Detail view from Slade’s 2012 exhibition It was a strange apartment; full of books…

Kathy Slade: It’s Kind of a Book Already


by Chelsea Rooney


Kathy Slade is a Vancouver-based artist, writer and editor. She directs READ books at the Charles H. Scott Gallery in Vancouver and is the founding editor of Emily Carr University Press—all of which will be exhibitors at VA/BF 2013. Together with partner Keith Higgins, she runs Publication Studio Vancouver.


Vancouver, British Columbia, 1989. A big year in books and publication for our little city.


First, a busted sprinkler system at the old main library on Robson and Burrard dowses 200,000 rare books and periodicals. Our mayor, Gordon Campbell, promises a new, updated central branch.


Adbusters Quarterly launches after founders Kalle Lasn and Bill Schmalz spend a year in disputes with the logging industry and the CBC. Greenwashing and censorship push the men to create a magazine assuring consumers the same access to information as corporations.


Evelyn Lau publishes her first book, Runaway: diary of a street kid, at the age of eighteen. The book gains international recognition and translation into twelve languages.


And Kathy Slade exhibits her first show, Deliberate Transgressions, at Artspeak, further cementing Vancouver’s firm tradition of artist and poet collaborations.


Since 1989, Slade has produced prolifically. She makes books, edits a press and creates art that chips away at our prosaic notions of publication.


When we hear publish, we think book. We think magazine. We think author. Sometimes we even think reader. Within artist publishing, however, publication means something bigger and more exciting: to create a public. This is an idea that drives each of Slade’s editorial, curatorial and personal endeavours.


Her projects pander to the font nerd, the music buff and the art historian in all of us. In 2006, she invited Christoph Keller and Kiosk—his growing archive of over 5,000 artist books and records—to exhibit at the Charles H. Scott Gallery.


The show eschewed vitrines for dozens of tables and comfy couches. Viewers were encouraged to pick up and interact with the art objects. The collection, since purchased by a Berlin art gallery, tries to stretch the possibilities for and definitions of independent art publishing, which Slade reminds us “are not always so clear.”


In conjunction with her work with Kiosk, Slade founded the Emily Carr University Press. Here, she edits and produces The Vancouver Special, a series of artists’ books that expose Vancouver artists to an international audience.


The first book in the series is by Canada’s art superstar Rodney Graham, This is the Only Living I’ve Got (Don’t Take It Away From Me): The Rodney Graham Songbook, which compiles thirty-nine of Graham’s otherwise obscure tunes into sheet music. Slade’s inclusion of Graham in the project shines some limelight onto younger and lesser-known artists.


Another tome, Modern Optical Experiments in Typography: Univers Ultra Light Oblique (1968), is entirely blank save for four words—in the font Univers—on four pages: THINK, FAST, HIP and PIES.


Slade’s own work continues to explore that ambiguous boundary between territory words and territory art. Her latest show, It was a strange apartment, full of books… , a collaboration with Lisa Robertson, is a sort of IRL Pinterest board: a constellation of historical symbols, drawings, diagrams and texts from pop culture, dating from the Renaissance up to today.


The installation recalls Aby Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas, and its homage to high and low society demonstrates how meaning is protean. Place the lyrics of a Beatles song next to Courbet’s L’Origine du monde, and what happens to each?


Slade opted out of producing a traditional jacket-and-leaves book from the exhibition: “We were considering (it) and then thought: why? It kind of already is a book. I am very interested in the idea of publication as an artistic act or an art practice.”



 Top: Kathy Slade & Lisa Robertson, detail view, 2012. Image courtesy of the artists.