Loes van Esch, left, and Simone Trum of Dutch graphic design duo Team Thursday, who designed the 'Versatile Volumes' exhibition, which displays the 33 books that won the 'Best Dutch Book Designs' in 2019 at the KF Gallery in central Seoul. Courtesy of Team Thursday
Loes van Esch, left, and Simone Trum of Dutch graphic design duo Team Thursday, who designed the “Versatile Volumes” exhibition, which displays the 33 books that won the “Best Dutch Book Designs” in 2019 at the KF Gallery in central Seoul. Courtesy of Team Thursday


By Kwon Mee-yoo

From books introducing the history of activist printing in Amsterdam (“The Wheel Turner”) and the moss of the British region of Letterewe (“Bryophytes and Lichens of Letterewe”), to a 12-meter-long poetry book (“Hooked! 30 Years of Singing, Sanding and Sawing”) and a catalogue of the Rijksmuseum’s collection of Rembrandt’s works (“Rembrandt x Rijksmuseum”), the quintessence of Dutch Book design is currently on display at the Korea Foundation (KF) Gallery in central Seoul through Aug. 13.

Organized by the KF in collaboration with the Embassy of the Netherlands in Korea, “Versatile Volumes” is an exhibition shedding light on the 33 books that won the “Best Dutch Book Designs” in 2019 and 17 Korean art books.

“The Netherlands has a long tradition of design. Maybe it has to do with the history of the Dutch, making their own land, transforming sea into land,” Dutch graphic design studio Team Thursday (TT), which designed the art book exhibition, explained why the country is strong in design in an email interview with The Korea Times.

“But we think it has a lot of reasons. There used to be many good assignments, with good commissioners who understood the cultural value of design, and this was key for many interesting developments in the graphic field. Especially from the cultural field, but even from a governmental level, there were many commissions that developed renewed designs for postage stamps, books, signage, and such. This resulted in a wave of distinct, great graphic designers who were quite influential and were spreading this to their students and even setting up their own school programs.”

TT consists of Loes van Esch and Simone Trum, collaborating as a graphic design duo since 2010 and working on a variety of media, from book design and exhibition design, to curtains and objects.

They first visited Korea in 2015, participating in the Typojanchi ― International Typography Biennale in Seoul ― and stayed here for five months in 2017 while participating in a residency program offered by the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Changdong. They have been visiting Seoul more frequently in the years since, growing very fond of the city and the people they met here, and leading them to develop this “Versatile Volumes” exhibition.

Loes van Esch, left, and Simone Trum of Dutch graphic design duo Team Thursday, who designed the 'Versatile Volumes' exhibition, which displays the 33 books that won the 'Best Dutch Book Designs' in 2019 at the KF Gallery in central Seoul. Courtesy of Team Thursday
A view of the “Versatile Volumes” exhibition, which shows the 33 books that won the “Best Dutch Book Designs” in 2019, at the KF Gallery in central Seoul / Courtesy of the Korea Foundation


“It was important to us to try not only visiting a new place (Seoul) and in a way only using this for our own work. Therefore we are happy that we can have more of an interactive relationship,” TT said.

Last year, TT designed the catalogue for the Best Dutch Book Designs, in which one of their creations was included in the 33 winning books, and they invited their friend, Korean photographer Kim Kyoung-tae, to do the photography for the books.

“It might seem odd to invite a non-Dutch photographer for this, but at that time, it seemed very logical. Our country was in lockdown, so we couldn’t visit anyone in real life anyway, so the idea of ‘distances’ became more abstract. Kyoung-tae can really crawl into the skin of the objects that he photographs, which is precisely what we wanted, and therefore we shipped all the books to him in Seoul,” they said.

“Following up on this, we were asked by the Dutch Embassy in Seoul to propose an exhibition of the books. In the Netherlands as well as in Korea, there is an energetic graphic design scene, and the initial idea was to make a small contribution to the interaction between the two.”

The exhibit is entitled, “Versatile Volumes,” as each of the books, as an actual object, is the key to the whole concept.

“The dimensions, weight, choices for material and print are very considerately taken into account. If all of the books are together on a table, without even opening the books, there’s already a huge variety to be seen in them,” TT said.

“We decided to let the works speak for themselves as much as possible, to have the focus on the books so that the visitor can browse through them and hopefully be intrigued by all the different choices that are involved in making a book.”

Loes van Esch, left, and Simone Trum of Dutch graphic design duo Team Thursday, who designed the 'Versatile Volumes' exhibition, which displays the 33 books that won the 'Best Dutch Book Designs' in 2019 at the KF Gallery in central Seoul. Courtesy of Team Thursday
An installation view of the “Versatile Volumes” exhibition, showing Korean art books at the KF Gallery in central Seoul / Courtesy of the Korea Foundation


TT designed a long “accordion” table, inspired by folded pages, to display all the Dutch award-winning books, while Korean curator and Art Book Press President Cho Sook-hyun selected 17 Korean artists’ books, and Korean artist duo RohwaJeong designed tailor-made furniture for each Korean book, as TT wanted to focus on the interaction between the Dutch and Korean designers.

“This versatility is for us a key ingredient. It is not only shown in the books, but also the furniture of the exhibition: one very long table as an object for all the Dutch books, and very personalized, specifically made furniture for each individual Korean book,” TT said. “We really like how the Dutch and Korean parts turn out so differently now: very different furniture for both parts makes the exhibition exciting as a whole.”

Visitors are invited to take a close look at each book, holding them and turning the pages, as TT wanted to provide an intuitive experience.

“A book is a form given to a certain specific type of content, and in many cases, a new project by itself. This translation of the content in the shape of a book can only be seen very precisely when it’s possible to touch the papers, feel the weight of the object, flip the pages and see the editorial choices,” TT said.

Although the culture of reading books is rapidly declining across the globe, the significance of book design is more important than ever now.

“There are probably less books made, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We feel that the books that are made have a certain urgency and are more special. This can be seen in the selection of the Dutch Best Book Designs. People still want to buy books, especially when there’s so much attention paid to material and design. The added value of the physical object is now more important than ever,” TT said.