The following exchange took place by email between David Berridge (VerySmallKitchen) and Marit Muenzberg (LemonMelon) in January 2012, alongside the production of Uh Duh by Sarah Jacobs, the first title in our collaborative publication series.
DAVID: To begin it seems that there are lots of connections between VerySmallKitchen and LemonMelon, and also differences. The similarities are an interest in the role of language in a contemporary art context as revealed through the methods foregrounded in art practice… Perhaps you would explain this differently?
MARIT: I fully agree! Perhaps another connection is that we both understand the book as a social/ performative space i.e. that books are grounded on a notion of performativity? I have to think here of Foucault writing ‘A book is produced, a minuscule event, a small malleable object.’
DAVID: Within this there are different priorities, different ways of working, maybe different languages for talking about that work, different training and histories, contexts, collaborations and reference points. In editing a book series together, are we exploring the place of overlap or are we looking to make some new territory?
MARIT: I think I would hope that the collaboration pushes us individually into new territory – out of the comfort-zone of what we each know and circulate in/around – therefore creating new methodologies of publishing?
DAVID: What different methodologies are you thinking about? What would you like to change?
MARIT: I was just trying to think of publishing as research. What could that be/imply and how would that manifest itself? When could publishing be research? Does it imply some ‘unlearning’ of what we already know or of how we understand the terms ‘publishing’ or ‘books’?
Further – as you mentioned above – we could ask ‘why collaborate’ or ‘what does it mean to collaborate’? I.e. is our collaboration merely a sharing of knowledge? Is it – to paraphrase the Chamber of Public Secrets – us getting bored working alone? Is it sharing a discursive sphere? Or does our collaboration aim to – quoting Iris Dressler – presume rhizomatic structures where knowledge grows exuberantly and proliferates in a rather unforeseeable fashion?
And what is the role of this conversation as part of this collaboration, where does this conversation lead us? Or should I say ‘these conversations’ since it already appears as if this conversation contains multiple conversations?
MARIT: Mallarmé saw the experience of reading as a form of freedom. He compared it to meandering through a public, a decidedly popular space. I wonder where thinking about the surrealist errance or situationist dérive in relation to this would lead us?
DAVID: Making a book is a fixed, definite process in lots of ways, so the question becomes what part of the process the dérive operates in. I find it easiest to imagine this errance/dérive in terms of where the book comes from, picking up on hints, suggestions in someone’s work that might unfold into an as yet inconceivable book.
Uh Duh is one version of this. There was a conversation, which was never conceived of as a book, at least by me. Then two years later there is a text. For Sarah, in some ways, the whole thing was planned and executed – or at least hoped for – an idea for a book that was waiting for the right conversation to enact itself.
MARIT: I wonder whether this errance/dérive could also manifest itself in the way a book is distributed? Seth Price comes to mind here since he produced different versions of the ‘same’ work, Dispersion (2002–) being one of them.
Or one could think about whether this idea of ‘loosing oneself’ – inherent to the situationist errance – could become part of the process of production. As you say a book has quite a fixed process but every process also has possible glitches, moments where things go wrong.
I guess I am thinking here particularly of the risograph. Every page printed on a risograph looks different, the printing process itself leaves traces on the pages etc… Maybe, rather than discarding faulty pages they become the basis of something new or lead to something else?
DAVID: I find it hard not to respond to Seth Price’s Dispersion as a reminder of the different attitudes to publication and distribution in contemporary art as opposed to poetry. To generalise, the art world’s ability to devote huge attention to a freely distributed PDF is rather baffling to the poet. From this perspective, I experience Dispersion as an impoverishment of generosity and distribution, an example of proprietorial control rather than freedom.
MARIT: I thought the attention more to be related to the different forms of publishing and therefore the different forms of distribution. Thus the distribution was not a disconnected process after the book was printed but became an integral part to the being and functioning of the book. So the process of production was a direct expression of the book itself. It is here that I see the connection to the situationist errance.
DAVID: The practical process of making a book daunts me. I don’t feel I have the skills to produce such a thing. It is exciting to me that, despite this, I can use the web to distribute books and projects, get an audience for that work, begin to give form to a field or scene of activity… which is also a list of some of my motivations. You?
MARIT: A book seems to be understood as something that belongs in and with people. To quote Matthew Stadler ‘Publication is the creation of a public … This public is created by deliberate acts …’ so yes the creation of that public is exciting for me as well as ‘giving form to a field or scene of activity’. I guess Deleuze also comes to mind here understanding the book as an active agent.
DAVID: I feel like I want to say ‘readers’ before I say ‘public.’ It’s the reader that often seems to be missing from art writing debates, which is perhaps why there’s often a fascination with books that either through sculptural manipulation or distribution/cost as art works are basically unreadable, from Marcel Broodthaers and John Latham to Oscar Tuazon.
Tuazon’s recent provocation The Social Life of the Book (in part a reflection on his involvement with Section 7 bookstore) claims that a publishing practice like ours is about navigating the exclusivity of such a practice, pushing the book and publishing towards the model of the commercial gallery. He suggests embracing this, producing a novel in an edition of one –
MARIT: I see the book becoming more and more an ‘art work’ because less and less books get physically produced since the production cost of an e-book is so much smaller. Not that I agree with that development, but there are a variety of reasons for such developments.
I guess that begs the question – when does a book still function as a book as we know it? Should the book function the way we know it and if it doesn’t does that then mean it is not a book anymore? How far can the term ‘book’ be stretched?
DAVID: Two inspiring examples for me are Ugly Duckling Presse and Dalkey Archive, both publishing concerns whose books I buy and read through an engagement with the press as a whole, as well as following up individual writers and texts.
Both have found an editorial and design identity (Dalkey by the designer/ poet Danielle Dutton) that instead of foregrounding a set of formal ideas about books, publishing and distribution – although these are of course evident – supports and develops practices, histories and expanded geographies of writing, translation, criticism…
DAVID: Looking through the stock of bookshops like Section 7, Motto and X Marks the Bökship, I see a field of activity mediated by graphic designers, where the designer becomes editor, author and curator in such cases as Dexter Sinister, Will Holder, Scott Joseph, Phil Baber and others…
At Thoughts on a Book last week the graphic designer as a producer/author of content was both celebrated and dismissed. I’d thought in questioning and thinking through this art writing – graphic design relationship I was revealing my identity as a writer, but actually the graphic designers seemed maybe more agitated!
The connection of art writing and graphic design means certain kinds of writing and publication get made, and perhaps the design process masquerades as the editorial process … the ‘literary’ is something different to this, a different sense of a practice, of publication – but you are also graphic designer! How do you see this?
MARIT: Yes the literary seems to be a different genre, although of course overlaps do exist I think.
Maybe one should quote here from the recently published ELEVEN STATEMENTS AROUND ART WRITING by Fusco, Lomax, Newman, Rifkin: ‘Art Writing addresses material literary forms, which draw attention to the spatiality of writing and the physicality of its support …’
DAVID: ‘..but the interests of art writing diverge from those of literature.’ I wonder about this divergence. I see this working in a publication like Maria Fusco’s The Mechanical Copula, for example, but I also find it most useful to understand such writing as holding to a space of literature within art practice.
MARIT: I am not yet sure how to position the importance of the relationship between art writing and graphic design or rather typography – evidently some forms of writing demands a certain typographic treatment or naturally bring a certain typographic form with them however since most ‘art writers’ are not necessarily typographers this is not always executed the best way …
DAVID: I think notions of ‘good design’ – as represented, say, by the press releases posted on Manystuff – obscure the eclectic ways writers have chosen to present their texts.
MARIT: I think that Manystuff has a very particular aesthetic understanding or style, which immediately excludes a lot of other things…
DAVID: The photocopied pamphlets of Bob Cobbing’s Writer’s Forum, or, a current example, Jared Shickling’s Ecolinguistics, a cut and paste A4 publication, stapled in the corner and distributed in the mail. I’ve been thinking of these as counter-examples. Styles of design, of course, but I’m thinking that although they might be seen as ‘bad design’ by graphic designers this isn’t actually an obstacle to their distribution or readership…
DAVID: The re-printing of texts is another dominant element of art writing publishing. When publications like Cannon and F.R.David re-print Stefan Themerson, I appreciate the enthusiasm that expresses, the circulation it gives to that writing, and its sense of the text practitioner as involved in a conversation about existing texts, not just the creation of new ones.
But there is also a practice and craft of writing which is too all consuming in itself to be too interested in this non-writing writing (particularly when the economics of a writing practice are considered). I want to celebrate and maintain this space. Essay collections like Eileen Myles’ The Importance of Being Iceland and Chris Kraus’ Where Art Belongs give a sense of what I am trying to articulate here.
MARIT: Interestingly this element of re-printing does link to the next project we are currently thinking about (and about which we have not really talked about yet).
I am thinking of this act of re-printing in the context of the deconstructivist understanding of iterability which also links to the LemonMelon methodology of anagrammatical hesitation. I believe that re-appropriated texts as well as the above mentioned examples can be seen as re-prints. Both I feel are artistic/writerly acts, potentially just as interesting as the text/work they are based on – after all they are not claiming to be nothing but a re-printing but do gesture towards the other text.
MARIT: Is that where the social space of the book becomes political? And what happens if it does?
DAVID: I see the book as being the evidence of a certain set of relations, and also – in its contents, design, distribution – a proposition about certain forms of relation. Although, as you suggested recently by highlighting the notion of privishing, acts of giving visibility are always related to a language of invisibility…
MARIT: How do you understand ‘a language of invisibility’?
DAVID: Notions of naming, of giving voice to, has connections to notions of marginalisation, voices silenced through class, race, and gender. I wonder if that social agenda is at all part of our rationale? How do such concerns become evident in this project?
MARIT: I was more thinking of the relationship(s) between writer/author and reader/public or – to open it up – the relationships and conversations the book could create, or the ones it could exclude, the ones it shuts down or …
But then I guess I also understood the political in relation to our handling of other texts (linking it back to our conversation on re-printing).
MARIT: For one I believe that there is some kind of system in thinking/thought and secondly I am personally very interested in notions of constraint – although I am not sure this is relevant in this context.
DAVID: Like the dérive or errance, I wonder how the constraint functions differently throughout the publication process. Financial constraints, of course, or constraints of creation, as with Cabinet’s new 24 hour book series.
These could be extended into distribution constraints, as with Oscar Tuazon’s edition of one. There’s a section of Ugly Duckling Presse for conceptual books – Paperless Book Department – although, interestingly, it is far less productive than the Paper Department!
MARIT: This makes me think of a book Coracle Press had on their stall on the recent RGAP fair. The principle was that it cost 100 of whatever currency the person wanted to pay in, ie. 100 Euro/100 Pound/100 US Dollar/100… the number 100 having some kind of significance for/in the book. Maybe this is not quite a constraint but could be understood as a rule-governed structure integral to the project.
DAVID: When organising an exhibition, the Ladies of the Press define their role as editors rather than curators. Being called Ladies of the Press, their process is rooted in such a constellation of metaphors, but this lexicon shift is made because of the different working methods and styles it implies, particularly regarding the relation between organizer and artist, frame and content. Which also seems to connect back to those questions we have explored here of relating to and diverging from the literary…
This conversation is published alongside LemonMelon’s participation in Why do You Publish: Art Book Fair, at 98 Weeks, Beirut, 2-5 Feb 2012, and VerySmallKitchen’s involvement in A Pigeon, A Kitchen and An Annexe: Sites of Alternative Publishing at Five Years, London, 18 Feb- 04 Mar 2012.