NESHAN, The Iranian Graphic Design Magazine

Member of International Council of Design ico-D

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Neshan 29


Boom Books

Vanina Pinter

In the book design world, the work of the Dutch Graphic Designer Irma Boom is outstanding. Each of her books is an opus—both fascinating and disconcerting.
To write an article on her work is almost impossible, as the reader cannot capture the beauty of her books in the absence of the physical interaction: measuring the weight, feeling the tactility, glancing through the pages, and the pace of reading—all of which are part of an experience that no other description can replace. Some of her books are sold out; others rarely available; and during exhibitions, they are protected behind glass showcases. So we must use every opportunity, in every library, to appreciate her work. Irma Boom’s contribution to graphic design is simply not quantifiable.

In 1996, after five years of collaboration with her commissioner Paul van Fentener Vlissinger, the SHV Think Book 1996–1896 was published. This book celebrates the centenary of the Dutch conglomerate SHV; it has 2136 pages and no page numbers. It required five years of research, documentation, patience and meaningful construction. The time devoted to the design and the craft of books may seem unnecessary in the era of computers (when generating a PDF can take only a minute), however, Irma Boom believes the practice a worthy cause, as the digital technology enables us to conceive of the book as a three-dimensional object.

If every one of Irma Boom’s designs is absolutely unique and singular, they each create a tension between the conceptualization of an idea (the subject of the book, its relation with the client or the publisher) and the sensitivity with which she immortalizes it. Irma Boom’s sovereignty lies in the adequacy of a concept and its realization. Thus, for the designer Hella Jongerius, Irma Boom created Misfit through Phaidon (2010), a monograph as finely stitched by hand as it is by thought. This book has a modest appearance—a simple black cotton string that binds more than 300 pages! The approach of the design is evoked by the title, which is placed in the fold of the book, evoking how Hella tends to cut, mutilate and confront objects. The white cover allows the reader to personalize the book by recomposing the featured vase with three coloured electrostatic filmstrips.

On many occasions, Irma Boom has revealed the mind of those who have entrusted her with their work. Beyond that, she endows the book as a contemporary and relevant opinion on a career—of an artist or an industry.
She is not only involved in the cultural sphere, but also in the commercial world (see for instance, her book for Ferrari). Her practice proves that the designer can be an author as well as an editor, as she sometimes intervenes directly and decisively in the editing of a book.

When the Museum für Gestaltung Zurich asked her to design a book of 144 pages featuring its collection, she suggested instead a book of 864 pages. She delved into their archives, selected pieces of art, plays, images, frames and historical artifacts. Similar to the collection itself, the reading of Every Thing Design has no end—you can open the book at any page, and by association of ideas, always stimulate your thoughts. The book is extremely functional and easy to use.

The books of Irma Boom are complex; they invoke multiple meanings and have various levels of reading. Linearity is possible, but it is the only possible way. At the same time, they are extremely versatile objects, often in the form of handbooks: heavy and light simultaneously. They immerse themselves as unusual tools and are treated in a minimalist approach, in the slightest questioning of manufacturing.

In her white cover book, featuring the artist Sheila Hicks, Irma Boom refers the reader to the textile art of this American artist, revealing a rough edge. The introduction of the philosopher Arthur Danto is essential to Irma Boom, so she chooses a sufficiently large font, immediately directing the reader to the text. In contrast to the Otto Treumann monograph, she minimizes the text that she has deemed disappointing, by displaying it as column notes. She realizes for a Dutch designer this is custom work that’s highly intrusive; the strict two-grid design is punctuated by spectacular pictures that are magnified. This echo to the cinema (zooming, travelling…) is often her trademark. Moreover a number of her works are biographies1 where she tells stories by sequencing images. We can understand the structure of her books by their edge. She uses colour as a signage system and marks zones, but they also serve an aesthetic component—pure pleasure of contemplation. This pictorial dimension, her remarkable attention to colours (see Farbe, Grafische Cultuurstichting, 2005) and to materials can be explained by the fact that Irma began studying painting at AKI School of Fine Art in Enscheden.
Her affinity for visual arts and architecture sharpens her stubbornness. By her work and her way of thinking, her links to contemporary architecture is obvious. She compares books to “small pieces of architecture. I love to build books”. Lately, she once again collaborated with her compatriot Rem Koolhaas for a year and a half on Project Japan (Taschen, 2011). In general, in their book production, there are questions of “Scale theory”2, travelling and of buildings that always go beyond their function to carry a collective imagination, social fantasy and story telling... Another detail related to architecture—Irma enjoys collecting and making tiny books in the tradition of “masterpieces”: midget prototype, though her work by its magnitude can never be condensed (a biography measured at only 38 mm for 704 pages).

Irma Boom has contributed to renewing and reinventing book design. “My ambition is to develop the significance and the limits of the book.” From book to another, she questions the possibilities and the reflexivity that produces a book, as a structure, sculpture, and food for thought. In her practice, books are a learning experience and an impulse to freedom (liberty as affirmation of a project, to think differently). Irma Boom was born in 1960, she has been a member of AGI since 1997.

1. The work on the grid is particularly evident in his earlier books on stamps for the Dutch Post.
2. Frits, Drukkerij Rosbeek, Holland. 2004.

Vanina Pinter

teaches history and critical studies of graphic design at Le Havre School of Art and Design (ESADHaR). She takes part in Une Saison Graphique — annual festival of graphic design— as co-organizator and co-curator of the event. Vanina has co-signed various contemporary exhibitions of graphic design for Une Saison Graphique such as Lieux Commun/Jocelyn Cottencin (2010), Julian House (with Jean-Michel Géridan, 2013), Pangramme/Fanette Mellier (with Yann Owens, 2014), Occur Books/Frédéric Tacer (2015). And Impressions Françaises (Chaumont, 2007) and Graphisme et architecture (Lille, 2010) along with Etienne Hervy. Former co-editor in chief of Étapes : magazine, Vanina currently writes about contemporary graphic design, with texts such as Architecture en noir et blanc, Ludovic Balland and Double Face/Laurent Fétis for étapes :, Barnbrook for Galerie Anatome, Across the grid, Frédéric Teschner for Fransciscopolis Editions, Signalétiques for Graphisme en France,… and more recently, various texts for the french online review

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