About the year 2000

The Most Beautiful Swiss Books of the year 2000

About the year

Lorette Coen, Chair of the Jury
"The Most Beautiful Swiss Books"

Many no longer thought of it and neglected to submit their works; others awaited the results of the "Most Beautiful Swiss Books" Prize as an annual occurrence of no more interest than the fall of leaves in the autumn. Some, however, being attached to the tradition of the craft, still took a stake in it. Times had changed: the graphic professions had experienced evolutions, electro-shocks and revolutions. To preserve its reason for existence, the Prize had to take account of the realities of current publishing. There was indeed movement between permanence and the adjustment to reality.

And then necessity became so strong that everything seemed to totter. This situation lasted for three years, and today we can take stock. The Most Beautiful Swiss Books Prize has moved to a new address and is wearing an entirely new outfit: from now on it resides at the Swiss Federal Office of Culture, but its parents, the Swiss publishers, remain its best support. This change has released it from a restrictive exclusivity: now the production of many books, in many cases beautiful ones, often escapes the well-trodden paths and enters upon unforeseen ways. We should take account of these turnings.

Symbolic of this double desire for continuity and for change are the Romance-language titles which were awarded a prize this year: there were only two such books, in french, and unfortunately none in Italian. One of them, "Le Corps, miroir du Monde", is a product of classic-dress workmanship from the Geneva publisher Editions Zoé and the other, "ennetna" is the first internet volume ever submitted to the jury. The latter book is one that anybody can become the publisher of, simply by going to the internet and selecting for oneself the pages to download : here the reader assumes a portion of the graphic responsibility by printing the pages out on his or her own equipment. Impertinent and novel as it is, the work is also coherent and formally cultivated, "ennetna" by the way obtained the Prize of the Jury, awarded this year for the first time.

The fact that the Federal Office of Culture has taken charge of the secretariat and organization of the Prize means that the book as an object of creation and expression, as a graphic design project, can now be more clearly recognized, and that more emphasis is given to the role of its designer, or again to that of a creative collective, such as is the case with the work which obtained the Jan Tschichold 2000 Prize. "Engelberg", published by norman edition, calmly overturns the established customs. To show the mountainous heart of Switzerland with attention, with generosity, but also very crudely, as it really is today, without clichés, without any sacrifice to touristic conventions - is this not rendering a great service to the country and to books?

Another urgent renovation: the catalogue of the Prize had to concur in the new look too, and to do this, it also had to give itself an adequate dress. The formula which was adopted, a mandate for a graphic creation extending for a period of three years, allows this publication to become an object of research in the same spirit as the works it presents, a work of information of course, but, and why not also, a field of discussion. The first series, with which the present catalogue concludes, gives a demonstration of this: vivid, amusing, provocative and useful, it pleases and irritates us at the same time. It will now be a matter of carrying on and improving its contents and comments. And as a start, this year the jury openly revealed itself by giving the explicit reasons for its selections in synthetic notes.

Presented in the manner of yesterday and today, the Most Beautiful Swiss Books have always put up a good show in the major European book fairs: In Leipzig and Frankfurt, and today they are supported by a catalogue worthy of them which is filling out progressively. These traditional confrontations will henceforth be increased by two regular Swiss encounters which should become - and this is a goal we are devoting ourselves to - important events: since last year, the selection has been shown in two Swiss museums of design, the Museum für Gestaltung in Zurich and the mu.dac, Musée de design et d'arts appliqués contemporains de Lausanne.

The upward development of Swiss creativity in the domain of books does not stop at these measures. Engaged as it is in a dynamic process, the jury has perceived in its professional partners in dialogue an awakening interest. Will it perhaps succeed in opening up the terrain for major debates on form and content, the conditions for the creation and the politics of the book, and involve the public in them as well?