Maybe there were too many… stories
by Claudia Beckmann | Nov 24, 2008
All photos © Franziska Holzmann

As much as we love reading old letters and keeping them safe in old shoeboxes, most of us have not written a letter by hand for a long time. We have long been conducting our correspondence via emails; with mini-laptops we can jot down a few notes anywhere and the cell phone faithfully manages our contacts, which we can delete, edit or replace at the press of a button. Thus the success of the little Moleskine notebook, which you actually still write in by hand, may seem like a counter revolution. Be it a romanticized answer to electronic data management systems or simply meant to look particularly stylish again, for some reason the Moleskine has become a cult object.

A traveling exhibition by Moleskine entitled "Detour" made a stop at the Werkbundarchiv - Museum der Dinge in Berlin and showcased notebooks by 38 renowned international designers, writers, artists and illustrators. Following stops in London, New York and Paris, from Berlin the exhibition is going on to Venice, Istanbul and Tokyo.

"The legendary notebook used for the past two centuries by great artists and thinkers", we read on the Moleskine inner pocket of the cover. Hemingway, Van Gogh and Picasso, to name but a few - all jotted down their thoughts and ideas in this little book, apparently. A true classic indeed, only more in terms of modern marketing. The victory march of the handy pad began ten years ago and certainly nobody back then had any idea of the invented myth which draws links to historical and literary lines, but is in fact absolute fiction. What Bruce Darnell is for Germany's Next Top Model, Bruce Chatwin is for Moleskine, namely, the figurehead. The hype around the story starts with him. A stirring legend was patched together out of melodic names, romantic settings and a good shot of history. Now everyone knows that almost all of it is fictional, however that does not diminish the enthusiasm for the notebook.

Apparently, valuable things are noted down in the Moleskine. The exhibition seizes on this point and the small valuable items were immediately locked away in display cases. Observers were able to reach into the Plexiglas boxes through a thin opening to leaf through the books, with a white glove of course. However, this form of presentation does not really correspond to the basic idea of the notebook, which stands for freedom and openness of thought, less so for reticence.

And thus they lay next to each other, the little books, back to back, 38 small books with very different designs, most of them specially created for the exhibition. In the intro to Ron Arad's notebook we read "Bodyguard Southern Hemisphere Thumbprints", which is followed by slide-in files filled with pictures, drawings and maps. Stefan Diez has made the book into a large fold-out, on which he has drawn design sketches for a new chair, Joep van Lieshout has enclosed his notebook in a white, spherical foam cocoon and Spike Jonze has used the narrow format of the Japanese notebook to tell the beginning and end of a story just on the first and last pages.

The book by Birgit Brenner has great tactile quality. It features a mesh of threads which are embroidered onto likewise long Japanese notebook pages. She has woven small strips of paper into it with fragments of sentences written on them: "You just don't know it. Maybe there were too many... truth... stories". Julia Lohmann exhibits her characteristic ecological approach: She has immersed the notebook in saltwater so that crystals formed around it. All the pages are stuck to each other, have grown together, are inseparable - and the book is unusable. The book is attached by a thread to a heavy rock which keeps it underwater, as though she wants to drown the thoughts she has entrusted to it.

Finally, Ana Prvacki addresses the theme of forgetting. She has documented the burning of a Moleskine. She positioned matches between the pages which she lit - and thoughts, dreams and desires dissipated until all that is left was a small pile of ash. It's time for a new notebook.

All photos © Franziska Holzmann
Julia Lohmann