As we enter the final week of the Bodleian’s Alphabet’s Alive! exhibition we wanted to share a taster of what’s to come in our next BOOKNESS podcast.
In the summer Alice and Jo were very lucky to speak to artist and founder of Circle Press, Ron King, who has multiple alphabet inspired works in the exhibition.
You have until 21st January to visit the exhibition which is spread cross the Bodleian’s Weston Library exhibition space and the Proscholium display (located in the entrance of the Old Library), and you can find Ron’s work in both parts of the exhibition.
So if you are in Oxford this week make sure you pop by and see the pieces for yourselves, and listen out for the next episode of BOOKNESS, featuring our conversation with Ron, which is on its way soon…
Find out more about Ron’s work and Circle Press here
And explore the Bodleian’s online catalogue SOLO here to discover the pieces of Ron’s work in the collection
For the latest episode of BOOKNESS, the Bodleian team speaks to graphic designer, book artist and paper engineer Kevin Steele about his work The Movable Book of Letterforms, which is currently on display in the Bodleian’s Alphabets Alive! exhibition.
I’m always fascinated by the performance of movable books, especially when that actual movement is communicating something, so it’s not just about the final display when everything is open, but it has something to do with the movement
As somebody that likes things precise… it is sometimes hard to see things change over time… but I guess that is just inevitable that things change like that beyond your control… And it would make me very happy if looking in the future I saw the book was very well used and worn and read
Watch The Movable Book of Letterforms in action below:
Each autumn, university students and members of the public embark on their type-setting and printing journeys in the Bodleian’s letterpress printing workshop. To inspire novice printers with the great typographical achievements of the past, we have chosen examples of fine and ambitious printing from the Bodleian’s Rare Books collections. The selection also includes some ‘bad’ printing, with missing words and upside-down illustrations, also carefully preserved in the library.
An example of ‘good’ printing is an edition of Caesar’s Gallic war printed in 1471 by Nicholas Jenson. The type designed by Jenson, a French printer based in Venice, has been widely admired ever since. Bodleian Library, Byw. adds. 6
Four centuries after Jenson, type designed for the Doves Press in London in 1899 was based directly on Nicholas Jenson’s work. The Doves Press was a private press producing fine books according to the ideals of the Arts and Crafts movement, a reaction to industrialisation and mass-market printing. Bodleian Library, Arch. C c.3
The 1481 Florence edition of Dante’s Comedia is in many ways an example of good printing, although it was an ambitious project that was beset by problems. The unfortunate upside-down orientation of this engraving in the Bodleian copy puts this item in the middle, between examples of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ printing. Bodleian Library, Auct. 2Q 1.11
In the next example, shown below, the editor has evidently demanded that the printers explain why the page on the right contained none of the text of this work, Pastregicus’s On the origins of things (Venice, 1547). The half-page of text explains, in Latin, that there was an error on the part of the printer in dividing up the text before starting to print (‘Calcographi omisit enim dividendo’) and reassures the reader that there is nothing missing (‘operi vero nihil deest’). Bodleian Library, Byw. Q 8.24 Making the text fit the intended number of pages is a skill all printers need to acquire.
This translation of Aristophanes’ Greek plays into Latin shows an unusually careful correction, a word added in type to the margin. The sentence was meant to read: ‘…the whole of which had previously been Greek,’ with ‘graeca’ to be read where the caret symbol indicates. The book was printed by Angelo Ugoleto in Venice in 1501. Bodleian Library, Byw. J 7.25 Mistakes happen, and corrections can be a sign of care as much as of carelessness.
Below, a sixteenth-century edition of meditational poems on the cross demonstrates creative problem-solving and a real challenge to printers. These shape or puzzle poems were first composed in the 9th century by Rhabanus Maurus and at that time, before the invention of printing with moveable type, they circulated as beautiful and lavish manuscripts, allowing the poems within poems to be easily discerned. Thomas Anshelm decided in 1503 that it would be an excellent thing to reproduce the text in print. Attempting to achieve a similar effect to the manuscripts, he used an unusual combination of metal type and xylographic (wood-carved) letters. The black letters nearest to the images are carved into the woodblock. Bodleian Library, Douce M 114
If you take a conventional book… the pages don’t change… but when you come to pop-up engineering… it’s rather like being in a theatre… there are all these different changing viewpoints with the book which is quite unique
A book is designed to be held… if we think of a book as being conceptually a form of art… I can’t think of any other art form that only really functions when you hold it directly in your hands and your fingers interact with the object
And some conservation in action! Paul visited us back in May 2023 to work with our conservation team on some of his other books we have in the Bodleian’s collection, to assess their condition and carry out a few minor repairs.
My books have thousands of individual little parts, and the risk is that one or two of them are going to fall off in transit… and this is always a problem, little pieces coming loose… when we first talked about bits probably falling off, I probably said to you stick it back on anywhere you like!
Useful links and glossary checks in this episode:
Listen to the episode on the University of Oxford Podcasts website here (also available via Spotify and Apple Podcasts)
The Bodleian Library in Oxford has books. Lots of books. But also books that don’t look like books. Books that self-destruct. Books that decay.
Join librarian Jo Maddocks and conservator Alice Evans for a second series of our podcast BOOKNESS where we continue to explore the wonderful world of the Bodleian’s artists’ books and discover what makes a book a book.
In this series Jo and Alice will talking to book artists, print makers and paper engineers who currently have works on display in the Bodleian’s Gifts & Books and Alphabets Alive! exhibitions, focussing on their books that have pop-up and moveable elements…
This podcast is for book lovers, book nerds and book makers.
It’s a nesting doll about ageing and decay, and the publisher, the artist, and the writer really worked together … to express all these ideas throughout the materiality of every component of the artists’ book
The release of this episode of BOOKNESS on 9th December 2022 marks the 30th anniversary of the publishing of this work. Happy birthday Agrippa!
Useful links for this episode:
Watch William Gibson’s poem Agrippa: A Book of the Dead
running in emulation on a 1992-era Mac computer here
In the third podcast in the series, BOOKNESS talks to poet and artist Stephen Emmerson about his work Translation of Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge, a paperback novel ‘translated’ into mushrooms.
It’s a book as much as it is an art object … as a book, read it, interact with it, touch its pages, infuse its pages with your warmth … from the art experience, I guess it’s more about the audiences way of how they want to interact with it …
I’ve always been interested in interactive books since I was little, I am neurodiverse myself so it’s easier for me … to engage with books that … use different senses because they would capture my entire focus.
It is an artwork that is supposed to be touched and it’s supposed to wear and tear … as you start to expose and touch … as you’re reading the content, it becomes more familiar with you …
This is already basically a book … these things look like pages, they’re kind of packed together, there’s an order, all I really did was bind those together and give them the cover. I thought it was interesting how it just becomes a book through that process
This image of the Bodleian’s “pristine” copy of 20 Slices was taken by the Conservation team in May 2021 as part of the documentation of the object to record its condition.
I think of it as a book. But I also have a very broad definition of a book
BOOKNESS is a podcast series that wanders into the Bodleian Library’s collection of artists’ books, pokes around a bit and asks ‘what’s all this then?’
In the series we will be talking to artists, makers, researchers and curators and pondering matters such as what makes a book a book, anyway? What happens if a book is made of something that decays? Are there any limits to what a library can collect? And, of course, what does this book smell like?
BOOKNESS is hosted by conservator Alice Evans and librarian Jo Maddocks, and the release of this series coincides with the final month of the Bodleian Library’s Sensational Books exhibition, which is showing at the Weston Library until the 4th December 2022. It’s brought to you by the Bodleian Library’s Centre for the Study of the Book and has been supported by a generous donation to the Bodleian Bibliographical Press.
In this introductory episode, BOOKNESS is joined by Chris Fletcher, Keeper of Special Collections, and Professors Emma Smith and Adam Smyth, to set the scene of the Bodleian’s artists’ books collection and some of the ways these objects can be used and thought about.
… artists’ books reflect on ‘bookness’ … they are metabooks, they are books about books … they are about the book form …
The following artists’ books from the Bodleian collection are mentioned in this episode…
Useful links and glossary checks in this episode:
You can read the full definition of ‘artists’ books’ from the Library of Congress here (.pdf)
The Bodleian oath is taken by all new staff and readers. The current version, in use since 1970, reads: “I hereby undertake not to remove from the Library, nor to mark, deface, or injure in any way, any volume, document or other object belonging to it or in its custody; not to bring into the Library, or kindle therein, any fire or flame, and not to smoke in the Library; and I promise to obey all rules of the Library.” If you want that on a Tea Towel we can make it happen.
The next edition of Inscription on ‘Folds’ is out later this month.