by Ulises Carrión
Over ninety examples of artists' bookworks show the creative re-invention of the book form of communication. Narrated by archivist Ulises Carrión, he says artist's books are an artform in their own right and they embody the uses of many media. Transcription ©1992 Bill H. Ritchie. This videotape is $50 plus $9 handling and postage and may be ordered on-line with PayPal or by using your e-mail.
Ulises Carrión died in 1989. Several years before, he visited the U.S. with a stop in Washington State where Bill Ritchie arrangements to talk with students and faculty at The Evergreen State College, Olympia. Here is the soundtrack from the videotape slide show he prepared ahead and let Bill distribute the video in the US. Ulises Carrión was influential in defining the nature of artist-made books.
Videotape sound track
Following are the opening titles on the screen as the tape
"A selection, both limited in scope and quite arbitrary but nevertheless of great significance of bookworks from Ulises Carrión's Other Books and So Archive"
Above text is that of Ulises Carrión on his video of Other Books and So Archive. On screen the viewer sees wooden card file boxes, for storing index cards, and the speaker's hands. He opens each box and you see that they are full of cards.
In alphabetical order: "People I've Met; Artists; Non-Artists;
My best Friends - People I Love; People I Admire; There Has Been
A Change in Our Relationship of Late."
This book of mine is partly real facts, and partly fantasy.
The real fact is that I love lists of names. Card indexes, retrieval
information systems - that sort of thing. No wonder I have an
archive at home, The Other Books and So Archive, which
includes a collection of artists' books.
Throughout the tape, Carrión speaks this way, and then shows five or ten books, pronouncing the artists' names and leafing through the book to show its character. At this point, he shows eight artists' books.
Then the viewer sees him again as a "talking head," and then he makes another statement about bookworks.
I am not a book collector. The books in the Archive are those
I've been given by the makers. The collection has grown because
I've met personally quite a number of artists, and printers, here,
or while traveling abroad. And also because in the mid-seventies,
I opened in Amsterdam the first gallery ever specialized in Artists'
Books, the Other Books and So, later to become the Other
Books and So Archive.
Seven more artists' books are shown.
In March, 1975, three weeks after opening Other books and
So, I sent more than one thousand letters asking artists,
writers, and publishers to send books. I didn't include any precise
definition of the works I was interested in. I only said I wanted,
quote "The sort of books you make," end of quote. A
few days later, packages started arriving. From North and South
America, from Western and Eastern Europe, from Japan and from
Here, eight more artists' books are shown.
Not every book I receive becomes part of the Archive. Only
real artists' books, or documents related to artists' books, are
kept here. Artists also produce catalogs and books which are completely
traditional. But this archive is not the place for them. Unless
these books represent specific and discernable comment on books
in general - like Andy Warhol's novel - or like some exceptional
catalogs that function as authentic artists' books.
Eight artists' books are shown.
Among the many sorts of publications by artists, the only
genre implying an essential renewal for art and for books is the
so-called bookworks. For an artists' book to be a bookwork, it
is essential that it looks and functions like an ordinary book.
That means: No unusual size, no extravagant materials, no eccentric
Following this, eight more artists' books are shown.
The very ordinariness of bookworks guarantees their place
in the general context of culture, that is, of art. A specialized
art context becomes then, irrelevant; or, at most, anecdotic.
The most direct way of achieving ordinariness is to mimic any
well-known genre of ordinary book - in form and content. TV Guides,
elementary school manuals, intimate diaries, telephone books,
etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
Ten artists' books shown. Then, his "talking head."
Carrión is lip-syncing these sections because the first
time he recorded, the live sound track was lost.
People often ask, "If an artist's book must look like
an ordinary book in order to reach the supreme status of 'bookwork',
how can you then tell the difference between ordinary books and
bookworks?" Well, bookworks only look ordinary; they
are not. They are intended to create regions of looking, specific
conditions of reading. And here is where the old sanctuaries of
art, like galleries and museums, etcetera, have a role to play.
Then, eight more artists' books are displayed.
There's no real place for bookworks in bookshops. There's
no real place for bookworks in libraries. Not because booksellers
and librarians are reactionary, are they? But because of all sorts
of reasons: One book may be too small, another may be too giant,
may be too expensive, or even too cheap. Another may be too hard
to find or too poorly bound, or it could have a text in an unknown
Another book could be suspected of pornography, or nonsense,
or could be badly printed. Or maybe the artist stinks. Really,
I don't want to dramatize the point. The fact is that, whereas
bookshops and libraries remain firmly closed, galleries, museums
and the like, sometimes open their doors.
Six artists' books shown here.
Some artists, including some of those who produce bookworks,
never set foot in a bookshop. This might be a healthy attitude.
But they are all aware - they must be all aware of books - and
they refer to them in their works. This happens in all sorts of
ways, from recycling mass-produced paperbacks to exploiting to
the extreme the possibilities offered by various reproduction
Seven more artists' books are seen.
Artists' publishing activities include more than simply bookworks.
I don't mean so-called object books or linguistic multiples. They
don't necessarily imply any particular printing technique. What
I mean is that, artists, besides publishing bookworks, also make
newspapers, postcard wallets playing cards sets, magazines, assemblies,
collections of essays, etcetera. A selection, which only includes
bookworks, like this one, is both limited in scope and quite arbitrary.
Only five artists' books shown here.
A selection which only includes bookworks, may at first seem
limited in scope; but in reality it has great significance. Because
in order to present only bookworks, we have been forced to exclude
a lot of artists' books which don't embody a statement on books
in general. And that was the point of the exercise: the reason
for books to be made by artists in the first place.
Ulises shows five more artists' books.
I firmly believe that every book that now exists will eventually
disappear. And I see here no reason for lamentation. Like any
other living organism, books will grow, multiply, change color,
and, eventually, die. At the moment, bookworks represent the final
phase of this irrevocable process. Libraries, museums, archives
are the perfect cemeteries for books.
Six artists' books, the final showing.
Why should an artist open a gallery? Why should he keep an
archive? Because I believe art - as a practice - has been superseded
by a more complex, more rigorous and richer practice: Culture.
We've reached a privileged, historical moment when keeping an
archive can be an artwork.
Closing credits roll: "Concept and Production: Ulises
Cameras: Michael Shabtay, Paul Muller
Text Consultant: Annie Wright
Edited at Stampij, Amsterdam
Transcription of soundtrack by Nellie Sunderland
Original Copyright Netherlands 1986 U. Carrión"
This 36-minute videotape is available for US$50.00, plus $9 postage and handling, directly from Ritchie's Video, a division of Emeralda Works, at 500 Aloha #105, Seattle, WA 98109 (206) 498-9208. All rights are reserved by Bill Ritchie. Requests for permission to reprint this transcription should also be sent by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bill Ritchie has spoken to many groups on artists' books, since discovering Carrión's essay, Bookworks in The Print Collector's Newsletter. Like Carrión, Ritchie relates new technologies to books, focusing on the artists' books' relation to hypermedia.