Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Hybrid Book: Intersection and Intermedia, Alisa Fox, Dorothy Krause, and Shawn K. Simmons

A report by Alisa Fox, Dorothy Krause, and
Shawn K. Simmons.

The word hybrid is defined by Webster’s as “anything
derived from heterogeneous sources, or composed of
elements of different or incongruous kinds.” Does, combining
in unexpected ways materials, language or anything meant to
convey information, ideas, and emotions fit this definition?
I think it clearly describes the nature of our book arts
world as we move forward into the 21st century. Book
artists are constantly challenged with defining art and craft,
looking to the past for tradition and forward for new possibilities.
The Hybrid Book Conference hosted by the University of the
Arts in Philadelphia June 4-6, 2009, was successful in creating
a dialog that challenged and discussed those directives. The
panel-based conference focused on the flexible and complex nature
of the book, through both its multiple levels of interpretation –
two dimensional, three-dimensional and time-based – and its
relevance to many different fields of study. The speakers
explored the past, present and future of book arts in such
varied areas as printing (letterpress, offset, and digital),
academia, artist collaboration, technology and content
generation. In total, eight intriguing panels were offered,
two during every panel session with each attendee able to
enjoy four full panels throughout the conference. Regrettably,
attendees were not able to see all the panels.

The Opening

The event began on Thursday evening with introductory
comments by Susan Viguers, Director of the MFA Book Arts/
Printmaking program at UArts and Conference Coordinator,
as well as remarks from the President of UArts, Sean T.
Buffington, and Dean of the College, Stephen Tarantal,
emphasizing the impact and relevance of both the Book
Arts program and this conference on the community. This
was followed by Steve Miller of the University of Alabama’s
MFA in the Book Arts Program interviewing with Gunnar
Kaldewey and Hedi Kyle - an enlightening and powerful
kickoff to the conference. The question and answer structure
demonstrated that our similarities and differences as artists
show up in very distinct ways. Kaldewey and Kyle have
interesting similarities in their German background. However,
their work processes are very different. Hedi Kyle’s past as
a graphic designer shows itself in her design of both pages
and structures and her experience as a book conservator
has influenced the way she works with tactile materials and
creates forms.
These fanciful,interactive musical arrangements of color, folds,
and found objects challenge our visual intellect. But what is
particularly exciting about Kyle’s work is her ability to
constantly take risk and challenge her process, as seen,
for example, in her piece Soap Opera, where she layered
digital translucent images of soap ends.
Gunnar Kaldewey also uses materials in a profound way but
through a more traditional press approach. His background
as a rare book dealer impacts his work. Frequently
collaborating with other artists and writers, Kaldewey
creates an extraordinary sense of purpose to a particular
text. Paper artists, visual artists, writers, and bookbinders,
under Kaldewey’s guiding hand, breathe new life and vision
into ideas. Embossment, metal, foil and handmade paper are
examples of the material connections that Kaldewey makes
with a diversity of texts that span time and countries.
Irma Boom was not part of the evening interview, but was
a key participant in the exhibition at the Rosenwald-Wolf
Gallery, The Hybrid Book: Irma Boom, Gunnar A. Kaldewey,
and Hedi Kyle, that allowed us to see three very different
book artists. Boom takes a hold of graphic design and color
and punches forward using offset printing to her advantage.
Gatefolds, tabs and the pure physicality of 200 plus pages that
have been trimmed to reveal strata give us a new way to look
at books.

The Conference

The panels were successful in inspiring ideas from current
letterpress and typography practice to the impact of current
social and political content/practice. Technology today is
always a conversation and the discussion of the world of offset
and digital tools and applications lets us see that we continue
to push our current boundaries. We tend to get caught up in
the immediate issues in front of us–
whatever those issues
may be – but an environment such as the Hybrid Book
Conference challenges us to look outside our bubble. Miller,
Kaldewey and Kyle, with Boom in the exhibition, managed to
provide a solid platform to address many issues.
The conference began in earnest on Friday morning with
four possible sessions to attend. In the first session, speakers
looked to the future of the book arts from academic and
pragmatic directions with two coinciding lectures: Book Arts
in Academia (see inset for further discussion) and The Future
of Letterpress. In the second session, attendees could choose
from Modes of Production: Collaborative Processes or Offset
Applications: Then and Now.
The latter session provided a thoughtful and intelligent
conversation about the use and relevance of offset printing
within its historical context. After Tony White’s complete
account of offset’s timeline, Clifton Meador then proceeded
to expose offset as a subjective medium, a technology
just like any other which fits into, or possibly reflects, the
culture of the time as well as an artist’s interest in form. He
reminded us that the process of offset printing has its own
voice and meaning related to its place in history; because we
think of offset as the norm, as somehow neutral, we tend to
forget that this tool does have a voice, with variations and
translations of color, by reflecting its history in commerce and
advertising, in implying its neutrality. In contrast to Meador’s
relatively academic perspective, Patty Smith finished the
session with a personal history of her relationship with offset,
framing it with the many dichotomies she finds while using
the process. She explained that offset can be both rigid and
versatile, genderless and macho, demanding and easy-going,
amongst other pairings.
Panels on day two explored the hybrid nature of
relationships that occur in bookmaking: text relating to form
and image, collaborations between artists, the book relating
to culture through environment and technology. In Text and
the Hybrid Book, panelists considered the many ways a book
artist might approach the use of text in context, content and
form. Of note in this session, which was moderated by Elysa
Voshell with panelists Jen Bervin, Julie Chen and Robin Price,
was the discussion surrounding generating and finding text,
and the journey to determine, manipulate, and edit it once
found. Chen revealed her brainstorming and mind-mapping
techniques for text generation, while Bervin and Price shared
personal methods and rules to finding and editing secondary
One of the final sessions, The Reciprocity of Books and
Digital Media, moderated by Lori Spencer with panelists Patti
Belle Hastings, Margot Lovejoy and Sue O’Donnell, focused
on the importance of bookmakers keeping technology in their
sights as we move forward in the field. O’Donnell effectively
explained that books and websites have much in common
when looking at the relationship of author to audience: both
involve touch, movement, the ability often to add comments
and interact, and therefore the opportunity for the audience
to become, in part, author as well. This was underscored all
the more when the final speaker, Hastings, pointed out how
people today covet their mobile devices much as they might a
well-read and beloved book.
O’Donnell, and later Lovejoy, pointed out that bookmakers
can expand on both the experience for the audience and
the scope of readership by embracing different modes of
technology in bookmaking by using many media: web,
motion, twitter, interactivity, print on demand, PDFs, etc.
Finally, Hastings completed the panel with an entertaining
and thoughtful discussion of how the digital form is not
only influencing the landscape of book arts, but also how
bookmakers are now commenting on the subjective form
of these digital tools through their work (reminiscent of
Meador’s remarks from the previous day), most notably Rob
Cockerham’s “Kindling: the Wireless Wooden Reading Device
(see kindling01.shtml>).
As a final note, Susan Viguers has informed us that The
Hybrid Book volunteers are expecting to have podcasts of
all the conference sessions available to the general public at
you read this review. We highly recommend visiting them to
further explore these relevant and inspiring panels.

The Hybrid Book Fair

The Hybrid Book Fair accompanied the panel discussions
and consisted of 150 exhibitors occupying 74 tables on
two floors of UArts’ Gershman Hall. So that there were no
conflicting programs the fair was scheduled in the afternoons
after the panels allowing conference attendees to devote their
full attention to the work being exhibited.
Participating artists, presses and organizations were
diverse. While most of the artists and presses were showing
their books, Shana Leino had a table selling her elegant steel
and carved elk bone tools and Oak Knoll had both books
published by their press and a selection of books related to the
book arts. Drew Cameron, Co-Director of the Combat Paper
Project and contributing founder of the Warrior Writers
Project, was part of the panel “Book Art in the Social Sphere”
and also had a booth on the book fair floor selling paper and
books made from the uniforms of veterans. The conference
organizers encouraged student participation with a reduced
price on shared tables and they were well represented with
innovative offerings including Robert Lewis papers made
from fruits and vegetables. Exhibiting organizations included
the Delaware Valley Guild of Book Workers; the Center for
Book Arts in NYC; Philadelphia Center for the Book; and the
Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester.
Two of the largest displays were by booksellers Priscilla
Juvelis at one entrance and Bill and Vicky Stewart of Vamp
& Tramp across the room at the opposite entrance. Occupying three
tables each, they were exhibiting the books of artists they
represented and were also looking to add new artists, which they
both were able to do. Since most book artists are happier making
books than marketing them, there are some very happy book artists.
Viewers included exhibitors and vendors, when they could get away
from their tables, conference attendees, speakers, and the general
public. Ruth Rodgers (Wellesley College), Jae Rossman (Yale), Laurie
Whitehall Chong (RISD) and Arthur Jaffe (Jaffe Center for the Book,
Florida Atlantic University) were among the diligent curators
and special collections librarians who spent the entire 10 hours the
fair was open looking carefully through the work that was
presented, and despite budgetary constraints, purchased
books to add to their collections.
Adjacent to the book fair, on the upper level, was 800,000:
Acknowledge. Remember. Renew. This installation of
800,000 pages in 2,500 books was displayed in 100 coffinlike
crates – one page for each victim and one crate for each
day of the tribal genocide that occurred in Rwanda in 1994.
Viewers could make a donation and place their handprint
on a page of one of the books. William Snyder, who created
this project, presented it at the panel, “Intersection +
At 4 pm on the second day, awards and purchase prizes
were given by Bright Hill Word and Image Gallery, the
College Book Art Association, Columbia University, The
Free Library of Philadelphia, The Jaffe Center for Book Arts,
Journal of Artists’ Books, Philadelphia Center for the Book,
Swarthmore College, Temple University, The University of
the Arts, the University of Pennsylvania, Wellesley College
and Yale University. Three of the awards were received by
Sun Young Kang, a 2007 MFA graduate of the UA program,
whose elegantly cut and burned boxes deserved all the
acclaim she was given. Final notes: A project as large as
this conference can’t be perfect and requires a tremendous
amount of work, in this case by graduate and undergraduate
students, alumni, faculty and volunteers. The small but
dedicated leadership team showed a vision that for a first
conference was overwhelming. The Hybrid conference 2009 was
born successfully, with many things learned along the way. It’s
important to note that none of this would have happened
without the inspiration and hard work of Susan Viguers,
Amanda D’Amico, Michelle Wilson and Mary Tasillo.
These four women, all artists in their own right, took the
last two years, to build this “hybrid” conference. All in all,
these women managed to create an environment ripe with
opportunity for the whole book arts community. The only
complaint was that UArts has no plans to host similar events
on a regular basis.
As a final note, in addition to the podcasts of the panels,
JAB26 (Fall 2009) Brad Freeman will review the work of
William Snyder and Antonio Serra both of whom received
the JAB Emerging Artist Award for Exemplary Work at the
Hybrid Conference. Snyder’s work encourages viewers to
participate in a larger project of building basic infrastructure
in Rwanda. Serra’s altered publications, pretending to be
mainstream magazines, in fact deliver information that
the US media generally ignore about our wars in Iraq and
In addition, Amanda D’Amico and Michelle Wilson have
written a review of the Hybrid Conference which includes
descriptions of the panels, the exhibitions (Kaldeway, Kyle),
the alumni exhibition, and the book arts fair.
Alisa Fox is currently a print, paper, installation and
book artist in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with her work
focused on texture and tactile exploration based on the
social structure and the culture in rural Nebraska. She has
recently completed her Masters of Fine Art degree at The
University of the Arts in Philadelphia. She has exhibited
internationally and nationally, most recently curating and
working with the Iraq Veterans Against the War and the
Peoples Republic of Paper in an exhibition in Martha’s
Vineyard, Massachusetts. She currently is exhibited and
represented by Editions Limited Gallery of Indianapolis,
and was previously Associate Professor/Program Chair of
the Fine Art department at Ivy Tech Community College
in Indianapolis. She is online at
Dorothy Simpson Krause work includes large-scale
mixed media pieces, artist books and book-like objects
that bridge between these two forms, but until this book
fair had never shown her books for sale. She is the author
of Book + Art: Handcrafting Artists’ Books published by
North Light in 2009 and co-author of Digital Art Studio:
Techniques for combining inkjet printing with traditional
art materials, published by Watson-Guptill in 2004. She
can be reached at or
Shawn Kathleen Simmons is a book artist and graphic
designer based near Kent, Ohio where she is an Assistant
Professor of Visual Communication Design at Kent
State University. She received her Master of Fine Arts
from Rhode Island School of Design in 2007, where she
studied design and bookmaking. Inspired by her love of
photography, literature, art history and anthropology,
Shawn has focused her most recent creative explorations
on unusual formats and structures with which to convey
her ideas. She can be reached at>.

above copied from:
The BONEFOLDER — Volume 6, No. 1, Fall 2009

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Short History of Pattern Poetry, Dick Higgins

from Pattern Poetry: Guide to an Unknown Literature, State University of New York Press, 1987

0NCE UPON A TIME there was a form that wasn't a form; perhaps it was a tribe. The story of pattern poetry is, in fact, not the story of a single development or of one simple form, but the story of an ongoing human wish to combine the visual and literary impulses, to tie together the experience of these two areas into an aesthetic whole. Pattern poetry did not originate in any one simple situation or even century, as, for example, the opera did in the late sixteenth century in Florence and elsewhere in Italy. it is, rather, a maze within a maze covered over with obscurity, an attempt which recurs century after century to make the synthesis, in almost every Western literature and many Eastern ones. To those who attempt this synthesis, something of the picture of the whole seems crucially important. A visual poem has always suggested its own traditions, but to make a tradition the artist cannot feel that he or she is operating without any precedent - there must always be a trajectory through time, even when the entire story is not known. So it is that in the 1950s and 1960s the concrete poets were intensely conscious of their antecedents in dada and futurism, and, for all their apparent anti-intellectualism, the dadaists and futurists felt themselves in an iconoclastic tradition which included visual poetry somewhere in the background. For example, Waldemar Deonna, who wrote one of the early studies of pattern poetry in 1926, also published a good number of works in futurist publications. And each wave of pattern poets drew on at least some knowledge of earlier pattern poetry. Even those works which appear to come at the very beginnings of pattern poetry cannot be stated definitely as being beginnings; we can only say that no earlier ones have survived.

Pattern poetry is extremely hard to define, since it is no one thing. But it is, at least, both visual and literary art -visual poetry. The visual poetry of the twentieth century is rather well known, and its subclasses -concrete poetry, poesia visiva, parole in libertà, etc. - are fairly clearly defined. For the moment it will suffice to define pattern poetry in very general terms as visual poetry from before the twentieth century but in any Western literature. That there is visual poetry in non-Western literatures is not surprising, since, as I have mentioned, it seems to be so universal a tendency to attempt the synthesis of visual and literary experience. Some discussion of the citra-Kavyas of India and Burma and of the hui-wen of China appears in Chapter Three, which is devoted to the visual poetries elsewhere than in European literatures; in addition, we have attached as an appendix an article by Dr. Herbert Franke, currently President of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences, dealing with the Chinese materials, which are not at all well known in the West.

Pattern poetry is itself a fairly modern concept; the origin of the term is unknown, but it appeared some time in the nineteenth century, along with the synonymous term, "shaped poetry." How the earlier pattern poets felt about their work, how they saw it as fitting into the whole of literature or art, is largely unknown, though we shall deal with this too in due course. But it seems unlikely that the renaissance or baroque poets would have been happy with simply isolating what we call pattern poems from their cognates in sound poetry and analogous forms. The forms associated with pattern poetry -leonine verse, proteus poems, and various kinds of inchoate sound poetry, for instance-are not always visual. But in many cases, the poets who did them composed pattern poetry as well. They seem to have had some sense of these being alternate forms of poetry, intended to enrich the fabric of poetry as a whole (and perhaps of visual art). In addition, the distinction between poetry and prose is not always a binding one. Thus, there is a tradition of shaped prose as well as of shaped poetry. And there are even graphic musical notations-one would be tempted to call them pattern notations-which are part of the picture of the analogues of pattern poetry.

Too, the terminology associated with pattern poetry is hard to make consistent; it is unfamiliar enough that virtually every critic who has attempted to describe pattern poetry and its subforms means something different from every other critic using the same terms. A glossary is therefore given with the appendices, to which we refer the reader who wants to clarify the special terminology used in the text. But we should repeat once more that there is, in fact, no consensus on what the terms mean. I have tried to use a common sense approach in this regard, inventing no terms of my own but repeating a sort of statistical averaging of what others seems to mean by this or that term.

The theoretical implications of pattern poetry and the questions which it raises, the problems of what our ignorance and understanding of the subject mean-these things cannot really be dealt with until enough material has been gone over to make our theorizing appropriate. The questions cannot be posed in vacuo without seeming more abstruse than they are or quite irrelevant; or, equally bad, "for specialists only," which is damning in a subject in which there are almost no actual specialists and in which the work should be of interest to anyone who wishes to understand whatever it is about our visual and literary experience which pattern poetry can explain.

Pattern poetry is far, far more widespread than most people realize. One hears it said that there are, perhaps, one hundred pattern poems. But everyone who knows any of them seems to know a different hundred from everyone else. The French scholar knows the French materials, the German scholar the German ones, and, while most scholars know at least the most famous group of pieces, those that have come down to us from Hellenistic times, in the medieval collections known as the "Greek Anthology" or the "Planudian Manuscript," most scholars do not know many pieces apart from their various individual disciplines. And almost nobody seems to know very many of the pieces in the largest group of all, that in Neo-Latin poetry. In fact, we have collected some fourteen hundred or so pieces in the various Western literatures. Desirable though it might be to prepare and anthology of all known pattern poems, it would be economically unfeasible; thus, we must leave these listings raw, as it were, giving only a small number of illustrations that show the various genres and subgenres.

The story of pattern poetry is, as I have said, a complex and ambiguous one, complicated by its overall obscurity. The story has been told mostly without regard to the field as a whole, by specialists of one kind or another, in spite of the fact that the larger public, when confronted by some actual pieces, tends to find them interesting or at least exciting.

The earliest known pieces that are possibly pattern poems are the two texts on the faces of the "Phaistos Disk," a modest-sized grey disk from roughly 1700 B.C. which is in the Heraklion Museum on Crete. These are certainly spiral-shaped and they are certainly texts, but are they poetry? Since they are written in Minoan A, which has not been deciphered, this question cannot be answered with any degree of certainty. However, one can say that it is unlikely that they are prose in any mundane sense, business letters for instance, since it is most improbable that straight prose would be arrayed in a spiral form. Furthermore, the distinction between prose and poetry is not always applicable to very early writings. For example, the Hebrew Bible is often poetic prose to the extent of seeming like what we today call prose poems. So it seems to be with many such early texts. Another thing which should be noted about the Phaistos Disk is, however, that its origin is uncertain. Nothing is known from Crete which resembles it, thus raising the possibility that it was brought, at some unknown point, to Crete from wherever it was made. Therefore, it is best thought of as some sort of enigmatic forerunner of a more substantial group of pieces.

These are the six Hellenistic Greek pattern, evidently composed between 325 B.C. and A.D. 200, and shaped as two altars, an egg, a pair of wings, an axe, and a syrinx. Very little is known about the poets, though none is anonymous; only Theocritus is at all well-known, and the dates of the others remain somewhat controversial; the pieces have never been truly unknown to those who would seek them out. One does not feel, when one reads them, as if they were innovative or avant-garde in their time. Rather, they seem like surviving texts from a lost tradition of some kind. This does not seem unlikely, since they all come down to us from the "Greek anthology," which was compiled some time in the early Middle Ages by unknown editors as poems which were acceptable to the church, probably to be used as reading materials for those few who studied Greek at that time. Except for the piece by Theocritus, the poems are all religious, perhaps intended to serve some mystical or magical function. It has been speculated that these five were originally texts intended to be inscribed on sacred objects.

The fact that we have no entire pattern poem from Classical Latin literature does not mean that none existed, merely that none has survived. In fact, Laevius (first century A.D.) is known to have written a phoenix-shaped piece which only survives in a fragment quoted in a later work, described in section 11 of our Chapter Two. In addition, there are several pieces in Greek, but from Rome, carved in marble between 50 B.C. and A.D. 50, known as "tabulae iliacae" because their faces depict scenes from Homer's Iliad. Nothing is known about the sculptor but his name, Theodoros, which appears on one of the pieces. They are described in detail in the section on labyrinths in Chapter Five. The texts, which appear on the backs, are permutational, evidently intended to serve some magical function. They closely resemble cabalistic texts that date from a much later period.

But there are twenty-five pattern poems by Optatian (fl. A.D. 325), rectangles for the most part, sometimes called "carmina quadrata," with secondary texts within the body of the main one, cancelled out from the background (so that they are also "carmina cancellata"); because these texts include other texts, the interior texts are also called "intexti" or " intexts," and they are also "mesostics" in that some inner array of letters forms such an intext. As for Optatian, he probably came from Africa, and his poems are panegyrics, praises of Constantine the Great. They must have pleased the Emperor because he appointed Optatian to be his court poet around A.D. 325.

We now come to one of the typical aspects of pattern poetry, which is its characteristic function of serving very specific social purposes as occasional verse. Occasional verse has a bad reputation, since most of us assume that poetry is intended only to serve eternity. But the very fact that a pattern poem is visual, that it evokes shapes which are suitable as commemorative objects, means that it was recognized as adding to its subject in some way a visual dimension which is perhaps comparable to the function of allusion that is so much at the heart of our traditional verse. It somehow reduces the sense of datedness and triviality which occasional verse is apt to evoke. We will see this again most notably when we get to baroque pattern poetry. Nobody would argue that Optatian was one of the great Latin poets; he simply isn't. His language is rather flat and extravagant, his imagery opaque. But that he is remembered at all is probably due to his visually striking works. In their original form, according to the scholia in the Kluge and Polara editions, the pieces were executed in precious metal letters on dark blue or purple backgrounds. But unfortunately they have not survived in that form, so that the extent of their visual appeal in their original form cannot be measured. Rather, they survive in several manuscripts of a much later date, the rest given in Polara (1971) and Optatian (1973). And even here, our usual experience of the pieces is similarly inadequate, because usually we see the poems in typeset versions which are less visually striking than they would be in manuscript. Thus, the extent of their visual effectiveness is difficult to measure, and it is unfair to judge them by their literary quality alone. One of the pieces, "Carmen XIX," is a carmen cancellaturn of a trireme with sailes; what can it have looked like in the original? "Carmen XV" is an organ, with its right hand side forming a sort of syrinx effect. "Carmen XXVI" is an altar. Do these last two indicate that there was any degree of consciousness on the poet's part that the Hellenistic Greeks had found the syrinx and altar suitable shapes for their own pattern poems? We can only speculate, but it could form the evidence of a tradition.

The cross in Gardthausen (1913, 2: 60-1), probably from the fifth century, is the earliest known cruciform poem. There are also a goodly number of anonymous Greek and Latin minor pieces from the early Christian period. But the next major pattern poet is Venantius Fortunatus (ca. 540-600), one of the principle writers of the Merovingian Frankish kingdom. He composed three surviving rectangular carmina cancellata, and one cruciform poem in which the text seems to be only a formality needed to flesh in the whole as a symbolic or ceremonially evocative entity; that the piece has come down to us as one of the most consistently popular of pattern poems, surviving into the nineteenth century in German where it was worn as a good luck talisman and called the "Thom askreuz. " Since Venantius is also the author of other, more traditional hymns and poems which show an excellent poetic sense, it is not reasonable to suppose that he did not know what he was doing when he departed from normative poetry into pattern poetry, and since the poetry of his time is virtually all extremely conservative, one suspects he knew many pattern poems which have not survived. Venantius is also the first pattern poet whose works do not display any reference to the Hellenistic Greek pieces. Of course, he may well have known some of them; but his shapes do not duplicate theirs, though they do seem somewhat similar to Optatian's. In Venantius, we really enter mediaeval literature.

Passing over such minor works as a carmen cancellaturn by Winifried (St. Boniface, (680-755) and a modest cruciform. poem by the Lombard poet and historian Paul the Deacon (ca. 720-97), the next important group of pattern poems comes from the Carolingian period, by Alcuin (775-804), Charlemagne's tutor, byJosephus Scottus (ninth century); and others. The first highlight of this body of materials is the De laudibus sanctae crucis of Hrabanus Maurus (784-856), abbot of Fulda and a formidable poet, who wrote the Roman Catholic hymn for Pentecost, "Veni creator spiritus," whose ecstatic flavor Gustav Mahler catches perfectly in his setting of it in the first movement of his Symphony No. 8. For those familiar with this setting, the quality of Hrabanus's thirty carmina cancellata in the De laudlibus will come as no surprise. They are joyful meditations covering the principal points of the Christian faith as Hrabanus saw them. The intexts are rather simple, almost in the nature of inscriptions and formulae; the poetry is in the field texts from which the intexts emerge, and in the relationship between the two. In addition, the original work survives in at least three exquisite manuscript versions, both equally valuable, detailed in part two of our Latin section. Unfortunately, many people know these pieces only from typeset versions in which the visual dimension is greatly reduced; thus, we should be extremely skeptical of criticism of the pieces which does not reflect some knowledge specifically of one or the other manuscript version, two of which have been published, the one in facsimile and the other in black and white.

Following Hrabanus's time, carmina cancellata slowly wane, with only a very few pieces being known from the tenth century, though these include the exquisite pieces by a monk from Riojas province in Spain, Vigila de Albeda (Vigil), who made five magnificent carmina cancellata that are almost unknown; fortunately, they have been reprinted recently.

The eleventh century is close to being a void, with only one Latin piece by Pierre Abélard (see Frontz's), plus a Greek one for the Emperess Eudocia Macrenbolitissa. However, the gap begins to be filled in the twelfth century with the first known Hebrew pattern poems, the tree by Abraham ben Ezra (d. 1167) and the pieces by the two Abul Afias, Abraham ben Samuel AbulAfia (1240-ca. 1291) and Tadros Abul Afia (d. after 1298), the latter of whom composed another tree, while the former wrote a series of circular pieces which are cabalistic permutations of a simple text. With the appearance of the trees we have the first natural form that we know definitely to have been introduced since the Greeks. One might speculate that this is due to the influence of Hebrew micrographic texts, a genre of work which was new at that time. These are pieces in which a text is chosen, usually from the law or some other part of the Jewish Bible, and is then shaped into a brilliant visual display, with phoenixes, dragons, knights and other beings -- or sometimes simply ingenious geometrical formations. These works cannot be considered pattern poems, since either the poet was not responsible for the visual element or the artist was not responsible for the poem. But the works are splendid in their own right. The tradition appears to have originated in the levant in the ninth century and to have spread westward through Italy, finally dying out in the sixteenth century in Spain and Portugal. Also in the thirteenth century we find a copy of Hrabanus Maurus's "De laudibus . . ." was made by the Nürnberg scribe Berthold, indicating that the knowledge of earlier visual poetry remained alive. This is important if one wishes to argue for the continuity of pattern poetry.

Now we come to Nicolò de' Rossi (ca. 1290-ca. 1348), who wrote what may be the earliest pattern poems in any modern language, his "Canzone 247" and "248" (see Fig. 2.38). While it would be foolish to assert that the two pieces are definitely influenced by Sanskrit citra-kavyas, still the special characteristics of the pieces are significant enough and similar enough to these that they are at the very least a remarkable instance of parallel development. In Western pattern poetry, the poem normally stands alone; in the citra-kavyas, the piece is usually given twice, once visually and once in a linear transcription, as are de' Rossi's. The shapes of the poems suggest a necklace and a fourteen-spoke wheel, both unknown in pattern poetry but both common in citra-kavyas. De' Rossi says in his scholia that the pieces represent a star and an arch, but they do not look like either. While direct cultural influence on Italy from India was minimal at this time, we might speculate that the poet saw some manuscript which worked its way to Italy, recognized the pieces as interesting, even if he could not read what they said, tried his hand at similar pieces, and then, concerned that they not be acknowledged as pagan, might have called them whatever images seemed most acceptable. Poets have been doing such things since time immemorial. And, even if the pieces are not influenced by the citra-kavyas, they are at least very strikingly parallel.

Later in the fourteenth century we find the florid and startling poetic experiments of Jacobus Nicholae de Dacia (Jakob Nielsen, fl. 1363-79) a Dane who, around 1363, produced the "Liber de distinccione metrorum." This work, which exists in two manuscripts, "Ms. Cotton Claudius A XIV" at the British Library and "Ms Latin 10323" at the Bibliothéque Nationale in Paris, and which was published in 1967 in an edition by Aage Kabell, includes a triangle, a series of concentric squares, a geometrical construction on squares (see Fig. 2.25), a complex star, and a wheel with concentric circles --all new shapes to pattern poetry. The work also includes some startling experiments in alliteration which approach being sound poetry. The whole work revels in novel forms. The fourteenth century was a time of great change in the arts, with the musica antiqua being gradually replaced by the musica nova and with the earliest graphic musical notations also dating from this time, with medieval painting being replaced by renaissance painting, and it is not surprising that Jacobus should participate in this change. Also during the fourteenth century, one finds some magnificent shaped prose, such as the anonymous "Cln 7960" manuscript in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in München, which include six similar urns or jars and one archway, meditations on the John II, 6 in the New testament. Other striking examples of early shaped prose, some Byzantine examples and the Liber figurali of Joachim de Fiore (1132 -1202).

The fifteenth century was perhaps less inclined towards formal innovation than the fourteenth, and, correspondingly, there are almost no known pattern poems, only the "Litera Pythagora" by Janus Parmonius (1432-72), a Y-shaped poem, and perhaps Enec, Silvio Piccolomini's labryinth (if it is authentic), but rather little else in actual poetry. However, a good deal of shaped prose was produced from the devotional cross of Catherina Regina von Greiffenberg (1633-94), to the pastorales of Johann Helwig (1609-74), Georg Philipp Harsdiérffer (1607 -58), Johann Klai ("Klajus," 1616-56) and their circle, to the many chalices ("Pokals") and hearts composed for weddings and crosses for funerals, some of which are, from a literary point of view, about on the level of greeting card poetry, but some of which are fine and sensitive verse; even those which are inferior poetry are often of linguistic or social interest, as documents of the language and formal sensibility of their times or as indicators of the poetic taste of the middle class, since, especially in Germany, the taste for pattern poetry was not confined to the literati or upper classes but was a bourgeois phenomenon as well.

In the Slavic literatures, Polish and Czech literature have the most pattern poems. Most of the Polish materials are in Latin, most of the Czech ones in German or Latin, reflecting the preferred languages of the elites in those countries. But there are also pattern poems in Russian and Ukrainian; . n the latter, notably a small number of extremely fine pieces by a mystical poet, Ivan Velickovskij (1687-1726) who demonstrates his awareness of earlier pattern poetry traditions by including, on the cover of one of his manuscripts, the "Enigma of Sator" (see Fig. 2-5), an anonymous Latin word square probably dating from the second century A.D., which was often treated as a pattern poem rather than as a charm (as which it may have been intended).

The Jesuit order had a long-standing tradition of supporting pattern poems; there are collections of them published or collected by Jesuit academies in Neo-Latin, such as the Carmina libri quatour discessuro Lemensium comite… (1616) edited by Pedro Fernandez in our Neo-Latin section, the Polish Latin pieces for Henryk Firley "Leopardus" (1624, see Fig. 2. 10), and the Neo-Latin and Neo-Greek pieces in Sylvae ... (1592) from France. The tradition continued into the late eighteenth century with the "Necrologbilcher" from Hungarian literature (see Fig. 2.31). These were books in which the deaths of students in the Jesuit schools were recorded, and pattern poems were occasionally written into these in their memory, presumably by their fellow students.

In Italy, most of the pattern poetry was written in Latin - for example, the most famous Italian piece of the sixteenth century, the pear-shaped poem of 1549 of Giovanni Pierio Valeriano Bolzano (1477-1558), known as "Plerius" (which resembles "pirus," the Latin word for "peartree"-so that the body of pieces in Italian itself is rather scant. Most important, however, are two actual groups of pattern poets. One was in the north, in the Veneto in the 1620s, and it included Bonifacio Baldissare (ca. 1570-1625), Fortunio Liceti (1577-1654), and their mycaenas, Domenico Molino. Baldissare's pieces based on the Molino coat of arms are of very high quality (see Figs. 2.14 through 2.17), and, while Liceti wrote rather few pattern poems himself and these of indifferent quality, he wrote a number of extraordinarily detailed books on most of the Greek and Latin pattern poems, comparing surviving versions and, in general, offering a startling hermeneutic analysis of the pieces.

The second group developed at Rome in the middle of the century, and it included Francesco Passerini (1619-95) and Juan Caramuel de Lobkowitz (1602-82), a Cistercian monk, born of a Spanish father and a Bohemian mother, who lived most of his life travelling for his order and inspecting buildings. Most of his published works deal with ecclesiastical architecture, but the two Primus calamus books are linguistic or aesthetic studies. The second of the two is less interesting from our point of view, dealing as it does with a proposed synthetic and universal language. But the first, known as the "Metametrica," which is short for its title, . . . Primus calamus ob oculos ponens metametricam, quae vards currentium, recurrentium, abscendentium, descendentium nec non circumvolantium versuum ductibus, aut aeriincisos aut buxo insculptos aut plumbo infusos multiformes labyrinthos exornat (1663), contains more than twenty rectangular or circular poems which Caramuel sees as labyrinths, as well as descriptions and speculations on all the sorts of unusual forms of verse he can find out about-leonine verse, anagrams, echo poems, and so forth. He even proposes some poetries which did not then exist-spherical and cubical verse, for instance. This work is the high point of the various poetics which discuss pattern poetry, such as those by Julius Caesar Scaliger (1561), Etienne Tabourot (1588), and George Puttenham (1587, this last already discussed), or the many German poetics which prescribe shapes and sometimes give examples.

Such groups were not unknown elsewhere in Europe either; we have mentioned the group in the mid- seventeenth -century Germany -Harsdörffer, Helwig, Klaj[us] et al. Another such group developed in Danzig, modern Gdansk, and elsewhere in Prussia.

Pattern poetry receded in popularity in the face of neoclassic taste. It was associated with baroque (or earlier) poetry, and, as the heroic couplets and alexandrines become predominant in poetry, the pattern poems become fewer. One might speculate that the neoclassic arts were suitable for the grand mercantilism and colonialism of the time, while pattern poetry was specifically unsuited for an art that was based upon power. But that is not for us to say. Suffice to say that it was never the predominant mode and that there were violent attacks upon it in each age in which it occurred; furthermore, since the history of any poetry is always to some extent the history of responses to it, the antagonism which it aroused continued great during the colonial era, so that it fell into disrepute in one literature after another, eventually, by the nineteenth century, surviving only in comic, folk, or popular verse.

Already in the sixteenth century Michel de Montaigne (1533 -92) attacked pattern poems in his "Des vaines subtilités" ("Of vain subtleties," 1967, 136):

above copied from:

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Ephemerality and expectation, Benjamin Weil

Benjamin Weil, new media curator at SFMOMA, addresses ephemerality, expectation, and the extroverted artist. A discussion of the role of documentation in art practice and the evolution and interplay of the curator/artist.

Ron Goldin: Do you think recent events, specifically the global witness of the Sept. 11 tragedy, in addition to a sobered "new economy" whose original foundation was reliant on intangible models, has sparked a cautious step away from the ephemeral, both in art practice as well as in our society as a whole?

Benjamin Weil: It is very hard to tell what has triggered what. I am not sure September 11 is really anything else than the epitomy of a crisis that is much larger than that absolute hyper-real tragedy. What strikes me is the growing awareness in our western post-industrial societies (and primarily so in the US) of a very confusing blurriness between reality and fiction. Infotainment and edumercial, or whatever conflational combination one can think of, destabilizes the understanding of how to comprehend specific information. This confusion is very visible in such mainstream Hollywood production as "Vanilla Sky", for instance, and in a more sophisticated fashion, in such production as David Lynch's recent "Mulholland Drive". One could trace that back to "The Matrix", or even to Steven Lisberger's "Tron". It is also the war in Iraq and its coverage that was somewhat a bad copy of "Top Gun"... There are plenty of examples in contemporary culture...

What is undeniable is that the shift in the economic climate results in a less daring cultural moment. When there's opulence, experiments seem like a normal compliment to more traditional endeavors. These days, it is more difficult to convince people about the fact cultural evolution does not stop because of the economy. I believe we are still at the beginning of a fundamental shift, which probably is less probable now to be carried out, or found in traditional institutions. From that extremely chaotic moment will emerge new ways of understanding what we are exposed to, what we are looking at. I do not know why, but I think for instance of this whole idea of a scenario that is manifested through very different forms. A common narrative structure will inform a film, a computer game, a line of products, educational tools, and what not. There's no longer a necessary hierarchy to understand this cultural nebulous of sorts.

In regards to art, I think the confusion also is due to the ever-increasing blurriness between the locus of production and the one of distribution or experience is something traditional venues for visual art have a really hard time dealing with. Artists have also shifted from being loners, secluded from the world, creating in a studio, to cultural producers, very much engaged with the course of our time, and creating social and cultural comments in collaboration, and borrowing from all kinds of models, ranging from film to philosophy, to advertising, to science, and so on.

It is time to engage in a thorough reflection on how to reconcile the notion of history, and historical, as best incarnated by the traditional museum, and the one of progress, forward thinking structure that produces, commissions, supports, and reflects upon new ways to display, distribute, and emulate experience of new contemporary art forms. Then again, it is important to remember that the experimental nature of what is being produced today should exist both inside and outside of the institutional frame.

We probably will not escape the need to re-examine criteria used to understand what is a valid art form, and what is not.

RG: Both SFMOMA's 010101 and the Whitney's BitStreams featured "companion websites" to their show's physical venue. It seems like some things have changed (ex. Janet Cardiff's "Video Walk" is a giant step from 'please move away from the painting...') but some things have not, such as the resistance to works (or entire media, in the case of that provide a less immediate gratification. Are expectations of art becoming more entertainment-based than the "secular church" that the museum has traditionally signified? Or do people approach a new media object with the same expectations they do a Rodin?

BW: Your question takes us back to the notion of criteria used to understand what we are looking at. The same way we may be confused, as consumers, by the ever evolving form of information, and whether it is news, fiction, advertising... for instance, it is increasingly harder to know how to filter advertising out of news, games, or television: think about product placement in computer games, or maybe even news reel, for instance!

New art forms, that take radical departures both in terms of form, and content, and, to a certain extent, context, call for a rethinking of how we evaluate things, how we appreciate them, how we comprehend them, etc. While it is for instance possible to talk about the formal quality of a networked based piece, referring to the intrinsic qualities of its coding, this calls for an understanding of how this is to be understood by people who may not be able to tell the difference, because they have not trained their eye. I recall a time when I would systematically look at the source code of a web page... I would not do that any longer because chances are it would have become Chinese to me: things have changed extraordinarily fast! And while I think it is an interesting parameter, this is such a new realm, and a new medium explored by artists, whose training is not necessarily "fine art", that the intellectual and emotional adjustment is very difficult. It requires flexibility, and, let's face it, a lot of time! Think how hard it was to understand Cubism, even though it was still oil on canvas or traditional media. You can imagine how a society that has barely digested Duchamp can accommodate such leaps as the ones introduced by networked art forms: not only you need to understand the notion of browser as formal frame, the net as context, but you also need to accept the idea of looking at art on the screen of a machine one more often relates to as a practical instrument.

So, while I think museums such as the Whitney or SFMOMA - and many others, particularly the Dia Center for the Arts, and the Walker Art Center, both real pioneers as far as networked media is concerned - are genuinely interested in exploring ways to incorporate these emerging forms, there is still an enormous amount of work to be done in order to understand what is the best role to play for such institutions, how to create an appropriate frame to best enable access to these experimental forms, provide tools, relate these art projects to the more traditional media, etc. That is, I believe what both "BitStreams", and even more so "Data Dynamics" sought to do at the Whitney. And similarly, the web commissions and educational component of 010101, but also Crossfade (, a collaboration with ZKM, Goethe Institut, and the Walker art center).

Sometimes, there is a temptation for the museum to merge the notion of accessibility or approachability with the one of populism. This is undeniably a very dangerous confusion, informed primarily, I believe by the economic model the museum functions with: sales results, of tickets and by-products have become a way to judge the success of a program, which of course is quite a limited way of thinking about real cultural impact. That's because there has been a dramatic shift in the past 20 years (since the Reagan administration decided to eradicate public funding for art). However, it seems to me we have not yet found a way to really engage different publics to become real stakeholders of the cultural institution, rethink the model of financially supporting the museum as a seminal cultural tool... Rather, this still depends of "the kindness of strangers", and merchandizing strategies that look increasingly like the entertainment industry. We will not spare ourselves from engaging in this reflection, if we want to steer clear of artentainment.

RG: Documentation of the production of new media arts is a central concern, especially pertaining to the issue of ephemerality. Documentation is the only tangible, somewhat-static byproduct of some new media art practices. You've mentioned that art can be thought of as a proposition, rather than an object. How does an artwork focus our attention to the very process that brought it into existence? Is this the concern of the artist, as part of the art making, the curator as a historian/ facilitator/ translator, or is this perhaps the collaborative element that is required of the representation of all new media objects presented to a public audience?

BW: Technology changes very fast. The context in which work is made also changes. The combination of those two factors creates a situation of accelerated obsolescence of a given form. This often results in the loss of the original form and meaning. The moment artists choose to work with technology that is primarily developed for uses other than art, and, as a mass product, is conceived so as to be constantly evolved, they are faced with formal instability. This condition, by the way, not only applies to computers and software: one can probably trace it back to the Ready-Made, and is also the case with artists, who later on elected to work with mass produced objects, or perishable materials. Working with instable media, they are basically faced with two options: one is to completely abandon the idea of preserving anything, let the art work “die”; the other is to try and think about models that may help design solutions to transmit the “essence” of an art project, beyond its “original incarnation”. Music and theatre are two cultural forms, which function with the premise of formal instability. One can see those as systems of notation, instructions of sorts: a set of intentions, which then can be restaged, re-interpreted, and thus kept alive through time. Hence, the interesting conceptual basis they offer to offset the problem of working with instable media. Work created today with technology is by nature ephemeral. In order to preserve the artistic intent, one must start thinking beyond the constraints of obsolescence, while trying to “frame” the various dimension of an artistic proposition. There’s undeniably a “look and feel” of a given work, which denotes an anchoring in a given cultural moment. While it is possible to preserve the artifact, it is harder to justify evolving the role of the preserving institution into a repository for technology. Curators, who work with instable media, and particularly with technology, are faced with having to engage in a very close dialogue with conservators, in order to start outlining strategies that may then be implemented to better preserve formally instable art projects. The museum, in collaboration with the artists, as well as a network of experts from all fields, have engaged in the systematic of documents n many different forms (artists interviews, installation records, technical data, and so on. This accumulated documentation traces the formal evolution as well as the perceptual shifts that may occur in the course of this iterative way of understanding the artists project. Together, this set of documents, along with the “original version” of the artwork, constitutes what I would be tempted to call a data maze. Akin to the cultural constellations as defined in the work of Henry Jenkins, the data maze is probably the way to best understand how the museum may safely proceed with its task of being the repository for cultural heritage.

The work of art never existed outside of a formal and cultural context. Even the Wunderkammer -- which can be understood in many ways as the ancestor of the modern museum -- created specific viewing conditions, which in turn determined the way a given work could be grasped. What happens with instable media is that the data maze emerges as an inherent part of the artwork, in a manner that makes it much harder to dissociate or hierarchize: the way it artistic intent was initially carried out, the way it has been communicated at various given times, the layers of interpretation added with the various iterations and consequent “evolutions” of the work.

To go back briefly to the role of the curator, this is why I believe commissioning works is an interesting manner to foster a dialogue with the artists, so as to create good conditions for the transmission of work to future generations. This of course implies an evolution in the nature of the relationship between the institution and the artist, as well as a revision of the understanding of the notion of collecting.

RG: It is very common for curators to treat their work with "artistic inclination", that the job of curating is an art endeavor in and of itself. Artists are also becoming more involved in the curation of their own works, as well as their peers. Is there still a clear line today between curator and artist and what is the distinction?

BW: The role of the curator is undeniably evolving. There was a time when the curator was working with finished art works, made primarily by artists who she/he did not have to be in contact with, applying scholarly knowledge to create a frame for the work. Working with living artists, curators have eventually become editors of sorts, presenting selected works from an artistic career, establishing hierarchies between what they deem better and less good. More recently, the curatorial process has become the result of a dialogue between the curator and the artist, who most of the time becomes directly associated with the process of showing the work, even though the curator puts together the exhibition. The curator, however, never authors the artwork itself. She or he merely fosters the creation of a field of interpretation for it. I do not necessarily believe that artists can actually curate their own work, unless you understand the notion of curating as being specifically context-conscious.

Even in the case of instable media, where the artwork is in perpetual flux, and the relationship of the institution with the artist ongoing, at least as long as the artist is willing and/or able, the artist remains the author. The curator remains a facilitator, a dialogist, and a translator. She or he is also the guarantor of the intellectual integrity in the process of preservation and interpretation: the moment one of these works enter a public art collection, the curator and the artist become the actors of a dialogue or collaboration, which also involves preservation and conservation specialists, in order to ensure that each formal evolution of the work consequent to media updates does not affect the original artistic intent.

"... when visitors choose to enter a museum, they know what they're in for. But if art is coming to the street, one way or the other, it has to somehow morph into a more adaptable and fluid form, which reaches out and yet does not impose on the potential viewer. Since the Web is a public environment, one can easily see how the strategy is to reach out and offer an eclectic array of projects that investigate the medium and truly help to shape it." (Benjamin Weil, Gallery 9: AdaWeb)

The language of the Web provides a context which is non-static, and therefore, the medium is a more challenging but perhaps more powerful framework which a curator/artist must incorporate into the project. Is the Web, legalities aside, a more public space than the museum? Is the public nature of authorship on the Web, with its collaboratively constructed, open-source signification, a model that is entirely incompatible with the museum?

BW: A few years ago, I set myself to explore the notion of art in public space. I curated an exhibition of poster projects, which were shown in urban settings, fly posted by the very same people who put posters in the street. I recall having to research the specificity of local culture. In Cologne, where the show was first installed, I had to work with young musicians. They knew where to put the posters, how to make sure they did not get covered too quickly, what were the unspoken limits beyond which one could not go… Similarly, an exhibition of artists projects on the water buses in Venice (Italy) was an opportunity to find out how art in the real public space (in a way, maybe real is “unmapped”), how it could function without the shield of art. Online, it is a little bit the same thing… one can test the “cultural validity” of a project until it is deemed as art. This does not necessarily imply that being named art is anything else but creating a context to understand something that is décalé.

Public space is a very difficult notion to tackle. One thing we have learnt from the network, maybe, is the idea of public art that no longer needs to be a monument.

The notion of good art as good craftsmanship is something our western societies have lived with until very recently. One can probably trace the break to Duchamp, who somehow pronounces the “divide” between the notion of the artist as a good craftsman, and the artist as a thinker, an actionist, whose means to communicate are only as good as they help convey what she or he is trying to express. The artist coming out of that school of thoughts may cook one day, and do a film the next. She or he may publish a book, or take a car trip across the country. The notion of art as performance, or action, can merely be recorded; props can be conserved as relics. What this type of ephemeral proposition shed lights on is the importance of a cultural context for art. Art history provided this context, a classification, and a set of cultural tools to understand a given moment in history.

What we may realize by examining art history is that artists in fact always were creating with a large number of collaborators. The myth of the artist working alone, secluded is a modern myth. Prior to that, artists worked in studios, where they directed students and studio assistants to produce their work.

It is very difficult to do this without knowing exactly what we talk about when we say technology. Are we talking about a set of tools, are we talking about a process, a place?

There’s probably a multitude of answer to this ongoing question. In my mind, there’s no doubt, however, that we cannot avoid talking about community, production, and distribution, if we want to understand the dynamics between art and technology.

I do not think we are talking about technology only as a set of tools. Rather, as Gerfried Stocker points out in his introduction to the ARS electonica festival of this past year, it is about who makes art, how they make it, and where they make it, introducing a new set of skills, and hence, perspectives.

Above copied from:

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Users and Usership of Art: Challenging Expert Culture, Stephen Wright

The task of the day is to “revive art’s transformative potential within the broadest possible frame,” to use Alexander Alberro’s expression. By all means; I certainly endorse the thrust of that remark. But what, exactly, is to be understood by “the broadest possible frame”? What lies beyond the frame, even in its broadest possible extension? Is there any art out there, any potentially transformative art, beyond the broadest possible frame? The frame, I assume, is the performative frame, which enables those symbolic activities and configurations known as art to appear as such. For without that frame, of course, those activities and configurations might well be visible – their coefficient of visibility might indeed by very high – but not as art per se, at least not according to current conventions. In the absence of a performative frame, objects and actions are ill inclined to change their ontological status and to become art; only the presence of that frame can coax them into being something other than the “mere real thing,” as analytical philosophers rather facetiously put it. It is tempting to see this sort of frame-legitimized sea-change as one of the last remaining acts of magic in an otherwise thoroughly rationalized society – so counter-intuitive it is that something, anything can change its ontological status at the snap of a performative finger, upheld by the presence of the frame, however broad. Yet that frame, like any frame, is also a limitation…a limitation, above all, to art’s transformative potential. When we say, unaware that the frame is in place, we didn’t “even” know something was art, the adverb is very telling: in order for something to be perceived as art, it must be framed as such, but more importantly, the more distinctly framed the more incisive it is. This is a highly dubious claim, however, for we can just as easily say, once we are aware of the frame’s invisible but powerful presence, that it is “just” art. There too, the adverb is revealing: just art, not the potentially more transformatory, corrosive, even censorship-deserving real thing. In short, then, while the frame is an almost magically powerful device, it is also a debilitating one. And this is the reason, I think, that an increasing number of art-related practitioners today are seeking not to broaden the frame still further – thereby pursuing art’s already extraordinary colonization of the life-world – but to get outside of the frame altogether. Every year, more and more artists are quitting the artworld frame – or looking for and experimenting with viable exit strategies – rather than broadening it further. And these are some of the most exciting developments in art today, for to leave the frame means sacrificing one’s coefficient of artistic visibility – but potentially in exchange for great corrosiveness toward the dominant semiotic order.

As I say, a growing number of artists and artists collectives are questioning the need for art to heed the frame, however broad: in the place of the sacrosanct artwork, some are favouring an art which remains open and process-based, showing scant concern for the usual criteria of showing and disseminating, refusing to subordinate process to any extrinsic finished product; others (often the same), challenging the artist’s expert-like authority, have come to advocate coauthorship, broadening responsibility for the creative process to all those taking part; still others (invariably the same), instead of contributing to an art whose legitimacy relies on recognition by the spectator, refuse this conventional division of visual labour (whereby subjet1 produces an object for delectation by subjet2), preferring interventions, which, though not exempt from the exigencies of the public sphere, have only a negligible coefficient of art-specific visibility. Such practices undermine positions of authority and diminish the remit historically attributed to experts of expression.

Envisaging an art without artwork, without authorship and without spectatorship has an immediate consequence: art ceases to be visible as such. For practices whose self-understanding stems from the visual arts tradition – not to mention for the normative institutions governing it – the problem cannot just be overlooked: if it is not visible, art eludes all control, prescription and regulation – in short, all “police”. In a Foucaldian perspective, one might argue that the key issue in policing art is the question of visibility. As Jacques Rancière put it in his now classic definition,

“the police is, in its essence, the law which, though generally implicit, defines the part or lack of part of the parties involved…. The police is thus above all a bodily order that defines the partition between means of doing, means of being and means of saying, which means that certain bodies are assigned, by their very name, to such and such a place, such and such a task; it is an order of the visible and the sayable, which determines that some activities are visible and that some are not, that some speech is heard as discourse while others are heard as noise.”[1]

The art police acts tacitly, its hidden injunctions only becoming perceptible with the benefit of hindsight, when the shape of an era or movement slowly comes into focus. Rancière’s analysis applies not only to art, but more generally to the partition of the real between places and non places of knowledge, visibility and legitimacy, and enables us to better see how actions and words are distributed in keeping with a line that has been defined a priori, an always shifting line of partition between practices that are admitted and those that are discredited, between what must be said and what cannot be said (socially mandatory and forbidden speech).

Rancière’s use of the word “police” to refer to the forces that maintain a semblance of self-evidence in the existent perceptual order is useful because it draws attention to the fact that this order is enforced. Not by truncheon-wielding wardens of the law, of course, but in a far more sophisticated way, by controlling what can and cannot be said, heard or seen. This becomes particularly evident with respect to frame-related discourse and the sophistication with which framing devices function.

I want to give just one example of this today – and that is the notion of the user and of usership in general. I would like to devote the rest of my talk to unpacking some of the embedded suppositions and values that can be found in the semantic field associated with the notion of the user and usership.

I have noticed, over the past few years, a steadily growing usage in public discourse of the category of the user. Despite, however, this ongoing extension and expanded usage of the term, there are clearly limits to its usage. We readily speak of art practices, for instance. But art usage? Art lovers, yes, but art users? However, I consider myself to be an art user – and almost by definition, anyone attending events such as this one, is also an art user.

There is a definite correlation between frame-related discourse and expert culture. By and large, discussions of relationality have taken for granted a highly differentiated artworld increasingly dominated – like all other fields of activity in contemporary society – by expert culture. Those experts of expression, display, interpretation and appreciation known respectively as artists, curators, critics and audiences all jealously preserve their specific spheres of expertise. In France, the Ministry of Culture has gone so far as to create a new socio-professional body mandated to regulate the allocation of public resources in the artworld: the Inspector of Visual Arts... However, as in other realms of social action, the division of labor behind this expert culture, and its afferent privileges, have been brought into question by the emergence of a new category of social actors, which contests expert culture not from the standpoint of some competing expertise but from the standpoint of experience: the political category of the user. We are not accustomed to speaking of “art users” – and indeed, the fact that the term smacks of philistinism says a great deal about the lingering aristocratic values which continue to permeate the artworld and make a mockery of art’s claim to having much transformational potential or will.

Art users are not passive consumers, nor merely even viewers. Rather, the term refers to a broad category comprising all those people who have a stake in art taking place; the broadest possible category of the framers of art, who ultimately generate its relationality. Usership breaks down obsolete binaries between authorship and spectatorship, production and reception, owners and producers, publishers and readers, for it refers to a category of people who make use of art and whose counter-expertise stems from that particular form of relationality known as use-value in their lifeworlds. Like consumer-protection groups, citizens’ initiatives, neighborhood associations and so on, art users experience the use-value of art directly.

The mounting challenge to expert culture due to the expanding sematic field of usership in contemporary public discourse is by no means homogeneous. It is only appropriate to approach the phenomenon through the use of the pragmatics of language (stemming philosophically from Dewey and Wittgenstein), where meaning is determined through usage. Let us take a look at some principal instances of usership today.

The growing current interest in participatory democracy (if not yet in anything but a defanged way) provides a first example. But it is merely part of a broader shift of user-driven initiatives focusing not on claiming individual freedoms but on defending uses and usage. The reference to users is increasingly generalized in a political context where legitimacy is measured by the ability of the governed to appropriate the political and economic instruments made available to them. This is of course a double-edged sword: on the one hand, public services – anxious to uphold their regime of exception with respect to the market-driven private sector – are quick to point out that they serve users, rather than customers or clients; and on the other hand, they are the first to again uphold their exceptional status by stigmatizing users (or consumer advocacy groups) as the Trojan Horse of this same market-driven logic…

There are other, still more interesting cases of usership. Drug users, for instance. To use drugs is to know something about drugs and their use that the medical experts, and the legislators whom they advise on a purely prohibition-authorization basis, do not and cannot know. It is a form of experience-based knowledge.

Similarly, the British Disabled People’s Movement, has developed a wonderful watchword, particularly eloquent in its experiential challenge to expert culture: “We are the experts of our own condition.”

Or parent-teacher associations… In a recent case in Britain, parents were being brushed off by the teaching staff, who dismissed the parents experience as being merely “anecdotal” rather than establishing evidence. The users’ response came in the form of a disarming question: “How many anecdotes does it take to become evidence?”

The most extreme example of usership that I know of occurred last year when the prisoners of France’s highest security prison at Clermont-Ferrand, contending unexpectedly though irrefutably that they were “users of the incarceration system”, demanded that the death penalty be meted out to them, rather than remaining their entire lives in prison without any prospect of release… In a country where the legitimacy of the current polity is founded upon the abolition of the death penalty, this challenge to broad-based expert culture from within the lifeworld of the prison system is terribly poignant.

Usership, however, also stands opposed to another form of authority: ownership. Ownership is the most complete – both inclusive and exclusive – right that one can hold or exert over an object. One can literally do with it as one will, regardless of what those who may also use it have to say. This, is of course something which has been fiercely contested by since the nineteenth century writing of Marx and particularly Proudhon, the former developing his philosophy on the idea of use-value and the second on the notion of the right of use (droit d’usage) as a way of contesting ownership (which Proudhon flatly described as “theft”). In a world where privatization is rampant, usership is a burning issue: how is ownership to be brought into check before it ends up shutting down the system altogether? How can the rights of usership be formulated in a way that is adequate to new modes of production and circulation of immaterial goods?

This implicitly raises an accessory question: that of alternative terms to users and usership as part of a diagnostic to the plight of contemporary relationality. One term that has been used a great deal is that of the “multitude.” The term is felicitous in one respect, because it does describe what is most constitutive of contemporary intercerebral collaboration and networked knowledge production, no longer based on a relationship to the means of production (as was the proletariat) but on a more open or at least loose-knit network of brainpower. But it has the disadvantage of being untethered to any unifying experience or common life-world. Which is why the category of intersubjectivity one finds in usership strikes me as more promising – or at least worth exploring.

With respect to contemporary art and art-related practices, usership as a challenge to expert culture can follow two different vectors: challenging expert culture within the artworld frame itself, in the lineage of institutional critique; or lending art-derived, art-specific and art-engendered competence to other user-initiated and user-driven challenges to expert culture in other walks of life outside of the broadest possible frame of the artworld, collaborating with citizen’s initiatives, amateur scientists’ projects, and so on. Ideally, of course, the deployment of usership by art practicianers would do both, unleashing the tautological imperative (that conceptual art always held tethered to the art sphere alone) on expert culture and its consequences inside and outside the frame. Using the tools and acquisitions of conceptual art to expose and undermine the privileges of expert culture found in other fields of human endeavor.

Usership I believe is a new and extremely relevant category of relationality and political subjectivity with respect to contemporary art-related practice and the conceptual and physical architecture of the places where its users converge. What do we use exhibitions for? And art journals? How, why and when do we use the word “art”? And who are “we”? The experts have their answer, and the users have theirs – necessarily conjugated in the first person plural. Users comprise a loose-knit community based upon common experience. The bedrock of human relationality.

The paper was initially delivered in the context of a conference entitled “Reconsidering Relationality” organised by Alexander Alberro and Nora Alter in Paris on April 18-19, 2007.

[1] La Mésentente (Paris: Galilée, 1995), p. 52. Our translation.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Models of Authorship in New Media, Lev Manovich

Feb 1 2002

Drawing from DJ culture, Star Trek, and quality assurance, Lev Manovich outlines key collaborative trends incorporated by new media. The author highlights interactive systems as an illusion of collaboration, and opens a discussion on open source collaboration and its effects on our notions of authorship.

Collaboration (over the network or in person, in real time or not) between a group of artists to create a new media work / performance / event is the most visible example of a more general phenomenon which I would like to consider here. New media culture brings with it a number of new models of authorship which all involve different forms of collaboration. Of course, collaborative authorship is not unique to new media: think of medieval cathedrals, traditional painting studios which consisted from a master and assistants, music orchestras, or contemporary film productions which, like medieval cathedrals involve thousands of people collaborating over a substantial period of time. In fact, romantic model of a solitary single author occupies a very small place in the history of human culture. New media, however, offers some new variations on the previous forms of collaborative authorship. In addition to collaboration of different individuals and/or groups (1), I can single out the following models:

(2) Interactivity as collaboration between the author and the user.
In the first part of the 1990s when interactivity was a new term, it was often claimed that an interactive artwork involves collaboration between an author and a user. Is this true? The notion of collaboration assumes some shared understanding and the common goals between the collaborators, but in the case of interactive media these are often absent. After an author designs the work, s/he has no idea about the assumptions and intentions of a particular user. Such a user, therefore, can’t be really called a collaborator of the author. From the other side, a user coming to a new media artwork often also does not know anything about this work, what is supposed to do, what its interface is, etc. For this user, therefore, an author is not really a collaborator. Instead of collaborators, the author and the user are often two total strangers, two aliens which do not share a common communication code.

While interactivity in new media art often leads to” miscommunication” between the author and the user, commercial culture employs interactive feedback to assure that no miscommunication will take place. It is common for film producers to test a finished edit of a new film before a “focus group.” The responses of the viewers are then used to re–edit the film to improve comprehension of the narrative or to change the ending. In this practice, rather than presenting the users with multiple versions of the narrative, a single version that is considered the most successful is selected.

(3) Authorship as selection from a menu.
I discuss this type of authorship in detail in my The Language of New Media; here I just want to note that it applies to both professional designers and the users. The design process in new media involves selection from various menus of software packages, databases of media assets, etc. Similarly, a user is often made to feel like a “real artist” by allowing her/him to quickly create a professional looking work by selecting from a few menus. The examples of such “authorship by selection” are the Web sites that allow the users to quickly construct a postcard or even a short movie by selecting from a menu of images, clips and sounds.

Three decades ago Roland Barthes elegantly defined a cultural text as “a tissue of quotations”: “We know now that a text is not a line of words releasing a single ‘theological’ meaning (the ‘message’ of the Author-God) but a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash. The text is a tissue of quotations drawn from innumerable centres of culture.” In software-driven production environment, these quotations come not only from the creators’ memories of what they previously saw, read, and heard, but also directly from the databases of media assets, as well as numerous other words that in the case of the World Wide Web are just a click away.

(4) Collaboration between a company and the users.
When it released the original Doom (1993), id software also released detailed descriptions of game files formats and a game editor, thus encouraging the players to expand the game, creating new levels. Adding to the game became its essential part, with new levels widely available on the Internet for anybody to download. Since Doom, such practices became commonplace in computer game industry. Often, the company would include elements designed by the users in a new release.

With another widely popular game Sims (2001), this type of collaboration reached a new stage. The Web site for the game allows users to upload the characters, the settings, and the narratives they constructed into the common library, as well as download characters, settings, and narratives constructed by others. Soon it turned out that the majority of users do not even play the game but rather use its software to create their own characters and storyboard their adventures. In contrast to earlier examples of such practice – for instance the 1980s Star Trek fans editing their own video tapes by sampling from various Star Trek episodes or writing short stories involving main Star Trek characters – now it came into the central place, being legitimized and encouraged by game producers.

Another way in which a company can be said to collaborate with the users of its software is by incorporating their suggestions about new features into the new version of the software. This is common practice of many software companies.

(5) Collaboration between the author and the software.
Authoring using Al or AI is the most obvious case of human-software collaboration. The author sets up some general rules but s/he has no control over the concrete details of the work – these emerge as a result of the interactions of the rules. More generally, we can say that all authorship that uses electronic and computer tools is a collaboration between the author and these tools that make possible certain creative operations and certain ways of thinking while discouraging others. Of course humans have designed these tools, so it would be more precise to say that the author who uses electronic/ software tools engages in a dialog with the software designers (see #4).

(6) Remixing
Remixing originally had a precise and a narrow meaning that gradually became diffused. Although precedents of remixing can be found earlier, it was the introduction of multi-track mixers that made remixing a standard practice. With each element of a song – vocals, drums, etc. – available for separate manipulation, it became possible to “re-mix” the song: change the volume of some tracks or substitute new tracks for the old ounces. Gradually the term became more and more broad, today referring to any reworking of an original musical work(s).

In his DJ Culture Ulf Poscardt singles out different stages in the evolution of remixing practice. In 1972 DJ Tom Moulton mixed his first disco remixes; as Poscard points out, they “show a very chaste treatment of the original song. Moulton sought above all a different weighting of the various soundtracks, and worked the rhythmic elements of the disco songs even more clearly and powerfully…Moulton used the various elements of the sixteen or twenty-four track master tapes and remixed them.” By 1987, “DJs started to ask other DJs for remixes” and the treatment of the original material became much more aggressive. For example, “Coldcut used the vocals from Ofra Hanza’s ‘Im Nin Alu’ and contrasted Rakim’s ultra-deep bass voice with her provocatively feminine voice. To this were added techno sounds and a house-inspired remix of a rhythm section that loosened the heavy, sliding beat of the rap piece, making it sound lighter and brighter.” In another example, London DJ Tim Simenon produced a remix of his personal top ten of 1987. Simenon: “We found a common denominator between the songs we wanted to use, and settled on the speed of 114 beats per minute. The tracks of the individual songs were adapted to this beat either by speeding them up or slowing them down.”

In the last few years people started to apply the term “remix” to other media: visual productions, software, literary texts. With electronic music and software serving as the two key reservoirs of new metaphors for the rest of culture today, this expansion of the term is inevitable; one can only wonder why it did no happen earlier. Yet we are left with an interesting paradox: while in the realm of commercial music remixing is officially accepted, in other cultural areas it is seen as violating the copyright and therefore as stealing. So while filmmakers, visual artists, photographers, architects and Web designers routinely remix already existing works, this is not openly admitted, and no proper terms equivalent to remixing in music exist to describe these practices.

The term that we do have is “appropriation.” However, this never left its original art world context where it was first applied to the works of post-modern artists of the early 1980s based on re-working older photographic images. Consequently, it never achieved the same wide use as “remixing.” Anyway, “Remixing” is a better term because it suggests a systematic re-working of a source, the meaning which “appropriation” does not have. And indeed, the original “appropriation artists” such as Richard Prince simply copied the existing image as a whole rather than re-mixing it. As in the case of Duchamp’s famous urinal, the aesthetic effect here is the result of a transfer of a cultural sign from one sphere to another, rather than any modification of a sign.

The only other commonly used term across media is “quoting” but I see it as describing a very different logic than remixing. If remixing implies systematically rearranging the whole text, quoting means inserting some fragments from old text(s) into the new one. Thus it is more similar to another new fundamental authorship practice that, like remixing, was made possible by electronic technology – sampling.

(7) Sampling: New Collage?
According to Ulf Poscardt, “The DJ’s domination of the world started around 1987.” This take-over is closely related to the new freedom in the use of mixing and sampling. That year M/A/R/S released their record “Pump Up the Volume”; as Poscardt points out, “This record, cobbled together from a crazy selection of samples, fundamentally changed the pop world. As if from nowhere, the avant-garde sound collage, unusual for the musical taste of the time, made it to the top of the charts and became the year’s highest-selling 12-inch single in Britain.”

Theorizing immediately after M/A/R/S, Coldcut, Bomn The Bass and S-Xpress made full use of sampling, music critic Andrew Goodwin defined sampling as “the uninhibited use of digital sound recording as a central element of composition. Sampling thus becomes an aesthetic programme.” We can say that with sampling technology, the practices of montage and collage that were always central to twentieth century culture, became industrialized. Yet we should be careful in applying the old terms to new technologically driven cultural practices. While the terms “montage” and “collage” regularly pop up in the writings of music theorists from Poscardt to Kodwo Eshun to DJ Spooky, I think these terms that come to us from literary and visual modernism of the early twentieth century do not adequately describe new electronic music. To note just three differences: musical samples are often arranged in loops; the nature of sound allows musicians to mix pre-existent sounds in a variety of ways, from clearly differentiating and contrasting individual samples (thus following the traditional modernist aesthetics of montage/collage), to mixing them into an organic and coherent whole; finally, the electronic musicians often conceive their works beforehand as something that will be remixed, sampled, taken apart and modified. Poscardt: “house (like all other kinds of club music) has relinquished the unity of the song and its inviolability. Of course the creator of a house song thinks at first in terms of his single track, but he also thinks of it in the context of a club evening, into which his track can be inserted at a particular point.”

Last but not least, It is relevant to note here that the revolution in electronic pop music that took place in the second part of the 1980s was paralleled by similar developments in pop visual culture of the same period. The introduction of electronic editing equipment such as switcher, keyer, paintbox, and image store made remixing and sampling a common practice in video production towards the end of the decade; first pioneered in music videos, it later took over the whole visual culture of TV. Other software tools such as Photoshop (1989) had the same effect on the fields of graphic design, commercial illustration and photography. And, a few years later, World Wide Web redefined an electronic document as a mix of other documents. Remix culture has arrived.

(8) Open Source Model
Open Source model is just one among a number of different models of authorship (and ownership) which emerged in software community and which can be applied (or are already being applied) to cultural authorship. The examples of such models are the original project Xanadu by Ted Nelson, “freeware,” and “shareware.” In the case of Open Source, the key idea is that one person (or group) writes software code, which can be then modified by another user; the result can be subsequently modified by a new user, and so on. If we apply this model to a cultural sphere, do we get any new model of authorship? It seems to me that the models of remixing, sampling and appropriation conceptually are much richer than the Open Source idea. There are, however, two aspects of Open Source movement that make it interesting. One is the idea of license. There are approximately 30 different types of licenses in Open Source movement. The licenses specify the rights and responsibilities of a person modifying the code. For instance, one licence (called the GNU Pulic License) specifies that the programmer have to provide the copy of the new code to the community; another stipulates that the programmer can sell the new code and he does not have to share with the community, but he can’t do things to damage the community.

Another idea is that of the kernel. At the “heart” of Linux operating system is its kernel - the code essential to the functioning of the system. While users add and modify different parts of Linux system, they are careful not to change the kernel in fundamental ways. Thus all dialects of Linux share the common core. I think that the ideas of license and of kernel can be directly applied to cultural authorship. Currently appropriation, sampling, remixing and quoting are controlled by a set of heterogeneous and often outdated legal rules. These rules tell people what they are not allowed to do with the creative works of others. Imagine now a situation where an author releases her/his work into the world accompanied by a license that will tell others both what they should not do with this work and also what they can do with it (i.e. the ways in which it can be modified and re-used) Similarly we may imagine a community formed around some creative work; this community would agree on what constitutes the kernel of this work. Just as in the case of Linux, it world be assumed that while the work can be played with and endlessly modified, the users should not modify the kernel in dramatic ways.

Indeed, if music, films, books and visual art are our cultural software, why not apply the ideas from software development to cultural authorship? In fact, I believe that we can already find many communities and individual works that employ the ideas of license and kernel, even though these terms are not explicitly used. One example is Jon Ippolito’s Variable Media Initiative. Ippolito proposed that an artist who accepts variability in how her/his work will be exhibited and/or re-created in the future (which is almost inevitable in the case of net art and other software-based work) should specify what constitutes the legitimate exhibition/recreation; in short, s/he should provide the equivalent of the software license.

The commonality of menu selection / remixing / sampling / synthesis / open “sourcing” in contemporary culture calls for a whole new critical vocabulary to adequately describe these operations, their multiple variations and combinations. One way to develop such a vocabulary is to begin correlate the terms that already exist but are limited to particular media. Electronic music theory brings to the table analysis of mixing, sampling, and synthesis; academic literary theory can also make a contribution, with its theorizations of intertext, paratext, and hyperlinking; the scholars of visual culture can contribute their understanding of montage, collage and appropriation. Having a critical vocabulary that can be applied across media will help us to finally accept these operations as legitimate cases of authorship, rather than exceptions. To quote Poscardt one last time, “however much quoting, sampling and stealing is done – in the end it is the old subjects that undertake their own modernization. Even an examination of technology and the conditions of productions does not rescue aesthetics from finally having to believe in the author. He just looks different.”

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Artists’ Publications, Andi McGarry

The title of my talk is Artists’ Publications. I'd like to start by giving a bit of
background about myself and my activities. In 1986 I formed the Sun Moon and
Stars Press having graduated from Brighton two years previously. I’d fallen in love
with a girl who lived in Wexford and I spent a long time trying to convince her of my
intentions. This involved a lot of travelling back and forth to Ireland and eventually
moving over. During that summer Id been working on a fishing boat in the Irish sea
and had produced along with a few boxes of fish - a catch of poems. My first book
was born -Rhyme of the unseasoned mariner. I made the book by hand physically
typing each copy then hand painting each illustration and stapling the spine. I had
worked up a master copy from which all the books were subsequently generated- a
bit like a mad monk. Each copy was a version- similar but different to every other
version. A unique edition in fact. Making a copy from the master copy was a method
that worked for me. This set up the modus operandi for future sun moon and stars
press book production.

Between 1986 and 2007 I produced 180 titles using this method. My mission
statement in 1986 was to "Circulate Organic Ideas" - what I meant by that was I was
going to produce books with my take on things, made in such a way that the
evolution of the works and Ideas and means of production would all be connected via
strong themes and a recognisable house style. I was the most cookie publishing
house that I knew.

I wanted to test the water -I felt I was on to something and using the book form
seemed appropriate. I received some interest in my publications via reviews
particularly Stephanie Brown's column in Artists’ Newsletter, there were also cheques
in the post and publicity. This was great encouragement and feedback. I decided to
explore other Ideas in book formats. I quickly established certain themes and styles
in the books.

The books featured figurative scenes with words tumbling alongside. Words of a
poetic nature - but not necessarily poems. Images and words combined sometimes
a little haphazardly. Juxtaposed maybe.

My books were certainly recognisable - the papers I used I tore down from big
sheets creating a characteristic (a false deckle I would call it) Hand typing and writing
the words ensured plenty of typos and spelling mistakes.

For me the content and the format of the publication are all parts of the same circle.
In book terms "Totality" in the words of Keith Smith not just the content, binding,
paper, covers how it moves everything and I would even include the marketing in

Being in charge of the totality of the book was essential in my book making
activities. In most of the 180 titles created I was the Author illustrator poet

Being involved in all stages of production in the commercial book world is unusual.

Organising a book is a bit like organising a film there are many parts elements that all
need to come together to make it work as one. I like putting a thing together.

When I started making books they were priced at £2 each. Today they might be £50-
£300. My anvil has been constantly clanging with new Ideas and a hotly forged book
can sometimes made within hours of the inspiration happening. I revel in this idea of
"speedy production”, no queues or waiting in lines, I had recipes sorted for" Insta-
book cooking. ”Speedy books" in the words of Radoslaw Nowakowski. Sometimes a
book would grow out of several different experiences over a long period.

The figurative elements would usually be some form of depiction of humans in the
landscape and this remained fairly constant through the years- inky figures in
landscape paddling boats across a horizon, or jumping cracks on the Burren, maybe
figures in love running and leaping with fiery desire. These figures have been
teeming through the pages gallivanting cavorting singing dancing and drinking and
dishing out kisses via twists and turns just as in life. My narratives have twizzled
around these figures never shy of poetry or humour.

The themes and Ideas bore some resemblance to my situation, the current
landscape, the state of mind, they might loosely describe events they are often
disguised with a little poetics, or a little invention for flavour or spice.

Via the Wexford Artists Book exhibition which I conceived and co organised for 10
years I was able to see a lot of Artists Books 1st hand. This exposure had quite an
influence and effect on my practice and my continued involvement in Book
arts. I also went to lots of Artists book fairs in London-I liked the fact that my own
works were nicely different from most other makers. I took a stand at Frankfurt
Bookfair in 2000 and also went to Seoul in Korea. Selling work behind a table is quite
hard, but marketing/networking is an important part of the process and at the end you
see a work go all the way thru from Idea to sale-You certainly need a hard head and
be in for the long haul.

Such testing encounters really do call into question why an artist would go to such
lengths to publish at all?
I think it comes with the territory, it’s a part of their remit, part of their artistic licence,
like lettered rock they will strut their stuff - because they need to/ want to /have to.
Exhibitionists is a word containing exhibition. We need to show others fellows
strangers colleagues- that we are alive and kicking- Did I show you this yet?
Exhibitions are often called "Shows" and it is the showing that the other magic
ingredient is finally released and realised - when the people see the creation.

In 2007 several things occurred which changed the way I was publishing, what I
published and how I published it.

Sarah Bodman had sent me a questionnaire asking me amongst other things
"Did I think computers would impact on the way I produced work?" the Luddite in me
chortled as I picked up the quill pen to produce another hand made copy.

Then I won a folkatronica bursary with Visual Arts Ireland, this enabled me to run
some Ideas in a DVD Video format and produce a DVD with a soundtrack. The DVD
featured lots of underwater imagery and was also turned into a book- but this got me
thinking - making movies was such fun, and there were a host of new challenges.

Simultaneous acquisition of a laptop and a digital camera allowed me to explore the
possibilities of movie making using a simple editing programme (movie maker) it had
all become possible. I began making movies at a feverish rate.

A trip to Geordie land for a birthday to go play with the old band, stirred up longings
for music making. On my return to Ireland I said to my partner "I wish there was
someone here to make music with." The next morning as the fates would have it a
guy approached me asking would I like to form a band to do a benefit. Working with
other people making music has all kinds of bonus features - a perfect antidote for
isolationists, as collaboration is the order of the day - and the house is filled with

With in a year, and after several band reformations, recording music, coupled with
movie making, creating soundtracks, editing the film and producing DVDs, and then
publishing them- sun moon and stars press films swung into production and
has produced 30 DVD films to date. Visual Publications in the form of DVD movies
opens up whole new area of possibilities.

In my films I often use myself as the figure running through the landscape. Further
collaborations are required in movie making finding a good cinematographer for
example. The figure moves through animating the landscape providing a focus.
Running jumping leaping walking. There are still elements of fun humour and like all
good artists books - surprises. My ideas always want to be blurting our side outdoors
taking you some place you didn’t quite expect.

The movie camera allows for a different kind of landscape appreciation, via editing
and with inclusion of sound track the synthesizer makes an entirely new form of
artwork. I want my films to retain a notebook scrapbook journal feel. In my film" flag
man" it was the soundtrack that I decided upon first- we then went out and filmed the
Ideas that came from those words. I think of the music as an audio narrative- in lieu
of acting and drama perhaps.

I have published a number of films on you tube and as an outlet you tube and similar
sites are an interesting starting point. The work is available for free - thus the return
of a kind of cheap multiple.

I love seeing my work on a big screen too at festivals and in new situations, there is
lots of potential for these visual publications-and this makes the making worth while.
Its great to follow a thing through from Idea to consumption.

My most recent film Gone in 38 seconds was a commissioned documentary
film featuring a guy who bought his partner a double-decker bus, the shortened
version you will see contains lots of the elements of fun and landscape which interest
I intend to develop my interest in documentary films as a route for uncovering other
In September 2009 I am co organising 1st Wexford ~Independent Documentary Film
Festival - which will take place in the village where I live.
I am delighted in the films and what is now possible with simple equipment. These
are indeed exciting times for artists to be publishing in.

Andi McGarry 2009

The above copied from:
This location also has an audio copy of the above as a talk.