The first time I met Åse Eg Jørgensen, a renowned Danish graphic designer and artist, was at the Berlin Art Book Fair, where we quickly found ourselves discussing one of her “Kompendium” – a visual poem. It was dedicated to the philosophical aesthetics of ruling, the lines on a page we usually take for granted and therefore never actually see. This endeavor was so naturally congenial to our own Lineatura project, and my curiosity was so great that we decided to meet again for an interview.
Later on, I visited Åse in her studio in Copenhagen. Its laid-back, unpretentious and open atmosphere struck me to be quite in contrast to the quite strict “design attitude” of the rest of the city. A perfect place to discover the subtly ironic yet very attentive poetry of her works.
Peter Koval: How did you start working on books?
Åse Eg Jørgensen: I’ve loved books since I was a child. I was one of those kids that spent a lot of time in the library; hours and hours just browsing the shelves. Some twenty years later I met my husband, Jesper – an artist. We wanted to make a magazine together. For us, it was like having a gallery. There is quite a lot of space between the pages so you can always invite people to exhibit their works. We decided that every issue of our magazine, Pist Protta, should have a different look. Unlike the conventional idea of a magazine, it should always change the format, typography, printing method, imagery, colors… almost everything you can think of – except the name. And this rule has kept us going. It’s like a machine. Every time we finish one thing we know we have to find a new one. If I take all the magazines together they create a continuously growing body that we can work with. Later on, I realized that we needed some skills for book design, and I was excited to learn it, so I applied to the Danish Design School. I studied there and continued to work as a graphic designer and an artist. I designed many books and worked with many artists.
PK: What is so fascinating about lines?
ÅEJ: A line is practically the smallest thing that you can print on a piece of paper. Lines are not only beautiful, they also work. If they are horizontal they can become a landscape on a paper, like a horizon, or they become this thing that we are used to thinking of as something to write on – a system of lines, a visual pattern we add handwritten content to. If they are vertical they are just bars, they might be wood grain, for example. You always stumble into them. A certain orientation of the lines combined with the format of the paper opens up space in-between, a small area where we can experience the transition of the lines – still being visible but at the same time already becoming invisible – giving the people the opportunity to reflect on them. It’s like with your notebooks. You don’t really notice the lines. They start up and lead you on because they are beautiful. It’s because of the aesthetics that they lead you on. For me, it’s quite mind-opening to notice what the aesthetic experience is doing.
PK: Is there a line we rather shouldn’t follow?
ÅEJ: Even a simple line on a sheet of paper can carry multiple metaphorical meanings. We can turn a line into something else just by looking at it. For instance, when I see a horizontal line, I see a horizon. This semantic multitude makes it difficult for me to say that there is one line you shouldn’t follow. Lines are actually very dependent on the context. For example, when I work on the Kompendiums, I sometimes start with A4 lined paper. When I fold it into A5, the lines become bars and they don’t urge you to write on them anymore. So the context turned the writing lines, the horizons, into bars. It sounds simpler than it is, but the line bears the possibility of movement in itself.
PK: You collect rulings. Do you remember how it began?
ÅEJ: It all started with an aesthetic fascination. You have an idea of the ruling, but if you look more closely at a perfectly ruled paper you can discover a lot of amazing variations – according to the paper quality, to the colors, the thickness of the lines and so on. It’s not easy to take this perspective – as soon as you start writing on the lines they will, in a way, disappear. I really like this analog touch of the old exercise notebooks with their soft blue horizontal and red vertical lines. Today, more and more notebooks are printed offset from lines drawn on the computer. For me, these feel quite “dry”.
PK: What is the source of your inspiration?
ÅEJ: I think it is very much my work with paper and printing ink. Of course, the form is important, but in the end, the materiality of paper and the ink lying on the paper are essential. For me, it starts there. This materiality and the sensibility invoked by the paper, the ink, and all the fields of problems and how aesthetics ties into all of it are what’s fascinates me.
PK: Is there material other than paper that you can’t touch enough, that you are really into?
ÅEJ: I knit and I do embroidery as well, so I always want to hold these kinds of materials in my hands. I also think that the connections between paper and textiles are very close. The etymology seems to prove the intuition here. “Line” comes from “linen” and “text” from “textile”. Just think of that!
PK: What was your most beautiful detour?
ÅEJ: It’s a detour that comes up again and again. It has to do with embroidery. A couple of years ago I went to the Victorian Albert Museum in London where I saw the Sampler of Elisabeth Parker. It’s one of the most impressive embroideries I’ve ever seen. It’s quite a long text embroidered with red silk in cross stitch on a relatively small piece of linen. It’s a desperate confession, an autobiography, and a prayer of a young girl – from the 1830s, I think – and it starts with: “As I cannot write I put this down simply and freely as I might speak”. The thing is that the cross stitching is very small and the textile is quite densely woven so it is really not easy to get the needle through. I’m not the fastest but I’m quite a skilled embroiderer and I’ve tried to do it in the same size as Elizabeth Parker did. I can make maybe five or four letters in one hour. Now imagine how long it must have taken her – the text is almost six and a half thousand characters long. It’s like the historical detour of the text itself. In the end, the words are not only painstakingly stitched on the fabric but the text becomes an integral part of the textile.
PK: Can you name one of your works everybody should know?
ÅEJ: I would like everybody to know about our Pist Protta project. It’s setting the mind free; in a funny and in a serious way at the same time. It gives people an opportunity to think differently – or to do things a little bit differently.
PK: What would you like to do next?
ÅEJ: I would like to go to a retreat somewhere and have a couple of months for doing just what I want to do.
Interview & photos: Peter Koval
If you want to try the power of lines, try one of our Lineatura notebooks: