Roodborst territorium/Sculptuur 1969. Robin Redbreast's Territory/Sculpture 1969. Domaine d'un rouge-gorge/Sculpture 1969. Rotkehlchenterritorium/Skulptur 1969
Brest, France: Zédélé Editions, 2014
 pp., 4.8 × 7.3”, softcover
Edition size unknown
“There are so many different situations in which to look at something that standing right before the painting or walking around a sculpture could well be the most simple kind.”
In only a few years, Editions Zédélé have established themselves (alongside Primary Information in New York) as one of the leading publishers of facsimile reprints of artists’ books from the early seventies. The first five titles in their series, curated by two of the leading authorities on the subject, Anne Moeglin-Delcroix and Clive Phillpot, include books by Lawrence Weiner, Richard Long, Emmett Williams, herman de vries, and Peter Downsbrough.
The sixth is the Jan Dibbets’ classic, and in many ways quintessential, artist book, Robin Redbreast's Territory. Dibbets’ only bookwork (if you discount the 4-page Art&Project bulletin) was originally published by the legendary gallerist and publisher Seth Siegelaub in 1970. “I told Seth about it. He immediately was very enthusiastic and after I delivered him all the material, he took care of everything.”
The book documents a work which otherwise leaves no other physical traces.
"At the beginning of March 1969, I decided to displace a robin redbreast's territory so that the robin's flight would shape my sculpture/drawing,” writes Dibbets in the slim volume that also features photographs, topographical surveys, and handwritten notes translated into English, French and German.
To achieve this end, Dibbets read a number of books, including David Lack’s The Life of the Robin (1943) and The Territorial Imperative: A Personal Inquiry Into the Animal Origins of Property and Nations by Robert Ardrey. The latter was a 1966 bestseller that challenged the reigning methodological assumption of the social sciences, that animal behaviour is fundamentally distinct from that of human (“The dog barking at you from behind his master’s fence acts for a motive indistinguishable from that of his master when the fence was built.”).
Having gained “sufficient insight into the various possibilities”, Dibbets placed two poles close to a clump of trees in an Amsterdam park. His reasoning, according to the book's diary entries, was to pique the curiosity of the robin, and have him take perch on the pole. Each following day the artist would relocate the poles, moving them slightly further away from the trees until eventually they were completely isolated, thus having displaced the bird’s natural territory.
The artist viewed the work as both a drawing and a sculpture, but one that could “never be seen in its entirety. Only its documentation can reconstruct it in the viewer's imagination.” Dibbets realized that there was no way to "share it with others" until he had the idea of producing the piece as a bookwork.
The book then serves as the completed work, not merely it’s documentation.
“The act is not an end in itself for the artist” reads an insert* in the reprint, “[Dibbet's] preoccupation is with preserving the meaning of the work, because ultimately what is important is not the reality of the installation but the idea that inspired it.”
A confession in an 2008 interview with Christophe Cherix confirms the artist's emphasis on the idea over its execution: “This project happened so long ago that I can tell you a secret: the robin [in the photographs] was a dead bird, which I put on a stick!”.
The reprint is available in Europe and internationally, from the publisher, here. In Canada it is available at Art Metropole, here. In the USA, the title is available from Printed Matter, here, who also have the original Seth Siegelaub/Walter Koenig edition is available for $250, here.
*Presumably to remain completely faithful to the original, each of the Zédélé facsimile reprints includes a removable, tipped-in sheet containing information not included in the original source.