Iwo Zaniewski, Interesting Book I, 110 x 150 cm, oil on canvas, 2006

Book Bliss: 8 Publications That Encourage Connection, Couriosity and Adventure A selection of eight imaginative and inspiring publications that resonate with the present moment and encourage connection, curiosity, and adventure

Iwo Zaniewski, Interesting Book I, 110 x 150 cm, oil on canvas, 2006

Iwo Zaniewski, Interesting Book I, 110 x 150 cm, oil on canvas, 2006

As one month of lockdown blurs into the next, it is time to take a breather and delve into other worlds for a little while. Book Bliss presents a selection of eight imaginative and inspiring publications that resonate with the present moment and encourage connection, curiosity, and adventure. From the visceral thrills of live performance, strolls in the streets of Rome and Teheran, and listening to barely audible sounds to observing the radiant dawns and sunset in Australia, cooking in Italy, and even picking mushrooms with John Cage, these books are going to take you on tour through off-limits places, making you forget about the long-haul lockdown.

André Aciman & Jeannette Montgomery Barron: Roman Hours

Exploration of a place through the eyes of an artist and the words of a writer is at the core of the Ivorypress’ new Cities series. Roman Hours pairs the imaginative and subtle writing of Andre Aciman, the Italian-American writer and literature professor, best known for his novel Call Me By Your Name (2007), with evocative photographs by Jeannette Montgomery Barron, the American visual artist. What brought them together was their shared love of Rome, the place they both lived in and now visit regularly, as well as a strong desire to portray the Eternal City in its very essence.

The golden, warm-honey cover with garnet lettering set the tone for the book. Aureate light sustaining the city’s life and colouring pavements, walls, and trees in Jeannette’s photographs interweave with the warmth of Aciman’s lyrical prose building an extraordinary world. As you explore the pictures arranged in a non-linear narrative, you are taken on an experiential journey through Rome and its unique atmosphere. The book’s sublime images and poetic texts unleash your imagination: all of a sudden, you feel the warm Italian sun on your face, perceive the old, flaky walls, smell the characteristic scent of cobblestones and clay, and even hear the street noise with the typical scooters’ honking at a distance… Rome in a nutshell, with all those glorious, fleeting moments that make life beautiful. I can imagine that the book particularly resonates with many readers now when travelling has become increasingly restricted. It noticeably intensifies the feeling of longing while thinking of distant places one loves and substantially raises the awareness of life’s fragility. As Andre Aciman put it in an interview accompanying the book launch, ‘the city is eternal, but we are not’.

Roman Hours is like a nostalgic postcard, a fleeting memory of all the moments in Rome that everyone loves; a long walk through the city abound with startling, accidental discoveries that stay with us for long: a marble sculpture submerged in a golden haze, a white tablecloth carelessly tucked by the wind, bricks glistening in the rain, a classical painting mysteriously resting on a street… And the walls! The omnipresent ochre walls, which smell of the past. When you’ll look at the photo spread picturing them in the full sun, they seem to glow — just like in real life.

André Aciman & Jeannette Montgomery Barron: Roman Hours has been published by Ivory Press

Sébastien Cuvelier: Paradise City

Paradise originates from old Persian paridaida and means ‘walled garden’. The word serves as a powerful metaphor for contemporary Iran—the country which is so beautiful and vibrant but at the same time immensely confined and disconnected.

Iran’s duality is in focus in the newest photo book of Sébastien Cuvelier. The Luxembourg-based artist undertook a long road trip to this Western Asian country, following in the footsteps of his late uncle, who—enchanted by Persian history and its remnants still visible in Iranian landscape—visited it in the 1960s. Two journeys intertwine in the book, as excerpts from the relative’s diary serve as a background for Cuvelier’s photographs. However, the idyllic pre-revolution Iran portrayed 50 years ago differs enormously from the oppressed one, experienced by the artist recently. The revolution of 1979 significantly restricted Iranians’ freedom and severely impacted people’s lives. Angry and tired of the reality, they turn to the past and romanticise Persia, viewing it as a dream paradise: a source of inspiration, an anchor of hope, a guide to change and transformation.

Hues of pink and red form a solid element of numerous exquisite photographs: rose-coloured skies and scarlet walls, outdoor space bathed in bright pink, faces blushingly reflecting the neon light of the city, fuchsia-dyed hair of a young girl. Even magnificently photographed exotic flowers—presumably roses and pomegranate flowers—seem to stand between two worlds with their calming but unsettlingly saturated magenta beauty. The ubiquity of this vivid colour adds a bit of a disturbance but at the same time seems to visually emphasise the strength and perseverance of Iranian youth, protesting against the oppressiveness and restrictions limiting their freedom and privacy.

Paradise City magnificently brings together the worlds of past and present, subtly contrasting the harsh reality with nostalgia for the bygone era. The silver embossing on the cover resembles a gate, through which readers may enter this enchanting story of a struggling country. The Swiss binding exposing the spine is yet another apt metaphor — a book attached to its cover by only one side offers a certain prospect of freedom. We can just imagine how easy it could be for these visual postcards from utopian Iran to detach from the cover and break free from the cardboard walls.

Sébastien Cuvelier: Paradise City has been published by GOST BOOKS

Ron Jude: 12 Hz

Ron Jude, an American photographer exploring the nexus between people, memory, and place, created a publication that is both unostentatiously poetic and pertinent to today’s discussions about political and ecological crisis. Enclosed in embossed hardcover with tipped-in image, Jude’s black and white photographs emulate nature’s enormous power and lyrically comment on our place in the world of vastness.

The book’s title refers to the lower limit of sound audible to the human ear, alluding to the scale of natural forces that often operate independently of our anthropocentric experiences. Images from lava tubes and flows are interweaved with close-ups of tidal currents, glacial ice, and welded tuff formation. The photographs are not location-specific, though. “For 12 Hz I intentionally avoided references to place, not wanting to tether the individual images to mappable locations,” noted Jude. Indeed, the images of our planet’s raw material aptly depict a section of the microcosm that surrounds us regardless of the original shooting location.

Boasting dense blacks and distinctive tonality, the photographs could easily pass for charcoal drawings. Pristine, unpeopled landscapes pay homage to the natural environment of our planet. At the same time, they function as an implicit warning of untethered—and so often imperceptible — forces that surround us. Jude seems to unobtrusively encourage readers to pause for a moment to step back and look at the larger system of flux. Depicting the world that continuously changes — even if we don’t notice it at first glance — the photographer asks pertinent questions about people’s sense of accountability. As a matter of fact, 12 Hz make you gain a broader perspective, recalibrate your vision of cosmology, and consider the eagerness shared by so many human beings to intervene in nature and alter the world. The publication ends with a series of tightly cropped images of vegetation, a striking counterpoint to impenetrable rock formations and colossal bodies of water. During the difficult time of the global pandemic, the book is a poignant reminder of our scale of significance in the world that has been functioning unrestrictedly for thousands of year.

Ron Jude: 12 Hz has been published by MACK

12 Hz by Ron Jude (MACK, 2020)

John Cage: A Mycological Foray

‘I have come to the conclusion that much can be learned about music by devoting oneself to the mushroom,’ John Cage once said. The American avant-garde composer is best recognised for his groundbreaking musical work embracing indeterminacy, accidentality, fluidity, and open-endedness. Little is known, however, about the artist’s lifelong fascination or even — as some may say — devotion to mycology. Atelier Éditions, an independent publishing house from LA, thoroughly explored this specific yet enthralling field of Cage’s interest in their recent, exquisitely designed and printed publication.

It all started during one of Cage’s escapades to rural Stony Point, NY in search of a suitable site for an electronic music studio and summer theatre. Over one of the trips, the surrounding forests lured and enchanted him completely, and indeed he ended up settling in the countryside. Not for music and art though, but silence and mushrooms. Apart from gustatory delights, the latter also brought him a fortune, as once he won 5 million lire in an Italian TV quiz show, brilliantly answering the final, difficult, fungi-related question. On the other hand, it also almost cut short his life when he consumed a wrongly identified poisonous hellebore. This complex relationship, along with the artist’s interest in Zen Buddhism and Eastern philosophy, is quite comprehensively portrayed in the first part of the book, which includes a long essay by Kingston Trinder. The writing is additionally interspersed with short scattered excerpts from Cage’s diaries, mushroom-oriented, often very amusing anecdotes from Indeterminacy — one-minute-long stories written by the composer, and plenty of photographs of the artist engrossed in various mycological activities and other images from Cage’s personal archive. The second part of the book is printed on paper made from apple pulp, which was inspired by Cage’s series of edible drawings from the 1990s. It consists of a long, mesostic poem — a transcript of a 1983 spoken performance Mushrooms et Variationes.

The box carrying the book holds one more surprise: a second volume, which is a facsimile of Cage’s Mushroom Book from 1972. The folder contains 20 detailed lithographs of various mushrooms drawn by the artist and fellow fungi enthusiast Lois Long. Pieces of tracing paper hidden inside each of the folded drawings introduce Cage’s scribbled notes on particular species as well as some formally typed descriptions by botanist Alexander H. Smith. The whole book set will definitely kick-start your inner mushroom hunter.

John Cage: A Mycological Foray has been published by Atelier Éditions

Norbert Niederkofler: Cook the Mountain – The nature around you

Norbert Niederkofler has finalised a project that started over a decade ago. Cook the Mountain — The nature around you is the book he has been tirelessly working on over the last 12 years. Many years ago, the Italian chef became famous for his ‘No Waste’ motto and unique philosophy that focuses on choosing local and seasonal produce and honouring the ingredients by keeping food waste to an absolute minimum.

‘Wherever you are, whether it is in Sicily, around the lakes or in Tuscany, if you respect the nature where you live, you can do a lot of things for the future generations,’ Niederkofler says. ‘With this book, I want to motivate people to become part of this harmony that exists between nature, culture and food.’ Indeed, the publication reflects both his adoration and respect for the natural environment in the perfect way.

Cook the Mountain’s design is second to none. The book has been printed entirely on apple paper (made from apple waste) and is encased in a fully recyclable box with natural bands. The publication comes in two volumes: the first could be described as an immense photo culture book. In contrast, the second includes a collection of sixty of Niederkofler’s best recipes that are divided into four seasons. The main volume, comprising breathtaking photos of untouched landscapes, can be displayed on a DIY stand made from cardboard used for the book’s box.

Some people may call it a cookbook, but it is an art book with recipes for harmonious dishes and distinctive design reflecting environmental sustainability, love for nature, and future-oriented philosophy. Innovatively designed, it pays tribute to nature and the man who dedicated his life to translating the beauty and vivid character of the mountains into original and exquisite culinary creations.

Norbert Niederkofler: Cook the Mountain. The nature around you has been published by Prestel

Michael Clark: Cosmic Dancer

Hailed as ‘British dance’s true iconoclast,’ Michael Clark is a defining cultural figure who disrupted and reimagined our understanding of dance. The first major exhibition of the groundbreaking dancer and choreographer opened at the Barbican last year. Looking back to his meteoric rise in the 1980s, the show presented a comprehensive vision of Clark’s remarkable career to date. Showcasing the artist’s unique multi-disciplinary approach that has brought together classical ballet training with London’s punk, fashion, and club culture, the retrospective established Clark’s radical presence in British cultural history. Disappointingly, the grippingly immersive show came to a premature end due to the pandemic restrictions. Nevertheless, you can still explore elements of the exhibition through the online collection of articles, playlists, podcasts and videos as well as a unique catalogue published on the occasion of the show.

The richly illustrated book unfolds as a constellation of striking portraits of Clark through the eyes of legendary collaborators and world-renowned artists including Charles Atlas, Leigh Bowery, Duncan Campbell, Peter Doig, Cerith Wyn Evans, Sarah Lucas, Elizabeth Peyton, The Fall, and Wolfgang Tillmans, to name just a few. The choreographer’s combination of classical and subcultural influences is depicted through projects spanning visual arts, music, fashion, and film.

Cosmic Dancer is a unique book that gives an unprecedented opportunity to get to know the inspirational work of one of the UK’s most influential choreographers and performers. Featuring an exclusive interview with Clark alongside a series of enlightening essays and archival materials, the book celebrates the richness of the choreographer’s provocative and electrifying presence in the global cultural landscape. It explores how art, film, music and fashion have been integral to his work. You don’t have to be a dance aficionado to enjoy this thrilling publication and appreciate Clark’s inimitable ability to combine technical rigour with openness and experimentation.

Michael Clark: Cosmic Dancer (edited by Florence Ostende) has been published by Prestel in association with the Barbican Art Gallery, London

Vasantha Yogananthan: Afterlife

Afterlife was inspired by Ramayana, a major Sanskrit epic of ancient India. Vasantha Yogananthan embarked on a string of long journeys following the travels of Prince Rama — the manuscript’s main character. The legendary hero went on a quest to rescue his beloved wife Sita from the hands of Ravana, the demon king of Lanka. Afterlife introduces readers to a fascinating visual commentary on the epic story.

The bizarre half-man, half-bird on the cover invites recipients to enter the world of riotous colours and wild, euphoric jollification. Gradient embellishes the cover collage and later reoccurs throughout the book by penetrating Meena Kandasamy’s poem. The book almost feels like a photo-version of a staged play, with the visibly theatrical aesthetics of pictures and lyrical and quite dramatic text layering with them.

Afterlife is the sixth chapter of the 8-year-long journey. The pictures were shot during two editions of Indian Dussehra Festival, which celebrates the triumph of Rama — the symbol of good over evil. Colourful celebrations in Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu abound in enrgetic dances and fireworks. Yogananthan’s photographs show bright-coloured, glowing figures, sometimes masked or covered in paint. They predominantly emerge from a pitch-black background, which adds a dark twist to the otherwise festive atmosphere. Slowly, one starts to pay attention to people’s faces, often distracted, absent, or delirious: faces of people trying to reach the state of trance and through it ‘lose themselves’ and escape their terrestrial bodies. Yogananthan playful approach to photographs results in intricate collages — riveting figures mixed with usually abstract backgrounds — resulting in intensified psychedelic feel of the scenes.

An essential part of Dussehra celebrations is burning down Ravan effigies. And that’s how the book ends — with fire. Blurred shots of orange flames in the darkness once again reminds us that evil was defeated.

Vasantha Yogananthan: Afterlife has been published by Chose Commune

Trent Parke: Crimson Line

Mesmerised by the striking colours in the sky during the radiant moments of sunrise and sunset, Trent Parke created a compelling visual meditation on industrialisation’s deleterious impact on climate change. Crimson Line is a remarkable testimony to Parke’s impressive and ongoing interest in the transformative powers of light. Despite evident documentary roots, the works sit between fiction and reality. This time — inspired by ephemeral colours of dawn and dusk — the artist specifically centred his visual exploration around the colour crimson.

The first Australian Magnum photographer discovered that this very specific colour, ubiquitously used in commercial products, is harvested from the crushed and boiled bodies of the female scale insect, the cochineal. This extremely tiny insect inhabits the pads of the prickly pear cactus and is farmed for its crimson dye, which today is primarily used as a colourant in food and cosmetics, especially lipstick. The book poetically intertwines mesmerising images —spectacularly featuring scarlet, magenta, orange, and crimson colours — with the cochineal’s anatomical and biological descriptions.

Born in the Australian steel city of Newcastle, Trent Parke has many early childhood memories of accompanying his mother to pick his dad up from work, travelling through a landscape dominated by shipyards, chimneys, and the BHP steelworks. Not surprisingly, the photographs in Crimson Line feature grand images of factory smoke, the sun bouncing off global shipping containers, and other cinematic scenes characteristic of the industrial landscape outside of Adelaide, where this body of work was created.

Pake’s street photography has always been firmly established in film Noir. This breathtaking art book, however, marks a bold departure from the artist’s signature black-and-white aesthetic. Metallic hardback bounds over fifty horizontal photographs, offering an in-depth exploration of skies and industrial landscapes through the prism of first and last light each day. Although viewers might be initially disorientated by the spectrum of unbelievable colours and uncommon tonalities, Crimson Line’s poetic reflections on the industries’ adverse effects on the environment remind us of the holistic dimension of living and the unexpected beauty of every day.

Trent Parke: Crimson Line has been published by Stanley/Barker

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About The Author


London-based creative producer and curator. His practice has been increasingly focused on innovative public engagement and developing visceral, multi-sensory experiences. Particularly interested in the interplay between art, nature, and technology.

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