"Air neuf prend des couleurs"
The new bookbinder, vol. 22, 2002, p29-34
Allowing just one single colour for each binding had a far reaching-impact none of us could imagine when we received the rules (3) which had been set for this exhibition.
For centuries bookbinding had the limited colour range of light-resistant natural colours. Gold tooling and intricate patterns brought variety and difference, but only fabrics, embroidery and painting could introduce colour. The last century, our century, changed all this : leathers of every shade are available and “ painting ” with inlays and onlays became the bookbinders’ favourite form of expression. After the unusual setting and total freedom of work of our previous exhibition (4) this new one was a real challenge ; we had to restrict ourselves to the use of one single colour and also - according to the requirements of the Bibliotheca Wittockiana - to books who would fit into the standard display cases. Could AIR neuf, whose very essence is non-conformity and creativity, succeed beyond the strict limits of well-groomed bookbinding, and yet still fly with such clipped wings ?
Monochrome bindings are certainly difficult to make and, placed side by side, do not enhance each other. Are beige and grey meant to be white? Where is the borderline between green and blue, blue and violet, orange and red ? As a result, most of the binders avoided subtle colours ; the red books were all truly red and even the jury got caught in the trap and hesitated over a bordeaux and violet binding and a green-blue one, not because of the quality of the bindings, but because their colour was not really spot on.
The founding members of AIR neuf had two additional constraints (I wonder why we are always set apart from the happy crowd...). We had to make artist
books and of set dimensions 250 x 400 cm. It was not said or discussed what “ artist book ” means. Ask your fellow
binders and they will each give a different answer. And in fact the nine of us understood it in different manners. Of course many of the other members
turned to artist books as an opportunity to regain some creative freedom. That in turn raised other problems ; to judge bindings with different
technical and cultural backgrounds is a difficult task to begin with, but on what grounds is it possible to choose among artists books ?
The perforated metal covers of Manne Dahlstedt’s (5) artist book do nothing to protect the book. The yellow signatures are shot through thirty times [Fig. 2]. I was glad to recognize in the yellow group a nice single section binding by Françoise Petitjean. Many years ago I copied that structure from an american conservation binding. I learnt later on that the American friend has copied it from a French artist book... the important thing being that good ideas never get really lost.
A writer friend wrote a book especially for Annie Boige (founding member and current vice-president) on the subject of her chosen colour, violet.
She underlined the importance of the text by making a very discreet and elegant binding. In her group was a very beautiful silk binding by Marie-Claude Bastien.
Jacky Vignon (founding member and current treasurer) assembled paperworks by the members of his orange group in a book and made a woven-leather binding. The decoration of his book matches the structure[Fig. 4].
Carmencho Arregui’s (6) " Dromographies " are the result of her latest work with the computer. Once open, her paper book allows the display of five of these postcard-sized images. These are computer graphics of the book structure itself. Both the structure and the sewing are functional to the display [Fig. 5].
White colour in bookbinding is naturally associated in our minds with soft tones of vellum, paper and alum-tawed skins. White box-calf looks so lifeless ! Ana Ruiz Larrera’s and Jacqueline Poydenot’s talent helps to forget it... [Fig. 6]
Laurence Duffar’s (Canada) white paper artist book contains a text about the twin towers’ September 11 attack written in white [Fig. 7].
Helen’s (founding member, A. Noir is her artist name) used brown and took watercolour paper, paint and brush, then wrote and painted her story - without any binding. No surprise there as she is a finisher not a bookbinder. The extra flaps of course make it stand but also make reading it an interactive adventure.
My blue binding is a display device too. Being a founding member I had to do an artist book. My interpretation of “ artist book ” was that I was to make a book from A to Z all by myself. I wrote a fairy tale on my computer and on the way I learned a few things about Photoshop and QuarkXPress. The book’s four little sections are bound in a Staple Binding (7). The cover is painted hand-made paper. The magnetic fore-edge strips can transform the cover into a hollow tube presenting the signatures fully open. The blue group was not only rich in paper binding but also in artist books ; one of Alain Taral’s blue wooden bindings (with interlaced wooden strips) contains a letterpress book printed on wooden pages, expecially made for this exhibition. For the Fall of Icarus (an artist book bought in London) two front boards exist, which are fully interchangeable [Fig. 8]. In Alain’s bindings both boards and the spine are in wood. The hingeing system allows a perfect opening of the boards ; the books inside are not backed.
Joanne Sonnichsen choose a texte of Rilke, laser printed it on mylar and bound it in black paper. In her black group there are many
artist books. Three from Claudia Renetzki (Germany) [Fig. 9]
whose work interconnects her three fold activity (she is a freelance graphic designer, a photographer and a bookbinder) and two are crossed-structure
books by Phet Cheng Suor-Cogant [Fig. 10].
There are two further interesting techniques among the blacks : on Godelieve Dupin de Saint Cyr oriental binding the Japanese paper collage has been covered
by rounded plexiglass strips held by metal staples and Marie-Thérèse Vercheval used polycarbonate strip to contrast the imprints on goat skin.
An interesting statistics is that the overwhelming majority (more than two third) of the bindings are structures not requiring backing (this would make book conservators rejoice) : simplified bindings, twenty ; oriental bindings, twenty ; crossed structure bindings, eight ; etc.
However, it is disappointing to see that new structures with a strong visual impact of their own are slowly being taken over by the incessant need for
“ decoration ”. I am also realising that most of the books I noticed were artist books - mainstream bookbinding seems to be going
around in circles - or have I became too old and have seen too many ?
Photographs of books : PasoDoble, Philippe de Formanoir.
AIR = Association Internationale de Relieurs (International Association of
Bookbinders), the abbreviation means " air " in French
too. Neuf means, in French, both " nine " (nine founding
members) and " new ".