Spring 2011

The Monograph as Atlas

I Swear I Use No Art At All

010 Publishers, €19.50

In his slim but tactile volume I Swear I Use No Art At All: 10 years, 100 books, 18,788 Pages of Book Design (010, €19.50), Dutch designer Joost Grootens has made an extended work of information graphics about designing books. Numbering them 1-100, he catalogues his oeuvre by date, size, format, content, printers, binding, typefaces and more – this is the design monograph as atlas.

There is even a chart, entitled ‘Beginnings’, that shows the connections between books – the way that one project led to another. Designers know intuitively that this is the way things work; few analyse the data in such detail. Yet there is also a wry humour in the way Grootens selects and sorts and catalogues, artfully artless. (The title is a quotation from Shakespeare’s Hamlet.)

Quixotically, he hides all the covers, the book’s only full colour images, inside a French-folded gloss paper section. In keeping with Grootens’ reputation for exquisite geographical information and interpretation (see ‘Paper planet’, Eye 78), there are spreads that show the genesis of his books, as they progress from ‘Meeting’ to ‘Printing’ to ‘Book launch’ on a map of Europe, followed by maps of similar info in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, plus ‘bird’s eye’ drawings of the three workplaces he has occupied since 1995.

The book is bound in three main chapters (‘10 years’, ‘100 books’, ‘18,788 pages’), each divided by the grey card used for the cover, each 8mm wider than the previous one. The ‘18,788 pages’ section shows some of his ‘greatest hits’: fifteen spreads, cropped where necessary and reproduced in just two colours. ‘I want the pages to be viewed, not read,’ Grootens writes, and to this end he resets all text in reverse, so that the Stedelijk Museum becomes ‘Kjiledets Muesum’.

First published in Eye no. 79 vol. 20 2011

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues.