Максим Гурбатов и Анна Чайковская

Книга Букв

самый первый литерный проект

The Ash is greatest of all trees and best: its limbs spread out over all the world and stand above heaven. Three roots of the tree uphold it and stand exceeding broad.
Snorri Sturluson. “The Prose Edda”


The Book of Letters is playing with typographic types on the intersection of verbal and visual arts

1.1. Any real book must have text and pictures. The Book of Letters has plenty of text and extraordinary pictures abound, quite unlike anything to be found elsewhere. They are neither drawn nor painted, nor are they printed. They are all built with typographic letters.

1.2. Here, the wood type is shown in all its glory. The letters are startlingly bold and beautiful like birds, tactile and real like a loaf of bread. Individual letters form words and phrases, some to marvel at and others to read. These stories of letters are as entertaining as an adventure novel and decorative as ancient frescoes.


The Time of Types

2.1. We discovered our first wood letters by accident. We found them lying about on a strip of dusty asphalt road by the gates of a print shop. They were massive, the size of our palms, and as thick as a decent guidebook. A narrow “O” and a “T” lacking serifs could plausibly have been mistaken for some curious parts of furniture, but uppercase “A” and “K” were unmistakably letters.

2.2. It subsequently became clear that the discovery was no accident. The letters were waiting for us. Finding those first ones was like coming upon a treasure map.

2.3. We started the hunt from some familiar places. Six bags of type arrived with a truck from Arkhangelsk, from a print shop that belonged to “The Truth of the North” newspaper. About two hundred letters were scored in Chekhov, near Moscow. Two boxes came from Severodvinsk and three hundred more from Ivanovo. That’s it, we thought, it’s time to put up a sign that “His Area Has Been Cleared Of Letters”.

2.4. Then out of the blue we received a tip about an abandoned print shop in the heart of Moscow. Just some ten years ago it was teeming with workers, the sound of printing presses, and of tempers and teapots boiling over. The teapot was still sitting on a window sill, a dull and green metal husk.

All about there were scrapes of proof sheets, smashed tins of printing ink, and bookkeepers’ ledgers. There were also letters, arranged in cases, the small-sized metal type ranging from nonpareil to double pica and then larger ones made of wood.

2.5. Overall we managed to salvage several thousand wood letters at the very moment when their five hundred year – history was abruptly coming to an end. At the turn of the 21st century all print shops simultaneously switched to digital printing. And the letters were left behind.


Word, Drawing, Technology

3.1. “Did you carve it yourself?”, – the first viewers of The Book of Letters were asking us. We were replying with explanations of how the type is a form that stamps the impression of the letter onto the paper, and hence is reversed to the letter itself; how small metal types were used for printing texts, and how large scale wooden types were applied to creating posters.

3.2. The Book of Letters contains letters from many fonts: and what fonts! Among them are “Italianate” letters with heavy serifs such those used in “All power to the Soviets!” revolutionary posters, and examples of art nouveau fonts with heightened crossbars and stylized curved lines. There are “grotesque” typefaces, solid as bricks, and the “Academy” typeface of more noble printing pedigree – well-proportioned and intelligent.

And there is even “Granit”, the hipster of the typographic world and a product of the cultural thawing of the 1960s.

3.3. The most important thing about type is the idea that it is both an object and a symbol. A sculptured piece of grained wood that has all normal physical qualities like weight, density and texture. At the same time it is a component of a writing system, an atom of a language, a letter. “Letter” is their name, while “type” is nothing more than a job title.


The Letter is Back

4.1. In its past life in a print shop type was concealed from the world. It was sealed up like the genie in a bottle, locked up like the princess in a tower. Who else saw it but compositors and typesetters? The Book of Letters had to happen so that type could finally receive the attention it earned through the five centuries.

4.2. We made The Book of Letters to reveal how beautifully type combines the artistry, the technology and the written word. And though its life in a print shop is over, there is no better place for it than in the realm of art.

4.3. Many years ago, an artist, the author of the script, designed, drew and refined a letter. In a print shop it became type. It was locked into a frame, covered in ink and sent through a letterpress. The print run went out across the world, but for the letter there was only one path: back into its case and onto a shelf.

When digital printing arrived, type became obsolete and seemed doomed to gradual extinction. Instead, it found itself falling into a typographical project, into The Book of Letters. Once again falling into the hands of an artist. And the circle is complete.