The home of Perro Verlag on Mayne Island, British Columbia
Jo Cook: Each Book I Make Surprises Me, Too
by Chelsea Rooney
Jo Cook is an artist, writer and curator living on Mayne Island, British Columbia. In 2005, she founded Perro Verlag Books by Artists, a press that recognizes the importance of unstable thoughts and impractical, possibly visionary intentions. Cook will be exhibiting at the 2013 Vancouver Art/Book Fair on behalf of Perro Verlag.
In 1969 Jo Cook moved her family from the USA to Vancouver in protest of the Vietnam War. They knew very little about the country, “other than Canada was a safe haven for young anti-war activists.”
A haven for liberals in general, perhaps. After all, 1969 was the year Vancouver hired its first black police officer. The year Greenpeace International began to stir in BC. The year Canada decriminalized homosexuality.
Cook entered the world of the self-run press through The Pedestal, a women’s liberation newspaper produced by the Vancouver Women’s Caucus. “These were very energetic times,” Cook says. Politically? Sure. But what she recalls most vividly is the technology.
“We produced The Pedestal using the typesetting equipment at SFU’s Peak office on the weekends…we took the strips of text and pasted them down on the layout sheets with wax. These sheets were then delivered to Press Gang publishers in the 800 block of East Hastings. There, they photographed the pages and used the negatives to burn the plates for printing using an offset press.
“I was not a brilliant press operator but I loved the process, the smell of the ink and the ability to experiment…Press Gang’s whole purpose was to print flyers, posters and newsletters for community groups. There were Trotskyists, Maoists, members of the CPCML and Feminists.
“I cut my teeth on every aspect of printing and publishing in the years I was involved with The Pedestal and Press Gang. I produced drawings and wrote articles, took photographs and learned about type. I learned how to mask negatives, burn plates and how to adjust the air and water on an offset press.”
Cook’s love for printing survived political fracture, hippie disillusionment and the Cold War when, in 1991, she produced her first official artist book from her new home on Mayne Island. “The Wolf Spider was a frightening creature who had become part of my new life. I took the drawings, writings and dreams about spiders that I’d been keeping in a notebook and photocopied the pages.”
Since then, her work continues to chronicle that which haunts, taunts and surprises. In her feminist science fiction story Incidents at Glava Orn (2011), Cook’s prints and drawings of alien star charts and incarnate entities read like a transcendental fever journal. In HGFED.JANvr (2012), early astronomical, astrological and alchemical treatises produce “mixed-up oneiric diagrams that float in and out of recognizable representation.”
She publishes these books in Perro Verlag‘s studio using a Chandler and Price platen press, the sort used by Virginia and Leonard Woolf for their publications at Hogarth House.
“I like that each book is a surprise to me too when it’s finished. The energy comes from the excitement in what it is possible to learn and do. There have been total failures…even gross mistakes. Embarrassments. Books that never make it to print.” For Cook, these creative accidents do not impede the process. They complete it.
“Perro Verlag has always been a fiercely independent press. We have never received any federal or provincial arts funding. We are always short of funds and in debt. But the upside to this is that we do not have to justify what we do to anyone but ourselves.”
Top: Photo via Perro Verlag website