A Supernatural Drama About Book Dealers?

25962

 

My problem pile haunts me. Like most book dealers, there are always stacks of things that need to be catalogued, but within that pile there is a special core of material that tends to resist departure. There are things in this stack that have remained there for years, following me from city to city and remaining stubbornly uncatalogued, usually because there is a feeling that they have another story that has to be teased out.

The following poster has been in my problem stack for a few years. It is intriguing enough for the  great typography, or fact of advertising a supernatural drama set in Transylvania more than 60 years before the publication of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but the real reason it has remained in my problem pile for so long is because it came from Serendipity Books via the trade, and in black marker on the plastic sleeve that holds it is written the injunction “Keep This One,” a phrase that incurs a certain excitement. 

25962_d

The reason may have to do with the relationship of the play to the rare book trade. A prominent character named Balthazar Elzevir, played by W. Bennett, is described as an “aged bookseller.”

25962_b

Another unnamed character is described as a book-dealer, played by J. Cooper.

25962_c

Finally, the opening scene takes place at the “Leipsic Fair”, which I’m tempted to think might be a reference to the longrunning Leipzig book fair.

25962_a

I can find no visual record or description of the set, but if the first scene did take place at the Leipzig Fair, it would be fascinating to know how the fair was staged.

The Adelphi Theater Calendar project at UMass notes a contemporary review that condemned Skeleton Lover for “nastiness” and as a “piece of vulgarity.” No word if this was because of the supernatural content or because of the inclusion of booksellers.

This version of the poster was made to advertise the second night’s performance. The Museum of London holds an example advertising the fourth night of the performance.

Sign-Up Sheet for Destruction: DIAS Symposium, 1966

Detail from the Prospectus for the DIAS Symposium. London, 1966

Detail from the Prospectus for the DIAS Symposium. London, 1966

The Destruction in Art Symposium took place from September 9-11, 1966 at the Africa Centre in Covent Garden in connection with a number of happenings throughout the month in London. The Honororary Committee, led by Gustav Metzger, brought a great deal of international attention to various artists and groups then working in obscurity.

This call for entries, issued in advance of the Symposium, is fascinating not only for giving a brief overview of antecedents on this theme, with reference to actions by the Gutai Group, John Latham and the Skoob Towers project, Jean Tingueley, Wolf Vostell, and Millares, but also exemplifying the inclusive nature of the project. The various prospective subjects listed on the form show how extensive the Committee understood this theme to be by that point in the 1960’s. Rather than present the theme as an outlier or exotic subject, the Symposium treated destruction in various guises as being a common vantage point from which a number of seemingly disparate strands of activity had a common zeitgeist.

 

25633

 

Metzger, Gustav et al. Call for Submissions for the Destruction in Art Symposium. London: DIAS Honorary Committee, 1966. 7 7.8 x 11 1/8″ invitation, mimeographed from typescript.

This copy with the response form intact.

Folded twice for mailing, with toning and a couple of small stains. Very good.

Inquiries.

The Plankton Society and the Situationist International

25904

For the last issue of the Internationale Situationniste, the group produced a small number with this ostentatiously drab, fictitious cover instead of the normal metallic covers – to avoid the censors and aid covert distribution in Eastern Europe. Another fictitious cover had been designed for issue no. 10 as well.

25904_a

By 1969 the metallic covers had become so closely identified with the journal that there is a strong sense of dissonance opening the drab covers of this edition to find the IS title page. The almost impossibly drab design and tongue-in-cheek tone of the text seem to be a wink at the knowing reader, while simultaneously being persuasive enough to bore even the most diligent censor or border agent into not flipping open the book.

25904_c

There would be no further issues of the journal, but the back cover of this edition prints a curious promise:

“Un numéro spécial de notre revue paraîtra en février 1970 wui sera consacré au compte-rendu par l’équipe du Professeur Riseau-Lebel de l’expédition de recherches sur la fosse 74 de Meni-Montang (Indonésie). Nos abonnés recevront automatiquement ce numéro spécial.”

The specificity of this announcement makes it seem as if this is a specific reference to those in the know, but we can find no record of a professor Riseau-Lebel. Perhaps he or she is still in Indonesia.

Debord, Guy, dir. Plankton. The Quarterly Bulletin of the Plankton Society, Vol. XXVII, No. 3 [Cover Title]. International Situationniste No. 12.

Paris: Internationale Situationniste, 1969. 8vo, unpaginated, saddle-stapled in printed wraps. Text in French.

Please contact us for more information about this copy, or to be notified about future acquisitions.

John Cage, 4’33”, and Four Colors of Silence

IMG_1257

Four different examples of the handbill for the first New York City performance of 4’33” in 1954

 

The premiere of John Cage’s composition 4’33” took place in Woodstock, New York, in August 1952. The piece wouldn’t be publicly performed again until April 14, 1954 by David Tudor , at Carl Fischer Hall in New York City. April 14th is Ruination Day, on which a number of historical disasters have occurred, as documented in the Gillian Welch composition of the same name, and it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to claim that this evening in New York City destroyed the traditional ways in which people perceived music.

This New York performance was likely where many of Cage’s fellow musicians and poets first encountered it, making that evening a landmark event not only in the history of conceptual art, but also a formative event for a certain attitude in the New York arts scene exemplified by the New York School and Fluxus. It is tempting to imagine who may have been in the audience, but, aside from a review the next morning in the New York Times, I’ve had difficulty finding many accounts of it in published records.

Two different handbills for the first night exist, one in a larger format on newsprint which mentions 4’33” explicitly, , and a second, smaller format handbill pictured above. At least four colors exist – light blue, cream, green, and gray, a fact I didn’t realize until I discovered this set of the cards in an apartment on the Upper West Side last month. I’ve never managed to find any ephemera documenting the Woodstock premiere, making this perhaps the first printed ephemera in relation to Cage’s most famous composition. And back in 1954, if you wanted to see David Tudor perform this piece, tickets could be ordered directly from John Cage himself with a SASE and a check for $1.80 made out to David Tudor, sent to Cage’s 12 East 17th Street address, as this card points out.

[Cage, John] David Tudor. Handbill for Two Recitals by David Tudor, including the First New York Performance of 4’33. New York: [1954. 4 x 8 1/4″, offset printed on recto. Inquire

Chris Marker & An Alternate History of Our Times

24610

Photomontage by Chris Marker

 

L’an 2000 is a strange and beautiful work of time travel, written by the noted sociologist, historian of the Paris Commune, and “prospectiviste” Decouflé. Written in 1975, the book envisages what the year 2000 would be like, 25 years in the past. The vision of 2000 in the book turned out to be an alternate history, at least in this branch of history, and Decouflé’s disappointment with how the year 2000 would deviate from his vision lead to his gradual withdrawal from the public sphere and career as a “prospectiviste”.

This book is notable for in that there is another book nestled within the asserted book, and that book was written by Chris Marker, who at the colophon is credited with the photomontage on the cover – a striking image of a photograph by Marker of a detail from Lucas Cranach the Elder’s painting Adam and Eve, nestled onto the glass visor of a USIS photograph of an astronaut made during the first moon landing. Marker also seems to have been responsible for creating an apocalyptic standalone sequence of 24 appropriated or found images, divided into four sections – Violences, Qui Vivra, Pollution, and Mythologies, with some of the images credited to Archives Marker – a beautiful montage which reads as a film, and which is strongly reminiscent of his use of found imagery in La Jetée and other films.

For those wanting to read more about the book, there is an article at chrismarker.org

We have several copies available for purchase at the DL website. The book was a trade publication, and while it is rarely seen in the US, it is not uncommon in France – readers in France might be able to find cheaper copies in used bookstores there.

[Marker, Chris] André Decouflé. L’an 2000: Une Anti-Histoire de la fin du Monde. Paris: Gallimard, 1975. 12mo, 226 pp, trade paperback.

24610_a

Chris Marker

 

24610_b

Chris Marker

 

24610_c

Chris Marker

 

24610_d

Chris Marker

 

24610_e

Chris Marker

 

24610_f

Chris Marker

 

24610_g

Chris Marker

 

24610_h

Chris Marker

 

24610_i

Chris Marker

Lucia Berlin, A Manual for Cleaning Ladies

24870_f

Detail of the Michael Myers linocut for the cover of the first edition of Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Ladies, published by the Zephyrus Image in 1977.

A Manual for Cleaning Ladies, published in 1977, is Lucia Berlin’s debut as a writer, preceding the publication of Angel’s Laundromat by four years. The book came about after Berlin sent the manuscript – originally entitled “Suicide Note, A Manual” to Ed Dorn. Her letter, which is quoted in Johnston, mentions scathing rejection letters, and concludes “P.S. 42 days sober Think I’m going to make it. Hard to write without Jim Beam, on the other hand I can read what I wrote the next day.” [Johnston, p. 126].

It is fortunate, perhaps that the story was rejected elsewhere, for the book that, Holbrook Teter, Michael Myers and Dorn created a striking book in which all the details of the publication resonate intimately with the text of the story, giving it the feel of a truly collaborative artists’ book. One of Myers linocuts painstakingly details the 14 bottles of sesame seeds found in the story.

24870_d

Linocut by Michael Myers showing 14 bottles of sesame seeds, from Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Ladies

The most striking illustration in the book shows a linocut of a cleaning lady standing boldly on top of a stove, wiping Coke off of the ceiling; the model pictured was based on a neighbor of the ZI crew in Healdsburg.

24870

Linocut by Michael Myers of the narrator cleaning Coke stains from the ceiling. From Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Ladies (1977)

Berlin was pleased with the result; in a letter to Teter quoted in Johnston, she writes “Manual is really beautiful. I’m, well, elated, never have had anything printed, (really) before. Thank you.” [Johnston, p. 126].

It would be another four years before Berlin’s work would be printed in book form again, and never as perfectly as it was here –  a fitting tribute to the work of perhaps the best short story writer of her time. Berlin’s work has finally come to a larger audience following the long overdue publication of her collected short stories, A Manual for Cleaning Women by Farrar Straus and Giroux in 2015 (I don’t know why the title was changed for the collected, but I’m sure there is a story there – please get in touch if you know.) 

Berlin, Lucia. A Manual for Cleaning Ladies. Washington DC [Actually Healdsburg, CA]: National Endowment for the Domestic Arts / Zephyrus Image, 1977. First edition. 12mo, [20] pp, shand-sewn in wraps, letterpress printed. Illustrated with four linocuts by Michael Myers. Housed in the original envelope linocut printed in green, as issued. Inquire. 

24870_b

Original printed envelope for Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Ladies, with linocut by Michael Myers.

 

24870_a

 

24870_f

 

The Missing Tattoo of the Assassin

24843_a

Detail of the Mummified Skin of Vlado Chernozemski, from J. Herber’s Tatouage et Politique, 1944

 

Some mysterious books only propagate more mysteries. J. Herber’s Tatouage et Politique is a slim and obscure pamphlet, published in Caluire in 1944 – one of a number of pamphlets on the history of tattooing which the doctor published in his lifetime. As well as the title text, it also includes two other short texts, Épigraphie du tatouage – which focused on epigraphy tattoos – and Le tatouage dans l’oeuvre d’Anatole France, an early analysis of tattoos in a literary work. The pamphlet was published as part of the Albums du Crocodile series, under the direction of L’Association Génerale de L’Internat des Hospices Civils de Lyon, of which Herber’s fellow historian of tattooing, J. Lacassagne, was associated with.

The title piece is a brief, but important attempt to understand the political elements of tattooing, of which there had been at that point (and even since then) little focused scholarly work upon. The pamphlet would have a place in the history of tattoo scholarship on the merits of that article alone, but it is perhaps more notable for including a reproduction of what appears to be a portion of the preserved skin of Vlado Chernozemski, aka Vlado the Chauffeur, the famous assassin who shot and killed Alexander of Yugoslavia – one of the first assassinations to be filmed, which has etched the act into the filmic memory of the 20th century.

This tattoo, a skull and crossbones with the initials V.M.R.O. – the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization – was originally the only clue French police had to determine his identity, which they were unable to do at the time of burial. However, this photograph of a patch of Vlado’s skin seems to suggest that he was not buried with his tattoo.

This is the only reproduction we’ve ever seen of the tattoo, though a tantalizing note states that it resides at the time of publication in the collection of Dr. Beroud, at the Musée de Criminalistique de Marseille – an institution which doesn’t seem to survive, at least under that name. A research project for some intrepid visitor to Marseille willing to make some inquiries and find the whereabouts of this missing tattoo. . .

24843

Tatouage et Politique by J. Herber

Herber, J. Tatouage et Politique. Caluire, Strasbourg, Rhône: M. Tournus fils, 1944. First edition. 8vo, 24 pp, saddle-stapled wraps printed in two colors. Illustrated with two full page reproductions and several small drawings in the text. Text in French.

Toning to margins of wraps and pages and some light handling creases, but a well-preserved, near fine example. An obscure imprint for the trade which likely had very limited distribution; OCLC locates only three holdings, all within France.  [24843] Inquire. 

 

24843_b

Detail of the Mummified Skin of Vlado Chernozemski, from J. Herber’s Tatouage et Politique, 1944

“Nulla est verae creationi Patria.” Mass and Individual Moving and Pioneer, 1981-

massmovingpioneerdetail

Mass and Individual Moving, Detail from the Poster Prospectus for Pioneer, 1981

 

In 1981 the Belgian-based art group Mass and Individual Moving debuted their newest project at the ICC Antwerp – a large, wooden, solar-powered printing press named Pioneer. Ten poets were invited to contribute poetic slogans, which were printed in high letters on large broadsides. The first slogan printed off of the press was the latin phrase “Nulla est verae creationi Patria”, which ORAS on the Mechano-Art website translates as “genuine creation is stateless.” My Latin is rusty and was never that good to begin with, but I believe that the phrase could also have an additional connotation suggesting that the political homeland cannot be created, or is impossible. The broadside bearing this statement was exhibited at later actions by Pioneer, and it draws attention to the truly radical nature of the project.

While the history of portable printing presses is a long and complex one, such as the use of printing presses on trains following the October Revolution, or the portable printing presses used by armies in the US Civil war, this technological advance usually was used for ideological or state-based means and connected the infrastructure of the state or army. (An exception is the artistic uses which the mimeograph machine was put to in the Mimeograph Revolution, when it was used to create work to respond to the rapid political changes of the 1960’s, such as the Motherfuckers printing broadside retorts to Bill Graham in New York at the very town hall meeting at which he was speaking). The solar power source of Pioneer is so radical in an ecological sense because it doesn’t rely on political infrastructures, making it a stateless work, an aspect reinforced by the peripatetic nature of the project in later years, as it traveled to France, Germany, and finally to Mechra-Ben-Abou, where it was used to print broadsides at the edge of the Sahara.

The impact of the work is reinforced by its size. Instead of subscribing to the trend of miniaturization that is so inextricably linked with portability in our technological age, Pioneer makes a different sort of impact due to the large size and weight (350 kg) of the press, and the oversized banners which it printed – an aspect of the work reinforced by the size of this poster documentation of the work.

Pioneer is still intact, and now rests at the Verbeke Foundation.

Mass and Individual Moving, and its antecedent group, Mass Moving, were one of the most radical art groups of the postwar period, but they are almost completely unknown in the US, and their works seem to be very poorly represented in US museums and libraries. Part of this may be due to the scarcity of printed works which are exant – Mass Moving is famous for having burnt much of their output upon the dissolution of the group.

Pioneer seems even more relevant today then in the decade in which it was created, and it would be amazing to see the monolothic printing press on the move again, or for a contemporary group to create a work that is as revolutionary as Pioneer was.

24793

Mass and Individual Moving, Poster Prospectus for Pioneer, 1981

Inquire. 

The Burning Rag: Le Torchon Brule, 1970-1973

24840

Detail from the cover of Le Torchon Brule No. 3

 

Le Torchon Brule was one of the most important feminist periodicals published in France in the 1970’s, which was an early and indispensable part of the second wave feminist movement in the country in the aftermath of the events of 1968. Iissue zero was published as an insert in the Libertarian newspaper L’Idiote Liberte, complete with dotted lines so the reader could cut and assemble the first issue.

24840_a

Le Torchon Brule, Issue No. 0

The periodical ended with the sixth number, though there was also a special Mother’s Day supplement, which was issued with no. 5 but is not often seen. 

24840_h

Le Torchon Brule, Mother’s Day Supplement to No. 5

The title of the periodical, which could be literally translated into English as “the dishcloth burns” is a French euphemism for domestic strife, with the connotation of an ongoing or running battle. Le Torchon Brule was a group project and radical with regards to content and format, with each issue being created by a different group of women.

Claire Duchen’s eloquent appraisal of the periodical is so good it deserves quoting at length:

“The Torchon’s aim was to reflect the MLF’s increased diversity and share opinions and experiences, to break women’s silence, leave an imprint on paper and therefore in history. There was desire to produce polished journalism, but instead to avoid the division between those who can write and those who read and to encourage women to write whether they thought they could or not. Women wrote about themselves, their life histories, their anger and their feelings about the MLF. The texts are often difficult to read, as they lack structure and coherence – thoughts ramble, ideas are repeated, sentences are unfinished. The reader’s expectations are constantly arrested in the process of reading and then suspended; there was no censorship, no editorial policy, no columns on the page, no rubrics; on the page, drawings, pictures, handwriting and typescripts, all in many colours, jostled for space. Articles were written anonymously, both to show that names belonged to fathers and husbands and to avoid the creation of a star system. . . “ Duchen, pp. 11-12.

From a design perspective, Le Torchon Brule is remarkable for the extent to which the lack of a unified graphic design across the numbers seamlessly and successfully became the design itself, always provocative and involving the reader with each line and image – an achievement which has few parallels in the era.

24840_k

Le Torchon Brule

 

24840_j

Le Torchon Brule

24840_i

Le Torchon Brule

Claire Duchen’s book  Feminism in France: From May ’68 to Mitterrand, from which the above quote is taken, is an indispensable account of the milieu out of which Le Torchon Brule emerged, and has been our companion in reading through the periodical.

No. 0: 4to, 24 pages [including covers], offset printed on newsprint with two color cover. Numbers 1-5: Tabloid format, offset printed on newsprint in color. With supplement to No. 5: 4to, [8] pages, folded, unbound sheets offset printed in blue on newsprint.

The Poetic Exploration of the Swarming Possibilities in American Life

lansingsetdetail

Detail from Harry Martin’s cover illustration for Set #1

In the first issue of Set the editor was clear about the lofty aims of the magazine, as he laid out in the poem manifesto in the first issue;

“This magazine is about the poetic exploration of the swarming possibilities (some occult, unused) in American life, urban & local (the rural is no longer available to poetry; to life?) here & especially now.”

What is truly remarkable about Set is not just the fact that it accomplished those goals, but the generous and various way that it accomplishes them, mirroring the generosity of Lansing’s own poetry, which joins the erudite and the accessible with such a light touch that it casts doubt upon any hierarchical distinction between the two.

The best magazines are intersectional rather than exemplary. Plenty of periodicals give the flavor of a like-minded school of poets, but the particular genius of Set was the way in which it sounds a resonance between disparate writers, just as the color red aligns and raises the three letters of the title out from the jostling mass of black lettering on the Harry Martin cover for issue no. 1. Set included poets associated with the Bay Area Renaissance, the Boston Scene, the New York School, and even one Fra Perdurabo – aka Aleister Crowley. The first issue prints three excerpts from The Book of Lies.

Set at Division Leap.

Set #1 and Set #1 are both hosted as pdf’s and available to read for free at the Pennsound website.