This book seems to be as much about Marian Bantjes the person as Marian the artist and designer.
I don’t differentiate the two. While I sometimes create work that has no client, I still approach it in the same way [as commissioned work]: I have something to figure out, I supply my own hurdles to jump over.
Was it important for the book’s design to create a sense of wonder in the viewer/reader, and how did this influence your choice of materials and finishes?
Absolutely. It would make no sense to me to write a book about wonder that was not in and of itself wonderful.
I’m a graphic communicator, and I have a very strong opinion about the importance of graphics in communication, especially when talking about visual things. It astonishes me how so many visual people produce work with acres of dry words.
As for how it influenced my choice of materials… Well, that is more a matter of whim, but the finishes were important in terms of gold, lots of gold. Gold has been used for ages to embellish important things and to create works of wonder. We still have a strong reaction to it, despite ourselves. So I wanted it to be rich and flashy in a way that enhanced the experience of handling the physical object. I wanted it also to be an experience that only a book could give – analogue, not digital.
I Wonder has been described as ‘unashamedly beautiful’, which got me wondering why anyone would be ashamed of beauty. But it often seems with design (or some designers, at least) that beauty is uncool.
I’m not sure why this is, but I think beauty is too subjective and too emotional/irrational for the current arena of strategic design. I really think it’s more about the ornamentation, and the politics of that are long and complex – see the quotations from the section of the book entitled The Politics of Ornament.
The book also revels in the tactile nature of print. With the growth in ‘electronic print’ on devices such as the iPad, does print have to provide a more tactile experience to distinguish itself?
I think there is an experience you can get from books that is underrated: the ability to feel the body or the weight of the whole; to easily flip around a book while maintaining a sense of where you are in it; the tactile sense of turning pages and the feel and smell of the paper; the binding, etc. To have it physically sitting in a space, reminding you of its presence. And the effects of special inks, and perhaps special papers, holes and other physical/visual experiences that can’t be had digitally.
Of course there are digital experiences that can’t be had in a book, as well.
But while the competition from digital might spur more interesting book design, I’m not sure it’s necessary for the success of books. I have the choice of reading The New Yorker magazine online or on paper. The two versions look exactly the same, but I’ll still choose paper, for many of the reasons above.
Why, in the opening section of your book, did you eschew the use of artwork and large-scale iconography that you find in traditional illuminated manuscripts?
I am not attempting to recreate an illuminated manuscript. The book uses ornamentation and illustration in similar ways, but it’s a contemporary book; it’s my book; it’s not a copy of anything.
In the section on honour, you discuss the way you look back at what you’ve created and collected. How much should we let our past influence what we create?
Our past always influences what we create. The past is our knowledge of the world. People with neurological disorders that disallow them from remembering the past are unable to imagine a future.