I can’t speak for all the books in these sets, but I’d like to focus on 1c Life and Ein Gedicht fur ein Buch as examples of Livres d’Artiste that are both artistic and intellectual. The design and structure of the livres work with their contents to enhance the purpose of the book, and make for a more meaningful experience than just having the illustrations or poetry stand alone.
For 1c Life, a collaboration of poetry by Walasse Ting and with lithographs by many Pop artists, the book captures the zeitgeist of the 1940-50s. The specific choice of Pop Art over other art styles (like say, realism) indicate that the purpose of the book might have been – like the rest of the Pop Art movement, as Mamiya observes – to criticize the broader culture of America at the time.
This is especially apparent in one of the earlier poems (the title of which I can’t remember) which is about the devastation of the atomic bomb, engulfed by an image of lynchings. Another poem, “Around the U.S.A.” depicts an image of an idealized comic book blonde and a finger on the button of a spray can hovering over a poem that at one point says regarding women, “You will never be angry crying mad/It is great to live/with artificial flowers.”
Certainly, the images don’t literally match the poems, but they offer an interpretation of the text that makes the reader consider the poem in context of culture. Perhaps the reader may think about the media’s idealized images versus the darker reality, or the way the dominant culture prefers to overlook the horrors it has caused through lynchings and bombings. Thus, the images help to enhance the poem’s message.
A similar effect applies to Ein Gedicht, where it further uses the structure and material of the book itself to strengthen the message. The poem by Yoko Tawada is scattered across pages with black and white photography by Stephan Kohler, all printed on very thin pages. This leads to the shadows of images blending with each other, and the words themselves become thin and transient. I get the impression that the poem is discussing loss and the brief nature of life, and while I can’t find a full translation of the poem, there’s one passage from it that supports this interpretation: “one hears without ears/a word/freed from its duty … the drum falls/noiselessly.” The book has a very simple message, and is not overproduced, as Zweig fears. The effects of the images changing and melding together as the pages are turned help the poem deliver its theme.