Books never-ever seen before

In Russi, near the city of Ravenna in Italy, a group of creative people has founded an association - VACA (acronym meaning “various associated brains”) - that tests different languages of communication. For 10 years they have been organising a peculiar competition/exhibition that challenges our concept of book.

Ferruccio Giromini

The name itself of the Association that organises this event - competition, award, exhibition - suggests that mere banality is banished from here. The group is called VACA (Vari Cervelli Associati) and originated in the Italian area of Romagna in 1989; in that year an enlightened teacher of the “Albe Steiner” Vocational Training Institute of Ravenna, the communication theorist Walter Pretolani, decided to gather some of his most endowed former students. These were later to become teachers in the same institute and appreciated professionals of creativity: the ludic language experimenter Gianni Zauli, the xylographer engraver Umberto Giovannini, the painter-illustrator, comic strip writer Davide Reviati, the film director Massimiliano Valli, the writer, scriptwriter and public speaker Mauro Bartoli. Once the association was officialized, in 1995, the bold group also started the competition entitled “Libri mai mai visti” (“Books never-ever seen before”), intended to promote prototypes of hand-made books never before edited, or presented to the public, or reviewed.

“NEVER EVER SEEN”: the presence itself of two adverbs conveys a particular strength. It underlines the incitement to give free rein to imagination: why produce a book already seen? Of course, books are physical collections of words, images, ideas: but you don’t necessarily have to imagine them as made up of rectangular white paper pages, bound together in a logical order.

Instead, here the attention is focussed on original prototypes, especially hand-made ones, which are very rare objects. So for the competition, “hand-made prototype” means a book of any size and shape, realised in any material whatsoever and sturdy enough to be handled by the exhibition’s visitors. The text, of any length, can be new or already known, by a past or modern writer, hand-written, typewritten, computer-written. The regulations do not exclude (on the contrary, they even invite) exceptional sizes and weights.

THERE IS NOTHING LEFT BUT TO LET ONE’S IMAGINATION RUN FREE. And participants never, ever, draw back. In the course of its 10-year life, always inviting to transgress all creative habits, the competition has hosted tangible realisations of very original - to say the least - ideas. For example, many never-ever-seen books are made in special kinds of paper: hand-made, treated, elaborated, recycled, coloured, translucent, transparent; cardboard, board, piano scores. Many other books are made with the most varied materials: bronze-covered, rind or wood-covered. Many kinds of calcographical engravings, photographic prints; a collection of crushed soft drink cans; wooden frames covered with panels fixed with copper wires; plastic materials; shorts (one per page, with the back pockets full of surprises); iron supports for magnetic words; an unpublished text impressed on a typewriter tape. And textiles, resins, stuccoes, a whole bed sheet, clothes hanging on a line, a bunch of grey ties, a bowl of soup with spoon. The most deeply poetic work was that presented in 1999 by the beaming couple Simona Capra and Stefano Giannini: a veritable “living” book called Ada, accompanied by the following description: “New work, leather bound, orange cotton cover. Head size 40 cm, foot 13 cm, languid look, title page by archetype Giannini with preface dated November 1st, 1998. Index…suckable, colophon: Lugo di Romagna, July 27th, 1999. Living pages, movable if incited…”.

YEAR AFTER YEAR, THERE ARE RENOWNED NAMES AMONG THE WINNERS: young artists that have gained experience here or appreciated professionals that have found here the opportunity for an intelligent vacation. Many come from the world of children’s literature, a field that itself allows ludic testing. Among the very first participants at this initiative is Mauro Monaldini from Ravenna, who always invents new and surprising alchemic and fantastic-naturalistic texts, wonderfully illuminated and decorated with the patience of a monk. Among women-illustrators, the two Genoese Francesca Biasetton, refined calligrapher, and Serena Giordano, who juggles between limerick poems and geometrical drawings; the unruly Apulian Vittoria Facchini with an ironic “pamphlet dedicated to the dear lady readers that before living a new love story, spend hours observing their own body…”; from Varese the young Chiara Dattola, with a wooden wardrobe-book with three doors that can be opened; from Rome, Camilla Falsini and Antonella Abbatiello, the first in all colours and the second all white; Angelo Ibba, still from Genoa, presents a passport - complete with stamps and postmarks - illustrated with little dreams of travels painted in watercolours.

Everyone ideates a special tactic in order to emerge.

From the near town of Forlì, the graphic designer Giuseppe Tolo puts together scratched and scrape-board images on rice paper and tracing paper; the scriptwriter Maria Donata Papadia, illustrates some poems by Giorgio Caproni with monotypes on treated tissue paper. On their side, the members of the “Rose Sélavy” Cultural Association of Rimini realise a book that rocks like a cradle: two written pages stuffed like a cushion, the illustration being the image of the reader reflected on mirror fragments, glued on textile fixed on a bamboo canes frame. And the young Greta Matteucci from Tuscany, implacable, for one competition, invents 21 different books, one for each day of delivery schedule.

OF COURSE, THERE ARE PRECEDENTS. Among the so-called “artist’s books”. “Anomalous” books had already been thought of first by the Futurists, then by Majakovskij with El Lisitskij, Henri Matisse and Max Ernst, the unpredictable provokers Fluxus and Marcel Duchamp, the masterly Bruno Munari (whose several “unreadable books” are worth mentioning), the genial provoker Piero Manzoni, of course Andy Warhol, the text-eraser Emilio Isgrò…

But the alchemies in ideas and works of the never-ever-seen authors are more amusing because they are nonchalant and playfully show much more complicity with their never-ever-seen readers.

THE LATEST EDITION OF THE COMPETITION, THE 10TH, totally confirmed the constant growth of the quality-quantity ratio. Awards went to the working “Anti-Personnel” mine by Antonio Barbadoro, from Ravenna, explosive civil evidence of an always-in-ambush uncivil peril. The chair-book “The travels of the sedentary poet” by Fabrizio Fabbri, from Castenaso, a very funny and absorbing reading that also entails a tangible promise of relax; finally, the three-dimensional fairytale entitled “Once upon a Time”, by the Slovak author Zuzana Hlavata. But for such eccentric books, awards just as creative were to be ideated.

So, among the many prizes, we find special ones for “Quality”, “Arts and Artcrafts”, “Geniality and Simpatia”, “Alembic” and also a poetic prize called “Stupor Sensibile” (conferred, not by chance, to the surprising “Rain Track” by the Japanese Kaori Miyayama, able to sensitively evoke the ticking sound of a light drizzle…). And what is the reward? Books, of course! Stocks of books, both ancient and modern, for a total value of 1000 Euro, but not never-ever-seen ones. Rather normal books. Provided that a good book can be at all considered normal…

In the meanwhile, the celebrations for the tenth anniversary are still going on:

those who would like to have more information, can contact Fucina VACA, Via Caduti per la Libertà, 19, 48026 Russi RA,

Ph. 0544 580329. Web site: www.vaca.it, e-mail: vaca@vaca.it.•

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