Book X and Book XXXVIII contribute to the ramified universe of books that Dutch artist Jan van der Til has been building since 2013 under the title Rhizomebook as “part of his ongoing research to create a new kind of book; a book that thinks with the world, not about the world” (artist website, “Introduction”). To date (August 2022), the project includes forty-nine numbered volumes, all of which are loosely connected—rhizome-like—and yet can also stand alone. They are all titled Book, even though they are very different objects of a printed, digital, ephemeral, sculptural, or even horticultural nature. Van der Til understands “book” here as “synonymous with work,” indicating “that it is a bundling of information that can be read, stored, reproduced, distributed and presented” (artist website, “Concepts of Work”).

Book X

The starting point for Book X: Copy, one of his few print-on-demand publications, is a how-to tutorial, here Arnd Terjung’s Zelf repareren van autolakschades from 1985, which is copied 1:1, but with any text omitted. Therefore, the book itself does not contain any references to authorship, title, circumstances of publication, etc. This fits in with van der Til’s reflections on his concept of works: “The boundaries between my work, original, and copy have gradually disappeared. […] My ambition is to develop Books that are images” (artist website, “Further Reading”).

All that remains are the photos of the tutorial, which “are meant to be instructive, they are meant to be as clear as possible, they are carefully staged and composed for this reason, but without their captions and taken out of context things are not so clear any more, the pictures take on a life of their own” (Joachim Schmid, “Doing Things”). If one did not know that it is paint damage depicted here, one might mistake the first series of images for shots of the sky or the sea with inexplicable artifacts. Left alone with the visuals, moreover, details like a woman’s hands with a ring and nail polish suddenly come into view, which surprisingly seems to take over the “dirty work” toward the end of the book; suddenly, not only do the small, unassuming black-and-white photos seem outdated, but the DIY paint damage repair itself seems to have fallen out of time, because who still repairs their own cars anymore, and whose cars are getting so old these days that they rust through?

Please tell me why

This book is part of the twenty-eight-piece series ABC Days, to which Jan van der Til was invited by Artists’ Books Cooperative member Wil van Iersel in 2020. Each participant was to produce a book in a given format to be published each day as part of a series between June 11 and July 9, 2020. Most of the books reflect the news of that day or period, which was marked by the pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests. Jan van der Til, however, chooses as the theme of his day the invitation he received from van Iersel, and quotes, comments on, and fleshes it out for his own present book. While the other books in the series usually only have the date as a title, Jan van der Til provides his book, in the imprint, with a second title Please tell me why and declares it at the same time to be Book XXXVIII of his Rhizomebook project.