Irma Boom & guests: On the making of [paper] books

Back in September, I was part of an audience interested in listening to the most cherished Dutch graphic designer – Irma Boom, discuss about books with a couple of wonderful guests.

The Book Manifest symposium was organized by Allard Pierson – in connection with Boom’s exhibition across the halls of the museum (a beautiful display of the unpublished, small armies of dummy books, secret steps preceding the final works: the printed books designed by IB).

I’d missed the first talk (baby duty) and managed to enter the room when Michiel Nijhoff, head of Library and Collection Registration @ Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam was presenting a series of impressive artist books.
Then IB and Berend Strik talked about the recent book they’d worked on together: “Deciphering the artist’s mind”. An impressive journey featuring artist studios he had visited, photographed, and archived between 2 (very wisely chosen) square covers.

After the break, the conference hall was instantly warmed up by the charismatic Mattie Boom , photography curator @ Rijksmuseum. I loved her moderator skills during IB’s discussion with photographer Rineke Dijkstra.

And last, but definitely not least: IB talked with the beloved fashion designers Viktor & Rolf about the book they’d made together: Cover Cover (2018). Journalist Gert Jonkers was an entertaining panel chair.

Here are some takeaways from their conversations/presentations:

⭕ In November, there will be an exhibition presenting Irma Boom’s work at the Vatican. She’s been doing research for a while at the Vatican Library:
I am searching to see what happened to the book (design). Why it has become so conservative. Yes, at the Vatican Library, a place where people have a great hunger for the new and the exciting.

⭕ IB on glossy vs matte: I‘m totally into matte paper. Glossy can be really nice, but sometimes it puts a lot of distance between the book and its readers. You always have to look at it from an angle. Matte is more humane. I like books you can hold in your hands, feel their material.
No lamination, no nothing – a book should be a thing you use, not something you just keep on a shelf, untouched.

⭕ IB: I hate my name. I always prefer the initials. I’m not interested in having my name on the cover of the books I make for my clients. I already have my name stated on my own books. (Someone asked about the acknowledgement of authorship, Ed.)

⭕ Making a book is sort of a status, and it’s paralyzing. A book should be a relaxing thing to do. To have “if i make a book, I’m gonna be famous” as a motivation is not constructive. If you see the publishing of a first book only as the start of a process, you realize there is time and space to continue growing, you lower the pressure and you can have more freedom, more fun with it.

⭕ Monographs: Yes, we can say an artist’s monograph works as artist self propaganda. But the book is also about text and context, so it’s a little more than propaganda. It has more functions and dimensions.

⭕ Photobooks: It’s more conventional to make them big. Because we want people to look at the work, to see the work. When Rineke came to me for her new photobook, I thought: let’s make something different, you already have that book, we need to find another dynamic, to give the book another dimension. So, for WO MEN, I asked: what happens if we take out the men? (I love men :))).
(✏️The type setting facilitates reading the title as “NO MEN”, instead of “WO MEN”, Ed.)

⭕ Fashion books: I don’t actually think in categories. I make a book… When Viktor & Rolf decided they wanted a book, they knew what they did not want it to be: not a lookbook, not a register of catalogue images, not a fashion monograph (E.g. Tom Ford), no coffee table book. So we turned everything upside down and made Cover Cover (2018). This book is a direct reference to V&R’s Russian Doll show – a live performance in which they presented their work on a single model – layer upon layer upon layer.
“Even if we don’t publish another book ever again, Cover Cover is out of seasonality, it doesn’t have an expiration date, we can always show it as our book, our work.”

⭕ IB was Viktor & Rolf’s graphic design teacher back in their college years, and as a homework they had to do a self-portrait book: students had to present themselves as books.

Aaaand some treasures recommended by the curators and artists invited on stage (to be added to my personal library):

📕 The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini, Benvenuto Cellini (1558)
💬 A celebrated Renaissance sculptor and goldsmith who was admired and resented by the most powerful political and artistic personalities in 16th-century Florence, Rome and Paris. He was also a murderer and a braggart, a shameless adventurer who at different times experienced both papal persecution and imprisonment, and the adulation of the royal court. This is an unrivalled glimpse into the palaces and prisons of the Italy of Michelangelo and the Medici.

📕 Life is Good & Good for You in New York, William Klein (1956)
💬 Regarded as one of the most influential and groundbreaking photo-books created in the last half-century. Its visual energy captured the rough-and-tumble streets of New York–a city Klein once described as “the world capital of anguish”–like no photo-book had done before or since.

📕 The Photobook – A History, Martin Parr & Gerry Badger (3 volumes: 2004,  2006, 2014)
💬 A comprehensive overview of the development of the photobook: from its inception at the dawn of photography in the early 19th century through to the radical Japanese photobooks of the 1960s and 70s, by way of the Modernist and propaganda books of the 1930s and 40s.
Volume III pays attention to photobooks published after World War II, covering contemporary themes of modern life.

📕 Deciphering the Artist’s Mind, Berend Strik (2020)
💬 Strik has photographed the studios of well-known modern and contemporary artists, such as Marcel Duchamp, Jackson Pollock, John Baldessari, and Martha Rosler, and then stitched colorful materials into enlarged prints of the photographic images.

📕 “Encyclopedia of Fictional Artists
💬 Koen Brams has selected more than 280 biographies of artists invented by writers and existing in the space of literary fiction, covering a period extending from 1605 to today.
“The Addition” is Krist Gruijthuijsen’s editorial answer to the “Encyclopedia,” inviting more than 20 artists to reflect upon the problematics of fiction, history, and encyclopedic knowledge.

Credits: All the book descriptions above have been extracted from the publishers’ websites.


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