art 2002/2

Uta Schneider

Tarptautinė Frankfurto knygų mugė. Lietuvos meno knygų stendas. Fragmentas

A Look from Frankfurt am Main

by Uta Schneider

In preparation for the International Frankfurt Book Fair, the previous issue of the magazine, Dailė’2002/1 introduced book arts as its focal theme. The fair offered plenty of opportunity to explore world tendencies in book arts and to evaluate Lithuanian achievement in the field, also, to build contacts with the organizers of the most beautiful book contests in different countries.
Uta Schneider, the managing director of the German Book Art Foundation and curator of the contest "The Best German Book Designs" has kindly agreed to answer our questions.
In 1979–1985 U. Schneider studied visual communication at the Hochschule für Gestaltung Offenbach am Main (University for Art and Design) and since 1986 she has been working in applied graphic arts and book design. She also is an established book artist and exhibition curator. Her work is featured by exhibitions in Germany and abroad. In 1988–2000 she received awards of the Book Art Foundation. Since 1995 she teaches parttime art of the book and typography at different universities and art schools.Since 2001 she is managing director of the Stiftung Buchkunst (Book Art Foundation) Frankfurt am Main and Leipzig.

What main tendencies can you see in the evolution of the book?
Leaving aside the content and focusing on the visual form of books – their artistic form and materiality, we can notice that the number of paperbacks has been increasing, while "classical" clothbound books are becoming increasingly rare, primarily due to lower production cost of the former. Though besides the tendency to publish more for less (at the cost of design and printing quality), some publishers aspire to form their "brand style". Such a style is determined by the content, originality of the book cover and selection of printing materials with the stress on artistic effect (achieved through harmonious proportions of the cover, flyleaf and the title page.)

What is changing in book arts in general?
One prominent direction is difficult to define, as most tendencies reflecting the spirit of time leave no lasting footprint in book arts. We have to admit that modern technologies and software have largely contributed to "visual explosion" in book design. Computer has revolutionized the visual aesthetics and we have already got used to the novelty, yet book design is just one of the factors. Different trends in book design would usually bring the book artist to the fore, and there is also an on-going, heated discussion between book artists and designers.
Yet the evolution of the book shows us that the radical technological changes failed to reshape the book so critically. Technical improvements have not altered the nature of the book (it is sufficient to compare manuscript letters, books printed in Gutenberg style and the contemporary desk-top laid out product).
There is one obvious novelty though: with the establishment of other information media, the ratio of textual and visual content in the book has shifted.
However, no generalization can be made, as there is one set of requirements for the shape of reference and academic books and other expectations related with fiction or illustrated books.

What are the novelties in the book structure?
Orchestrating all the elements in the book: the first effect of the exterior of the book, the impression of opening the front cover, the colours of the flyleaf and the rhythm of turning the pages until the theme is revealed, is like dramaturgy. For instance, in a photography album, the viewer is "introduced" into the book before he has read the title; the content is captured in visual form. Examples of such free interpretation of book design, seemingly "effortless" ideas are becoming more numerous.

Is there a threat for traditional book being shaded by digital publications and books? What is the ratio of computer book and traditional book in Germany?
Today there is less fear we might loose the book. I think that traditional book will carry on and reinforce its positions in many respects. On the other hand, it means that fewer books will be printed, as the same content which formerly could exist only in the book, today can be stored on other information carriers. Initial rivals, book and digital technologies have turned partners. That means co- existence of books, CDs and the Internet.
The nature of books will be gradually altered by digital technologies. Certain types of information will disappear from the books, especially from academic literature. Book will change, but due to its materiality, it will grow in value. Book is material, it is made of paper, one can take it, turn its pages. It has weight, smell, individual form. It is three-dimensional and exists not only in virtual reality.
Digital book has not been proliferating as rapidly as it was expected. More over, our generation "has grown together" with the book and it is not easy to start reading on the screen.
Then, no book depends on electric, battery of any other power source – I can read it whenever and wherever I wish.

The number of illustrated fiction books and books for children has shrunk. Is this tendency obvious in Germany? Is there a need to illustrate fiction and children’s books?
In the former German Democratic Republic book illustration tradition was exceptionally natured. Yet the Unification brought a radical change. To date very few publishing companies in Germany care for publishing "illustrated" books. Yet the attitude towards books for children is different. Art institutions still teach book illustrators, and it is obvious on children’s books market. Books for children should be illustrated, as illustrations have less of "time signature" than photographs and stimulate children’s fantasy more powerfully.
Book illustration is a very old tradition and hopefully it gets perpertuated. It will be changing with fashion. Unique sell-expression of an illustrator is key integrate part of an illustrated book; in a book, drawing, photography and collage happily co-exist.

What is your impression of the Lithuanian books on the stand of the Bookart International?
The exhibition of the "Bookart International" in Frankfurt am Main featured books from thirty two countries. The countries, who organize a contest of the art of the book, send to Frankfurt am Main their books which were awarded or selected by a jury at home. This way, books of different cultures and diverse languages are accumulated in Frankfurt am Main. Naturally, each culture has its own tradition, and the aesthetics of different countries varies a lot. These differences are largely determined by letters and symbols used in the language, which create their own visual aesthetics. The typescript with numerous accents is more dynamic by its nature than the one dominated by small letters. Each time optical balance of the lines will be different.
Diacritical marks used in the Lithuanian language have a huge impact on the character of Lithuanian books (referring to text). Therefore the typographical optical effect is totally other than, for instance, in English books. Compared to other countries, Lithuanian books are of a more discreet design and dominated by subdued colours. There is not much experiment. This says nothing of the quality of the books, and I do not think that bright colours and diversity is necessarily a positive aspect. It is also a reflection of the taste of the selection board who selected the books.
Seeing the Lithuanian books on display of the Bookart International, I became interested in seeing more Lithuania book production. This year I have received this opportunity.

Thank you very much for your answers.

The editorial staff appreciates the help of Giedrė Kadžiulytė, who mediated in organizing the conversation.