Autumn 2003

The book as sculpture

Gutenberg-Galaxie II: Irma Boom

Institut für Buchkunst Leipzig
Edited by Irma Boom and Kristina Brusa, 2002

Irma Boom makes books that are nearly sculptural objects before they are repositories of information, so it’s fitting that her self-titled volume is a brick-shaped tome that opens from both sides and is hinged in the middle. It can be read from backwards and forwards as two 208-page books, or as a single 416-page book, albeit incoherently, as only some pages connect so as to make complete images. It is not the most practical method of binding, nor is it terribly well used, but taken at surface level, it is a gorgeous thing, the deciphering of which says as much as about its author as the contents within.

Printed in an edition of 500, the present book is part of a series crafted by the winners of The Gutenberg Prize, awarded by Institut für Buchkunst, and is funded by the Cultural Administration of Leipzig. Boom conceived the binding and co-edited it with the book’s designer, Kristina Brusa. One half of the book features sample spreads from all of Boom’s books with vague, paragraph-long commentaries in the back. And the other half features those same commentaries in English and other languages along with an all-visual section called ‘Log Out’, which focuses, as Boom does in her own books about other designers, on the minutia of her medium: typography, ‘specific’ (basically details of images on the page), the flexibility of the books, pictures, colophons, book edges, page numbers and contents pages. These visual essays are complemented by elegant charts that quantify flexibility, size, weight and page numbers. These details are entertaining but shed no new light, except to illustrate Boom’s delight in the details of bookmaking.

As a demonstration of Boom’s working methods and the aesthetic world she inhabits, this book is fairly effective – it is, after all, a puzzling object made up of her work in both macro and micro views – what could be more Boom-like? But genuine insight into the hows and whys of her design thinking is absent. But then, the book is limited to so few copies – all of which will have most likely vanished into the hands of collectors by the time this review sees print – that perhaps Gutenberg-Galaxie II is simply an exercise rather than a monograph. If so, then Boom gave the prize a worthy piece of craftsmanship, and will perhaps give her readers a bit more the next time around.

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