Studio Visit: Lugemik

Words & Pictures: Amardeep S.

December 27 2015

Somewhat embarrassingly (but not too surprisingly), the first thing I ever learned about Estonia in my life came from a podcast episode in August, four months ago. It was brief — Estonia was mentioned in a conversation about the hard-to-use nature of government websites in the US, but only because Estonia has particularly easy-to-use government websites. You can cast your vote for public offices online.

You can register for the national electronic identity system which serves to make your transactions with the government as efficient as possible (a good example: you can file your taxes online in 5 minutes). As a designer, as well as a witness and victim of the terrible government websites in the US, I wondered what the focus on making government services modern and transparent in Estonia said about Estonian culture. Are other aspects of the country’s government services run better or more efficiently because of the outward focus on digital transparency? Do the systems prove as valuable in practice as they appear in theory? Do Estonians realize how wild all of this sounds to someone in the US? A month after learning these Estonian fun facts and asking these Estonia-related fun questions came the New York Art Book Fair, featuring a grand total of one exhibitor from Estonia. That exhibitor was Lugemik.

Lugemik is an independent publisher and bookstore in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. They specialize in publishing smaller editions and having a very close, hands-on approach when it comes to working together with an artist at every stage of the book-making process. Lugemik is made up of two people: Anu and Indrek, who are both very much involved in the graphic design scene in Tallinn (Indrek is currently part of the graphic design department at the Estonian Academy of Arts, as was Anu in the past). I met both of them last month while in Tallinn as my curiosity was sufficiently piqued to warrant taking a trip out there, and also visited their recently-opened bookshop, which stocks both Lugemik-published books as well as books and zines from publishers around the world. It might be worthwhile to explain at this point that the word lugemik translates literally into “a reader,” i.e. a collection of texts relevant to a particular subject. In Estonian, the word has an association with children’s books, and just as children’s books are simple in their philosophy of teaching children how to read, Lugemik’s philosophy on publishing is similarly simple: every step of the publishing process holds equal significance. From the subject matter and the idea of a book to the physical form and the printing methods used, Lugemik believes each step should be thoroughly considered and be relevant to the subject matter the artist is exploring.

It is Lugemik’s philosophy of examining and crafting each step of the publishing process that sets them apart from other art book publishers that exist in the same realm of the printing world. They talk about themselves and their work as an “initiative” rather than a “company,” and pursue projects with the approach of a non-profit organization, with a much greater focus placed on releasing a very personal and meaningfully crafted publication rather than following traditional processes and creating a traditional book. It makes the whole process of making a book into work of art in itself, one that is always very connected with the artwork that lives inside the book but also holds the necessity of being translated into a physical process with a tangible result. “Publishing as an art form” isn’t a notion I’d considered before, but after talking with Lugemik and looking at their body of work, I feel inclined to call both Anu and Indrek “publishing artists.”

A few of my favorite Lugemik publications: Tööd 2008–2014 by Tõnis Saadoja, Blue Lagoon / Pattern Book by Merike Estna, and I Haven’t Moved My Head From the Pillow by Kristi Kongi.

Amardeep S. is a photographer, designer and developer in New York City. You can view his portfolio online or read our feature on his recent publication, I Defintely Learned a Lot here