American Collections blog

17 posts categorized "Artists' Books"

24 October 2012

Typing - and Retyping On the Road

 In Matt’s last blog Film and On the Road, he referenced Truman Capote’s quote (often misquoted),'That's not writing. That's typewriting.'  At the time, a dim memory surfaced in my foggy brain, only to disappear again almost immediately. But it reappeared at the weekend, when a friend and I were browsing in the wonderful bookshop at the Whitechapel Gallery. My friend suddenly waved in front of me a copy of Kenneth Goldsmith’s Uncreative Writing: managing language in the digital age. And then I remembered – Goldsmith includes a piece in the book entitled ‘Retyping On the Road.’ He talks of meeting some students who had been given assignments to write a piece in the style of their favourite author. One had chosen Kerouac and complained at how meaningless the exercise had seemed. Goldsmith thought she would have been better off going on her own road trip, - but then came to a another conclusion. He recalled often seeing art students engaged in copying old masters – and wondered if such ‘copying’ could be applied to literature, quoting from Walter Benjamin’s Reflections ‘the power of the text is different when it is read from when it is copied out.’ Perhaps the student could retype some (or even better, all) of On the Road, and she might thereby succeed in getting ‘inside the text.'

The British artist Simon Morris came across Goldsmith’s suggestion and decided to carry it out. Using the scroll edition of On the Road, he began to retype one page a day from the book on his blog Getting Inside Jack Kerouac's Head. He began on May 31, 2008 with that first sentence ‘I first met Neal not long after my father died,’ (of course, I immediately wondered why he had omitted the second met – it should be 'I first met met Neal'), and continued to the end of the page (ending in mid sentence), then continued the next day with the next page and so on. Every day he would spend c.20 minutes typing a page, finally completing his task in March 2009. Morris says that he would proofread each page, checking for mistakes (so how did he miss that met met?). Having never read the book before, he describes it as ‘the most thrilling read/ride of my life,’ and talks of the insights he gained into Kerouac’s writing. Goldsmith picks up on the fact that Morris found himself accidentally adding his own words – as Kerouac’s ‘shorthand’ allows the reader to complete sentences in their heads. Morris would then delete his own additions in the checking process, but acknowledges that he might have missed some. Goldsmith suggests that Morris’s appropriation of the text ‘need not be a mere passing along of information,’ but something more creative which could lead to ‘producing different versions and additions – remixes even- of an existing text.’  Appropriation and re-purposing are of course recurring themes in Goldsmith’s writing – often controversial but always challenging and thought-provoking (see for example, his piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education).

The web was the perfect conduit for Morris’s performative project – predigital it would have been an altogether different proposition. So the rather surprising culmination to the project was the publication – in print – of Morris’s Getting Inside of Jack Kerouac’s Head. The book mimics almost exactly the design and typography of the Penguin edition of On the Road (google it), and includes Morris's blog, but commences with the last blog and works backwards. As Goldsmith comments, ‘it was jarring to see a blog-driven project reborn as print.’ For me, it's a step too far - the blog I get, but not the book.

So has the project been a success for Morris? ‘One would hope for some truly profound response but really there is none. I don’t feel anything at all. A bit like Jack Kerouac’s own journey on the road and into himself in search of something he never really finds…… all I can really say with any certainty is I’ve never spent such a long time with a book or thought about any book as much.'

For those of you wishing to engage with Kerouac's own typing, the On the Road scroll is on display at the Library until December 27.



25 September 2012

Waiting for the scroll: On the Road is coming

It’s been a busy month for all of Team Americas, with much of my and Matt’s time in particular taken up with activities relating to our forthcoming exhibition On the Road: Jack Kerouac's manuscript scroll. Yes, we’re excited at the prospect of the arrival next week of Jim ('keeper of the scroll') with the typed manuscript, which will exhibited from 4 October until 27 December in our newly re-launched Folio Society Gallery in the Library's Front Hall.

The scroll will be taking centre stage in a specially designed 16 metre case so we decided that the accompanying BL material should focus on our sound recordings and Steve has put together a great ‘soundtrack’ to the scroll and the Beat Generation. You will be able to hear several contributions from Kerouac, including an excerpt of On the Road, jazz recordings which echo references in the novel, plus Allen Ginsberg reads Howl, and there are contributions by William Burroughs, Herbert Huncke, Joyce Johnson, Carolyn Cassady et al. Oh, and there’s Neal Cassady reading Proust too!

And the exhibition should look great, thanks to Fiona’s design and the generosity of Carolyn Cassady, the Allen Ginsberg Estate and the Kerouac Estate in letting us reproduce some wonderful images. So, schedule your visit now. The exhibition is free and there’s also an excellent events programme, including a preview screening of Walter Salles’ new movie.

Regular readers of the blog will know that we’ve highlighted our sound recordings relating to the beats before, but if you’re a new reader, here’s the link to a bibliography Steve put together some years ago. We also have really strong printed collections, and here’s a bibliography of those (be warned, it’s BIG). Picking just a few of these books to put in the exhibition was very difficult so we’ve opted for the holy trinity of Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs, with just a couple of others.

Apart from writing Kerouac labels, I was also involved in our Inspired by Artists’ Books event on 4 September, at which we showcased some of our wonderful artists’ books and fine press holdings (here’s Fran’s blog on the event).  I suppose it was inevitable that my brain would end up connecting the 2 themes so I started to think about whether we had any beat-related books which fall in to this category. Of course we do, and I featured Bill Burroughs and David Bradshaw’s Propagation Hazard at the event. But for this blog, I’ve chosen a Kerouac title. It’s by Mark McMurray, a colleague who is Curator of Special Collections and University Archivist at St. Lawrence University, teaches courses on the history of the book and printing, and who set up his own Caliban Press in 1985 - how he finds the time I don’t know! Anyway, Mark has made a couple of jazz-related titles, small, but perfectly formed and lovingly made, and here is an image of his History of Bop by Jack Kerouac.

History of bop
Caliban Press, 1993


14 August 2012

Team Americas looks forward to a great Fall events programme

We've been feeling decidedly down in the mouth after the Olympics - we’ve all enjoyed the last couple of weeks so much that it was inevitable that things would suddenly feel a bit flat. But we’ve now perked up considerably since we find ourselves not only very busy but with a lot to look forward to over the next couple of months. Matt and Carole are wearing their Beat hats as they prepare for the arrival of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road manuscript scroll in early October - how exciting is that! And then there is the accompanying programme of events, featuring a preview screening of Walter Salles’ new film of On the Road, and an evening with Amiri Baraka to mention just two. The full programme can be found on the BL’s website under events (check under each month), and details of the exhibition will be up very soon.

In addition to supporting some of the On the Road events/exhibition, our wonderful Eccles Centre for American Studies is sponsoring a fantastic range of autumn talks, including our Summer Scholars series (featuring e.g. Naomi Wood and Sheila Rowbotham, our 2 Eccles Writers in Residence), as well as events with Liza Klaussman (who, incidentally, happens to be Herman Melville’s great-great-great granddaughter!), Andrea Wulf, and Lord Putnam to pick out just a few. And how could we forget that there happens to be a big election coming up in the U.S. in November, and we of course have that covered too. For the full range of Eccles events see

And as if that wasn’t enough, we’ll be showcasing some of our artists’ books on 4 September at Inspired by Artists' Books, we have David H.Treece speaking about The Meanings of Music in Brazilian Culture for Brazil World Music Day on September 7, and we'll be celebrating Jamaican Independence on October 5th . Finally, the Olympics are still in our thoughts as we look forward not only to Rio, but to our conference Social Change and the Sporting Mega-event on November 5, organised in collaboration with our Brazilian colleagues.

Whew! Hopefully, you’ll find at least some of these events of interest and we hope to see you at the Library in the near future.

17 May 2012

Taking a stroll on Sandymount Strand

BL Shelfmark: HS 74/1887

Matt has blogged about an American edition of Brighton Rock which features in our unmissable new exhibition Writing Britain, and I’m going to continue with this theme since I can cunningly combine it with the subject of a number of my previous blogs - artists’ books.

The Library has a sizeable collection of fine press and artists books but the non-British titles have always been acquired selectively. These days the often significant cost of such items can make it difficult for us to buy very much at all.  But these type of books always pop up at exhibition time since they’re, well, great to look at as well as offering all sorts of other pleasures. So I was delighted to spot Sandymount Strand on display in Writing Britain since it was produced by one of my favourite book artists – Gunnar Kaldewey.

Kaldewey (who in fact started life as an antiquarian bookseller in Germany) has been running The Kaldewey Press from his Poestenkill studio in New York since 1985, and I remember reading last year that he had just produced his 75th book. Sadly we only have a few of them, but we were very fortunate to be given Sandymount Strand as a donation via The Art Fund.

Kaldewey produces books that are unconventional in every sense – from shape to binding, to paper and typography. Pushing the book to the limits of its physical form, structure and materials are as essential elements as the combination of text and image. Kaldewey Press imprints are written, illustrated and printed by Kaldewey himself, whilst Editions Kaldewey are collaborations with writers and artists. Taking the literature from many countries and time periods for his subject matter, Kaldewey's output encompasses writers as diverse as Confucius, Ovid, Ashbery, Neruda, Pound, Beckett, and Burroughs, just to name a few. Similarly, the various materials used in the production of the books are sourced from all over the world – content and material a reflection of Kaldewey’s love of language and passion for global culture.

And to Sandymount Strand. This has to be one of the most famous beaches in Irish literature since it features in James Joyce’s Ulysses. Joyce’s descriptions of Sandymount are indeed the main focus of the book, but contemporary Irish culture is also incorporated and celebrated by the addition of 2 haiku-like poems written especially for the book by Seamus Heaney and etchings by the artist Felim Egan, both of whom have a long association with Sandymount. Kaldewey has presented the book in a circular shape, representing the form of that particular stretch of beach on Dublin Bay - a perfect conjunction of form and subject. The Joyce and Heaney texts clearly make Sandymount Strand an ideal exhibit for Writing Britain, but I hope that Kaldewey would be pleased to find the book in such an exhibition too as it is also a reflection of his own obsession with the language of place.


11 September 2011

Remembering 9/11 again (or What you won't be reading on your Kindle, part 3)


Image © Gaylord Schanilec

The 10th anniversary of 9/11 is being marked by a steady stream of newspaper features, documentaries on TV, and an ever growing number of books on the subject. In my blog on last year’s anniversary I mentioned Michael Katakis’s Troubled Land series of photographs. Michael’s response to 9/11 was to set out on a trip across America, taking the photos which now make up the aforementioned series.* 

A recent issue of The New York Times carried an article on another type of response. New Yorker Richard Goodman rode his bicycle from the Upper West Side down to Ground Zero nearly every day for three months. His experiences during those cycling trips through Manhattan now make up the book The Bicycle Diaries: one New Yorker’s Journey Through 9/11, which is published in a limited edition by Midnight Paper Sales, the press of poet, wood engraver and printer Gaylord Schanilec. The book is illustrated by Gaylord’s distinctive coloured wood engravings and represents the answer to the question he asked himself on the morning of the 9/11 attacks, ‘what can I do?’ Last autumn he accompanied Richard Goodman on a bike ride, re-visiting the same Manhattan streets of Goodman's earlier cycling expeditions down to the One World Trade Center construction site. The engravings in the book are based on the photographs that Gaylord took during that ride. Text and image combine to provide a view of past and present, referencing both the horrors of the original events, and the hope arising from restoration and renewal in the city.

The blending of word and image has always been an important aspect of Gaylord’s work, as has a strong sense of place, so The Bicycle Diaries seems a perfect project for Midnight Paper Sales. To some it might appear anachronistic in these digital days to produce a limited edition fine press book, using traditional letter press printing and laborious multi-colour wood engraving processes, but books can be so much more than just carriers of information. As e-books become increasingly popular, paradoxically, the number and variety of fine press and artists' books that are appearing also seem to be on the rise. Great, we can have the best of both worlds. I'm looking forward to the arrival of the BL’s copy of The Bicycle Diaries and to holding it in my hands. I have no doubt that, to quote from the NYTimes article,  ‘It has the weight of a small thing done with great care to honor a huge loss.’


 *We’ll be displaying a few of these photographs in the forthcoming Folio Gallery exhibition which opens on 10 October. The exhibition ties in with the publication of Michael’s new book Photographs and Words, which will appear under the British Library imprint later this month.


16 August 2010

Interstate 5 Time Lapse Video

Google Street View: TCH - Part 3 - Alberta from Austin Leirvik on Vimeo

Always facied driving from Mexico to Canada, but limited by time or worried by your carbon footprint, lack of car or travel funds?  Well, rather like the famous locomotive films of the Flying Scotsman, etc, now you can, thanks to Austin Leirvik.

30 July 2010

What you won't be reading on your Kindle, part 2

Some time ago I wrote a blog about some work I was doing to assist our Conservation team with a survey on modern materials. Although the survey has long been completed, I’ve continued to make a note of any interesting or ‘different’ materials used by book artists that I come across so that I can have them up my sleeve for any future surveys. A recent visit from Maddy of Central Booking left me with several new acquisitions, one of which definitely falls into this category, offering a novel variation on the coffee table book –  a book made of coffee. 

Martha Hayden’s accordion fold book Coffee Stains (2009) not only provides information on the ‘health benefits’ of coffee drinking (something I was very pleased to read!), but is also made from coffee products. By apparently dipping her brush in a cup of coffee by accident, Martha discovered that it makes an excellent wash and started to experiment using various different strengths of coffee. But it’s not just the illustrations that are made from coffee. The book is ‘constructed of paper made from a 100% mixture of post-consumer paper and coffee content,’ and the paper is coloured by using brewed coffee and coffee skins from El Salvador. The distributor of the paper – Costa Rica Natural Paper, is ‘committed to the idea of environmental and sustainable development’ and donates a percentage of its paper sales to support research in this area. The cover of the book is made from Lokta paper from Nepal, which comes from a bush rather than a tree, is acid free, environmentally friendly and provides an income for the villagers in remote areas of the Himalayas. So, a book about coffee, made of coffee, and which is eco-friendly. Our conservators will love it.


22 October 2009

What you won't be reading on your Kindle

I’ve been having a lot of fun this week finding books to ‘challenge’ our conservation team. In collaboration with The Preservation Advisory Centre, they are surveying some of our artists’ and fine press books to look at issues around the conservation of modern materials.

Whilst the debate on the future of the printed book goes on, there is a diverse and growing community of artists, printers, small and fine presses which continues to produce books which really wouldn’t work as e-books because they are not just about content. Many of the fine press printers use traditional methods and printing techniques to produce beautifully crafted books. Others find new processes – and new materials, to employ in their work, as they seek to push the boundaries of the codex to its limits. Artists move between different media with ease, and still find the book a suitable format for their work.

Many of the fine press books present relatively few problems from the conservation point of view. The high quality materials used in their production are designed to last and often, only a protective box or flapcase is needed. But these are also books that are meant to be handled, not just viewed in exhibition cases, so the main concern is usually around people taking care when they look at them, particularly if there are pop-ups, or various types of inserts which could be damaged by careless handling.

Artists' books, on the other hand, are a good starting point for challenging your conservators. For example, Andy Warhol’s Index Book, includes great pop-ups (e.g. a little plane and a soup can), but there is also a balloon, which has now part perished and is stuck fast between 2 pages, slowly degrading. Klaus Scherübel’s Mallarmé: The Book, is made of styrofoam. Richard Long’s Papers of River Muds is a book of hand-made sheets of papers that contain mud from various rivers around the world.

We also have Artists & Photographs, which isn’t a book at all. Effectively, it’s an exhibition in a box, consisting of a combination of texts, images, and multiples by numerous American artists from the 1960s. Most of the contents are paper-based, but it also includes Rauschenberg’s multiple Revolver, made of plexiglass discs, and Tom Gormley’s Red File Cabinet (with lightbulb), which, yes, does contain a little lightbulb.


I’ve also come up with a lot of metal for the survey, including Donald Glaister’s Brooklyn Bridge: a love song, in which the pages are made of sanded aluminium. When we acquired it, it was the first almost completely metal book that I had seen (apart from Anselm Kiefer’s, which you will find in art galleries rather than libraries). But earlier this year, with the assistance of The Art Fund, the Library was able to acquire Marinetti's metal Futurist book Parole in Libertá. Marinetti and Tullio D'Albisola produced it back in 1932, and fortunately, it seems to be surviving well.

For some general information on the Library’s collecting of fine press and artists’ books, see these pages

And finally, a reminder that the Oxford Fine Press Book Fair is almost upon us.


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