Of the content and its protective wings

The HAB buys four experimental books by Odine Lang

Which criteria must an object meet in order to be considered a book? Does it need a cover? Does it need pages that can be turned? Is text indispensable? In her work with paper and plant leaves, the book artist Odine Lang repeatedly questions the boundaries of the book as a medium. This approach is reflected in the objects Closure, Zachte Vleughel, Einblattbuch No° 4 Alchemilla and Ein-Blattbuch No° 14 Dryopteris, which the HAB recently acquired.

Zachte Vleughel

The work Zachte Vleughel does contain text – but in a very special way. The title is the Dutch translation of a Schiller quotation from the Ode to Joy: "All people become brothers where your gentle wing rests". We asked the artist about the story behind this title.

Zachte vleughel. 2011.

Odine Lang:

"Once a year I go to an artists' meeting in a little fishing village on the north coast of France. In this village, there is a large sea wall that protects it. And on this concrete wall I wrote the quotation from the Ode to Joy in various European languages – but not with normal letters. I used a secret code, which I developed from cuttlebone shapes. Such bones can be found at that beach. They were the inspiration to the 26 variations I assigned to the letters of the alphabet. Now I can use these shapes to write texts that – if you don't know the code – are like unreadable ciphers. I distributed an alphabet sheet at the beach and the beach visitors could then decode the text letter by letter ... "Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt", or "Là où ta douce aille se repose", or the English or the Dutch version. We got into conversation – about European friendship, the European idea, very current topics ... It was touching.

Accompanying the outdoor installation the books were created. Here the wings serve as the cover and the text is stamped on a paper banner inside. The wings protect the content.

There are different versions in Dutch, English and German, each of which differs a bit in how strongly they are arched, or what material the paper banner is made of ... I wanted to vary that and create small differences ... just like regional differences. But actually they are all the same. I like that the Dutch version has been acquired by the library. If you look at the foreign language version, it is obvious that there can be more versions. The connections become even more apparent and the European idea resonates. I will also supply the library with an alphabet sheet for deciphering the code, so everyone will be able to decode the text."

Einblatt-Bücher (single-leaf books)

Typical characteristics of the book form are also found in Einblatt-Bücher No° 4 Alchemilla and No° 14 Dryopteris. Here botanical leaves are represented on folded sheets of paper – Dryopteris is a male fern and Alchemilla is the Latin term for the Lady's Mantle.

Einblatt-Buch No° 4. Alchemilla. 2017-2019.

Odine Lang:

"I have been working on the series of Einblatt-Bücher for about two years. The title plays with the term Einblattdrucke (single-page prints, popular prints) prevalent in the early modern period, which are also part of the HAB’s collection. My Einblatt-Bücher actually do contain prints on one page, but at the same time I once more play with the book form – there is a cover and a title label. Each Einblatt-Buch exists in a small edition of ten copies with coffee wash and ten copies with a pure line-drawing.

Einblatt-Buch No° 14. Dryopteris. 2017-2019.

The drawings are very detailed – I don't draw the ideal scheme of a leaf, but the individual leaf that is in front of me. And if the leaf has a hole, then I draw it with the hole. I do not gloss over anything.

In the last 15 years I have collected a lot of samples of different folds, structures and bindings, which I continuously use in my courses at the Bundesakademie für Kulturelle Bildung. If I find a new motif, a new leaf and come up with a new paperform for it, the series will continue. I always look for connections between the bookbinding or folding and the habit of the leaf. The folding underlines its character. The leaf of the Lady's Mantle also unfolds quite similarly to the book, in this kind of zigzag fold. The Einblatt-Buch No° 14 Dryopteris has a parallel fold in correspondence to its growth form, which you can open further and further, until you can see the fern in its whole length."


Closure, too, oscillates between book and paper object. As in Zachte Vleughel, the inner parts are enclosed and protected by the outer shells like the contents of a book by its cover. The object suggests a feeling of security.

Closure. 2009.

Odine Lang:

"The inside of shell forms in nature, seashells, buds, or seedpods, is always protected by external covers. This parallel to the book appealed to me and that's why I used a bookbinding technique for single pages to connect the pairs of paper object shells. Like a book, you can flip through Closure page by page ... you can open it completely, you can keep it closed ... you only can't put it on the book shelf because it's not rectangular."

Odine Lang's exhibition Folia ended on October, 13th. Due to the great public response, however, the installation Wolfsmilch (Spurge, wolf's milk) can still be visited in the Augusteerhalle until the end of this year.

Odine Lang:

“The Wolfsmilch is the portrait of a very specific individual plant that I saw, drew and pressed on a campsite in southern France. I immediately had the idea to rebuild it in large scale as a paper object because I was so intrigued by its geometry.

The artist installing "Wolfsmilch".
Augusteerhalle. 2019.

The plant is structured very symmetrically: It has three leaves at the point of the lowest branching, two above each at the next branching, then two again ... again and again ... quite regularly split. This symmetry, which I could see in this individual plant, just fascinated me. When I got the opportunity to have the exhibition "Folia", it was immediately clear to me: It has to be here. That fits. That fits into this room ... the material, the size I had imagined, the geometry, the structure with large leaves at the bottom and smaller leaves at the top, which corresponds to the arrangement of the books in the hall, the references to the library's systematical approach and how this is reflected in the plant ...

For me it is always important that there are these different levels: That you can look at the work without prior knowledge and think: "It looks good ... it looks beautiful" or "It reminds me of something ..." But that there should be always an additional intellectual level, like here the references to the collection's system and to the history of the house. You can get into that, but you don't have to. It's about more than decoration and it's just as accessible to scientists as it is to all other library visitors."