Vija Celmins and Eliot Weinberger, The Stars, 2005
The Stars, a collaboration between the artist Vija Celmins and the writer Eliot Weinberger, is the second artist’s book in Contemporary Editions.
Vija Celmins has made numerous images of the night sky—paintings, drawings, and prints of astonishing richness. Here, she and Weinberger, an essayist and translator, devote an artist’s book to the theme. Celmins created three etchings for the project, which she also designed. One print, inspired by the worn binding of an early-twentieth-century Japanese book, serves as the volume’s mottled deep-blue cover. The second, which opens as a double gatefold, is a negative image of the night sky—dark stars on a pale ground. The third etching suggests an open screen composed of sky and stars.
For the text, Weinberger assembled a catalogue of descriptions of the stars drawn from around the world, and from an array of historical, literary, and anthropological sources. This mythopoetic charting of the night sky evokes the vastness of the human imagination’s response to a space itself vast and unknowable. The text was translated into Arabic by Sinan Antoon, into Chinese by Bei Dao, into Hindi by Siddharth Chowdhury, into Japanese by Hiroaki Sato, and into Maori by Piripi Walker. Typeset in five different alphabet systems, four of them non-Roman, the translations undo the familiarity of the written word, becoming visual experiences to complement the etchings. In addition, these varying scripts, equivalent in meaning yet at the same time mutually unintelligible, both embody language and escape its orbit, harmonizing in this way too with Celmins’s views of the stars.
Doris Simmelink and Chris Sukimoto proofed and printed the etchings at Simmelink/Sukimoto Editions in Kingston, New York. Celmins created the reverse star etching from three etching plates, using spit-bite, dry point, and soft ground. She created the cover etching from four plates, using spit-bite, dry point, soft ground, and photogravure. The third image is a hard ground etching. Leslie Miller designed and printed the texts by letterpress on Somerset paper at The Grenfell Press in New York. The book was hand-bound by Claudia Cohen in Seattle, Washington.
The texts were printed by letterpress on Somerset paper; the etchings are printed on handmade gampi paper. The book measures 10 1/2 by 7 inches and is 48 pages long. The etchings consist of the cover, 10 1/2 by 17 inches; the center gatefold etching, 10 1/2 by 27 1/2 inches; and the concluding image, 3 1/8 by 3 1/2 inches. The hand-printed edition contains 130 copies, plus 26 deluxe copies and 7 artists’ copies. All are signed by the artist and the author. Each of the 26 deluxe copies (lettered a–z) and 7 artists’ copies (lettered aa–gg) is accompanied by a signed, loose example of the reverse night-sky etching that also appears as a double gatefold in the center of each volume. The 130 copies of the hand-printed edition were reserved for the Library Council and some institutional collections; the 26 deluxe copies are available for purchase at a publication price of $12,000. Grateful thanks are owed to Kathy Fuld, Chairman of the Library Council during the book’s preparation. The International Council of The Museum of Modern Art provided essential funds for travel.
Additionally, an offset-printed facsimile edition was published by The Museum of Modern Art in the fall of 2005. The limited edition, the deluxe edition, and the facsimile edition are sold out and no longer available through the Library Council.
Eliot Weinberger’s books of essays include Karmic Traces, Outside Stories, and What Happened Here: Bush Chronicles. Among his many translations are the Collected Poems of Octavio Paz and the Selected Non-Fictions of Jorge Luis Borges. He is the editor of the New Directions Anthology of Classical Chinese Poetry. He lives in New York.
About the artist
Vija Celmins’s paintings, drawings, and prints have been collected and exhibited over the last forty years by a number of prominent museums, including The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Centre national d’art et de culture Georges Pompidou, Musee national d’art moderne, Paris; and the Kunstmuseum, Winterthur. Born in Latvia in 1938, she now lives in New York.
The translators of the text are: Sinan Antoon (Arabic), an Iraqi novelist currently teaching at New York University; Bei Dao (Chinese), one of China’s foremost poets; Siddharth Chowdury (Hindi), a translator and the author of Diksha at St. Martins’, a highly regarded book of short stories; Hiroako Sato (Japanese), the editor and translator of the famous anthology of Japanese poetry From the Country of Eight Islands and the author of Legends of the Samurai, a history of Samurai consciousness; and Piripi Walker (Maori), a translator and leading advocate for the official use of the Maori language in New Zealand.