Mon alias, Mona Lisa

 John Yau (* 1950)
Enrico Baj (1924 - 2003)
Collectif Génération
Title page

The music should take the poem away from the author, the poet John Yau once said in an interview. The French publisher Gervais Jassaud (born in 1944) came into contact with him in 1987. This American poet and critic was born in Lynn, Massachusetts, shortly after his parents had moved from China to America.

He published poems, essays on poetry and artists, such as In the Realm of Appearances. The Art of Andy Warhol (1993) and The United States of Jasper Johns (1996). Somebody with this conception of poetry fits well into the foundation of Jassaud, who developed artists' books for his publishing house Collectif Génération in collaboration with poets and artists.

Multilingual anagrams

Yau's text consists of a number of anagrams, perhaps the most musical of all forms of poetry: several words are formed on the basis of the same letters, some of which hardly have any meaning, and which make up unusual sound combinations. His starting point is Leonardo's painting of the 'Mona Lisa' from the Louvre in Paris. The words 'Mon alias' ('my double') can be formed from these letters, along with a whole series of 'other lines', with suggestive terms like 'salami', 'sin', 'Islam', and 'anima', and short lines like: 'Al Simon'(which brings to mind the names of saints or restaurants); 'Soli Maan' (which conjures up images of loneliness and lunacy); and 'Alon Amis' (which sounds very much like 'allons amis'-'let's go, friends' - and therefore makes an appropriate ending to the poem).

Yau often made different languages collide within a single poem, and a poem could also tell several stories at once. He wrote poems about talking while you're listening, and a poem that acquires a life of its own and tells the poet that it no longer wishes to listen to him. The poem in Mon alias, Mona Lisa acquired several lives, because the publisher decided to produce a number of different versions. The first of these appeared in 1992, with collages by Enrico Baj. Five copies were created, each of which included different collages: buttons, labels, playing cards, clasps, pictures of fish, and various other items.


The very same year, a second edition was published, with 'installations' by Rob Wynne. Editions later followed with illustrations by Charles-Christopher Hill (1994), Jean-Marc Scanreigh (1995), Lauren Berkowitz (1995), Solfrid Olette (1995) and François Matton (1998). All of these versions appeared in very small editions of five or six copies (The Hill-edition is also present in the Koopman Collection). Nine out of ten times, the idea for a new book at publisher Collectif Génération will start with the text. Jassaud is the one who looks for a way of turning the text into a book. He makes designs, determines the size and the typography, and finds out how the text might function in that design (he calls this 'breathing'). Jassaud then selects an artist, who will have to conform to the book's design. Sometimes this doesn't work out, but often it does.

Italian artist Enrico Baj was one of the founders of the Nuclear Art movement and a few other forms of resistance to the curtailment of artists' freedom. He continuously opted for new techniques and images, and wrote a large number of articles and books, such as Automitobiografia (1992). Jean Petit wrote the following about him: 'Baj is a painter of freedom', and 'In the artist's hands, broken mirrors, tissues, trimmings and clock faces turn into generals, archbishops and women of the world. Always an unsparing witness, he shows us how reality has many faces'.

Bibliographical description

Mon alias, Mona Lisa / John Yau [texte] ; [ill. avec 18 collages par Enrico Baj]. – [Colombes] : Collectif Génération, [1992]. - Leporello (3 p.) : ill. ; 20x31 cm
5 similar but not identical copies
Signed by the artist
Bénézit 1-651
Koopm F 30


  • Debra Bricker Balken, 'Notes on the publisher as auteur', in: Art journal, 52 (1993) 4 (Winter), p. 70-71
  • Paul van Capelleveen, Sophie Ham, Jordy Joubij, Voices and visions. The Koopman Collection and the Art of the French Book. The Hague, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, National Library of the Netherlands; Zwolle, Waanders, 2009
  • Paul van Capelleveen, Sophie Ham, Jordy Joubij, Voix et visions. La Collection Koopman et l'Art du Livre français. La Haye, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, Bibliothèque nationale des Pays-Bas; Zwolle, Waanders, 2009
  • Le corps du livre: L'oeuvre éditoriale de Gervais Jassaud. Nîmes, Carré d'art bibliothèque, Ville de Nîmes, 1998
  • Jean-Charles Masséra, 'Le livre à la recherche de son langage: L'exemple de Collectif Génération', in: Bulletin du bibliophile, (1991), p. 105-140
  • Jean Petit: Baj: Catalogue de l'oeuvre graphique et des multiples = Catalogue of the graphic work and multiples, Vol. I: 1952-1970. Genève, Rousseau, 1973