Artist Series: Arnaud Desjardin, The Everyday Press (London)
by Sarah Davidson
Anyone interested in high-concept, low-cost collaboration should take note of this upcoming series of events: the second annual ABRRR (Artists’ Books Research Residency) is bringing London-based publisher Arnaud Desjardin to Vancouver this November, where he’ll be working on a number of projects. These include: a residency and artist talk at the Emily Carr University Library, a reading group at READ Books, a show at Unitt/Pitt Projects and a book launch at Satellite Gallery. Please see the end of this post for full event listings.
At home in London, Desjardin runs the publishing company The Everyday Press, which produces collaborative artist books. I asked him about his work as a publisher and his project Re: The Fox (an exhibition on display at Unitt/Pitt). In the following interview, he talks about re-visiting New York in the 1970s, the artist book as ephemera and scripting a dialogue between creator and viewers, among other things.
Project Space: Why did you get involved in publishing?
Arnaud Desjardin: In a way, because I was kind of dissatisfied with the things I saw being produced. The books I wanted to see weren’t there. Many art books produced by institutions and galleries are very purely commercial products, promotional vehicles used to advertise an artist’s work. A lot of art magazines are also completely engaged with the market to the extent that they are sometimes little more than trade magazines in the traditional sense: a way for specialist commercial companies to share news.
I’m a book seller as well. I work for a rare and out of print art bookshop, Marcus Campbell, in London. I specialize in selling rare art documentation and conceptual documentations, and appraisal of all of that material. That is how I came across The Fox, which I found quite interesting as document of the period. There’s such a wealth, richness and diversity in the past of art publishing, which is so interesting to revisit and explore.
PS: Do you see a conflict between selling artist books as precious objects and their original intent for easy distribution?
AD: One of the really vexing problems for artist books, from the beginning, has been distribution. It’s a really interesting problem. It begs the question of how widely distributed they were, and I think they weren’t. They’ve always been a relatively narrow means of making work visible outside of the established channels of validation. If you take the example of Ed Ruscha, you can really see his books as a form of promotional material. People would think of him: “He makes these kind of kooky books, but he’s also a serious painter.” Artist books, in that respect, are always a little bit ambivalent about ideas of distribution, availability or democratization. If you compare the production of artist books to mass-produced books, it’s actually quite a narrow niche. For me those are questions, it’s not like I have an answer.
PS: Why re-issue The Fox? What’s contemporary about that particular publication?
AD: The Fox was a magazine published out of New York in 1975 and 1976. It only ran for three issues. It was involved in conceptual and political art of the time and relates directly to Art & Language in the UK. For me, there is something really resonant today in the viewpoints, intellectual conflicts and voices present in The Fox. At the time there was the aftermath of the oil crises of 1973 going on, and New York was becoming quite a messed up city. What is also reflected in The Fox is the art scene and a sort of post-conceptual crisis, the magazines were quite uncompromising with almost no images. Questions about what it is to make art and for whom, social questions about society and politics, were prevalent then. I guess I’m interested in those radical voices from the past and their attempt at changing things. Those original ambitions and questionings in the The Fox seem to me to have some contemporary relevance.
To do a re-issue partly historicizes the material at hand, and partly attempts to draw some useful things for the contemporary context. The show at Unitt/Pitt is about the re-issuing, but it’s also going to be about scripting some of those debates and ideas present in The Fox and seeing how they pan out in our contemporary situation, forty years later.
PS: It seems like artist books are having a moment—do you think their popularity has anything to do with nostalgia, as in the way people fetishize records?
AD: I also think the idea of the artist book is having a moment. It has kind of ebbed and flowed since the sixties. There’s nostalgia, but I think there’s something more deeply rooted and problematic in the return of “the book.” The digital format is a new form, and it hasn’t proven itself in the duration. There’s a question of how long it lasts or doesn’t last, and there are many issues of corruptibility, integrity of the information, etc., that do not seem to be so prevalent with printed material We’re too beholden to things that are on our screen. Paradoxically, we think they’re here to stay. I think printed matter has a working relationship to that, since it has more of a track record on its ephemerality.
PS: How do your upcoming projects aim to shape the viewing experience?
AD: Re: The Fox is an experiment. I’m interested in scripting, which is related to composition work, taking from things like Fluxus and other movements. I mean scripting in the sense of making a composition that can then be enacted. It’s not about controlling a social group or situation, but more about triggering things that can potentially become an aesthetic experience for participants and spectators alike.
It can be a sort of pitch to other people, like pitching an idea or a story. Alternatively, it can mean specifying things that are beyond a narrative, although there might be a narrative aspect to the work. I think there are a lot of artists today who are very interested in the act of writing as a way to script something that will be enacted by a reader, but that can then lead to various forms of materialization: an image, a film, a painting, an installation, a sculpture—whatever.
PS: Re: The Fox seems to toy with the division between curator and artist. How does that relationship play out in the work?
AD: I don’t think Re: The Fox is interested in that question of the position of the artist versus that of the curator. Those distinctions are essentially historical and institutional. Don’t get me wrong, they are also actual and a reflection of who controls the space of exhibitions, the budgets, etc., but I’m not interested in making a distinction of aesthetic value between what is presented by a curator and what is organized by an artist. Those terms are shortcuts to designate a professional activity, exhibition making, they are not the activity itself.
John Slyce, my collaborator on Re: The Fox, is actually a curator and a writer. He has a historical handle on The Fox and its relation to conceptual art at large, and I have a more contemporary publishing angle on this. He’s interested in eventually putting together a historical show of this material, and for him it’s great to have a form of pre-release that’s maybe a little bit outside the usual frame. For me it’s great to have someone who understand some of the underlying conflicts and position within the magazine.
What we did with The Fox is a sort of bootleg second edition. We digitized the text, which was originally printed on newsprint, and re-typeset it in the original design. It was quite the labour of love, which isn’t necessarily apparent. It tries to be as close to the original as possible, using the desktop printing technologies available today. This means it is inevitably different and new in its material make-up. I wanted to have a form of release that could be self-printed, basically a pdf, produced through desktop technology. For me, legibility of the printed text was paramount. The cheap, 1970s machinery which it was originally printed on is possibly equivalent today to a desktop laser printer. Re: The Fox is not about fetishizing the original by creating a facsimile, but a sort of material emulation of the original all the same.
More information about the events:
Emily Carr University Library | READ Books | Unit/Pitt Projects
ABRRR (Artists’ Books Research Residency)
November 11 to 27, 2013
Artist Talk in the Emily Carr University Library
Tuesday, November 19 at 12:00pm
Re-editions / Reprints / Reissues / Facsimiles / Copies / Versions /
Bootlegs / Pirates… A publishing workshop by Arnaud Desjardin
Nov 13, 18, 20, 25, 27 at 7pm
Workshop at READ Books
to receive further information e-mail [email protected]
Re: The Fox
Arnaud Desjardin and The Everyday Press, with John Slyce
November 15 to December 21, 2013
236 East Pender St, Vancouver
The Book on Books on Artists’ Books (BOBOAB)
Saturday, Nov 23 at 2:30
READ Books at the Satellite Gallery
560 Seymour St, Vancouver