Reading Mark Manders Traducing Ruddle – one of a series of publications and installations by the artist involved with the idea of “fake newspapers” – got VerySmallKitchen thinking more broadly about the genre of the artists newspaper, how it appropriates the newspaper form – its shape and paper, its implications about distribution. What happens to the form when artists use it? As Kathleen Ritter observes in an article on Ruddle for Fillip 12:
Exactly how does one read Manders’s fake newspaper? It is not something to be read from beginning to end. It is not to be studied or cited. It is not to be gleaned for pertinent and timely information as one might normally read the daily paper. Rather, this object suggests a kind of meta-reading, that one reads while consciously critical of the act of reading itself. I would argue that Manders’s work is about the very activity of reading and, in this case, how such activities are articulated and performed in public.
For Ritter the history of the newspaper is a history of changes in reading practices: the where and how of reading.
The performance of reading has changed over time; indeed, reading has a history. In the eighteenth century in particular, the increased consumption of reading materials was considered key to many social and political developments in Europe. Some historians have argued for the existence of a “reading revolution,” pointing out that until the mid-eighteenth century reading was performed “intensively,” in that people would own a small number of books and read them repeatedly, often for a small audience.
After this point, people began to read “extensively,” going through as many books as possible and increasingly reading alone. During this period, Europe saw a proliferation of libraries, coffee houses, salons, and other spaces designed to accommodate the new practice of reading.
It was during this era that newspapers began to proliferate as well.
Thinking of Manders’ project – both its printed form and its use to block up empty shop fronts in Window with Fake Newspapers– I think about the artists newspaper as a ghostly parallel of the original newspaper and its bold claims to public space, occupation of the everyday and all pervasive distribution. Hoping to find a new function, a new kind of news and immediacy and public space, that, as Mander’s project observes, comes from an embrace of varieties of irrelevance,redundancy, and invisibility.
This post is a brief survey of artists newspapers encountered through my own research. The focus of this article largely ignores artists who actually use “real” newspapers – such as Kenneth Goldsmiths transcriptions of The New York Times in Day; Dieter Roths bulk newspaper bindings in his own Collected Works; or Gustav Metzger’s pile of Evening Standards at his recent Serpentine retrospective. Although these obviously help dilineate a broader field of artist-newspaper fascination.
One brief note: a sign at the Serpentine asked visitors to consult an invigilator if they wished to look at the newspapers. Surely, engagement with newspapers has to embrace the brief life of the form – sitting uncomfortably with artists careers, or even the duration of an exhibition – one reason why I was so delighted that YH485’s *periphery newspaper – to which I was a contributer – had a second life as chip paper in the fish and chip shops of Great Yarmouth.
One other project to bring into mind: in the catalogue for Every Day is a Good Day: The Visual Art of John Cage, Cages assistant Laura Kuhn tells the story of how, when Cage was writing his Norton lectures, Merce Cunningham suggested that to make the lectures more contemporary he should take material from each days New York Times. Cage is delighted, but Kuhn arrives one day to find him in tears and pointing at an article about “crack babies.” Kuhn observes how Cage seemed to be totally thrown to discover such a thing existed and she writes:
I began to wonder whether what we might reasonably call the weights of the world ,and I would include crack babies in this category, were unusually heavy on him. That letting them in, so to speak, engaging with them, on any level, paralysed him, making him question the viability of his work as an artist, making him wonder whether his work wasn’t in some very real sense futile.
It’s a useful story to ponder when considering artists newspapers, and how many of them relate to that tumult of experience that defines the form.
Finally, by means of introduction, its curious to note how Ulises Carrión writes about newspapers in his 1980 essay BOOKWORKS REVISTED (recently reprinted in facsimile as part of James Langon ed. BOOK, Eastside Projects, 2010). For Carrión it is the newspaper form that moves the traditional book both towards Carrión’s notion of a time-space sequence, the complexity of the everyday environment, and a form informed by histories of visual art, notably cubism (which, as he observes, often incorporated newspapers):
When compared to a book page, the newspaper page offers quite a contrast. More movement, more vivacity, even some messiness. You can start reading on different points of the page. Every column can be written by a different individual. Texts can be printed in a variety of types, with or without illustrations.
All this means a more sophisticated use of the printed surface, and reflects the great complexity of the external world that the newspaper is intended to reflect as compared to the univocal point of view a book page offers.
The difference between these two kinds of pages has been compared with that between Cubist and pre-Cubist painting… The newspaper is also apprehended sequentially, therefore it’s a spatial and temporal structure. In contrast to the book, it offers a plurality of points of view that’s expressed in a varied, vibrating typography.
So some projects: Eleanor Vonne Brown’s The Newpaper, with tongue in cheek , sees the artists appropriation of the form as a shift from “news” to “new.” Or “new” is what passes for “news.” In an interview for The Self-Publishing issue 10 of the Korean publication GRAPHIC Brown describes the theme as “that tradition is only repetition” and observes of the process:
The Newpaper is a newspaper about the work of artists and writers who use the language, visuals or structure of newspapers in their work….. it’s very much sitting for hours in an empty room emailing people from around the world. I spend a lot of time conceptualizing The Newpaper and because the subject matter (work about newspapers) is the same as the project (a newspaper about newspapers) I have met a lot of people through it with who I have a lot of shared interests…. I am planning to start work on a Local Newpaper in the autumn. It will use the themes of a local paper and I hope to create an open access newsroom to produce it from (to get out of the empty room!)
Brown’s remarks highlight the different varieties of the newspaper form (local/ national/ special interest) and also the particular environments of its production (the newsroom) which the artist also appropriates in new (more solitary?) ways.
Brown has recently collaborated with Michalis Pichler on the Newspaper Research & Reading Room. The project is described as “gathering conceptual publications and/or artpieces that use form or content of newspapers.”
The Reading Room includes Chto Delat who, amongst the long list of artists involved, have made one of the most sustained engagements with the newspaper form. All their newspapers can be seen in full here (throughout Sep-Oct Chto Delat are in residence at the ICA in London). Chto Delat define their newspaper work as follows:
Each newspaper addresses a theme or problem central to the search for new political subjectivities, and their impact on art, activism, philosophy, and cultural theory. So far, the rubrics and sections of the paper have followed a free format, depending on theme at hand. There are no exhibition reviews. The focus is on the local Russian situation, which the newspaper tries to link to a broader international context. Contributors include artists, art theorists, philosophers, activists, and writers from Russia, Western Europe and the United States.
1 NOVEMBER 2009 — Recently described as “wheat paste,” DEXTER SINISTER are set to produce a newspaper twice a week for three weeks this fall under the umbrella of PERFORMA 09, New York’s well-regarded bi-annual festival of performance art.
Together with a hastily assembled staff of international writers and photographers, the Lower East Side “pamphleteers” will occupy a disused, street-level space in New York’s Port Authority bus terminal on the corner of 8th Avenue and 41st Street, directly opposite the new New York Times building. According to sources close to Sinister, The First/Last Newspaper (TF/LN) will be “as much about the current state of news media as anything else.”
…In Sinister’s own characteristically melodramatic words: “You don’t want to start quantifying things or you’re dead.”
Dexter Sinister’s self conscious (mock-) blurb offers a useful summary of how the artists newspaper is often equated to political pamphleteering. It explains why publications such as Variant also adopt a tabloid format, distributed for free in galleries (as, too, it explains why the newspaper should be so popular in an age of Seth Price’s DISPERSION and other projects foregrounding the distribution part of the writing/ publishing process – and the PDF as the artists newspaper 2010 could be the subject of another post).
NOTE: It’s noticeable, too, that in The Artist Publisher, Coracle Press’ 1986 exhibition/ survey catalogue for the Crafts Council Gallery, the section on “Alternative Newspapers” has a much more counter-culture, alternative lifestyle, radical politics tone than any of the other sections. Titles include the Haight-Ashbury Tribune, Free City, and The International Times.
What is also interesting about Dexter Sinister’s project is that it preserves what they call the “mosaic” quality of the newspaper format whilst several examples here – such as YH485’s *Periphery – adopt the newspapers form but in a very much ordered and tided up way, reconfiguring it as a series of artists pages. But as Dexter sinister observe:
In other words, and this amounts to an aesthetic system, the only meaningful way in which art can speak of man and his world is by organizing forms in a particular way and not by making pronouncements with them. Form must not be a vehicle of thought: it must be a way of thinking. . . . Here I must repeat that the newspaper, from its beginnings, has tended not to the book form, but to the mosaic or participational form. With the speed-up of printing and news-gathering, this mosaic form has been a dominant aspect of human association; for the mosaic form means, not a detached “point of view,” but participation in process. . . . No real news followed for 14 years.
For financial and aesthetic reasons, newspapers seem to be finding much popularity in exhibition contexts. The New Museum in New York are just about to launch their exhibition The Last Newspaper. If the title suggests a sense of requiem, then its press release reconstitutes the newspaper as the site where Borges’ Library of Babel meets Relational Aesthetics, and the newspaper acquires status as potent cultural figure:
Conceived in response to pronouncements of the daily newspaper’s demise as a tangible record of events, “The Last Newspaper” investigates what is possibly lost and what might be gained in a world where an avalanche of interpretation compromises the increasingly vulnerable privileging of facts.
“The Last Newspaper” is a multi-platform, multimedia laboratory inhabiting an art-filled landscape surrounding an architecturally innovative office… These research and reportage-based activities will be surrounded by artworks including photography, collage, sculpture, and installation. These works reflect newspapers’ infinite permutations and possibilities while critiquing their complicity with dominant ideologies.
The catalogue full the show will the collated weekly newspapers, produced by Latitudes under the title THE LAST POST/ THE LAST GAZETTE/ THE LAST REGISTER…
Reading all this can also give VerySmallKitchen a desire to reclaim something of the printed newspapers anachronistic awkwardness, the unwieldy as opposed to its now usually tabloid-shrunken format, its refusal to be neatly page turned, to stay confined to a single persons space on a train or bus… artists newspapers like the London Metro and Lite that now seem like a gone tabloid blizzard blowing through the London underground…
It also makes me wonder about the newspaper as methodology, as practice, whether there is some other way of unfolding it as spatial practice?
Coming closer to home, my own engagement with artists newspapers began with an article I wrote for FUTURE VISIONS OF HISTORY, an artists’ newspaper curated by Daniel Simpkins and Penny Whitehead/ OPEN EYE PROJECTS.
As the editors observe:
On the Long Night of the Liverpool Biennial a group of artists and art students assisted me in gate-crashing the Capital of Culture party, disseminating alternative view points to the hegemonic art and literature so profuse on the streets of the city throughout Liverpool08. This one-off, free publication explores some of the issues, themes and locations that do not feature in the official 2008 programme. The hidden, the neglected, the absurd, the contentious.
I recently met Penny and Daniel as part of Reading for Reading Sake at Islington Mill in Salford, where they discussed the Politics and Aesthetics Reading Group and its spontaneous field trip to Lincoln to distribute copies of The Coming Insurrection by The Invisible Committee. In this context it’s useful to think of this project as characterised by a certain tactics of the artists’ newspaper- following some of the particularities of the newspaper form into social relations and action that aren’t confined to tabloid or broadside.
Other discoveries: the excellent Mono whose description reads as follows:
Mono is a free quarterly paper dedicated to publishing image based essays. Each issue is selected by invited artists and curators. Mono aims to provide a unique platform for the exploration of ideas through images.
Mono adopts the often fraught format of the freely distributed newspaper (often moved out of the way by gallery bookstores…) but it makes this a definite project space,eager to engage with the newspaper as a place of sequencing akin to exhibition making. I haven’t yet spotted a copy of issue three lurking anywhere.
CODA: A GESTURAL POETICS OF THE NEW(S)PAPER
Dieter Roth’s The Sea of Tears was a collection of aphorisms published on the small ad pages of the newspaper Anzeiger Stadt Luern und Umgebung, between 17 March 1971 and 15 September 1972. After 114 ads the newspaper terminated the contract ( having earlier refused to print 3 of the ads).
At the same time as The Sea of Tears was published in 1973, Roth published The Lake of Tears, comprising 1200 original pages of the newspaper.
Roths own comment on The Sea of Tears project, and its choice of the small ad pages:
Those pages are so brutal, they’re like a gigantic junkyard. So I thought I’d just stick a little tear in them.
Secondly, Simone Forti describes her NEWS ANIMATIONS project as follows:
When I’m in motion I can more easily access the raw store of fragmentary thoughts, feelings, and speculations out of which I build my understanding of the world. A News Animation performance involves improvising with movement and spoken language, taking off form the fluid, flickering, dream like image of the world brought to us by the news media…
My father used to read a couple of news papers each day and I always felt protected by that… When he died in 1985, I began to read the news myself. It wasn’t coming easily to me. I did start to experience a sense of familiarity with
the stories, with the personages, but most of all, as a dancer, I started to have kinesthetic impressions of pressures, currents, accumulations and pending collapses.
I was noticing terminology like ‘the dollar in free fall’, and Lebanon being called ‘a slippery slope.’ Soon I was dancing the news, talking an dancing, being all the parts of the news; tankers moving up the Persian Gulf, ‘human waves’ of Iranian youths crashing into the Iraqi forces invading from across the Shat al Arab estuary.
The movement included the kind of gestures one makes when explaining and describing, but here the gestures were taking on the whole body.
SOURCE TEXTS: Dieter Roth, Inserate/ Advertisements 1971-2 (Edizioni Periferia, Luzern, 2009); Simone Forti, “About the News Animations” in Simone Forti/ Jeremiah Day (Project Press, Dublin, 2009), 92-93.