Weproductions, a small press operated by Telfer Stokes and Helen Douglas from the 1970s to the 1990s made a series of books that are by turns witty, enigmatic, thought provoking and baffling. They're photo books, in one sense, and play a lot of self-referential games with the page. They're books that know they're books, and are busy exploring their own structure and representational codes. But here's one that I have only just come across, that's a little different from the rest. Mim, from 1987, is a mixture of text and image bringing together images of the built environment and clothes fabrics in photomontage techniques that explore texture and pattern. But it brings the page into this, using different paper types that have different thicknesses, opacity and feel. When you read you're not just looking at texure, but feeling it through your fingers, too.
As the book goes on, the interplay between pattern, text and texture in pushed further and further, until the words break down into abstract, asemic patterns themselves. At the same time, the page surface assumes more of a role. There are pictures of wallpapered interiors spaces, but also actual wallpaper itself. It starts to resemble a wallpaper sample book, in its range of different feels and embossed patterns, and you're not quite sure what you're supposed to be doing with it: reading, touching, or choosing a colour scheme for your living room. (The cover is actually flock wallpaper, that most touchable and strokable wall surface).
Making books out of wallpaper has an illustrious pedigree in the avant garde. Russian experimental poet Vasilii Kamenskii produced a series of them. This one is from 1914, entitled Tango with Cows: Ferro-Concrete Poems. It's all hand printed on the verso of wallpaper leaves. There are other points of intersection, too. And decorating your walls with cut out illustrations from books was a common nineteenth century practice. Joe Orton - definitely not a Victorian - also used cannibalised library book pages to wallpaper his bedsit, and went to prison for it.
So, what distinguishes a piece of wallpaper from a page? Maybe that sounds like a daft question, but it's one that leads down some interesting avenues. These episodes suggest it depends on context. But wallpaper sample books are an interesting species of pages - they're bound in book form but they're not to be written on or used a surface for inscription. I mean, you could use them in that way if you like, but that's not their purpose. Like the samples of business cards and bank notes produced by jobbing printers discussed by Lisa Gitelman in her book Paper Knowledge, they're a strange kind of thing. They are fragments of the real world, rather than illustrations. Their purpose is to show you (in the case of wallpaper) the texture and the surface. They're books that show you the exact opposite of what you're supposed to see when you look at a book. Normally we screen out the surface noise and texture in order to read. But when you're leafing through a wallpaper samplebook those things are EXACTLY what you want to focus on.