Kategoriarkiv: Intervjuer

Interview: Emily Mahon on designing book covers

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Doubleday, Illustration: Rizon Parein

 
I have made interviews with several great Swedish and American graphic designers specialized in book covers. I have asked them rather similar questions, but the answers have varied considerably. This suggests, I think, that designing book covers is a craft. You can learn how to create great and captivating covers, but above all you have to make covers, over and over again. The final covers that we get to see, are only a fraction of those that are made.

I had the privilege to ask graphic designer Emily Mahon a few questions. She has worked for some of the most well known American publishers, and she has made covers for books of literary fiction as well as for books of non-fiction, contemporary as well as classics. She has made several stunning covers; one of my favorites is the cover she has made for Heidi Julavits The Vanishers. Further below you can see both the final cover, lush and irresistible, as well as two killed covers.

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Doubleday. Photo: Mike Lambert

 
Could you please tell us a little about your background and how and why you became a designer of book covers?

I studied Graphic Design at Penn State University. I needed to apply for the program which only accepted 22 students a year; it’s a very small program in a school of over 35 thousand students. After graduating, I focused on landing a job at a book publishing house in New York. To me, designing book covers is the most creative job I could have. Every book tells a different story, and reading has become a crucial part of my life. And I love that each cover is like a poster—there are no guidelines in terms of imagery or type that I use—it’s all based on what feels right for the audience.

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Doubleday. Tactile Typography: Dominique Falla

 
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Vintage. AD: John Gall, Photo: Holly Lindem

 
What purposes are book covers supposed to fill?

Designing covers is not about making art. We need to sell books at the end of the day. Covers should market a specific audience for every book and they should give enough of a visual impact needed to inspire someone to pick up the book and read it!

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Random House, Photo: Bob Croslin

 

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Penguin. AD: Paul Buckley, Photo: Rich Evenhouse

 
How would you describe your style(es)?

I try never to have a style. I always try new approaches to how I look at a problem and to how I design. The content should dictate the style. It’s hard to stay fresh and current all the time but I think it’s important not to try and emulate trends, and stay true to the content.

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Doubleday. Photo: Andrew Purcell

 
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Doubleday

 
Do you have a philosophy, rules of thumb or rituals that you follow during the creative process? Please tell us a little bit about the creative process.

As I’m reading a book, I usually jot down visuals or notes from the text that could help in defining the direction the cover will take. I usually make lists and sketch ideas before every turning to the computer to guide me. Sometimes I find it helpful to go to museums or look through magazines or books as I brainstorm, and I try to find inspiration in looking at other current book covers. There is so much great work out there, and seeing recent book covers inspires me to keep pushing my work and make myself a better designer.

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Flatiron Books. Killed

 
Can you please tell us a little bit about the cover you made for The Guineveres and explain how it came about and how you intended it to work?

Well, as of this moment, the cover has been killed! This happens all the time, albeit a bit disappointing. I loved this novel and tried several different iterations before coming to this solution. The book takes place in the 1950s in a convent where four girls named Guinevere have been abandoned to be raised by nuns. I wanted to set this cover apart from what’s out there and felt that because the catholic theme was so strong, showing the cross in an abstract kind of way made for an interesting visual.

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Killed version

 

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Killed version

 
I’m also very fond of the cover you made for Heidi Julavits The Vanishers. Do you have any shelved versions of it, that we might take a look at?

This cover started in a very different place from the final version. Initially I took an interest in photographing the Barcelona chair, and projecting the title on it to create a dimensional feel.

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Doubleday. Final version

 
After many iterations of this cover the author decided she wanted to focus on more of a feeling rather than a depiction of the story. I decided it would be fun and energetic to work on a layered floral collage, that better represented the multi-layered emotional impact of the novel. It was really fun to create this cover. I originally preferred the type knocking out in white from the art, but the publisher felt that using a color would have more impact so that’s how the final cover was printed.

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AD: Emily Mahon. Design: Ben Wiseman

 
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 Nan A Talese/Doubleday, Photo of cut paper lettering: Geoff Spear

 
What are your favorite graphic designers, specialized in book covers, and why?

Gabriele Wilson, Keith Hayes, Kelly Blair, Peter Mendelsund, Oliver Munday… the list goes on! They are all extraordinarily creative and ambitious with their approaches and I’m very lucky to work around such talent in my office in the Knopf Doubleday Art Department every day.

If you have cravings for more beautiful covers, visit Emily Mahon’s homepage. Don’t miss the designs she has made for The Modern Library Classics.

Ola Wihlke

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Interview: Adrian Notz, director of Cabaret Voltaire, on Dada

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Adrian Notz, Director of Cabaret Voltaire in Zürich © Cabaret Voltaire

 
There are layers and layers of myth surrounding the dadaist movement, it might even be better to describe the founders of Dada as a network of like minded iconoclasts, that later spread the Dada attitude and philosophy to several other places, where they morphed in to new dadaisms. Dada, and its anti-art and anti-establishment attitude, spread to Berlin, Hannover, Cologne, Paris, Barcelona, even Japan, and, not least important, New York.

But the birthplace of Dada was Cabaret Voltaire on Spiegelgasse 1, in Zürich, where a lot of people from the whole of Europe had searched refuge from the Great War. The original founders of  Dada were Hugo Ball (1886–1927), Emmy Hennings (1885–1948), Hans Arp (1887–1966), Tristan Tzara (1896–1963) och Marcel Janco (1895–1984). Among the first persons to join the founding five were Richard Huelsenbeck (1892–1974) and Sophie Taeuber (1889–1943).

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Cabaret Volaire, Spiegelgasse 1, Zürich © Cabaret Voltaire

 
The five founders were held their first legendary soaré at Cabaret Voltaire 5th of February 1916. Dada is 100 years old and the centennial is celebrated all over the world. Many large institutions have Dada exhibitions on display. Several great books have been published on the subject. A lot of the attention is focused on the birthplace, Cabaret Voltaire. We had the opportunity to ask Adrian Notz a few questions, the director of Cabaret Voltaire.

When Dada is described, it’s always an emphasis on seeing the movement as a protest against the Great War. Dada is also described as an anti-movement and its orientation as rather destructive. But beyond that, what is the essence of the historical Dadaism?

The essence of the historical movement is that they found the word ”dada” to describe a zeitgeist and propose and attitude. Dada was not directly against the Great War, it was much more against a way of thinking, a definition of world that lead to this world war. Dada was against the prevailing economic fatalism, that gave all people a certain role and character. Dada tried to free mankind and looked for a league of people who would orgiastically oppose to everything useful and necessary.

Could you tell us a little bit about your background? How and why did you become especially interested in Dada and what did you do before you began working at Cabaret Voltaire?

Before I worked at Cabaret Voltaire I studied theory of art and design at the University of Arts in Zürich. I became especially interested in Dada when I began working at Cabaret Voltaire. Learning by doing, so to say. That was in 2004, twelve years ago.

Dada was born 100 years ago at Cabaret Voltaire, so it must be a really special year for Cabaret Voltaire and Zürich, you have probably prepared yourselves years in advance for the centennial, but could you first describe what’s going on at Cabaret Voltaire a regular year? Please describe the place, it’s atmosphere, activities and visitors.

Since the beginning in 2004 there has never been something like a regular year in Cabaret Voltaire. We were constantly fighting to survive, always working close to the abyss, becoming masters of the panic zone. In this sense we have been practicing the jubilee since 12 years, we managed to explore our obsessions and use them as a energy to keep working with noble gesture and delicate propriety until craziness, until unconsciousness.

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I guess, if you come to Cabaret Voltaire, it looks like a bar, where people get drunk in the nights, then it is also an event space, with a lot of different events and happenings, so we have a very mixed audience, from all parts of the city and of the world. This is quite untypical for Zürich, because there a lot of people prefer to move in certain milieus and scenes. Of course we also have a lot of weirdos coming, Dada fans, a lot of different artists with very different approaches. Everyday is different.

And there are also ordinary tourists coming to Cabaret Voltaire like pilgrims. And journalists, who ask all the same questions about what Dada is, how it was in 1916, what the space looked like, etc etc. We have a very small budget, i.e. non for communication, but even, if we would do nothing, we could not just sit here because the place itself is an attraction. Doing nothing then, is still a lot of work. We also have a shop and an exhibition space. It is a very small place, and therefor very dense with different ideas and atmospheres. Maybe the only genuinely metropolitan place in Zürich.

And what is going on at Cabaret Voltaire during the centennial? I know there are several exhibitions in Zürich and I suppose that you are involved in several projects, maybe internationally as well.

During the centennial Cabaret Voltaire is the eye of the storm. Everybody who wants to have the true Dada 100 experience goes through here. With our program we have also been the backbone or spine of the celebrations. We have held an event every night and we are still holding an event every 06:30, a celebration of each and every one of the 165 dadaists. We are only involved in a few selected projects. Like the exhibition ”Kurt Schwitters: Merz” with an architecture design by late Zaha Hadid at Galerie Gmurzynska, the place today in Zürich where Galerie Dada was in 1916.

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Or the exhibition ”Genesis Dada” in the Arp Museum Bahnhof Rolandseck where we show the first exhibitions of the Dadaist, the artoworks that were shown in Cabaret Voltaire and in Galerie Dada. We explain the genesis of Dada. In the second half of the year we are invited to several lectures and festivals in Serbia, Romania, Brazil, Spain, Italy, San Francisco and New Zealand. So this will be very different from what we have done before. Right now Manifesta 11 is using Cabaret Voltaire as their ”Guild House Voltaire” with weekly performance nights. After Manifesta we will start changing Cabaret Voltaire into a work of total art.

I’m by no means an expert on contemporary art, but my impression is that the art world since long has absorbed Dadaism, that it is now part of the DNA of art. How do you perceive the legacy of Dadaism?

Not of the whole contemporary art world. Some artists are not so aware of what they are doing or are pretending to be artists, so they can sell well. I see the legacy of Dada in those artists, who also refer to it and use Dada as a reference point. One can make like a bridge with the art of the 60s and 70s, Happening, Fluxus and even conceptual art, that relates to Dada. Today a couple of the most successful artists refer to Dada, such as Paul Mc Carthy, Marina Abramovic, Damien Hirst, Thomas Hirschhorn, Erwin Wurm and Jonathan Meese.

If you were allowed to choose three Dadaist works of art, to hang or display at your home, which ones would you choose and why?

I guess it would be one of Francis Picabias machine drawings, maybe even just the cover of one of the issues of Picabias 391 magazine. They are great!

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Hugo Ball at Cabaret Voltaire in costume by Marcel Janco © Cabaret Voltaire

 
You have written several texts about Dadaism, among them 165 Dadaistinnen. Could you mention a few dadaistinnen that you think are particularly interesting and why?

I find Sophie Teauber Arp, Emmy Hennings, Hannah Höch and Dada Baroness to be the most interesting artists amongst the Dada women. Sophie Taeuber has a great body of work and work in a lot of different disciplines. Emmy Hennings was the star of Cabaret Voltaire, she managed to keep the audience under control. And she was the one that made the Dadaists aware of that they should take one or two pictures of themselves, like Hugo Ball in the Cubist costume. Hannah Höch made fantastic and super critical collages, and Dada Baroness said: ”I am art.”

And finally, are there any books or exhibition catalogs on Dada that you would like recommend?

I would recommend Dadaglobe reconstructed, Genesis Dada, She Dada and an almost classic: Lipstick Traces by Greil Marcus.

Note to reader: In the above mentioned book by music critic Greil Marcus, he establishes links between Dada and punk.

Ola Wihlke

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Interview: Peter Davis on poetry

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I more or less stumbled on Peter Davis poetry. I saw one of his books, Poetry! Poetry! Poetry!, with its eye catching and not very conventional poetry book cover, displayed with its front out on a photo on the homepage of Berl’s Poetry bookstore in Brooklyn. It looked unusually cool for a book of poems, and if it was only half as good as it looked I would be more than satisfied.

I got the book, and eventually a signed copy from the poet himself, and I loved the poems instantly. They are like deadpan meta poetic investigations, and mocking such investigations, into what poetry is, the role of the poet and what a reader of poetry actually does. Many poems address the reader, which in some peculiar way both makes it more obvious what the poems are doing and make them more strange. These are two openings of poems in Poetry! Poetry! Poetry!:

”It is possible you don’t enjoy this poem because you have legitimate problems with the ideas and issues inherit in this poem.”

”I want to explain more about what I’m thinking, but I’m afraid it will make me seem stupid. I do worry about how I appear in this poem. It is not cool for a poet to appear to be anxious for praise and attention in a poem.”

You might call these poems postmodern, but postmodern poems are usually rather dull, these poems are often hilarious. Davis is playing all kinds of tricks with the reader’s mind and its hugely entertaining. The next book by Davis I read was Hitler’s Mustache, which is actually his debut collection. Contrary to what one might assume Hitler’s mustache plays a minor role in this book, but its full of mustaches. It’s essentially a book about mustaching the mustache, or something like that. The poems are pastiches of different kinds of texts and genres.

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This is ”Hitler’s Mustache: The Short Story”:

Important arrangements were to be made. The party would not plan itself. She sat on her square, black sofa, dreaming about the decorations and imagining the caterer and even some of the clothes her guests might be wearing. It made her happy to think like this. But, soon enough, her grand hopes began to settle like soft snow on the warm floor of the situation. She didn’t have much money. A. would never get behind her on this. Her sister-in-law would drink too much and break her black, square heel and throw her purse in the swimming pool and fall asleep in a lawn chair. There were bills that needed to be paid now. If only she had never met mustache. If only he hadn’t mustached her aunt in a furnace, or breaded her over an open mustache.
That evening while her husband and children ate the food she had carefully mustached for them, she got an idea. Perhaps, she thought, if I were to mistake something for mustache. It seemed perfect. It covered all the angles. A. would get behind it because he needed that mustache. Her sister-in-law would take care of the bills. The cold snow began to melt. As a metaphor for her mood the cold snow no longer made sense and began to drift upward, out of the story, out of the poem, existing only in the past, in another time, one that seemed much bleaker.
The next morning she packed the children’s lunches and pressed A.’s shirt for him. After the kids were on the bus, and A. kissed her cheek and drove the Volkswagen down the long driveway, she fed the mustache and packed her baggage. She called the mustache. Put a note on the door for the mustache, and left, making sure she left the mustache slightly cracked so the mustache would be able to mustache the mustache.
The day was hot and by the time she reached the airport she was sweating through her shirt. She fanned herself with a mustache and nervously surveyed the situation. There were two guards near the mustache. Each mustache looked like it held mustache. She ordered a cup of mustache from the mustache who worked behind the mustache.
Mustache knew that she couldn’t mustache about this forever. She’d have to make up her mind mustache. She studied the mustache. She thought about all of the mustache in her mustache. All of the mustache. All of the mustache and mustache and must ache and mustache. She thought about the mustaches when her mustache was put in mustache. She took one more mustache of mustache. She mustached. She mustached her mustache and with every mustache of her mustache, mustached.

The poems in Hitler’s Mustache are also often hilarious, and the more of them you read, the funnier they get. It accumulates. But all of Davis poems are not funny, some of them are both funny and have a melancholy quality to them. Others are even darker, much darker and existential. I think that this is most obvious in Davis latest collection, TINA.

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Tina is Davis fictitious muse and he address her in the poems, but she is no idealized Beatrice, she seems to be a regular girl and David is not only praising her, he even quarrels with her sometimes. This is ”The Basement Robe” from TINA:

The move into evening comes with
a hint of fear, just a jealous little tadpole
that wants to be a frog much quicker
than is possible. The night looms at me as
in Mr. big bucks, as lonely as an answer
and curious to a thunderstorm. I say to myself,
humanly, Hey, listen–nothing has happened,
no kitten is sliding slanty off the roof,
there is no gold toothed whisperer on this
home front. Listen, kid, what you want
is the apples that aren’t apples, but
are fruit, but a strange kind of fruit that
is certainly fruitish, but unnamed. Let whatever
gofer you have run toward a hole, let
them run away. Do not impede the desertion.
Still, a persistent collar I’m wearing is attached
to a persistent leash which is leashed to
a permanent sidewalk. All around us there is velvet
and all around the velvet is more velvet
and all of it is in darkness and all of it is
velvet but it’s deadly. You do not want to be draped
in it, Tina.

I had the opportunity to ask Peter a few questions:

Your poetry is rather unorthodox and I’m really curious about where you’re coming from. I know that you are very fond of Russell Edson, and that makes perfect sense. But what other authors and books, and other experiences, made you discover poetry? How did you become a poet?

Well, how I became a poet is a tough question to answer. The quick answer is probably because I didn’t know what else to do. This is why I’m still a poet. It’s just a result of the lack of knowing what else to do with myself. The long answer is a lot longer. When I was a kid I played sports. I liked music and drawing, but mostly I played sports. When I was 13 I broke my femur playing football. The break was in the growth plate and so that leg quit growing. Then I had surgery to stop the other leg from growing so that I wouldn’t be lopsided. I managed to play football again when I was 14 but it wasn’t the same. That year, I dislocated my shoulder which led to having many dislocated shoulders and ultimately two more surgeries (spread out over the next few years). Then, that same year, I had a blood infection that almost killed me. I spent nearly a month in the hospital and another month or so hooked up to an IV at home. By the time I was 15 my identity as an athlete and as a person felt destroyed. My shoulder would dislocate a lot, for instance while sleeping or, one time, raising my hand in class. So I felt vulnerable and fragile. I felt isolated from my friends and left out. I did a lot of skateboarding. Probably I felt a lot of the typical teenage angst, but, combined with my medical issues, it left a really strong impression on me. I felt like I carried a big burden. In addition to my physical problems, I was also a horrible student. I argued with my teachers and generally did not do what I supposed to do. However, when I was sixteen I had an English teacher who told me that she thought I was a good writer. I’d never been told by a teacher I was good at something. She also made us read William Carlos Williams and Emily Dickinson. She made me consider writing more than just what I had to write for class assignments. I felt like she was in cahoots with my English teacher the next year, who also encouraged me to write. I don’t think I got very good grades in their classes, but their small interest in my ability meant a lot to me. About the same time, holed up in my bedroom and feeling the weight of what I would later recognize as depression, I was listening to Bob Dylan. Soon, I had an old guitar in the basement restrung and I was practicing chords and learning to sing some. When I went to college, which I was lucky to get into, I was 18 and majored in English, mainly because of my belief that it would at least make college a little easier to major in something I’d been told I might be good at. I wrote at least 5 songs a month (my minimum) and I kept that up for years. The summer after my first year of college, I wrote a song everyday for 3 months. Sometimes, I tried to write a short story, but it didn’t really get me excited. One day, I wrote a poem in a notebook and it struck me that it was a poem, not a song, but that it was close to a song—that that was what poetry was and it was easy and fun. Every night, I’d wait till all my roommates went to bed and I’d write these little poems, at least 4 a day (another minimum I set). I read them to a professor who I loved and he, in a miraculous fashion, proposed we make a chapbook of them, publishing them on his press. So I happily published a chapbook of poems. All of those teachers were all really important to me.

But the question of how I ended up a poet and, in particular, the kind of poet I am, is still around because even though all that stuff happened, I don’t know why I responded to it by writing the way I write. I still don’t really know. Or why I liked the artists I liked (like Russell Edson, though he didn’t come till much later in my life). What I know is that there was a frustration I felt with life that I felt like I had to express and I had a really hard time expressing it and so I played music, made visual art, and wrote poetry simply as a way to relieve this annoying itch I felt. It seemed necessary. I don’t write poetry because I like it so much, I write poetry because sometimes it works for me. Sometimes, it is just the only avenue I’ve got to some kind of inner relief.

Peter Davis

Peter Davis

 
When I read your poetry collections the first time, I was very preoccupied with the humor, of all kinds, from the outright absurd to subtler stuff. You are one of the funniest and most eccentric poet I have read. But when I have read the collections again, I have perceived them as much darker and more nuanced. A recurring theme is failure, a general sense of not having accomplished what you ought to have accomplished. Can you say something about the humor and the darkness in your poems and collections?

Well, in general, I feel depression. I take anti-depressants and get counseling. I’m not, in my heart of hearts, a particularly cheery person. I get depressed, deep, deep in my head and there’s nothing that cures that. I’ve just had to learn to live with it. And I do live with it and I’ve got a great life. But partly because of this depression, I have consciously made an effort to have a positive attitude. I don’t like depression and I don’t like being around it, so I try to fight it. Especially after I had kids, I wanted to model an optimistic approach to life for them because I felt like that’d be about the greatest thing I could give them. But it’s hard for me to have that optimism. This goes back a long way. It’s just not me. So when I see all of the cruelty and confusion in this world, I can’t muster up any real positivity. Basically I just make jokes. They’re not always funny and not everyone is always laughing. But this is the way I’ve learned to handle the world. So maybe, at least in one way, my poems are like me: we’re all just trying to be optimistic despite our inner sadness.

I like funny poems. Poets often like witty poems and chuckling at wit, but a lot of poets don’t care much for poems that actually make you laugh. Or, maybe, they don’t like to call things that make you laugh poems. After a I gave a reading one time, a woman said to me “It’s fun to be clever, isn’t it?” And I knew she didn’t mean that in a good way. Again, I don’t mean to handle the world the way I do, I don’t mean to make jokes or do anything other than write something that makes me feel better in the exact moment that I’m writing it and (hopefully) still makes me feel better later, too.

 

You don’t care much for the distinctions between so called high culture and popular culture. You have written poems about skateboarding and Eddie Van Halen, which is pretty unusual. You seem to want to expand what it’s okay to write about in a poem. Are you trying to recreate the sense of freedom you experience when you are a teenager? Or are you more interested in the sense of loss you feel when you remember that more or less perfect freedom?

All of what you’re saying here may be true, but I don’t think of it that way. In the same way, maybe, that I don’t think of humor vs. darkness in my poems, I don’t think of high vs. low culture, or freedom vs. loss. Essentially every poem I write is the same poem, which is a sort of yelping noise I make when I can’t think of what else to do. And, anyway, that poem, the one I am always writing, contains a little bit of everything in it. Sometimes the yelping is about middle school concerns and sometimes it’s about something more lofty. (Though, really, what could be more lofty than middle school concerns?) The exact elements probably don’t matter much. It could have been one thing or another, but for me it was heavy metal and making out and skateboarding. What matters more than the specifics was the energy that was expended on and created by these specifics. The energy was important.

Obviously, when I write nostalgically about the past, about how my brothers and friends might argue over who the greatest guitarist was (always only considering heavy metal guitarists), about how important skateboarding felt to me (the attitude of skateboarding) the energy of youth, etc., to me all of that stuff represents something long gone, a far away world 25 years ago or more! In TINA I write a lot about this time period, my world as a kid—the 1970’s and 80’s in Michigan and Indiana. I don’t think it’s unusual to take this culture seriously enough to write about it in poems, then again it was the culture I grew up in so it has always seemed serious enough to me.

You have written three poetry collections and they have common features, not least the humor and weirdness, but they are also very different from each other. Could you say something about the main ideas, concepts and poetics of each collection? I get the impression that you begin with a bold unifying idea and then realize it uncompromisingly.

Well, all of my published books have started in a similar way. Namely, I have a very simple idea, that usually occurs because of a single poem. Of course, obviously the idea comes before the poem but I don’t recognize it till it becomes a poem. So, anyway, now I have this one poem and this idea starts to grow on me. And I write another poem in some way similar to the first poem and I begin to think that I could write another one like that—like that it’s just so easy, I have opened the bottle and now I can just pour it out. Sometimes I’m sort of thinking that what I’m doing might turn into something long enough to be called a book and part of me is thinking that I’ll probably give this up pretty quickly because, after all, it’s just a single idea and surely it can’t sustain itself for long. I will have this thought: Either what I’m doing here is pretty cool or it’s pretty stupid. Once I start thinking like that, I generally keep going because I figure if I’m unsure about what I’m doing, I must be doing something worth pursuing till I can figure it out better. Besides, by this time the idea has captured my brain and I can’t stop thinking about it. Every time I start writing I go back to that idea because it’s so easy just to tilt that bottle more and spill more of it everywhere. It’s so easy it becomes a crutch and after a year or so I feel like I don’t even know how to write without that crutch. For instance, the main idea in Hitler’s Mustache was the absurd look of the single most evil face we know. That his mustache was a mystery, a goofy anomaly that is at the heart of everything human. That his mustache was the trapdoor at the bottom of all human reasoning. There’s always one more question, one more mystery. There is always a square, black tab, exactly the size and shape of Hitler’s mustache, that is attached to everything we think we know and when we push on it we find we’re back to not knowing again. I let the actual word “mustache” run wild, fascist-style, all over my writing. I let the word “mustache” loose in my mind. So, when writing, if I had a pause, to collect my thoughts or think of the exact right word in my mind, I simply wrote “mustache” covering all of the poem with this little relentless beast of a word that represented a beast of an idea. After a year or so of doing that, I began to think that maybe I couldn’t write poems without the word “mustache”, like, how did I get by before without this little fascist making all of my artistic decisions for me? The same experience happened when writing Poetry! Poetry! Poetry! and TINA. The simple idea at the heart of P!P!P! was a kind of radical honesty about the motivations of the artist, who slaves over their work for, exactly, what reason? The simple idea at the heart of TINA was how much a poetic statement is changed when, instead of being addressed to some vague, universal reader, it is addressed to a single individual, in this case, someone named Tina, who might be considered a kind of crummy muse. These ideas seem pretty clear to me now, but they were not really clear when each of these books began. Only now does it seem apparent to me what I was thinking. Eventually, in all cases, despite my fear of not being able to write without the particular crutch I’m using, the idea that once seemed to so magically produce writing, to so easily pour from me, begins to grow old. After a few hundred poems or so, the bottle gets drier and drier. Then I just don’t write for a while. I’ll play music or something else and sift through all that stuff I’ve written and assemble it into some sort of book. After awhile, it’s all in the past and I start writing again – without any idea/crutch – until one day I write a poem that seems especially easy to write and I think about it some and then I write another and soon enough, it all happens again.

I have read a few of the interviews that you have provided links to on your homepage. Why do you always take the opposite view of things?

I never take the opposite view of things.

poetsbookshelfii.jpg

You edited Poet’s Bookshelf: Contemporary Poets on Books That Shaped Their Art (2005) and co-edited a second volume, Poet’s Bookshelf II (2008). What do you find interesting in contemporary American poetry? Are there any poets, books, publishers or magazines that you would like to recommend?

I guess what I find interesting in contemporary poetry is the thoughts and ideas of other poets who, by and large, like myself, don’t seem to otherwise fit too well in the larger culture. That means, I guess, that I especially like poets who don’t seem to even fit especially well even in the world of poetry. I like the way poets can take on the world in a way that otherwise can’t be done. The more singular they are, the more I enjoy them. Of course what is singular to one person might seem conventional to another. As poets, we’re all on the fringes of society and I like poets who are on the fringe of that fringe, as I imagine it. I like poets that seem to challenge all of the traditional views about poetry and especially the traditional views that make poetry something precious, something special, something sacred. I sometimes personally feel like I want to destroy “poetry” and replace it with something, but I don’t know what. Of course I recognize that poetry is “special” in a sense, but not like it thinks it is. I have two kids who are adorable and smart and funny and all of the things people say about their own children. My son used to joke, echoing what he hears around him, “Aren’t I adorable?” And I’d always say, “Well, you’re a lot more adorable when you don’t mention it.” Which seems to apply to poetry, too.

As far as recommending poets, I’m not sure what to say. There are so many, manypoets. Some have meant something to me for reasons that are hard to articulate: maybe I just liked the cover of their book or how they read their poems or just a poem title. Maybe I just met them somewhere and while never particularly enjoying their poems, found something in their personality that meant a lot to me. It’s surprising how a tiny detail can matter so much. Or, rather, it’s surprising how what matters so much is made up of just tiny details. Some of the poets who have meant something to me were my teachers when getting my MFA or some colleagues who, just by proximity, I happen to know and learn something from. There are just so many ways to think of the idea of appreciating an artist.

masthead

The Poet’s Bookshelf books that I edited gave poets this prompt: List 5-10 books that have been “essential” to you, as a poet. I also asked that they feel free to comment on their picks. Combined the books have responses from over 200 poets. Of course, what does “essential” mean? What does “as a poet” mean? I just let each poet answer those questions for themselves. If I were to do the question now I might put it differently. Anyway, the books are just a collection of their responses. So, to simplify the question some I’ll say this: here are 5-10 contemporary presses who are essential to me: Bloof Books, Action Books, Black Ocean, Forklift, Publishing Genius, Ahsahta, H_ngm_n, Tarpaulin Sky, Magic Helicopter, and Octopus. I’m stopping there only because that’s 10. There are many more cool presses. On these presses you will find a ton of writers I enjoy a whole bunch, like: Jennifer L. Knox, Shanna Compton, Sandra Simonds, Mairead Byrne, Kate Greenstreet, Gina Meyers, Joyelle McSweeney, Sommer Browning, Sharon Mesmer, and Melissa Broder. Again, I’m just stopping at 10. I guess the 10 most formative dead writers for me were Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens, Frank O’hara, Flannery O’Conner, Kurt Vonnegut, Russell Edson, George Perec, Franz Kafka, Gertrude Stein, and E. E. Cummings.goodcover

You also draw, make music and awesome stop-motion videos. Are these separate field of creativity, or does it happen that a poem turns out to be more useful as a song lyric, or vice versa?

All of my artistic work comes from the same place. It is all simply a kind of release for me, like exercise for the body, my artwork is exercise for the rest of me. I do it because it makes sense. Otherwise I’d get a sort of cabin fever of the brain, I think. That wouldn’t be good. Like physical exercise, I feel the need to vary what I do, in an effort to keep it effective. In the same way that any good habit can turn into a routine which can then become dull, I feel like, say, after writing for a year or two that I’m not getting all of the exercise I need—that it’s become routine and ineffective. So, I will do something else, like make music, or draw something, or whatever seems to make sense at the time. This bouncing around between artistic activities used to bother me some. I envied (and still do) artists who were focused on only one thing—writers who just wrote, musicians who just made music, painters who just painted. I have, over time, attempted to be all of these things but I simply can’t seem to do it. Or rather, it ends up making more sense to me to switch activities then it does to keep beating a dead horse. So, at one point, I just accepted that about myself. While others get the advantage of staying focused, I get the advantage of more variety. It might not be what I’d choose if I had a choice, but it’s all right.

I don’t really do multiple arts at once. When I am writing, all of my artistic time and energy goes to writing. When I’m recording music, all of my energy goes into music and I don’t write poems during that period. Or rather, I might write something but it’s an afterthought. Generally, after one big project, my next project will be in a different medium. For instance, I recently finished a new Short Hand album (the Leaves) and that took about a year. Now I’m writing and not making music. When I’m done with the writing I’m doing now (maybe in another year, more or less) I’ll make more music, or maybe feel the need to make some videos or, again, whatever seems necessary to keep me feeling healthy. Sometimes I slide from one writing project into another writing project. Sometimes I make two albums in a row. I have never thought of it until you asked, but I don’t believe I’ve ever turned a poem into a song or vise versa. Occasionally, maybe, a line stolen from one to the other, but I don’t even remember doing that. Thinking of it now, this seems like a perfectly obvious thing to do but I never thought of it until now.

 

Read more about Peter Davis and his work on artisnecessary.com

Ola Wihlke

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Intervju: Richard Herold om Natur & Kultur

Richard Herold foto Mia Carlsson porträtt_0_

Richard Herold Foto Mia Carlsson

 

Förlagsbranschen har varit ganska skakig de senaste åren. Många förlag har mött osäkerheten genom att satsa ännu mer på deckare och bestsellers eller fenomenböcker, som Harry Potter och Fifty Shades of Grey.

Ett förlag som gått mot strömmen är Natur & Kultur. Och det går bra, trots att man helt slutat att ge ut deckare. På tvärs mot en allmän trend, att färre översatta böcker ges ut i Sverige, har Natur & Kultur också inlett en anspråksfull utgivning av bland annat latinamerikansk litteratur. Rent allmänt har förlagets utgivning de senaste åren blivit mer fokuserad och litterärt orienterad.

En av förklaringarna till nyorienteringen på Natur & Kultur är det arbete förlagschefen Richard Herold initierat. Han började jobba på Natur och Kultur 2010 efter sju framgångsrika år på Atlas förlag, där han bland annat började ge ut Alice Muro och publicerade Mig äger ingen av Åsa Linderborg, hennes lika angelägna som storsäljande bok.

Det sägs att både Bonniers, Norstedts och Natur & Kultur var angelägna om att anställa Herold när han lämnade Atlas. Att han valde det senare och tredje största förlaget, verkar stämma in i ett mönster som blir tydligt när man läser om honom, att han ofta går sin egen väg. Många påpekar att Natur & Kultur är stiftelseägt, att vinstkraven därmed inte är så stränga, men många av Herolds konträra idéer verkar fungera utmärkt när de prövas mot verkligheten.

Skulle du kunna berätta om särskilt betydelsefulla etapper i din karriär och om några böcker som du är stolt över att ha gett ut?

Jag började jobba i en bokhandel 1995. Några år senare fick jag ett stipendium av bohandlareföreningen för att resa till New York för fortbildning. Min första tanke var att jobba i en bokhandel där, jag skrev till Barnes & Nobels huvudkontor men fick inget svar. Så läste jag i Ordfront magasin om en intressant förläggare, André Schiffrin,som gav ut många svenska författare, och skrev till honom och undrade om de kunde tänkas vara intresserade av en svensk praktikant. Så kom det sig att jag hamnade på The New Press på 42:a gatan i New York i ett halvår.

När jag kom hem startade jag med en vän förlaget Pocky, arbetade på Tranan, hamnade på Atlas och blev 15 år efter praktiken i New York förlagschef på Natur & Kultur!

Med uppenbar känsla för stil : Ett reportage om manlighet (pocket)

En av de böcker jag är mest stolt över är också en av de första som jag själv var med och initierade. Jag hade träffat Stephan Mendel-Enk i mataffären på söder där jag bodde. Han skrev roliga krönikor i DN Sport och jag föreslog för honom att han borde skriva en bok. Resultatet blev Med uppenbar känsla för stil – ett reportage om manlighet. Som jag fortfarande tycker är det bästa som skrivits om män och maskulinitet.

Vad var roligast och mest lärorikt med att praktisera på The New Press?

Det var en – med amerikanska mått – väldigt platt organisation, så jag fick vara med på alla möten och kom verkligen in bakom kulisserna. Dels kändes det ju oerhört häftigt att komma från bokhandeln i Stockholm och få sitta med och ta utgivningsbeslut på ett amerikanskt förlag, och efter ett tag väcktes också tanken: det här skulle ju jag faktiskt kunna göra.

Monster i garderoben

Vad gör en förlagschef? Kan du beskriva din roll eller olika roller på Natur & Kultur?

 I korthet, fattar beslut när det behövs. Vi arbetar i en organisation med en stark form delegering, och väldigt få möten, de flesta beslut fattas på armlängds avstånd från mig. Ibland uppstår behov av min input och då finns jag där. Så chefsdelen av mitt jobb är förhållandevis enkelt, eftersom gruppen funkar så bra ihop och alla – hoppas jag – upplever att de har ett stort mandat till självbestämmande.

 Sen är jag ju den som håller ihop sälj/marknad och redaktion, samt arbetar långsiktigt med utvecklingsprojekt, även om mycket av det arbete nu landat i år.

I vilken utsträckning är du inblandad i valet av titlar?

Inte jättemycket, flera av redaktionerna arbetar helt självständigt, där skriver jag i princip bara under avtalen, men sakproseutgivnignen är jag fortfarande mer involverad i. Jag redigerar 3-4 titlar om året.

Spindelboet (inbunden)

I en intervju nyligen hävdade Jeff Shotts, redaktör på Graywolf Press, att många amerikanska förlag idag är helt förändrade, att de har anslutit till en strikt kommersiell förlagsmodell, ”primarily based on imitation, celebrity, promotion, and volume.” Han menar att den här modellen har flera svagheter: ”Given the uncertainty of this publishing model and the volatility of book sales, the independent, nonprofit model seems by comparison remarkably stable. […] What this has meant, for some time now, is that the larger houses have essentially ceded vast important territories to independent publishers: poetry, short stories, essays, literary criticism, translation, experimental fiction—in short, literature.”

Skulle du kunna kommentera Shotts analys lite grand och jämföra med svenska förhållanden?

Oj, stor fråga. Det enkla svaret är väl att givet osäkerheten Shotts talar om så är den kommersiella modellen ändå mer lönsam. Stora investeringar förvisso, men då de framgångsrika titlarna är så lönsamma som de är, så skapar den modellen större överskott. Det som det innebär är dock organisationer som är tomma på publicistiskt backbone. Det är vad som sker är att man börjar tala om gungor och karuseller och skapar två skilda urvalssystem inom förlagen. Det är också därför vi de senaste decenniet hört stora förlag i Sverige och utomlands tala om ”krisen för midlist”. I själva verket är det ett aktivt val att inte satsa på de s.k. midlisttitlarna, utan istället på en mer polariserad utgivning.

På Natur & Kultur har vi valt exakt motsatt väg. Färre smala titlar och färre genretitlar. Det vi ser är att vi levererar en jävla massa riktigt bra böcker och en stabil ekonomi, dock utan särskilt stora vinster. Så som förlag funkat fram tills för ett par decennier sedan.

Flickorna (inbunden)

Vilka är de största utmaningarna och möjligheterna för Natur & Kultur på kort respektive lång sikt?

Vi ska fortsätta göra de bästa böckerna vi bara kan. Och sälja så mycket av dem som det bara går. Eftersom vi inte drivs av något annat än det, ser jag inga större utmaningar egentligen. Mitt huvudfokus nu är att vi ska fortsätta ha roligt på jobbet. Att de som arbetar känner att det de gör är meningsfullt och stimulerande. Så länge vi lyckas med det tror jag vi kommer att fortsätta vara framgångsrika.

Levande och döda (inbunden)

Jag tycker att Natur & Kulturs utgivning har blivit mer och mer litterär, även utgivningen av sakprosa. Är det en utveckling som kan drivas vidare?

Nej, egentligen inte. Jag tror att anledningen till att läsare de senaste åren har börjat upptäcka Natur & Kultur och våra böcker är att vi är tydliga med vår profil. Inom alla utgivningsområden. Tydligast är detta kanske inom illustrerad fakta. För den publiken är det uppenbart när en bok kommer från oss eller från något av de andra förlagen. När det gäller skönlitteraturen och sakprosan så handlar det ju om att fortsätta arbeta med texterna, och fortsätta lita på att de böcker vi gillar, kommer även läsarna att gilla.

Jag tror att vår sakprosautgivning kommer att bli ännu mer eklektisk. Det är många och stora områden som ryms inom ”sakprosa” och för att vara intressanta bör vi nog syssla med lite av varje. Jag tycker Volante är oerhört skickliga på detta, de har en tydlig profil, samtidigt som den kan rymma så vitt skilda saker som cykling, humlor, hotellägare och robotar.Springsteen skriver självbiografi

Hur skulle du vilja att Natur & Kulturs verksamhet såg ut om fem år?

Exakt som den gör nu – haha! Nej, men vi håller på med en del roliga utvecklingsprojekt, så fortsatt fokus på de bra böckerna, men kanske med en tidskrift eller två och utgivning i fler länder?

Ola Wihlke

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Under Intervjuer

Den kvinnliga författare Knausgård bingeläser just nu

När Knausgård blev intervjuad i Men’s Journal nyligen förde intervjuaren en gammal episod på tal. Siri Hustvedt hade undrat i en annan intervju med Knusgård varför det nämndes så väldigt många manliga författare i My Struggle bok 1 och så förbluffande få kvinnliga. Knausgård hade då svarat ”No competition”. Tillbaka till intervjun i Men’s Journal:

– It could be interpreted that you don’t read women.

– No. I was reading Maggie Nelson when you came, and I just bought four books by her before we met. She’s so much better than anything I’ve read for a long, long time.

Knausgård mindes för övrigt inte vad han menade med ”No competition”, men en gissning är att han menade att litteraturen inte är en tävling, som går ut på att räkna antalet omnämnanden av manliga respektive kvinnliga författare. Hursomhelst, det här är en liten ofullständig guide till böcker av Maggie Nelson:

The Argonauts (Graywolf Press) var en av förra årets mest omskrivna och kritikerrosade böcker, trots att den inte så lätt låter sig genrebestämmas. Nelson jämförs med såvål Susan Sontag som Roland Barthes. Ur förlagets beskrivning:

”Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts is a genre-bending memoir, a work of ‘autotheory’ offering fresh, fierce, and timely thinking about desire, identity, and the limitations and possibilities of love and language. At its center is a romance: the story of the author’s relationship with artist Harry Dodge. This story, which includes the author’s account of falling in love with Dodge, who is fluidly gendered, as well as her journey to and through a pregnancy, is an intimate portrayal of the complexities and joys of (queer) family making.”

Recension i New York Times. Intervju i Bookworm. Läs utdrag.

The Art of Cruelty – A Reckoning (W.W. Norton) har också hyllats som kulturkritik på högsta nivå, och handlar om hur våld framställs inom konsten.

Recension: ”Why Is Contemporary Art Addicted to Violence?” Intervju i Bookworm.

Sent år 2004 skulle Maggie Nelsons bok Jane: A Murder komma ut, en egensinnig bok om en kvinnlig släkting till Nelson som hade mördats 35 år tidigare. Fallet var olöst, men man trodde att Jane hade fallit offer för en seriemördare i Michigan. Men så en novembereftermiddag ringer Nelsons mor och berättar att fallet åter ska tas upp. En ny misstänkt arresterades och åtalades på basis av matchande DNA:

The Red Parts is a memoir, an account of a trial, and a provocative essay that interrogates the American obsession with violence and missing white women, and that scrupulously explores the nature of grief, justice, and empathy.”

Recension i New York Times. Intervju i Bookslut. Läs ett utdrag.

Och på The Belivers blogg diskuterar Maggi Nelson själbiografiskt skrivande, autoteori och att vara självutlämnande: ”When people say things to me like, ‘What does it feel like to put such personal material out into the world?,’ it isn’t a question that lands on a map I’m thinking about. I’m so focused on what experiences would be the best illustrations or ways in to the issues I want to talk about.”

Argonauterna (inbunden)

En vänlig läsare gjorde mig uppmärksam på att The Argonauts, Argonauterna, ges ut av Modernista i höst. Riktigt roligt och spännande.

Ola Wihlke

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Jessa Crispin i intervju om Bookslut, om varför webbfanzinet läggs ned, medierna och samtidslitteraturen

2002 var Jessa Crispin en 23 år gammal college drop out bosatt i Texas. Då startade hon webbfanzinet Bookslut, som hade en tydlig inriktning på litteratur utgiven av små och medelstora förlag.logonew

Sakta med säkert växte Bookslut, vars numer klassiska logga är en naken läsande kvinna, till en mindre maktfaktor på det som då entusiastiskt kallades Bookternet – samtidigt som tidningsbranschen skar ned allt mer drakoniskt på sin litteraturbevakning, så frodades den på internet, som många knöt stora förhoppningar till. Häromdagen meddelade Crispin i ett lakoniskt blogginlägg att Bookslut läggs ner.

Majnumret av Bookslut är det sista. Webbfanzinet och dess arkiv kommer emellertid att finnas kvar på nätet ”tills apokalypsen kommer”.

I samband med nedläggningen gav Crispin en intervju i New York Magazine, i vilken hon förklarar att orsaken till nedläggningen delvis har ekonomiska orsaker. Hon berättar också att hon inte har särskilt mycket till övers för den samtida amerikanska litteraturen, särskilt inte den omstridda MFA-litteraturen:

”You’re not a fan of the industry.

Part of the reason why I disengaged from it is I just don’t find American literature interesting. I find MFA culture terrible. Everyone is super-cheerful because they’re trying to sell you something, and I find it really repulsive. There seems to be less and less underground. And what it’s replaced by is this very professional, shiny, happy plastic version of literature.”

Vid det här laget är Jessa Crispin snarast en del av branschen och hon kommer inte gå sysslolös när Bookslut går i graven. Svaret på frågan vad hon är mest stolt över:

”I don’t know, just that we existed at all seems like a nice thing. I’m proud of the fact that we covered women, work in translation, and writers of color, and we did it without being fussy about it.”

Ola Wihlke

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Under Intervjuer, Nyheter

Interview: Alison Cole on courtly Italian Renaissance art

Italian Renaissance Courts_Front

Italian Renaissance Courts: Art, Pleasure and Power by art historian Alison Cole is a much revised and expanded edition of a book that was first published 1995. Then ‘court studies’ for a general public was a relatively new field. The central chapters of the book, a beautiful volume published by Laurence King, examines how five great Italian secular courts – Naples, Urbino, Ferrara, Mantua, and Milan – used art in their distinctive ways, during the 15th century. We had the opportunity to ask Alison Cole a few questions about the book.

The history of the Italian renaissance art has to a rather large extent become synonymous with the history of Medici Florence, followed by the history of the arts in Rome and Venice around 1500. Why did art history become so Tuscan-centric?

The simple answer is Giorgio Vasari, the 16th-century artist and art historian, whose Lives of the Artists (1550 and 1568) is one of the most important primary texts that art historians draw on for their knowledge of this period. Vasari was a Florentine, with a mission not only to create an entertaining and lively historical account of the artists he most admired, but also to promote his native Florence and its artists as the summit of political and artistic achievement.

The great 19th century German and Italian art historians were also more sympathetic to the Florentine Renaissance ethos, regarding the republics of Venice and Florence as the cradle of the liberal, Western-style modern state. As late as the 1960s, Florentine studies were still dominated “by a heroic conception of liberty and enlightenment fostered by the great …. scholar of civic humanism, and refugee from Nazi Germany, Hans Baron” (Paul Hills). Art historians, like Ernst Gombrich, continued this notion of the Florentine civic humanists, fostered by the Medici, as the standard bearers of learning and freedom. The courts, on the other hand, were regarded as centers of oppression and quixotic brilliance, moulded in the image of the despotic lords who ruled them.

Italian Renaissance Courts_Spread_1

In the beginning of your book you write that art historians and scholars, during the last 50 years, have shifted focus toward the other city states and Italy’s secular princely courts. And your book tells the story of art, pleasure and power in the courts of Naples, Urbino, Ferrara, Mantua and Milan during the 15th century. What are the most striking differences between the art of these courts and the familiar Tuscan-centric narrative about Italian renaissance art?

The Tuscan-centric view has historically looked at Renaissance art as a progression, starting with Giotto’s remarkable innovations and culminating in the ”divine” accomplishments of Michelangelo. It tends to create a decisive break with the medieval period – marked by the transition to a new ‘modern’ style, that takes its cue from the astonishing advances made in painting, sculpture and architecture in the 1410s and 1420s (focusing on the achievements of Alberti, Donatello, Ghiberti, Masaccio and Brunelleschi). The Florentine style, with its mastery of central perspective, modelling in relief, antique-inspired naturalism and sculptural monumentally has long been regarded as the dominant aesthetic of the time.

When we look at the rich culture of the courts, however, we see that many different and equally prized aesthetics existed side by side, that there is no abrupt break with the past (continuity was politically desirable), that geographical boundaries are porous (admitting much exchange), and that a taste for Gothic can flourish alongside the revival of the Antique. The great courts of Naples and Milan, in particular, straddle larger worlds – with Naples looking to Spain and the Eastern Mediterranean, and Milan looking across the Alps to its Northern neighbors. We also find that art exists in many forms – with illuminated miniatures, ceremonial decoration, tapestry and jewelry often prized as much as, if not more than, painting and sculpture.

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Art was used as a means to project and legitimize power. Could you please give us a few examples of how art was used as propaganda by the rulers of these five secular princely courts?

We can begin with Azzone Visconti (Lord of Milan), whose fortified palace with its magnificent decoration was designed to have a specific effect on his subjects. “Thunderstruck in admiration”, says a contemporary chronicler, they were to judge him a prince “of such power, that it [was] impossible to attack him.”

Then we have Borso d’Este of Ferrara, who adorned an antechamber of his Schifanoia Palace with remarkable stucco decoration. This is designed around personifications of the seven female virtues, but only six are represented. The missing virtue – Justice – was amply embodied, it seems, by Borso himself. He used this room for formal hearings – while a large bronze statue of the ‘just ruler’, Borso, sat atop a column in the main square.

Finally, look at Ambrogio de Predis’ Portrait of Bianca Maria Sforza, commissioned by her uncle Ludovico Sforza (Regent of Milan). Here Bianca is presented as a hapless embodiment of her uncle’s dynastic ambition – the portrait was painted to mark her betrothal to Emperor Maximilian (Ludovico’s hopes of a Dukedom depended on this match). Thus Bianca is bedecked with the costliest jewelry (Ludovico was to provide 300,000 ducats for her dowry) and sports her uncle’s mottoes and emblems.

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You also write, in the beginning of the book, ”that courtly patronage was not just about outward display, material consumption or the cynical manipulation of power.” Could you please tell us a little bit about the other uses or functions of art?

Pleasure and delight, private enjoyment/ connoisseurship with an intimate and learned circle, and genuine devotion were also absolutely key to the commissioning and appreciation of works of art in this period. These existed side by side with more public motivations. The humanist Manetti, in a speech of 1445, praises Naples’s Alfonso of Aragon’s private moral virtues (piety, continence and devotion to art and learning) as distinct from his regal qualities ”justice, courage, gravity, liberality and magnificent.” Alfonso’s letter of March 1446, written to a Cardinal in grateful knowledge of some personal gifts, provides a useful counterpoint to the more public role played by art at court.

“I tell you, Sir, that when the first statue and paintings arrived I was out hunting and did not return until sunset. I had not eaten all day, but nonetheless was determined to satisfy the soul’s desires before the body’s, and I looked at the works without delay. I assure you that they are so perfect, especially the sculpture – which every day when I look at it delights me as if for the first time.”

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The book describes a lot of concepts and virtues of the period, and some of them might seem foreign today. I’m thinking of the Aristotelian theory of magnificence, and splendor, majesty, dignity, decorum and a sense of what is appropriate. Are there any concepts, aesthetic values or virtues, that are particularly important to grasp if you want to understand the period?

‘Magnificence’ and ‘decorum’ are probably two of the most important concepts to grasp. Generous expenditure – particularly in the sphere of public building, and ceremonial – became explicitly associated with an Aristotleian notion of classical honour: ‘magnificent’ expenditure made for the public good. But lavish expenditure had to be appropriate to place, rank and occasion, so rules of decorum were generally applied.

The revival of notions of dignity and decorum was also closely tied to the readings of classical texts, in this case the writings of Cicero and Quintilian. These Roman orators linked dignity directly with the ability to wield ‘authority’, deliver justice and command respect. ‘Dignity’ was a quality that was carefully cultivated by Renaissance soldier-princes, whose states depended on their success as ‘mercenaries for hire’. Federico da Montefeltro complained to Ludovico Gonzaga that their employers treated them as ‘peasants’, while expecting at the same time to be well served. The implication was that they were common soldiers driven by mercenary motives, rather than nobles inspired by deeds of ancient valour. A well-orchestrated cultural policy, displaying their dignity as well as their magnificence, could do much to bolster their status, with humanist learning conferring both honour and prestige.

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The five central chapters examine the courts of Naples, Urbino, Ferrara, Mantua and Milan during the 15th century. Could you mention a few features of them that are similar, and a few features that sets them apart?

With regards to what united the courts and their rulers– there are too many things to enumerate. But a search for legitimacy and a desire to stamp their authority on their domains (many princes were born illegitimate or had had to seize power by force), a need to be ‘ahead of the curve’ but also in step with the latest trends, an ability to forge alliances with greater powers and embark on advantageous cultural exchange, a passion for chivalry and a desire to belong to prestigious English and French chivalric orders (or to create their own), and a need to surround themselves with the best advisers, scholars, historians artists, and artisans who could reinforce their virtues and proclaim their deeds: these are a few of the common imperatives.

With regards to what sets them apart: their family’s origins and ancestry; the nature of their terrain and natural resources; the basis for their economies; their cultural preferences; their military and political abilities; their choice of allies – often mirrored in their choice of artists and architects; and the nature of the individual rulers themselves.

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Do you have a favorite among these five princely courts? Are there any patrons, artists or artworks that you are especially fond of?

My favourite noble is probably Federico da Montefeltro – the ‘ideal’ Renaissance prince but also the mercenary soldier-ruler who had to work hard, we are told, to control his ”naturally choleric” temperament. You feel this sense of rigid self-control in everything that Federico does, including the art he commissions – together with the determination to set himself apart from his arch-rival Sigismondo Malatesta of Rimini (who was renowned for his restlessness and capriciousness). Nowhere is this careful articulation of self more evident that in the brand image that Federico created – with his dignified but disfigured profile adorning the portraits of his reign. Federico reportedly lost his eye in a youthful joust – but his portrait (emphasizing the missing bridge of his nose) suggests maturity and stoicism.

My favourite court is that of the Gonzagas at Mantua – encapsulated by the work of their court artist, Andrea Mantegna, who served the Gonzagas for 46 years. I like the fact that a seemingly small, unprepossessing place – surrounded by lakes, swamps and the incessant croaking of frogs – could commission some of the most beautiful art ”in the world” (such as the Camera degli Sposi in the Castello di San Giorgio), and retain power for so long (while other courts were subsumed) through skillful maneuvering and diplomacy. This is also the court where Isabella d’Este, wife of Francesco Gonzaga, could indelibly stamp her mark.

Ola Wihlke

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Under Intervjuer

Interview: urban planner Tanya Zack on Johannesburg

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South Africa has gone through huge changes since apartheid was abolished 1990 and free elections was held 1994. One of the places that has changed the most is Johannesburg, South Africas largest city and the region’s most vibrant commercial center.

The publisher Fourthwall Books has published a beautiful series of booklets about different places in Johannesburg, most of them dominated by immigrants from other African countries. These immigrants are often very skillful entrepreneurs and they add to the character of the neighborhoods they live in.

Mark Lewis (interview + photos) has taken the photos for the booklets, urban planner Tanya Zack has written the texts. We had the opportunity to ask Zack a few questions about the books (review).

Could you tell us a little bit about the ideas behind Wake up, this is Joburg?

– I have always lived in Johannesburg and I grew up close to the inner city, in Bertrams. My worklife has often intersected with the inner city and I have a passion for its dynamism and surprise. But from around 2008 I had the opportunity through my work – doing research and policy – to work on some of the big issue areas of the inner city – such as so-called ‘bad buildings’. I became convinced that I need to spend more time in understanding and in diagnosing what I see in the city before I can hope to respond to it as an urban planning practitioner.

– I started walking the streets of the inner city and I was overwhelmed with the excitement of it. I learnt so much, saw so much I didn’t know existed in Johannesburg and also simply encountered these incredible experiences of interacting with people or of just watching. I felt humbled by how little I knew and understood and how my training and experience as an urban planner equipped me in some ways to have a lens for interpreting what I was seeing but the privilege of just being in the space and looking was a whole new learning experience.

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– Photography became a natural extension for me in the act of watching and I spent many months taking photos. This was also a vehicle of access because each photo required conversation, and permissions and so I got talking to people. It was still a personal project – looking, taking pictures, turning these into collages for the pleasure of absorbing and playing with the extraordinary images of the inner city.

– The next stage in this unplanned journey was the collection of stories. And Mark and I joined forces. I write the stories, he photographs them. We work together very closely so that the pictures tell a story and the words create images. In some cases the stories popped up because we encountered them in our wanderings. In other cases we set out specifically to understand a specific activity or person life and livelihood in the city. For instance we followed recyclers over a number of days and in some cases followed their stories over many months. Not every story is intended for publication. In fact most are just our personal encounter with our city.

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– The selection of stories is not conscious as much as it is driven by ‘that feels right’ or that doesn’t feel right. The journey is intuitive. We are not trying to look at a particular category of person, space or activity but rather at something that feels lesser known, but important to us for understanding something about Joburg. They have mostly centered on less formal activities in the city and mostly in the inner city which is the dynamic heart of Johannesburg, often a first place of arrival for migrants and a place where buildings are constantly being re-purposed.

– We are not offering lessons or opinions on what should be done in Joburg. This is a creative task. If we can alert people in Joburg to something that feels a little lesser known and through that inspire a greater affection for this city of possibilities, we will have achieved a lot.

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I have recently read the books, published by Fourthwall Books, by you and Mark and I have read another book that Fourtwall is involved in: UP UP: Stories of Johannesburg’s Highrises. Several themes are recurring in these books. One of those themes are change, rapid change on a grand scale. Several of your stories focus on marginality and informality. Can you tell us a little about that?

– One of the things the stories alert us to is people carving a livelihood on leftover space. All over Johannesburg leftover land and redundant buildings are appropriated temporarily or irregularly for living space, places of religious worship, gambling or for survivalist income generation. That space may be threatened or criminalized or ignored by the authorities. But these are often the only remaining places of opportunity for new entrants to the saturated informal economy of the inner city.

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– The most marginal of the activities and spaces that the story series explores is that of informal butchers who chop cow heads in a disused parking garage in the heart of the inner city. The condemned building that the story S’kop takes place in abuts highly formalized inner city structures and is within view of banking head offices and the cultural precinct of Newtown. It is in the shadow of the city railway station and is the backdrop to the city’s premier public art sculpture, the Firewalker.

– Several of the stories are located in leftover spaces or concern marginal economic activity. These activities that occur in the gaps of the planned and regulated city offer spaces of innovation and of experimentation with new ways of creating livelihoods and of city making.

– They may well manifest the shifts that begin as quiet moments and actions outside of the purview of formalized city planning but that over time normalize and mainstream in the urban space. More important than their absorption into the regulated city however is their value in pioneering new modes of practice – often out of necessity and at times out of a serendipitous accident of history. These fringes are the things to watch and learn from to understand how the remaking of cities happen in spite of the systems that resist change.

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In Tea at Anstey’s, about a beautiful art deco building where you live, you write: ”Everyone mentions crime or safety here.” Could you tell us a little bit about crime and safety in Johannesburg, and about what you think would be good policies to address these challenges?

– Violence is pervasive in Johannesburg. In all our stories there are views of crime and violence, whether violent physical crime, or violence of exclusion (such as of migrants) or xenophobia. In other research that I have conducted people speak of the violence and corruption exercised by security officers in the inner city, where violence is structural and where violence is exercised by security officers – in the form of extraction of bribes and threats or theft, as is alleged in several interviews I have conducted in the inner city – then the only action that can be taken is internal structural change within the state and security forces. This means that change has to start with cleaning up of policing and of the corrupt elements within local governance structures. It is a frightening city when people fear the law enforcement officers whose role should be protection.

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Can you tell us about the trading patterns you have observed amongst migrant traders who have featured in your stories, such as in the story Inside Out?

Johannesburg, as an arrival city for migrants, is also a city where business is fostered by low end globalisation. In our story Inside Out we note that: “Arranged on the two tiers of Senga’s stall in the Rockey Street market are foods and oils unfamiliar to native Joburgers but as familiar as their own language to those who have crossed half a continent to be here. There are varieties of beans from Malawi and the DRC, palm oil from Ghana and Cameroon, spices from Nigeria, Mopani worms and dried fish from Zambia. Face creams and antiseptic lotions from the DRC, Côte d’Ivoire and France confound the description of this and other kiosks as ‘vegetable stalls’.”

– We learn that on-going research, price comparison, attention to displays, quantity and variety also mark the work of traders in the Rockey Street market in Yeoville. It’s a vibrant market hosting an Afropolitan trader population including barbers from Nigeria, dressmakers and fabric sellers from Nigeria, South Africa and the DRC, tailors and cobblers from Ghana and Nigeria, photographers from the DRC and Mozambique, and vegetable sellers from Zimbabwe and Mozambique. In the story Inside Out traders talk ‘trader language’ to one another. That story also reveals the intensity of a trade that is made possible through low-end globalization. People are trading across borders and are distributing goods to many cities using cell phones and informal networks of suppliers, bankers, transporters and traders.

”Geraldine is Zambian. Her imports of beans, peanuts, cassava, dried fish, eggplant and okra are sought after in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and East London. She sources goods for regular customers and brings in what is in good supply. She is networked to the delivery trucks that serve traders like herself across South Africa. Sometimes the trucks carry only goods for cross-border traders. But if they are carrying furniture or other large items, the drivers might agree to add an extra bag or box to their load for the market traders. Geraldine also works with individual suppliers and customers who do not use trucks, but carry bags of spices, creams or vegetables on their backs. ‘If someone is coming I tell him to bring what I need, ’ she says. The trading lattice is organised by word of mouth and transactions are recorded on scraps of paper or in notebooks. It’s low-end globalisation: boxes of goods arrive from many countries and are funnelled through backyards to be sorted and to join other goods bound for stalls, shops and restaurants across South Africa.”

She now stocks from Nigeria, Cameroon, Malawi, Tanzania, Ghana, Mozambique and Zambia.

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Winnie © Mark Lewis

 
You speak of harsh realities in Johannesburg but also of hope. Can yo tell us about the hopefulness you found in the Tea at Anstey’s story?

– The Anstey’s building in the heart of the inner city is an extraordinary example of inclusionary living in one building. There a unique mix of income, race and class characterizes the tenant population. It has evolved as an inclusionary housing development through an accident of history. Tea at Anstey’s tells the story of this glamorous building’s deterioration and of its reclamation and partial subdivision for affordable apartments for ownership. It also tells of the plush apartments that have been converted by artists and other creative professionals.

And of the communities within communities of this sociable urban space. One tenant calls Anstey’s ”a test tube for a real community” and the writer notes the following people entering the lift one afternoon:

”Mother with baby on back.
Teenager with finger in mouth.
Two young guys carrying backpacks and sporting big earphones under hoodies.
Teenage girl followed by toddler in pink tracksuit.
Man with cello case.
Man carrying child in Spiderman suit.
Woman wearing towel around waist and carrying bucket of water.
Tall, stylish man carrying three shirts and suit bag.
Old man with broken shoes carrying bulging bag on back.
Frowning nurse in navy trouser uniform.
Laughing guys carrying crate of beer.
Young woman in chef’s top.
Woman in large sunglasses rocking to loud music from phone. (Bright lipstick!)
Stout man with limp carrying two plastic bags filled with vegetables.
Small boy yelling, ‘Yay! New shoelaces! New shoelaces! Yay! Yay!’”

– This is not the sort of mixed community that we can readily ‘design’ into urban living. But it is the sort we hope for and the sort that, as Anstey’s shows, is possible.

Ola Wihlke

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Under Intervjuer

Intervju med formgivaren Nina Ulmaja om bokomslag

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Jag har intervjuat en rad svenska och amerikanska formgivare, som är särskilt inriktade på böcker och bokomslag. Frågorna har varit ganska snarlika, men svaren har skiftat. Det har varit genuint spännande att få veta hur de, var och en på sitt vis, tänker och arbetar för att göra bästa tänkbara bokomslag.

Nu har jag fått möjlighet att ställa några frågor till Nina Ulmaja, som kan sällsynt mycket om att formge böcker, också utöver själva hantverket. Hon har undervisat i grafisk design och typografi på Konstfack och Beckmans och arbetar idag som designansvarig och formgivare på Albert Bonniers förlag. En del av det uppdraget är att hålla sig uppdaterad om trender på den internationella bokmarknaden.

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Ulmaja har en fantastisk karriär bakom sig. Hon har designat omslag och inlagor till såväl klassiker som samtida litteratur. Hennes formgivning av Jag är Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Dikter och prosa 1954-2004 av Tomas Tranströmer och en rad böcker av Lars Norén tillhör de mest kända och uppmärksammade. Ulmajas formgivning av bland andra Roberto Bolaños stora roman 2666 och Noréns En dramatikers dagbok har belönats med internationella priser.

Ulmaja har även formgivit Zlatan-frimärken, ett riktigt hedersuppdrag, och hon är barnboksförfattare. Hennes första egna bok, ABC å allt om D, som hon både skrivit, illustrerat och formgivit, har också belönats med rader av priser, bland andra Augustpriset 2012 i klassen barn- och ungdomsböcker.

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Skulle du kunna berätta lite kortfattat om din bakgrund, om hur du blev grafisk formgivare med särskild inriktning på böcker?

Jag kommer från en familj utan rötter i vare sig design eller litteratur. Därför tog det ganska lång tid för mig att förstå att man faktiskt kunde jobba med det jag sysslade med mest. Jag läste och ritade, det var min barndom, förutom att försöka anpassa mig till ett nytt språk och land. Jag flyttade till Sverige som 5-åring, från Finland. Vi kom hit i den stora arbetsinvandringsvågen 1972 bland många andra finländare, jugoslaver och greker.

Jag ritade som sagt, alltid. Och trodde så småningom att arkitekt var mitt yrke. Efter ett par år som arkitektpraktikant kom jag så in på arkitekturskolan. Men då hade jag redan sett många av arkitektyrkets baksidor. Ett fåtal får göra de roliga uppdragen, sen har de ett gäng utbildade arkitekter ”under sig” som får göra grovjobbet. Det som roade mig var att göra de presentationer som gjordes när ett nytt husprojekt skulle presenteras. Det som liknade böcker. Jag tackade nej till arkitektutbildningen och började på konstskola istället. Siktet var att bli illustratör då. Men så under utbildningen tog mitt formgivningsintresse över. Det lockade mer, verkade roligare att jobba mer övergripande med idé- och form än att ”bara” göra bilder. Och jag insåg nog också att jag inte var tillräckligt driven eller bra som illustratör. Så det blev formgivning, och intresset för böcker hade jag ju sen barnsben. Jag gick ut Konstfack med inställningen att jobba med kultur och litteratur. Frilansade i 11 år med uppdrag från teatrar, dansgrupper, bokförlag och andra kulturproducenter. Och hade drömuppdrag!

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Idag är du är designansvarig och formgivare på Albert Bonniers förlag. Det innebär att du har ovanligt mycket inflytande över hur svenska böcker ser ut. Kan du beskriva din roll eller olika roller som designansvarig?

Jag försöker höja nivån på förlagets bokutgivning ur mitt perspektiv: design, typografi, bokproduktion, bokbinderi och föra in ett konstruktivt perspektiv i designprocessen. Jag jobbade som lektor i grafisk design på Konstfack i 5 år och tror att det delvis var den bakgrunden som gjorde att jag fick frågan om designansvarsrollen här. Jag är inblandad i de flesta böcker på ett eller annat sätt, som rådgivare/konsult i exempelvis form- och typografifrågor. Mycket av arbetet gäller böckernas inlagor, något som absolut inte syns utåt eller ens diskuteras. Jag har arbetat fram mallar för våra inlagor med fokus på god läsbarhet. Ett osynligt arbete.

Vad gäller omslagen så samlas vi i så kallade omslagsmöten och skissmöten för att prata om respektive bok, dess innehåll, målgrupp, ambitionsnivå, förväntningar och väljer tillsammans ut formgivare för varje enskilt uppdrag. Jag vet att många undrar hur dessa möten går till och tänker att min röst väger tungt. Men den bilden skulle jag vilja nyansera. Min röst som designansvarig väger oftast lika med förläggarens eller den marknadsansvariges. Men vad gäller kommersiella titlar så väger marknadens röst definitivt tyngre. Och varje enskild förläggare är designbeställaren för sina böcker.

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En av mina viktigaste uppgifter är att hålla förlaget á jour med vad som pågår inom grafisk design, illustration, typografi, bokdesign och bokproduktion. Vilka trender och tendenser ser jag i Sverige och internationellt, vilka typsnittstrender man kan skönja, hur det ser ut på illustrationsfronten osv. Jag försöker också få in nya formgivare för att vi ska hålla oss i frontlinjen vad gäller bokdesign. Det är inget självändamål att hitta nya formgivare för sakens skull. Det hade varit både enklare och bekvämare att fortsätta jobba med samma kunniga erfarna gäng. Men vi behöver öppna oss för nya uttryck och arbetssätt, samtidigt som vi värnar långvariga samarbeten med de formgivare som gillar att arbeta med oss. Jag formger själv ca 10-12 böcker per år, och oftast är det böcker som kräver lite mer handpåläggning för både inlaga och omslag. Jag får då och då frågan om jag kan plocka guldkornen ur vår utgivning för att designa dem själv? Svar: Nej. Det fungerar inte så. Oftast är det författaren eller förläggaren som av olika skäl önskar att jag formger en viss bok och jag hinner bara med ett visst antal titlar per år.

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Jag läste nyligen att formgivaren Roy Kuhlman inte läste böckerna han formgav. Han läste bara sammanfattningar av böckerna, men han gav förlaget Grove Press en desto starkare identitet. Andra formgivare talar om en nästan metafysisk strävan efter att fånga en boks själ. Vilka funktioner tycker du att bokomslag fyller eller bör fylla?

Jag tillhör gruppen som tänker att jag ska fånga boken själ, men jag uttrycker mig nog snarare som att varje bok har en inneboende form som det är min uppgift att hitta. Formen finns i innehållet, eller i vissa fall i författarens personlighet. Jag är inte intresserad av att allt jag gör ska ha en viss stil — ”min” stil. Men oundvikligen syns det nog ungefär som att man har en viss handstil.

Ett omslag ska givetvis spegla innehållet. Men den allra viktigaste funktionen är att boken ska synas och hitta sina läsare. Jag brukar prata om ett högt uppmärksamhetsvärde som kriterium nummer ett för ett bra bokomslag. Och författaren ska tycka om sin bok! Om hen inte gör det så har både förlag och formgivare misslyckats.

Idag ställs det nästan orimliga krav på hur omslag ska synas. De ska bland annat hålla i ett format på 1 x 1,5 cm i mobilen. Till och med Dagens Nyheter har minskat omslagen vid recensionerna till detta minimala mått. Och omslaget ska hålla när du ser det på långt håll och fortfarande intressera dig när du har boken i handen. Svårt? Ja!

Kan du beskriva den kreativa processen lite kortfattat? Det skiftar säkert men det skulle vara kul att få veta ungefär hur det går till. Hur arbetade du fram formen till Hassan Blasims Irakisk Kristus till exempel?

Jag kan beskriva den ideala processen. I den har jag alltid tid att läsa boken, skissa under läsningen och leta idéer i innehållet. Därefter pratar jag med förläggaren och ofta även författaren och pratar om idéerna utan att egentligen ha något visuellt att visa. Om det är en översatt bok tittar vi på och pratar om hur man resonerat i andra länder.

Möjligen har jag i detta tidiga stadium plockat ihop något av ett moodboard som kan spegla en känsla jag letar efter formmässigt. Vi enas om vilket spår vi ska gå mot och jag skissar vidare. Landar därefter idealt i max 5 skisser och någon av dem har ”det” som gör att jag blir glad och nyfiken av att se på skissen flera gånger. I verkligheten saknas ofta tiden för den långa processen, och vi i gruppen är inte eniga eller författaren har en helt annan åsikt än förläggaren. Men allt som oftast går det bra.

Vad gäller Irakisk Kristus av Hassan Blasim så var det ju både ett enskilt omslag som skulle formges och ett helt nytt utseende till Panache-serien. En tanke med Panacherna är ju att lyfta fram utländska lite smalare författare som det kanske inte är helt lätt att etablera i Sverige. Många av Panache-författarna har blivit nobelpristagare. Jag ville betona författarnamnen snarare än de enskilda titlarna. Författarnamnet i guld med den gyllene panache-hjälmen skulle vara ett signum. Och de vita ryggarna. Jag tänker att man om några år har sin samling av högkvalitativa mjukband med vita ryggar i sin bokhylla. Till Blasims namn försökte jag mig på en specialritad typografi med lite influenser från arabisk arkitektur. Det är ju detaljer som folk inte uppfattar, men som ändå ger någon slags känsla för ämnet.

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Många av dina bokomslag är utpräglat minimalistiska. Norén-böckerna är som skulpturala estetiska objekt; jag tycker att man kan kalla formen svensk eller skandinavisk. Du har någonstans sagt att man skulle kunna släppa ned dig över en internationell bokmässa, och att oavsett i vilken förlagsmonter du landade, skulle du utifrån böckernas utseende kunna säga från vilket land förlaget är. Kan du utveckla det lite? Hur kommer det sig exempelvis att bokomslag, men inte skivkonvolut, är så trogna bärare av nationella identiteter?

Den stora skillnaden mellan bokomslag och skivomslag är att musikvärlden är fokuserad på att visa artisten på omslaget. Böcker visar mycket sällan författaren, utom biografier och enstaka deckardrottningar. Bokomslagen ”säljer” innehållet. Skivomslagen ”varumärket Artisten”.

Det är knepigt idag att prata om nationella stilar. Att svara på frågan ”Vad är svensk form?” är nästan politiskt laddat. Men det finns nationella särdrag i formgivning som syns vare sig vi vill det eller inte. Det blir så tydligt på den stora bokmässan i Frankfurt. Franska böcker ser ut på ett visst sätt, holländare, schweizare och tyskar är bäst på typografi och amerikanska omslag är lite mer glam och glitter. Men de senaste åren har engelska och amerikanska omslag blivit så mycket bättre, och mer idébaserade. Jag tror att stora formgivare som Chip Kidd haft inflytande och man har blickat bakåt på äldre amerikansk reklam och formgivning. Det finns tydliga influenser idag från Saul Bass, Bradbury Thompson med flera.

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Jag försöker alltid jobba med boken som helhetsform, vilket kanske ligger bakom den skulpturala känslan i böcker som Noréns dagböcker och andra. Boken är inte bara en framsida utan ett 3-dimensionellt objekt där både rygg, baksida, FoE (för- och eftersättsblad) och startsidor betyder något för läsupplevelsen. Jag har pratat en del om de outnyttjade utrymme där formgivaren kan ge boken ”själ”, eller berika läsupplevelsen. Det helhetsarbetet börjar synas på många håll nu. Omsorgen om hela boken. Omsorgen om detaljerna.

Intresset för bokstäver och typografi börjat sippra ut till en bredare allmänhet. Jag blev så glad av att DN nyligen skrev om så detaljerad typografi som att man lägger in en tjugondelfyrkant luft innan större skiljetecken (?!/:;). Nördig typografikunskap lärs ut i dagstidningen. Imponerande!

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Kan du nämna några formgivare, svenska eller utländska, som har betytt mycket för dig?

Irma Boom, Chip Kidd, Stefania Malmsten, Lotta Kühlhorn, Saul Bassmed flera. Penguin för deras varumärkesarbete och konsekventa omslag. Det tyska Piper Verlag för deras vakna varumärkestänk. Men Irma Boom står på högsta pallen. Hon jobbar konceptuellt och utmanar sina beställare och jobbar med helheten och materialen på det sätt jag eftersträvar. Just hennes helhetsarbete syns i böcker som exempelvis en bok om textilkonstnären Sheila Hicks. Hicks vävar har tydligt inspirerat Irma Boom till att ta ut svängarna med vilket papper boken trycks på och hur bokens snittyta ser ut. Den är skrovlig och ojämn precis som kanterna på Hicks vävar. Jag kan tipsa om att titta på Irma Booms TED-Talk som ligger på YouTube.

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Med tanke på dina erfarenheter, din position, ditt nätverk och dina regelbundna spaningar på stora internationella bokmässor, skulle det vara spännande om du avslutningsvis ville berätta lite om rådande trender.

Trender. Hmm. Ja, vi lever i en bildflod idag där alla är fotografer. Det har lett till att illustrationen och det hantverksmässiga blommar. Alla kan fota, men endast ett fåtal kan illustrera. Och för att förlagen ska få unika omslag anlitar vi nu oftare illustratörer. Till saken hör också att utbildningarna har blivit bredare, eller kanske grafisk designämnet. Många är både illustratörer och formgivare idag. Igen! Som det var på 50- och 60-talet. Även typografin blommar. Det finns en enorm variation i typografiska uttryck idag.

Som jag nämnde tidigare märks också omsorgen om bokens helhet idag, vilket jag tror delvis beror på digitaliseringen. Vi måste bli mer måna om den fysiska boken för att den ska behålla sin attraktionskraft gentemot det digitala flödet. Och det syns i hur både små och stora förlag anstränger sig. Jag kom just hem från London där jag såg hur Penguin nu har en satsning med läderinbundna stiligt designade klassiker. Och ett annat förlag gav ut en deckare i vanligt hårdbandsformat med skyddsomslag samtidigt med en exklusivare utgåva med klotklädd pärm, infärgade snitt och som verkligen väcker habegär. Dessa deckare låg bredvid varandra i bokhandeln till samma pris. Köparen väljer alltså ”sin” bok. Förlagen provar alla vägar och har insett att den allmänt höjda designmedvetenheten även nått de fysiska böckernas värld.

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En sak som är väldigt intressant att följa är det som händer på designskolorna. Både vad gäller designyrkets inriktning och de mer visuella trender som blir ”hippa”. Ett par år efter att exempelvis en särskild sorts typografi synts på skolorna börjar den sippra ut på marknaden. Jag hittar varje år sådana exempel i Frankfurt, vilket är intressant och lite märkligt. Varifrån kommer influenserna? Jag vet inte. Men jag ser tydliga rörelser.

Jag brukar rekommendera förlagsfolk som är på bokmässan i Frankfurt att besöka den internationella bokkonsten – Best Book Design from all over the World. Där ser man de utvalda bäst designade och producerade böckerna från varje land. Cirka 20-25 böcker från nästan 40 länder. Det är både inspirerande och tankeväckande att se den samlingen för att se vart ”boken” är på väg. Och det främsta skälet till att titta på trender är ju inte för att försöka hänga med i dem, utan att se hur det ser ut just nu. Bokbranschen är ju ganska långsam och att i den långsamma floden försöka haka på en visuell trend resulterar i att man kommer ut med något som är visuellt passé när man väl publicerar.

Om du vill titta närmare på böcker Nina Ulmaja har formgivit, och om du vill höra henne berätta om dem, rekommenderas ett besök på hennes YouTube-kanal.

Ola Wihlke

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Under Artiklar, Bokomslag bilder och foto, Intervjuer

Interview: Oliver Kruger on his photo series Golden Youth and Johannesburg

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In his ongoing photo series Golden Youth photographer Oliver Kruger (b. 1977), based in Cape Town, draws on the tradition of African studio photography, amongst others, to capture the arresting faces and flamboyant street style of young urban South Africans. We had the opportunity to ask Oliver about his exceptional series of portraits, several of them collected in the beautiful volume Golden Youth (L’Artiere Edizioni).

Could you please tell us a little bit about your career as a photographer, and your special interest in the portrait as a genre?

My interest in photography came from my parents who were both keen amateur photographers, and many holidays fiddling and shooting pictures with their cameras. I also spent a while shooting skateboarding and the friends who I did that with.

Initially I learned photographic technique from fashion photographers, which is what I thought I would like to have done, but as it turned out was what I did not enjoy. People interested me more than aesthetics and style. As a result, I guess I enjoy portraiture. Also a photographer friend of mine in London with whom I used to drink, made me aware of all the great american photographers from Carlton E Watkins through to Stephen Shore and William Eggleston. I think after looking at the cannon of american photography I felt that there was a far more interesting world to explore outside of commercial photography, and that this sparked my real interest in photography.

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All images © Oliver Kruger

You have said elsewhere that the portraits in Golden Youth doesn’t represent a specific subculture, yet they seem so perfect gathered together. They express individuality, yet they seem to have something in common. Please tell us a little bit about the series and its connection to Joburg.

Johannesburg is a city created by commerce and industry and did not develop naturally around natural surface features, as such there is little to engage people outside of work and socialising. It’s infrastructure developed around mining and engineering, which has largely passed, and is a post industrial space which is quite ugly and yet beautiful at the same time. It also has a population of 12000000 people in the greater area, which covers four municipal areas. I think there is a convergence of two factors: One being a psychological space which not only permits, but encourages individuality and flamboyance, and a physical space in which it is one of the few ways that young people can assert themselves.

I came upon this project purely by chance. A friend of mine Bradley Abrahams, who is a designer invited me to join him at a kind of street culture festival, where he was attending a trade show and series of lectures by artists and designers. He mentioned that I should probably bring a camera. I decided to set a studio up in the parking garage where the trade show was held and grabbed anybody who interested me or whom I thought stood out for whatever reason. I went back for three years and set up studio for two days at a time. It was a great way of finding people from all the corners of Gauteng and Vaal Triangle, that I would never have been able to find through networks of friends or by driving around or going to bars, clubs or social events.

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I might be wrong, but the clothes, even though they look luxurious, don’t seem to be brand name clothing. Could you please tell us a little bit about this specific street style?

Much of what people with a keen sense of style wear is what is found and appropriated. In a place with money and a huge foreign influence, it is easy to wear designer brands and recognizable names, and to differentiate oneself, you have to find something a little different. It seems to me to be an amalgamation of street style from the last thirty years, eighties hip hop, colonial references, pan-african designs and current pop references.

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You are mostly a portrait photographer. I think your photos have a beautiful painterly quality. What have been the main influences, not necessarily photography, on this series and your photography as a whole?

At school, painters were held up as the pinnacle of artistic achievement. I also imagine that the painterliness comes from having people sit very still and not rushing. I admire certain photographers, like Stephan Ruiz, Oliver Sieber, Pieter Hugo and Katy Grannan, and have certainly borrowed from them. I also worked with Pieter Hugo, Alessandro Cecchinni and Randal Mesdon, from whom I learned a lot.

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Could you name a few of your favorite contemporary photographers, and say something about what makes you fond of them?

Stephan Ruiz, Oliver Sieber, Bryan Schutmaat, Pieter Hugo and Katy Grannan and Rineke Dijkstra would be my favourites, along with Stephen Shore and Alec Soth. I think mostly because of their considered manner of working, and their formalism, along with their critical engagement with the world.

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And, finally, are there any other things from Joburg you would like to recommend? Art, galleries, music, books?

I would say that Johannesburg’s energy and the people that inhabit it are what I would like to recommend most. Once you get a handle on those two the rest follow. Johannesburg has a very active art and music scene unlike any other in the world. It also has amazing food if you know where to look. The books that I admire regarding Johannesburg would be any of David Goldblatt’s work in Johannesburg and After the Mines by Jason Larkin and many more. The work of the Drum magazine photographers and the press photographers of the eighties and nineties are very important. Also, many of the recent graduates of The Market Theatre Photo Workshop are producing amazing work.

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Photo 1-10 taken in Johannesburg: Shelly Mokoena, 2013, Zamokuhle Nkutha, 2014, Abiah Superstar, 2012, Pfano, 2012, Lulama Dingane, 2013, Thabang Moatshe, 2014, Fani Segerman, 2012, Maitele, 2013, Tish Pillay, 2013, Rachel Molabane.

Ola Wihlke

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Under Artiklar, Bokomslag bilder och foto, Intervjuer