The Library of Inextricable Books
Source Collection of Inextricable Books
Wim T. Schippers (1942) is a Dutch programmaker, actor, writer, presenter and visual
artist whose work is related to Fluxus, popart and conceptual art. Thit book is his monograph designed by Thonik in 1997. English and Dutch are printed on top of each other in separate colors: green and red. Also the images are superimposed, which creates first of all confusion. Two pieces of translucent plastic allow the reader to focus on one of the two. The reader might begin laughing confronted with such a bold intervention, but soon finds there can be a kind of childish pleasure in using the colored sheets to take in the information.
We are used to finding a collection of images in an exhibition catalogue that represent the work shown at the time. Unfolded, designed by Julia Born and Laurenz Brunner on the occasion of an exhibition by still life photographers Scheltens & Abbenes, gives a twist to this concept. The designers started by making a black-and-white computer rendering of the museum: a virtual space that features both reproductions of the work and the introductory text. They pulled out all the stops in this virtual exhibition, which basically shows ‘still lifes of still lifes’. As an exhibition catalogue, Unfolded is stubborn and unique. As the reader, you’re aware of viewing a construct and can see the dimensions of the works in relation to each other: the book functions like a camera.
The work of Beninese artist Meschac Gaba centres on his concept of a Museum of Contemporary African Art. The artist brings this nomadic and virtual museum to life in his installations. Designers Mevis & van Deursen decided to make their publication part of the virtual museum too, imagining it as THE LIBRARY OF THE MUSEUM VOL. 1. The design itself emphasises this concept: the choice of a gold cover makes the book feel like a treasure. The essays are presented in a typewriter typeface, written on pages that suggest stationery and carbon copy paper. These aspects call to mind the activities of documenting, capturing, collecting, etc. The book also uses bold typography that is combined with the images, transforming each of them into a separate museum item. The reader is lured by their combined effect into playing along with this game of the imaginary museum.
Like fashion designers Viktor & Rolf, Irma Boom is known for her bold, experimental, conceptual-driven approach to design. Cover Cover raises bookmaking to a whole new level. Consisting entirely of 8-page covers that reference the dramatic layers in the designers’ work, this hand-sewn publication was made with paper that becomes thicker as the reader leafs through the different collections. The folded flaps are reminiscent of a catwalk, and the changing combinations recall the fleeting nature of a fashion show. The inverted images forge the individual collections into a single visual whole. This radical intervention – which allows the book to transcend ordinary representation – is also significant in relation to the fashion designers’ oeuvre.
The poems in YELLe! written by Norbert de Beule refer often to youth culture: sometimes the lines seem almost like slogans. The poet used different fonts in his manuscript, not merely as a formal experiment but also to better define their complex content. Typographer Melle Hammer elaborated on this idea and added the colour red. These typographic interventions guide the reader’s interpretation of the poems, separating them into different parts with the aid of bold and italic fonts. De Beule: “I’m very happy with Melle Hammer’s design. It is a true gift, but make no mistake: it only ‘colours in’ more clearly what the poems themselves want. That is why that inspired man creates a unique design concept for each new bundle.”
The group exhibition For the Blind Man... explores the speculative nature of knowledge, insisting on the importance of curiosity and the things we don’t understand. In line with this concept, Will Holder, who was responsible for editing and designing the exhibition catalogue, used a wide range of graphic elements in which text and image continuously alternate or complement each other. This results in a light-hearted, playful atmosphere. This presentation of theoretical content is liberating and helps to convey a more ambiguous meaning. By bringing the search and not the end goal to the foreground, the book encourages the reader to go on a journey.
In 1993, Renny Ramakers and Gijs Bakker founded Droog to promote contemporary Dutch design. The initiators had selected work by young Dutch designers in which they recognised a new trend that combined the reuse of everyday objects with a down-to-earth mentality. In 1996 Thonik designed the catalogue.Items from the Droog collection were photographed in the designers’ home. This witty intervention, in line with the spirit of the collection, changes their content from museum objects to utensils, and creates a visual narrative throughout the book.
Het boek van PTT, published in 1938 and designed by Piet Zwart, was commissioned by the Netherlands’ state-owned national postal service PTT. The 48-page book explains to children how the postal service and telephony worked. Zwart wanted to stimulate children’s spirit of discovery, and introduced two protagonists in the book: De Post (‘Mr Post’) and J. Zelf (‘Your Self’). The book’s design turns long educational texts into attractive elements on the page. The content is almost literally brought to life by the two puppets, which are photographed in combination with other objects and illustrations. The reader is enticed to become part of this world, by sending a letter.
The French graphic designer Massin (1925 – 2020) started working for Le Club du Meilleur Livre in 1952. He bore responsibility for every aspect of the book’s production, not just typography. He made what he called book-objects, books in which aesthetic aspects exist independently of the textual content and – as he himself stated – prevail over legibility. Massin expressed the books’ content through a range of elements: size, binding, layout, paper, typeface, etc. As a result, the text is no longer text and the book is not a book. Moreover, L’Or by Blaise Cendrars was designed as a whole – starting with the cover, which embraces the pages within via colour and typography. Then there are illustrations on the flyleaves; the striking chapter numbers in typography: all in all, a work of art.
In 1996 Carlos Aguirre Morales had a number of wrestling masks made that were based on his own face, and asked various wrestlers from the Lucha Libre circuit to wear them. The book Los Amorales contains photographs and video stills of their matches and preparations and was created in close conjunction with Mevis & van Deursen. The design can be described as visual storytelling. The designers combined notes that Morales had for the publication with photos and images. The overall result evokes associations of wrestling match posters, road movies, journals, diaries. But above all, it captures the unique energy of the artist’s performances.
Milieudienst 1996, designed by Richard Niessen, was an annual report published by a semi-public agency responsible for keeping Amsterdam’s public space clean and safe. The text is based on a monologue by the director, who takes you on a tour of the city. He explains which part the agency played in its upkeep that year, offering examples that range from general to very specific. This is amplified by the design, which is based on a map of the city. The text has been divided into three layers: each layer zooms in on a different detail. The inside cover offers an overview. Reading the book, you become aware of the complex relationship between Milieudienst and the city as described by its director. In the mid-1990s, it was quite common for designers in the Netherlands to enjoy this kind of freedom. However, it disappeared like snow in the sun after the country’s public sector was privatised.
The catalogue The Most Beautiful Swiss Books 2013 was produced for the annual roundup of the crème de la crème of books published in Switzerland. David Keshavjee and Julien Tavelli of MAXIMAGE took the idea of the test print to its extreme, by subjecting samples from the chosen books to continuously changing parameters. The result is highly varied — for example, the designers use CMYK and Sixplex printing, matte varnish or no varnish, etc. These different treatments and methods are intermingled with various screening criteria. The book serves as an example of an extreme implementation of a concept in which you may lose a lot but get something completely new in return. The designers force the reader to pay close attention to the art of reproduction. The book makes urges us to understand its enormous range and potential and argues for a nuanced approach to the book as a material object and cultural artefact.
In 1982, French design collective Grapus was commissioned by Maisons de la Culture in La Rochelle to strengthen communication between the local cultural institutions and residents. Grapus suggested this project should also help to bring residents in contact with each other. In the publication ZUP! L’album de famille, concept, implementation and purpose are highly entangled. The designers visited residents of all ages, asking them: ‘What does happiness mean to you?’ Each page is a visual response to one of these encounters and, like the residents themselves, has a unique tone of voice and style. At the same time, the book as a whole comes out of a common project. This book with all its intertwined properties was created because the designer took on the role of author.
This book was made in the context of a group show with a series of performances called DESK, organised in 1990 in the Amsterdam artist-run space W139. Performances are always difficult to convey in pictures – a complication that designer Bas Oudt grasped as an opportunity to use different ink types to communicate the book’s contents. Rather than showing straightforward full-colour photographs of the performances, the images are printed in black ink on a silver field. This triggers associations of motion (silver is able to both highlight and obscure) and calls photo negatives to mind. Printed on thick cardboard, the plates are interspersed with super-thin paper bearing rich typographic impressions of what took place at the time. This subjective presentation, combined with the designer’s specific choice of inks and papers, results in a book that is as lively and surprising as an actual performance.
The Coxcodex 1 gives an overview of the work of Paul Cox and offers five texts by different authors. It’s as if without further ado, the documents submitted by the authors have been printed out and cut into pieces that were pasted on the pages between the drawings. The artist guides the reader through the book with captions, arrows, page numbers, etc. in his own handwriting. The combined effect is reminiscent of a manuscript in progress. The reader looks over the artist’s shoulder, following the searching nature of his work – a far-reaching investigation of how graphic elements interact. The inviting design allows the reader to access this world. Clearly conceived by the artist himself, it is above all his execution that makes this book so excitingly interwoven and meaningful.
The documenta 14 team decided against producing a regular exhibition catalogue, opting instead for a ‘daybook’ that covers all 163 days of the event: with two locations, the main thing the entries had in common was time. Each artist was allotted a day, with each entry accompanied by a second date in which artists went into a specific event that was personally important to them. The book, designed by Laurenz Brunner and Julia Born, can be seen as a record of ‘the passage of a few persons through a rather brief unity of time’ (the title of Guy Debord’s 1959 film). The book functions as a chronological calendar, while the personal timeline, in contrast, is organised the other way around and presented in a black rectangle. As often the case with inextricable books, the design refers to another medium. The cover is made of plastic and is reminiscent of a personal organiser. The conflicting timeline stimulates one’s awareness of time, and the reader is activated by the disorienting design.