4th floor: Varia collection
Called Varia for its diversity and varia-tions on the written word and literature, this floor opened to the public on 20 January 2016 with Sylvain Maestraggi’s exhibition Waldersbach. These new library collections are both the natural extension of the lower floors—writing and literature remain the collections’ focus—but also that extension’s shift towards something new. The space, divided into six collections, illustrates the Jan Michalski Foundation’s mission, which is to both foster and showcase literary creation in all its forms.
A.I / Experimental literature
If the library’s lower floors feature books that might be characterized as “traditional” in terms of their forms or how their texts are presented, the collection that immediately greets readers on the fourth floor aims to offer a different, “deconstructed” approach to books and literature. There they will find works in which the written word is used less for narrative ends than visual ones, as in concrete, visual, kinetic, or spatial poetry, or in holopoems. Readers will also discover in this collection works dealing with the depiction of books, as well as novels and poetry in which form is dislocated, lending a new dimension to writing, as in Ezra Pound’s Cantos. Finally, a selection of artists’ books that experiment with the book as object and literary works themselves both questions the reading experience and leads to new and different ones in work that is often physical.
A.II / Typography
“He who excels in the science of writing shall shine like the sun,” as an Egyptian scribe declared. Typography naturally has a place in the Jan Michalski Foundation collections. On the shelves readers will find handsome books on the history of typography, monographs by designers of various fonts such as Adrian Frutiger, and serial publications from typography studios like L’Ours Blanc in Geneva or Koshkonong from the Marseilles publisher Eric Pesty. A number of essays help readers deepen their knowledge of the art of creating and employing type, a didactic approach that does not overlook experiments by artists and publishers. Thus, the Typography collection presents “several typefaces for your viewing pleasure,” like the Tabernacle books by Ron King or Helvetica by Victoria Bean. You can find these on display in the stacks.
A.III / Calligraphy
This collection is part of a larger context than its name might suggest. Monographs devoted to calligraphers and the great literary texts they have illustrated with their own artwork stand side by side with more generalized books on the history of calligraphy in various cultures, on the more confidential art of graffiti, and on the art of lettering in the visual arts, as well as facsimile manuscripts (Franz Kafka, Witold Gombrowicz, Marcel Proust, and Arthur Rimbaud) that, to our mind, partake of this art of “beautiful writing.” Finally, artists who have been influenced by a writing system other than their own—as in the case of Fabienne Verdier with Chinese calligraphy—likewise display innovative approaches to this ever-changing traditional art.
A.IV / Literature and the graphic arts
Literature and the graphic arts have forever been inspiring and feeding into each other, and often have willingly joined forces. The point where these two forms converge is the leitmotif running through this collection, which mixes visual artists’ writings in an obviously literary vein (Paul Klee’s Journal, for example), texts on art by major writers (Aragon’s Matisse, to name one of many), literary texts illustrated with paintings and drawings, and monographs on the graphic-art work of writers like Henri Michaux. And in a series of exhibitions mounted by the Jan Milchalski Foundation, the collection also features visual artists who have made forays into the field of writing and literature such as Antonio Saura and Georg Baselitz.
A.V / Literature and photography
This singular collection has been put together to offer a number of variations on the fruitful couple formed by literature and photography:
- photography practiced by writers (Hervé Guibert, Jean-Loup Trassard, etc.)
- photography as the trigger of a story (Aleksandar Hemon, Daniel Mendelsohn, etc.)
- literature as a trigger for photography, i.e., photographs of a writer or places that bring one to mind (William Eggleston with Faulkner, Anne-Lise Broyer on Pierre Michon, etc.)
- photography illustrating and feeding into literary writing (W.G. Sebald, Bertolt Brecht, etc.)
- the photonovel, i.e., a writer and a photographer working together to create a story in common
- essays or reflections of writers on photography (Roland Barthes, Jean-Christophe Bailly, etc.)
A.VI / Literature, image & sound
If there is one tutelary spirit that could illustrate this collection, it would probably be the American composer John Cage, who was able to draw on other creative fields like literature and musical notation to forge a singular body of work. We see this kind of cross-pollination in the oeuvre of the English pianist Alfred Brendel, who was also a remarkable poet. In this collection readers will find books that come with CDs or DVDs, language experiments (Valère Novarina, Olivier Cadiot, Charles Pennequin, etc.), wild, hallucinatory readings (Ghérasim Luca, Christian Prigent, etc.), documentaries on writers (Antonin Artaud, James Ellroy, Franz Kafka, etc.), or recorded interviews with them, as well as their contribution to film (Jean Cocteau, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Guy Debord, Marguerite Duras, etc.). These films can be viewed by request in the library. For CDs, a listening station is available to the public on the library’s fourth floor.