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The Sales Representative Will Be Right Back Are Not Books & Publications as Performative Publishing, or Notes on Productive NonDocumentation


Are Not Books & Publications as Performative Publishing

are not notes


The Sales Representative Will Be Right Back

a re not books & publications as perform ati v e publishing, or notes on producti v e non-documentation


Contents ch a p ter 1. A General Description of the Are Not Books & Publications Project

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1.1. Performative Publishing

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1.2. Graphic Design in the White Cube

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1.3. Collaboration’s Discontents

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ch a p ter 2. Are Not Books & Publications as a Functioning Publisher of Print and Electronic Books

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2.1. The Are Not Books Catalog

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2.2. The Are Not Books Editorial Method

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2.3. The Are Not Books Production Method

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2.4. The Are Not Books Marketing Strategy

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2.5. An Instance of Publishing

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ch a p ter 3. Are Not Books & Publications as an Academic Research Program

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3.1. Academic Research

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3.2. Research Methodology

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3.3. Nonmodern Knowledge Production

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a ppendix 1. Exhibiting at the 2014 College Art Association Annual Conference, Book and Trade Fair

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a ppendix 2. The 2014 University of Notre

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Dame Master of Fine A rts Exhibition, Snite Museum of Art

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cha p ter 1

A General Description of Are Not Books & Publications


Are Not Notes on . . .

Publishing as the Critical Practice of Graphic Design. Wheaton, IL: Are Not Books & Publications, 2014, 108 pages. 2


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T

he Are Not Books & Publications project is both a functioning publisher of print and electronic books, and an academic

research program. Are Not Books & Publications has to date published twelve titles (fifteen printed volumes), all of which were written or edited, designed, and typeset by the Are Not Studio. All twelve titles are available to read online, or to be purchased as print-on-demand paperbacks at the cost of printing (without a publisher’s markup). This project begins with an understanding of design as an opportunity “to infiltrate and use the system of other disciplines by stealth.”1 The intention of the Are Not Books & Publications project is to utilize a strategy of “infiltration by stealth,” while applying it to the field of academic and scholarly publishing; encroaching strategically on this field’s disciplinary territory, for the purpose of critical reflection.

1.

The phrase is from James Goggin, in Ericson, Magnus. Iaspis Forum on Design and Critical Practice: The Reader. Stockholm: Iaspis, 2009, p. 33. 3


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1.1. performative publishing In the spring of 2014, Are Not Books will participate as an exhibitor at the College Art Association (CAA) Annual Conference. We will also be exhibiting as part of the 2014 Master of Fine Arts exhibition at the Snite Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame. In both cases, the intention is to exhibit performatively. We will be presenting books, artifacts, and physical objects as if they are being promoted for sale. While exhibiting at CAA, our book table and display methods will be virtually indistinguishable from the commercial and non-profit participants in the Book and Trade Fair. As a result, we will be distributing our publications, while simultaneously (if subtly and almost imperceptably) reflecting on the current state, recent changes, and ongoing conditions within the field of academic and scholarly publishing.2 2. Some of the “ongoing issues� within scholarly publishing include predatory for-profit publishing practices; concerns about the effectiveness of the peer review process; and an over-acceleration of the editorial, vetting, and publishing 4


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In the Snite Museum of Art, the sales table will be in an entirely different set and setting. The performative quality of the display in this case, will be focused on the museum’s institu-

process resulting from pressures on junior academics to produce quickly and regularly. For a summary of these issues see The Enemies of Promise: Publishing, Perishing, and the Eclipse of Scholarship, by Lindsay Waters, Executive Editor for the Humanities at Harvard University Press (Waters, Lindsay. The Enemies of Promise. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2004). Over-accelerated production cycles have also resulted from increased efficiency made possible by digital production and electronic distribution. See Triple Canopy, Inc. Invalid Format: An Anthology of Triple Canopy. New York: Canopy Canopy Canopy, Inc, 2011; Williamson, A. “What Happenes to Peer Review?” Paper presented at an International Learned Journals Seminar, London, April 12, 2002 (accessed at alpsp.org/wil120402); and Karen Coyle, “Predatory Publishing/Peer to Peer Review,” Library Journal April, 2013; accessed at lj.libraryjournal.com/2013/04/opinion/peer-to-peerreview-publishers-peer-to-peer-review. 5


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tional context, generally, and on the problematic role of graphic design in the “white cube,” more specifically.

1.2. gr aphic design in the white cube Graphic design does not always fit well in a museum or gallery setting. As Rachel Berger explains, most graphic design is small and flat. Small and flat, of course, lends itself well to mass reproduction and wide distribution, but it does not command a room. Once the product of a design practice does begin to command a room, people no longer think of it as graphic design. The gallery and the museum are the natural habitat of a precious singularity. The dollar store, in Berger’s example—the trade show, or academic conference, in the case of the Are Not Books project—is the “temple of the multiple.”3

3. Rachel Berger, in Sueda, Jon, The Way Beyond Art: The Wide White Space. San Francisco, CA: CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, 2012, p. 74. 6


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1.3. coll abor ation’s discontents As already addressed (see chapter two, above), it is our opinion that graphic design is not easily compared to the “relational aesthetics” movement as defined by Nicolas Bourriaud. Instead, design engaged in what is often called “social practice” or “participation art,” must go beyond the merely dialectical, or relational, to include an aesthetic or conceptual element capable of surprising, confusing, frustrating, or enlightening. The goal in the case of critical design is to introduce an awkward distance, slowing-down, slippage, or critical space into the pre-existing relational situation always already present in the work of graphic design. At the risk of stating the obvious, the difference between art and design is that design has the relational element “builtin.” Graphic design engages with a client, user, reader, or customer without the additional mediation of a gallery or museum. In this way, the Are Not Books project, functioning as critical design, remains “on the street,” engaged with “everyday life” outside the gallery, studio, or showroom. Unlike con7


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ventional, merely instrumental, design, critical graphic design simultaneously performs a reflection on, or examination of, the “everyday” situation with which it is in dialogue. Art historian Claire Bishop describes as “collaboration’s discontents” those who would require relational art to be more than merely socially engaged, or discursive.4 Art works capable of blurring the line between art and life—between objects of contemplation and artifacts of quotidian utility—must provide an aesthetic jolt in the tradition of the historical avant-garde.5 Museums and gallery spaces make the art object autonomous. Socially engaged art imposes an instrumentality, or utility on the work of art. 4. Bishop, Claire. “The Social Turn: Collaboration and Its Discontents.” Artforum, February 2006, p. 183. 5. Bishop traces this defining characteristic of the historic avant-garde back to its origin in the Dada Season, or Grand Saison Dada, of 1921 (Bishop, Claire. Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship. London: Verso, 2012, p. 66). As Grant H. Kester puts it, “the avant-garde work of art should radically chal8


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The goal is not just “discourse,” in other words. The discursive is mundane and minimally productive or beneficial. Instead, the goal of critical design projects like Are Not Books is to introduce something of the odd, absurd, eccentric, awkward, poetic, or pleasurable into the routine, everyday activities of communication, documentation, production, and distribution. lenge [the viewer’s] faith in the very possiblity of rational discourse. This tendency is based on the assumption that the shared discursive systems (linguistic, visual, etc.) on which we rely for our knowledge of the world are dangerously abstract and violently objectifying. Art’s role is to shock us out of this perceptual complacency, to force us to see the world anew. This shock has borne many names over the years: the sublime, alienation effect, l’amour fou, and so on. In each case the result is a kind of epiphany that lifts viewers outside the familiar boundaries of a common language, existing modes of representation, and even their own sense of self” (Kester, Grant H. Conversation Pieces: Community and Communication in Modern Art. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004, p. 12; cited in Koskinen, Design Research Through Practice, p. 106). 9


cha p ter 2

Are Not Books & Publications as a Functioning Publisher of Print & Electronic Books


Are Not Notes on . . .

A Useless Guide to Book Design. Wheaton, IL: Are Not Books & Publications, 2013, 245 pages.

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A

s a functioning publisher of print and electronic books, Are Not Books operates as an examination, and an exam-

ple, of what has been called “micro-publishing.� The publishing taken up by such critical, smallscale publishing ventures is entirely controlled by the designer, along with a small group of collaborators. Writing, editing, design, production, and distribution roles are restricted so as to be minimally influenced by outside concerns. As a result, the form and content of the publications can be critically and reflexively about the practice of design and publishing.

2.1. the are not books & publications catalog To date, Are Not Books has published twelve books (fifteen volumes). Titles include The Tree of the World; Saints and Guides; A Distant Ecclesiology; Protestant Erotics; Wisdom, Like Style, Is; Rust City Renovation; The Is Not Baseball Book; Johann Arndt (Four Volumes); W. B. Yeats: Selections; Publishing as the Critical Practice of Graphic Design; A Useless Guide to Book Design; and Notes On Design Education. 13


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2.2. the are not books editorial method The Are Not Books & Publications editorial strategy can be described as wandering, flaneurlike; addressing any idea that might be interesting at the time. Our method is something like a recuperation of the Situationist technique of dérive, “operating within the archive, allowing the discovery of hidden ambiences.”6 Each book and edition simply grows out of conversations the author, friends, and associates happen to be having at the time.7

6. McKenzie Wark, 50 Years of Recuperation of the Situationist International. New York: Buell Center/ FORuM Project, Columbia University, and Princeton Architectural Press, 2008, pp. 15–20. 7.

Mai Abu ElDahab quotes Stuart Bailey as describing the editorial process of Dot Dot Dot this way in Abu El Dahab, Mai. From Berkeley to Berkeley: Objectif Exhibitions 2008-2010. Berlin: Sternberg, 2011, p. 5. 14


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2.3. the are not books produciton method The Are Not Books & Publications project’s printed books are produced like websites. Printon-demand technology allows each copy to be an independent edition. Editorial changes can, and often are, made between each printing. Technological developments are embraced while being utilized in a slowed-down fashion.8 The resulting hybrid print-and-digital artifact look final, complete, and total, while remaining partial, contingent, provisional, and mutable. Graphic designer and artist Will Holder’s practice has been described in a similar way: Will Holder is a British typographer who edits and publishes. The work, always grasped by enjoyment, genuinely being worked out, 8. Compare to Triple Canopy’s stated intention to “slow down the internet,” in Triple Canopy, Inc. Invalid Format: An Anthology of Triple Canopy. New York: Canopy Canopy Canopy, Inc, 2011; and Triple Canopy, “The Binder and the Server.” Art Journal Volume 70, Number 4 (Winter 2011), pp. 40–57. 15


Are Not Notes on . . . and yet, the proper form seems never (humorously, nicely) totally arrived at. Increasingly, each publication by Holder seems to be edited with the knowledge of some future edition (like how one edits previous pages after completing the final pages, then edits the final pages again, then the previous pages again, etc.), as if Holder’s work were a single thing that is being released in burps.9

2.4. the are not books marketing str ategy Our method for taking each publication “to market” follows very closely a strategy described by curator and critic Anthony Huberman: “trust in the self-selecting process whereby those who are interested in what [you] do will find their way to [you] and get in touch.”10 We only care, in other

9. source: yucontemporary.org/holder. 10. Huberman, Anthony. “How to Behave Better.” Bulletins of the Serving Library, New York: The Serving Library, 2009, p. 7. 11. Compare to Hyde, Lewis. The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World. New York: Vintage Books, 2009. 16


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words, about those who care. The goal is cultural transactions that are not based on competition, or the accumulation of capital. We are interested, instead, in a gift economy made up sympathies; of “friends who care.”11 This will necessarily involve smaller groups of people, as Huberman puts it, and “if that sounds apolitical or timid, it isn’t.” Huberman quotes critic and curator Jan Vorwoert on this topic: “a culture governed by the economic imperative makes good manners the closest you might get to civil disobedience.”12

2.5. an instance of publishing The original books, pamphlets, posters, and other publications on display have all been written, edited, and designed by Are Not Books and Publications. Exhibiting these publications can be understood to constitute an instance of “publishing”—making public the formal, linguistic, and other artistic content of the printed material and installation. The term publication refers in this case to both the individual copies of the

12. Huberman, “Behave Better,” p. 7. 17


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printed material on display, and the overall exhibition. The experience and interaction of the viewer with the installation opens up the meaning of publication to include a participatory, performative element not always found, or explicitly intended in more commercial instantiations of “publishing� activities.

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chapter 3

Are Not Books & Publications as an Academic Research Program


Are Not Notes on . . .

The Is Not Baseball Book. Wheaton, IL: Are Not Books & Publications, 2013, 67 pages. 20


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A

s a research program, Are Not Books is a practice-based inquiry into publishing as critical graphic design. It is

constructed to operate as an instance of critical design investigating the nonmodern, symbolic, and emblematic elements intrinsic to the practice of graphic design. In this context, “graphic design” is being defined expansively, as having to do with the combined written and visual elements of contemporary knowledge production.13 It is important to

note that the task of knowledge production is not to be confused with, or limited to, the the more narrow tasks of knowledge communication or documentation. 13. On contemporary knowledge production and (nonmodern) visual metalinguistics, see especially Grigely, Joseph. Textualterity: Art, Theory and Textual Criticism. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998; Grigely, Joseph, Hans-Ulrich Obrist, and Zak Kyes. Joseph Grigely: Exhibition Prosthetics. London: Bedford Press, 2010; and “The Emblem: Words & Pictures, Visual Metalinguistics in the Renaissance,” in A Useless Guide to Book Design. Wheaton, IL: Are Not Books, 2013. 21


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3.1. academic research We have chosen to describe this work as “academic” because its primary function is to produce textual and graphical scholarship and design research (for more on why we choose to describe this work as “research,” see the “research methodology” section, immediately below). The work of Are Not Books & Publications might also be described as “academic” because its field of activity is the academic conference and the MFA exhibition. If for no other reason, this project is “academic” because it has been given form in an educational environment. It was developed in school, under the auspices of an educational program.

3.2. research methodology Our research method follows what Stuart Walker has described as “practice-based design research.”14 Such a process, Walker writes, “might 14. Walker, Stuart. “Imagination’s Promise: PracticeBased Design Research for Sustainablity,” in in Walker, and Jacques Giard, eds. The Handbook of 22


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be better described as ‘design scholarship’ or ‘scholarly research,’ both of which imply academic learning and attainment but without such strong connotations of systematic method and primary data acquisition.”15 Similarly, critical design researchers Ramia Mazé and Johan Redström have suggested that research within the field of critical design, specifically, also always begins with practice. “In critical practice,” they write, “the designed object might be understood as a sort of materialized form of discourse.” The “‘object as discourse’ and ‘design as research’ provides an essential basis for thinking about how to com-

Design for Sustainability. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013, pp. 453 ff. Thanks to Professor Dennis Doordan for making us aware of this text. 15. “For the discipline of design,” Walker writes, “practice is a primary mode of discovery and a significant facet of the learning process, but its contingent nature tends to defy systematization” (Walker, Stuart. “Imagination’s Promise,” p. 447). 23


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bine intellectual and operational modalities for contesting and further developing design from within.”16 The Are Not Books research method procedes according to the following protocol. We engage in the practice of writing, editing, designing, producing, and distributing books and publications. The process of design and production is then followed by the performance of the books’ display in conference, trade show, museum, and online settings. Finally, the “performative” display of each publication, in conference and museum settings, is presented as the outcome, result, or deliverable, of the research process. The performance, it should be noted, will be documented, but the resulting published documentation should not be construed as the outcome of the research. The publication of all performance documentation will instead take its place alongside the previously produced books 16. Mazé, Ramia and Johan Redström, “Difficult Forms: Critical Practices of Design and Research,” Research Design Journal January 2009, p. 33. 24


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and publications, to be included in the next performance, or display. The documentation of our research results and findings, is, in other words, to be taken only as a continuation of our design practice, and not as an additional outcome, or result.

3.3. nonmodern knowledge production As already stated, the Are Not Books project is intended to operate as an instance of critical design investigating the nonmodern, symbolic, and emblematic elements required for the process of contemporary knowledge production. What, one might ask, is that supposed to mean? First, it should be pointed out that we are using the word “knowledge” (as in “knowledge production”), here, very loosely. It is intended to mean something more like a subtle emotional response, sympathy, or experience; an interaction, participation, or communication with an object of knowledge. As it relates to the command or mastery of information, data, or expertise, “nonmodern knowledge” indicates something 25


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more like inquiry, exploration, or not-knowing. An ancient example of what we are here calling “nonmodern knowledge” is the famous Socratic dictum: “I know that I know nothing.” It is not intended to indicate a positive, rational knowledge, but rather a quality of interpretation, participation, or collectively arrived-at knowing. It is no coincidence that both the Socratic method, and recent critical methods of design are described as “discursive.” “Nonmodern” can simply be taken to mean “contemporary.” To the extent that the modern indicates a discrete historical period,17 the contemporary, or “nonmodern,” is meant to be tak17. “Modernity” as a historically discrete period is, of course, not uncontroversial. Marshall Berman contrasts an over-simplified modern era from: a generalized mode of experience, “modernity;” a set of world-historical, social processes, “modernization;” and “modernism,” an ideology intended to make men and women both the subjects and objects of modernization (in Berman, Marshall. All That Is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experience of the Modernity. New York: Penguin Books, 1988, pp. 15–16). 26


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en as distinct from the modern. Less simply, and more closely pertaining to graphic design and design research, “nonmodern” is a necessary indicator of what the philosopher and art theorist Boris Groys has described as the contemporary “obligation to self-design.”18 The work of the contemporary designer has become radically de-professionalized when compared to the work of the (high-)modern designer. As a result, “nonmodern” design work is no longer subject to aesthetic, visual categories. Instead, like conceptual art, it is best evaluated according to the formal logic of discourse, linguistics, poetics, and rhetoric. As Groys puts it, conceptual art marks the point at which “the relations between objects are the basis of the artwork.”19 In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the discourse around art and design was dominated by the aesthetic point of view. Today, how18. Groys, Boris. “The Obligation to Self-Design,” in Going Public. Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2010. 19. “Introduction—Global Conceptualism Revisited,” e-flux Journal, November 2011, p. 1. 27


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ever, a shift has occurred from aesthetics, to poetics and rhetoric. The modern era approached art and design, in other words, from the point of view of the spectator. Now we approach art and design from the point of view of the producer. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Groys explains, professional artists and designers were in the minority, while spectators made up the majority of the general population. As a result, a professional academic discourse developed from the perspective of the highly trained, expert spectator. Today, however, in what we are describing as the “nonmodern” era, designers far outnumber non-designers. Anyone who has created a public persona on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, for example, has designed a brand, and promoted a rhetorically-determined identity. Cultural producers have become the norm, while cultural participants operating exclusively from the perspective of spectators are increasingly rare. We are all obliged to (self-) design.20 20. Groys, Boris. “Introduction—Global Conseptualism Revisited,” pp. 1–11 28


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Another set of “nonmodern knowledge” categories include the ongoing interest in “object oriented ontologies” and “actor-network theory.”21 Ideas like these can be understood as reactions against (1) a sense of dematerialization resulting from the widespread production of digital artifacts, and (2) the effect post-fordist (non-factory), and immaterial labor conditions have on our perception of the body. Knowledge production in this context might begin with what Bruno Latour suggests as a shift from an increasingly cheapened notion of “object” (as in a monographic, unified, smoothly articulated, discrete entity, or fact), toward the original meaning of the word “thing.” As readers of Heidegger know, Latour writes, “the old word ‘thing’ or ‘ding’ designated originally a certain

21. These phrases are, of course, closely associated with the work of Bruno Latour, from whom we have also taken our use of the term “nonmodern.” See especially Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993), chapter 5.4: “The Nonmodern Constitution.” 29


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type of archaic assembly.”22 Elsewhere, according to critic and curator Dieter Roelstraete, Heidegger described books as “voluminous letters written to friends.” Anyone who has ever “made” a book, Roelstrate continues, “will immediately grasp the depth of feeling communicated in this admittedly romantic view of the book publishing business. No matter how strained the relationship between writer, editor, translator, designer, publisher, printer, and book-seller can become, there is no denying the intimacy that is engendered by poring over the book as a labor of love that has required the ‘befriending’, however formal and economically dictated, of so many different parties.”23 22. Latour, Bruno, and Peter Weibel, eds. Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2005, pp. 22–23. See also Martin Heidegger, What Is a Thing?, translated by W.B. Barton, Jr., and Vera Deutsch, Chicago: Regnery, 1968. 23. Roelstraete, Dieter, “Art Books Now: 7 Theses (From An Accomplice’s Point of View).” Dot Dot Dot 12, New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2006, p. 64. 30


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Solitary individuals, producing traditional, socially progressive, modern works of creativity, novelty, innovation, and authenticity have been completely co-opted by business interests. As John Thackara put it in 1988, “the commodity production of knowledge has become central to corporate profit-making, and the urge to increase efficiency in this process has led to the growing fragmentation of tasks.�24 The work of Are Not Books & Publications is, by way of contrast, intended to be synthetic and de-specialized. Each book is produced by a highly contingent, provisional set of ideas loosely held together. Groups of ideas and quotations are allowed to inform one other. Each book functions as a partial inquiry; it looks finished, but does not presume to be authoritative or final. Because each role is taken on by the same person, or small group of people working together, the tasks of the editor, author, and designer are transgressed and de-specialized. Our explicit 24. Thackara, John. Design After Modernism: Beyond the Object. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1988, p. 28. 31


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intent is to produce a different kind of “knowledge,” by reversing the modernist tendency toward instrumental efficiency through the division of tasks. Theoretical sources and precedents for this type of work can be found in Walter Benjamin’s “Author as Producer;”25 the “Death of the Author,” by Roland Barthes;26 and Umberto Eco’s “Form as Social Commitment.”27

25. Benjamin, Walter. “The Author as Producer” (1934), collected in Selected Writings Volume 2, Part 2. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005, pp. 768–782. 26. “Death of the Author,” in Barthes, Roland, and Stephen Heath. Image, Music, Text. New York: Noonday Press, 1977, pp. 142–148. 27. Eco, Umberto. The Open Work. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989, pp. 123–157. 32


appendix 1

Are Not Books & Publications Exhibiting at the 2014 CAA Annual Conference, Book and Trade Fair


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Are Not Books & Publications exhibiting at the College Art Association Annual Conference Book and Trade Fair, 2014.

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W

hile exhibiting at the College Art Association Annual Conference, Book and Trade Fair, our book ta-

ble and display methods were virtually indistinguishable from the commercial and non-profit participants in the Book and Trade Fair. As a result, we were able to publis and distribute our books, while simultaneously (if subtly and almost imperceptably) reflecting on the current state, recent changes, and ongoing conditions within the field of academic and scholarly publishing.28

28. Some of the “ongoing issues� within scholarly publishing include predatory for-profit publishing practices; concerns about the effectiveness of the peer review process; and an over-acceleration of the editorial, vetting, and publishing process resulting from pressures on junior academics to produce quickly and regularly. For a summary of these issues see The Enemies of Promise: Publishing, Perishing, and the Eclipse of Scholarship, by Lindsay Waters, Executive Editor for the Humanities at Harvard University Press (Waters, Lindsay. The Enemies of Promise. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2004). Over35


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Writing, design, publishing, sales, marketing, and distribution in such a setting can be understood as productive performance. The publication you are reading is not only a documentation of the CAA performance, but an additional production to be performed (published, distributed, “marketed,” and “sold”).

sales methodology f i rst sa les pi t ch: Disappointing the “buyer.”

This exchange is essentially the same as it is with the person looking for free stuff. The sales pitch in this case is limited to telling the person about the (non-)order form. Essentially: “you can read the entire book online, or print one at-cost (without a publisher’s markup).”

accelerated production cycles have also resulted from increased efficiency made possible by digital production and electronic distribution. See Triple Canopy, Inc. Invalid Format: An Anthology of Triple Canopy. New York: Canopy Canopy Canopy, Inc, 2011. 36


Productive Non-Documentation secon d sa les pi t ch: Engaging with the already

interested person. This very rewarding experience involves talking to someone who’s sympathetic and informed. 1. Roger Thorp, for example, is an art and religion editor (he mentioned that he established the religion line at Routledge, a wellknown academic publisher). He currently works as the Publishing Director for a large British system of museums. He finds ways to get this art book publisher to do religion books by describing them as cultural. The mission of the institution involves “promoting and protecting our cultural and artistic heritage.” This “customer”/interlocutor took me through his most recent catalog of publications, pointing out the religion titles he’s managed to insinuate into the list of art and culture titles. I told him he could have any of the books he liked. He took several; telling me about the time he met Kathleen Raine. 2. Nathanael Bassett is a Media Studies graduate student (researching political media, 37


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activist and advocacy media, digital media and the public sphere, cybernetics, industrialized consciousness, and collective identity). This customer/interlocutor had a deep knowledge of religion and theology. He was interested when I recommended the book Medium Religion, by Boris Groys. I was interested when he mentioned theopoetics, process, and eco-process theology. t h i r d sa les pi t ch: Disappointing the inter-

ested person because they’re too informed. With one customer/interlocutor, a well-known author and professor at the SAIC, we started the conversation, but then let it drop, not because the interlocutor is too informed about religion and contemporary art, but because he/she is too informed about “the problem of religion in contemporary art.” It’s an open question for the publishing director and graduate student mentioned above. This makes for an interesting conversation. The question, for us, should be open in the sense that it’s not a problem. Writing, editing, designing, and publishing is for discovering 38


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more interesting questions and levels of questioning. Such questions are “closed,” however, for the expert problem solver, in the sense that he/she has already resolved, fixed, or set many of the problems involved. When we told this customer that Are Not Books & Publications is “just my MFA project,” he/she looked just as crestfallen, or disappointed, as the person looking for free stuff. fou rt h sa les pi t ch: Rebecca Zurier is a profes-

sor of Art History at the University of Michigan. As we were packing up on the final day of the show, she walked up and asked if we still had a copy of “the Toledo book” (Rust City Renovation: Toledo, Ohio). She mentioned that she teaches a course on Detroit; Toledo is a similar, nearby city that doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Toledo is especially deserving of attention, she said, because of the great Progressive Era Mayor Samuel “Golden Rule” Jones (1846–1904). f i f t h sa les pi t ch: First Lastname, an editor

at the University of Minnesota Press, photographed the “Sales Representative Will Be Right Back” sign, saying: “My favorite sign of all time.” 39


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Are Not Books & Publications at the College Art Association Annual Conference, Book and Trade Fair, February 12–15, 2014. 40


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Are Not Books & Publications exhibiting at the CAA Book and Trade Fair, February 12–15, 2014.

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Are Not Books & Publications exhibiting at the CAA Book and Trade Fair, February 12–15, 2014.

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appendix 2

Are Not Books & Publications Exhibiting as Part of the University of Notre Dame MFA Thesis Exhibition


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i nsi ncer e signage. The Are Not Books trade show letter board (top), and a plaque from Marcel Broodthaers’s Museum of Modern Art, Department of Eagles (Brussels, 1968), photo by Andrew Russeth. 44


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I

n the Snite Museum of Art, the Are Not Books & Publications sales table will be in an entirely different set and setting. The

performative quality of the display in this case, will be focused on the museum’s institutional context, generally,29 and on the problematic role of graphic design in the “white cube,” more specifically.30

29. For our approach to the institutional context of the museum, we take as our model Marcel Broodthaers’s “insincerity.” 30. Compare to Rachel Berger, in Sueda, Jon, The Way Beyond Art: The Wide White Space. San Francisco, CA: CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, 2012, p. 74. Graphic design does not always fit well in a museum or gallery setting. As Berger explains, most objects of graphic design (including the books displayed as part of this show) are small and flat. Small and flat, of course, lends itself well to mass reproduction and wide distribution, but it does not command a room. The gallery and the museum are the natural habitat of a precious singularity. The dollar store, in Berger’s example—the trade show, or academic conference, in the case of the Are Not Books project—is the “temple of the multiple.” 45


Are Not Notes on . . .

gr aphic design in the white cube Graphic design does not always fit well in a museum or gallery setting. As Rachel Berger explains, most graphic design is small and flat. Small and flat, of course, lends itself well to mass reproduction and wide distribution, but it does not command a room. Once the product of a design practice does begin to command a room, people no longer think of it as graphic design. The gallery and the museum are the natural habitat of a precious singularity. The dollar store, in Berger’s example—the trade show, or academic conference, in the case of the Are Not Books project—is the “temple of the multiple.”39

coll abor ation’s discontents As already addressed, it is our opinion that graphic design is not easily compared to the “rela-

31. Rachel Berger, in Sueda, Jon, The Way Beyond Art: The Wide White Space. San Francisco, CA: CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, 2012, p. 74. 46


Productive Non-Documentation

tional aesthetics” movement as defined by Nicolas Bourriaud. Instead, design engaged in what is often called “social practice” or “participation art,” must go beyond the merely dialectical, or relational, to include an aesthetic or conceptual element capable of surprising, confusing, frustrating, or enlightening. The goal in the case of critical design is to introduce an awkward distance, slowing-down, slippage, or critical space into the pre-existing relational situation always already present in the work of graphic design. At the risk of stating the obvious, the difference between art and design is that design has the relational element “built-in.” Graphic design engages with a client, user, reader, or customer without the additional mediation of a gallery or museum. In this way, the Are Not Books project, functioning as critical design, remains “on the street,” engaged with “everyday life” outside the gallery, studio, or showroom. Unlike conventional, merely instrumental, design, critical graphic design simultaneously performs a reflection on, or examination of, the “everyday”

47


Are Not Notes on . . .

situation with which it is in dialogue. Art historian Claire Bishop describes as “collaboration’s discontents” those who would require relational art to be more than merely socially engaged, or discursive.32 Art works capable of blurring the line between art and life—between objects of contemplation and artifacts of quotidian utility—must provide an aesthetic jolt in the tradition of the historical avant-garde.33 Museums and gallery spaces make the art object autonomous. Socially engaged art imposes an instrumentality, or utility on the work of art.

32. Bishop, Claire. “The Social Turn: Collaboration and Its Discontents.” Artforum, February 2006, p. 183. 33. Bishop traces this defining characteristic of the historic avant-garde back to its origin in the Dada Season, or Grand Saison Dada, of 1921 (Bishop, Claire. Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship. London: Verso, 2012, p. 66). As Grant H. Kester puts it, “the avant-garde work of art should radically challenge [the viewer’s] faith in the very possiblity of rational discourse. This tendency is based on the assumption that 48


Productive Non-Documentation

The goal is not just “discourse,” in other words. The discursive is mundane and minimally productive or beneficial. Instead, the goal of critical design projects like Are Not Books is to introduce something of the odd, absurd, eccentric, awkward, poetic, or pleasurable into the routine, everyday activities of communication, documentation, production, and distribution.

the shared discursive systems (linguistic, visual, etc.) on which we rely for our knowledge of the world are dangerously abstract and violently objectifying. Art’s role is to shock us out of this perceptual complacency, to force us to see the world anew. This shock has borne many names over the years: the sublime, alienation effect, l’amour fou, and so on. In each case the result is a kind of epiphany that lifts viewers outside the familiar boundaries of a common language, existing modes of representation, and even their own sense of self” (Kester, Grant H. Conversation Pieces: Community and Communication in Modern Art. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004, p. 12; cited in Koskinen, Design Research Through Practice, p. 106). 49


1st edition, March 2014. 2nd edition, March 2014. Š Are Not Books & Publications Wheaton, Illinois 60187 arenotbooks.com Are Not Notes are published by Are Not Books & Publications As artists, writers, and designers, not authorities, we are itellectually curious and thoroughly critical, but with no aspiration or pretense to anything like expertise or authority. Indeed, our goal is to remain anonymous, and to acquire no reputation. This print-on-demand edition was not copyedited or proofread. Every reasonable attempt has been made to identify owners of copyright. Errors or omissions will be corrected in subsequent editions.


The Sales Representative Will Be Right Back Are Not Books & Publications as Performative Publishing, or Notes on Productive NonDocumentation

Salesrep issuu  

A few notes on performative publishing and non-documentation.

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