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

Wednesday 10 December 2014

An Interview with Helen Douglas of Weproductions

Helen Douglas interviewed by Birgit Rieger, art critic.

Helen Douglas and Telfor Stokes, Chinese Whispers1976

BR: Helen Douglas, you have made bookworks since 1972 and joined Weproductions in 1974. In the early days you and your partner Telfer Stokes produced paperbacks. Could you tell about your starting point?

HD: My own starting point was the investigation of image in relation to book. So for instance, Threads, published in 1974, developed from my exploration of thread threading within and through the book: front and back of the page/s in sequence. It did not involve photograph: I took the physical art work of threaded pages to the printers, who made page scale 1 to 1 line copy and printed offset.

When I began to collaborate with Telfer Stokes, the camera became the means, the vehicle of exploring image and book. It enabled tone and dimension in rendering the image on and illusionistically within the page, as well as constructing the page/s of the book. So for instance in Chinese Whispers the pages of the open spread are constructed as a corner cupboard and this becomes all part of the narrative sequence. What we thought of as happenings: happening in the book. The pea pod opening from the spine with the reader opening the spread, the cabbage pealed to the heart, the fingers leafing each leaf of the book.

BRHas your perception of what a good artist book is changed since then?

HD: Fundamental to my understanding of a good artist book is the concise use of the physical form of the book, its pages, paper and print in the shaping of the conceptual and visual expression of the artist: making something concrete whether as visual narrative and/or as fleeting visual poetics. Over the years the book has continually reinvented itself for my different expressive needs. As well as the codex form, the concertina and related scroll form have opened up possibilities for the shaping of visual narrative. So have the inextricably related areas of print, paper and binding.

Deuchar Mill, Helen Douglas’ home and production place

BR: You have lived and worked in the countryside of Scotland for many years. Can you describe what your home is like?

HD: I live in the Scottish Borders, an area of Scotland traditionally known for sheep farming and wool – woven tweed and knitted – textiles. My home at Deuchar Mill, is in the Yarrow valley, renowned for its ballads and beauty. The hills around are steep, and grazed by sheep. Trees only grow in the gulleys and by the Yarrow River.

Telfer Stokes and I converted Deuchar Mill into a house and studio/workshop in the '70s. In the 1980s/90s we did all our own offset litho printing and pre-press camera work. This summer with much help from Angie and Si Butler, I got the Vandercook letterpress printing again.

Helen Douglas’ workshop

BR: Nature is an important element in your artistic work. To which extend nature influences your way of book making?

HD: It was a choice to live in the countryside. The day to day living with nature all around me inevitably leads me to working with it. I find it wondrous. Out with the camera, I begin to be lead and something begins to grow. Chinese Whispers was the first published book to consciously bring in the spiral growth of nature in its shaping. Clinkscale in its accordian form, opened out to the expansive green field as an arm’s breath from the chest. In many ways this opening out to the open minutely interconnectedness of nature that I experience bodily has influenced how I work with the flow across the page. This way of working has also been inspired by Eastern looking, with their understanding of nature and their painting/hand scroll/book tradition.  

Helen Douglas and Telfor Stokes, Chinese Whispers1976

BR: The book in itself is in deep crisis. Do you think the future of the artist book is digital?

HD: Yes, I do believe the book is in crisis. People say they love books, but nevertheless they are, more and more, buying digital. And that is only going to increase. Industrial printers, the underbelly of book production and publishing are going out of business. Printers will survive and so will books – as a niche specialist market, as a Fine Art. You could argue this is exactly where the world of book meets that of artist book. But when I began to make artist books, exploring the book as physical object and container for the visual we used industrial “non art” means such as offset, perfect binding, in contrast to the livre d’artiste tradition. The books were not conceived as limited editions, but part of the every day – and placed on bookshelves not collectors’ cabinets!

Now times have really changed. The boundaries between artist book and livres d’artiste have gone, traditions are merging and the digital is everywhere, with photography, computer, digital printing, to e digital. And artists working with code have a whole new medium for making art publications. While I can see this potential and would like to explore this further, I do believe my DNA in making is still with books, paper and print. 

BR: Do you still produce hand printed editions at Deuchar Mill? What exactly does this mean – “hand printed”?

HD: When in the late 1970s we set up our own workshop with the Vandercook letter press, offset litho press, and associated prepress dark room we never spoke or wrote about hand printed editions, although we did all the printing. It was our way of taking control of production and producing books in the most economic way we could.

By the late '90s with the digital revolution the computer (rather than dark room) became the means by which to originate, in colour, the manuscript book. In the same period, industrial offset litho printing costs came down (because of digital competition) and it was possible to print industrially once more.

However with industrial printing choices of paper began to become restricted –  if I wanted to keep prices affordable – and I began to want more variety of paper, acknowledging also that the whole field of book publishing and artist books was shifting to an overt emphasis on the textural hand held feel of the book. In 2006 I began to experiment with making small digital archival ink jet printed editions in my studio, using fine light papers – unimaginable with offset – such as Chinese Xuan paper and Japanese Toshu. I conceived as these books as hand printed limited edition books, which is exactly what they are. I’m involved in every part of their making. The beauty of making these books, is I can make more experimental books without huge cost because I’m not producing a 1000 copies. The downside of all this is they are labour intensive to make and therefore more expensive to those who want to buy my work.    

BR: You do produce your own books and you collaborate with other artists. With whom do you work? 

HD: I collaborated with Telfer Stokes for many years. This was an artistic collaboration of the deepest kind sparked by a shared visual and conceptual sympathy. I collaborated with the sound artist Zoe Irvine on Illiers Combray, a joint collaboration in that we spent time together when gathering material, but we then worked completely independently making our respective work, me the book, Zoe the sound CDs for the whole. My collaboration with writers has tended to happen later in the process of making. Marina Warner/A Venetian Brocade and Rebecca Solnit/Unravelling the Ripple. In both cases the writers were approached with my visual idea and much of the book fully formed. In this way they have worked to the visual concept, rather than the visual working to the text. 

BR: Do you collect artist books yourself? How do you interact with artist books? Store them? Use them?

HD: In the early days artists used to send each other books all the time, by post. So quite a collection has built up over years. I also used to buy artist books at book fairs, books I liked, books with a quality of something I wanted to know more about and perhaps achieve in my own work. Recently at fairs there is such a huge tidal sea of tables and books, I honestly feel rather overwhelmed. And don’t buy as much as I used to. I keep my artist books on a bookshelf and look at them, like I would a book.

Helen Douglas, In Mexico in the Garden of Edward James, 2014

BR: What will you bring to Friends with Books: Art Book Fair Berlin?

HD: I will bring a range of Weproductions books that are still in print, as well as current recent work, also my new book In Mexico in the Garden of Edward James. I spent seven days exploring the fantastical, surreal Edward James’ Garden Las Posaz at Xilitla.

I don’t show scrolls at book fairs, for although related to my books they are too fragile and need more space. I like to show the span of my work, as often younger people, have no idea of the early books or the thinking that went into making them. Sometimes my stand can become a bit confusing because of different periods of books and different qualities of their making. But I stand behind them and I enjoy seeing what people are drawn to and what they might like to buy. I can learn a lot from just watching people looking at and handling my books. And I enjoy the conversations that can ensue in showing my work.

Helen Douglas is an artist and publisher based in Scotland and practicing since the 1970s, renowned for her poetic visual narratives.

December 7, 2014
Birgit Rieger

Monday 1 December 2014

Fünf Fragen an Céline Duval

Als Du anfingst mit Fotografien und Postkarten zu arbeiten, wusstest Du da schon, dass Du daraus eine verlegerische Tätigkeit entwickeln würdest, dass das Deine künstlerische Praxis werden würde?

Ich habe 1997 angefangen, Bilder zu sammeln, Bilder von Flohmärkten und aus Zeitschriften. Dieses Konvolut wurde dann zum Ausgangsmaterial meiner Bücher. So eine Sammlung anzulegen, war eine Entscheidung, die ich schon während des Studiums an der Kunsthochschule in Nantes getroffen habe, bei dem ich mit verschiedenen Umgangsweisen mit der Fotografie experimentierte. Ich habe dann sehr bald gedacht, dass das Verlegen das geeignete Mittel sein würde, verschiedene Ikonografien zu zeigen. Damals wusste ich nicht so recht, wie ich das anstellen sollte und ich brauchte Zeit, um mit Hilfe der Bilder die Welt zu entdecken. Ich habe dann gemerkt, dass die Bilder, die von den Menschen gemacht werden, ihren Inhalt schon mitbringen. Es reicht, sie anzusehen und dann entsprechend zu kombinieren, der Schnitt ist das Entscheidende, wie im Kino.

Coeur, point et ligne sur plan, 2013

Kanntest Du zu diesem Zeitpunkt den Bilderatlas „Mnemosyne“ von Aby Warburg?

Ich hatte damals noch nie von Aby Warburg gehört. 2001 dann hat mich dann Pierre Leguillon auf Warburgs Projekt hingewiesen, dass in Frankreich Dank der Publikation von Philippe-Alain Michaud „Aby Warburg et l’image en mouvement“ zugänglich wurde. Er sagte, dass ich eine Erbin seiner Vorgehensweise wäre, aber damals habe ich die Tragweite seines Projektes noch nicht begriffen, vor allem was das für die Kunstgeschichte bedeutete. Ich fühlte mich der Arbeit von Hans-Peter Feldmann näher, mit dem ich damals auch zusammengearbeitet habe.

Du bist eine Bilderretterin, Du bietest Bildern  familiären Anschluss, stellst sie in formale Zusammenhänge, auch über „Generationen“ hinweg. Du entwickelst oft unerwartbare Typologien, mal sind die Bezüge sehr direkt, manchmal eher assoziativ. Deine Haltung zu den Bildern wirkt weniger enthüllend als empathisch. Wenn Du Stereotypen aufzeigst – selten auch Abgründe -, dann passiert das nicht in einer denunzierenden Weise, sondern eher in einer Geste der Zuneigung. Meistens verbreiten Deine Bilder gute Laune. Ist der Titel einer Deiner Publikationen „Reculer pour mieux aimer“(„Distanz gewinnen, um besser lieben zu können“) übertragbar auf Deine Arbeitsweise?

Das ist alles sehr subjektiv und der Blickwinkel verändert sich ständig. Mein Vorgehen könnte insgesamt eher mit „Distanz gewinnen um besser zu verstehen“ beschrieben werden. Ich glaube es ist genau andersherum als Du es sagst: Je mehr Abstand ich gewinne, desto deutlicher lege ich die Mechanismen der Schaulust frei, die uns beherrschen und desto mehr beginne ich die Bilder zu verachten. Ich glaube, dass diese Ambivalenz in der Videoserie "Les Allumeuses, 1998-2011" deutlich wird, in der die gedruckten Bilder aus Zeitschriften in ihrer Materialität verschwinden und nur der Schnitt der Bilder in ihrer Abfolge sichtbar bleibt, weil sie mit der Videokamera gefilmt wurden. Ich versuche in meiner Arbeit vor allem zu verstehen, warum es uns dazu drängt, so viele Bilder zu produzieren.

La Stratigraphie des images, 2014

Du hast angefangen, über Deine Publikationen hinaus, Ausstellungen zu machen und bedienst Dich dabei unterschiedlicher Präsentationsformen. Wirst Du weiterhin auf Papier arbeiten, Hefte und Bildsammlungen herausgeben?

Ja, ich habe übrigens seit September dieses Jahres drei neue Publikationen abgeschlossen und drei neue sind 2013 entstanden. Ich habe nur keine Zeit für Kommunikation und Vertrieb. Daher bin ich froh, dass ich in diesem Jahr bei „Friends with books“ in Berlin dabei sein kann. Das Papier bleibt mein bevorzugtes Medium, das Buch ist ein intimer Raum, mit dem die Hand einen unmittelbaren Kontakt herstellt. Es ist wichtig, dass wir nicht den direkten Kontakt zu unserem Körper verlieren.

Eine letzte Frage: Machen Dich die Bilder, die bisher nicht zu Dir gefunden haben  und die Tatsache, dass die Anzahl der Bilder, die produziert und verbreitet werden rasant zunimmt nervös?

Dieser morbide Drang, mit dem Smartphone alles festzuhalten ohne darüber nachzudenken - diese Welt der Bilder ist schwindelerregend und widert mich an. Ich kann selbst gar nicht mehr fotografieren. Ich habe, glaube ich, überhaupt keine Freude mehr an Bildern. Wir verlieren uns in dieser nicht enden wollenden Bilderflut, die nur das immer Gleiche mit sich bringt.

November 27, 2014
Isabel Podeschwa