Thursday, 12 September 2019

An interview with Elisabeth Tonnard

Artist Elisabeth Tonnard interviewed by art critic Agnieszka Gratza.

Agnieszka Gratza: Could you tell me about your background and how you came to work with the artist book format?

Elisabeth Tonnard: My background is mostly literary; I studied literary theory and comparative literature for my first degree in the Netherlands. A study of the classics of Western literature: not very experimental at all. There was no component in it on artist books or conceptual literature. After that, I started writing myself but only with great difficulty. You study the classics so much that at first you think, ‘There's so much out there already, what can I contribute?’ As time went on, spontaneously I began making some works that had a more visual component but they were literary and had to do with language. My first book is the reworking of a poem by T.S. Eliot, ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’. It's a series of poems I developed out of one strophe by applying Tipp-Ex, the correction fluid, to the existing text and seeing which meanings would come out when you covered up some parts. I could turn the word ‘what’ into ‘hat’ by making the letter w white, for example.

  Let us go then, you and I. Acquoy, 2003. Image courtesy Elisabeth Tonnard.

That work was made very quickly; I then spent two years trying to get it published in Holland. It did not fit any literary publishing house, nor any art publishing house. At the time I did not have much knowledge of artist books at all. I knew artists but not artists working with books. I come from a family of artists yet I've always kept away from art, focusing on literature instead. After commenting on my work, an uncle who was an artist suggested that I apply for a grant to publish this book myself. After two years of trying to publish it with a publisher, I got a grant and I was able to publish it myself. I worked with a printer and a binder but I designed it, determined the content and chose the paper.
  Let us go then, you and I. Acquoy, 2003. Image courtesy Elisabeth Tonnard.

AG: Thinking about your wider publishing practice, the books that you make are largely, if not exclusively, self-published in Leerden, your home town. How do you go about publishing them?

ET: They are published wherever I am living. I published some in Berlin and some in Rochester, New York when I lived there. It works differently from book to book. I am currently working on a book I printed myself and that I'm also binding myself, regrettably, I have to say, because it's really too much work. I have a type of inkjet printer that I like to work with. I never used any kind of letterpress or traditional printing press techniques. I mostly have books printed at printing houses and most of the time it's digital printing.

AG: Your catalogue of books lists over 40 items that appeared between 2003 and 2018. Some books are published in limited editions, others as open editions. What dictates whether they are one or the other?

ET: It's sometimes a matter of what I felt like at the time, I have to confess. It's also down to practical issues. I once made an edition where I thought I would make 30 books and I got stranded at 29. For technical reasons I wasn't able to make any more, so then it became an edition of 29. On another occasion, I bought a stack of paper at the paper factory and I could only make so many books out of that one stack. I like the idea of an open edition in the sense that it is then not limited though in a practical sense it may be. You can do it when you do a digital print run. You could make a hundred copies, for instance, and if they're sold out you order more. But the paper you used in the first instance or the printer may have changed, so it ends up being different to the original run. Over the years I've found that it's actually really inconvenient to keep a book available. You just want to go on to the next project when it's sold out and not have to think ‘How did we do that, again?’

AG: Although technically you're not a publishing house, it's very much a business that you manage yourself. You have a webshop and you process orders. Nine of your titles are listed as sold out. The books range in price from 0 euros for The Invisible Book which sold out instantly to 985 euros for the special edition of Song of Myself, which stands out because the other ones are much more reasonably priced. What is special about it?

ET: The special edition of that project I printed myself. It's also quite large, A3-sized, and it comes in a portfolio. It's a very limited edition of seven copies only. That all adds up to a higher price. It's also the last copy that's left now. The price was actually raised. The book version was printed by a printer as a cheap small paperback.

Song of Myself. Leerdam, 2015. Image courtesy Elisabeth Tonnard.

AG: Song of Myself was presented at Friends with Books in 2015. It was at once installed, as part of the group exhibition curated by Savannah Gorton, I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library, and presented on a book stand alongside other books you've published. For me, one of the appealing features of a number of your books is that they come in bound versions that can also be deployed as installations. Could you explain how that worked at Friends with Books?

ET: It was a special edition of the A3 sheets that was shown there. I should first say a little bit about the content of the book. It's called Song of Myself: American Renaissance and it's based on Facebook status updates. The title is a quote from a poem by Walt Whitman. I first found one by Edgar Allan Poe that read ‘Edgar Allan Poe likes his own link’. So I started collecting those updates by Edgar Allan Poe but then I also thought of other authors from the time when he lived, the American Renaissance: Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne. I found it extraordinary to think of all those authors doing these very shallow things. Just imagine Emily Dickinson posting a photo of herself. But then what would they actually do if they lived now? The installation at Friends with Books, which took place at the Hamburger Bahnhof that year, was spread over a single wall. I really liked the fact that I could install those sheets of the special edition as a grid on the wall because where people post their updates on Facebook is also called ‘the wall’. So it made sense to show it like that.

Above and Below: Song of Myself (special edition). Leerdam, 2015. 
Installation view in the exhibition I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library,
Friends with Books: Art Book Fair Berlin at Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin, 2015. 
Images courtesy of Elisabeth Tonnard.   

AG: Your books strike me as both formally and materially inventive in so far as you experiment with format, typography, layout and even paper brand which all have a meaning you attempt to convey.

ET: I take this into consideration with every book. At the Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester, New York, which is where I began to learn about artist books, I worked with an archive – the Joseph Selle collection of photographs – housed in the same building. I made a book out of that collection called Two of Us. It combined digitized materials from the archive in which I saw a pattern of doubles walking next to or behind each other in the street with a poem by Baudelaire about seeing the same old man several times over in the street and how uncanny that was. The double is a literary motif, that of the doppelgänger. Going back to the materiality of the book, Two of Us was designed as a novel, in other words not published or printed on shiny coated paper that you see in an ordinary photo book, which would have been great for showing the images. But I wanted the whole book to have a literary feel, to look like a novel on the outside, with the kind of paper that evoked a novel. It also has text on the same pages as the photographs.

Two of Us. Rochester, NY, 2007. Image courtesy Elisabeth Tonnard.

AG: A collection of your poetry in Dutch recently came out published by het balanseer in Ghent, not self-published in other words. Is that the direction you're heading in or are you still excited by self-publishing?

ET: I will definitely keep self-publishing but I see the poetry work that was published by that publisher as a separate thing. Within the field of literature, at least in the Netherlands, it's definitely not regarded very highly to self-publish. That means nobody wanted to publish your poetry. It's best as a writer to publish through the regular channels and in literary magazines. But for artist books that's different; I find that the best work is self-published. Of course it's really developed now, much more than when I first started. There are a lot of artist book fairs now where you can see work. That wasn't so much the case when I started self-publishing.

AG: Joachim Schmid's name crops up in some of your book projects, like The Invisible Book, The Lovers and Joachim Schmid Works, but have you ever worked together or collaborated on a project?

ET: We haven't been able to do that yet. We've responded to each others' works. For instance, he made E-Book, based on a letter he wrote to me. He left only the e letter and everything else he made white, referencing my procedure with Tipp-Ex. He then photographed es in the cities we visited together. And then I published Joachim Schmid Works, showing photographs of him working on that E-Book. He's known for never taking any photographs, so it was a little joke on my part to show that he's constantly taking photographs. But we haven't done an actual project together.

Joachim Schmid Works. Leerdam, 2016. Image by Elisabeth Tonnard.

Joachim Schmid Works. Leerdam, 2016. Image by Elisabeth Tonnard.

AG: Do you ever work collaboratively with people on your books?

ET: I don't think so actually, other than with poets who are already dead. (Laughs.)

AG: Why is that? A book project, at least in my experience of editing an artist book, can be a deeply collaborative experience, for better or for worse. Because of the nature of that particular project, I ended up working closely with all the contributors, the graphic designer, the printer, the binder. And suddenly the project felt out of my control.

ET: That's exactly what I try to avoid though I do collaborate with binders and printers. But I don't have them say how it should be done. I ask for their advice and sometimes they have good ideas but I try to keep it within my vision.

AG: Would you say that's one of the advantages of the artist book format? That you can go with your vision?

ET: Yes, absolutely. The advantages include speed, if you don't have to ask everybody what they think. I made some of my books really quickly, in one night, and sent it off to a printer. You can go as slow or as fast as you want, really. But the end result is a coherent piece and not some sort of Frankenstein's monster book. 

Indirections #1-8. Leerdam, 2018. Image courtesy of Elisabeth Tonnard.
Indirections #1, inside view. Leerdam, 2018. Image by Elisabeth Tonnard.


Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Marina Sorbello in conversation with Chiara Figone from Archive Books, Berlin

MARINA SORBELLO: Archive is many things: publishing house, exhibition space, design studio... Tell me: how did you start and how would you define your work?

CHIARA FIGONE: When Archive started, in 2009, we intended to launch a journal which would focus on artists using archives in their practices. Hence the name Archive Journal. Almost immediately, however, we realized that we were dealing with topics which would require the expansion of our publishing activity beyond the journal, and we started producing artists’ books as well as experimenting with other formats.

    Archive Kabinett in Dieffenbachstraße, 
    Berlin-Kreuzberg, 2009
We consider artists’ books as a space of autonomy for artists. We are particularly interested in artists taking up the role of editors in order to assemble contents relevant to their research. So, artists also play a vital role in shaping Archive, as they work with and on content often differently than authors or academics do, especially in the relationship between text and image.
In addition, we publish anthologies and readers on a broad range of topics which nevertheless still revolve around notions of archives, as well as around the practice of film-making. Video as a medium has long been a central preoccupation of ours, and this preoccupation has also had wide-ranging impact on the way we produce books. As a medium, video has a unique relationship with time which needs to be reflected upon and addressed in the process of publishing a book. This not only means that books dealing with video need to interact with the experience of time imparted by the work itself – be it by reflecting it, explicitly calling it to attention or contrasting it through the experience of time imparted by reading the book – but also to address how the production of video work as a process leads to a different relationship with the book. Often, we address the impossibility of integrating the work itself into the book by integrating a lot of the materials artists collect and produce during the research phase of their work, which then become integral parts of the book’s content, and adds another dimension to how the artwork itself is understood.

Shortly after we founded Archive, we opened our first location in Berlin, on Dieffenbachstrasse. There, Archive became a hybridized space, which served as a bookshop, but also as a library and a space for discussion and sharing, thus playing a very important role by allowing the creation of a network of relationships which have also influenced our editorial line. Quite a few of the books we have published were the result of relationships established through Archive Kabinett. The exhibition space is a more recent development, after moving to Müllerstrasse. A development which has allowed us to further explore the medium of exhibition and present contents across different formats. Archive defines itself through this methodology of working in parallel, organically engaging with the space of the book and the exhibition space.

Archive Müllerstraße, Berlin-Wedding 2017
MS: How do you choose the artists you work with? Do you accept proposals, or do you seek authors based on your own editorial research?

CF: We do both. In some cases, we have contacted artists whose work we consider would be an important addition to our editorial line, but it has also worked the other way around, with artists contacting us because they felt Archive would be able to engage with and present their work in a measured and reflective way. Overall, the most important thing for a publisher is to remain committed to an editorial line, to establish a clear perspective. We thus often seek content which we feel would contribute in broadening and clarifying that perspective. As a publishing house, we not only think of our titles as individual works but also as participating in a broader web of meaning. We choose to publish works not only based on quality, but also on how they will engage with other titles we have published, on whether or not the works will benefit from the conceptual frame Archive provides and, vice versa, whether the title itself will add a layer of nuance to the network of concepts Archive considers its editorial line.

MS: So if I understand correctly, the books you publish are co-edited by the artists and someone from the Archive team... by the way who is Archive, exactly?

CF: I always say “we” because Archive is an extremely fluid group. There are a few people, such as Paolo Caffoni and myself, who have been part of Archive from its inception, people that were based in Berlin only for some years and were instrumental in the making of Archive such as Nicola Guy, people that are with us since many years such as Lilia di Bella, Pia Bolognesi, Alima de Graaf and Annika Turkowski, but also people that started recently and are already making a difference such as Caroline Bourrit, Binta Diaw, Ines Juster, Fatou Kiné Diouf, and Gaia Martino. Broadly, Archive is a collective endeavour: at the moment there are nine of us working at Archive, but that number can fluctuate between two and ten at any given time. To function at its best, Archive would ideally need ten full-time people. This relative instability is partly a consequence of the absence of structural support, as lack of funding can mean we cannot afford having more people working on some projects. We are lucky in that people support us and participate in our activity on a voluntary basis. We wouldn’t be able to afford permanent positions such as Head of Publications or Editor in Chief for the journal.

While this is a situation which has, in a way, been imposed upon us, it must be acknowledged that it is a situation which we have exploited to our advantage: it means that we all participate in all the different facets of Archive, from shipment organization to editorial work, which encourages dialogue and collaboration, an ethos which has informed, and even defined, Archive.

Exhibitions Archive Müllerstraße

MS: You mentioned the issue with lack of structural funding. Let us talk about finances: how do you fund your many activities?

CF: Funding is very difficult, partly because publishing in the art field is a very specific niche which is nevertheless regulated by much broader funding systems and markets. This makes it quite difficult to produce independently – and, in fact, we do not think of or refer to Archive as an “independent” publishing house – because the production of our publications is so tightly conditioned by the broader cultural system, specifically to the public funding system and to private donations. We could say that we are independent from certain systems when we think about what we should publish but on a production level we have to take into acount forms of dependency… To answer your question, finding ways to fund our many activities is a constant exercise in imagination and flexibility: we apply for public funding, prizes and grants, run a design studio, teach at institutions abroad, etc. In practice, it is impossible for us to compartmentalize different projects and practices, so we fundraise for Archive as a whole in order to finance projects and books.  

MS: You successfully completed a crowdfunding campaign last summer.

CF: Yes. It was our first, and probably last, crowdfunding campaign. Despite thinking it is an interesting model, we don’t consider it a sustainable fundraising solution. In terms of financial sustainability and independence, there are a lot of expenses that we cannot crowd-fund. A great example is running costs: as a publishing house, we were unable to write applications to cover rent, electricity, telephone bills, etc. Every publication needed to have its own funding, which is devoted specifically to it by the funding body. Running an exhibition space certainly allowed us to apply for different types of funding.

Last year, for example, Archive was one of the recipients of the Berlin project spaces award, which takes into account running costs, which rarely happens. This 30.000 Euro grant gave us the opportunity to focus on the program and, crucially, allowed us to develop a sustainable ecology between our publications and our exhibitions.

Unfortunately, this is not a grant that one can receive every year, which means that this year we couldn’t count on receiving comparable funding. This can actually become quite detrimental to our activities, because it means some of our attention is diverted towards funding applications and deadlines which is a much more exhausting process than one would expect. It is a vicious cycle in a way, because we lack the funds to ask for funds properly and efficiently, that is, to hire someone who would be uniquely devoted to writing grant applications…

MS: Ideally, in your opinion, how should or could the funding of small-scale publishing houses work? Do you have a vision?

CF: Firstly, small-scale publishing houses deal with the same issues the entirety of the publishing field deals with: scarcity and precarity of bookshops partially due to new online businesses, the decreasing popularity of print media despite increases in number of books being published, the lack of financial margin to deal with high costs of printing and shipment… In the cycle life of any book, there are obstacles at every turn.

These problems are exacerbated in small-scale publishing houses such as Archive because we cannot work with larger distributors due to the fact that we produce books which not only belong to a very specific niche, but also produce them in relatively small quantities. Additionally, online platforms such as Amazon has proven not to be very effective for publishing houses of our size, and, most importantly, selling through them provokes dissonances because, from an ethical perspective, Amazon’s system is not one we wish to support.

Finally, there are other difficulties tied to the fact that Archive publishes art books. From a practical perspective, publishing art books involves costs that one simply does not have to deal with when it comes to plain anthologies and text-based books. Beyond that, there is a lack of understanding of what publishing in the field of contemporary art actually is. It is not a for-profit business. It cannot be. On this last point, there has been some positive developments, notably with Berlin establishing a new award for publishers based in the city.

We think there are ways in which this situation can improve, however. Bookshops still seem like the best platform for publishers like us, as they provide a context in which each publication’s meaning is enriched by its proximity with other publications. Bookshops also allow for relationships between public and publications to form in a way that cannot be replicated online; many bookshops are also functioning as cultural places, hosting events and readings and thereby helping the contents in finding readership.

Ideally, small-scale publishers would work more collaboratively and function like networks or cooperatives do: sharing costs, resources, know-how, applying jointly for funding. We could share storage space, support distributors and people who would deal with funding for all members of the network. This seems like it would be a positive development, but there is no way to know if it would really work like that, especially considering the publishing field seems inexorably competitive…
It could also be interesting to see more cooperation, or at least exchange, between the academic and art worlds. Academic publishing has managed to achieve a kind of sustainability that the “independent” art publishing context lacks, but art books tend to circulate more outside of the boundaries of their own sector in a way that academic publications do not. More interaction along these lines seems to me like it would be mutually beneficial.

Berlin, October 2018

Marina Sorbello im Gespräch mit Andreas Koch, von hundert, Berlin

 Barbara Buchmaier and Andreas Koch at „based in berlin“ with a special "based in berlin" edition.

Marina Sorbello: von hundert ist ein Magazin, das in einer numerierten Auflage zweimal im Jahr erscheint. Insgesamt druckt ihr inklusive der Autoren und Freiexemplare nur 200 Stück. Ihr seid quasi von anfang an bei Friends with Books dabei und das Magazin ist ein interessantes Beispiel wie man mit den Möglichkeiten und auch den Grenzen im Self-Publishing Bereich arbeiten kann. Mich interessiert zuerst wie von hundertgestartet ist.

Andreas Koch: 2006 hatte ich die Idee eine kleine, aber kritische Zeitschrift zu gründen. Zu der Zeit gab es so etwas nicht in Berlin. Zwei Jahre zuvor hatte ich die Galerie (Koch und Kesslau) geschlossen und hatte neben meinen Tätigkeiten als Künstler und Grafiker, die mich immer begleiten, Kapazitäten frei. Es fehlte so etwas wie ein kritisches Modul. Ich hatte schon in den 1990ern für die Stadtzeitung scheinschlageine Kolumne geschrieben, außerdem ein bisschen für die Spike oder auch die Obdachlosenzeitungmotz. Damals teilte ich mir mein Büro mit Kito Nedo und wir veranstalteten im Sommer 2006 einen Workshop. Da waren Künstler und Kritiker dabei und wir kamen zu keinem richtigen Ergebnis, wozu ein Heft gut sein sollte. Kito und ich blieben übrig, Raimar Stange machte latenten Druck von außen und wir starteten mit einem reinen Review-Heft. Wir versammelten eine erste Redaktionsrunde, die dann als Gründungsredaktion noch lange im Impressum sichtbar blieb. Wir hatten jungen und ältere Autoren, Thomas Wulffen, Raimar Stange, Astrid Mania waren am Anfang dabei... Melanie Franke, meine jetzige Redaktions- und Herausgeberkollegin Barbara Buchmaier, oder auch Timo Feldhaus schrieben schon in der zweiten Ausgabe. Durch die kritische Prägung, aber auch durch die finanzielle Situation des Magazins haben sich mit der Zeit einige der Anfangsmitstreiter von der von hundertdistanziert, auch Kito Nedo hörte nach vier Ausgaben auf. Seit ungefähr acht Jahren gibt es in der Mitte des Heftes einen Themenschwerpunkt.

MS: Durch deine verschiedenen Berufe als Grafiker und Künstler, bist du nicht finanziell von von hundertabhängig...

AK: Mir war aber wichtig, dass das Magazin eine kritische und finanziell unabhängige Stimme bleibt, deswegen gibt es keine Anzeigen. Das Geheimnis ist, es gibt keine Finanzierung. Das wenige Geld kommt durch den Verkauf herein. Vielleicht lege ich noch ein, zwei hundert Euro mit drauf... Als Kosten haben wir nur den Druck (ca. 800 Euro) ansonsten, und das ist der kritische Punkt, wird niemand bezahlt. Manche sagen, wir unterlaufen damit Autorenmarkt … dass wir die Honorare kaputtmachen. Professionelle Schreiber sagen oft, sie schrieben aus Prinzip nicht ohne Geld …

MS: Was ist deine Haltung dazu?

AK: Ich finde die Kritik nicht berechtigt. Würden wir das nicht so machen, würde es von hundertnicht geben. Und damit würde etwas fehlen, finde ich. Ich finde das dieses Modell der “nicht-Finanzierung” manchmal absolut notwendig, auch meine Grafikarbeiten mache ich nicht nur immer für Geld. Meine Kunst erst recht nicht.
Schreiben ist nicht nur eine Dienstleistung, sondern auch ein kritisches Werkzeug. Wir agieren eher als Künstler, die Texte enstehen aus der Lust oder Notwendigkeit sie zu schreiben und von hundertist die geeignete Plattform, sie zu veröffentlichen oder überhaupt erst der Anlass, sie zu schreiben. Wir sind eine Nische, das ist klar. Wir verteilen keine Aufträge und auch in dieser Hinsicht wollten wir Unabhängigkeit fördern... da wir nichts bezahlen, kann ich niemandem sagen, schreib‘ bitte was über dies oder jenes… Klar können wir auch Texte ablehnen, das ist aber selten oder wir arbeiten länger gemeinsam mit dem Autoren an dem Text. Derzeit gibt es nach jeder erschienenen Ausgabe ein Redaktionstreffen, Barbara Buchmaier und ich bilden die Redaktion, zusätzlich mache ich Layout, Grafik und Vertrieb.

MS: Nochmal zum Thema Geld ... Als Autorin bin ich auch auf der Suche nach einem Modell, wie man sich von dieser Dienstleistungsmentalität unabhängig machen kann … Wenn ich den Wert dessen was ich schreibe finanziell bemesse, habe ich schon keine Lust mehr, irgendwas zu schreiben und werde stumm. Vielleicht wäre es, wie Du sagst, ein Weg, dass man die Einkommensquellen diversifiziert und nicht mehr von nur einem System, z.B. dem Kunstbetrieb, abhängig ist.

AK: Die Finanzierung des Kunstsystems ist über weite Teile genauso prekär, wie die des Journalismus. Mangelnde Finanzierung oder Miss-Finanzierung sind die Regel – genau wie auch im Musikbetrieb. Ich kann es mir leisten, für wenig oder kein Geld zu schreiben, da meine Arbeit als Grafikdesigner noch relativ gut bezahlt wird, obwohl ich auch da manchmal Sachen umsonst mache, weil ich Lust dazu habe. Diesen Konflikt gibt es immer. Das Magazin erscheint ungefähr alle sechs Monate, und nach jeder Ausgabe müssen wir wieder Kräfte sammeln.

Zuerst gibt es ein Redaktionstreffen wo die Themen festgelegt werden, danach schicke ich eine E-Mail an den Autorenverteiler, zirka 200 Adressen. Davon sind etwa 30 Autoren aktiv und melden sich. Ein Thema, das wir gerade bearbeiten ist, Kunst und Immobilien, da bleibt es merkwürdig still. Richtig investigativer Journalismus fehlt im Kunstbetrieb, da wird es aber gerade erst interessant, ist allerdings auch mehr Arbeit.

Wir drucken das Magazin digital und jedes Heft ist einzeln nummeriert, wie eine Edition. Dadurch, dass wir digital drucken, können wir auch kleinere Auflagen drucken. Ich wollte nie zu viele Hefte produzieren, weil ich wusste, Kunstmagazine verkaufen sich nicht besonders. Wir haben sechs Buchhandlungen in Berlin und jeder kriegt von mir 3 bis 10 Exemplare. Bei der Release-Party verkaufen wir maximal 50 Hefte. Dann gibt es Abos, ca. 30, und dann verkaufe ich auch hier im Büro ein paar. Manche Ausgaben sind vergriffen und nur online abrufbar.

MS: Ich frage mich, wie du die Zeit für all' das findest!

AK: Und ich bin auch Papa und spiele Golf, unterrichte manchmal... Das Thema Arbeit und Zeit ist übrigens auch ein Schwerpunkt von von hundertgewesen (Nr. 21 vom Juli 2014) … dort haben wir Statistiken veröffentlicht. Bei mir waren es damals es durchschnittlich 60 Stunden Arbeit pro Woche und weniger als sieben Stunden Schlaf… Mittlerweile arbeite ich aber nur noch 40 Stunden. Ich schaue nie Fernsehen, verliere keine Zeit in sozialen Medien... wir wohnen teilweise in eine Kommune mit 20 Erwachsene und 10 Kindern und teilen uns die Aufgaben wie z.B. das Kochen … so koche ich nur einmal die Woche mit zwei anderen Leuten. So macht es Spaß und man entspannt. Obwohl ich viel mache, habe ich eigentlich immer Zeit. Eine Woche hat ja 168 Stunden.

MS: Wie siehst Du den derzeitigen Wachstum bzw. Wandel in der Self-Publishing Branche, insbesondere im Kunstbetrieb?

AK: Wir versuchen uns gerade mit andere Self-Publisher-Mitstreitern zu organisieren und haben gemeinsam die initiative DHL (drucken heften laden) gegründet, dort erscheint die Paper News, ein kleines Informationsblatt.

Wir sind alle so ähnlich wie Projekträume organisiert und arbeiten „selbstausbeuterisch“ – deshalb haben wir uns als Magazin übrigens auch für den Projektraumpreis beworben.
Es gibt keine großen Verdienstmöglichkeiten in dieser Branche für die kleinen Verlage. Übrigens verdienen auch die größeren Verlage nicht an dem Verkauf der Bücher, sondern an dem was ihnen die Galerien, Institutionen und Künstler bezahlen... die Druckindustrie befindet sich in einem großen Wandel und mit den neuen Möglichkeiten des Digitaldrucks kann man auch in kleinere Auflagen Bücher produzieren. Ich finde es aber wichtig, auf Papier zu lesen anstatt auf einem Bildschirm. Es ist eine andere Qualität des Lesens und auch des Finden.

Zum Thema Finanzierung und Mangelfinanzierung der Self-Publishing Branche denke ich mittlerweile, dass es so etwas wie ein Grundeinkommen geben sollte. Oder aber hier speziell, ein ähnliches Modell wie die GEZ, wir brauchen ein Steuersystem, dass diese Branche und den gesamten Journalismus mittragen sollte. Wenn Großkonzerne wie Google, Facebook und Co. Steuern auf ihre Gewinne bezahlen würden, die dann wieder unter den Publizisten verteilt werden, könnte das eine gute Lösung sein, ansonsten wird der kritische und auch der literarische Journalismus aussterben. Die vierte Gewalt fehlt dann, und damit eines der wichtigsten Korrektive.

Berlin, August 2018

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

An Interview with Beatrix Pang of Small Tune Press

Beatrix Pang, founder of Small Tune Press, interviewed by Ingrid Chu, art critic and curator.

Susanne Burner, Vanishing Point: How To Disappear in China Without A Trace | 消失點:如何在中國無跡可尋 

(Revolver, Berlin/Small Tune Press, Hong Kong, 2011)

IC: Why did you start Small Tune Press?

BP: Small Tune Press began with my general interest in all things experimental and not mainstream. I enjoyed reading and collecting comics, magazines, zines, art books, flyers, posters, listening to weird stories, and watching cult movies. I also learned a lot about producing images when I was studying photography, but lacked the knowledge about their presentation and dissemination. So, I got to know many international artists' works through reading their artists' books in the school library, and then wondered if any Hong Kong artists ever published books which could be read by other readers overseas? After that, I co-published the debut issue of a photo magazine called KLACK, and then one year later I started Small Tune Press as a response to create and develop a space for alternative artist publications. Also, so I could give myself the time to gain more knowledge about printing, production, and distribution.

Beatrix Pang's art publication collection; KLACK magazine shown in cabinet 

IC: Why is it important for the imprint to be Hong Kong based?

BP: There are various choices of paper and printing technique support in Hong Kong that makes it a good place in terms of resources and for experimentation. The area where my studio is located in the southern side of Hong Kong Island is called Wong Chuk Hang. It also used to be a printing district from the 1970s to the 1990s in Hong Kong, so where many printing factories were located. After all these years a number of printing houses still remain and run their businesses, as well as paper suppliers. This is a great asset for Small Tune Press to be able to stay in the neighbourhood and have them provide support for artists’ book production.

Small Tune Press studio view

Small Tune Press studio view

IC: I’ve seen Small Tune Press publications in many museums and art bookshops, but you also participate in international art books fairs such as Friends with Books this year. As platforms to share artist books have begun to appear more frequently in Hong Kong and elsewhere, how do you see this developing in terms of opportunities for artists and STP?

BP: It is exciting to see the blossoming of art book fairs everywhere! These definitely provide platforms for many creatives to present and expose their printed works in a rather friendly and autonomous environment. These platforms also become a space to exchange and appreciate books for both authors and readers alike, and in a less conventional environment than say a regular library or a bookstore. 

Collection of Book Fair materials

IC: Online platforms are becoming increasingly popular, but perhaps here more than elsewhere they run the risk of censorship that remains an ongoing concern. What relationship if any do you have to digital publishing? How does this affect your work and your your distribution methods if at all?

BP: Although Small Tune Press doesn't produce electronic publications, the online social media channels have become a powerful tool to promote events and information about the print publications. This allows for different ways to describe and promote the book that in turn gets people to think more imaginatively about the physical book even in the virtual space, and finally triggering the desire to further explore its contents, learn more about its maker, and then ideally purchase the book!

IC: What do you see as the future for independent publishing in Asia?

BP: Independent voices remain restricted and obstructed in many places in Asia under different cultural, social, and political circumstances. However, the people making books still find different ways to experiment, express, and deliver their voices broadly. Resources are still a critical issue to many developing Asian countries as well, especially in terms of printing technology and available materials, not to mention the chances to exhibit and distribute to overseas platforms, such art book fairs like Friends with Books. But the diversity of cultures and languages in Asia means that there are still definitely many possibilities for exchange within and beyond the region that can, and are being developed.

Small Tune Press (STP) is an independent art book and zine publisher founded in 2011 by Beatrix Pang, a visual artist and cultural researcher based in Hong Kong. Committed to providing opportunities for artists and creatives from various backgrounds and disciplines, it produces experimental art books and zines in different subjects and mediums for distribution in small editions. STP has also been featured in a number of international art books fairs, exhibitions, and programmes exploring the possibilities for publishing in generating new knowledge around the recent art of Asia. 

All images courtesy of Small Tune Press.
Ingrid Chu
September 22, 2017

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

4 Fragen an Spector Books

4 Fragen an Spector Books

Jan Wenzel im Gespräch mit Isabel Podeschwa

Art in the Times of Democracy, hrsg. von 
GfzK Leipzig 2015.

Spector Books wurde im Jahr 2001 von Markus Dreßen, Anne König und Jan Wenzel gegründet und hat über die Jahre eine verlegerische Praxis entwickelt, bei der das Zusammenspiel von Bild, Text und Typographie mit konzeptueller Genauigkeit und Erfindungsreichtum Räume für komplexe Inhalte bereitet. Ihre Publikation "Liner Notes" aus dem Jahr 2009 hatte für viele in das Produzieren von Büchern Involvierte Manifestcharakter. 2010 initiierten sie die Messe unabhängiger Verleger in Leipzig mit dem programmatischen Titel "It's a book, it's a stage, it's a public space" und förderten die Idee des Büchermachens jenseits kalkulatorischer und inhaltlicher Kompromisse. Spector Books arbeitet mit vielen Akteuren aus dem Zusammenhang der Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst Leipzig und gibt mittlerweile ca. 50 Publikationen im Jahr heraus, die zu zwei Dritteln außerhalb des deutschsprachigen Raums verkauft werden.

Eure publizistische Praxis ist motiviert vom Interesse an unterschiedlichsten Transformations- und Übersetzungsprozessen: Auf formaler Ebene arbeitet Ihr an einer Auflösung der Linearität des Buches. In Bezug auf künstlerische Arbeiten seid Ihr an der Emanzipation des Buches von seiner repräsentativen Dienerschaft interessiert. Im Prozess der Entwicklung setzt ihr auf ein anderes Verständnis des Zusammenwirkens von Grafikern, Autoren, Künstlern, Verlegern und entzieht diesen Beziehungen die üblichen Hierarchien. Sind das die Mittel, Lebendigkeit herzustellen, die Ihr für das Buch fordert?

Immer wieder haben wir das Büchermachen mit anderen Formen kollektiven ästhetischen Produzierens verglichen: mit dem Theater und dem Film vor allem. Wir verstehen die Arbeit an einem Buch als einen dialogischen Prozess, in dem unterschiedliche Perspektiven, unterschiedliche Erfahrungen und Ansätze zueinander in Beziehung treten. Bei dem sowjetischen Literaturwissenschaftler Michail Bachtin findet sich der Hinweis, dass es falsch sei, Bewusstsein nur im Singular zu verwenden, denn der Erkenntnishorizont weitet sich durch die Verschränkung unterschiedlicher "Bewusstseine". Bachtin arbeitet das an den dialogischen Romanen von Fjodor Michailowitsch Dostojewski heraus. Für uns ist ein Verlag der Ort eines solch dialogischen Produzierens. Und das Buch ist ein Medium, in dem sich ein solcher Arbeitsprozess artikuliert: in seiner Form wird der Aufeinanderprall dieser verschiedenen Perspektiven manifest – ablesbar. Das wäre das, was wir als Lebendigkeit bezeichnen würden.

ie Protagonisten Eurer Publikationen, die Inhalte, bekommen einen sehr würdigen Raum. Bei aller konzeptuellen Strenge ist der Zugang empathisch. Einige Eurer Publikationen stehen im Zusammenhang des Enzyklopädischen oder zeigen eine Affinität zur Tradition des Bilderatlas. Auch wenn das nicht der Fall ist, passt bei Euch zwischen zwei Buchdeckel ziemlich viel Welt.

Liner Notes, hrsg. von Markus Dreßen, Lina Grumm, Anne König, 
Jan Wenzel, Leipzig 2009.

Uns gefällt es, mit der Form des Buches zu arbeiten. Ulises Carrión beschreibt, dass das Buch in einem traditionellen Verständnis als Container fungierte, und das ein neuer Umgang mit dem Medium dort beginnt, wo man es als eine raum-zeitliche Sequenz versteht, eine Folge von Seiten, die zueinander in Beziehung treten. Uns interessiert in der Arbeit immer wieder auch die Frage, wie man das Buch und seine Formen anreichern kann mit Elementen aus anderen Medien. Der Film ist ins Medium Buch eingewandert, die Zeitschriftenkultur des 20. Jahrhunderts hat sich der Formenwelt des Buches eingeprägt und zur Zeit erlebt man, wie die digitale Kultur zu neuen Umgangsweisen mit diesem alten Medium führt. In gewisser Weise ist das Buch also doch ein Container - ein Container, in dem vieles Platz findet.

Hat die Tatsache, dass die Independant Publisher Szene ausgerechnet seit 2009 so boomt mit der Globalisierung und der zu dieser Zeit nochmals enorm gewachsenen Bedeutung des Internets zu tun?

Ja, sicher – das Netz hat andere Öffentlichkeiten geschaffen. Selbst Bücher mit einer winzigen Auflage können heute über das Internet einer kleinen Gemeinde von Enthusiasten bekannt gemacht werden. Hinzu kommen die vielen Messen, die den sozialen Aspekt, der mit dem Büchermachen verbunden ist, in den urbanen Raum zurückbringen – auf den Messen werden Waren getauscht, Erfahrungen, Geschmacksurteile. Das Nebeneinander von hunderten von Buchverlagen ist letztlich auch eine große Performance: die Gesellschaft der Büchermenschen führt sich selbst und ihre Beziehung zum Buch auf. Aber wir sind sicher: ohne das Internet, ohne einen stetigen Informationsfluss über Neuerscheinungen, neue Messen und neue Läden würde es diese Messen, die immer auch ein Fest, eine Entgrenzung darstellen, unmöglich geben.

Ihr habt höchste Ansprüche an Handwerk und praktiziert eine ungeheure formale Präzision. In den 70er Jahren war das bei vielen Akteuren, die vermutlich inhaltlich mit Euch große Übereinstimmungen haben oder gehabt hätten, nicht nur technisch schwieriger, sondern auch verpönt. Was ist seither passiert?

Wenn man Bücher macht, hat man auch eine Verantwortung gegenüber dem Medium. Wir haben oft betont, dass die Artikulation im Medium auch über die Wahl eines Papiers, über ein bestimmtes Format, oder die Art der Bindung möglich ist. Wenn man so denkt, heißt das auch, einen großen Respekt vor der handwerklichen Seite des Buches zu haben: wie ein Buch gemacht ist, ist dann ebenso wichtig, wie das, was in ihm steht. Es ist gut als Verlag Druckereien und Buchbinder zu haben, die einen ähnlichen Qualitätsanspruch wie wir besitzen. Denn Leidenschaft und Eigensinn ist oft auch eine Frage der Genauigkeit und des Differenzierungsvermögens.

Die Meisterhäuser in Dessau, hrsg. von Stiftung Bauhaus 
Dessau, Leipzig/Dessau 2012.

(Das Gespräch wurde im November 2014 geführt.)