Winter 1991

Oil and water

Two Dutch books take the form of elegant visual essays on liquid themes.

Every Christmas the royal Dutch printers association, the KVGO, publishes a special, book-sized issue of its biweekly newsletter made by a selected group of its members. The theme of last year’s book, designed by Gerard Hadders, was specified by the KVGO, but the treatment is entirely his own, its ambivalence reflected in the title: Oil is innocent, oil is a blessing, oil is a plague. Hadders begins by positing the alternatives – wind, heat exchange, water, coal – before moving on to mount a lucid appraisal of the uses and abuses to which the fuel is put. Each image is given a single page, sometimes a spread, with periodic fold-outs, allowing the possibly unresolvable complexities of the issue to emerge through a series of provocative juxtapositions: leisure technology against medical lifesaver; macro astronaut opposite micro pill. The highly abbreviated text, set in Joanna and Formata, follows the visual argument rather than determining its course.

Irma Boom’s and Johan Pijnappel’s book for the Dutch multimillionaire, Paul Fentener van Vlissingen, like Gerard Hadders’s essay on oil, was a project in which the designers enjoyed an exceptional degree of autonomy. Only 314 copies of the enigmatically titled volume were printed for distribution to friends of Van Vlissingen on the occasion of his fiftieth birthday in 1991 The book can be read on two levels. On the first, drawings of mountains and philosophical reflections by Van Vlissingen face photographic close-ups of water. Access to the second level, consisting of family photographs, dolphins and more water imagery, is gained by folding open the pages along the top of each spread, as if diving below the surface of a stream. The book’s appeal is as much tactile as it is visual: the use of unusually porous coffee-filter paper gives the pages a physical coolness nicely emphasised by Boom’s use of Joanna Italic for the text.

First published in Eye no. 5 vol. 2, 1991.

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