Johanna Drucker's Artist Books
An online repository of facsimiles, metadata, and commentary

Nova Reperta


Project Statement

This project was originally conceived when Brad Freeman and I were invited to participate in a project initiated by a curatorial team working with the Smithsonian in which artists were to respond to a work in the Bern Dibner Collection in the history of science and technology. That invitation came as we were moving from New York to New Haven. We put the project on hold, and it took us five years to finish it, though each of us did other things along the way. The project kept to the original Smithsonian parameters -- to create a work in response to one in the Dibner Collection. We had chosen the Stradanus, Nova Reperta (Modern Inventions is a rough translation of the title), because we were fascinated by the suite of prints Stradanus had created, and by his faith in the ability of visual means to depict and communicate knowledge. Our reworkings of the plates and themes about the inventions that had had the greatest effect on modernity took the form of photographs of current technological conditions and texts that translated and reworked the information in the glosses on the plates. Brad Freeman did the photographs. I did the writing and layout designs. The book was also meant to work as a wall piece, but never quite did. The scale of the texts was too small for legibility. But the writing and images were among the strongest we each had produced to that date. In terms of production, a work sitting between digital and offset technology, it is also an interesting hybrid. All the color in the book was produced with photomechanical means, but the were processed from darkroom photography to scanner to high-end digital film output. The texts existed only in the Quark files, with notes and originals from which they were drawn or on which they were based existing as well, but not in final form until the book was printed.

Production Narrative

Much of this is Brad's story, not mine. We began the production by taking notes in response to the copies of the original prints. I wrote texts. Brad began photographing. We did quite a bit of the production work at Djerassi, when Brad worked in the darkroom, creating the black and white glossies that we then laid out, taped together, and worked on for the sequence of the spreads. I was writing, and working on layout and typography. I had decided to lay the type out in such a way that it would call attention to the visual elements, work with them, rather than being plopped into "available" space within the images. We only had a small, 8 1/2 x 11" printer for proofing, so we were working in reduced scale. This became a problem later, when I realized that in many cases the type was a bit too small. The result is that the text never glosses the images or captions them, and that's a benefit. But the down side is that it is also sometimes overwhelmed by the images. Perhaps all for the best. Brad took the enormous files to the Institute for Electronic Art at SUNY Alfred where Joseph Scheer and Peer Bode very generously allowed us to produce the film. This was an enormous gift, and one that made the project possible. Brad did the printing at SUNY Purchase, and as he began to print, realized that there was a flaw in the way the press and sheet size were working that would consistently produce a streak in the images. He decided to create photomechanical masks, tones, etc. as a way to enhance the images. This was a terrific inspiration, since the duotones would not really have produced the kind of rich result that the color additions created. We were moving to Virginia as the book was being printed. Brad had been working long hours and many days, and I spent my time and energies on selling the house, getting us moved, and other logistics while he printed and packed up the pages. The binding of this project was done in stages, most of it while Brad was in Louisiana at LSU for the Fall of 1999. He designed the binding, and also commissioned someone to do the stands. This book is really Brad's book, much more than mine, though I love it and love the writing in it. Definitely a work neither of us would have or could have produced on our own.

Critical Analysis

Design Features

typographic: Agenda, which proved to be a familiar and versatile face.

imagery: Brad's photographs of new and old technologies, modern life, and the visible evidence of systems and structures of industry.

graphical: The layout of the type follows the formal structures of the images.

openings: All are dialogic, all acknowledge the gutter.

turnings: Striking for the color changes.

development: Pacing and timing peak, recede, peak and then fade.

intratextual: Text image and image/image and layout/color are all active.

Critical Discussion

See the introduction to the book for a longer discussion of aesthetic issues in this project. But the basic realization that visuality only partially reveals the structures of knowledge and power in contemporary life was the critical epiphany embodied in the project's design and execution at every level.



Johanna Drucker

type: initiating


Brad Freeman

type: initiating


Publication Information

publisher: Jabbooks

publication: 2000-00-00

publication history: A single edition of this work was produced, this one.

Aesthetic Profile

artists' books (LCSH)

themes: Modern technology and inventions.

content form:
experimental text (local)

publication tradition:
artists' book (local)

inspiration: Nova Reperta by Johannes Stradanus, printed posthumously in the early 17th century, based on a suite of his prints that had been wildly popular in the late 16th century. Stradanus lived from 1523-1605.

related works: From Now and Damaged Spring have textual similarities. For Brad, his work in MuzeLink and in Overrun have formal relations to these photographs.

other influences: Brad Freeman and I were a strong influence on each other at the time we did this book.

community: other The book arts community seemed important, more than the poetry world, though who exactly we imagined as our audience is difficult to specify.

Related Documents

manuscript type: texts

location: artist's archive

note: All in existence.

manuscript type: other

location: artist's archive

note: Notes on production and conception.

General Comments

title note: The title is the same as that of the 1638 publication of Johannes Stradanus on which it was based.


Publication Information

edition type: editioned

publisher: Jabbooks

place: New Haven

publication: 2000-00-00

edition size: 75 copies


horizontal: 16" inches closed

vertical: 20" inches closed

depth: .5" inches closed

Production Information

production means:
offset (local)

binding: other

bookBlock: paper
endsheets: paper

ink (local)


format: stab (AAT)

color: yes


pagination: unpaginated

numbered?: numbered

signed?: signed


Nova Reperta is a collaboration between Brad Freeman and Johanna Drucker. The text was written and designed by Johanna Drucker and typeset using Font Bureau's Agenda family. All photographs were made by Brad Freeman in locations around New Haven, New York, San Francisco, and Djerassi Foundation in Woodside, California. Digital prepress completed @ JAB World Headquarters on a Power Mac 8500 using Photoshop 4.0 and Quark 4.04. / The digital film for this book was produced through the Institute for Electronic Arts (iea) at Alfred Univeristy, Alfred, NY, and imageset on a SelectSet Avantra 25 S. Film and imagesetter provided by AGFA Corporation. / Offset printed by Brad Freeman on the Solna press at the Center for Editions, SUNY, in Purchase, NY. Special assistance on all aspects of production provided by Chris George who did stripping, platemaking, printing on a number of these pages, as well as helping with collating, binding, and other tasks. Justin Tesa silkscreened the cover titles. Vena Orisek refined the design for the stands and produced them in red oak. / The paper is Mohawk Superfine, 100 lb. text. Handbound by the artists in boards and silk. / Many thanks to Joseph Scheer, and Peer Bode of iea, Alfred University, for their support; to Mark Klingensmith for technical assistance; to Mary Lum for facilitating connections to ie; to the Djerassi Foundation for a residency in the summer of 1998; and to Gino Lee, Charles Steel, and Melissa Riley for location assistance and companionship in the Bay Area. / Originally conceived in 1993-94; designed, written, photographed, and printed in 1998-99. Copyright 1999: all rights reserved to the artists. / The edition consists of 75 copies of which this is number [of 75]. / All copies signed by the artists [signatures].