Thursday, 11 December 2014

An Interview with Claudia de la Torre of back bone books

Claudia de la Torre, founder of back bone books, interviewed by Birgit Rieger, art critic.

BR: Can you tell us about the starting point of back bone books? 

CT: back bone books is a self-publishing project which I founded in 2011 as part of my artistic practice. I started it because of the need to publish my own work, which often takes the form of a book. Learning by doing. As Paul Auster writes in a passage from From hand to mouth: “The-work-to-be-done-that-is-done-in-the-process-of-doing-it.”

BR: How would you describe your programme?

CT: Conceptual. I really put emphasis on why is it a book and not another thing. Every decision gives meaning to the book. The printed method, distribution and edition. Some books are unique, while others are printed on demand. I am an artist and not a graphic designer, so my approach to book-making is different, I guess. I make books because of the possibility of movement and intimacy they bring. Books have to be activated, there is a need for a user rather than just an observer. I do everything from scratch. The editing, distribution, conceptualization. In the last year I've been able to collaborate with people I deeply admire. I'd say Back Bone Books makes artist books or books in collaboration with artists.

BR: What is the title you are most proud of? How did you edit it?

CT: Each one of them is special in its own way. Some of them are set and done in one night, while others need patience and a longer "incubation" time. I personally feel attached to Knaurs Lexikon Moderner Kunst, because it is a round book. It is unique and exists as a part of a bigger work. I basically cut-out the information of the original lexicon, and each of the pages became "unique," reminiscent of a Modernist painting. The three-dimensionality of the book as an object is visible though the overlapping of images. Repetition makes the difference evident. I'm proud of the 25 books thus far, and more books are to come.

BR: In your artistic work you often deal with found material, found book pages, found book titles. You have a collection of analog photographs which you re-arrange and present in book form. In the book Headshot for example, you present photographs from your collection with shots from heads. Another book is called Ten (unknown) gasoline stations. Where does your interest in found material come from?

CT: If I simplify things, I have a love for collections and rearrangements from my father. He has a very large collection of stamps and bills, and we used to spend hours together arranging and rearranging it. I feel like a DJ, sampling from every place just to do my own mix. In the act of putting things back together one can re-imagine them and be surprised by unexpected juxtapositions that bring new meanings. Headshot shots just came from my collection, while Ten (unknown) gasoline stations images come from a website with a purpose of getting information about things people upload.

BRYou also seem to have an obsession for encyclopediae and lexica. For Farbnamenlexikon  you took a colour lexicon edited in Germany in 1950, chose 50 descriptions found in the book, and combined them with 50 images from your photo archive. You also worked with Knaurs Lexikon Moderner Kunst and an encyclopedia for birds. Why lexica?

CT: A lexica as well as an encyclopedia–are books with a goal to organize information by means of language. What stays in? What is left outside? How is the world edited? – I'm interested in those kind of questions. I mean, how to order colour without the use of descriptions?

BRThe book itself is in deep crisis. Do you think the future of the artist book is digital? Would digital versions be an option for your own production?

CT: I don’t think the book is in a deep crisis. I actually think that digital versions are just one more option, though screen will never beat paper. I'm actually at this time working on a book by the name of Books you cannot read on a Kindle.
"The car is faster than the bicycle," said Eco, "but cars have not made bicycles obsolete and no new technological improvement can make a bicycle better than it was before. The idea that a new technology abolishes a previous role is much too simplistic."

BR: You live and work in Berlin and Mexico City. How do you divide your time between the two places?

CT: As an artist I'm pretty much flexible. So ideally, in summer I'm in Berlin and when it gets bitter cold I go to Mexico.

BRLet’s talk about the interaction with an artist book. Are your books made for viewing, a new reading experience, collecting? What is the experience that you want to achieve?

CT: I want the books to be activated, to get dirty, get lost and found again. No gloves, please!

BRWhat are you bringing to Friends with Books: Art Book Fair Berlin?

CT: I am bringing three new titles. I'm very excited about them! Point Break, which is a collaboration with the graphic designer Maxime Gambus. A book printed in Riso that you have to tear apart to create waves given by the white of the paper. Zieglergasse 26/19, which is back bone books’ first newspaper publication, containing photographs that Samantha Bohatsch took while living for some time in Vienna. I will also bring Blind Booking which is a fold-out poster book made in collaboration with  Robert Hamacher. We went on a blind booking trip, ended up in Sardinia and discovered a new territory by getting lost, just as Christopher Columbus did.

BRYou also do an intervention at the fair. What will it be about?

CT: It is a satellite work derived from a book I did for the exhibition The Liberated Page, which is now on view in Geneva. It is a site-specific work using Café Moskau’s atrium courtyard windows. It takes its starting point with the window being viewed as a white page, and the space is connected with footnotes extracted from diverse books as a medium.

Claudia de la Torre is an artist born in Mexico City, she studied at State Academy of Fine Arts Karlsruhe and runs the independent publishing house Back Bone Books.

December 8, 2014
Birgit Rieger