Wednesday, 29 June 2016

the sharing and spreading of people - the sharing and spreading of ideas.

I’m going to take this post to write about the sharing and spreading of ideas, through learning from other people. What other people have to show us is not foreign or wrong but comes from a whole wealth of experience. Everyone has different backgrounds and it is obvious that we have learned the most and gained the most from our closest European neighbours. It is also only right that we preserve these networks for learning no matter what comes our way.

So as this is a book arts blog lets get start with books. An early form of the book is called an Incunable. An incunable is a printed book that was made before 1501 and comes at the formative stages of printing. "Incunable" is the anglicised singular form of "incunabula", Latin for "swaddling clothes" or "cradle", which can refer to "the earliest stages or first traces in the development of anything.” 1. And these first stages incidentally began in Europe.

As we all know Gothenburg invented a form of printing with moveable metal type in the mid 15th century. He used this technique to print his 42-line Bible in Latin, printed probably between 1452 and 1454 in the German city of Mainz. 2.

Gutenberg lost a lawsuit against his investor Johann Fust, so Fust put Gutenberg's employee Peter Schöffer in charge of his print shop. After that Gutenberg established a new one with the financial backing of another money lender. With Gutenberg's monopoly on printing revoked, and the technology no longer secret, printing spread throughout Germany and beyond, diffused first by emigrating German printers, but soon also by foreign apprentices. 3. Along with the sack of Mainz in 1642, the instability and unfavourable business climate created by the war caused an exodus of printers and other tradesmen, who sought more politically stable cities with commercial potential. As many early books were printed in Latin, the universal language of the scientific and religious communities throughout Europe, it made it easier for the pioneers of print to establish themselves outside their countries of origin. 2.

By convention, a printer's travels are indicated by a line representing the shortest, or most likely, path between two places. The thickness of the line indicates the number of journeys from one place to another. The dotted lines indicate itineraries within a region for which a precise destination could not be established. A question mark is used to indicate uncertainty. 4.

In rapid succession, printing presses were set up in Central and Western Europe. Major towns, in particular, functioned as centres of diffusion (Cologne 1466, Rome 1467, Venice 1469, Paris 1470, Kraków 1473, London 1477). In 1481, barely 30 years after the publication of the 42-line Bible, the small Netherlands already featured printing shops in 21 cities and towns, while Italy and Germany each had shops in about 40 towns at that time. According to one estimate, "by 1500, 1000 printing presses were in operation throughout Western Europe and had produced 8 million books." 5. According to another, the output was in the order of twenty million volumes and rose in the sixteenth century tenfold to between 150 and 200 million copies. Germany and Italy were considered the two main centres of printing in terms of quantity and quality.

Spread of printing in the 15th century from Mainz, Germany 6.

If the printing press was so successful, it was because all of the physical conditions for its success were present – paper, a Chinese invention, was introduced into Spain by Muslims, and it expanded throughout Europe during the Middle Ages. Paper mills could be found in Sicily in the 12th century, in Fabriano (Italy) in the 13th century, and in both and Germany starting in the 14th century. 4.

The craft of printing evolved very quickly as printers sought to improve their techniques, carrying the tools of their trade and new ideas across Europe. Along the way the process grew into a more complicated business, with a number of allied trades and specialists supplementing and enriching their work. 2.

So I hope this tradition of sharing skills through the freedom of movement is maintained. Where people are valued for what they bring to a country and are not subjected to the hate of a few. Also I hope for us, that it does not dissuade people from wanting to do so. More so than ever we need to look out, rather than become stagnated from within.  


1. Oxford English Dictionary, 1933, I:188.
5. E. L. Eisenstein: "The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe", Cambridge, 1993 pp. 13–17, quoted in: Angus Maddison: "Growth and Interaction in the World Economy: The Roots of Modernity", Washington 2005, p.17f.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

→ John Dee, Aby Warburg, library as a portrait and a bit about tomorrow.

With tomorrow approaching fast, I was intending to write something suitably pro-European. Unfortunately, I am not a very politically eloquent person. Even yesterday's BBC debate failed to inspire me with their power of speech on the subject.

As result, I was flicking though the notes from the events I had attended recently. (It is that time of the year, when there is a lot happening!). I was lucky to be part of two exceptional events in the past two weeks: a Book History Research Network study day Collections within Collections at UCL organized by Anne Welsh (trully the happiest librarian I have ever met!) and Aby Warburg 150: Work, Legacy, Promise conference at the Warburg Institute. The common thread that ran though those days was that of a collection, a unique curated group of objects and ways of approaching it, organizing it, working with it.

Aby M. Warburg, «Mnemosyne-Atlas», 1924 – 1929
Mnemosyne-Atlas, Boards of the Rembrandt-Exhibition, 1926 | Photography | ©

Book History Research Network is run by ever-amazingly organised Catherine Armstrong from Loughborough University. The study day Collections within Collections was attended by a small but enthusiastic international group of researchers from various libraries across Europe, speaking about book collections: some being as big as Hospitaller Order's Library in Malta, others being as small as a parochial English library with six books. I was interested in the collection as an identity, in particular. The common denominator in each private library is the collector, after all. Kate Birkwood (Royal College of Physicians) spoke about John Dee’s library and Alison Walker (British Library) spoke about reconstructing Sir Hans Sloane’s library. Each of them mentioned collection as a sense of self. There is currently an excellent exhibition at the Royal College of Physicians  Scholar, courtier, magician: the lost library of John Dee, which illustrates the idea very well: carefully selected and very heavily annotated books draw Dee’s life paths and interests. The exhibition is supplemented by three very informative films, which are certainly worth watching

Dee built, and lost, one of the greatest private libraries of 16th century England. He claimed to own over 3,000 books and 1,000 manuscripts, which he kept at his home in Mortlake near London, on the River Thames.
The authors and subjects of Dee’s books are wide-ranging, and reflect his extraordinary breadth of knowledge and expertise. They include diverse topics such as mathematics, natural history, music, astronomy, military history, cryptography, ancient history and alchemy.
These books give us an extraordinary insight into Dee’s interests and beliefs – often in his own words – through his hand-written illustrations and annotations.

Predictions of solar and lunar eclipses to 1606. Eclipsium omnium ab anno Domini 1554 usque in annum Domini 1606 accurata descriptio et pictura | Cyprian von Leowitz, published Augusburg, 1556 | Royal College of Physicians

Aby Warburg 150: Work, Legacy, Promise conference started a Tuesday later with screening of a wonderful documentary by Judith Wechsler  Aby Warburg: Metamotphosis and Memory. Aby Warburg was a book collector and his greatest legacy is his library now housed at Warburg Institute. The library represents Warburg's distinctive interdisciplinary vision not only though the type of works it contains, but also though the unique system of classification he envisioned:
The categories of Image, Word, Orientation and Action constitute the main divisions of the Warburg Institute Library and encapsulate its aim: to study the tenacity of symbols and images in European art and architecture (Image, 1st floor); the persistence of motifs and forms in Western languages and literatures (Word, 2nd floor); the gradual transition, in Western thought, from magical beliefs to religion, science and philosophy (Orientation, 3rd & 4th floor) and the survival and transformation of ancient patterns in social customs and political institutions (Action, 4th floor).
In other words the Library was to lead from the visual image, as the first stage in human's awareness (Image), to language (Word) and then to religion, science and philosophy, all of them products of humanity's search for Orientation which influences patterns of behaviour and actions, the subject matter of history (Action).

Warburg Library plan

The library is a joy to visit! Fluid intuitive system of filing images (for example) creates unexpected parallels, not unlike those in his Bilderatlas Mnemosyne. The idea of juxtaposition and layering seems to play an important role here. A small but curious exhibition on display illustrates Warburg’s interconnected way of working, when each of his projects was conceived as part of a greater totality.

Systems of Warburg Library.

Library recreates the collector behind it. Private or public, it is a representation of the mind, the individual, the society which curated it and found importance in certain titles, orders, systems, but not the others. Warburg’s or Dee’s collections are their portraits, in a certain way. What portrait does my library paint?


And the referendum?

"I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world." (Socrates)

"When life ends up breathtakingly fucked, you can generally trace it back to one big, bad decision. The one that sent you down the road to Shitsburg.” (Deadpool)

Fingers crossed for tomorrow


Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Documenting Artists' Books

After a recent embarrassment of handing out a business card to a friend and gently being asked why my website was almost empty, I resolved to spend some time bringing it up to scratch (i.e. adding at least some coherent content to it!).

Original - Cover
Original - Interior
Starting the process I soon remembered why I had given up months before. Building a website and adding content in a straightforward, appealing way is quite a challenge and central to that challenge is taking clear documentation. I overcame the problem in quite a straight forward way, so I wanted to talk about it here. I'll use the example of an artwork called 'Between the Lines'.

The two original photos (above) were taken with my smartphone from the slightly battered proof copy that arrived from the printer. It was hasty because I wanted to get the photos on my website in time for them going on sale at the Whitechapel Book Fair. Shamefully I've been using those photos ever since!

One simple way of establishing how I wanted the new documentation to look was by addressing what I didn't like about the old photographs:
  • Both of my original images were cropped and didn't give a true impression of the cover design or the page layout. I had originally taken the photos like this in an attempt to make them look visually interesting and (particularly regarding the cover) to hide the roughness of the book itself. As the book is merely documentation, I realised that clarity was more important than visual interest, so documented the cover and pages in their entirety and from above.
  • Both images are different sizes (one square, the other rectangular), so they looked uneven next to each other. The simple solution to this was to choose a standard size - making them square meant that I didn't have to remember what ratio I had picked.
  • Using my smart phone camera meant that the colours were very uneven. The simple solution to this was to use a better camera.
  • The background didn't match other documentation, so I opted to pick a particular shade and use that across all my documentation.

Strange how these things sound so simple, but had never really occurred to me before. So I set up a little studio in my front room and took some photos with my compact camera.

Using this set-up the only two elements that I needed to control were the background and quality of the image. These could be done together in Photoshop. All I had to do was to separate the book and the background and work on them separately.

For the book element I improved the contrast and changed the colours slightly to match the original. For the background I increased the contrast so that the paper textures of the background disappeared, but the shadow stayed. I then filled the background with a specific shade of the grey that provided a contrast. Noting down the details of the shade of grey were important, as I then used the same shade on all subsequent documentation. The finished images are here:

New - Cover
New - Interior
Below these are other books that I documented using the same technique - I hope it gives you an idea of how straight forward the process can be.

Mrs Dalloway Variations

Mrs Dalloway Variations


Wednesday, 8 June 2016

GUEST POST: The Book as Utopian Object (Sally-Shakti Willow)

For my practice-based PhD in utopian poetics and experimental writing at the University of Westminster, I’m researching the utopian philosophy of Ernst Bloch and the artist books of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha.  I’m coming towards the end of my first year, and the first fruit of creative practice is the project called The Unfinished Dream, a collaborative work with illustrator and animator Joe Evans.

The Unfinished Dream began as an experiment in applying Ernst Bloch’s utopian theory to creative writing practice, inspired by the text works of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha.  Both Bloch and Cha explore the relationship between subject and object (self and other).  Bloch suggests that the experience of non-alienation, where the subject (the individual) experiences itself as not-separate from the object (the world/the other) is the essence of the utopian.  Cha embodied this desire to create an experience of non-alienation between the subject and the object in all of her major text, film, and performance works.  The Unfinished Dream experiments with these ideas and has developed into a collaborative project that keeps growing and shifting – an unfinished and unfolding creative process.

For Bloch, the utopian function of art and literature is to facilitate the ‘self-encounter’ (100), the recognition of oneself in and through an encounter with the other.  For Cha, as for Bloch, the art object becomes a space of encounter between the artist and the audience where each fulfils the roles of both subject and object in their interrelationship with one another through the work.  One of the forms used by Cha for realising this connection was the artist book.  The book is an object of intimacy, a space in which the reader and writer are drawn together through the page.  The book, as an object, is designed to be held and engaged with in a one-to-one relationship between the writer/maker and the reader.  Cha uses scriptovisual techniques to create a relationship between text and space, words and silence, self and other in her artist books.

I’m interested in exploring this strange relational space between artist and audience, writer and reader, self and other as an experiment in the kind of non-alienation that Bloch ascribes to the utopian function of art and literature.  I’m interested in the ways that the book form can facilitate this kind of an encounter between subject and object, self and other.  What kinds of spaces need to be opened up within the text for the reader to project herself into?  How might the relationships between text and space / word and silence / text and image / image and space engender a performative experience of non-alienation for a reader encountering the book object? 

To experience something, we often need to encounter it physically, via our sense organs.  In this sense, and in others, the physical relationship between the book and the body is integral to the project.  I’m also deeply interested in the physicality of the book form, its materiality and its function.  Below, I describe some of the processes and ideas behind the creation of The Unfinished Dream, the first part of my creative practice for this three-year PhD.

The Unfinished Dream illustration details

 ‘May I write words more naked than flesh, stronger than bone, more resilient than sinew, sensitive than nerve’. Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Dictee
The Artist Book:
The physical object of the book is a central concern of The Unfinished Dream.  The experimental writing collection explores the ways that the materiality of the book is often ignored and made invisible at the expense of the words and ideas it contains, in a similar way perhaps to the relationship between the physical human body and the concepts and ideas that are generated by the mind.  The Unfinished Dream explores writing, drawing and creative practice as embodied, physical processes – processes that take place in, of and through the body, and which may be experienced physically, viscerally and emotionally by those who come into contact with them.

Similarly, the general invisibility of the book form means that culturally we take for granted the codex structure which has become synonymous with what a ‘book’ is.  Historically though, and across geographical and cultural spaces, different forms such as scrolls, wrapped papers, and now digital platforms have provided alternative ‘book’ forms with different relationships to structure, linearity and temporality.  The codex form developed with Coptic Christianity and encodes the linear, teleological (end-focused) structure of the biblical narrative.  What happens when we question these invisible assumptions that structure the stories we tell ourselves, and the stories we tell of ourselves, so implicitly?  The Unfinished Dream explores the human relationship to the codex form and the teleological narrative it encodes and embodies.

Ernst Bloch describes utopia as ‘in the process of being’ (15).  For Bloch, utopia is a process rather than a destination and as such it is non-teleological.  Cha’s major artist book Dictee embodies a non-teleological structure in that there is no temporal narrative development throughout the book, and her use of repetition to return to key thematic images and ideas gives the book a cyclical or circular structure, despite its codex binding.  The Unfinished Dream embodies a similar structural rhythm in an attempt to disrupt the teleological structure of the codex form via its content. 
The book also explores the relationship between words and silence as represented by the spaces between words and phrases on the page; the relationship between words and images; and the relationship between parts of words through the non-standard use of the square bracket.  Each of these relationships has the potential to generate multiple possibilities through the gaps in between two elements and/or the dissonance generated between two or more contradictory parts placed together.  This is intended to have a twofold utopian function in that it disrupts teleological structural development by offering a profusion of possible pathways through the book as well as situating the reader as a co-creator of meaning, as each person encounters and experiences the book differently.  In this way the boundaries between writer and reader become more permeable.  The  co-creative relationship between the reader and the writer/artist is at the heart of The Unfinished Dream, as the reader must complete and interpret the work of the writer and illustrator from the multiple possibilities that are offered both within and beyond the text.

When making The Unfinished Dream we also wanted to question some of the invisible assumptions which suggest that artist books must be artisan products, requiring specialist skills, materials and equipment to produce and displaying the skills of fine craftsmanship.  We love those kinds of artist books of course.  But we were interested in a kind of democratic creative process that didn’t fetishize the book as an object, that embraced real life physical processes and that aesthetically embodied the ideas contained within the book.

 A4 school exercise books, hand illustrated, cut and pasted
Binding with Sally’s hair
The Unfinished Dream – artist book
The Unfinished Dream – interior pages
The Unfinished Dream – interior pages
The final poem is left unfinished, with space for the reader to complete the work

In addition to the artist book, The Unfinished Dream is also a short film and a performance.  Click here to watch the film (90 seconds; contains nudity).
To find out more about the project, including the film and the performance, please click here.
A still from the film, projected as part of the performance

The Unfinished Dream is a project by [Sub]Atomic Books: Sally-Shakti Willow & Joe Evans

Bloch, Ernst (1988). The Utopian Function of Art and Literature: Selected essays, trans. Jack Zipes and Frank Mecklenberg.  Cambridge Massachusetts and London: The MIT Press
Cha, Theresa Hak Kyung (2001 [1982]).  Dictee.  Berkeley, California: University of California Press

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Cannons of Page Construction

Book designer, typographer, teacher and writer Jan Tschichold popularised the idea of Cannons of page Construction in the mid to late twentieth century, based on the work of J. A. van de Graaf, Raúl M. Rosarivo, Hans Kayser, and others. These ways of structuring the page are very interesting although very rigid. I wonder if they have a place within modern design or are they seen as bit old fashioned and stifle creativity. 

“Though largely forgotten today, methods and rules upon which it is impossible to improve have been developed for centuries. To produce perfect books these rules have to be brought to life and applied.” Tschichold 1.

Jan Tschichold, wrote three works concerning typography; Die neue Typographie (1927), The Proportion of the Book (1955) and The Form of the Book (A collection of essays written between 1937 and 1975 that discusses all elements influencing classical book design.) For many years, he worked for Penguin Books where he laid the foundation for the design of their paperbacks.

Van de Graaf Cannon

He measured a number of old books and manuscripts and discovered a number of different systems. One discovered by J. A Van de Graaf and written about in his book, Nieuwe berekening voor de vormgeving (1946). Van de Graaf's canon works with any page size and allows the text body to be placed within a pleasing and functional part of the page. The resulting inside margin is one-half of the outside margin, and proportions 2:3:4:6 (inner:top:outer:bottom). The position of the text in this way is not only aesthetically pleasing but has a practical function, in giving space to read and hold the book and giving enough space within the page for printing. 

Golden Cannon

Tschichold's "golden canon of page construction" combined with Rosarivo's construction by division of the page into ninths. These two constructions rely on the 2:3 page ratio to give a type area height equal to page width as demonstrated by the circle, and result in margin proportions 2:3:4:6. 

Raúl Rosarivo analyzed Renaissance books with the help of a drafting compass and a ruler and concluded in his Divina proporción tipográfica ("Typographical Divine Proportion", first published in 1947) that Gutenberg, Peter Schöffer, Nicolaus Jenson and others had applied the golden canon of page construction in their works.

According to Rosarivo, his work and assertion that Gutenberg used the "golden number" 2:3, or "secret number" as he called it, to establish the harmonic relationships between the diverse parts of a work, was analyzed by experts at the Gutenberg Museum and re-published in the Gutenberg-Jahrbuch, its official magazine. 

‘the height of the type area equals the width of the page: using a page proportion of 2:3, a condition for this canon, we get one-ninth of the paper width for the inner margin, two-ninths for the outer or fore-edge margin, one-ninth of the paper height for the top, and two-ninths for the bottom margin. Type area and paper size are of equal proportions. ... What I uncovered as the canon of the manuscript writers, Raul Rosarivo proved to have been Gutenberg's canon as well. He finds the size and position of the type area by dividing the page diagonal into ninths’ Tschichold 2.

Golden Section

Building on Rosarivo's work, Jan Tschichold and Richard Hendel asserts that the page proportion of the golden section (21:34) has been used in book design, in manuscripts, and incunabula, mostly in those produced between 1550 and 1770. Hendel writes that since Gutenberg's time, books have been most often printed in an upright position, that conform loosely, if not precisely, to the golden ratio.

These page proportions based on the golden section or golden ratio, are usually described through its convergents such as 2:3, 5:8, and 21:34.

This video nicely demonstrates building up the structure of the page:

1. As cited in Hendel, Richard. On Book Design, p.7
2. Tschichold , The Form of the Book p.45