the message only makes sense to those who have the keys to decoding, those being vocabulary and grammar. Until we have the keys, the writing remains asemic to the individual reader: writing remains a drawing with a potential to be decoded.

Such as this Japanese calligraphy is to me.

Japanese poem by Lady Murasaki Shikibu from Ogura (early 13th century) 

めぐりあひて 見しやそれとも わかぬ間に 雲がくれにし 夜半の月かげ

 "Meeting on the path:

But I cannot clearly know If it was he,

 Because the midnight moon

In a cloud had disappeared." 

(calligraphy by yopiko)



Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Real Words in Virtual Space: War of Words VR

A few weeks back I bought myself a new gadget for the princely sum of £2.60: Google Cardboard, a flat-pack virtual reality headset that you can make at home in under ten minutes. For the uninitiated Cardboard is effectively just a box with two lenses that you slot a smartphone into to view virtual reality apps.

Headset with the back open.
The one thing that drew me to Cardboard in the first place was an app called War of Words VR by the design agency Burrell Durrant Hifle, based on the BBC TV programme of the same name. The app is incredibly simple - it recounts Siegfried Sassoon's poem The Kiss through text, narration and an animated rendering of a WWI battle ground.

Stereo view of the title - the viewer looks down to play the sequence.

As the app starts the full text of Sasson's poem can be seen against a misty virtual landscape, with a gun in relief below the text. A narrator starts to read the poem, the gun then comes to life, moves through the space, a bullet is fired and the viewer can then choose to move their head to follow the bullet as it hits its target (a soldier). Once the narration and the visual action finishes the poem materialises (see image below) to be read once more.

Stereo view. Poem materialises at the end of the sequence.

I was frustrated at first that I couldn't read the poem in full at the beginning, to get my own sense of the text, however at the end I had chance to read the poem myself and I found my response was informed by what I had seen and heard.

What I was most intrigued about before was the idea of text floating there in a virtual space - the idea that moving through space could reveal sentences and a textual narrative might emerge. This app doesn't quite do that, but layering text between other elements in 3D space does allow for interesting juxtapositions; in this case the simplicity of the text layered against the gun at the beginning and the text layered against the wounded soldier at the end casts the poem in a different light.

I feel that the immersive dimension to the app moves the visual elements away from being merely illustration and more toward being a lens through which to view the poem.

I'm looking forward to seeing how other apps use the medium and whether there is an even more creative way to use text in virtual space.


Wednesday, 8 July 2015

GUEST POST: open access & art books (Stuart Lawson)

Today's Guest Post is by librarian and researcher Stuart Lawson about the relevance of open access to Artists Books. Stuart will soon begin a PhD on the Politics of Open Access.

Open access is when scholarly research is made openly available online for anyone to read with no access barriers and minimal restrictions on reuse. With most of the world’s research behind paywalls and only available to those at educational institutions that can afford to access it, open access poses a radical solution to making the scholarly record available to all.

So far, the academics, librarians, and publishers who have been trying – with growing success – to make all research open access have primarily focused on journal articles rather than books. This is for multiple reasons: the science and technology focus of many advocates, who publish in disciplines where journal articles are the main unit of scholarly transmission; the fact that articles are mostly online anyway, whereas a significant proportion of books are not; and the simple fact that a book is a much more complex thing than a journal article. However there have been humanities scholars working to address the problem of open access books such as Open Book Publishers, Open Humanities Press, and Knowledge Unlatched.

Open access is relevant to artists, particularly those working with the book, not only if they work within academia; it is also an interesting space for experimentation in itself. This experimentation is partly driven by the permission-based approach to intellectual property. Open licenses such as Creative Commons licenses allow people to do a lot more with books than usual copyright law permits. Unless a non-derivative clause is attached these permissions include the ability to ‘remix, transform, and build upon the material’. So the potential for altering and combining existing work is now possible in a way it never was before, posing a challenge to notions of authorship.

There is also experimentation with the human processes involved in producing a book. Mattering Press is dedicated to ‘publishing with care’:

Mattering Press provides a platform to experiment with ways of producing academic books that encourages shared scholarship and mutual support as well as novel book formats … An aim is to begin to reshape the social and material relations surrounding the production of relational work.

In ‘The political nature of the book: on artists' books and radical open access’ Janneke Adema and Gary Hall have discussed the parallels between the role of artists’ books as a political medium and the current reimagining of long-form scholarly work. The culture of academia is in many ways very conservative and slow to change, so hopefully there will be a growing number of creative interventions in realm of open access books to catalyse the imagination of humanities scholars and publishers.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

a random book in a random post at a random time

So this Wednesday post is coming out a little later than usual but that helps with the random nature of its content.

This is 'A Million Random Digits with 100,000 Normal Deviates' published by the Rand corporation in 1955. It's a book of random numbers.
'Not long after research began at RAND in 1946, the need arose for random numbers that could be used to solve problems of various kinds of experimental probability procedures. These applications, called Monte Carlo methods, required a large supply of random digits and normal deviates of high quality, and the tables presented here were produced to meet those requirements. This book was a product of RAND's pioneering work in computing, as well a testament to the patience and persistence of researchers in the early days of RAND. The tables of random numbers in this book have become a standard reference in engineering and econometrics textbooks and have been widely used in gaming and simulations that employ Monte Carlo trials. Still the largest published source of random digits and normal deviates, the work is routinely used by statisticians, physicists, polltakers, market analysts, lottery administrators, and quality control engineers.'

It is an interesting artefact of a pre-digital age when now you can find a whole host of random number generators online. Refrence books I find fascinating in terms of their functional nature. Wrapped around them they have the whole community of who they are aimed to be read by. Mechanics have their manuals on cars, scientists have their books on random numbers. It then raises the question in terms of book arts. Who reads artists books? It has certainly given me something to think about, do I aim my work at someone? Can I make artists books for one person or many people?