Scale: Intimacy and Intimidation


As I was reflecting on the books we’ve encountered in the past few weeks, Julie Chen’s Evidence of Compression stood out in my memory as one of the most intriguing books of the semester. Chen’s structure is immediately striking and unusual. The book appears as a rounded three-dimensional object that resembles a stone or a clam. It takes a few moments of investigation to determine how to open the book, which has one hinge that connects its top and bottom halves. The book itself has a noticeable weight and solidity that enhance its physical presence and mystery as you view and handle the object. Inside the clam structure are two small books with rounded pages that can fan open to create oval structures that represent the pearls of Chen’s Evidence of Compression. Just as the outside structure required physical exploration, the interior books must be held closely, creating an intimate space of exchange. The scale of Chen’s work enables closeness between viewer and the object as successful exploration of its structure and text requires careful examination. As a feminist book, the relationship created by Chen between book and reader emphasizes the forced silence of women and the difficulty of expressing female experience in a patriarchal society. The words of the small books that imply the unspoken by spelling out “words beyond words” on the pages and which are difficult to locate and discern because of the object’s structure, are the Evidence of Compression and the evidence of oppression.


Italia Imperiale also manipulates the relationship between book and viewer through scale, but the experience contrasts sharply with that of Evidence of Compression. While Chen facilitates intimacy between text and reader, the grand scale of Morgagni’s book aims to intimidate. The weight and size of the book control how its pages are turned, as strength is required to access the text. Italia Imperiale thus challenges and makes demands of its viewer before revealing its contents. The scale of Morgagni’s book emphasizes the power and importance of Musolini’s regime, and presents Italy’s imperial history in a solid and daunting form that accentuates the nation’s dominance. While Chen prompts cautious consideration by concealing her text in small pages, Morgagni overwhelms with large text and formidable images. In both books meaning is emphasized through presentation, and the creator manipulates engagement with the book in order to communicate the feminist or fascist experience.

If I were stranded on a desert island I would be in good company if I had brought with me Babara Luck’s Night Street and Pablo Neruda’s Las Piedras del Cielo.  I believe that both books have the depth to engage and entertain for a prolonged period of time. To me neither opened and ended with the rushed turning of the pages, but instead revealed greater layers for examination. While Zweig’s description of the power of the novel resonates with me, I think that both Night Street and Las Piedras del Cielo  have the ability to compel the viewer beyond the fleeting impact of a brief encounter with stunning pages that Zweig claims many artist books are limited to.

I was incredibly impressed with Night Street’s construction, colors, and design. Vliet designed the book so that the experience of viewing the book could be changeable through the flexibility of the structure. Night Street is clearly more than the flipping of beautiful pages. While the book may be viewed in a traditional codex form, the structure designed by Vliet enables the book to stand up and fan out or wrap around itself. The illustrations by Johnson are beautiful, eye-catching and edgy, enhanced by the cut out shape of each page that follow the corners of tall buildings. There is such detail to each page that it would not be impossible to spend hours taking in each illustration. The way that the book is able to stand up and fan out emphasizes the message of the book as you view the pages through one another at a diagonal that follows the view of buildings down a street. In the way that a city can draw you in again and again, I believe that a viewer may continually visit and explore Night Street. If I were on a desert island, a walk through the replicated urban landscape would be an incredibly valuable experience.

Neruda’s Las Piedras del Cielo had a similar flexibility and mutability of engagement. The prints of each page are beautiful on their own, but when limited to themselves Zweig might classify them as the stunning book that ended with the final page turn. The interlaying of Neruda’s poems within the prints adds depth to both the physical form of each page and to the meaning of the book overall. The lifting of flaps to reveal poetic verse literally places meaning within each print that is revealed through the tactile engagement of the viewer. Beyond juxtaposition, the poems and prints relate to one another through their imagery, as Neruda’s poem “Topaz” sat on a page of yellows and oranges that represented the gemstone. Moving through Las Piedras del Cielo requires the viewer to reveal the words of each page through their movement and exploration of each page, and in effect demonstrates how meaning is dependent on the viewer. Zweig could flip quickly through the stunning pages of Neruda’s book and end her experience with the closing of the codex, but much of the work would be lost in her superficial haste. Both Las Piedras del Cielo and Night Street enable the viewer to shape their encounter with the book and activate and enhance the meaning of the book on their own terms. Within both books I saw the potential for prolonged engagement.


For this book set I was drawn to the The Doves Bible and Harold McGrath’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I enjoyed the simplicity of both books and the cleanness of their page layouts. Based on his essay “The Ideal Book” I know that Morris would have an entirely different opinion on each book. The text of both books is published in Roman font, which Morris would have been opposed to, claiming that the type contributed to illegibility. Of the two books, the Doves Bible would have been the least offensive to Morris. The minimalism of the page layout contrasts with the stunningly decorated pages of Morris’ publication of Chaucer; however, it suggests the simplicity of the incunables that he admired. In his essay Morris claims “that a book quite un-ornamented can look actually and positively beautiful, and not merely un-ugly,” suggesting that he may have found beauty in the cleanness of the pages of the Doves Bible that reference older text through their strict justification and usage of black and red (67).


Contrastingly, Morris would have found great fault with McGrath’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as it demonstrated the type of industrial manufacturing that he objected to. While the spacing of the Doves Bible is relatively tight despite the airiness of the Roman font, the lines of Huck Finn are noticeably separated. Morris would have commended the pages of the Doves Bible for their handmade quality, and would have criticized Huck Finn for its commercial paper.



I agree with Morris when he states that an un-ornamented book can possess beauty, as I find beauty in the controlled simplicity of the Doves Bible; however, I am unable to relate to his opinions on illegibility. Perhaps it is my modern perspective, but I found the published pages of Chaucer to be the most difficult text to read of the books that we viewed. The business of each page and the closeness of the thick, black text made the words difficult to focus on and decipher, but I also have very poor eyesight. After seeing many crumbling modern books whose pages have acidified I can understand Morris’ criticism of industrial manufacturing, and admire the enduring pages of the Doves Bible. However, I do not think that the value of such books as McGrath’s Huck Finn should be entirely written off because of their manufactured nature. The text and the detailed illustrations are still well crafted and still hold meaning.


Jazz vs. Cortege

The focus of Jazz is its images. Matisse writes the text in order to enhance the visual elements by providing a break or pause in visual stimulation through the simplicity of the textual pages. Because the creation of the text revolves around the images, it appears as the secondary element of the book. The visual hierarchy and interplay between text and images creates a more relaxed viewing experience as you are given time to take in each print. The contrast between the boldness of their color and the cleanness of Matisse’s handwriting emphasizes the drama of the images. While the images of Jazz take precedence over the text—appearing more visually engaging and having been constructed prior to the text—the words of Matisse still possess meaning and play an important role within the book as a whole.

Despite the secondary nature of the text, it still reflects intentions of Matisse to create a cohesive interaction between text and visual. The act of handwriting creates a more personal connection to the artist. The casual cursive is simple, but still aesthetically pleasing. The words themselves hold relevance within the book as Matisse reflects on the construction of the images and the visual and textual relationship he has created.

The influence of Jazz on Lecuire is evident in Cortege. Between the two books I found Jazz to be the more aesthetically pleasing. The relationship between text and image in Matisse’s book is subtle and understated as the pages of words allow you to breathe. Cortege follows a similar style by juxtaposing pages of text with full pages of images; however, Lecuire creates a more visually demanding interplay. Unlike the casual curves of Matisse’s handwritten script, the typographic text in Cortege is thick and loud, filling each page. Similarly, the images are full of colors that collide together. Cortege has a greater intensity that mirrors Lecuire’s intense ideas about how he wanted his materials to be published. While there is a staggering of importance between the images and words of Jazz, the poetry and images in Cortege fight for dominance. Both elements are loud and attention grabbing as Lecuire aims to maintain some visual equality between his poetry and Lanskoy’s images. While Matisse would have viewed the text he wrote for Jazz as support for his images, Lecuire may have believed the reverse for Cortege as he hoped to supplement his poetry with the images.

Blake and Young


Of the first book set I was most interested in Night Thoughts. I was first drawn to the book because of the familiarity of the illustrations. William Blake is one of my favorite poets, and I have always enjoyed his combination of text and image; his Songs of Innocence and of Experience was one of my first encounters with cohesive visual and textual elements. As I read the lyric The Tyger I was always struck by how Blake’s artistry extended beyond the verse as he illustrated his subject in the background of the calligraphic lines.


Having only read and viewed the engravings of Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience I was surprised when I looked at Night Thoughts to discover that Blake illustrated for poetic works beyond his own. While I personally prefer Blake’s poetry to Young’s, I found the combination to be stimulating as Blake’s engravings further dramatized Young’s verse. The flowing lines of Blake’s images implied a movement that was mirrored in Young’s determined pace.

The binding of Night Thoughts followed the cool color scheme that Blake employed in the book’s pages, and was eye-catching in its difference from the other books that we viewed. However, I would have enjoyed seeing the original leather binding of the book as it would have completed my first exposure to an original 18th century publication of Blake’s illustrations.