4 December 2019
In her work with leaves of paper and leaves from trees, book artist Odine Lang constantly challenges the boundaries of the book medium. This is also reflected in her objects Closure, Zachte Vleughel, Einblattbuch no. 4 Alchemilla and Einblattbuch no. 14 Dryopteris, which were recently acquired by the HAB.
For example, while Zachte Vleughel (see illustration above) does contain text, it does so in a particular way. The title, which translates as ‘gentle wing’, is the Dutch translation of a line from Schiller’s Ode to Joy: ‘[All people become brothers,] Where thy gentle wing abides.’ We asked the artist about the story behind this title.
‘Once a year I travel to an artists’ meeting on the coast of northern France. There is a large sea wall there protecting the fishing village. And on this concrete wall I wrote the quote from Ode to Joy in various European languages – but not in normal letters. I used a kind of secret alphabet that I derived from the shapes of cuttlebones. You can find them on the beach there and they were my point of departure for 26 variant shapes that I assigned to the letters of the alphabet. Now I can write texts with these shapes – and if you don’t know the code, they initially look like ciphers. But I handed out an alphabet sheet on the beach so that visitors could decode the text for themselves, letter by letter … “Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt”, or “Là où tes douces ailes reposent”, or the English or Dutch texts. That got us talking – about European friendship, the idea of Europe, very topical issues … That was touching. The books came about in parallel to this open-air installation. Here the wings serve as covers, while the text is stamped on a scroll inside them. The wings protect the contents.
There are various versions in Dutch, English and German, which all differ slightly in terms of how domed the covers are and what material the scroll is made of. I wanted to vary that and create little differences … regional differences for the different countries. But in principle they are all alike. I think it’s nice that you acquired the Dutch version. When the library includes a version in a foreign language, it’s immediately clear that several versions of it might exist. So the unifying elements become clearer and the idea of Europe shines through. I’m still going to give the library a key to the cipher. Then everyone can decode the text.’
Typical characteristics of the book form are also evident in the broadside books Einblattbuch no. 4 Alchemilla and Einblattbuch no. 14 Dryopteris. Here tree leaves are shown on folded leaves of paper: Dryopteris is the shield fern, while Alchemilla is the Latin name of lady’s mantle.
‘I’ve been working on the broadside books for two years now. The title alludes to the popular broadside prints of the early modern era, which can also be found in the HAB’s holdings. My “broadside books” really do contain prints on a single sheet, but they are also in book form, as they have covers and a label with the title. Every “broadside book” has a small print run of ten copies with coffee wash and ten copies with line drawings only.
The drawings are very detailed. I don’t draw a diagram of an ideal leaf, but the actual, individual leaf in front of me. So if my leaf is worm-eaten, I draw the traces of the worm’s activity. I don’t sugar-coat anything.
In the last 15 years I’ve collected numerous models of various folding, stapling and binding techniques, which I use in the courses I teach at the Bundesakademie für Kulturelle Bildung (Federal Academy for Cultural Education). That gives me a large repertoire to draw on. Whenever I find a new subject, a new leaf for my “broadside books” and hit upon a new type of paper, I continue the series. I always look for relationships between the binding or folding technique and the way the leaf grows. The folding of the paper should underscore the character of the leaf. This lady’s mantle leaf unfolds in a similar way to the book: a kind of zigzag fold, almost like pleating. Einblattbuch no. 14 Dryopteris has a letter fold corresponding to the growth of the fern. You keep unfolding it until you can see the frond’s full length.’
Closure (see gallery) likewise oscillates between book and paper object. As in Zachte Vleughel, its vulnerable interior is encased by exterior flaps just as a book’s contents are enclosed by its covers. The object projects an aura of security.
‘Certain natural structures like shells, buds and certain seeds have exterior “flaps” that protect the inside. I found this analogy to book covers appealing, so I used a bookbinding technique for individual pages in this work to connect pairs of shells. Like in a book, you can turn the pages of Closure one by one … you can open it up completely, you can keep it closed … the only thing you can’t do is put it on a shelf, because it isn’t rectangular.’
Odine Lang’s exhibition Folia ended on 13 October. Because of visitor response, however, the installation Wolfsmilch will remain on view in the Augusteerhalle until the end of the year.
‘Wolfsmilch is the portrait of a specific, individual plant that I saw, drew and pressed while on holiday in the South of France. The geometry of this plant fascinated me so much that I immediately decided to reconstruct it as a larger-than-life paper object.
The plant has a completely regular structure: it has three leaves at its lowest fork, then two leaves on each side at the next fork, then two leaves again one level higher … and so on … a perfectly regular distribution. This symmetry, which was there to be read in that one plant specimen, just captivated me. And when I was asked to do the Folia exhibition, I immediately realised that it belongs here. It fits. It fits this space … paper as the material, the size I had envisioned, the geometry, the distribution with the large leaves at the bottom and the small leaves at the top, corresponding to the arrangement of the books in the hall; the references to what the library means as a classification scheme and how this is reflected in the plant … For me, it’s always important to have these levels: that you can look at the work without any prior knowledge and think, “That looks good … that looks beautiful.” Or “That reminds me of something …” But there must always be an additional, intellectual level as well, like the reference to the classification scheme and the history of the building in this case. You can engage with this level if you want, but you don’t have to. And so the work is more than just decoration, and it’s just as accessible for scholars as it is for every other library user.’