Image by Beatrice Sala.

We think Chicago based bookstore Inga offers some of the most interesting graphic design titles out there, and we’re always excited to see what new independent and self-published books they have in stock. So we asked co-owner Jacob Lindgren to suggest some reading from their stacks. Here he is in his own words.

“Malia [Haines-Stewart], Alan [Medina], and I met at a book fair in 2017, which I guess was some kind of foreshadowing. Around the same time, we all began participating in a reading/learning group which loosely convened around ideas of community space, self-organization, and collective learning. These still feel like foundations for Inga. The opening took place in August of 2019, and we spent the year prior plotting how it would work and sourcing publications via friends and our connections to existing publishing networks.

“I’d spent a few weeks across the summer of 2018 doing several book launches for Extra-curricular, and after spending time in various incredible bookshops and publishing-adjacent spaces (shoutouts to Peter at San Serriffe and Siddhartha of Hopscotch Reading Room), I felt that Chicago could use something similar. Seeing how spaces like that could convene people around books, and books around people, felt really in-line with the sort of publications and aspect of publishing I was interested in—books about books, reading collectively, and artistic publishing. If someone else would have done it, I’d have been equally as happy to have something like Inga around as a reader and visitor.

“Malia and Alan (with support from Rudi Medina and Alyx Christensen) had already been running filmfront, a micro-cinema, out of the same space for ~3 years at that point. In addition to the regular and free film screenings, talks, and discussions the space would host, they were both already printing and publishing books and considering how books allow for thinking about/through cinema. Sometimes with collaborators, like Imani Elizabeth Jackson (who read poetry and made tamarind/chile ice cream for Inga’s opening day), their books engage in ways of expanding film onto the page, and vice versa.

“At the beginning, the shelves were mostly a reflection of our own bookshelves, and by extension a lot of the graphic design books were ones I’d been familiar with. As a result of having a foot in publishing ourselves, a lot of the initial stock for the shop was books from friends or friends of friends we had crossed paths with at some point. That arrangement mostly remains the same now, but we also find it important to take things that are decidedly not publications that we’re familiar with too. That combination of books we already love and others that we ourselves are experiencing for the first time means the shop has begun to run a course of its own, no longer moored just to our bookshelves, and even surprises us sometimes. Exploring what that leads to is probably the most exciting thing for us.

“We spend a lot of time looking out for who is publishing what, while also maintaining relationships with the writers, authors, artists, and publishers already on our shelves. Sometimes we’ll stock a one-off artist book by someone, who then goes to publish something elsewhere, who then goes to collaborate with someone else—we’re always open to new things.”

A Contemporary Graphic Design Magazine 

Bricks from the Kiln, edited by Andrew Walsh-Lister and Matthew Stuart (with occasional guest-editors)

Bricks from the Kiln is a “multifarious journal” that stages graphic design and typography as disciplines “activated by and through other disciplines and lenses” like language, archives, collage, and more. With a nod to the anarchist and satirical magazine Der Ziegelbrenner (The Brick-Burner or The Brick-Maker), which occasionally printed brief news-blurbs on its cover dubbed “bricks from the kiln,” the publication is comfortable being something “in flux” and “liable to crack.” Many of the texts the journal publishes originate from larger bodies of work, still occurring research, chapters from forthcoming books, or abandoned investigations. A spiritual successor to previously revered and since discontinued design journals (like Dot Dot Dot, or Theo Crosby’s Uppercase), BFTK stands out as one of the few publications in the realm of graphic design interested in expanding the practice beyond its typical surroundings (including using sound and public events) and into a mode of inquiry and tool for knowledge production in its own right.

Caught slightly between eras, Bricks was one of the first things I’d come across that took this approach to graphic design as I began learning, and is still a favorite. They are good friends of the shop’s, and we have a forthcoming collaboration with the imprint, in addition to having previously hosted them for a dual book (pre)launch and film screening event (a BFTK #4 pre-launch and Peak Picture Pixel Pile launch, with a screening of The Dark Glow of the Mountains).

A Mainstay Graphic Design Magazine 

Revue Faire, edited by Sacha Léopold and François Havegeer with various authors, published by Éditions Empire

Based in France, Éditions Empire publishes a lean but deep multilingual A4 magazine, divided into seasons which are tied to the rhythm of the school year. Available as one-offs or through a subscription, previous issues include topics such as: “new modalities of appearance and thus new possibilities of interpretation” via Batia Suter’s Parallel Encyclopedia; “the idea that the exhibition space isolates Graphic Design creations from the real world” through Peter Bil’ak’s Graphic Design in the White Cube and the scriptural, graphic and visual movement of ACAB. The numerous contributing authors filter both historic and contemporary graphic design through an analytical and critical lens, making for meaningful discourse on the practice which stands out in contrast to what they describe as the otherwise “perishable nature of a magazine.”

A Small Publisher You Should Know About 

Fiebre is the Mexico City-based editorial and publishing project of Carla Lamoyi and Antonio Medina that seeks to “disseminate the creative work carried out in Latin America since 1980, a decade in which the emergence of a new wave of authoritarian and murderous governments forced the reinvention of the traditional forms and means of protest and social organization.” The collective’s publications center the diversity of resistances and creative expressions around indigenous and land rights across histories of uprising and unrest, while also extending into non-book territory such as courses on history (Historia de Latino América: Azúcar, Petróleo, Cocaína) or a cooking show.

KAQJAY (2006-////) is a book that presents the work of the collective Kaqjay Moloj: archaeologists, anthropologists, activists, and historians in the Kaqchikel Maya community in Patzicía, Guatemala. Through a community-organized museum, the collective is dedicated to the reconstruction of the community’s local history and historic memory, particularly in the wake of the Guatemalan genocide during the 1960s and 1980s. By questioning the role archaeology plays in legitimizing national mythologies, the book includes photographs of the museum’s collection; texts in both Spanish and Kaqchikel Mayan surrounding the ethics of the use and circulation of such images; and the indigenous communitie’s methods of countering so-called scientific objectivity, Western, and modern perspectives.

A Book That’s Also an Art Object 

Carnet Relaxé (Relaxed Notebook) by Åbäke, designed by Åbäke and Joel Colover, published by Dent-de-Leone

I’ll let the book’s creators themselves recount its story, but I like this book (as an art object) for the way it embodies so much (collectivity, self-organization, unlearning, unwritten rules) with such a small gesture and a simple turning on its side of something already established:

“In 2014 we got invited to spend some time within a secondary school in the suburbs of Paris, Bondy. First we had to learn again how it is to be fourteen and we spent weeks in the back of a class. The pupils and the teachers agreed to be observed. We were impressed by the harsh regulations existing within the ecology of the school, not only the ones dictated by the school but also the unwritten relationship rules between the different groups of students. We spoke to them and they spoke to us in the portakabin we were given to work in, in the middle of the school yard, both observing but also being observed by 600 or so children on the brink of becoming adults. With a specific class we painted a wall in a colour that had to be chosen and discussed in a group dynamic. It took exactly an hour to reach an agreement. One could call it a discussion but it also resulted in a fresco. Not much choice is usually given to them and the ever present “carnet de correspondence” is the ultimate sign of their dependency to adults. In this notebooks are written down the dialogues between teachers and parents of the children’s behaviour. They are the transporter of the message. Even its colour defines whether they can leave school or not, an early passport of sort. Our Carnet relaxé is a reaction to this observation. It is a replica of the “carnet de correspondence” with its lines, its boxes or perforations and coloured paper but it is also empty and there are no indication of what to fill where, only the structure is visible. They were distributed to all the pupils at the same time as the official one in September 2015 when they were back from holidays.” 

A Self-Published Book by a Designer

MsHeresies 2: Useful Work versus Useless Toil and MsHeresies 3: Amniotechnics, edited and designed by Johanna Ehde and Elisabeth Rafstedt

MsHeresies, published by Amsterdam-based Rietlanden Women’s Office (graphic designers Johanna Ehde and Elisabeth Rafstedt), is a series inquiring into collaborative graphic design practices and the ornamental as a form of work critique. With a focus on collective work through a feminist perspective, the first publication in the series, MsHeresies 1: Conditions for Work: The Common World of Comen, re-purposed graphics from Heresies: A Feminist Publication on Art and Politics and art director Bea Feitler’s work from Ms. Magazine in conversation with Adrienne Rich’s “Conditions for Work: The Common World of Women.” This kind of collage treatment—putting texts and visual material from various moments in feminist and labor history, and not always congruous—results in entirely new conversations, and alternative writings and readings, drawing out ideas surrounding ornament, modernist tendencies, rest, and tools for working and organizing together. The similarly unconstrained-but-considered, organic way ideas, texts, and images are woven together (including writing by Anne Boyer, Bernadette Meyer, Hélène Cixous, William Morris, and Audre Lorde) makes for a publication whose spirit is entirely analogous to its printed form.

The second issue, Useful Work versus Useless Toil, pairs collages, paintings, and homage to the work of Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf—who were sisters—as a way of exploring (and de-mystifying) preconceived ideas of text/image hierarchy and sisterhood. In combination is William Morris’ 1884 lecture “Useful Work versus Useless Toil,” which explores the intertwined nature of ornament, agency, and rest. The third and most recent issue, Amniotechnics, reprints the final chapter of Sophie Lewis’s book Full Surrogacy Now! Feminism Against Family in a blend with edited material from the Third World Women’s Alliance’s publication Triple Jeopardy, offering a new reading of both through the lens of collaborative graphic design and cross-publication homages.

A Non-graphic Design Book (That Graphic Designers Should Read)

Yusoff’s A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None charts and unearths the grammar of geology as one that is foundational to and enabling of the extractive economies and histories of colonialism and slavery. Instead of what is traditionally considered political with regards to geology—mining, land and water rights, pipelines—the book digs several layers deeper into the racial dimensions and politics of geology itself. Through the lenses of feminist black theory, geography, and the earth sciences, these politics, a regime of (and domination over what’s considered to be valid) knowledge, are shown to be the basis for the extractive and subjective logics behind ideas of the (in)human across time. These grammars, according to Yussoff, which they also describe as “white geology,” underlie the production of geology through colonial history that position communities and organize the geology of race.

I’m still in the process of reading and spending time with the book, but I think it can be an incredibly useful parallel for graphic designers interested in thinking through the structures they find themselves working in/around. As a practice tied directly to language, legibility, ideas around the “neutral,” design has similarly problematic entanglements, malevolent origin stories, and failures of reflexivity. Yussoff’s method of reducing something like geology to its most foundational grammar (“No geology is neutral”) and unpacking its hegemonic histories proposes an equally useful set of tools for doing the same towards design practice, especially given more recent turns in the field to begin examining some of these things (with varying levels of depth). I think this is a worthwhile pursuit within design, as similarly to geology, and as Yussoff writes, “this planetary analytic has failed to do the work to properly identify its own histories of colonial earth-writing, to name the masters of broken earths, and to redress the legacy of racialized subjects that geology leaves in its wake.” Yussoff also writes:

“If the Anthropocene proclaims a sudden concern with the exposures of environmental harm to white liberal communities, it does so in the wake of histories in which these harms have been knowingly exported to black and brown communities under the rubric of civilization, progress, modernization, and capitalism. The Anthropocene might seem to offer a dystopic future that laments the end of the world, but imperialism and ongoing (settler) colonialisms have been ending worlds for as long as they have been in existence.”

It isn’t a book that Inga stocks, and is also much more than a book, but I’d also add here Neta Bomani’s project Dark matter objects: Technologies of capture and things that can’t be held. I really like this work because it similarly tells alternative, anti-colonial narratives (for example the master/slave relationship prevalent in computation) and provides tools for re-examining histories and practices surrounding technology, design, and everything else they encompass.