The Wonderful Story behind the MINDKISS Book

The story of the creation of the OUBEY MINDKISS Book is without doubt one of the host of extraordinary stories that the MINDKISS Project has generated so far. Perhaps you’ve already seen this book somewhere and can remember its dramatic white slipcase that looks more like a sculpture than what you’d normally associate with a book’s slipcase. 

The idea to publish a book about OUBEY and his art was the first idea that occurred to me after his death in a car accident in 2004. Yet what should or could a book look like that did justice to the man and his art? It quickly became apparent that even though the idea was good and well founded, it would need time to develop. So for the time being I put the idea of a book on the back burner and devoted myself instead to exploring an approach via the internet which was a highly innovative way to take back then. I thought that with a website about OUBEY and his art I could reach considerably more people than with a book, and then there was always the possibility of interaction with all of them. 

At this time by a happy chance I also met the graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister and asked him whether he could see his way to designing the internet website for OUBEYs art. His short answer was “I don’t do websites, just books” to which I spontaneously replied “I also need a book” – making him smile.  So surprisingly while searching around for a web designer, one year later I came across someone who could do the book. 

In blissful ignorance

Whether there really is something like chance is one of those questions that many philosophers have dealt with. In my case it’s crystal clear that my first meeting with one of the best and by now most famous graphic designers in the world wasn’t due to chance but rather to the coordinated efforts of a group of well-networked people who had gleefully organised the whole affair behind my back. They smuggled me into a group of patrons of the art travelling to New York and let me know exactly where and when this group would meet Mr Sagmeister – three days later in New York. 

So there I was three days later flying to New York for the first time in my life. And when I actually met Stefan Sagmeister I still didn’t have the faintest idea who he was and what amazing work he’d already done for stars like Lou Reed, Talking Heads and the Rolling Stones – not to mention the Grammy award and all the other coveted prizes he’d picked up along the way. A true star among designers. In such blissful ignorance I just went up to him and asked. His friendly smile was a great reassurance to me. 

 Not yes, not no

“Before I say either “yes” or “no”, I’ve first got to see OUBEYs work. I only take on projects that I really want to do,” he said.  This answer was no cause for gloom, on the contrary, it delighted me. From that moment on I knew with absolute certainty that he was the right choice for this book project. I told him that I’d be back in a couple of months with photos of OUBEYs work in my luggage. And that’s what happened.

Six months later I was sitting in his studio with a laptop full of pictures which Sagmeister was examining intently. I sensed that he found them interesting and put my question to him again. And again his answer was neither “yes” nor “no”. Instead he simply asked me, “What about five volumes in a lovely slipcase? How does that grab you?”

I was immediately thrilled. After just a short time spent with some of the pictures, he’d managed to grasp not only the diversity but the underlying integrity of OUBEYs art. Both these aspects are brilliantly and sensationally expressed in the MINDKISS book: five slender volumes showing the variety and autonomy of OUBEYs work united in a stupendous slipcase that shows that all of it is deeply connected.  

An optical sensation

It took me a whole year to select the pictures for the five volumes and decide on their order of appearance in each of them. This was the basis on which Stefan and his team – particularly Roy Rub and Seth Labenz – began to work on the design. The inside of each volume was given its own colour mood while their covers in brilliant metallic silver are all the same. They even developed a special font for the book, a highly mathematical font of great transparency and lightness that was puzzling for everybody who first encountered it yet still readable. The spine of each volume bore a collection of tiny pixels which formed the name OUBEY when the volumes were placed in a certain order. My astonishment knew no bounds and when I opened a packet containing the prototype of the slipcase, I was simply struck speechless: I had never seen anything remotely comparable before. 

Now that we had got so far, it was time to turn to the text. 

Fancy dress for the learning process

I turned to a famous copywriter who produced a long introductory text for each volume based on what I’d told him. They were excellent texts yet I had the feeling that they weren’t quite what I had imagined for the book. 

It was during a highly charged discussion that my recently deceased friend, the art critic, Annemarie Monteil from Basel, threw me a lifeline in my predicament. “You know what, Dagmar,” she said “The best parts of the text are the original quotes by OUBEY. Everything else does a disservice to art because all it does is dress it up in clothes that art doesn’t need.”  

Wow, that really hit home. The text, you see, was actually finished and ready when that conversation took place. Yet I instinctively knew that she was absolutely right. And I’m someone who can, if necessary, be enough of a radical and consistent thinker to view something from a completely fresh angle. After all, better is the enemy of good. 

Starting again

The texts were couched in the conventional style of art books and catalogues and talked about OUBEYs art. In other words, someone was telling readers how they had to find the pictures. Yet OUBEYs art is something that everybody has to discover for themselves. People should approach his art as free as possible from any preconceptions and not merely listen to the voice of some worthy laying down the correct way to view them.  

And so it was settled: we needed new texts!

Stefan Sagmeister was a little taken aback. He even began to have doubts that the book would ever see the light of day. Yet fortunately such a strong bond of trust had been forged between us over all our years of working together that he accepted that I had real good reasons for my change of mind and that something much better was bound to come out of it. Obviously such radical decisions are not without their dangers. But of one thing I was absolutely certain: that OUBEYs art should not be described, explained or interpreted. Not in this book and not in any other production of the MINDKISS Project. And this is a principle to which I have adhered to this very day.

The end result was that each of the five volumes has only three short texts: an original quote from OUBEY himself, an excerpt from a book or a poem that meant a lot to him, and finally a short text written by myself and exclusively dealing with the background stories to the pictures. 

The only way

It took another few months before the new structure for the text was fully developed – and what a pleasant three months these were for me! My odyssey of discovery of those qualities that coloured and defined MINDKISS had arrived at a juncture that gave me great clarity of vision, not just about the book. 

In 2010 it was finally finished. The book was published by the Deutscher Kunstverlag in a limited edition of 1,000 numbered copies, and soon picked up three prestigious awards for the sheer quality of its design. Together with the first version of the website and the OUBEY Experience film, it had its first public presentation at the ZKM Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe on 23 March 2010. Not all of the copies have yet been sold but there will definitely never be a reprint. Like the story of the book, the book itself will remain a not-to-be-repeated one-of-a-kind.  

I’m often asked whether I would ever sell one of OUBEYs paintings. And many of those people who had an Encounter with one of his pictures would dearly have liked to have kept it. Even so, as I will never sell a single one of OUBEYS paintings, and given that his pictures are seldom seen in public, the book is a way by which people can not only become acquainted with OUBEYs art but actually take it home with them. 

And  if one or other of its happy owners could send me the occasional photo showing it in a bookcase or cabinet or spread out on a desk or on display in the window of their shop, it would give me immense pleasure to think that the long, tortuous and highly unusual story behind the creation of this book has led to something that doesn’t merely pick up prestigious awards but is actually capable of filling people with genuine passion – quite apart from the learning curve I myself went through in the process.