Tuesday, 17 March 2009

book from the sky

Xu Bing, Book From the Sky To Bernard Quaritch's, the booksellers, this evening, for the launch of a book they have published about the artist Xu Bing, specifically his Book From the Sky), a 4-volume work written in 4,000 imaginary Chinese characters, printed using moveable type. There is acute (not to say obsessive) attention to the formal codes of book, whereas its content is, in a sense (sic) nonsense. One of the main authors of this new critical work, Tianshu: Passages in the Making of a Book, is John Cayley, who has considered Xu Bing's work often: here's a useful piece http://www.hanshan.com/specials/xubingts.html . There is an exhibition in the basement of Quaritch's, showing copies of the Book from the Sky, with earlier versions, printing blocks and sorts, and installation photographs of full-scale gallery installations, which seem very grand and theatrical. Some of these images are on Xu Bing's own website. The critical book has a notable materiality of its own, being bound in a flexible transparent cover through which its structure can be seen.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Typeset by Ian Whittlesea

Cover, Foundations of Judo, by Yves Klein, translated and typeset by Ian Whittlesea, The Everyday Press, 2009

Here's an extraordinary thing: a 1954 judo manual, translated into English and produced in a loving typographic facsimile which resembles as far as possible the visual and material properties of the original, with the same illustrations placed in the same position on the page and so forth, published by an artists' book press. The original book was by the artist Yves Klein, he who signed the sky, patented a colour, painted with women's bodies and 'leapt into the void'. Klein was also (I now learn) a serious and advanced judo practitioner, even prior to being an artist. But is this new edition a judo book or an art book? The translator is Ian Whittlesea, an artist of fascinatingly rigorous refinement noticed previously by the Oceanographer, the publisher is The Everyday Press, "founded by artist Arnaud Desjardin to publish the work of visual artists as printed matter". Whittlesea took up judo himself alongside the translation, has achieved a black belt ranking, and it now appears to be a lifetime commitment for him.
The book's launch brought me for the first time to Donlon Books, a great new art & arty bookshop in Bethnal Green. It seems to stock the best stuff you'd find in the shops at the Serpentine, ICA or Tate Modern, but in an uncramped and somehow more personal environment that reminded me more of the wonderful bookartbookshop; and also to have an eye to rare and special books, the sort of thing you look to Marcus Campbell for.
I came away with a copy of Tutu Muse, a recent (2007) book published by Fly By Night, of poetry by Marianne Morris. Marianne was just Donlon Books' writer-in-residence for a month! sorry I missed her. Can't report on a reading yet but Marianne's work is never less than exhilarating; materially-speaking this sturdily made substantial (47pp) pamphlet/paperback features a cover image by Marianne, and an index, of proper names, and key words mostly classified under concepts e.g. 'insects', 'food items' etc. 'love' is the most frequently occurring term (13), followed by 'death' (10). But there are numerous single instances in the 'animals', 'birds', 'fish' and 'food' groups, and quite a lot of 'colours' too (p. 19, 'terrific blue sky').
Also associated with the establishment is Eleanor Vonne Brown's excellent project The Newpaper, "a newspaper about artists and writers who make work using the language, visuals or structure of newspapers", e.g. (in issue 2) Kenneth Goldsmith and his retyping of an entire New York Times, Michalis Pichler's Bild collages, Vonne Brown's own project '100 days', about the journalist Alan Johnston kidnapped in Gaza in 2007, and many more; as well as an article on John E. Allen, claimed as the first theorist of newspaper design. Issues are available for download from the website, but the thing itself, in tabloid format on proper newsprint is a pleasure to see and hold -- and the ink doesn't come off on your hands ...