“le spectateur est invitÉ À lire le livre, À continuer de BRÛLER les pages en enflammant les allumettes collÉes, À ajouter d’autres allumettes, À rÉduire le tout en cendres. IngrÉdients: allumettes ordinaires, allumettes dÉtonantes.”
The lettering of Aubertin’s own instructive note, with its rough blend of lower and upper case usages, was inked in to accompany his bold overwriting of a book’s title (in this instance a forlorn found copy of Gaëtan Picon’s book of the month Panorama des Idées Contemporaines, published in 1957), redubbed as LIVRE BRÛLÉ ET À BRÛLER, 1962-1971. This inscription is suggestive of a ham-fisted attempt by a Paris based Auto-Destructive artist and member of Group ZERO, to obey a self-imposed OuLiPean programme, trying to deceive the reader/co-conspirator of his modified book, that Aubertin himself might be semi-illiterate, and at the very worst easily pigeonholed as a mad or outsider artist, another feral child unschooled in the niceties of French grammar, and hardly an ornament to Port-Royal linguistic philosophy. To acquire LIVRE BRÛLÉ (valued at £6,000 by Sims Reed Rare Books in 2009) and actually follow the instruction would implicate anybody happy enough to indulge in such pyromaniac activities. But of course to see it through would paradoxically mean the incineration of the form too. Good money up in smoke. As Gaëtan’s unadulterated title quietly fades at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, its primed clone so to speak, an artists’ book, if that term is viable here, represents a slap in the face for systems of shelfmarking, and the consensual decorum which governs and protects the printed page. With accession into Special Collections however, such a title is forever poised on the edge of its own cremation, and becomes a problematic brébis noir giving Alexandrian librarians a tension headache. The concept of a book fitted with sulphur matches designed to catch light spontaneously till the whole stitched block goes to blazes, is reminiscent of the classic POW plot dilemma: owning just the one paperback, either American pulp, or a Penguin special issue, the prisoner must read the novel faster than the pages are torn out and hung on a rusty nail in the camp latrines. Aubertin jeopardises the text’s fabric too, bringing it low, treating Picon’s intellectual survey with disdain, whilst his identification of highbrow reference matter as winter fuel allies him with John Latham, and his penchant for using textbooks as handy faggots in flaming SKOOB towers. Through their infernal strategies both artists assault the deep-seated symbolic power and chronology of ideas, and thus the entire superstructure of knowledge; a new bonfire of vanities highlighting the disposability of the vehicles trafficking those vanities. By his own admission, Aubertin attached throughout LIVRE BRÛLÉ “ordinary matches, detonating matches, snowy matches, sachets of fragrant smoke generating powder, sticks of fulminate and percussion caps” all of which gives any potential abuser the choice of either destroying the book piecemeal or in one go. In the same Luciferean rubric he added “the participant is mistreated: he suffocates, his eyes and his nose smart, he is hot, congested and accidentally he burns himself.” More recent games with fire have been devised by Greville Worthingon, whose books are rendered into so-called ‘biochar’, and book activist Christina Mitrentse whose Wounded Books I II III series, 2012, includes Pelican titles such as John Holt’s How Children Fail enhanced with a singed bullet hole neatly fired by a rifle through its bright cover graphics. In the political domain Koran burning has become a blatantly seditious act, a tool guaranteed to spark violent unrest amongst jihadists, the logical step Aubertin’s LIVRE BRÛLÉ ET À BRÛLER declines, hinting with surreal wit that it is dangerous to play with matches.