6 DIRECTIONS OF BOOK ART
The world has four directions. This obvious and sheer nonsense has been accepted as truth for really long time. As something natural. The majority of obvious and natural truths are nonsenses or just drastic simplifications. Nevertheless each simplification is a distortion as well. The bigger simplification, the bigger distortion - maybe this allegation is too risky but delighting with its simplicity. How can we live in the world of numberless directions? How can we name them all? Everything must be named, everything must be tamed - this is clear. So, we throw away the unbridled reality and replace it with very simple, docile model of the four direction world and this model we accept as a reality. Thus we have east, west, north and south. Only a few of us remember that the model originally had two directions more: zenith and nadir. The directions can be defined more colloquially: front, back, left, right, up, down. Yet colloquiality is very tricky and brings a hidden hierarchy: front is better than back, up is better than down, left is worse than right. I will not analyse why it is so. I’d be more interested in the fate of diagonals of all kinds, of the directions neglected and despised - does anybody know what is the name of a direction somewhere between up and back or between nadir and east?
The cardinal points of the 3D map of book art would be placed just there, betwixt. They won’t be more important than the others which could also be marked and defined as directions, tendencies, trends, methods, mannerisms. The order of listing would have no meaning and be of no importance at all. We would undoubtedly forget about all these premises (and of those not mentioned here) right on the second page of this text and near the end we would be surprised and indignant to listen to a proposal to add one or maybe eight directions more: this is impossible! the world has only six directions!
1. The Direction of Scraps Rubbish Leaflets and Books-Ideas
An intensely orange sheet of paper is lying on the table. On one side there is a scribbled letter (Andi scribbles awfully and I have to decipher toilsomely crippled words); another side is covered with a scribbled Xeroxed information of Wexford Artist’s Book Fair. Last year a paper boomerang flew to me. I 1996 there was a paper half-accordion or maybe not-complete-caterpillar. But earlier I had learnt about the idea of Great Sea Book composed of 500 sheets written-designed-printed by 500 authors. Because Andi lived in the place called Donkey Meadow and my one-man overground publishing house is called Elephant’s Tail, I felt a close relationship and decided to send my sea-sheet. In response I got an invitation to take part in II Wexford Artist’s Book Festival in Ireland. I sent three books. Then I found I could go there with my family. I wrote a letter. Then Andi telephoned and asked whether I could open the exhibition. Thus on a Friday evening in August I opened the show. Regardless awful weather the Pillar Hall in the Arts Centre was crowded. On Saturday I was „trading”. Besides my family I brought to Ireland a bag full of my books and CdA books. That day every participant, if he or she was present and wanted, could show some other books, make additional stand, sell, tell stories, explain. So I was talking and showing really a lot, surely I can’t say the same about selling. On Sunday I could sit peacefully at the table in the corner, take one of the books from one of the desktops covered with thick cloth and put on trestles or from the raw plank shelves and begin a journey through it. And there was a great variety of books. Very small, very tiny, provocative ideas from threshold-and-boundary zones (a few crumpled scribbled up scraps of paper) and giant books (three collage-books in the centre of the hall put on simple reading-desks, partially hand written, partially printed, with photographs glued in, with original drawings, with metal-wooden-paper-cloth covers). Books made by painting and writing on other printed books (or geographical atlases). Books using reflections in the mirror. Books imprisoned in sophisticated boxes, closed in bizarre wooden constructions. Books very severe, simple, sparing, excellent, exquisite in every detail and books patched negligently, amateur books, disordered books .... I’m not going to describe the books. The books has to be read, not described. And the majority of them were for reading (for short reading). Livres d’auter. Author’s books. The one who has given the idea, has also designed and made a book. Among them there was a book by Andi: a short, reckless, hand written and drawn report of a journey he had done by a boat made by himself. According to him this is what an artist’s book should be like: it has to be created in enchantment, in rapture and it has to radiate the energy of captured idea, as spontaneous as the event it is going do describe and reading it shall last only a little bit shorter that writing it, while writing it shall last almost as long as the described event lasted.
In November 1997 I flew with Alicja Słowikowska and two huge suitcases full of books to New York. 4th ArtistBook International. Soho. Wooster Street - sequence of galleries. Three of them occupied by books. We - in the first one. An important remark: Printed Matter is not a gallery, it’s a book shop where one can buy all kinds of „not normal” books issued in different ways, sometimes very simply and roughly but almost always in edition of at least one hundred. When we were talking whole day long about the things we gathered on two square meters in New York, at Stanford University Judith Hoffberg was telling a story about an invention. When Xerox copy machines had appeared, people, those clever beings who can always use inventions of other people in the way the inventors would never imagine, thought: oh, now I don’t have to look for a publisher! now I can draw or write something, copy or multiply it quickly and cheaply, put the sheets together and give to other people I know and I don’t know, sent, sell, throw. Thus the artists’ books boom started. Thus the artists’ books avalanche tumbled down. Mrs Hoffberg knows almost all the bookmakers. For many years she has been editing and publishing a magazine-newsletter, something-bigger-than-a-leaflet, Umbrella, informing what’s going on in this direction (this area) of the book art. She met us. She wanted to see what we had brought. Anyway, she was to take part in a symposium about Polish artist’s book that took place in Stanford at the end of Polish Book Art Exhibition there.
2. The Direction of Perfect Print
On my table there is a newsletter of an association of perfect printers. Of course, it is printed beautifully, so beautifully it doesn’t remind me a newsletter or an info leaflet - it has the size of a monthly and paper far better than any good monthly could be proud of. Looking for new contacts and still groping in the world of numberless directions I have joint The Fine Press Book Association. But I print neither beautifully nor perfectly! What doesn’t means I pay absolutely no attention to the quality of printing. But the problem of getting the richest blackness of the ink while preserving the matte effect is really less important to me than the problem whether one can write about round things using square-edged fonts or if one can use black letters describing rainbow phenomena and this is neither book scholasticism nor mocking. Let’s leave me at my desk with my more or less degenerate problems. Let’s leave Printed Matter for a moment. Let’s go to Brooke Alexander Gallery. There were works knocking down with their quality, precision, refinement, exquisiteness, toilsomness, prices. The works which seemed to deny the transience of events and phenomena, to negate spontaneity and craziness ..... to dry a toy-balloon between heavy sheet of noble paper. (Please, remember about the general assumptions! I do not evaluate. I just describe my impressions. My fingers felt enormous joy touching the subtle textures of gorgeous papers, didn’t they? Sometimes I don’t want to fly, sometimes I want to sink in a comfortable, soft, old armchair, feel a heavy volume on my laps.)
3. The Direction of Uniqueness
Edition: one of the kind. One-off. There won’t be another copy, because another copy simply can’t exist. The unique book can be an object small enough to be held inside one’s palm or it can be an installation that weighs many tons. Like the poem-labyrinth by Andrzej Bednarczyk: tens of monolithic square sandstone free standing columns; on each side of the column there is only one word; each time you go through the labyrinth you can read a different poem ..... A unique item - maximum flow of energy due to direct contact with the work of human hands. The more copies, the less amount of energy flowing. Two copies - twice less. As the physical, tactile energy decreases, the mental energy increases, the energy conveyed indirectly, not from hand to hand but from brain to brain....
4. The Direction of Big Edition Dreams
Andrzej Bednarczyk made another book and published it in edition of 400. It has covers made of concrete and a well cut in the centre with a little stone inside. Can one imagine this book in edition of 40000? Yes. At least I can. (Of course, then there would be 40000 different little stones put on the bottom of the well. By the author?) In Printed Matter, at the neighbouring stand I bought a small philosophical-poetical treatise. Several kinds of paper, exquisite printing in several shades of grey and black, two beginnings and one end in the middle, cut off windows. Edition: 1000 copies. My books, though existing in dozen or so copies and hand made, are designed to be published in dozen or so thousand copies as well. They would lose something - they would win something. But first of all the books are to be read by many people, not to delight the eyes of very few collectors. To make a sophisticated piece of art is not the main aim. The point is to create (or maybe to promote, to promote once more) a notation, a way of scoring, more adequate to the described reality than straight rows of black letters on white pages. In fact, the world is more similar to crazy, colourful books for children then to decent treatises for adults ..... For almost two months Polish Book Art was exhibited in the hall of Stanford University Library. Going there one has to pass the reading room, or maybe the file room, where there were computers instead of books. Hypertext - the non existing unique item which can be materialised in millions of copies. And what about opulent textures of noble and poor papers? They will remain. The people who do appreciate the sound of turned pages won’t disappear tomorrow. Besides, the new medium never fights the old ones. It only settles in the new niche, cultural, information niche, formed by technological, population and civilisation transformations.
5. The Direction of Picture
When the Polish Book Art was exhibited in Dusseldorf all books were in glass-cases (like a couple of years ago in Poznań and in Warsaw). One couldn’t turn a page, one could read nothing. One could only look at. Dull staring at one motionless page replaced a journey through a book; multidimensional space-time objects were rolled out flat ..... So many artist’s books eliminate text ...... We forget so often that reading a book we look at it, so each element that we can see: paper, shape of a letter, text patch on a page, covers, colours, shades, textures, materials .... can, could, even should bring us a message - what a huge area for imagination, what a vast field for cultivation! and don’t forget about move, space, time, touch, smell aspects of books ..... So often looking at (or making) a book having no text in it and so ingeniously using the non-text elements we forget that a book is first of all something to be read.
6. The Direction of Text
James Joyce wanted (or maybe dreamt) to translate the gorgeous tapestry of The Book of Kells into letters, words and sentences. That is why he wrote what he wrote, especially Finnegans Wake. Probably nobody has gone further trying to make the literary notation and description as adequate to the described reality as possible. Probably nobody has better filled up the gap between form and content so diligently and zealously dug by generations of writers, critics and readers. Probably nobody squeezed more nonlinearity out of the linear alphabetic notation. Form and content are the same nonsense as four directions. In 1997, during the first Bloomsday in Cracow, one page, a sample page of bulky typescript of Ulysses translated by Maciej Słomczyński was shown. Almost every word was struck out many times. New versions were written above or below. Some words were matched with different colours - the translator was trying to mark different semantic-symbolic- association trails. I thought that such a page was much closer to the original version, because in gave us an idea of multidimensional, multistratum language of Joyce, the language formed of words-in-words-in-words-in-words ..... This page was not as colourful as a page from The Book of Kells, you can’t even compare them, but it was a labyrinth, a true labyrinth, a real one, not suffering the schizophrenia of form and content - using the criterion of cohesion (of contentform or formcontent) it was better than the page from The Book of Kells ..... And here comes even more crazy idea. Some years ago somebody (I don’t remember his name) got wide applause showing portraits he made putting several different pictures of the same face one on another. Let’s imagine then several different translations of the same text done by different (or the same) translators put one on another, printed on transparent tracing paper ...... And who would publish such a breakneckness? Maybe me, the only employee, founder and owner of the overground bookmakery ELEPHANT’S TAIL? And who would read such a multibook? No doubt, nobody ..... Oh no! Doubt, me!
So, we keep wandering. We move in this direction, then we move in that direction. While travelling, changing places and tossing we meet on the road the others who toss, change places, travel and wander. It is a beautiful world where the boundaries are so smudged and unclear that they don’t exist. We wander because even the most nimble tongue won’t say what the head can think of. It won’t say even two words at the same time, while the head can think of hundreds of things.
Where is ELEPHANT’S TAIL? Where is CORRESPONDENCE DES ARTES (CdA)? Where are the others? Oh, definitely not all the time in one place precisely indicated with any co-ordinates. We do tremble, vibrate, shake, pass, move. We do form a cloud of electrons around smudged, unclear nucleus ..... And what is this nucleus? What is the centre of the world? Every book. Because in my fantastic geometry each point of a circle can be its centre. As it happens in less fantastic cosmo(book)graphy with every place, every page.
Thus I have written maybe the intruding introduction or prolapsed prolegomena to a great treatise on pageography.This would treat of several thousand years long history, theory and practice of non-linear notation-script-score and so called artist’s book is just but a small part of this phenomenon.
(This text was published in an album printed specially on the occasion of the 5th anniversay of the Contemporary Polish Book Art project (Polish Artist Union, Warsaw 1998)