Chris Marker & An Alternate History of Our Times

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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.

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Chris Marker

 

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Chris Marker

 

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Chris Marker

 

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Chris Marker

 

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Chris Marker

 

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Chris Marker

 

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Chris Marker

 

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Chris Marker

 

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Chris Marker

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

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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.

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Mass and Individual Moving, Poster Prospectus for Pioneer, 1981

Inquire. 

The Burning Rag: Le Torchon Brule, 1970-1973

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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Le Torchon Brule

 

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Le Torchon Brule

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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 Octopus with the Look of Silk: Pedro Leandro Ipuche, Isidore Ducasse, and Borges

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Woodcut of Maldoror as an Octopus

 

After a long search I recently tracked down a copy of one of the most obscure studies of Isidore Ducasse, this obscure and exuberant booklet by the Uruguayan poet Pedro Leandro Ipuche in 1926. Ipuche was a friend of Borges during his ultraist period, and around this time collaborated with him on the little magazine Proa. Readers of the fictions of Borges may remember a character of the same name cited in the story ‘Funes, el Memorioso’.

 

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Ipuche appearing in the Borges story “Funes, His Memory” [trans. Andrew Hurley]

The present pamphlet is dedicated to the Guillot Muñoz brothers, “y por cuyo libro fui al Libro del Furioso Desolado” – presumable a reference to their work Lautréamont et Laforgue, which had been published the year prior. It was through the brothers that Ipuche became one of the small handful of people (the others being Jules Supervielle and Mendez Gabariños) to examine the daguerrotype of Isidore Ducasse given to the Guillot Muñoz brothers by Mrs. Jean-Julien Ducasse, before it was seized by the Montevideo police during a raid and disappeared. According to the account by Enrique Pichon-Rivière, Ipuche thought that in the photograph Ducasse had the air of a young Montevideano, and it was perhaps out of this inference that the present work was conceived.

It was from this photograph that Gabariños based his two etchings of Ducasse upon. to Pichon-Rivière’s account suggests that those who were familiar with the photograph thought that there was little similarity between the etchings and the portrait, and suggests somehow that some sort of madness visited Gabariños as a result.

The book is illustrated with a single plate bearing a striking full page woodcut entitled” “Poulpe au regarde du soie”, a reference to the passage in Maldoror in which the protagonist turns into an octopus in order to consume God. The woodcut is unattributed, and we can’t determine whether it was made specifically for this work or appropriated from an existing source. If you know, please get in touch.

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Montevideo, 1926

Ipuche, Pedro Leandro. Isidoro Luciano Ducasse (Conde de Lautréamont). Poeta Uruguayo.

Montevideo: Peña Hnos, 1926.12mo, 16 pp, saddle-stapled wraps. Illustrated with a single woodcut. Previous owner’s signature to the title and dedication pages, and elegant annotations throughout in ink.

Rare. OCLC locates only two holdings, and none in North America.  

Purchase.

 

 

 

 

 

The Imprint of the Pilgrimage: John Carswell’s Coptic Tattoo Designs

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Earlier this year, thanks to a bookseller in a distant seaport town I tracked down a copy of a book I’d been looking for for many years – one of the 13 original copies of John Carswell’s Coptic Tattoo Designs. I’d first heard of the existence of it while I was a student of religion at Reed College in the 1990’s, in professor Michael Foat’s class on the Coptic Language. While doing background reading for that class I came across a copy of the second, expanded edition of the book. The colophon of that copy had a tantalizing note which stated that the original edition was published privately in Jerusalem by the author in an edition of only 13 copies. I’d been looking for it ever since, and had almost given up on ever seeing a copy before this.

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Sometimes discovering a book after such a prolonged search can be anti-climactic, but it wasn’t in this case. What the colophon of the second edition didn’t note was that this first edition is essentially a different work. The second edition is offset printed, and while being a beautiful and historically important work and sought after in its own right, is essentially an academic study. The 1956 edition is a bound collection of 71 original prints made directly from the wooden blocks which the Razzouk family uses as template guides, at least one of which dates back to 1749, and was published in Jerusalem, rather than Beirut.

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The book has a remarkable auratic quality like no other book I’ve seen. The paper still bears the indentations of the original blocks, which can be felt by running one’s fingers over the verso of each page. Feeling the imprint of these ancient blocks, it is impossible not to imagine the generations of pilgrims whose skin these blocks touched, many of whom have long since passed on from this world. In many ways books become a stand-in or metaphor for the human body, the terms used to describe books often anthropomorphic – the spine, the crown, the foot. In this book, the each page seems to almost become a reverse extension of the skin of the pilgrims, preserving the very imprint of a tradition that, being mostly inscribed on more mortal skin, would otherwise pass from our memory. 

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The second edition is a scarce and coveted work in it’s own right, but this first edition is of near mythological rarity. The first example we’ve seen in ten years of searching. OCLC locates no holdings; KVK locates one holding, at the IAA (Israel Antiquities Authority).

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The colophon of the second edition states that this first edition was limited to ten numbered and three lettered copies. This example bears no colophon or imprint information, but the one page forward here matches the brief description of the first edition in Carswell’s foreward to the second edition. It is unknown whether this copy has been rebound without the limitation page, and furthermore, since we’ve been unable to compare this with any other example, we’re unsure whether or not this example is in the original binding or not, though we suspect that this is an early rebind, or perhaps a later binding of sheets from the first printing. We welcome anyone who has seen an example of the first edition to get in touch for comparison.

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J. C. [John Carswell]. Coptic Tattoo Designs.

[Jerusalem]: [John Carswell], [1956]. First edition. 4to, offset printed title page and 1 p. introduction, signed “J.C.”, followed by 71 prints from the original woodblocks on 56 leaves. Bound, possibly at a later date in red leatherette, and titled in gilt at the spine.

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Agnes Varda and la côte d’azur

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Lately I’ve been making a systematic effort to read through the volumes of Chris Marker’s Petite Plànete series, and marveling all over again at what a profound détournement of the by-then moribund travel guide format they are. With the exception of William Klein’s Life is Good and Good For You, there seems to have been very little that has been influenced by them, or bears much an affinity with them, at least that I’ve been able to discover. A notable exception is this remarkable travelogue as photobook by Chris Marker’s friend, Agnes Varda.

The inventive layout, sly humor and mixture of Varda’s own photographs with found imagery from advertising and historical ephemera is remarkable. There is even a Giradoux quote in the foreward.

One reason for the obscurity of the title might be the fragility of the binding. Most copies seem to have detached pages. Perhaps someday someone will reissue the book. In the meanwhile, track down a copy to put on that lonely shelf with all of your little planets.

 

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Contact us for availability.

An Early Description of a Professional Tattoo Kit from the German Underworld

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Near the end of the 19th century a pickpocket was arrested in the German town of Mainz. This was in itself an ordinary occurrence, but in his belongings were discovered a notebook full of drawings, many of them categorized by profession, along with vials of red and black ink and wooden needles, all housed in a spectacle case. The drawings in the album were templates for tattoos, and the man claimed to have purchased this kit from a tattoo artist in the mountains, who specialized in the sale of these kits – perhaps named Joseph Ragozet.

 

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The kit so fascinated judge Fritz Eller that he sent along a description of the kit, along with photographs of the drawings, to the sociologist and criminologist Franz Gross, which is how this early and valuable documentation of a portable tattoo kit in the German underworld came to be published in a periodical devoted to criminal anthropology. Like much of the scarce early modern research into tattoos, it comes from a criminological or medical standpoint. Gross was fascinated enough by the case to contribute a foreward to the article, in which he makes the claim that this may be the first description of such a commercial, portable kit. There must have been earlier descriptions – if you know of any, please get in touch.

 

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Eller fortunately goes into some detail on the method of tattooing. The design is first drawn onto the flesh with the drawing as a template and then the long wooden needles, also dipped in ink, puncture the skin. Smaller tattoos could be done in as little time as a quarter of an hour with this method. According to this account, the wooden needles were very painful, and customers often vomited or passed out from the pain, or interrupted the process, often leaving a partial tattoo.

 

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The drawings are strikingly beautiful, direct in line but finely detailed and very expressive. The division according to occupation is especially fascinating from an anthropological standpoint, indicating the sort of workers who might get a tattoo – there are plenty of designs for seamen, of course, but also portrayed are Seiltänzerin (funambulist or tightrope walker), Kufeltänzerin (juggler), Ballspieler (ball player?), zirkusreiterin (circus rider), Räuberhauptmann (Robber chief), Maurer (bricklayer), Bäcker (baker), Barbier (barber), Metzger (butcher), taubenkönigin, Schlosser (locksmith), Kutscher (coachman), etc.  – all the best occupations, though unfortunately we don’t find one for bookseller.

 

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Eller, Fritz. ‘Ein Vorlagebuch für Tätowierungen’ in Archiv für Kriminal-Anthropologie und Kriminalistik 19. Band, 1. u 2. Heft. Leipzig: Verlag von F. C. W. Vogel, 1905. 8vo, 207 pp, rebound at an early date in brown leatherette over marbled boards, titled in gilt at the spine.

Please visit the Tattooing section of our website to view other rare tattoo books at DL.

David Markson, Women and Vodka

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The first edition of this unusual anthology, in which short stories and excerpts from larger works (including a piece by Isaac Babel) are collaged together and commercially packaged into a convenient narrative of female decline. The cover features an illustration by the illustrator Lou Marchetti, who lent his distinctive style to many crime fiction and western pulps of the era.  Mark Merrill was a pseudonym of David Markson, and this is his first published book. The anthology was re-released in 1963 under the less titillating, but perhaps equally convenient title Great Tales of Old Russia.

While the primary motive behind the book may have been financial, as with his other early detective novels, the collage aspect of the book and the excellent selection of Russian works are the beginning of a trajectory that would culminate in Markson’s great, last collage novels.

I never knew Markson well, but when I worked at the Strand in the early aughts I sometimes used to talk to him about books in the evenings when he would come in and make his rounds. This wasn’t unusual; Markson’s well-known affection for the bookstore extended to many of the employees. I remember that he was the first person to mention the works of Isaac Babel to me. I was foolish enough to wait a few years to read Babel, just as I foolishly delayed reading Markson’s own work until after my acquaintance with him . Seeing Babel’s work here reinforces that particular regret of reading a book later then one would like.

The cover art of this book has a resonance to me that goes back even further. My first foray into bookselling was at the age of 9. I specialized in Louis L’amour books, a natural decision because at the time he was my favorite author. I discovered I could buy them at garage sales for 10 cents and sell them for 25 to 50 cents – a significant amount of money in rural Oregon during the decline of the timber industry in the 1980’s. I judged the salability of a western largely on the cover art. Marchetti’s work on the cover of a L’Amour made it eminently saleable. Seeing his work more than a quarter century later, on the cover of a work by somebody who has since become one of the my favorite writers, gives me that particular sense of vertigo one feels when disparate strands of time suddenly elide. This feeling is so often caused by the physical fact of books, and is one of the great pleasures of reading that I don’t think will ever transfer to their electronic counterparts. -Adam Davis

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Merrill, Mark, ed. [pseudonym of David Markson]. Women and Vodka. New York: Pyramid Books, 1956. First edition. 12mo, 190 [2] pp, wraps [illustrated by Lou Marchetti].

OCLC locates only five holdings of the first edition.

A square, near fine copy with some light creasing and toning to the wraps. 

Purchase.

More books by David Markson.

Ray Johnson Dreams of Marcel Duchamp

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Johnson, Ray. Untitled Collage “Duchamp had also painted an overdoor in the drawing room. . .”.

np: [1958]. 8 1/2 x 11″, collage with graphite holograph on white paper. Folded twice and housed in the original mailing envelope, postmarked in 1958.

The publication last year of Not Nothing: Selected Writings, 1954-1994, by the excellent people at Siglio Press was one of my favorite books of the year. It brought much needed attention to Johnson’s work as writer, and he was one of the most consistently fascinating writers of his time, though his strange texts are often overshadowed by the emphasis on the visual element of his work.

This is my work by Johnson – a simple collage consisting of an engraving of men working on roofs, from an unknown source, matched with a handwritten text by Johnson recounting a dream visit to the Duchamp residence. An early tribute to an artist that would arguably influence Johnson’s body of work more than any other, as references to Duchamp abound throughout Johnson’s oeuvre.

Ray Johnson wasn’t the only artist to dream about Duchamp – the matter of fact quality of his account is similar to Joseph Cornell’s transcriptions of dreams he had about Duchamp in the late 60’s, or even the gangster in the fourth case of the film Dreams That Money Can Buy – the Duchamp scene -in which the gangster wants a dream that will help him win horse races – all three scenes installments in a hypnagogic, alternate dream history of influence in conceptual art.

The work was included in Not Nothing: The Selected Writings of Ray Johnson, as plate no. 8.

The 1968 Columbia Strike at the Speed of Mimeograph

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Up Against the Wall / Mother Fucker, 1968

By the 1960’s, the Mimeograph was not a new technology, having been in widespread use for decades. Towards the end of the decade, however, something novel happens – various social movements began to use the cheap and easily available technology of the Mimeograph to respond to events with increasing speed, sometimes even during the event itself. In San Francisco, Com/Co and the Diggers begin use their Gestetner’s to respond to current events. At the Invisible Circus event at Glide Church, Brautigan and Com/Co set up the John Dillinger Computer Complex to print “news” leaflets covering the celebration. In New York, the Motherfuckers lug a mimeograph machine to community meetings with Bill Graham about the Fillmore East and issue leaflets denouncing his speaking points while he is still addressing the crowd. But no event embodies this tendency more than the occupation of Columbia University in 1968, when a network of groups issued an avalanche of mimeographed leaflets from occupied classrooms and off campus apartments in order to comment on the events and urge the participation of others.

It was a watershed moment in print culture that has interesting parallels to the use of social media during protests in recent years. Cataloguing a recently acquired collection of flyers from the strike has given us opportunity to examine this relationship between print technology and activism.

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Division Leap offers a collection of more than 150 pamphlets, leaflets, circulars, minutes, manifestos and communiques related to the 1968 Strike and Occupation of Columbia. Please inquire for more details.