FOR A RAINY DAY... PUBLISHING AS A SITE OF COLLECTIVIZATION
 

FOREWORD

        “Iz Öztat writes that she “plans to explore the ways collectives can use publishing as an integral part of their artistic practice: articulating artistic imaginaries, shaping communities and proposing alternative value systems and political horizons. While looking at precedent practices shaped and informed by particular historical circumstances, we – a group formed by an open call and supported by an artist-run Oslo organisation – will search for models of publication that are conceptually, formally and socially relevant to our own experiences and commitments. We will experiment with a range of analogue and digital publishing technologies and diverse approaches to dissemination, exploring the collectivities we imagine and the publics we would like to engender.”

Visits to publication focused archives and related institutions in the Oslo area will be arranged, and residents will access a variety of print facilities during the residency, with the goal of producing an edition, or series of editions, through collective action. 

Each member of the group is welcomed to lead an action/workshop that offers insight into their background, interests or methodologies.”

 This text formed the core of the open call for internationally and locally based participants in PRAKSIS’s seventh residency, For a rainy day…: Publishing as a site of collectivization.

Throughout the residency the group went through a series of arranged and self-lead activity that focused on aspects of publishing and collaboration. Collective working processes of exploration and action developed over the residency, one result of which is a set of nine volumes produced individually by each participating artist and PRAKSIS with two constraints: an A5 format and a three-week working time. The individual volumes come together as a single collective edition.

This volume seeks to provide useful context for the artist publications that accompany it by condensing key information from the residency into a helpful resource connected to publishing and collaboration in the year 2017.

For a rainy day: Publishing as a site of collectivization… was developed with artist Iz Öztat (Turkey) with contributions from non-profit bookshop and publisher Torpedo and publication design studio Eller Med A. It took place in Oslo between 18 September and 18 October 2017. The residents working alongside Öztat included: Vika Adutova (RU), Belić, Westerlund and Müller (SE, SE, CH), Eva Funk (AU), Araiz Mesanza (ES), and Gabrielle Paré (CA). Biographies available from page 76.
 


Publishing as a site of artistic practice — An introduction

By Nicholas John Jones, with collective input from Vika Adutova, Eva Funk, Özgür K, Araiz Mesanza, Daniela Müller, Gabrielle Paré, Ellef Prestsæter, and Iz Öztat.


The Oxford English Dictionary currently states that publishing is: “The occupation or activity of preparing and issuing books, journals, and other material for sale.” But is this really a suitable definition for today’s digital world? Why does capital need to be involved in the dissemination of information? “Publishing” infers a distributed outcome that endures in testament to an expression or moment, but it is not necessary for this to be printed matter or involve sale.

Modes of publishing offer artists great potential to generate and distribute creative ideas and experience. Artistic disseminated material holds at its core the fundament of freedom of speech and creative expression and as such is a powerful embodiment of a core value in seeking healthy society. With these two points in mind, the open call developed by myself and Iz Öztat for For a rainy day…: Publishing as a site of collectivization, sought applicants interested in publishing as an integral part of artistic practice, a space to articulate “artistic imaginaries, shaping communities and proposing alternative value systems and political horizons.”

On the first day of For a rainy day...: Publishing as a site of collectivization, a discussion between the residents and residency partners Torpedo and Eller med a at their space ‘PUB’ set a precedence for the research that would unfold over the course of the month, touching upon the questions of: What is publishing now? What are dynamic ways to approach publishing and distribution? If publishing is the act of making information public then can performance be publishing? What are key issues in publishing now? In this text, the activity that occurred during the residency and the practices of those involved will be used as case studies through which to address these questions.

Key factors: Expression, openness and form

Freedom of expression

Perhaps easily taken for granted by those of us who have become accustomed to it, freedom of speech and expression sits at the core of publishing. This freedom, or a lack of it fundamentally affects approach to content and distribution, and of course publishing has played important roles in artistic dissident activity as well as artistic projects with no political intention. As political dialogues in the West have seen increasing popularisation of more extreme views and a growing mistrust of news as potential “fake news”, the legitimacy of expression has also become a major concern. Fritt Ord (translating to Free Word), a Norwegian private foundation, was established in 1974 to support freedom of expression and a free press. On visiting with the residency group a point of particular interest was the instance that promoting these values meant considering, and being open to supporting all voices, even those you may personally disagree with.

Licencing  

Özgür K spent time speaking with the group about issues surrounding rights in publications. Should authors choose to hold onto their Copyright[1] license, as has been the norm? Or in today’s online and progressive society, could choosing Copyleft[2] or other free cultural [3] licencing options hold greater opportunities for the publisher? For example, with digital publishing, allowing for others to contribute to and grow individual efforts into a far reaching multi-layered collective effort far beyond what one individual mind could hope to achieve – Wikipedia being the most obvious non-arts based example. Could the opportunity for forks[4] to develop breed new, or differing life into artistic projects. Are these ways of working so different from the way in which we learn from and appropriate from existing material? Do they offer a potential for the spread of ideas, supportive projects and ideologies outside of the constraints of market capital?

The digital vs. printed matter

In a world where school children are now given iPads instead of books, is there a future for printed matter? Why do we have an attachment to publications as physical objects, and will future generations feel the same way? Books sit in physical space and can be chanced upon, but do online projects get buried in the ever-growing mass of online information? These questions arose during a conversation with Rikke Kommissar and Monica Holmen at Akershus Kunstsenter about artist and institutionally produced publications, and the decisions they were facing on behalf of the institution. However, does this question of materiality affect artistic approaches? For many practices likely not, where physical publications are the manifestation of ideas developed through process, materiality and craft. Physical objects provide a physiological and phenomenological means to connect with physical experiences of our bodies and conduits to our minds. But for some practices the potential low cost and global reach of online publishing, and the potential for others to contribute, edit and alter (given an open source licence), online publications might well increase the dissemination as well as the democratic potential projects.

It is possible technologies not yet being considered by many will fuse or alter relationships between the digital and physical further. Body or sensory enhancements, be they biological or mechanical “upgrades” that were once only considered science fiction are become reality for a few today. As an example, microchips embedded in flesh of many Swedish commuters now carry medical information and their rail tickets. Could this growing field become the mainstream in tomorrow’s tomorrow, leading to sharing of information in ways we currently struggle to conceive?

Publications as curatorial space

A discussion forum into publishing and curatorial practice arranged by the Norwegian Association of Curators with the Curatorial Program for Research brought up an interesting space for the role of publishing. Anne Szefer Karlsen introduced a particularly interesting approach that she had overseen in her former role as Director of Hordaland Kunstsenter: A particular design format for a book was used as a space for an artwork – where the book became an alternative showing space for work and an artwork in itself. 

 

Historical precedents

Russian avant-garde

“In the years immediately before and after the Russian Revolution, Russian Avant-garde artists employed poetic language as a means to forge complete and long-standing alternatives; to generate a printed or sounding word that pronounced its own logic.” This quote comes from Vika Adutova’s talk Words of the Russian Avant-garde, in which she sought to demonstrate the potential of poetic language to generate meaning, exemplified by Russian art and literature from the 1910s through 1930s. In her overview of 'unofficial' Soviet literature, Vika Adutova talked about the Zaum poems of Aleksei Kruchenykh and Velimir Khlebnikov, the sounding language of Elena Guro, and writers of the OBERIU movement — "it was interesting for me to talk about the writers who questioned the meaning of the word as such and the logic of narration." In relation to this, Adutova also discussed emergence of Samizdat publishing as a method of establishing an independent culture in the context of political censorship — "Self-publishing prevailed early in 20th century Russia and later grew into the underground publishing culture called Samizdat. The fact that certain literary forms (even when not political) were persecuted by officials yet preserved by a resistant community, brings attention to poetry and literature as the carrier of language that can cut through existing thinking models and so influence culture and society.[5]

Asger Jorn

A visit to Guttorm Guttormsgaard’s Archive offered a rare and varied insight into a great range of artistic and historical publishing practices, from handwritten scriptures, to early newsprints, modernist approaches, and more contemporary instances of artist publishing. The work of the Danish artist Asger Jorn, inspired such interest that Ellef Prestsæter, Chair of the board at GGA, was asked to give a special presentation on Jorn’s approach to publishing, and for this text Prestsæter was asked to write a brief summary of Jorn’s approach to publishing:

Books and printed matter formed an integral and central part of Asger Jorn’s practice from the beginning. When he made his debut as a maker of books with Pigen i ilden [The Girl in the Fire] in 1937 Jorn explained to the local newspaper in his hometown Silkeborg that his ambition had been to “create a book where text and imagery work together as a totality from beginning to end”. Throughout his life he would extend this ambition through image-driven essays, illuminated treatises, and books conceived as “continuous collages”. The techniques employed in Jorn’s book production ranged from old-fashioned letterhead printing à la Gutenberg to breakneck experiments in offset. Images were culled from other publications, drawn by hand, cut in linoleum, lithographed, poured from a stepladder. At times his books were artistic, at other times they were scholarly, but most often they were both. Among his most ambitious book projects was a projected series undertaken by his Scandinavian Institute for Comparative Vandalism (founded in 1961).  The idea, which remained unrealized, was to produce thirty coffee table books on 10,000 years of Nordic Folk Art. Every book was to consist of 256 pages of images (described by Jorn’s collaborator P.V. Glob as a “continuous collage”) and 96 pages of text, to be kept in separate sections. Jorn would compose the series of images, while archaeologists and art historians were commissioned to write the accompanying texts. The strict separation of words from images reflected Jorn’s understanding that artists were capable of working on historical material in ways that produce new forms of knowledge, even though – or perhaps precisely because – the methods employed would deviate from traditional academic approaches.[6]

Mimeograph produced material

Iz Öztat’s research into the collective production, duplication and dissemination of printed matter with the mimeograph machine in the 1960s / 1970s was the foundation what she wanted to explore through the residency. The technical qualities of mimeograph technology provided an affordable means of production that allowed for immediate, collaborative and independent production processes that escaped the control of state authorities. Due to these qualities, it was utilized both by leftist organizations and by counterculture movements internationally during the period. In Belgium in August 1972, The Democratic Resistance of Turkey used mimeograph to print their File on Turkey document with the aim of informing the world about the violations of the military rule in Turkey. The last words of revolutionaries Deniz Gezmiş, Hüseyin İnan and Yusuf Aslan, who were sentenced to death in 1972, were duplicated with the mimeograph and left under the doors of Turkish media outlets and posted to international ones. Port Huron Statement (1962), which launched the Students for Democratic Society (SDS) in USA, “represents the results of several month of writing and discussion among the membership” and positions itself not as the final word on SDS’s ideology, instead as “a living document open to change with our times and experiences.” While mainstream publishers were dismissing the work of a generation, which later came to be known as The Beat Generation, self-published mimeographed magazines allowed for publishing sketches instead of their finished work. They functioned like “steps in a process or points within a conversation”, enabling close circles of friends to know about each others’ work as it was being written. Diane di Prima and LeRoi Jones printed the Floating Bear newsletter from their living room and mailed it out biweekly to their friends. This mimeograph magazine was “one specific way into Life” as LeRoi Jones stated to di Prima in a letter reprinted in the second issue.

 Öztat stressed her belief that it is relevant, and potentially important, to revisit these historical examples of manual reproduction in today’s contemporary context where digital technology has largely done away with the materiality of the printing process, in favour of immediacy of production. Despite this ease of reproduction, institutional mediation of cultural production dominates artist and collectively produce content. What might the horizons for cultural production motivated by alternative value systems be?[7]

 

Contemporary Practice

Iz Öztat
Iz Öztat’s practice uses the publications in a number of ways, both in her solo practice and in collective works with Fatma Belkis, BAÇOY KOOP (Printing, Duplication and Distribution Cooperative) and anonymous contributors. Often using mimeograph (a predecessor of the modern photocopier) Öztat’s publications are a means for a viewer to engage with a broader exhibition and something to take with them that can be both a reminder of the experience for the viewer and an alternative experience for new readers. For Öztat publications offer a space to develop ideas alongside collaborators, to disseminate poetic gestures among an unsuspecting public. Sometimes they are a blending of content and form; essays, images and object. Other times they might be an abstracted form printed and thrown to the wind: an act of creative freedom, political but not spreading propaganda, instead generating contact through a page.
 

Dangerous Curves
Artist collective Dangerous Curves (Maria Belić, Per Westerlund Belić and Daniela Müller) proposed to develop a new performance with their fellow residents. The streets of Oslo’s business district, Barcode, became the backdrop for an absurdist performance. “How to: Martial Arts” YouTube videos streamed to an iPad set up in one of PUB’s large windows as the group attempted to synchronise and collectivise through a shared learning experience. This action was simultaneously live-streamed back to YouTube, publically documenting – that is to say publishing - the occurrence in real time. This live-stream remains a publicly accessible element of the performance—available at: goo.gl/s4VMmx.
 

Daniela Müller
The publication ‘Jennifer’, by Daniela Müller contains texts by women written in response to leaked self-shot nude photographs by the actress Jennifer Lawrence. The work presents insights into female perspectives on this private, seductive moment, turned voyeuristic spectacle. Published by Amsel Verlag, the book is softcover and printed in one pink Pantone colour. A work in its own right, the book has been used and presented by the artist in different contexts, to further question perceptions of presented identities. In one case, female performers recite from an iPad a remix of the book in a gallery space filled with pink light, thus rendering the books illegible until removed from the performance space. In another showing, the books are displayed within a sealed vitrine as the spoken remix is delivered though an immersive sound environment.’[8]

Araiz Mesanza
Araiz Mesanza is an artist and illustrator from the Basque Country, Spain. Mesanza and her friends, Juan Hernandez and Irati Fernandez, graduated from studies in illustration in the wake of the nationwide economic depression that hit Spain from the financial crisis of 2007-2008. With no opportunity in the market, they began to produce their own, self-published material. Erling Knudsen joined the group as they planned their first issue. This pursuit was not a conscious reaction to their situation, but grew from a need to produce, but this collective action became a way to create a proactive voice during this difficult economic and political time. Their collective now operates under the name of Ediciones Armadillo and continues to regularly make zines and other publications that draw on the authors daily experience, mixed with imagination and fantasy. These have been shown in book fairs and galleries in Spain, in Switzerland and Peru.[9]

Gabrielle Paré
In the publication Slice of Life, Sourdough Mother, Gabrielle Paré uses the metaphor of wild yeast leavening a sourdough to explore notions of the foreign, purity and connectedness to land. The book explores aspects of Paré’s own immigration and mixed-race identity, and contemplates the ways ownership of a land or culture are determined. She approaches publications as one-off experiments, space to play and reframe her practice in other narratives. In her book Quicksand Selves, texts from the journals of Sylvia Plath are extracted and printed alongside a suite of photo-etchings depicting the artist’s own body, captured in long exposure. The lines separating Paré’s body and the surrounding space are blurred; she challenges the integrity of her body’s borders. Paré does not perform Plath’s texts, but instead the two adjacent gestures share a nervous, trembling energy. It is a posthumous collaboration between the remains of a mind and a seeking mind. Both parties are alienated from their original contexts (the words, extracted from Plath's unabridged journals; Paré’s temporal gestures, compressed and recorded as photo-etchings) and in coming together, find new, supportive dialogues. For Paré, publications are an investigation, a path to understanding and communicating elements of her practice. In doing so they create new contexts, in and of themselves.[10]


Eva Funk
Eva Funk uses sculpture, 2-d works, costumes, performance and publications to create immersive exhibition environments. Her publications are standalone objects, but become integral props in performances and items that bring different voices and explorations into the works. For Funk, writing is both a process to generate new enquires, and a means to enrich and communicate ideas. Her book GERNOT 3000 was created as part of an exhibition of the same name as a space for alternative voices and to encourage varied reading of the installation. Contributions were made by invited artists and art historians responding to questions asked by Funk: who is Gernot? where is it coming from? is it a mutant? is it living on the spacespheres? where are we? what time is it? how far in the future are we? what happened to humans? what does it mean do be a foreign body? or a stranger? what happened to the earth? how is it to be a gernot? how is it to travel in time and space? what is utopia? or dystopia? are we in a parallel universe? how does gernot eat? is it like a snail? Funk hoped for varied responses and did not edit or censor the contributions. The exhibition featured reading performances in the installation, during which each writer read their own work. 

 

Moving forwards

Publishing is a dynamic creative space. It is a rich ground for the development and dissemination of ideas collectively and individually on aesthetic and political levels. It has huge potential to instigate positive change. Here we have briefly seen historic examples where conditions of repressed freedom of speech have driven artists to mobilise underground methods of publishing to communicate imagined futures, as well as Jorn’s vision to develop new approaches to written and visual communication. Today, it is no secret that technology, increasing access to the internet on a global level, and social media have changed the way we engage with text and image, with interactions tending towards more, quicker—communicated snappily and visually rather than through in-depth writing. As we move forwards society’s relationship to publishing will undoubtedly change in ways we are just beginning to conceive. Continued changes in society’s relationships with image and text, further advances in technology, the development of political landscapes, growth of digital common space in relation to freedom of speech and collective voices will be just a few of the factors that affect approaches to publishing. Yet as the prevalence of the Internet envelops us, our physical bodies still yearn for physical experiences. Artistic exploration of this relationship is likely to be reinforced by a decreasing in the frequency of such experiences. From my perspective, a space that is aware and takes advantage of technological and phonological shifts, blending the fetishistic charm of object (be that of singular or sequential temporality) and the fluid and wide-reaching potential of the internet and connected technologies has vast potential for exploration (this text is also available online at www. , and will soon be 3D printed to a library near you, while simultaneously being written in laser across the sky somewhere you can’t see).

 


Endnotes
[1]
The creator of an original work’s exclusive rights for its use and distribution.
[2] A license offering the right to freely distribute copies and modified versions of a work with the stipulation that the same rights be preserved in derivative works down the line.
[3] A license where the copyright holder provides the rights to study, change, and distribute the work to anyone and for any purpose.
[4] A project fork happens when contributors take a copy the current free/libre and open source material and start independent development on it, creating a distinct and separate fork.
[5] Edited with Vika Antalova
[6] Contributed by Ellef Prestsæter
[7] Edited with and largely written by Iz Öztat
[8] Edited with Daniela Müller
[9] Edited with Araiz Mesanza
[10] Edited with Gabrielle Paré


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