Below, as part of the Over-Booked series, is an interview with our former “resident studio squatter,” João Doria, who spent last March at the Walker on the occasion of the Insights Design Lecture Series. Doria is a Brazilian designer who most recently lived and worked in Oslo. Currently, he attends the MFA design program at Yale.
(Above: a small sample of Doria’s work)
What is the last book you read?
Clarice, by Benjamin Moser (The original title in English is: “Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector”—pardon the arrogance but the Brazilian edition is sooooooo much nicer!).
Clarice Lispector is one of the most important Brazilian writers. She was quite the character. I said she’s Brazilian but in fact she was born in Ukraine in 1920 and immigrated to Brazil, escaping the violent riots against Jews during the Russian Civil War.
Moser spends a lot of energy explaining the Jewish genealogy in Brazil/South America to give insight on her character and this, together with what he covers on Brazilian history between 1920-1977, feels very much like an excellent class.
Clarice was known for being a gorgeous woman of fierce personality, opinions, and experimental writing. Moser asserts that she’s the most important Jew writer since Kafka (wow). She had a very complicated life, and he gives so much information on all of the aspects I mentioned that it makes you want to read more and more.
Describe an impossible book that you’d like to make (if you could do the impossible).
I depend so much on the connections I make when the content in front of me, in addition to what comes to mind when talking with the people involved, so nothing comes to mind…
Describe a person you think might dig your books?
I am curious about what the visiting critics at Yale will say about my previous work. I just started the course and haven’t gotten further into my own ways of working. It’s going to be great to have people to talk to about what sucks and what doesn’t and disagree/discuss it.
Pick five books that that could be buddies.
1. Étrangers à nous-mêmes (Julia Kristeva)
This has been my ‘émigré handbook,’ recommended by my friend Frederico Coelho (his blog is worth reading even through google translator). He told me that when he spent a couple years living in New York he was struck by a feeling of homelessness and awe because of the feelings, people, images that were so different from his daily life in Rio. Little did I know that the same would happen to me when moving to Oslo.
In that book, Julia Kristeva writes (among another things) about the building/understanding of this ‘new me’ that happens when you leave everything you used to recognize as home. She makes observations about the interior world (me, inside myself) but also about what this ‘stranger’ provokes to the new people around him/how the stranger was seen as ‘enemy’ in primitive societies.
2. In Alphabetical Order: File Under: Graphic Design, Schools, or Werkplaats Typografie
When my friend Cecilia came back from her trip to Netherlands to visit some design schools (sometime near 2007 I think?) she brought a few WT publications back with her and that was one of them. She showed it to me and we would look/talk about it together during work. I spent quite a while before buying it but after I did it was the kind of book I would take notes in.
I remember looking at that object and always feeling it was quite precarious but also feeling like it really needed not to be more than what it is; that precariousness was interesting to me. Later I understood that what interested me the most was how the content was put together, and the fact that a school would use it as a statement/marker of its own thoughts in/for a specific time, like Yale just did with the Graphic mag. #22. (Anthony Froshaug’s text ‘Design is an exercise in analogy’ remains excellent to me).
3. The Craftsman (Richard Sennett)
I began reading it right after I settled in Oslo and started traveling with low-fare airlines to as many countries as I could in a very short period of time. In every trip I would pay attention to the materials found in each city—clothing, road typography, street signage, mailboxes—and try to relate them with Sennett’s explanations of craftsmen guilds: how each guild’s craft shapes community and defines local elements. It was very valuable to me.
There’s also a nice part about Stradivari’s workshop called ‘His Secrets Died with Him,’ about how a master’s originality inhibited knowledge transfer because it was tacitly incorporated, uncodified in words, and how the very presence of the master would inhibit the apprentices’ contribution—they wanted to please the Master rather than being themselves.
4. What do you care other people think? (Richard P. Feynman)
When my friend Pablo left for the Netherlands he gave me a box with books and this one was there. We attended a drawing course together where the tutor would spend hours showing us material from subjects unrelated to drawing/arts so we could learn to make connections. Mr. Feynman, a physicist, appeared many times. Feynman was a Nobel laureate in 1965 and, among other things, participated on the committee that analyzed the failure of the Challenger in ’86.
Feynman approaches very complicated and/or delicate subjects with a humorous, open-minded and thoroughly descriptive tone. He puts everything in perspective with his physicist’s eye. For example, he writes of his father explaining the physical dimensions of the world to him, and of the letter he sent to his wife one year after she passed away.
5. O povo brasileiro (Darcy Ribeiro)
I’ve been reading portions of this since I left Rio. I think it’s a natural reaction for those who move abroad, to want to know everything about one’s home country from a distance. I forgot my copy of it at the house in Minneapolis where I lived last March.
Darcy Ribeiro, an anthropologist, writes about the ethnic and cultural formation of the Brazilian people and discusses how the land was populated/organized before and after the colonization period, arriving at the conclusion that there’s not ‘one Brazil’ but ‘five Brazils’, because of what the geographic formation requires from the pre-existing indigenous and the new settling communities, and also because of being a result of mixed DNA—between the indigenous who were already there, the Portuguese colonizer and the African slaves, and all the cultural heritage each of those groups already carried in themselves. This gave me lots of insight on how to see myself when arriving in Europe, in the middle of so many ‘original-people’, and notice how much everyone is freaking out towards foreigners and immigration (sorry for the simplistic statement).
What is the first book you can remember?
‘O menino maluquinho’ (The Nutty Boy). about a kid and his lively childhood with his friends, his ten girlfriends, the toys he would make himself, his feelings, him playing football, how his parents would react when seeing his grades and how he would get perfect A’s after that in all subjects except his own behavior, and so many other things.
It was all drawn in black over white paper with pencil, and I remember I liked that a lot and was always intrigued with one particular illustration of a kid with legs so big he could hug the world. The final sequence explains that he grew up and became a great guy and everyone understood that he was a happy child, not a nutty one. The drawing of the boy as a grown up (or to picture what a great guy is) is someone wearing a navy uniform. I never understood that. 😉
Ziraldo, its author, is among the greatest Brazilian illustrators of all time. Although from the early ’80s he focused mainly in children’s books, his previous work covered a broad range of graphic design pieces. He would alternate between the illustration style he became known for and highly typographic pieces. This poster for instance:
What makes a book valuable?
Personally I relate books to moments in life, and how they affect my reality (see ‘The Craftsman’ above). As a designer, I look at weight, paper, how the book feels and how the contents are organized, how the book’s moments are marked, and whether I can get with those choices. Something else may stand out: nice typesetting, great printing, etc.
For instance, a couple years ago I visited Robin Kinross as a fan. I was going to London for a different reason and sent him an email asking whether I could visit and he said ‘sure!’ By that time Karel Martens’s book Printed Matter/Drukwerk was in binding and he showed me some of the proofs. He told me about additions, new work that was the reason behind the new edition. He also mentioned that he was aware that copies of earlier editions were being sold at used marketplaces for more that $1,000 and that that wasn’t his idea.
This may belong to a broader discussion about collectionism, but it touches on the fact that most design or art books print in small runs, and there are some things that people just *have* to see! I’m the same way. I find what I want/need but it can be a lot of extra work (there’s a couple of books I would like to have, but since the price of used copies skyrocketed, I refuse).
On the other hand, when thinking about books as products to be sold, the value discussion gets super-ultra objective. There have been many times when I’ve been approached with a set of specifications, a printing budget and so many design decisions already made in order to reach a selling price that includes paying a number of actors in the production chain + make some profit, so the viable book becomes the valuable one.
Do you have any book-related rituals?
Not for reading, but for making. I acquired one a couple years ago, which is to try to obsessively make dummies for every project. It may sound silly but in Brazil it was always too difficult to have it done (in Europe this is everyday currency) because you need to ask the printers and maybe one of two would see it as something crucial. In Norway there is a paper supplier particular that mails dummies to us pretty quickly (no need to ask the printer). The dummy increases my understanding of the book as an object. So although this is part of the design process, I feel like it’s quite ritualistic to handle the book—fold it, open it, and weigh it until it feels right.
Above: For Espen Dietrichson’s book, the 7th dummy and counting…
Above: A paper swatch from his prints, so that I can find something with the same feel…
Do books start to look like their designers? Do designers look like their books?
Some do, I think. I don’t see it in my own work, but my friend Aslak became easy to spot on a bookshelf. This picture gives an idea of it :).
Can you tell a cautionary tale related to the design or production of a book?
I did a catalog with my friend Rune Døli, and the museum wanted a wide format with some flop-outs because of some panoramic images we were using to document the restoration of a set of murals. They also wanted it in big format. Because of that (now stupid!) dummy ritual we managed to reduce the book size and increase the page number in almost 80% and use the same amount of paper in the previous specs.
It was good for the content but the printer decided to use 32-page signatures without telling us and the book had informantion on the top/bottom margins within a tight space. They had a very bad time binding it and cutting it and inserting the flopouts. Because of that, they told us one week before the deadline that they would not deliver on time. Since that was not a choice they ended up by saying “okay then!” and word was that on the exhibition opening people would see colorbars and crop marks for how much that 32-page signature would push the pages in every direction when folded (and even more for the top/bottom margins that usually lose space in wide formats). It was meant to have a sticker above a blind emboss and even after reprint we couldn’t find a single copy without rotated stickers. It was a nightmare. Although it was reprinted/re-bound etc, no more wide formats for me. I made this very annoying list of things to ask each printer in the future just to make sure.
Do you have any current publication projects that you’d like to feature on our site?
I made a book for my great photographer friend Luiza Baldan. We met in a studies group long ago, and since then work together when her exhibitions need design work. This year she got a grant that allowed us to produce a book, and distribute it for free. She has had a diverse range of residency projects, and in 32 years lived in 28 places. The name of the book is ‘São Casas’ (if you translate it literally it would be ‘It’s houses’ but then you miss a pun, that can be also ‘St. Houses’).
The book is only made of images, no text at all (except for cv/checklists and the sentence ‘In 32 years, 28 houses in 9 cities’). The discussion was about how to put those images together. After defining the page size I sent her an Indesign file and she would put an initial sequence. 80% of the project consisted of deciding which pictures from her body of work relate to the idea of house/home. We sent the file back and forth—I would change the image order/sizes, she would change it back, and so forth, until the last minute.
Since I’m in Oslo and she’s in Rio, we compared production budgets and discovered that it’s cheaper to produce her book in Europe rather than Brazil. Since the exhibition is in October, we had time for delivery, and chose a printer in Portugal that we worked with on a previous occasion. She had a conversation with the printer about every image, every plate in the book. It was exhausting but amazing for her to interact so closely with the printer.
The printer also was a real partner in the project—they would recommend paper, make several dummies, add a 5th plate with spot varnish to protect the images and let us number each copy. We changed so many of the specifications in just a couple of days in a very short notice and they would do everything possible to keep it within budget. It was sewn, flat spine, cold-bound with PVA glue and because of that we fearlessly crossed the gutter
Do you have a great idea for a book that didn’t happen?
Long ago I was invited by my friend Carlito to produce a dummy for a 10-year commemorative book of a project that happens in the Eva Klabin Foundation in Rio, called ‘Projeto Respiração’ (something like ‘the breathing project’). I proposed a layout where everything on a given page would be set on the negative space of what happened on the previous page. With the text, every second paragraph would have a considerable indent and this would establish a constant ‘breathing’ pace for the whole thing. The chapter openings would have a pattern of punched holes, a sort of lung.
The output was quite chaotic but I still like this idea a lot! Here’s a few screenshots…
I know, it looks pretty confusing!
This thing flipping is the chapter marker I mentioned…