Concise, critical reviews of books, exhibitions, and projects in all areas and periods of art history and visual studies
July 5, 2012
Contemporary Artists’ Books Conference
NY Art Book Fair
MoMA PS1, Long Island City, Queens
September 30–October 1, 2011
College Art Association

The Contemporary Artists’ Books Conference (CABC), organized by the CABC committee of art library professionals, was held free of charge and open to the public on September 30 and October 1, 2011, during Printed Matter’s sixth annual NY Art Book Fair at MoMA PS1 (http://nyartbookfair.com/conference). The conference consisted of six panel sessions lasting ninety minutes each, along with an hour-long lightning round of ten presenters discussing and showing images of their favorite zines, books, or multiples within a five-minute time frame. The well-attended sessions were held in a conference room on the first floor of the MoMA PS1 building; adjacent to the room was the table and exhibition space for 2011’s special Artists’ Book Conference Edition, Adventures in Living. Edited by David Senior, the publication pays homage to Semina and other artists’ periodicals and features language-based artwork, poetry, images, and text; sales of the edition helped support the Contemporary Artists’ Books Conference in lieu of a fee charged for admission to the program.

The inaugural session, “Furthering the Critical Dialogue,” began with a brief introduction of the panelists and a statement on the theme of the symposium: the critical evaluation and discussion of a particular artists’ book. Chosen this year was Ofer Wolberg’s Visitor, a self-published, unbound, soft-cover photographic book in an edition of one hundred, printed in black and red ink on a Risograph. The panelists—Victor Sira, photographer/faculty from the International Center for Photography-Bard MFA Program; Larissa Leclair from the Indie Photobook Library; and Krist Gruijthuihsen, curator and founding director of Kunstverein—all offered engaging accounts and interpretations of the edition. Sira’s presentation included a slideshow of images of artworks ranging from classical styles to contemporary art objects, juxtaposed with an accumulation of photographs from news and social networking sites, to show the role of photography as an aggregator of information; through the use of images, Visitor provides the ability to contextualize and explain a personal history, a moment in time. Leclair’s slide show gave an overview of the history of photo books. In her presentation, she stressed the importance of self-published and photo books to inventory time and document history. Gruijthuihsen provided some examples of artists’ books from his own bookshelf that, along with Visitor, document observations of mundane or remarkable experiences: Ivan Grubanov’s Visitor from 2003, and two books from the “In Almost Every Picture” series published by Kessels Kramer Publishing in Amsterdam.

The panel “Pedagogy: Artists’ Books in the Juvenile Justice System” was moderated by Jennifer Tobias and saw dynamic presentations by Artistic Noise director, Lauren Adelson, and Jessica Fenster-Sparber, the Passages Academy School librarian. Both organizations sponsor art programs that promote visual literacy and help inspire non-adjudicated and incarcerated youth in New York to explore their creative potential and empower themselves in productive and generative ways. Both panelists discussed the difficulties of working in these special environments where surveillance and safety are primary concerns, while maintaining their fundamental goal of providing people in their programs with the studio and tools to express their feelings, document their stories, and improve their futures. Session attendees were able to view images of projects in accompanying PowerPoint slideshows, and look at some of the beautiful examples of publications—handed out during the session—made by individuals in the programs.

“Radical Print: Samizdat & the Artists’ Book” was moderated by Daphne Carr; the session included PowerPoint presentations by Ann Komaromi from the Centre for Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto; Michal Nanoru, writer and editor; and Matthew Higgs, director of White Columns. The first presenter, Komaromi, gave a historical overview of Samizdat: the dissident literature self-published and distributed by close networks of friends in the Soviet Bloc from the 1950s to the 1980s; in her presentation, she described a number of editions of classic Soviet Samizdat and showed images and bibliographic records from the University of Toronto Libraries’ Soviet Samizdat Periodicals database (http://samizdat.library.utoronto.ca/). Nanoru gave a presentation documenting specifically the Samizdat journals Vokno (1979–1989) and Revolver Revue (1985–1989) and emphasized the transformation of these activities into a new generation Samizdat, which saw these publications become more conventional magazines in the 1990s. Higgs then described his publishing project Imprint 93, which produced between fifty and sixty editions from 1993 to 1998; Imprint 93 allowed him to collaborate with artists, provided him the opportunity to connect with the culture he was living in at the time, and enabled him to create works he could engage with in a dimension he called “self-historization.”

Recurring themes explored in the first three sessions examined how publications containing literature and artwork, whether they are self-published or produced anonymously or under the grip of censorship and surveillance, ultimately accumulate experiences and carry a visually valuable capacity to document the mundane, the political and underground movements, the historical moments, and the emotions and thoughts of people. All of the books, artists’ book projects, and self-published and distributed books and periodicals discussed during the sessions document existence, collect experiences. These publications provide a narrative to the visual and informational landscape of a culture, representing moments in history whether intimate, secretive, or collaborative.

The final session of the first day was the Pecha Kucha Session where participants Eleanor Whitney, Saul Robbins, Katie Haegele, Jesse Hlebo, Ann Giordano, Pierre Le Hors, Carlos Loret de Mola, Veronica Liu, Garret Miller, and Curtis Hamilton used PowerPoint presentations to show images of their favorite, most influential, and most interesting zines, editions, and artists’ books. The participants’ diverse backgrounds ranged from photographers and educators to scholars, writers, and visual artists; similarly, the publications chosen also showed a diverse range of artistic expression from music and fashion to photography, popular culture, and science.

The second day of the conference began with the session “Focus on Latin America: Artists’ Books in Havana, Mexico City, and Caracas,” moderated by Sara Rubinow, with presentations by Sira, education curator Sofia Olascoaga, and artist Steven Daiber from Red Trillium Press. Sira began the session with a PowerPoint presentation of photographs of cultural institutions, art objects, and books all taken during his most recent trip to Caracas, Venezuela; the photos showed Sira’s interpretation of the state of art and artists’ books in Caracas, the aesthetic landscape of the place, and how it is continuously evolving given the political and social changes of that culture. Olascoaga concentrated on Mexico City and spoke about the history of book and mail art in Mexico, specifically the use of mail art as a political tool and as the foundation for the production of artists’ books in Latin America. She showed installation shots of Arte Correo, an exhibition devoted to mail art, held from 2009–2010 at the Mexico City Museum, and photographs documenting other projects that showcased the artists’ books community in Mexico City as thriving and energized. Daiber showed documentation of his travels and book art workshops in Cuba; his slide presentation displayed the work of Cuban artists working in that medium, as well as book projects that Daiber has made in that country. One example of his work was the 51 libretas sewn on cords (2010), an artists’ book formed from bound booklets that list the supplies and food rationed to a Cuban household for a year. Although the session focused on three different countries, the panelists seamlessly merged ideas that focused on the importance of the cultural and political environments that inspire the foundation for emerging trends in artists’ books. This session was a great opportunity for attendees to learn about examples of works by Latin American and Caribbean artists for collection development purposes.

After a break, independent curator Jeremy Sanders gave a brief introduction on keynote speaker Tauba Auerbach, detailing the wide variety of media and expression that encompasses her artistic career. Auerbach, a visual artist who lives and works in New York, began her address with a slideshow presentation on her favorite artists’ books from her own collection; she said that this approach would help ease her nerves and facilitate the transition into talking about her own work. For the next hour, she shared her thoughts on book arts and described how the inspiration that guides her work is ultimately to make a beautiful object. Auerbach’s artist’s books deal with matter, perception, depth, simplicity, and intricacy, often in simultaneous ways. She is interested in making beautiful books using innovative techniques that allow for telescopic and semiotic awareness, a haptic perception of the surfaces, pages, and interiors of her work, as well conceiving areas beyond the possible and tangible.

The concluding presentation of the conference was moderated by Stephen Bury. Titled “The Final Appearance: Artists’ Books Get into Print,” it featured Lucy Mulroney, curator of special collections at Syracuse University; David Senior, bibliographer at the MoMA Library; and Leanne Shapton, publisher of J&L Books, a nonprofit based in Atlanta and New York. Each gave PowerPoint presentations that provided insight into the evolution and stages of artistic progression of an artists’ book as it moves from conceptual stage to developmental process and finally into the published version. Mulroney dedicated her presentation to Andy Warhol’s book a, A Novel, published in 1969 and 1998 by Grove Press. This novel is presented as a literal transcription of a day in the life of the actor Ondine; it documents Ondine’s conversations as recorded by Warhol over a two-year period and later transcribed by typists (two high school students and one musician) who adapted the dialogue as they wished. In the resulting edited and seemingly unedited final version, one wonders if Warhol’s voice and control was lost or if his intent was accomplished, and the work becomes its own process. Senior’s presentation showed the background and creative process that has been present in the publication of the Artists’ Book Conference Editions; he included screenshots of the emailed correspondence between himself and participating artists as both essential creative input and evidence that documents the production process. Shapton’s presentation showed the work of J&L Books. Some of the examples she handed out to the audience included Weavings by Corin Hewitt (2009), Ok Ok Ok by Mike Slack (2002), and Forests, Gardens & Joe’s by Amy O’Neill (2011). This session showed that the curator, editor, publisher, and printer all impact the production of and execution of an idea; all three panelists stated that a friendly dynamic is welcome and spontaneity necessary in order for these ideas to be productive and become inspiring and fruitful projects.

Mabel I. Cordero-Alvarado
Associate Librarian, National Hispanic University

Please send comments about this review to editor.caareviews@collegeart.org.