Six Art Publications
13 May 2020, 1:58 pm
The world of art publishing is an extremely rich world. Composed of several categories – which in themselves already yield a separate text – such as monographs, catalogs, artist books, art books, dissertations and theses, perhaps the most significant characteristic of the class is interdisciplinarity. I use this term to refer to both content and form. It is not uncommon that, for example, a publication on architecture has content that mixes theories of European performance or avant-garde, or that a book on academic subjects takes on an experimental format. In the same way, the creative eye of the artist very often mixes with that of the designer (in cases where it is not the same person), and thus a book is created that, through its format, manages to physically mark the subject discussed in the inside.
Let it be clear that this type of editorial experimentalism is not exclusive to art publications – the unfolding of form and content relationships is widely explored in books on literature, theater or any other type. Children’s books, for example, can be considered a predecessor to art books, since they fearlessly embrace the idea of the book as an object (authors such as Suzy Lee or Istvan Banyai are some of the names worth knowing in this regard). But there is a specific fascination when it comes to artistic publications. Perhaps due to the fact that some concepts can only be absorbed when we are forced to leave our comfort zone. Or perhaps for the way many of these books manage to talk about grand subjects through small exercises that seem, at first sight, strange.
Here at home, I adopted some categories to organize my library. I try to separate publications by genre and region, not because I believe in organized libraries or the existence of literary genres (or even regions), but because I needed to do something in order to find my books more quickly. The most interdisciplinary bookcase, to recover the word used at the beginning of the text, is the bookcase of art books. Camouflaged among catalogs, artist books or theory books are curious publications, dedicated to the analysis of objects or movements that go unnoticed at first sight. To illustrate, even if only a fraction, of the wide variety of possibilities for publications in this world, I made a selection of these books that are in-the-middle-of-the-road-a-little-of-this-a-little-of-that to share with you. My choice criteria, like the vast majority of artistic endeavors, is completely subjective. They are curious publications that, through analyzes of wooden benches, or publications without ISBN, and even of floor plans of several chambers of deputies around the world, manage to get deeply involved in political and economic issues that govern our world and played a role for us to get to where we are now. I hope they can inspire, pique your curiosity or, in the best of worlds, make you smile with the creativity of the authors and editors.
We sit together — Utopian benches from the Shakers to the Separatists of Zoar
A kind of pre-catalog, the book brings together research carried out by British artist Francis Cape in his project to rebuild 25 benches of American utopian communities that emerged in the 19th century as a way of protesting the capitalist system. The benches, which are a physical manifestation of the collective philosophy that governed these communities, were recreated by Cape and exhibited itinerantly between 2012 and 2013. Always respecting their collective nature, they were arranged face to face and without hierarchies. They were then activated by exhibition visitors, who, sitting together, engaged in conversations. Because the benches were backless, an equal ground was created, where any interlocutor could turn to different directions to talk to those in front of and behind them. The introductory text is by curator Richard Torchia, and the book includes explanations on utopian communities, as well as drawings by Cape and records of reconstructed benches. A book that makes us think about collectivity and community, and, above all, the collective construction of a future.
Jürg Berthold, Pillip Ursprung, Mechtild Widrich (Ed.)
Edited by Jürg Berthold, Pillip Ursprung and Mechtild Widrich, “Presence” is the record of a workshop of the same name held at the legendary Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, where the Dada movement was created. Fourteen academics from different fields are invited to talk about the concept of presence for two days – the first one alone, and the second with an audience. The path followed by the publication is very interesting: arranged as a dramaturgy, the participants are transformed into characters, and the form of the book itself raises questions about presence, with interferences made by external texts, slide shows and even the “Man who wasn’t there”, Michael Hempe, who despite having lost the workshop, made written interventions in the book itself. Additionally, the book also discusses the political issues of academic and artistic life, which now depends on “showing results” to obtain funding.
The Medium is the Massage
Marshall McLuhan, Quentin Fiore
A cult classic, this 1967 book presents an almost sinister prediction of what our future would become in terms of media and communication. Working with the concept of “global village”, Marshall McLuhan builds a dystopian narrative about the collective individualization of the human being. Made in partnership with the designer Quentin Fiore, the book gathers images and fragments of text to – while leafing through – physically build with the reader the communication process that gives it the subtitle “An inventory of effects”.
Inventory of Possible Narrations
Paul Hendrikse (Ed.)
An anthology of short stories by four South African authors and a Dutchman who were invited to write about the life of South African writer and poet Ingrid Jonker. Jonker, who committed suicide in 1965 at the age of 32, became an icon in her home country after the fall of the Apartheid regime. The writers were presented with a series of interior photographs, places where Jonker lived, wrote or met with her colleagues during the 1950s and 1960s. These photographs were used by the authors to establish the narrative. The book is the result of the project “Hauntology of Smoke and Ocher”, developed by visual artist Paul Hendrikse (one of the editors of this publication), which took place between 2009 and 2012 and consisted of intense collaborations with actors, writers, photographers and philosophers, resulting in performances, publications, a video installation, texts, slide shows and, finally, this book.
Published by the Dutch architecture studio XML, “Parliament” explores the two-way relationship between space and politics, documenting and comparing the chambers of the parliaments of all 193 member states of the United Nations. Almost like a manual archive, the book documents the chambers in scale, in addition to providing relevant data and the location of the chambers within the parliamentary building. Organized as a lexicon, the book allows a comparison between the 193 parliaments in the world. One of the results of this comparison is the establishment of recurring typologies in the format of parliaments: opposite banks; semicircle; horseshoe; circle and, finally, classroom, typology used in authoritarian countries. The Chamber of Deputies, in Brasilia, which features a drawing by Oscar Niemeyer and is recognized in the preface to the book as one of the main in the world, has a classroom format.
NO-ISBN: on self-publishing
Bernhard Cella, Leo Findeisen, Agnes Blaha (Ed.)
This book investigates 1,800 contemporary publications that have deliberately removed themselves from the ISBN, the International Standard Book Number, an international system for identifying books and software that uses numbers to classify them by title, author, country, publisher and edition. The book brings together a brief history of the media, from 15th century letterpress to the digital present, a record of books without an ISBN, an index of artist book fairs and fanzines, manifestos of historical and contemporary avant-garde as well as texts on artist books and the phenomenon of self-publication, linking the idea of NO ISBN to conceptual art and configuring a tribute and reference book for those who chose to remove themselves from the international commercial system.