“Books are static, stable objects, which cannot be changed easily after being printed. It is a system that has proven its worth over so many years – more so than any other medium,” states German graphic designer Lara Kothe. Originally from a small town in Bavaria, she studied communication design in Hamburg and now resides in Berne, Switzerland where she is undertaking a part-time master’s degree in design research. Lara’s portfolio is packed full of experimental publications that are intellectually challenging, designed with purpose and with the utmost attention to detail.
Lara’s foundation in research is clear in the plethora of cerebral books she creates, engaging in a variety of philosophical and critical subjects, such as who and how we choose what to collect in Case Study on Activity of Collecting. In her project, The Lething Compendium, it was the concept of forgetting that Lara focussed her cognitive mind on.
“It was [Friedrich] Nietzsche who first introduced me to the phenomenon of forgetting,” she explains. When reading the German philosopher’s work, she stumbled upon a few sentences which really struck a nerve: “Forgetting belongs to all action, just as both light and darkness belong in the life of all organic things. […] For this reason, it is possible to live almost without remembering, indeed, to live happily, as the beast demonstrates; however, it is generally completely impossible to live without forgetting.”
In response, Lara began an investigation into the “modern human” as living in an age of constant acceleration, of permeant media presence, an age which “does not forgive and forget.” The outcome of said research is a compendium on the process of forgetting different perspectives, from a medical and scientific point of view and from historical and modern times. She presents the benefits of forgetting – as something she actively practices – and the various expressions and forms it can take.
Presented as a quasi-devotional book, The Lething Compendium takes its name from the Lethe – the river you have to cross to forget your life and reach the realm of the dead in Greek mythology. It was during her research that Lara unearned a series of devotional books. “I was fascinated by the intellectual and elegant concentrate which grew out of the combination of content and visual appearance: compressed but catchy philosophical doctrine mixed with an enormous variety of creative means of expression,” she recalls.
Lara, therefore, set about manifesting her own small sized book with a large amount of content incorporating woodcuts, illustrations and calligraphic details among many other things. With its padded cover, the book is highly derivative and symbolic – something which is only elevated through Lara’s use of full justification, gold embossing, Gothic type and text alignments in the shape of a sandglass.
The imagery throughout is a mix of photos taken by various photographers (Hannah Häseker, Ines Könitz and Rebecca Rütin) as well as archival imagery. Instead of setting out with a clear vision, Lara spontaneously chose imagery that illustrated the notion of forgetting that she wanted to create: “What – and especially how – I used the visual material depended on how I felt after studying the texts.”
Featuring a steady and ongoing repetition of water (including a borderless photo-colour cut around the book), the imagery in The Lething Compendium slowly destroys itself. Photos, illustrations and text diffuse as white spaces within the design grow larger in a visually literal form of forgetting. This culminates in recto-verso black pages, however, these do not symbolise nothingness Lara tells It’s Nice That but actually “a ‘something’ out of which something new can develop. Only those who forget themselves and forget everything can refill the newly created empty space.”
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