15 Nov 2019 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

I concluded my last post by quoting Ulises Carrión, a concrete poet and book artist. Carrión is perhaps best known for the manifesto The New Art of Making Books, which he wrote in Spanish in 1975.  Because at least two serviceable translations into English already exist [1], my own recent translation of The New Art of Making Books was not prompted by any pressing need for a new one. Rather, I simply wanted to experience this seminal manifesto in its original language. 

At the time I was translating The New Art of Making Books, I was also making a series of book-objects. As I worked on them, I often found myself mulling over the question Carrion poses at the beginning of his manifesto: “what is a book?” Some of Carrión’s answers in The New Art of Making Books seem intrinsic to the book as sculpture: “a book is a sequence of spaces,” “a volume in space,” and “an exploration of space.” However, for Carrión, sequence—rather than space—was at the heart of the book. He clarified that “I definitely exclude so-called 'object-books' since they seem to belong rather to the realm of sculpture. My emphasis lies on the notion of sequence and this doesn’t seem applicable to the 'object-book.' [2]

Caption: The Book As a Volume in Space? Installation of soft sculptures in UIowa Main Library. 

This is why using the book as sculpture to interpret Carrión’s ideas about space and volume isn’t particularly faithful to his ideas. As seen in the photo above, it may be a fairly reductive interpretation of his vision for books: volumes of book-shaped space are probably not what Carrion meant by “a book is a volume in space.” Yet the more I read of Carrión, the more I’m persuaded that he is right: that his definition of the book, as both space and sequence, may be the most adequate one that we have. 

That’s why I don’t describe the sculptures I’ve made in response to The New Art of Making Books as ‘expanding’ the idea of the book. They may, however, expand the idea of bookbinding

In mulling over bookbinding in the expanded field, I have ultimately found myself back where I began: but not as a translator--this time, as an author. I am currently re-writing The New Art of Making Books, in collaboration with the translator and poet Andrea Bel.Arruti. As Ulises Carrión himself proclaimed, “plagiarism is the point of departure for creative activity in the new art.” By inverting all of  Carrión’s claims, we’re generating a new manifesto, The Old Art of Making Books

“Books, contrary to popular opinion, are not for reading. They are for making. 

Making books is a sequence of processes, unfolding into space, whose making happens in time. 

The making is a space-time sequence.” 

Caption: The Old Art of Making Books, a printable zine

A sequence of links: 

The New Art of Making Books: A New Translation (with Annotations) by India Johnson

The Old Art of Making Books by Andrea Bel.Arruti and India Johnson (voluntary collaborators) and Ulises Carrión (involuntary collaborator)

A printable zine of portions of The New Art of Making Books: A New Translation and The Old Art of Making Books 

Notable publications of The New Art of Making Books

Letterpress printed by Imprenta Rescate 

With a commentary by Robert Bringhurst

With excellent translation and commentary by Heriberto Yépez

With design by Santiago da Silva 

The coveted Taller Ditoria editions of Carrión  

To listen to a recording of Ulises Carrión’s poetry on vinyl: 

The Poet’s Tongue 


[1] The two translations I have into English are in Artists’ Books: A Critical Anthology and Sourcebook, edited by Joan Lyons, and Quant aux livres: On Books, edited by Juan J. Agius.   

[2] Ulises Carrión, “Bookworks Revisited,” in Quant aux livres: On Books, ed. Juan J. Agius (Geneva: Éditions Héros-Limite, 1997), 166.  

[3] Ulises Carrión, “On Criticism,” in Quant aux livres: On Books, ed. Juan J. Agius (Geneva: Éditions Héros-Limite, 1997), 178. 

Any other quotes come from my own translation of The New Art of Making Books, based on the text co-published by Tumbona Editions and the Mexican Ministry of Art and Culture in 2016.

India Johnson (@indi.gram): I am a Book Art MFA candidate at the University of Iowa. My training also includes bench work in book conservation, and bookbinding school at the LLOTJA. I make artists’ books and book objects; I also do translation or lexicography projects about bookbinding. 

Andrea Bel.Arruti (@belarruti): I am a poet, translator, and editor. I also make letterpress-printed artist’s books, which are about language in an expansive sense. My practice investigates how the handmade artists’ book might dialog with sound art and digital media. I’m also the co-founder and editor-in-chief of El Círculo Cuadrado (@el_circulocuadrado), an independent publisher of artist’s books in Oaxaca, Mexico.  


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