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The Most Beautiful Swiss Books of the year 2008

Linus Bill. Tu m'as volé mon vélo. Photography: Ian Brown, Oslo / Bibliothek Rijksakademie, Amsterdam
© FOC

Casco Issues XI. An Ambiguous Case. Photography: Ian Brown, Oslo / Bibliothek Rijksakademie, Amsterdam
© FOC

Ceau. Photography: Ian Brown, Oslo / Bibliothek Rijksakademie, Amsterdam
© FOC

Celebration at Persepolis. Photography: Ian Brown, Oslo / Bibliothek Rijksakademie, Amsterdam
© FOC

Centre culturel suisse Paris. 2006 2007 2008. Photography: Ian Brown, Oslo / Bibliothek Rijksakademie, Amsterdam
© FOC

Chants exploratoires. Minotaure. La revue d'Albert Skira 1933–1939. Photography: Ian Brown, Oslo / Bibliothek Rijksakademie, Amsterdam
© FOC

Adrian Frutiger. Schriften. Das Gesamtwerk. Photography: Ian Brown, Oslo / Bibliothek Rijksakademie, Amsterdam
© FOC

Fucking Good Art. The Swiss Issue. Photography: Ian Brown, Oslo / Bibliothek Rijksakademie, Amsterdam
© FOC

Gravures néoclassiques d'après François-Gédéon Reverdin. Quand la copie devient modèle. Photography: Ian Brown, Oslo / Bibliothek Rijksakademie, Amsterdam
© FOC

Hardau. Claro que si, c'est comme ça, c'est la vie. Photography: Ian Brown, Oslo / Bibliothek Rijksakademie, Amsterdam
© FOC

Herzog & de Meuron. 1997–2001. Das Gesamtwerk. Band 4. Photography: Ian Brown, Oslo / Bibliothek Rijksakademie, Amsterdam
© FOC

Cécile Hummel – Bildreisen. Zeichnung, Fotografie. Photography: Ian Brown, Oslo / Bibliothek Rijksakademie, Amsterdam
© FOC

Christian Jankowski. Frankenstein Set. Photography: Ian Brown, Oslo / Bibliothek Rijksakademie, Amsterdam
© FOC

Las Vegas Studio. Bilder aus dem Archiv von Robert Venturi und Denise Scott Brown. Photography: Ian Brown, Oslo / Bibliothek Rijksakademie, Amsterdam
© FOC

Adolf Loos. Die Kultivierung der Architektur. Photography: Ian Brown, Oslo / Bibliothek Rijksakademie, Amsterdam
© FOC

Neues Bauen in den Alpen. Architekturpreis 2006. Photography: Ian Brown, Oslo / Bibliothek Rijksakademie, Amsterdam
© FOC

Henrik Olesen. Some Faggy Gestures. Photography: Ian Brown, Oslo / Bibliothek Rijksakademie, Amsterdam
© FOC

Valerio Olgiati. Photography: Ian Brown, Oslo / Bibliothek Rijksakademie, Amsterdam
© FOC

Walter Pfeiffer. In Love with Beauty. Photography: Ian Brown, Oslo / Bibliothek Rijksakademie, Amsterdam
© FOC

Ringier. Annual Report 2007. Photography: Ian Brown, Oslo / Bibliothek Rijksakademie, Amsterdam
© FOC

Shifting Identities. (Schweizer) Kunst heute. Photography: Ian Brown, Oslo / Bibliothek Rijksakademie, Amsterdam
© FOC

Vladimir Shinkarev. Gloomy Paintings/Cinema Paintings. Photography: Ian Brown, Oslo / Bibliothek Rijksakademie, Amsterdam
© FOC

Skeletons: London's Buried Bones. Photography: Ian Brown, Oslo / Bibliothek Rijksakademie, Amsterdam
© FOC

Sonntagsfreuden. Photography: Ian Brown, Oslo / Bibliothek Rijksakademie, Amsterdam
© FOC

Die St. Galler Buchkunst vom 8. bis zum Ende des 11. Jahrhunderts. Photography: Ian Brown, Oslo / Bibliothek Rijksakademie, Amsterdam
© FOC

Simon Starling. Cuttings [Supplement]. Photography: Ian Brown, Oslo / Bibliothek Rijksakademie, Amsterdam
© FOC

Technik und Architektur 1958–2008. Festschrift Hochschule Luzern. Photography: Ian Brown, Oslo / Bibliothek Rijksakademie, Amsterdam
© FOC

Theft Is Vision. Photography: Ian Brown, Oslo / Bibliothek Rijksakademie, Amsterdam
© FOC

Die totale Aufklärung. Moskauer Konzeptkunst 1960–1990. Photography: Ian Brown, Oslo / Bibliothek Rijksakademie, Amsterdam
© FOC

Transfer. Weiterbildung an der Schnittstelle von Kunst und Management. Photography: Ian Brown, Oslo / Bibliothek Rijksakademie, Amsterdam
© FOC

Christian Vetter. 50 Works on Paper. Photography: Ian Brown, Oslo / Bibliothek Rijksakademie, Amsterdam
© FOC

Wädenswil 001–555. Photography: Ian Brown, Oslo / Bibliothek Rijksakademie, Amsterdam
© FOC

About the awarded year

The most beautiful Swiss books competition was established to promote and reward top-quality book design in Switzerland. In the spirit of effective design promotion, the award is invested with a number of measures that lend it extra weight. A catalogue of the prize-winning books is published, featuring the jury reviews and essays on current conditions in the practice of book design. In addition, two exhibitions are mounted annually at the Museum für Gestaltung Zürich and at mudac Musée de design et d’arts appliqués contemporains in Lausanne, while the books are also presented in several smaller exhibitions abroad. Catalogue and exhibitions not only lend the award greater visibility, they also promote the exchange of ideas among designers, printers and publishers.

 

In 1998 the Federal Office of Culture took on the coordination of The most beautiful Swiss books competition, which had previously been organised by the Swiss Association of Booksellers and Publishers. Since then, the competition has undergone a reassessment of its strategy and content, factors which still apply today. The regulations stipulate that the jury must include representatives from three fields - design, production and publishing - while various institutions and associations with a vested interest in Swiss books do not delegate representatives. Since the professional and design expertise of the jury members has top priority, greater emphasis is therefore placed on the aspect of design. Taking into account globally changing conditions of production, the competition now allows for a more international outlook. Since 1998, my predecessor Mirjam Fischer had successfully established the reputation of the award well beyond the borders of Switzerland. I have been in charge of the competition since autumn 2008 and look forward to further consolidating the competition’s high reputation both at home and abroad.

 

The competition has in fact become a seismograph of current trends and tendencies in contemporary book design and production, while also looking back on a substantial and significant history. Two new members have joined the international jury chaired by Cornel Windlin: Lars Müller (publisher) and Piär Amrein (bookbinder and lecturer). Of the 395 titles submitted to the 2008 competition, 32 books were selected on the basis of idea and concept, graphic design, typography, quality of the printing and binding, use of materials, and overall impression. The jury reviews (see p.92) offer more background and provide reasons for their selection.

 

The theme of this year’s catalogue is the present, since it forms the second in the trilogy ‘Past/Present/Future', planned and designed by Laurenz Brunner and Tan Wälchli. By focusing on theoretical and practical aspects of book design, the publication is the outcome of a selection procedure concerned with questions of aesthetics and production. On the other hand, it also serves as a forum for debate on relevant and vital concerns in the wider field of book design. The catalogue is divided into three sections. The interview, conducted after the jury session, addresses issues crucial to this year’s competition. The essays elaborate on a number of these issues, such as the relationship between art and the relevance of that distinction within the framework of book design, changing conditions of production from print-on-demand publications to individually handmade books, the marketing of art books in an age of declining sales, and the role of the designer as author versus service provider. The third section of the catalogue contains the detailed jury reviews in words and pictures, providing not only a concise presentation of the jury’s verdict but also offering conceptual background from the designer's point of view as well as technical details of the award-winning books.

 

The issues raised by the catalogue will be further elaborated in the exhibitions at the Museum für Gestaltung Zürich and mudac in Lausanne. Not only will the award-winning books be on display but, for the first time ever, all the other submissions as well - a total of 395 books. Florian Kräutli and Katharina Ludwig have developed the exhibition design, in which all the titles are presented in a kind of elliptic domino of books. The competition is thus choosing to ‘go public', inviting visitors to form their own opinions of the wide spectrum of submissions, to debate questions of quality and to explore the award-winning books within a wider context.

 

Several smaller exhibitions will be mounted abroad this year, in Paris, Berlin, London, Birmingham, Amsterdam, Brussels and Riga amongst others. Most of these presentations have been initiated by local professionals and institutions, including universities, cultural organisations, designers and printers. In this way, we are able to reach an interested audience of local and networked professionals, and we are especially pleased that The most beautiful Swiss books can act as ambassadors abroad and elicit such a positive response.

 

Anisha Imhasly
In charge of the competition The most beautiful Swiss books
Federal Office of Culture, Berne

Jan-Tschichold Award

Nieves

 

1:46 pm, Sunday, March 15, 2009: Today is my deadline for writing this essay. As usual, I am late; but the persistence of the publishers has made it clear that this essay must arrive by tomorrow, early morning. And so I set out to record my relation to Nieves, as an artist, publisher, bookseller, and collector of books.

 

When I saw my first Nieves zines, I was charmed, of course, as everyone is. The sweet but humble format, the consistency of the product, and the editorial choreography, which is so nimble and so modern, took me first of all by surprise, and then brought a smile to my face.

 

At Printed Matter, the artists’ bookstore in New York City, we have some 15,000 titles by artists at any given moment. And so we are always hesitant to order too much. And zines, as we all know, get damaged, or slip between books and disappear. So we began by ordering small quantities of a few zines here and there, in a careful kind of way.

 

But we soon discovered that our staff was buying most of the zines as they came in the door, and people were beginning to ask after Nieves. It is a grassroots, grapevine kind of publisher - if you will excuse the mixed metaphor - and a young, hip and very smart audience were soon salivating after the Nieves products. Thus, Printed Matter placed a standing order for every Nieves zine and book, and I began collecting every zine as well.

 

Although I have collected artists’ books for several decades, this is the first time that I have trusted a publisher’s tastes and program to intersect so completely with my own. Perhaps this is because Benjamin Sommerhalder, who is Nieves itself, is not so much a publisher as someone taking pleasure in artists' zines and in the act of publishing itself. The zines are each published in an identical format, each in a numbered edition of only 150, and Benjamin produces the zines in a casual but very precise kind of way - absolutely Swiss! - on a copier, first at home, then at the local copy shop. The domestic aspect to this production is somehow very clear, and crucial to the charm and intimacy of the individual zines. The expression ‘a labor of love’ may be a platitude, but it is absolutely suitable here.

 

I respond to the do-it-yourself aesthetic of Nieves. In the mid-sixties, I was one of a group of people who founded a commune, and a free school, and published an underground newspaper improbably titled The Loving Couch Press. Our newspaper took advantage of the web offset press, the invention that first allowed short-run newspapers and spawned the explosion of underground newspapers - and hence underground culture - that appeared across North America and Europe. A newspaper became something you could cook up in your kitchen, and everyone did. A few years later, I found myself part of the artists’ group ‘General Idea’, a kind of mini-commune if you will. And in 1972 we began FILE Megazine, which was essentially a tabloid newspaper wrapped in a glossy verisimilitude of LIFE Magazine, at once glamorous and of the proletariat. Through FILE we first met John Armleder and his gang of friends in Geneva, who kept a mimeograph in the back room of Ecart, and occasionally pumped out little artists' chapbooks and passed them out to their friends. Those chapbooks, which we now call zines, are the obvious progenitor of Nieves. I am also reminded - and this seems to me a crucial ingredient - of the posters on the streets of Paris in the riots of 1968, printed by artists in their studios and in the art schools with whatever technologies were available to them. This moment announced the beginning of self-publishing, a movement in opposition to capitalism, a movement which only became truly self-evident with the intense flowering of punk zines ten years later.

 

The do-it-yourself aspect of Nieves carries within it a memory of a history that spans more than four decades, and yet manages to be absolutely fresh, and, in a highly improbable way, as consistent as a Swiss watch. The three monthly zines are salted with the occasional book, which adds meat to the program without losing the essential flavor.

 

In the last few years, a number of small publishers have mimicked the Nieves model: Utrecht in Tokyo and Islands Flow in Canada come to mind. Nieves has transformed the world of publishing, not through marketing or savvy dealmaking, but through the simple means of developing a model that exactly matches both the technological means and the spirit of today. In this time of economic recession, it is a model that accomplishes much with modest means, and it will flourish despite the difficulties of the day. While Nieves appears to represent a kind of alternative economy, it is now evident - amidst the decline of the large publishing houses and the rise of Amazon - that what was once seen as 'self-publishing' is in fact the beginnings of a new more diffuse economy, in which publishing, and many other forms of production, will be controlled from the bottom up, in a more democratic way. Joseph Beuys would be pleased! With humility and intelligence, Nieves points the way to the future, and a method of sustainable economic development that escapes the hubris of money and power.

 

Not only that, but Nieves does all of this by publishing unique artists’ publications in a mix that creates a conversation between peers. Each month I add three new zines to my box of Nieves zines and that makes me happy.

 

AA Bronson
Artist and Director, Printed Matter
New York City, USA