Creative Research: The Artists’ Books of Veronika Schäpers, Robbin Ami Silverberg
and Julie Chen

Veronika Schäpers

Veronika Schäpers

Educated in Germany and Switzerland, Veronika Schäpers moved to Tokyo/Japan in 1997, where she started her career as an independent artist. In 2012 she moved to Berlin and lives now in Karlsruhe/ Germany. Veronika’s work focuses on observing social phenomena, often in foreign cultures. With all the rigor and mastery of traditional book arts skills such as printing, binding, and graphic design, she also has a poet’s cadence and a journalist’s probing curiosity. By working with writers from the east and west, as well as her exceptional use of refined materials and techniques influenced by her long living in Japan, she produces artwork that stimulates all our senses. Veronika Schäpers has won several prizes, and her work is in many renowned collections worldwide.

Veronika Schäpers

Veronika Schäpers
Heiko Michael Hartmann: Im Hochhaus (In the High-Rise)
Tokyo, 2011

Letterpress print from polymer plates and barrier tape on bicchu-ganpi paper. 5 gatefold sheets in a wrapped cover made from GA file, with silkscreened cases of pension fraud in Japan in 2010 & 2011. Case made of silkscreen-printed GA file. Banderole made from gecko tape, with silkscreened title. First edition of the German text. 15 x 37 cm (closed), 103 x 37 cm (open).

Edition of 36 copies using Arabic numerals and 4 copies using Roman numerals.

Veronika Schäpers

The idea for this book is based on a radio report of July 29, 2010, about finding a mummified corps in Tokyo’s Adachi ward. It was the body of Sogen Kato, who was said to be the oldest Tokyoite alive. In order to prepare a celebration for the “Day of the aged “in mid-September, public officers of the Tokyo authorities tried to visit him and finally discovered the mummy in his bed on the ground floor of his house.

Three days later, the authorities found out that the oldest woman alive, Fusa Furuya, had disappeared as well. A systematic search began, and 400 cases of pension fraud were uncovered until the end of the year, which led to great disconcertment in Japan.

For this book, I looked into 30 cases in 2010 and 2011 where relatives had hidden their parents, aunts, or uncles in their house to receive their pension. In many cases, the corpse was in the delinquent’s house.

The death of their parents showed them how dependent they are and unable to care for their own income and their lives in general. The long list of these cases illustrates the tragedy, but at the same time also some comedy because the explanations and excuses are often exactly the same.

Heiko Michael Hartmann, a German author with whom I spoke about these cases of pension fraud, wrote a short story about this topic. Taking the perspective of an officer told to examine these cases, Hartmann describes how this officer visits the house of an unemployed cultural scientist and finds the corps of her mummified mother.

Somehow relieved, the daughter starts to talk about her life, becoming more and more dependent on her mother, and finally sees no other way out but to hide the corps.

I have printed Hartmann’s story on four single pages of thin Ganpi paper, alluding to newspaper typography. These papers are folded into sheets with black stripes of barrier tape printed on their backside. A fifth page contains the translation of the documented cases as well as the imprint. All five wrapped papers are placed next to each other in a big cardboard cover.

On this cardboard, I have printed all 30 cases of pension fraud, always in the same order: name and age of the delinquent, name and age of the dead, total amount of wrongly received pension, place where the corpse was found, and finally, a quotation of the excuses.

The wrapped cover is placed into a stronger cardboard, on which I have printed two roughly pixelled photographs. These pictures show the house in which Sogen Kato was found in 2010 and where his family is still living today.

Veronika Schäpers
I started making books in Japan, where I lived for many years and sharpened my sense of observation. I get easily attracted by seemingly banal topics, often connected to everyday life, which turn into complex and complicated themes the more I work on them. This could be described as cultural research and helped me understand a foreign culture, giving me the freedom to observe from a different perspective. The cultural research is also closely connected to a research on materiality. The book is a sensual medium, motivating me to include all kinds of materials that attract the senses in a subtle and supportive way that can be haptic, visual, and olfactory. In other words, it seems almost impossible to make a convincing piece of book art without the use of well chosen materials, leading to technical and stylistic variety.

- Veronika Schäpers

Veronika Schäpers

Veronika Schäpers
Durs Grünbein: 26°57,3’N, 142°16,8’E
Tokyo, 2007

Letterpress print in German and Japanese using polymer plates. Printed on 50-year-old toshaban-genshi paper. Illustrated with nautical charts and scientific data on the Architeuthis, provided by Tsunemi Kubodera from the National Museum of Science, Tokyo. Flexible cover made of clear vellum, embossed in black. Box made of semi-transparent acrylic.

46 pages. 24 cm x 45.3 cm.
Edition of 36 copies using Arabic numerals and 8 copies using Roman numerals.

Veronika Schäpers

26°57,3’N, 142°16,8’E - At this location in the northwestern Pacific, the Japanese marine biologist Tsunemi Kubodera took pictures of a living giant squid for the first time in its natural environment. When Kubodera published the images he had taken in September 2004, in the Proceedings of the Royal Society one year later, this was not only a scientific sensation, but he got worldwide attention in the mass media as well.

Inspired by a note in the newspaper, Durs Grünbein wrote a poem titled “Architeuthis” about this discovery and mailed it to me. Fascinated by his seven-verse text, this project about deep-sea fish emerged.

In autumn 2006, I visited Tsunemi Kubodera in his laboratory in the National Museum of Science in Tokyo.

I decided to use the data and formulas received from him together with some nautical charts as illustrations for the book. When we met, Kubodera also showed me pictures and short films of squids he recorded in depths between 600 and 1.000 meters. In these images, the unpracticed spectator only sees dim silhouettes of the squids but, at the same time, starts to sense the diversity of life in such darkness. This gave me the idea to use the interaction of transparent and opaque pages for this book.

In search of an appropriate paper, I got a larger amount of old Toshaban-Genshi, a very thin Ganpi paper used to make stencils for mimeographs. This paper was exactly what I was looking for. On the one hand, very thin and transparent; on the other hand, so firm that once printed with a dark color, it turned to be opaque. It also attracts through a fine and rustling tone. Each page of the book consists of a double-spread paper, folded in the front and printed completely. The pages are cut horizontally, pulled apart a little bit, and thus make visible the inserted single sheets. On these sheets, I printed the data Kubodera surveyed, as well as the nautical charts that are often only partially visible. The pages with their stripes remind the reader of horizons and depth contours and, at the same time, give a glimpse of the normally invisible variety of the deep-sea world as if lighted up with a torch.

The tranquil and colored pages are interrupted by six pale double-page spreads, printed with the three poems in German on the left and their Japanese translation on the right side.

The book is stitched with thin straps of vellum to a flexible cover of clear vellum. The first page contains the title, and the last page with the imprint is visible through the clear material. By its natural warping and organic character, the vellum sets a harmonic antipole to the technical image of the inner pages. The book is kept in a compact box made of 8 mm acrylic glass in the style of a preparation. By this, it seems to be cast in, and the heavy box forms a beautiful contrast to the lightweight and fragile book.

Veronika Schäpers

Veronika Schäpers

Veronika Schäpers
Heiko Michael Hartmann: Triumph eines Hosenverkäufers (Victory of a Trouser Salesman)
Tokyo, 2001 (first edition) and Tokyo, 2002 (second edition)

Inkjet print on clear polythene foil. Cover made of clear polycarbonate. Pages stitched on rubber cords that also bend the cover. Inflatable plastic cushion with stamped title in red and colophon in black. White fleece bag and white cotton gloves.

20 pages. 23.5 x 21 cm.
First edition: 10 copies using Arabic numerals and 3 copies using Roman numerals. Second edition: 15 copies using Arabic numerals and 3 copies using Roman numerals.

Veronika Schäpers

In his text “Triumph of a Pants Seller,” the Berlinbased author Heiko Michael Hartmann conveys the precarious situation of a customer forced by the salesperson to buy a pair of trousers. He not only gets advice but is pushed so much that he feels like the opponent in a boxing match. His aim is no longer to buy the trousers but to escape from the scene.

The text consists of twenty lines, each of which can stand alone but also can be read together with the previous or following line and then get a different meaning. Some words are even doubled, which makes the reader feel like jumping around. The way of reading underlines the contents of the text: the similarity of buying pants and being attacked in a boxing match.

The format of the book is a square, according to a boxing ring. The text is set in a square as well to mark the area where the boxers are moving. The book consists of 20 pages of clear foil, with one line of text and two boxers’ silhouettes on each page. The boxers are printed as red shadows and only become visible when the pages are turned. When the pages lie one above the other, the boxers fuse into a colored mass, visualizing the movements.

Veronika Schäpers

The single foils are stitched onto transparent gum cords that, for their part, give tension to the flexible plastic cover and symbolize the strings of a boxing ring. The bent cover is designed in a way that it pushes the spine of the book upwards in order to make the book easy to open.

To emphasize the transparency of the book, the title and colophon are printed on an inflatable plastic cushion that serves as the case for the book. By being lightweight, the cushion corresponds with the glue-free binding of the book and by its shape, it corresponds to the profile of a sand sack. Cushion and book are wrapped in white paper felt, the same material we receive as wrapping in a store when we buy really expensive clothes.

Veronika Schäpers

Veronika Schäpers

Veronika Schäpers
Das müssen Sie mir erst einmal beweisen
(First you have to prove it to me)
Karlsruhe, 2021

Letterpress print from polymer plates on Enduro Ice paper. 24 original b/w and color photograms laminated on Colorplan cardboard. Hinged slipcase in two colors, pasted with Efalin paper and embossed title made by Buchbinderei Mergemeier in Düsseldorf.

12 envelopes, each 25 x 34 cm.
Edition: 38 copies copies using Arabic numerals and 6 copies using Roman numerals.

Veronika Schäpers

In the spring of 2020, as the coronavirus spread first in China, then in Italy, and finally across the entire globe, touching off a worldwide pandemic, more and more conspiracy theories also sprang up about the origin and spread of the virus. Social media and news networks played a major role; the established audiovisual and print media were vilified as “fake news” and replaced by “alternative” sources.

At the start of the pandemic, a wide range of sometimes highly unusual methods were suggested as COVID-19 protection and treatment - often based on dubious scientific evidence or removed from their scientific context, making them incomprehensible. This was not a regional phenomenon; rather, it spread throughout the entire world along with the virus. In March 2020, I began systematically collecting different prevention measures and purported cures for COVID-19. I discovered a connection between the dissemination of conspiracy theories and the quantity of recommended protective measures. I chose 24 objects from my collection, which I captured as blackand- white or color photograms. The object is placed directly on or very close to a sheet of light-sensitive photo paper. It is then exposed using one or more light sources, developed, and fixed.

In particular, the aspect of a physically grounded alienation caused by the refraction of light, depending on the materiality of the object depicted, along with the color inversion inspired me to use the photogram method since it lends the objects a surreal aura.

The 24 original photograms are displayed opposite two texts. One is an original short story by H.M. Hartmann written specifically for this edition, a psychological profile of a conspiracy theorist, a look into the mind of a person without a firm grip on reality, driven by fear and emotions. The other text excerpts Titus Oates’ publication on the Popish Plot of 1679.

Titus Oates, an English priest, was the main informant in the "Popish Plot" which he invented in 1678. In April 1679, to shore up his theory and emphasize his credibility, Oates published the text: "A true narrative of the horrid plot and conspiracy of the popish party against the life of His Sacred Majesty, the government and the Protestant religion…."

Two photograms are laminated on each piece of cardboard and placed inside an envelope made of transparent paper, along with a title, a citation about their effect and application, and the citation source. The envelopes are printed continuously with excerpts from the short story by H.M. Hartmann and Oates’ Popish Plot.

All twelve envelopes are stored in a hinged slipcase, a construction consisting of two interlocking slipcases that open to a 90-degree angle so the sheets can be removed.

This somewhat labyrinthine form not only corresponds to the folding of the individual layers but also mirrors the thoughts of a conspiracy theorist, erratic and resistant to logical arguments.

Veronika Schäpers

Veronika Schäpers
Cees Nooteboom: Fuji
Karlsruhe, 2016

Hand-printed color gradations from linoleum onto Mitsumata paper, letterpress print using polymer plates in German and Dutch on bicchu-ganpi paper. NT-Pairu cover with silkscreened title. Japanese box made of empress tree (Paulownia tomentosa) wood with silkscreened title. Five kitchen sponges in the shape of Mount Fuji.

38 pages. 47.5 x 12.5 cm.
Edition of 36 copies using Arabic numerals.

Veronika Schäpers

Cees Nooteboom, a great admirer of Japan, has written extensively about the country and its culture since his first visit in 1973 – beautiful travelogues and short stories.

In 2016, the Dutch author allowed me to use three of his poems, including “Fuji.” My initial reaction was a mild disappointment – the topic seemed too superficial to me, almost trivial. After all, the 3,776-meter-tall mountain with its nearly perfect symmetrical cone is the best-known symbol of Japan, immortalized in thousands of paintings and a national treasure.

At the same time, though, I liked Nooteboom’s poem and his restrained way of expressing his deep admiration, which is further emphasized by the soft sound of the Dutch language.

Since I planned a trip to Japan soon after that, I started with a quick survey of Japanese friends in Tokyo. I was amazed by the uniformly positive, almost enthusiastic responses: At the same time, I began to look for the mountain in everyday Tokyo life. From the day I arrived, I found so many Fujis represented on socks, cups, senbei crackers, and umbrellas that I soon stopped photographing them. The mountain’s constant presence in everyday life had to be a part of my project. I chose a Fuji-shaped dish sponge that was not just aesthetically pleasing but is also advertised for its practical features.

Thinking about how valuable objects are often stored, I had a box made of paulownia wood that could fit five of the sponges. The sponges are covered by the book with the poem - a long landscape format with 36 color gradations in shades of blue. These monotypes are inspired by Hokusai’s famous woodcut series “36 Views of Mount Fuji,” in which he - just like Nooteboom in his poem - depicts the volcano from different perspectives and in different seasons.

I used the complete series of 36 views as a model, printing the typical color gradations individually along the top edge of the image on each page, in the original size on hand-moulded mitsumata paper. I didn’t want to produce a copy in the style of a Japanese woodcut; rather, I wanted the viewer to make an association with the old prints, trusting that the characteristic gradations combined with the title “Fuji” on the transparent cover would evoke the image of Hokusai’s 36 views. Under no circumstances would an image of the mountain appear in the book.

The final page features the poem, printed on thin ganpi paper. The individual verses are rotated 90 degrees, with the last word of each line emphasized in a bolder font. As a result, each verse is reminiscent of a small image of a mountain with a snowcap, just as Fuji is depicted on so many everyday objects - usually blue, sometimes red, but always with a white peak.

 Veronika Schäpers

 Robbin Ami Silverberg

 Julie Chen

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