Second Encyclopaedia of Tlön
The ability to charm and amuse without descending into empty frivolity or clever cynicism is an enviable talent. It requires a unexpected turn of mind coupled with a serious intelligence. And it takes just such a mind to undertake a project like the Second Encyclopaedia of Tlön. A collaboration of german artists Peter Malutzki and Ines von Ketelhodt, The Encyclopedia, 10 years in the making and comprising 50 volumes, is a response to the Jorge Luis Borges short story Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius. In Borges’s philosophically sophisticated story, Tlön is a fictional land (with no nouns in its language) which slowly over the course of the story begins to manifests actual artifacts in the real world (the real world of Borges’s fictional story that is…). Presented first as a mysterious land that exists only as an entry that appears to come and go in the Anglo-American Cyclopedia, the narrator begins an obsession with the place and eventually come across a single volume from an Encyclopedia of Tlön. Malutzki and von Ketelhodt take up the challenge and create an entire encyclopedia of the fictional land and do so with great creativity and style. Using a keyword for each volume, Air, Flora, Labyrinth, Nacht, Rouge, etc. they artistically investigate a series of themes (there are the element books, the color books, etc.) over the course of their encyclopedia.
One of the remarkable aspects of the endeavor is the strong differences in graphic style, content, and layout of each volume, a difference that is more than just a difference between those volumes done by Malutzki and those done by von Ketelhodt. Each keyword engenders a unique work, some humorous, some contemplative, some cryptic, each a world unto themselves. Both artists engage seriously the philosophical, epistemological, and literary themes of Borges’s story, weaving their own selection of well-known authors into the texts of their volumes, but not without a measure of humor—the Leibniz volume which explores the philosopher’s De Arte Combinatoria has as its cover a silver-grey image of a Leibniz cookie and the Atlas volume reconceives the topographical lines of maps as outlines of hungry creatures eyeing each other, ready to pounce (see the 1st image above).
The Second Encyclopaedia of Tlön is a true tour de force not only capturing a wide variety of ideas, but also using just about every reproductive and artistic technique you can think of: collage, linocut, letterpress, offset, each volume uses its own combination of techniques to embody its topic. For those of us not able to afford the well-justified price of the Encyclopaedia, a catalog of the work provides a good substitute. A beautiful work itself, this multi-lingual catalog reproduces Borges’s story and provides commentary from librarians and curators on each of the volumes followed by a generous sampling of images from each volume. Borgesian in its layout, the book employs a color-coded notational system to link and cross-reference the 3 sections.
Die Luft ist Kühl und es Dunkelt : ein Rheinbuch
As impressive as it is, the Encyclopaedia was not the only thing that has occupied these artists. Peter Malutzki, for instance, was showing a wonderful book, Die Luft ist Kühl und es Dunkelt : ein Rheinbuch . Divided into three parts, the book explores the history, ambiance, and appeal of the legendary Rhine river. In the first section, the river literally runs through the pages, as Malutzki interprets each section of the river, playfully at times (he has castles on either side throwing rocks at each other in a notoriously narrow part of the river).
The central section of the book transforms the river into a stream of words in two colors, set mirroring each other, one representing the French and the other the German perspective (the river was a contentious boundary point between the two countries throughout history).
In the last part, reconciliation finally occurs, signaled by a typographical change that sees the river running at angles up and down the page with text and images crossing over it, the two side intertwining. It is in this third section that Malutzki most reveals his personal love of the river, recreating a sense of its beauty in the darkling light.
Tree Portraits by Melanie Mowinski
An entirely different approach to a personally significant natural phenomenon, Melanie Mowinski’s Tree Portraits express her interest in bringing the outdoors into interior spaces. She has done several series of tree portraits, each from different areas where she has spent time. The Alaska Series was the one that I looked at, and it records trees residing in Denali National Park. Each series is made up of a boxed set of pamphlets, one for each tree, the pages of which are rubbings from the tree’s trunk. A simple idea representing a simple phenomena, but rich in its visual variety. The pages take on a mesmerizing progression of pattern as each part of the tree (including graffiti carved into one of the trunks) is revealed through the subtle shadings that translate the tree’s bark onto a flat page.
East West by Leilei Guo
The last book I want to mention is Leilei Guo’s East/West. The artist came all the way from Beijing to the book fair and her work juxtaposes cultural artifacts from both the east and the west. Iconic images make their way through the book, as silk-screened silhouettes, as cutouts,, and finally as photographic images where they reveal themselves to be copies in a storage yard of cheap imitations.
The images alternate between eastern and western cultural artifacts and they invade each others pages with aplomb, a pink Venus de Milo looking coy as two Buddhas peek through a cutout window. An intriguing structure, the book consists of stiff panels that move on hinged flanges, allowing the book a fair amount of movement despite its stiffness.
Bright colored pages, silk-screened with an abstracted background pattern, the pages reverse to more somber colors. Scattered between the silk-screened pages are the outdoor storehouses of statuettes.
It is these images that have been echoed throughout the book, but here what had appeared as singular images, are now shown in the context from which they had been drawn – not museums or cultural sites but fields of cultural icons reproduced out of scale and thrown together in a hodgepodge of cultural kitsch.
Hybrid Book Fair Awards
And to wrap things up, a list of the prizes awarded at the Fair:
JAB: 800,000 by Bill Snyder and Baghdad Times by Antonio Serna
Free Library of Philadelphia: The works of Bea Nettles
Wellesley: The Way to Empty by Sun Young Kang
Swarthmore: Typography of Home by Macey Chadwick
Yale: Cunning Chapters by Susan Johanknecht
University of Pennsylvania: A Guide to Higher Learning by Julie Chen
Columbia University: A Pink Story by Maureen McCallum
Philadelphia Center for the Book: The Way to Empty by Sun Young Kang
Jaffe Center for Book Arts: Handmade Vegetable Papyrus by Robert Lewis
Temple University: Good/Best by Else Wiener
University of the Arts: Catalog forthe Second Encyclopaedia of Tlön by Peter Malutzki and Ines von Ketelhodt
Bright Hill Press: Mimpish Squinnies by Lone Oak Press