by *May Castleberry
Like the classic jazz piece from which this artist’s book publisher takes its name, Editions Take5 is propelled by an improvisatory spirit. Under the creative drive of its founder Céline Fribourg, conceiving ambitious themes and new directions for each of its publications, Editions Take5 sets a stage where selected artists, writers, designers, and others engage in a collaborative process, intertwining new artwork, literature, innovative design, and craftsmanship to make a unified work of art. From inception through production, the contributors’ ideas evolve in response to one another. Each finished book distills the give and take of engaged parties for whom every aspect of the book—artwork, text, format, typeface, cloth, printing technique, the sequential structure of the book—has been intensely considered.
Artists have explored the artist’s book form for many decades, and, in the experimental modern and contemporary idiom, have adapted almost every aspect of the book and publication process to create new genres and forms, many of them associated with specific artistic movements over the last one hundred and fifty years. By any definition, artists play the primary role in creating an artist’s book. Inarguably, the purist expressions of an artist’s vision in print have been self-published. Yet many important artist’s books have come into existence because publishers and editors created an ideal platform for artists and others to explore the narrative arts of the book. Editions Take5 is just such a publisher.
While Edition Take5’s books are as varied as the artists the publisher has chosen to work with, its program has roots in two historical models. As a publishing enterprise (although it should be noted that the word “enterprise” easily gives way to the words “labor of love” in artist’s book publishing), the Editions Take5’s approach, at its most basic, is akin to the livre d’artistes of the early 20th century. These volumes offered original artworks and literary works of equal importance, splendid typography, design, and hand-binding in limited, signed editions.
Yet, at the heart of almost every Editions Take5 project is a photographic book. Each contains a series of photographs in which every image forms part of a photographer’s carefully sequenced narrative. Editions Take5, along with its predecessor, Editions Coromandel, have characteristically given free rein to authors and photographers with remarkable effect.
* May Castleberry is the founding editor of a se-ries of artist’s books published by the Library Council of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
by *Charles Méla
A happy encounter, what the Greeks call kairos, sometimes decides the fate of a fine undertaking.
What do Editions Take5, a publisher of contemporary artist’s books, a library containing the most memorable texts of human history that opened its museum in 2004, and a professional medievalist who was the museum’s director at the time have in common? A shared moment spent marvelling at their first book whose name evoked “shards of pink glass,” Vetri Rosa, the twists and turns of a fledgling friendship, and a passion for art and beauty and the desire to make room in an already prestigious collection for contemporary creations displaying an utterly new way of combining the arts. But the “star” that steers us also reminds us that a number is never random. And the number in this case is 5. Readers of Emile Mâle’s Art and Artists of the Middle Ages, so dear to Marcel Proust, are familiar with the value of the number 5 in the story of the wise and foolish virgins, whose meaning is divulged by the Glossa Ordinaria and symbolizes the carnal and spiritual joys of the five senses. Equally, it was in the circle formed by the five extremities of the human body that the Vitruvian Man was represented, such that the number 5 has become specifically identified with man. Even more mysterious is the pentagram, the star with five branches figured on Sir Gawain’s shield in the story of The Green Knight—one of the very first great works of English literature. The symbol signified the basic elements used in alchemic transmutation, and gives its rhythm, in turn, to the multiple fives in Michel Butor’s Passing Time. From this extraction—or abstraction—we have from Rabelais the venerable word “quintessence”.
However, the name chosen by the editor of Editions Take5 to suggest, among other things, that we take five minutes’ time out to read and to discover, was taken from the 1959 title of the greatest hit by the jazzman Dave Brubeck, and refers to its unusual 5/4 rhythm. To close the circle, all that remained to do was to reread the words spoken by Martin Bodmer in 1967 in the Salle des Abeilles of the Athénée theater, when he presented his Bibliotheca Bodmeriana. He built his collection around the mystical number 5, and around the five pillars that represent the greatest accomplishments of the creative human spirit : Homer, the Bible, Dante, Shakespeare, and Goethe, which he called his “poetic pentagon.» In it he sensed a principle of harmony in the world, ordered around the five powers of history, belief, the word, art, and knowledge, as well as the five periods of human history and the five civilizations of writing. Which gets us back to the youngest child of Editions Take5, the book of books Recto Verso, and the “homage to Babel” that Borges’s friend Alberto Manguel devotes to it in Weltliteratur.
* Born in France in 1942, Charles Méla has studied at the prestigious Ecole Normale Superieure and was honorary professor at the university of Geneva where he taught from 1981 to 2007. Méla was the director of the Martin Bodmer Foundation in Geneva from 2003 to 2014.