Enemies of Books. (A narrative)

Enemies of Books is an experimental art project on books, bookbinding and code.

Dr . Sarolea
For Years to Come
The Machine, Georges Perec
Workshops, talks
The Chance Execution
Manualen slutförandet.
Georges Perec, The Machine by Olle Essvi

My background as a bookbinder is digital death and corrupt files. I was a computer artist and learnt how to bind books in order to document that which remained. I could have left the artworks there, to decompose, rot away, disappear in all the other bit rot. Instead I became a bookbinder in a world of decay.
We were living in a time of anxiety over the future existence of the book. The computer was set to take over and the electronic book was expected to have a brilliant future.

… this became my starting point.





Dr . Sarolea 


"I download the book from the Internet, https://books.google.com, Enemies of books, written by William Blades, published in 1881. A book on the decay of books. The enemies of the physical book – fire, water, gas, the bookworm, dirt, bigotry etc. A digitized book with no identity. Black letters on a white background. I buy a copy of the book from 1881. A yellowed, and stained copy. The book bears traces of a former owner, one Dr. Sarolea. Newspaper cuttings on his death and his extensive book collection. I compare the two texts, the original and the digitized copy. Using my computer I create a tool for binding books. I combine and modify traditional tools that have been used for hundreds of years and print out the components on a 3D-printer. The next day I print out another copy of the digitized book, and using the 3D-printed tool I make an exact replica of the book from 1881, in its original design. I construct a manual describing the process and upload the files to the Internet."

A 3D-file is used to create a tool for binding books. The main purpose is to use the tool for gluing, pressing and cutting, the necessary steps for making a book – a simple, free tool drawing on older techniques and machines but rooted in the present, in contemporary technology.

Files for 3d printing - Bone folder (20160831)
Files for 3d printing - all files (20160831)

To print a bookbinding tool using a 3D-printer is time consuming. 36 hours. The smell of melting plastics and the sound of motors moving across the objects. It bothers me. Using wood it would take less than 15 minutes to turn the object on a lathe, but I want to share, and I am working for the future. I reduce the time by mounting printed parts on a piece of wood, spruce. The mounting is described ina manual. The files are uploaded to the Internet.


Scanned books are available online. Older books with expired copyrights, but also books with no copyright, illegally uploaded. Files can be downloaded, printed and finally bound into a book using my machine. I bound the book Enemies of Books, written by William Blades in 1881, a book on the enemies of the physical book: fire, water, gas, the bookworm. I order the book online and by chance get to know its former owner, Dr Sarolea. The book contains his signature, along with press clippings on his death. He was the owner of one of the world’s largest book collections. In one of the clippings it is described as ”one of the wonders of the world, not to say the monstrosities of the world”. With his copy as a model I bound a replica using my tool and a scanned copy from the Google-company. I then published the book along with a manual describing the binding process through photographs, and a text describing Dr Sarolea. A search for traces.




For Years to Come


20090101 & 20151101
I devised a workshop, to spread the knowledge of bookbinding, and use my press to create books. The theme of the workshop was time. We bound calendars, 100 years. The starting date was optional but the duration was set to a hundred years. You realised that you probably wouldn’t experience all these years. You realised that you would die, that the book would survive you. So we talked about time, death, and transience, about traces, marks, notes and torn pages, how digital materials are timeless, how the book remembers and carry trances of past times. 

Files for 3d printing - long screw for press (20160831)
Download pdf 2018-2118
Download Code




The Machine, Georges Perec

I searched the Internet and found the book The Machine, written by Georges Perec. The book was originally a 1968 radio play, on three computers analysing the Goethe poem “The Ramblers Lullaby II”. The poem is processed in various ways. A fictional book on computers as creators and interpreters of text.


The computer as an author, but not then. Georges didn’t live to experience the personal computer. His only experience was a chance encounter with an ancient talking computer, owned by a university that he visited the year after he wrote the text. He wrote about a future he would never see. Singularity – the computer capable of self-improvement, the ultra intelligent machine.

The work was broadcast on German radio in 1968 and later translated for an American art journal of which I have forgotten the name. Someone scanned this translation and made it available online as a PDF-download.




Workshops & talks

People heard about the project. Word spread and I was invited to do workshops. I met a lot of people and we bound new books. The meetings inspired new projects and texts. The project was no longer exclusively mine, but shared by others. They missed the physical, the real. They missed the book.






The Chance Execution

Each pattern is unique. I dream of marbling, colours spreading on the water surface, creating patterns on the surface of the paper. Chance. The unique book. Marbling as code.
I am invited to write for a book, a book on algorithms, on researchers and artists working with code. I write a text on chance and marbling, and add a code that I have written to create marbling effects.
The text becomes a book. Once, a long time ago, I bought an old set of drawers from a disused bookbindery. The drawers were filled with small scraps of left over marbled paper. They might have been intended for some later use, but instead they remained there. I use these scraps to create the contents for a new book, a book on chance, bound with programmed, chance marbled end papers. A text on the inability of the computer to create chance – on how they use cloud patterns as an element of real chance for digital casinos.

Download text





Shadow libraries

I receive a letter, an invitation to a conference on shadow libraries and illegal scanning of books. I notice that one of the participants is the person who scanned and published the Perec book, and decide to go. Then, one evening, I am surrounded by book scanners. They come from different parts of the world and run illegal shadow libraries. I tell them about my book press and show them one of my bound copies of Georges’s book. They observe that my tools could be used to rebind the books that they cut apart for scanning, but soon realise that it would be practically impossible, due to the time it takes to bind one book. A discussion ensues, on which is faster, to scan a book or to bind it.





The Manual, Conclusion

I get an email from someone who took part in my workshop. They have forgotten how to do it, and I am not around. To create a manual would be a way to compensate for my absence. The workshop requires an instructor but the time of the workshop is limited and then I leave.
I write a manual. The manual is based on the Georges Perec book The Machine. The images and texts are digitally assembled. But no one understands. Too much gets lost in the translation of physical materials to digital information. A manual on how to bind a physical book requires a physical book. You need to touch to understand.
I bind three separate manuals using different techniques. For the covers and endpapers I use my programmed marbled papers and for the insert I use my version of Georges’s text, generated by code, a conclusion.
Download Manual:

Download Manual:
Binding 1
Binding 2
Binding 3





Georges Perec, The Machine by Olle Essvik
I read about a program that can interpret texts, the development is fast and within a few years they predict that the computer will be able to author texts. I enter Goerges’s text into such a program and wait. Together with Georges and the computer I create the text that Goerges once dreamt about. I upload the book to the Internet.