Monday, April 5, 2010

Printed Matters in the Gulf...

A few years back I had a chance to partake in a Royal Designers for Industry (RDI) Summer School, an event that usually lasts just short of a week, and that year took place at a grand mock-Tudor mansion in Wales (with a complicated name I can't recall). Adjacent to the main building a small print-shop held residence, which specialized in very limited edition, high-end, art books. Many of these books apparently fetched prices up to several thousand pounds each which, having had a chance to inspect them close-up, wasn't surprising. The thickness and quality of paper, the resolution and texture of the ink prints, the hand-bound formatting and composition of the books themselves reeked of long hours of painstaking but passionate dedication and craft. The exposure to such a book became about much more than just reading, it's weight, subtle smell, its tactility and the books' kinesthetic and proprioceptive properites (how one had to handle it, its size, the way its pages behaved when turned) became something close to a physical manifestation of a dear memory. This type of a book reminds one of the fact that books on a book-shelf are about more than just information, but also fulfill the role of a mnemonic storage bank - each book spine along the stacked shelves reminds and represents to its reader a sequence of moments, brief, intimate periods of time, or perhaps more accurately, summarized episodes, which inevitably our more comprehensive (life) experiences are made up of. It's this perceptually multi-dimensional, physiological, quality that a computer can't replace.
Here in the Gulf I very seldom see people reading books (at least in public) and, at least in Kuwait, decent book shops are few and far between. This is regrettable, as the act of reading provides a degree of intimacy that no other medium of communication can. It's the reader who determines the pace of reading - a sentence is allowed to be interrupted by a stray thought, a paragraph re-read, or an impulsive note jotted in the book's margin - all things that aren't possible (with the same ease) in mediums such as video or audio recording or even any of the more recent digital tablets (such as the Kindle or the iPad).
I read somewhere recently that the Middle-East, as a total, has translated less books into Arabic in the last decade than Spain has translated into Spanish in a year. This is a true shame, and also says something about the somewhat misdirected curricular emphasis in most of the region's educational institutions, but it also introduces an opportunity to do something about it. The region still retains examples of amazingly crafted and detailed historical, mostly religious and scientific, texts (many of an example which can be viewed at the recently inaugurated Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) in Doha), with this precedent in mind, what's stopping us from creating an updated rendition of this art form for the contemporary Gulf? What would the production of a high-end (art/ craft) publication entail and involve in today's Middle-East? Are there still the required set of skill, passion, perseverance and creativity to do so? Would there be an interest, a market, for such endeavors? If not, shouldn't we just do it and begin building one anyway..?

The workshop location in Wales...

Printing related (analog) machinery...


Stored and discarded templates...


Above and below - Various print making related paraphernalia...




Things on and along walls...


Various publications produced by/ influencing the printers...

2 comments:

ghadah alkandari said...

these are delicious photos. i love paper, i love printing presses and i love ink. i love stacks of books and drawers and dirt and history. i can almost smell these pictures.

derocent (this is my word verification word. i will start using them as a sign off)

Thomas said...

Thanks Ghadah...

Have you thought about ever (self?!) publishing some of your work..? Do it as a art project instead of a (purely informative) book...