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Issue 183

Ideal Syllabus: ATLAS Projectos

The books that have influenced the publishing collective

BY ATLAS Projectos in Books , Opinion | 23 OCT 16

Lawrence Durrell, Down the Styx (1971)

Durrell’s surreal fiction first appeared in the January 1938 issue of The Booster, a magazine edited by Durrell, Henry Miller and Alfred Perles. It was later revised, extended and published as a chapbook by Noel Young for his small imprint, Capricorn Press; the watercolour on the cover is by Durrell himself. Using a strict economy of means, the author’s text is set in black letterpress and accompanied by several of Gustave Doré’s Divine Comedy (1861) etchings, which are repeated throughout in different hues of black, red and green. The physicality of this ‘acid’ split-fountain printing process propels Durrell’s journey with his devout ‘Aunt Prue’ to a place where the text is lifted off the page.

Lawrence Durrell, Down the Styx, 1971, book cover

José da Fonseca and Pedro Carolino, The New Guide of the Conversation, in Portuguese and English (1855)

Following on from a Portuguese-French version, The New Guide was first published in 1855 but never widely circulated. Apparently, the English part of the text was a literal translation of the French compiled with the aid of a French-English dictionary. In 1883, James Millington published it in Britain under the title English as She Is Spoke, neglecting the Portuguese; its nonsensical English is a treasure trove of unintentional comedy. In the same year, Mark Twain published it in the US, sealing its fate as a humourous book in English-speaking countries. Nowadays, it’s in the public domain, and it’s easy to find several editions of this bestseller both in print and online. In 2010, we republished it using a freely available PDF scan from the University of California, which we found on Google Books.

Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, 1933, book cover

Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933)

Suggested in jest by Gertrude Stein to her life partner Alice B. Toklas, but then taken up by the author in earnest, this account of the couple’s years together in Paris is expressed in Stein’s unmistakable voice at its most accessible. Written as if she were channelling Toklas, Stein’s ‘autobiography’ is a game in polyvocality, written as a first-hand account. It pulls at the seams of both the fabric of reality and of fiction, creating a new space where art and life might intersect.

Josef Müller-Blockmann, Grid Systems (1968)

Purported to be one of the definitive manuals on page layout and composition, this volume resumed what modern Swiss graphic design wanted to achieve so badly in the 1960s: clean-cut, no-frills objectivity. It was one of our first introductions to thinking about the rectangular spaces of page and spread. In this guidebook, Müller-Brockmann constantly juggles with the three-to-four languages of the Swiss cultural and institutional context – something that we, as Portuguese speakers mainly working in a bilingual setting, were quick to notice. As we deal with the constant need for translation, we keep returning to Müller-Brockmann’s examples, even as we continuously and respectfully disrespect his rules.

Lothar Baumgarten, Auto-focus retina (2008)

Despite sharing its title with an exhibition at MACBA in Barcelona, Auto-focus retina is not a catalogue. Put together by the artist and typographer Walter Nikkels, in collaboration with the editor and curator Bartomeu Marí, it attests to Baumgarten and Nikkels’ life-long creative relationship. A retrospective in book format that jumps around the 40-plus years of Baumgarten’s career, it embodies how inextricably bound their practices are.

Fernando Calhau, Lis’81, 1982, book cover

Fernando Calhau, Lis’81 (1982)

This book is the aftermath of the never-held second edition of the Lisbon International Show, a biennial focused on drawing as a discipline – including its conceptual, process, project, serial, linguistic and cartographic potential. Following its successful launch in 1979, the second iteration had an open call and guest artists. However, due to a mysterious fire, Lis’81 vanished before it had even opened. As most of the works were made of paper or fragile materials, they were all totally consumed in the flames that brought down the Galeria Nacional de Arte Moderna de Belém (GNAM), where the exhibition was to be held. Edited, co-ordinated and designed by Fernando Calhau – an artist and one of the initiators of Lis – this book was his attempt to transcend the biennial’s disastrous outcome. The book reproduces most of the works that were to be exhibited, along with texts by Rudi Fuchs, Donald Kuspit and Fernando Pernes; it also includes a series of photographs of the embers of GNAM by the artist Julião Sarmento. The printed catalogue becomes an ‘object-book’, the only ‘material testimony and memory of what Lis’81 would have been’.

Petra Travis, The Astronaut Metaphor (2013)

Sharply focused on titles and authors that glide between fiction and non-fiction, Duvida Press’s editions have constantly been on our bedside tables. Petra Trivisi’s book, for example, transforms fiction into theory and back again. It tells the story of three young workers from a distribution centre filled with a landscape of complex packaging systems and objects. The Astronaut Metaphor is a novel on mediation and distribution in contemporary Western societies and their impact on human relationships and perception.

Sylvère Lotringer, Christian Marazzi (eds.), Autonomia: Post-Political Politics (1980/2007)

It could be said that Autonomia was published a bit too late. When it first came out in 1980, most of the featured authors had already been arrested or had fled Italy. One of the earliest English translations of texts by Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi, Antonio Negri, Mario Tronti and Paolo Virno, it was the first compendium of writing by proponents of this hard-to-pin-down movement. It brings together a set of texts related to the emergence of new and creative possibilities for post-Marxist and post-Fordist thinking in the West, something that was alien to the left wing in the US at the time. With its hypnotic chain of visual references that run parallel to the text at the bottom of each page – both footnoting and commenting on it – for us, this volume became a political, editorial and visual reference from the moment we first read it.

ATLAS Projectos is a publisher based in Lisbon, Portugal, and Berlin, Germany. It is run by artists Nuno da Luz, André Romão and Gonçalo Sena. ATLAS has published books and records by a circle of close collaborators and presented its work in spaces such as Castillo/Corrales in Paris, France, Jan van Eyck Academie in Maastricht, the Netherlands, and Galerie Kamm in Berlin, among others. Recent publications include Outlaws in Language and Destiny, a fold-out poster and flexi-disc by Joana Escoval, and Paris, May 16, the first volume of the ‘Next Spring’ series, edited by Laura Preston.