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
The prize will be of two parts: a payment of £600 to the winner, and an allowance of £300 for a book to be purchased for the Bodleian Library’s collections, selected by the winner in co-operation with the Bodleian’s Curator of Rare Books.
How does it change our understanding of a book when we come physically close to the materials it was created from? How does it change your perception to reflect not just on the words but the skills, processes, individuals, practices and modes of production that are enfolded into how a book was written, created, published, circulated and collected?
Courses and workshops in the Bibliographical Press at the Bodleian bring to life the technical and material history of books. A course on fiction or literature can, for example, be brought together with an opportunity to learn about the mechanical and material processes. This can be way to place historical, theoretical, structural reflections in a material-based physical and social reality. One example of this combined historical and material-based approach to learning are recent events on Tristram Shandy.
On 27 May, in The Making of Tristram Shandy, Dr. Helen Williams, Associate Professor of English Literature and a British Academy Innovation Fellow, Northumbria University and Dr.Elizabeth Savage, Senior Lecturer in Book History and Communications, Institute of English Studies, University of London gave a lecture (in person and online) on the visual, physical and conceptual features of this unique book.
The following day in the Bibliographical Press a workshop took place with three specialists, Louise Brockman (paper marbler), Peter Lawrence (wood engraver) and Richard Lawrence (letterpress). Students were introduced to some of the skills and techniques that went into the making of the Tristram Shandy and working collectively, with the eighteenth century book as the historic starting point, the group created a concertina publication.
Both events were organised by Centre of the Study of the Book and Novel Impressions, a project run by Helen Williams (Northumbria University) and funded by the British Academy Rising Star Engagement Awards, which provides a series of research- and practice-led events that aim to create a network of early career researchers, printers, and curators producing print workshops for public audiences inspired by eighteenth-century literature. This particular event was supported by the Institute of English Studies, the Bodleian Library, and Book and Print Initiative.
During the workshop, we spoke to Richard, Louise and Peter about the skills they use in marbling, engraving and letterpress, and how they approached devising the workshop. Highlights from our conversation are shared below.
MeEt the practitioners
Louise Brockman, Paper Marbler
Can you talk us through the process of creating a marbled page for a publication? What materials do you use?
I use gouache paints, as I like the bright opaque colours. These paints are floated on a tank containing a ‘seaweed size’, a powder that has been blended with hot water to make a slightly gelatinous liquid. The paints are then manipulated into patterns using a stylus or comb to make a pattern and picked up on a sheet of paper that has been pre-treated with a mordant (a substance that allows dyes or paints to stick to paper or fabric).
For a specific publication I would discuss the requirements with the customer and come up with a selection of designs based on their pattern and colour preferences.
In Tristram Shandy, Laurence Sterne commissioned marbled pages, these appear in different ways in different editions [see below]. What did you notice about the marbling in these publications?
In the copies that I have seen I have noticed that patterns are quite simple. This makes commercial sense if you are producing many pages, as to make a complicated design would entail more time and effort with more possibility of wastage.
How did you develop an approach to marbling for this workshop based on Tristram Shandy?
If you observe the pages in Tristram Shandy you can see the fold lines. This is vey unusual, so rather than marbling the whole page, which is what paper marblers do on the whole, only the middle section of the page has been marbled. The folding was a way to keep the rest of the page away from the tank and remain blank. I did quite a few tests on the best way to carry this out and found that the marbling was more successful with the sheet folded out of the way completely. I tried pressing a sheet after marbling and drying and the fold lines were still visible, I suspect this was probably how the pages were folded and marbled in Tristram Shandy, as the lines around the marbling are pretty crisp on the copies I have seen and, as mentioned previously, the folds are still visible.
Because of this the workshop attendees had the experience of their first ever marbled sheet being carried out in a slightly more complicated way than it would normally be. They all managed very well and we produced some lovely papers during the session.
Peter Lawrence, Wood Engraver
Can you tell us about the sorts of wood that would have been used for engraving in the eighteenth century?
Traditionally, the wood of choice has always been boxwood. Thomas Bewick, at the end of the 18th century, pioneered working on the cross-section of boxwood blocks which being so slow growing and therefore with its rings so tightly packed together, could replicate the hardness of metal. This meant he could engrave in all directions across the grain and produce fine marks not possible with woodcuts that are cut with broader tools on softer, long-grained wood.
Boxwood ‘rounds’, cut across the trunk, are not large. That means a rectangular block cut from the centre will only be a few centimetres across. To make a larger print, blocks are glued together, which is therefore more costly. Many current engravers work on lemonwood blocks, which has a slightly more open grain. Lemonwood blocks are generally larger, and so cheaper to make into larger composite blocks.
All blocks are made ‘type-high’ to sit on the press and be printed in the same pass as metal type. Apart from the fact that boxwood was cheaper than metal to use, it was the fact that text and images could be printed together in publications in the 19th century, without the expense of tipping-in separate intaglio printed images, that made wood engraving so attractive.
What kind of tools would be needed?
There are five basic wood engraving tools – spitstickers, gravers, tint tools, round and square scorpers. Each has a particular use, or more than one use, in producing lines and stipples. They have different shaped pointed ends and each come in a series of sizes… To print by hand we just need, in addition, a small roller, a thick book, some talc, a spoon and some Japanese paper.
There are what could be wood engravings in ‘Thomas Shandy’. What did you notice about them?
Not being familiar with the diagrams in Shandy, I assumed from their date, the mid-18th century, that they would be woodcuts. However, having copied and created a couple of lines myself, I know that with wood engraving those tight curves would certainly have been easier. So the jury is out, but I’d say they are more likely to be wood engravings. They are certainly relief prints, the woodblocks sitting within the page of type.
The printed lines have a varying thickness. The engraver would have copied exactly the drawing supplied by Sterne which, if done with a metal pen nib, would have naturally created a variation in thickness due to varying pressure. Of course a skilled engraver could have ‘corrected’ that variation had he/she been asked to.
How did you develop an approach to wood engraving for the workshop that replicated the process that might have been used at the time?
Each student was supplied with a block, just over the width of one of the plotlines. I showed them two lines that I had cut, copying the originals. The students each drew a line across the width of their block. I supplied a range of tools. The idea was to cut either side of their line, first with a fine tool, then clearing more with a broader tool. We only needed to cut enough wood away to reveal the line, but it became obvious to everyone how much effort there was to clear the backgrounds for the original blocks. The wood around the lines has to be lowered enough not to pick up ink in the printing. With a wooden press, using dampened paper this was probably more more difficult than with later iron presses.
Richard Lawrence, Letterpress Printer
What are some of the unique features of Tristram Shandy, from the perspective of the letterpress?
Most of what appears in Tristram Shandy had been done in other books before, but it was highly unusual to do these things in a ‘novel’. Examples include various small illustrations incorporated in the text. One of the more challenging things is the black page. Laying down that much ink using a wooden handpress is a challenge which explains why it was not very black. Similarly the marbled page is a challenge of logistics to provide that many copies.
What would it take to put together a single sheet in a publication in the eighteenth century ?
What size paper do you have? What size machine do you have? How many pages will the sheet be folded into? These three questions give the basic dimensions of line length etc. Is it possible to print work and turn to reduce the number of impressions? What type do you have enough of for the publication? (Not always anything but Hobson’s choice). Are there any special sorts (accented characters etc.)? And what will you do about them? Are there any illustrations to incorporate? Who will produce them?
What do students learn from setting type?
They perhaps learn what a slow and fiddly business it is and that type is responsible for the look of the page. It also limits how many pages can be printed at any one time. It is also the most expensive part of the equipment of a printer. Students might also learn that compositors (typesetters) do alter small details of the author’s work (spelling, italicization, etc.)in the course of their work. (Sterne may have been an exception in requiring the compositors to adhere to his manuscript more closely.)
Typesetting might also bring home to students that the people printing a book have all sorts of concerns about the process that means they are largely divorced from the content. While there might well be some element of craft pride in doing a good job, printers printed because they got paid, not for the love of the words/text.
Can you tell us about the idea for the concertina publication?
Peter Smith, a wood engraver who works from a studio at St Bride Foundation in London, came up with the idea before the pandemic and was gracious enough to allow it to be used by this group. It is ingenious because it only involves printing one side of a sheet so eliminating the usual drying time required before printing the reverse of a sheet.
For more information about courses and workshops in the Bibliographical Press, please contact email@example.com.
Selected editions of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman are currently of view in Sensational Books, 27 May – 4 December 2022, Weston Library.
In this blogpost, artist Hermeet Gill shares the inspiration behind her work made in response to the major Bodleian exhibition, Melancholy: A New Anatomy. The work is on view during February 2022 at the Weston Library, Oxford
This artwork, created in response to the exhibition Melancholy: A New Anatomy, is inspired by Robert Burton’s interest in astrology. In The Anatomy of Melancholy, Burton writes that “a physician without the knowledge of stars can neither understand the cause or cure of any disease”. Today, astrology is held in opposition to science and evidence-based approaches, nonetheless, it intrigues me – this system built upon scientific observation, geometry, and mathematics, to make sense of human lives.
Astrology claims to predict a person’s character and life path based on the position and alignment of planets at the time and place of their birth. However, the exact time and place of our birth also determines who we are born to and our wider circumstances, earthly constellations of contexts which also predict much about our experience of life, including our mental health. Predict, but not determine.
Three star charts, one actual and two hypothetical, reflect a family history in which three previous generations (in the UK, Uganda and India) in turn designated a different place for my birth. Each unrealised life path left ink-smudge imprints on my life experience: in my genetic makeup, in the consequences of forced migration events, and in cultural legacies.
The tactile qualities of the process of letterpress printmaking inspired this work. Many thanks to Richard Lawrence, Superintendent of the Bodleian Bibliographical Press, where the piece was created.
Hermeet Gill is an Oxford-based artist, inspired by ideas, systems and data and how these can be structured and combined. She has recently completed commissions for the University of Oxford’s Wytham Woods, Arts at the Old Fire Station and Oxford’s Library of Things. Originally trained in engineering, she had a career advising organisations, including on innovation and has worked with the Science Museum, London and TED. Hermeet has been printing at the Bodleian Bibliographical Press since 2016.
Hilary Term, Fridays, 2:15 pm Registration required:https://forms.office.com/r/FSXrV1W98u
YOU MUST BE REGISTERED 24 HOURS BEFORE THE SEMINAR TO RECEIVE A LINK TO ATTEND ONLINE
In-person seminars, if offered, will meet in the Lecture Theatre, Weston Library.
21 Jan. (Week 1) [ONLINE ONLY] Mercedes García-Arenal (Madrid, CCHS-CSIC), ‘The European Quran: the role of the Muslim Holy Book in writing European cultural history’
28 Jan. (Week 2) [ONLINE ONLY] Renae Satterley (London, Middle Temple), ‘On Robert Ashley (1565-1641)’s use of collections in Oxford in the 17th century’
4 Feb. (Week 3) [ONLINE ONLY] Laura Cleaver (London, UCL), ‘Henry White (1822-1900): Collector of Second-Rate Manuscripts?’
11 Feb. (Week 4) [ONLINE ONLY] Riccardo Olocco (Bolzano), ‘The trade in type in Venice in the early decades of printing’
18 Feb. (Week 5) [ONLINE ONLY] Brian Cummings (York), ‘Bibliophobia’
25 Feb. (Week 6) Katarzyna Kapitan, ‘The Virtual Library of Thormodus Torfæus, reconstructed from Danish and Icelandic collections’
4 Mar. (Week 7) [IN PERSON ONLY] Lisa Barber, ‘The Goldsmiths’ Register and other record books of various London Livery Companies’
11 Mar. (Week 8) Alexandra Franklin and Andrew Honey, ‘Bodleian Materials for the teaching of Book History’
The Bodleian’s Conservation and Collection Care team, in collaboration with the Centre for the Study of the Book, is embarking on a year of discovery in the field of Textiles in Libraries. The scope of this project is wide, from embroidered bindings to endbands, including textiles found between the pages, covering or wrapped around the binding, as well as the more unexpected places they can be found in library collections from tapestries to t-shirts.
As part of this project, the Library will be hosting a series of free online talks running from November 2021 to February 2022, bringing together conservators, curators and book artists to explore this topic further. Our speakers will highlight the many ways textiles are found in books and library collections, share case studies of collaborative conservation projects, examine what textile bindings can tell us about historic craft practices, and share examples of textiles used in contemporary book arts.
These talks will coincide with an exhibition held in Blackwell Hall of the Weston Library from November 2021, ‘The Needles Art’, which will show-case a selection of embroidered bindings from the Bodleian’s collections.
View the full programme and book tickets to the live talks here.
All talks will be recorded and publicly available to watch after the event.
This is a chance to compare script, print, and electronic text encoding side-by-side, in real time. The text will be written in manuscript, printed in movable type, and encoded by three teams, starting at 1pm.
In this blogpost we’ll report on the progress and the thoughts of the scribes, printers and encoders as they work through the same text, a portion of Psalm 107 (‘… They that go down to the sea in ships …’), to create a published version, in one or many copies.
Onlookers are welcome in Blackwell Hall, the main public foyer of the Weston Library on Broad Street, Oxford.