15 Dec 2020 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

Schulz, Christoph Benjamin (ed), The Histories of Folded Books: Leporellos, Accordion Books and Folded Panoramas in Literature and Fine Art [Die Geschichte(n) Gefalteter Bücher: Leporellos, Livres-Accordéon und Folded Panoramas in Literatur und bildender Kunst]. Georg Olms Verlag: Hildesheim, Zurich/New York, 2019.

It was an exciting day when this wonderful book about accordion books dropped into my mailbox. Coming in at just under 600 pages, The Histories of Folded Books: Leporellos, Accordion Books and Folded Panoramas in Literature and Fine Art is comprised of nineteen texts by eighteen authors, with thirteen chapters in German, four in English and two in French. This book is exactly what this neglected area of artists’ book publishing has needed for many years, and it succeeds admirably in beginning to fill out a history of this bookform ranging from the fourteenth century to the contemporary moment, with an emphasis on accordions coming out of a variety of artistic and literary contexts in the twentieth century. I'm also happy to have a chapter included in which I examine three artists’ accordions that address issues associated with immigration.

Christoph Schulz introduces the book with a substantial and deeply researched survey of the history of the accordion fold throughout different time periods. His text is presented in twelve sections and he explores the use of the accordion format across different genres including the accordion as panorama, chronology, picture gallery, children's book, and an exploration of both nineteenth and twentieth century book art projects, among others. Coming in at one hundred and seventeen pages this introduction is both an original and substantial contribution to this emerging field of study. 

Schulz also contributes another chapter titled “Folded Texts and Leporellos in the literary Avantgarde and experimental Poetry,” in which he surveys the use of the accordion fold in experimental literature at the beginning of the twentieth century, and then concentrates on accordions coming out of the visual and concrete poetry movements in the 1960s and 1970s. In this section he examines the works of assorted artists who produced books in the accordion format at different times during their careers, including Emmett Williams, Hansjörg Mayer, Arrigo Lora-Totino, Richard Kostelanetz. Once again this is a deeply researched survey text that succinctly outlines the experimentation with this format in the twentieth century, with a deeper exploration of the works of its experimental and literary-based practitioners during the 1960s and 1970s. 

Since I'm under a strict word count for this article I will briefly mention four chapters that appealed to me, including my own. These four texts all examine accordions created by visual artists rather than those coming out of the century’s literary environments. I should also mention that my understanding of some of the chapters in the book, particularly those in German and to a lesser degree French, was not very comprehensive. I would assume that many English readers would also have the same issues with translation across two languages.

Anne Moeglin-Delcroix, a longtime writer on all aspects of artists’ books opens her text with the following, "The leporello is in itself only a binding, a way of folding the pages of a book so that it opens, as we say, 'like an accordion'. Nothing more. The word belongs to the technical vocabulary of the book and designates one of its modalities, one of its manifestations, one of its ways of 'making a book'. But, although it is tempting to think so, this does not determine a priori a function, nor does it privilege a priori a content.” This is a provocative opening statement, and one I would readily take issue with since the accordion's roots lie in other areas as well as the history of books. In her text Moeglin-Delcroix presents a succinct and insightful look at the accordion works of three contemporary artists: Peter Downsbrough, Bernard Villers, and Hamish Fulton.

Stephen Bann, another writer with a long interest in artists’ printed matter, contributes a brief, but nuanced overview of a selection of eleven of what the Scottish artist Ian Hamilton Finlay described as his ‘concertinas.’ Bann befriended Finlay in 1964 and has written widely on him. This text presents a fascinating and detailed account of these 'concertinas' and their place within Finlay's larger printed matter practice, with the concertinas developing from his early 'standing poems,' to folded cards with texts on both sides, and finally to fully fledged concertinas.

Jean Fremon contributes a rich text exploring the works and writings of Etel Adnan, and in examining her accordions she situates them within Adnan’s larger artistic ouevre which includes continuing activities as a painter, novelist, poet, and essayist. It was not until the early 1960s that Adnan encountered the accordion format, and this chapter includes an English translation of her fascinating 1998 essay "The Unfolding of an Artists' Book," in which she recounts her meeting with an old sailor in a cafe in San Francisco's North Beach, who introduced her to the accordion format, along with the rich possibilities inherent in this medium.

My own text looks at three accordions that tackle issues of immigration from three different viewpoints and I explore how the format has been used to express these stories. I spend some time exploring the interwoven themes in Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Enrique Chagoya, and Felica Rice's wonderful Codex Espangliensis: From Columbus to the Border Control (2014). The second accordion, Migrant (2014) by José Manuel Mateo and Javier Martínez Pedro, is a vertical accordion that is taken up with a large drawing depicting a young mother, with her son and daughter, making the dangerous journey to the North. Finally, Eroyn Franklin’s Detained (2011) is a graphic novel about two detained immigrants in a deportation center who are slated for deportation, and the book recounts their interactions with other individuals in the center.

In conclusion, Schulz should be congratulated for bringing into the world this first book that so thoroughly explores the rich and multifaceted history of this unique bookform, and medium, and for laying such a solid foundation for further research.

Further Reading: See this post on my  Accordion Publications Blog for a complete list of the book’s chapters and the publisher's statement.

Stephen Perkins is an art historian, curator and artist living in Madison, Wisconsin. He is the curator of the home gallery, Subspace.

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