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What Exactly “7.45” Experiments with Book Space + James Joyce Taught this Designer about Book Arts

Joe Gilmore on the merits of The Kippenberger Challenge

The Kippenberger Challenge is an open invitation for artists and designers to equal the German artist Martin Kippenberger’s average printed output of 7.45 books each year. Participants simply sign up by emailing the organizer to announce the start date of their attempt. It’s a project that continues to be exhibited at prestigious institutions and shows for contemporary book arts, like The Best Dutch Book Designs in 2015 and de Appel’s Library & Archive in June of 2016. Attempts are documented on the project’s website, with congratulatory green stickers designating those who succeeded with the project, and less-enthusiastic brown “sehr guts” (meaning very good) acknowledging those who didn’t quite make it.

For the York-based graphic designer and educator Joe Gilmore, 2018 marks the start of his second time signing up to the challenge after a successful stint between 2016 and 2017. As a designer whose practise revolves around designing artist books, gallery catalogs, and conceptual book-making, engaging in self-motivated experiments has become a crucial part of his practise. “Exploring to the extent that there is perhaps no formal use for a book is an exercise you rarely get to do as a designer involved in client work,” he says. “When I’m teaching, I encourage my students to engage with the book and making books in innovative ways, considering: What is a book? What could a book be? I suppose that through pushing them, I started to think, why aren’t I doing that?

“I feel like I need to be critically engaged with my own practise; it’s important to question, test, and investigate.” Taking The Kippenberger Challenge as an opportunity for such exploration, his last round centered on the possibilities of book space, the meaning of a book, and structural devices and typographic interplay informed by the modernist experiments of James Joyce. Today the designer takes us through his first 7.45 books for the Kippenberger Challenge.


The book pushes at the limits of book space, asking what would happen to content if it wasn’t restricted by the edges of the page. Gilmore laid out a series of images on the floor in a single line, and then organized those images into a book following the same layout. One half of a picture on page 1 therefore fell onto page 2, for example. Pictures are arranged spatially, with the content ignoring the structural and formal nature of a book’s dimensions.

Spread from “A,” Joe Gilmore. 2016.


This devise was informed by James Joyce’s modern classic Finnegans Wake, which notoriously has a circular structure, with the last sentence of the novel looping back to the very first sentence of the book. “What interests me about the idea of the circle is that while the book has a fixed form, within that there can be this infinite structure,” says Gilmore.

Spread from A, Joe Gilmore. 2016.



In James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, there are also a series of glyphs designed by the author, representing a shorthand that he was developing. Joyce created glyphs for characters and archetypes, as well as the idea of space and the universe. While some are pictograms—like a triangle representing the female vulva—others clearly represent other alphabets, and are abstract phonetic symbols. Gilmore’s Sigla is an imagined type specimen for Joyce’s intricate system of glyphs.

Spread from Sigla, Joe Gilmore. 2016.

Void() 2

Gilmore’s Void continues to explore the idea and possibilities of book space. As all editorial designers know, before a book is bound, page one might sit opposite page 20, followed by page two beside 18, for example. Gilmore allows this structure to determine the layout of the book’s images when in bound form—challenging the reader’s perception of a book as a linear experience, and allowing the process of design to inform structure. In this second iteration of Void for the Kippenberger Challenge, he did the same but shuffled the pages randomly.

Spread from Void, Joe Gilmore. 2016.

Void() ∞

Gilmore has kept a blog of images for nine years, a seemingly endless stream of picture after picture. For the fourth book of the challenge, the designer asked: “wouldn’t it be crazy to print out and bind the entire blog?” Together the blog forms a PDF of 700 pages, and Gilmore prints sections every so often in groups of 16 pages, binding them to form a zine. It’s an exploration of the relationships between blogs to zines, as well as the juxtapositions and new experiences created when form and material shift shape.

Sigla Addendum

As an appendix or post-script to Sigla, this slim booklet takes quotes from Finnegan’s Wake and places them beside glyphs in order to contextualize the shapes. “Joyce was really aware of letterforms and the creation of alphabets,” says Gilmore. “I see this as an introduction to Finnegan’s Wake and how Joyce uses language.”

Spread from Sigla Addendum, Joe Gilmore. 2016.

The Zero Point of Sculpture

“I have a young daughter, which means we have a lot of art materials around,” says Gilmore. “In the summer, I left a book on top of one of her pieces of sugar paper, and after a few weeks, it left an impression onto it.” Inspired by this moment, Gilmore started making more in his studio, leaving books about book design on top of sugar paper to paint with the sun, so to speak.

By perfect binding these impressions together, the resulting publication positions books as sculptural objects. The title is informed by Erwin Wurm’s plinth sculptures, where objects are removed from plinths after gathering dust so only an impression remains.

A Facsimile of Michael Asher: Writings 1973-1983 on Works 1969-1979

Gilmore was inspired by his Amazon Wishlist for the seventh book in the challenge, which is an extensive collection of rare art books with expensive, inconceivable price tags. Borrowing one desired book from the British Library and photocopying it, Gilmore perfect bound the result to create a one-off facsimile. The photocopied result features the particular library book’s traces; its stamps and small, handwritten notes. With this copy, Gilmore explores the idea of the idea of reproduction and the facsimile.


(or rather not book 8, but book 7.45)

For the last component of the challenge, Gilmore was left to interpret the “.45” aspect of the “7.45” output. Taking a series of found images of classical sculptures of heads from the British Museum, he mathematically worked out how to only print 45% of each image, removing the rest with black squares as if redacting.

Spread from B, Joe Gilmore. 2017.


A quote from Hilary Mantel crowned the concept, and the idea that we only perceive a slither of history, which gets blurred with time as sculptures erode and memories fade: “History is what’s left in the sieve when the centuries have run through it.” 

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