Publishing within Visual Culture
Tracy Mackenna & Edwin Janssen
interviewed by Louisa Preston
Tracy Mackenna & Edwin Janssen interviewed by Louisa Preston Hannah Maclure Centre, Dundee, 25 June 2012
Generally, I’m looking from the perspective of publishing at publishing within visual culture and I’m really interested in looking at how technology has impacted on the way publishers are diversifying their approach to publishing. I’ve been looking at publishers like Gestalten and Thames & Hudson and Phaidon and, they are the big industrial players, but I’m especially interested in Gestalten because they are designers, well they’ve got a design house. I’m not sure which started first the design house or the publisher, but they’ve got their main publishing activity and they also have an exhibition space, which they have recently opened. So I’m interested in how that is working in terms of their publishing business and how they see that being used. EJ: Do you know the publisher Walther König? Yes, I know of them, but I should look at them more in depth. Yes, so also I’m interested in the technological aspect of it and the relationship between the images and text and how that relates to artists’ practice and visual culture in general and how that differs to a literature publishing house or a more conventional publishing process I guess. So that’s why I’m looking at the technology because I think, the way PC’s have developed it’s become a lot more personal to use, it’s not so much about a big industrial process as it used to be so I think that’s bringing together text and image much closer by it’s nature. TM: To a broader range of people. Yes, to people who don’t have to have specialist knowledge to do it, so you’re getting people like artists and designers who are self-publishing but also anybody can write a blog or publish things online. EJ: Oh yes, we live in a totally self-publicising world. And that’s starting to effect what publishers are publishing, because they are becoming closer to their readership, which is quite a new phenomenon, because usually they would only be in touch with the bookseller. So that is kind of broadly 1
what my dissertation is about. EJ: Does that mean that the bookseller becomes less important, because many team up now with Amazon and then they have a digital book section or such, in the bookshop. But also publishers are starting to get worried that they’re being by-passed completely by authors and artists and [...] TM: Who are brokering new types of creative relationships and developing new types of products. So my idea was to do a case study on yourselves and your practice and in particular your relationship with publishing, and how that has impacted on your practice and your work and vice versa, because I’m interested in that relationship and how publishing is impacting on artists but how in reverse the design and the visual aspect of what artists do, how that impacts on publishing. So that’s why I thought it would be good to do this interview. So, I think that publishing works on many levels for both of you and your practice, but can you describe in what ways your experience of your own publishing activity or the publishing of others about your work, has impacted on the progression of your practice? TM: First of all we need to understand or define what publishing is. EJ: Maybe also because there’s publishing in a non-cultural context, and even in a cultural context, that is very commercial. Publishing in art is always really problematic while maybe the big publishers can publish well known names and it’s very likely that they will make a profit selling, but also they have huge networks, so it’s easy to distribute and to promote. But a lot of artists and even art organisations work with really small publishers that might be quite effective but it’s important to see that hardly ever is it a commercial enterprise. In our case our main objective is not to make money, so I think that’s quite a huge difference. TM: But, if you think about publishing and publications within our practice, the range of what that might be, could be something as minimal as a 2
poster. It might also be an artist’s edition that comes in a limited edition of thirty boxes or so, which could have a high price attached because of the number and therefore the ‘uniqueness’. EJ: Yes, but maybe it’s important to define what publishing is, and does that mean a certain amount of copies, because one-off is maybe not really publishing, while there is an idea to produce something and reach a particular audience beyond, in our case, maybe the projects or the space, through producing material. I think there are two types of publishing, roughly, in our practice. One is to publish books, like the one over there that we produced with CCA (A Perfect Image of Ourselves). Or we produce publications around projects, and those are distributed in different ways, and each depends on which publisher you work with. TM: And they are all of a different ‘edition’ number, for example, Truth, Error, Opinion [all of these are on our website so you can bring them up] which was a boxed collection, or On Growth and Forms of Meaning, both from last year, which is a really high cost, low edition publication. EJ: So there becomes the question of the artwork, or the type of publication. In some instances the publication is an artwork in itself, an editioned artwork that is published, or in other cases it’s just a printed book that is distributed more or less in the same way as any other book that is sold in bookshops. So there’s a scale issue almost, and I think that our other kind of publishing is more producing printed matter like badges and posters. TM: The printed, editioned fold-outs, the fliers … all of the material that supports and often leads in to the public manifestations of our projects. EJ: So those are two different areas, but I think where you’re coming from, that it’s more to do with publications we produce and then are distributed through particular channels. TM: Is that right? Yes, I think, to kind of, [...] I was defining publishing in a very basis sense of to make something public, so I would define it as all the writing that you formally produce to make public, be that a book or a blog, or a website or [...] 3
TM: Great, so it’s very broad then, not just the traditional book as printed object. So that’s how I was sort of thinking about asking about how that’s impacted on the progression of your practice. Has it evolved your career positively faster perhaps, or perhaps that’s not as relevant? TM: Or diversified it. I think that the diversification is more relevant because we probably need to talk about our individual careers before we started to work together, about how we published or made things public then, because you [Edwin] worked for example with Bébert, Rotterdam - that was very particular. EJ: That was a publishing house. TM: I was really involved in self-publishing and in different types of products; it might have been a piece of writing, but it might also have been books that were produced on funded residencies where the content developed out of that residency. And then Edwin and I have worked together; we’ve done all those things that you’ve described. But lately in me writing more about our work, our chapters are positioned in books edited by others that bring together discipline-focused perspectives in multidisciplinary collections that address for example the role of art in issues around x,y,z. EJ: If you follow your description of publishing of making something public, you could even argue that our whole practice is about publishing. TM: Yes, very definitely EJ: The ‘going public’ element is of course important for every artist, in the end showing or selling the work, but in our case, we consciously explore notions of public in a very multi layered way. TM: I think the whole drive behind our practice is in making almost every aspect of our work available, even while that can create a tension and a struggle for us at times.
EJ: Then you can talk about the quality of ‘going public’: is it rewarding, is it for the benefit of the audience or for us - does it lead to something? That’s a key question, but I think in terms of progression, we would agree probably that by starting to work together, we were better able and also more confident to explore our practice in terms of a much broader public engagement, so that also meant that together we went onto the streets and introduced a performative element, that I would have never have considered on my own. When we started, we were both acutely aware of the limitations of the gallery system, of making work in your studio in isolation, taking it to the gallery and then experiencing that short moment of interaction at the opening that is often not about the work, when you are often interacting with an audience you have not chosen, where there was a kind of disharmony almost. And feeling together strong enough to tackle such issues, we had to explore notions of publishing in the broader sense while publishing for us is closely related to publicness and publics, and printed matter was material not just for distribution to an unknown audience, but actually a medium to make a connection with a known audience that is interested in what we do or in the cultural space. Yeah, it can be used as an intermediary point of discussion or to enable, like a tool almost to engage with the public. EJ: It almost starts as a conversation piece, where you have a thing you can start talking about, or it gives a hint of context to a project. TM: I think we use the very idea of exposure as a tool; what we expose and when we expose and where we stage the exposure. The other thing we probably should talk about at some point during the conversation is the role of time related to how we develop ‘a thing’ over a sustained period. Often we start with nothing or not very much, and by the end its result has become presentable, which is actually not the end, but the start of a new phase. EJ: So we start thinking about what our connection with the public is - how we broker that connection - and we feel it’s not only through what you show but also through other activities that the work can open up in a certain way. Also, the notion of education is very relevant, as that is another of our roles. I think that we’ll talk later about how we think about ‘the social’ and social media and of course technologies because that has an impact on how we 5
develop and produce work and also the nature of it, in terms of budget. TM: If we go back a little bit to what was implicit in the conversation, different types or modes that we use to get things out, to the idea of printed matter and self-publishing and working with distributors, it’s really interesting that in working with publishers and big organisations who have produced our books, they’re not particularly successful at distributing those books in comparison with situations where we’ve produced and had to take on that responsibility ourselves. EJ: Distribution generally in the arts is a problem, especially if you’re not that well known or ‘celebrity’ artists. So especially the bigger publishers have to justify the investment, considering amounts of buyers, and that has all kinds of implications. But what I think is very interesting, is that the whole technological development has benefited those small publishing houses, because publishing has become really cheap, simple, straightforward in a sense. You can target your audience. Especially, it has become a tool, extending traditional bookmaking to interconnect with a lot of other things so publishing is part of something else, of different, other types of interaction. So it’s become far more complex but also far more, well you said yourself, becomes almost an extension of the daily routines. TM: Economy is important as well because of [I’m just making myself a note] the fact that within the arts, it’s still possible to get funding to produce publications without any requirement to give back part of that funding when income is raised through revenue, sales. So we are still able to make funding applications with very few conditions attached. EJ: We can still see it as an extension of our practice or project, but I think what is interesting, maybe we’ll touch on that later, is the difference between a printed book and constantly feeding an audience with tweets or Facebook posts. Because in relation to our particular type of practice it can’t be written through the objects per se. It’s a far more complex type of practice, so if you think about how you, and that’s what we’re talking about now while we do our unpacking (Perfect Timing and other stories) we’ve got all that stuff, what does it mean? Who knows about it? If you look at for example the Tate, they will have a timeline of artists, and in that timeline is art about artists who make things that can be collected. The writing of 6
history of practices like ours that are more ephemeral, durational, it’s very complex to grasp a sense of what it is through a couple of representational images. That’s just a bit of the story. I think the desperate need here is for a way of publishing that somehow stores it appropriately but also disseminates it to a broader audience. The publication is also a way of reaching a slightly bigger audience, making them a little bit more aware of what we do, and able to experience the work without always having been physically present or engaged. TM: I know we’re going to come to social media, but with social media there’s a very interesting in between step that has come into play and we’ve discussed it a lot while unpacking the first project here, Ed and Ellis in Schiedam. In 1998 that project had no website, and there was a huge amount of exchange that took place on the streets; pure interface between the public and us. With Ed and Ellis in Tokyo, also 1998, there was a website that was built and staffed by volunteers and I wrote a series of what were essentially blog posts, but of course, we didn’t use that terminology. The entries were called the Tokyo Dailies. As the material has been coming up to the surface during the unpacking of our archive I’ve put together a WordPress site just for this project, which we decided on Friday to make public, that would play a different role to our website. You can access it via the front page of our website, and on it you’ll see the Tokyo Dailies. The Ed and Ellis in Tokyo website was happening without us actively engaging with it. I was writing and feeding stuff to the volunteers who updated the site, but it wasn’t in an active way. There was just an awareness on our part that somehow the project was being communicated through the site. But now, and it’s really since On Growth and Forms of Meaning last February in Centrespace (DJCAD’s Visual Research Centre) when designer Marco Stout of Stout/Kramer came over from The Netherlands to collaborate, that I was writing updates every day that were going out through Exhibitions at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design and tweeting etc. at the same time. For me it is a form of writing, it is a form of publishing, but it’s also a space where I’m really careful about what I say. It’s a medium or a mode for me to develop a conceptual approach around a project, communicated through a particular use of language and image combinations. EJ: It’s also a site for and a means of writing creatively.
TM: And it is really, really creative. But where I was going with this, was having worked with a group of Master of Fine Art students since September I’m absolutely fascinated by how they use social media. I am more active, and very focused on its function. EJ: Or don’t use it. TM: Yeah, or don’t use it, well some do use it. They started the MFA blog but haven’t really maintained it. Many of the entries are by me. So that becomes really problematic because then you get an interrupted author / audience situation, and issues around hierarchy of posts. Most of the group don’t have a website, and even though most have done the Going Public module with Edwin, I think that without having an established practice they find it really difficult to engage with the idea of who their actual and potential audiences are and what relationships they might want to have with their audiences. It’s really this year’s MFA group who have had lots of opportunities to work directly through external, multidisciplinary and public projects, seminars and so on; they’ve been out on the streets doing stuff, all kinds of things. ‘Generation’ is a very interesting issue. I think that if you’ve got a honed practice and you know how you want to use something as a tool, you can use it, drop it, reactivate it. I mean we might drop social media for a while if it’s irrelevant. EJ: Yeah, we might go underground. TM: Yeah, we might go underground (laughs). EJ: Not want to meet the audience or the publics anymore, stay in the studio (laughing). TM: That layer, the digital online layer is another really interesting publishing platform at the moment for us where we’re reaching people that we otherwise couldn’t reach if that technology wasn’t there. EJ: But on the other hand we are still committed to engaging with audiences that won’t use Facebook or won’t use those media. TM: I was about to ask you to comment on what you said about the differ8
ence between a printed book and feeding audiences through tweets, blogs etc. That thing about the object - when you still have an object - which is a fantastic thing. EJ: But also it’s not just the object because publishing a book is a different type of process. It’s very carefully done. There’s a design process. TM: Absolutely. EJ: Also there’s the editing process, visual editing but also textual editing. It’s a construct far more than say opening a door everyday online, when you just let it flow, unedited in many cases. Of course with self-publishing, who decides what is good? So the whole exercise, the debating and discussing and in some cases through selling, a book can be a huge success, really exciting and engaging, like Tracy’s book BULK (1997) because it is a fantastic book. No written text, it was a very visual thing. That itself is also an indication that there are a lot of people who appreciate it. On Facebook, you can say I ‘like’; you are constantly pushed to ‘like’ something but there’s no debating, there’s no critical engagement about what is being said and maybe some groups have discussions, but personally I find it really hard to engage with it. It’s not really what I’m interested in. TM: But I think with the book more and more, particularly in the way that we use the book, A Perfect Image of Ourselves, published in 2005 by CCA, represents a collection of, or sorry, a selection of some of our projects, but now in 2012 it’s like a collection. Time has made it a fantastic thing, and there’s no way that people could come into contact with those projects and also not in this way where you’ve got an essay by Rein Wolfs and then you’ve got a piece of my creative writing inserted somewhere in between, and it’s bound and made in a particular way with a particular feeling. EJ: And you have a couple of sections and the design has been done very carefully and also, this is maybe an interesting hybrid between - well that was maybe our main issue - we were not particularly interested to make a book that was just documenting projects. We wanted to add a little bit of ‘value’ and that’s why we have the drawings, not as representations but the drawings themselves and there’s the writing by Tracy, as part of a project that was the book. Also the way it’s organised, where the second use of text, 9
the project texts, is minimal, very descriptive, but we try to make it really visual and beyond just the combination of an image and a text, so the book itself, it’s not just paper that is the carrier, but it becomes a thing in itself with a visual quality, and so this is a hybrid that is reflected in the design. This differs from the printed material that you make for your projects in the sense that it’s a point where you’re kind of reflecting, on the last period? TM and EJ: Yeah. And you’re giving it more, more value I guess, by adding more to the concepts and the ideas through the essays, or unpacking more, because you’ve had the benefit of time and experience to kind of look back on your projects. So it’s kind of acting as a review? TM: Yes, It also gives each project a slightly different composition due to the fact that each project is positioned amongst other projects. EJ: Also what’s quite interesting, of course, now we are unpacking again, is that there’s a type of unpacking where we unpack and we also realize that we have moved on; we are more knowledgeable, more experienced, we look slightly differently at the works that we have done next to the one that we have done after it, through the moments it was difficult and where it was really exciting, and also the reality of where we currently are, being in academia etc. And we have both become more involved in the critical, theoretical aspects of our practice. EJ: So if we would make a book that would reflect a certain period of our practice, we would now do it very differently. The really interesting thing as well is that with the book it’s a very solid concrete moment as opposed to the printed materials that you have, you could call them mini publications I guess, that are ephemeral, they’re dispersed and have a much shorter lifespan. EJ: Oh absolutely, if we’re lucky this will go on the bookshelf (picking up A Perfect Image of Ourselves).
Yes, libraries and [...] EJ: That relates to that whole notion of writing history. I think if you want to write history, and if you take that seriously as an artist, we want to make an impact in some form. We don’t have inflated ideas about that, but in the end, also for yourself it’s great to have something that is evidence of a certain period of time, energy and effort. It’s maybe harder to ignore a book than a website. Although I don’t know how many books are being printed so I don’t have any illusions about books, but my goal would be that we could make a book sometime that would be the ultimate statement, manifesto of our practice and things we are about, were about or feel the world should be about. So in that sense, and I feel you can create that online now, but that’s a totally different world, that’s a different type of forest. The book will survive somehow but I think there is of course the whole notion that you will be able to do this (flicking through the book) and that will mean that the book will survive for quite a while. It’s a very different kind of tactile, visual, spatial experience. TM: It’s a mobile object as well, and we also depend on the fact that people encounter us in its space. EJ: But it’s very interesting because if I’m looking at the future of our existence and if I see a hundred people with a Kindle or the iPad, or a hundred people with different books they like, I can see a difference between those people, and you could argue that because everything is contained in a technological device it loses identity. The book still has colours, you can read it, but in a social or public sense you can read even people you don’t know - if they have a book or are reading a particular book, it’s an indicator. Well those little things I think are very important. TM: But also the book allows you to engage with material stuff, it allows you to make choices about - you know we’re really critical about things like the paper stock that we use - what they look like but how they feel as well. It’s very very important. People respond really quickly to that when they pick up something. In that sense, I’m quite curious about how you see the book as an extension of your practice. Do you see it as an artwork in itself, or do you see it as separate, as 11
a book or as a publication? Do you see it as part of your artwork? TM: We don’t talk about it in terms of it being an artwork, but we talk about it more in terms of encapsulating aspects of a project or projects, so it’s a stage, and it’s an extension of a project. EJ: I think the issue is that it’s a little bit of an unresolved issue now in our practice, because we live in different worlds, but actually we don’t and that’s what’s quite interesting, when we’re talking about the status of things we take out of our archive. For example printed photographs are part of the project. There are twelve fantastic photographic prints which we’ve not framed, they’re rolled up, just come out of a tube, but actually when people come in and look at them, they go WOW!. For them that single print that came out of the project is enough to be an artwork. So for us the definition of an artwork is very diffused, because on the one hand you could say, all the things we do is the artwork. You are the artwork? EJ: Well in a sense, yeah we are a part; we play a role, and because we are really interested in maybe trying to re-define what that artwork is. On the other hand, we can’t deny that we make stuff, like projections that are presented in isolation, and that’s what we talk about now. Is this what we really want? Do we really want a thing that is an object and an artwork and another thing that is the project. At the end I think we can’t resolve that. But I think we are really interested to be part of the art world; we don’t want to remove ourselves from it so it’s really important for us to be critical of it because we know we can be, and that’s also partly why we want to live in it. So working with museums and galleries is great, although very problematic in many cases for our type of practice, but it’s very important, and there’s also the desire sometimes to make a beautiful thing so why not identify that in the projects that you do. The other thing to consider is that we produce so much visual stuff - that’s quite amazing - and some of those things should maybe exist on their own as objects, traditionally called artworks. It’s acknowledging that we live in a very fragmented world in terms of understanding what an artwork may be and defining it is already an impossible task. TM: But I think that varies per publication, per project, for example that (A 12
Perfect Image of Ourselves) is a completely different beast than the publication we made in the project On Growth and Forms of Meaning, which is hand made, overseen with the printer, a mixture of traditional printing techniques like silk-screen, with new digital printing, and hand written pages, so a really bespoke item. EJ: So do you think that is more an artwork than that book (A Perfect Image of Ourselves)? TM: I think that people who want it can consider it to be an artwork, that that is a difference in itself. And I think that people still make a link between technique and value. It’s linked to the perception that there’s a small number that’s taken an awful lot of time and consideration to make, that have been created using techniques that demand attention to detail and the investment of time and are for many people difficult to access. For example if you think of how Marco (Stout) regarded that book, he was hyper keen that that thing came into being. He has no easy access as a designer in The Netherlands to silkscreen printing. But there was also a series of A0 posters that was produced during that project. We haven’t actually placed a lot of the emphasis on those posters as publications interestingly and that was partly to do with… EJ: Not yet… TM: Not yet, but it was partly to do with the fact that the project was short. It was two weeks long or so. There was so much done and produced in that period of time, and a lot of the effort afterwards when everything had been dismantled and everything went away, was about getting that publication out. It cost nearly a thousand pounds to make - how many did we make in the end - was it twenty seven? and took many hours of production time, and discussion between me and the printer. EJ: Was it not forty-eight. TM: Forty-eight, it’s a really small amount. So that’s a very high individual price.
TM: And there are a whole lot of other costs that are hidden in there, like our time that wasn’t budgeted. EJ: But in the end I would argue it is an artwork, because actually what defines the artwork or the difference between one artwork and another in value is how many copies there are and how it is produced. TM: Yes that’s exactly what I’m saying. EJ: Say with the video works some are really home made videos and others are high end, but at the end they are both artworks because they are produced by artists. There might be a difference and there might be emotional values attached to particular elements but to make it means making it a more immediate artwork for a lot of people. You also have to consider this (A Perfect Image of Ourselves) as an edited, curated book and not by an external - we have curated this book and although we work with a designer, or with a museum, we are in charge of our publications. We decide even who we work with, who we ask to write. It’s not the same as working with a publisher who says I’m asking you to write a series of books about constructivist art, and they decide on the design and the distribution of it. In our case CCA said they want to make a book, and we said that’s great, and basically we produced the book with their money. That’s very different to how a traditional publisher would work. EJ: Yes, so in that sense there’s much more authorship in the book. In the actual book as a product? EJ: Yes, And also what do we want from the book? Often the case with artists is that they take charge. And in that sense for me this is as visually interesting as maybe the plinth with that stuff [indicates plinth in the room, part of Perfect Timing and other stories]. I’m particularly interested in the notion of curation in our practice, so we talk about the artwork, but the artwork is actually a part of a bigger meta-artwork. There are different levels of artworks in what we do and the book I think is just one manifestation of our practice, in our practice.
And I guess editing and producing that book could also be seen as a curatorial act in itself? EJ: Yes. TM: And what’s important in there is that it represents our story of how we want to convey a set of our works at a particular point. And that’s what we love about the book; it gives us a possibility to devise a new narrative around works. Crucially from your own perspective as well? EJ: Absolutely. There’s no editor involved, there’s no external perspective? TM & EJ: Yes that’s right. EJ: And to be honest, because we’re not famous artists, this book is not sold out. But I think it’s an amazing book. I really feel that it’s an amazing book (some laughing). That’s another point in terms of distribution. The fact that for £14.95 even the most fantastic and beautiful books, that are artworks in themselves or in their own right, which you would assume are simple things to make, are actually very complicated and are part of a small art book group. TM: But, but, interestingly given what we’re discussing at the moment, nothing would tell the buyer or the viewer what our roles were in putting this book together. EJ: No, but it’s not sold in that way. You didn’t have a marketer, marketing it for you. It’s not a commercial [...] TM: No, that isn’t communicated. It’s kind of separate from a commercial publisher who would take that on and do a marketing strategy for the book with a launch and undertake all the distribution 15
and selling. TM & EJ: Yes. TM: But it might influence, because if a buyer or interested party wanted to buy it they may well be interested if there’s a sentence in there somewhere saying what the artist’s role had been putting this publication together. But that’s an issue we come up against a lot in our practice, what do we foreground, what do we overlook? EJ: In the book it says ‘special thanks to Tracy Mackenna and Edwin Janssen for their enthusiasm and commitment to the project’. TM: That was CCA’s sentence, I was really mad about that, we worked our butts off to put this together and then there was that wishy washy sentence. It was so … stock. Was that all they wrote? TM: Yes, that’s it. EJ: You have to go through that learning curve in terms of publishing and now probably we would try to do it slightly differently. For example at the moment, we’re working towards a publication with a publisher in the Netherlands, and that is not like CCA. It’s a young organisation, really active publishers, very active in the art world. What’s their name? TM and EJ: I think we mentioned them to you before, Onomatopee. Yes, I’ve got a note of that. TM: Eindhoven. Was that Micromégas? EJ: No, Micromégas is with DCA. This is about the project we did with the 16
Nederlands Fotoinstitut in the Netherlands, War as Ever!. Onomatopee will be the publisher, and also we are showing new work in Onomatopee’s current exhibition ‘WHO TOLD YOU SO?! #2 Truth vs. Organisation’ and they will make a book about that exhibition too. At the moment we are quite closely tied to that organisation. It’s a small operation with a really targeted audience, and they do well; the publishing part is quite successful, and also it’s a great platform for experimenting with design issues. That’s a niche market, but for us, the book will become an interesting product. There will probably be a tension between this publisher and us because they are really involved in design and in content, and the director also writes, so he takes up multiple roles. We will see how that plays out. So the publisher in this case will have a much more active, very much more active role compared to A Perfect Image of Ourselves. EJ: Completely. TM: It will be really strange for us. We’re not used to that situation. EJ: And that’s quite an interesting challenge. That’s maybe another thing - we could self-publish, but basically what we need a publisher for is not for producing the thing, but actually for the distribution. Distributors won’t take us on, because we’re self-publishing artists. Also, having a publisher is sometimes better for securing funding. We often write those applications, so we have a really huge involvement in many cases. Only with CCA, they had money from the Scottish Executive’s Entente Cordiale fund and they got additional money from the Royal Dutch Embassy. The funding from Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland, and Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design Research, University of Dundee was raised by us. And the book was launched in the Dutch Embassy in London. CCA doesn’t have a publishing department as it were, or? TM: No but they do make publications, and they do invest in 2HB. EJ: Many galleries and museums struggle with the publishing side, so some will hand it over to someone else. For example the Fotomuseum we worked with, they have stopped publishing, because they didn’t have the resources 17
so they felt that they couldn’t really do that anymore, although they would be happy to be involved raising money for a publication. They won’t act as a publisher, so that’s why we needed an external publisher for that particular book. So that’s you with three parties involved instead of the one or two. EJ: Yes, ideally, for example if you work for Taschen in Germany or Phaidon, or Thames & Hudson that would be amazing, but of course that’s not our market. And that would be a different battle, because those books look more or less the same. It’s very much an image and a text. Well yes, because they have a brand to maintain to an extent. EJ: They’re not going to get into very experimental design. So it’s straightforward in a sense. That’s the dilemma of course. What a lot of artists are supposedly faced with, even in the way they make their work. Do you try to reach a broader audience? Because it’s quite interesting in our case - the dilemma is, why don’t you try to get more audience? But on the other hand, what we do is, for a big audience, very complicated. I guess that’s what I was thinking about with that question was a lot of artists would strive to get work published in a book by Phaidon for example, in order to gain exposure, and also they would probably be interested in publishing to develop their brand as an artist. TM & EJ: Yes. Whereas with yourselves that’s not really the case so much, well I perceive that to be not the case. EJ: Well that’s not our objective, but on the other hand that’s maybe a mistake. But the reality is that communicating the way we work is complex, and that far more of a niche public is interested in our practice and that raises all sorts of questions. We might work with smaller groups or communities but often those are not people who are going to buy a Phaidon £45 book. Yes, exactly. 18
TM: But if you look at how artists have been involved with Black Dog for example, the way that some artists have used publishing like Tania Kovats who made that shift from artist to editor to produce something that is absolutely within her field. There’s been a lot of such activity by artists. EJ: Well if you look at the artist from Glasgow who does the drawing. What’s his name? David Shrigley. EJ: You could say that in his case publishing books through publishers, to a larger audience, has helped him to be a successful artist. TM & LP: Yes. EJ: I wouldn’t resist that but I think the problem is more that I would not expect Taschen or Phaidon to be interested in us. Only for example if we reached a point where a big museum like the Tate says okay, were going to do a project with you. But I’m not sure if we might hope for that. We’re not particularly resisting it but we regard it as the same as getting work with the commercial galleries and it’s a part of the art market, and that’s beyond what we do. Do you think that’s because your not, with the publications that you make, you are trying to connect with your audience, and often with a book like Phaidon, it just goes out, and there’s no feeding back? It’s much more remote I guess. EJ: Yes, that’s right. And of course it could be a really interesting project for a publisher to say allright, we’re going to consider publishing and the relationship with our audience, in the light of what you said in part of the introduction. Artists like us would be really interested in a publisher exploring that. Actually I think it would be a fantastic publishing project that is not about publishing a book about what an artist has done in the past, but can we make a publishing project, where you really ask yourselves, or the publisher those questions. But rather, they look for high profile names. A publisher is not passionate about an artist, they have to make money and consider that they have an art department, so which artists they can publish, and people will put forward proposals and I suppose they will consider 19
those. I guess, in a publishing business they have to compromise between making the money and especially interesting and crucial within art and design, because there’s always that tension between making money to pay the business and the creative aims and ambitions and everything that goes along with that so. EJ: Absolutely, yes. It’s definitely an underlying thing within this dissertation I think which is interesting. EJ: Yeah, so that’s what we’re faced with, even in our practice which is really socially engaged and open and process based, at the end you have to consider strategies or approaches in terms of achieving some of your desires or aims or goals. Actually unpacking how we operate, the scale, the where and with whom, those are the things we discuss, so that whole notion of publishing, because maybe we have to be far more savvy like publishers in a sense in the terms of okay, we’re going to do something, but only do something because we have so many things to do. We realised we have done sixty-nine projects in fifteen years. Actually you could consider that to be ridiculous - where’s the focus been? In terms of strategy you could argue that we need to distribute our ideas and what we are about much better. How do we do that? And I can imagine that we wouldn’t do any projects for a couple of years and only publish, but you need money, publishing is very expensive; an exhibition is often cheaper than making a book. From my experience marketing and being an artist don’t go hand in hand at all. Well just from being at art school, and being quite naïve, learning about the art world and what’s going on, marketing was never something that I knew about or even thought about learning or whose benefit I even acknowledged. When I first graduated, I guess I was intuiting what marketing was by networking, you know you can go to openings and things, it’s not like hardcore marketing where you’re branding yourself and many artists do that very well. I’ve kind of just - what’s the word? - opposed myself there. EJ: But general attitudes towards promoting, self-promotion, networking 20
and even maybe the commercial side of it, we might have decided that that’s not the route we want to take per se but I think it should be included in art education. Publishing, self-publishing - it’s funny because that’s why I started the Going Public module, actually it’s all about, okay it’s you, but there’s the world out there. Actually we should start from year one, to make that a subject as part of your education. Education, not just about a particular medium or having conceptual ideas, but also, in the end you have to operate as an artist. What I find interesting about what we do is trying on the one hand to be in the world as we know it, but on the other hand we love museums and galleries, we are also critical about how they operate, but if you are in between those that tension is very interesting. I think we have to consider how we do that better. If it’s a lot about in our case, ideas, about even the notion of change almost, then it’s like the communist manifesto by Marx, of course, or the Futurists - they used publishing. The Futurist manifesto was published in the French newspaper Le Figaro, so somehow they did something very well and it was simultaneously totally subversive, in an established newspaper. That in itself is almost the art, you could argue. TM: A gesture, the act. EJ: I think we see publishing in relation to the object in relation to art, but publishing could be the art in itself, almost to get things out there, to actually work with what’s there, and ideally for us publishing in a kind of book format that can be distributed through distributors of publishers at the end that’s what I would like; that’s just the established way of doing things and you support that with all that other stuff, and see it very clearly, because at the end, Tracy’s writing on the blogs is so carefully constructed, that can be published in the book. TM: That’s the way the entries are written, with that in view. The blog is like a holding site. EJ: The blog is a work in progress, and at the end if you reach a point where you think it’s finished, it will be published, I hope, in another format. TM: And ‘blog’ maybe often isn’t the right term. I mean The Print Pedlar blog that I wrote through January and February in Rotterdam when I was out and about in the city extending the site of our museum exhibition, is sitting 21
at something like eleven thousand words, and I can keep on going and will keep on adding to it, so it’s developing into this large collection of texts, kind of in the waiting. EJ: And I think that has made you reconnect with your writing. TM: Undoubtedly. EJ: The social media and the blogging. This might be a good point to ask my next question. There are two more questions, which we’ve kind of almost touched on already. It’s kind of going back a bit to the first bit. My first question was, Could you describe the circumstances surrounding the inception of your first publication either before or after you were collaborating and tell me about your motivations and aims surrounding that publication? TM: We probably need to do both. We can do separate before our collaboration, and during our collaboration, so there are three. EJ: You first. TM: I can’t remember what mine was. EJ: I can remember mine. My first publication was in 1987, and it was a Dutch [...] TM: You must have been finishing De Ateliers, your Masters course. EJ: Yes. TM: That timing is important. EJ: My first exhibition was in 1985 and my first publication in 1987, and I had an exhibition in Rotterdam in the CBK, Centre for Visual Art and I made one big installation. It was in an old garage showroom so I made it in a way that you didn’t have to go in to see the work. It was a huge six walls.
TM: Glass windows. EJ: CBK produced as part of their shows a publication. The format of the book I was given involved a designer who would do the outside. Normally the publications were text and image, but what I did was basically a printed version of the work, so that book is an art book. The exhibition’s wall drawings were based on Letraset, and the title was Life. You had man, woman, a couple, babies, and then interiors, so it was like the story of life through clichés, using Letraset. And those Letraset forms were painted on a 25 m long wall at almost life size, so the book re-presented that work. That was my first publication. TM: I think I would have to talk about two types of first publication. I’m trying to track back to where I was, when. When I left art school I went straight to Hungary and Romania and I was filming and writing, as I had been writing all the way through art school but I don’t think I had published anything i.e. I hadn’t made it public. When I came back to Scotland I was offered a one person show at the CCA in Glasgow (1993), and while I was making the work, I was writing a lot. So I didn’t even think of my use of text in that show in terms of writing, because the writing was incorporated in artworks that were completely bound up in the spatial considerations of the gallery’s dimensions, context and environment. One of the largest works for the two big galleries was a floor work made of linoleum that was comprised of writing. It was a story broken up into physically dislocated phrases and sentences arranged across this massive floor space, and each of these tiny little letters was imbedded in the lino. It was an experiential artwork in that people had to walk all over it, all over the floor in order to experience and construct it through their own movement and visual actions. In another CCA show, this time a group show, one of my works was a steel table in the form of a frame, made of square section steel. It was a kind of archetype of a table and draped over it was cotton fabric, and accompanying it at a distance was a wall steel cabinet. It was a cupboard without doors, open, and I can’t remember how many sections, it was maybe three rows of eight, twenty four compartments in each of which was a glass jar filled with water containing a photograph printed from the super 8 films that I had made travelling repeatedly in Hungary and Romania while I lived in Hungary. Back in Glasgow, I projected the films and wrote new stories from them, part memory and part consciously constructed fiction. These appeared in the 23
exhibition as a series of printed texts on labels, derived from me looking at those images but about, of course, me trying to remember, so investigating memory but also corruption, what I could change from what had actually happened, in the space between material and reflection. The publication that had been planned from the outset and that was produced by CCA in 1993 was called ‘Tracy Mackenna’ and some of that writing is produced in there in, its layout on the pages devised by me. That was probably the first time that my writing was published. Now that publication was a very interesting experience because Andrew Nairn was CCA’s exhibitions director at the time, and he’s an absolute control freak, as am I, so we were having some really really interesting debates about what this publication was going to be and what it could be and what it would end up being, and he had a budget that he revealed to me early on. It was a really open process and a very creative process between the two of us, but as the curator, Andrew was, because he’s unbelievably attentive to detail that man, he was on top of the whole thing. So that was my first experience of working with a big organisation that had a whole history, of course, of making publications. And it was produced, I think in and edition of 1000, and it was sold for something like I don’t know, eight or nine pounds. I was given maybe twenty copies, and had to buy at full price any other copies that I wanted. Ok, so that’s like a traditional publisher, you’d be lucky if you get five copies. TM: Exactly, so in that element it fell into the more traditional publisher / artist balance, but the motivation, of course, the function for the curator, he needed that publication because it was adding to his reputation as a curator. The more publications he could produce, the more that his exhibitions were captured and documented, this was 1993 remember, before websites, before Facebook and blogs so the publication was critical for Andrew, because it was part of his game plan, that he was building. His progression? TM: Yep, so he was literally aiming for a series of publications to go with these big shows. Going back to economy, it brought up some really interesting issues, because I was probably given a fee to do that show but it certainly didn’t include all the work that I became engaged in after the show that related to making this publication, and in that sense it was like making 24
another piece of work, and it occupied me for months. And I guess you wouldn’t have received any royalties from the sale of the publications. TM: Nothing, not a penny. EJ: That’s another thing of course. With art publications conditions and agreements can be so unclear, or so minimal, that’s why I’m more inclined to call it an artwork, because you put in so much energy and time and creativity without any remuneration. TM: When you are actually creating a wholly new thing. EJ: And you’re producing another thing, and that because of the nature of distribution, we don’t know how many of them are sold. No clue. We don’t even know, and publishers wouldn’t inform us. That’s surely a responsibility on their part? EJ: It would be quite interesting to mail them and say, can you give us some numbers. How much have we sold? Also I’m not sure any more if in our original contracts there is anything about royalties. We would do this slightly differently now, but A Perfect Image of Ourselves was partly financed by Dutch and UK organisations, and by CCA, but we did all the work basically. Writers and designers were paid but we were not paid, the idea being that the publication itself was our reward. Yet we received only five or ten copies and thereafter had to buy, so there is something totally flawed about that transaction’s construction. It also is to do with the cultural sector, in terms of finance and funding, being so confused, with poor communication and debate. TM: So what was our joint publication then? Ed and Ellis in Schiedam? EJ: Yep, 1998, Ed and Ellis in Schiedam, that’s the first joint publication. TM: Nothing in Finland or Ireland prior to this, but in terms of using the breadth of the term publishing, the first project that we did together was in 25
Finland, when we went out postering and applying our own text to posters and billboards in Finland. We were out kind of applying pages to the city. Which is something, I noticed on The Poem Pedlar’s blog? TM: Yeah. You’ve got the postcard stuck onto something on the wall, on the website for the blog. TM: Yeah, I can’t get online here, but [...] Next to posters and things. TM: That’s on my desktop – look, is the one? A series of postcards like that. Yes. TM: Right, well I’ve written about seven thousand words to date that go with those images, and that ‘blog’ is being updated. EJ: Shortly after working in Finland we did a project in Dublin, where we used posters to make a little printed fold-out publication. We could describe this as publishing sculpture. TM: Yes, absolutely. That was nineteen ninety something (1997). EJ: And related to the idea of publishing sculpture, in our exhibition at MK Expositieruimte in Rotterdam in 1998, it’s a house of cards, playing on the work of that name by designer couple Charles and Ray Eames. The interlocking structure and large surface area was used to bring together in the one site, all our research and related material. Curiously, we have not spent a lot of energy or time in discussing this work. And we haven’t kept it. TM: I really wish we had. EJ: Maybe we can reconstruct it sometime.
This is really interesting in relation to another question I’ve got, because it relates to the space. Firstly though I want to ask, Blogging and indeed writing has been intrinsic to your collaborative practice, well I’ve written collaborative practice but I’m guessing its perhaps maybe more Tracy? TM: Yeah, but, just to qualify that, it functions as a tool to develop and expose the discourse between us, so in some cases it is fed by the conversation. So it is collaborative then? EJ: Well you could talk about the authorship in terms of when it’s written down, mediated by what Tracy does, she is the author, but conceptually, maybe the content is partly shared. Yes, ok. EJ: It’s good to clarify though. In our practice we take on different roles and those might slowly move or shift over time but in when we started off, Tracy was far more interested in language and writing and its articulation in space, and I was very interested in the image and recycling and reprinting and the curatorial. TM: Taxonomies of image, collecting. EJ: And that’s still playing out. And, most evident recently in the project The Pedlars’ Blogs, The Poem Pedlar and The Print Pedlar. Can you talk about how you see the relationship between the textual written pieces and blogs, and the visual, aesthetic elements? And also how you see these blogs in relation to the wider practice? TM: If we start with The Print Pedlar’s blog, that came to life because as we were working with a big institution, the Nederlands Fotomusem, on WAR AS EVER! we were hyper aware of the institution’s boundaries, and because we had lived in Rotterdam, we know the city well and are acutely aware of its constantly and rapidly evolving public domain, and the city’s structure itself. Although this museum tends not to be physically active outwith its 27
own walls we could be, so we devised this character of The Pedlar partly as an attempt to activate and test an idea of expanding our project beyond the museum. The project’s subject matter was war and conflict, equally considerations that are completely embedded in Rotterdam’s changing fabric, going back to the aerial bombardment of the city by the German Air Force in May 1940. That character could have been a different person but it had in the end to be me, because the quality of the resulting writing is utterly dependent on the quality of the personality and the conversation that that person is able to develop and project. So the relationship between the character’s activities and the static state of the exhibition was interesting because when I arrived in Rotterdam each day I would go straight to the museum, take the outfit off the wall, and go directly about my business in town. Coupled with this activity, I would need a period where I was alone, usually at night well into the early hours of the morning, so that I could actually write. We don’t keep track of visitor figures on our website, so we don’t know who’s looked at The Print Pedlar’s blog or how many people have looked at it. But again when it started it was supposed to be a series of short texts each with an image that documented or triggered an association. Some of them are images of the city, shots of newspaper articles, things that were happening that day, but of course the text started growing and each entry is pretty substantial, because as soon as I got into the rhythm of it, I started to think forward, treating it as a piece of writing that would potentially take on some other form at some future point, perhaps published as a small publication. EJ: I think probably in the future, because actually the blogging is pretty recent. TM: Yes, the situating of this kind of writing online. EJ: In a long-term, multi stage durational project like The Museum of Loss and Renewal the only deadlines are set by ourselves. Cumulative stages requiring discreet funding like the one we’re working on now with The Highland Hospice’s charity shops allows us to devise, develop and design a project with careful consideration of how the blogging should come in, in the most appropriate and effective way, or even how it directly leads to the end.
TM: With The Print Pedlar’s blog, two things were happening. There was our control of the blog and its activation and there was the museum’s role; they were very passive, signaling their will to engage in advance of that part of the project coming into being, but they did not contribute or effectively promote and make audiences aware. EJ: So they had not really developed their social media. TM: Exactly. EJ: A lot of museums have not properly sorted that yet. TM: No, they are really not focused, yet could have been tweeting what I was doing every day and putting it out through their digital channels, but they were so lax it was ineffective. So were they the exhibition department or was there a marketing department in that museum? TM: Well they had both. They had press and marketing. And neither of them took control? EJ: And they all felt really under huge pressure, really overworked, understaffed, people would retire and they were not replaced, so all of those organisations of course are [...] TM: It was a physically big organization with massive exhibition spaces, an incredible library, to die for, amazingly important archives, they’ve got a librarian, they’ve got press and marketing people, they’ve got curators. EJ: Archivists. But what you see and that’s often the case with our type of work, the organisation is primarily structured around presenting work, a video or photographs or so on. When suddenly the artist draws the museum into their practice, and asks them to become active in relation to publishing, a lot of museums struggle. So it’s not that easy to work with us, because we are quite demanding, because we ask to work with them differently or we ask them to do things that they wouldn’t normally do. That makes it some29
times very complicated. Our experience is that a lot of work needs to go into setting up that kind of project properly. That’s why often a non funded project, where we can totally curate ourselves and design and develop can be more rewarding than doing something with a high profile, established museum. I think that’s also the tension, in going back to publishing, in marketing etc. that in the end you have to make a decision that will have an impact on your artistic control or what you are aiming to do. We looked at the Culture Show programme made on the Anish Kapoor Orbit Tower in the London Olympic Park which has clearly been a nightmare and actually, he’s not happy with it, because there were so many stages they had to go through financially but also that artist himself couldn’t fully control the product. We have developed the skills to manage our situations to date, also because we are two. Remember [to Tracy] in Ikon Gallery we worked with Claire Doherty, and afterwards we discussed how they normally deal with an individual artist, which is easier than having two of us, who are both quite vocal and articulate. In that situation the power ecosystems are imbalanced and it’s not that easy to work with us because we know how art systems work, so we know the agenda and the politics of those kind of institutions. That makes it a little bit more problematic. So yeah, those tensions and ambitions need to be managed somehow. TM: And then we were going to talk about our first collaborative publication. Ed and Ellis in Schiedam. EJ: Well I don’t know if we need to know more about that. I can go on and we can maybe go back if we need to. TM: Yeah. EJ: [To Louisa] Just make sure you’ve got what you’re looking for. Well we’ve already covered a lot of what I was going to ask you both, and already some of the questions I have seem a little irrelevant, but I’ll ask the next one anyway. It’s kind of to do with the written text and the visual element, or representation of the written text, and I’m just interested to know what level of importance you place on this relationship. EJ: Well, we are acutely aware of design and also we present text in many 30
different ways, if it’s through a blog or a book but sometimes for example, in the War as Ever! project we designed posters from quotes from Susan Sontag’s book, Regarding the Pain of Others. Those printed, published ‘pages’ became part of the work in the museum, but I think we are generally hyper sensitive to design. TM: But also I think the relationship between the image, for example (points to images of The Poem Pedlar’s postcards, each with a handwritten text, photographs showing the cards in a variety of locations, held by different people) all thirty or whatever it is of those as images - as pieces of visual stuff that encapsulate moments, something that happened out there on St Andrews’ streets. But of course there’s a lot that has been eradicated; you don’t see me in there, you don’t see much of people other than their hands close to mine and holding the cards, but you see those moments of exchange. And in The Print Pedlar’s blog you’ve also got a series of images, each with a text, where the text doesn’t illustrate the image, but there’s an absolutely symbiotic relationship, for me anyway, between the image and the text. Each image is created in order to be able to write, and that comes back to what I was describing about 1993, and the CCA work when I talked about how I made the still images from watching the super 8 film, then writing. It’s like the trigger? TM: For me, all of my writing starts from the image. EJ: So basically in some cases, the writing is the image. (E.g. leaflet, Ed and Ellis in Schiedam) or becomes the image. It’s writing but it is also at the end the image. And its not, for instance in that example its handwritten, but the font is chosen very carefully. TM: Yes, everything is done very carefully. So I think that’s what I’m meaning as well, the way the text looks but also the way, there’s different levels I guess. The way the content of the text relates to the content of the image, and then the way the image is positioned next to the 31
text visually, and then there’s the handwritten style, there’s the style of the text I guess, or the design. EJ: Of course there’s meaning in the design. If it’s handwritten, it communicates slightly differently than a text that’s presented through the use of a font. Its interesting because it all comes down to how, what you are doing is communicated. How you want that to be communicated, because that in essence is what your practice is surrounding, this discursive contact. EJ: The playing out, the function of the text in relation to the image, is part of the many, many areas that flow in and around our practice. If you look at that card [gestures to The Poem Pedlar’s postcard] it’s designed in a way that already expresses the notion of giving and the gift. Then there’s an action and it’s framed within a white edge, so you can separate the letter from its environment, so it’s made in consideration of the terms and the way it’s being used. And then the handwritten element; actually the art is not only in Tracy’s handwriting, but a new layer of art is being made present through the writing. It’s really interesting when I looked at those postcards, because I initially thought you were writing on a white piece of card, and that you took a photograph, but of course you wouldn’t do that every time. TM: No. And then I realised that you simply printed out lots of cards. TM: A lot of people thought that and that’s why it worked really, really well - because you had those lovely moments, where that’s not my hand, that’s someone else’s. Often, with me holding the card here, because it was designed of course for me to write on it with my right hand while holding it in my left hand and have my own thumb printed on the card there, you had moments where other people held it themselves or held it at the same time as me, introducing their hands into the equation. EJ: Also playing a little bit with the notion of appropriation, reproduction, 32
re-presentation. TM: And sharing; those split second interfaces of sharing, where you’re sharing around an object, the card as an object. EJ: And every card becomes unique, through the handwritten component. In terms of publishing that’s quite interesting. If that’s a gesture of publishing, it’s one-off publishing in a sense. It’s an edition of one, but it’s repeated, so maybe you could argue, you have a hundred cards, a hundred pages, every page is different, although it has the potential of repetition. So did the people get to keep the cards? TM: Yeah, and some were left in places like phone booths and [...] So you’ve got no copies of [...] TM: I made a double of every one, because I wanted to have a record, because over the years a lot of things have just gone un-recorded, so I really wanted to have that whole [...] EJ: It might mean that we want to make a little book with all those texts and the viewer or reader will see all of the cards, each one in a different location and situation. We consider that to be a very interesting way of publishing and of distribution, and really site specific and location specific. TM: And you could say that each one is unique to each person to whom it was given, so it’s like publishing on the hoof. Yes EJ: Not on demand, but on the gift. TM: If you think of distribution as well, it is publishing and distribution collapsing into one. EJ: And production and distribution. Like micro-publishing?
EJ: For us it might be interesting to consider this as the kind of ultimate, extreme format of publishing, where it’s even pre or partly pre-produced, but actually finished in situ. TM: The context is pre-produced, isn’t it? The card is set up and produced in advance in order for everything to take place within a framework. EJ: The canvas is prepared. TM: Yeah the canvas is prepared. That’s great. EJ: And those things are really small, and in terms of marketing, we are acutely aware that we work with a series of small audiences instead of one big audience. Though if you work with the Tate, there will be tens of thousands of people coming through your space, not because they come to your exhibition but because they come to the Tate, and that’s very generic, but for each project we consider the audience and that will have an impact on how we publish, what we publish and how we produce it. If you have to reach an audience, because even art books, editions of thousands or five hundred, what kind of distribution is that? You could have simply handed them out. TM: I used to think a thousand was loads, but when you think about even just the UK’s population of around 54 million, you know… EJ: Publishers produce them in different numbers, but if you think of art publications, if they have not gone through a standard publisher or publishing house, or with a huge museum or gallery, it’s peanuts. I guess with publishers, I guess with independent publishers they would make the print run to make the break even point and some would say well as long as I can sell all of the copies then it doesn’t matter what size it is. A successful publication is one that sells five hundred copies or ten thousand as long as they’re not all sitting in a warehouse in a pile gathering dust, which I’ve seen at one distributor in Glasgow. EJ: It might be interesting for you to talk to Fucking Good Art, because they do the distribution partly themselves and they often work with a publisher 34
but their books sell out, in many cases. I don’t know how many copies they make. They for example spent some time in Berlin as part of the Berlin Issue. They then managed to find a couple of really good book shops in Berlin, and they will make sure that they know those people who are often small operations in themselves. In building the network and the making of the book, publishing is the work; what they do in making the publications. As part of that they spend a lot of time developing networks, allowing them actually to make a fantastic network around their activities as artists. In that way then the publishing becomes the artwork, and the marketing of that artwork feeds the publishing. It’s a really clever idea, clear and very distinct. Although it doesn’t mean that they will make money, it means that they will probably be able to fund their publication, because that’s the other thing of course, nobody is making any money, and often those art publishers are funded, or artists bring money. The publisher Onomatopee has money only for some projects. But if they come in as a publisher they will do a lot of work, and that’s how they sponsor, their funding bit is that they bring in their expertise and time, but at the end the funding comes from different sources and that makes it a very diffused operation. Your projects seem to be designed to break down the formal or conventional boundaries between the artist or creator, the viewer and participator and the artwork. How do you see the role of publishing within the framework of your projects? Are the publications an active challenge to convention as part of the design of the project, or are they final resting points for the material generated during the project, a way of editing down and filtering the sometimes ephemeral outcomes into a concrete tangible result? I think you have probably touched a lot on that. EJ: Yeah, It works in different ways. TM: I think that’s kind of where we started in a sense. EJ: Sometimes the printed stuff helps to broker that relationship or starts a conversation. It’s a lot about encounter, but in some cases, what did you call it? A last resting place? Quite a nice phrase. Are they final resting points for the material generated?
EJ: Resting points, yeah, in some cases, but more recently that’s very rare. The very early publications were where everything came together. We now try to make publications that might bring in visual textual components that are relevant, and we are working on a little publication that works in relation to The Museum of Loss and Renewal, but that’s just summarising almost where we are at the early stage of that project. And we can experiment a little bit, with the design approach because it’s about loss and renewal, and we’re really challenging Marco the designer to work with that as a theme almost. It will be really low budget, maybe using recycled paper, we might even include a self publishing component, where we only produce a hundred and make it available online, so everybody can print it off on the paper they like, so stretching it a little bit. At the end I’m not sure if that’s where we want to go. I think as part of this project, how participatory do you want to be, can you extend it to publishing for example, can you bring that in? Actually I think we struggle with this, we’re not particularly interested in giving up our authorship, we’re never pretending that the way we produce is shared with an audience. It’s really clear, the distinction between us as makers or producers or publishers and the audience. This is sort of to do with the space of the gallery and the space of the book. In the process of collaboration, communication is very important; do you see the publishing aspect of your practice as a way of unpacking quite dense ideas and concepts in your practice and communicating them on the space of the page? How does this differ for you from the space of both the formal and informal communications and events and performances in the space of the gallery? EJ: Well that’s interesting, in that sense books are always contrived, because they are considered, collected, edited, so there’s a far bigger sense of control and also manipulation because through those books you present yourself in a particular way, and also you filter out a lot of things. We acknowledge that there is an element in our work that can only be experienced live in the moment and not beyond. The publication then is actually a very filtered, edited reflection of that. I would again argue that it becomes an artwork, because you use that material that came out of the project. Probably that’s why we have to be clear about how those components relate to each other, how we articulate that. That’s why I would like to stick to, yes that publication is an artwork, or another manifestation of our practice.
TM: You said, there’s an element of the work that can only be experienced live. If you’ve got ten people in the space with you together, experiencing different things at the same time, taking small elements, it’s a very dispersed set of experiences that is taking place, and of course the publication is almost the opposite of that. It brings together through our curation and presents a [...] EJ: So it’s more inter subjective in a sense. TM: What’s more inter subjective? EJ: The publication, because it actually has to move towards an objective, it has to communicate that project to an audience that wasn’t there in most cases, so that means that it has to take up a shape that has value in itself beyond the project. So in a sense the thing itself needs to be appreciated beyond the project. I find that a really interesting problem, but also if you go to a museum you look at an artwork, you experience it, you might go and blog about it or tweet about it but basically that becomes inter subjective because there’s a whole cloud of responses, but there’s nobody who is going to make that connection, between the cloud of experiences. I’ve not seen an artist who has said, this is the artwork, we have taken from online all the responses to then contextualise this work. Which I think would be quite an interesting thing to consider. So can you actually also bring that voice into the publication. That’s maybe something for us to consider. The next question is about this two way street of communication and publishing. Do you envisage Facebook, Twitter or online forums as a possible future technology as a way you could develop the published communications to become two way between yourself and the audience. I guess I’m getting at, in the gallery space or in the events that you organise there’s a two way conversation but with the publishing by its nature its often one sided. Do you see that as something you could potentially harness? EJ: Yes, but I think it’s something we have to think about carefully. Facebook is not an art medium, so it’s like sending out a message to a sometimes filtered and sometimes unfiltered audience. TM: I think the issue around it is one of editorship. You can put stuff out so 37
there’s the possibility to comment for example on what the site has been devised for here, but then what do you do with that material? I think we have to be absolutely clear, are we looking to develop an aspect of the writing as co-authored writing or social, socially generated writing - that’s not our focus at the moment. I guess that goes back to that thing of the live of a lot of your work being live? TM: And what our roles are as authors and editors in there. EJ: At this stage I can see it more as a marketing tool, to reach an audience that might be interested in your work, and might come to something, but it would never replace in a sense. And also I don’t have the time or the brain space to be online all the time. TM: No, and we don’t have the desire. EJ: Of course for a lot of politicians or companies, or whatever, they have people who do that and even stars who might tweet but at the end it’s all managed carefully. So I think I see it more as an extension. What is interesting in relation to it is that we’re interested in process, so it allows us to at least publish a little bit about projects, that can be done through the website, and at least Facebook is a little bit more immediate. In relation to the Micromégas project coming up, you write on the University of Dundee Website: http://www. dundee.ac.uk/djcad/staff/edwinjanssen/ “... exhibition and symposium will draw upon the VRC’s Centre for Artists’ Books collection to debate contemporary issues within art writing and making within the book format. Each component of the project will contribute to an exploration of the innovative possibilities of ‘the book’ and visual publishing, of how and why an artist’s book can exist in parallel to other structures in the art discourse as a separate yet crucial marker, hovering between production, analysis and self-conscious artistic reflection. ...” Can you tell me what the issues are with art writing and making within the book format? And what you think are the innovative possibilities of ‘the book’ and visual publishing? (Especially in terms of developing technology)
TM & EJ: Editioned exhibition and publishing project collapsing into one This is the Micromégas project. The innovative possibilities of the book are with the spatial qualities and the nonlinear aspect which visual artists are particularly good at. I’m intrigued by the term you often use, ‘visual publishing’, especially when I think about my previous question about the relationship between the visual and the textual. Can you define for me this term especially in relation to the traditional concept of the term publishing? EJ: I would define visual publishing as a stretched notion of publishing. If we go back to our definition of publishing as making something formally public, then I think some examples of children’s publishing can be seen as visual publishing. And in a sense it’s a multi sensory experience, reading children’s books. I would say it’s the expanded experience of the publication with the importance on the visual. Ed and Ellis are two alter-egos you have created which you have been called to action in various projects, and in various writings, can you tell me how these two alter egos came about? I ask about these partly out of curiosity and also as I see you have publications published by Ed and Ellis Productions. TM &EJ: Ed and Ellis came about shortly after we first met, in Manifesta1. Tracy had to go out to Tokyo and Edwin was in the Netherlands. At this time we weren’t using email correspondence, there was no Facebook, Twitter, etc. We had to communicate through fax machines. During the fax communication we decided to design a house as a vision of our shared future. We created two characters who would inhabit this house. These were Ellis Macmeisje (meisje – Dutch for girl) and Ed Venture (vent- Dutch for guy). This followed on to when we began making publications and we needed to invent a publisher’s name so we used the Ed and Ellis characters to produce the name Ed and Ellis Productions. In Tokyo these characters became real in the form of us, mainly because the Japanese had particular trouble with pronouncing our names Edwin Janssen and Tracy Mackenna. Ed and Ellis worked really well. Our logo for the girl and the boy come from drawing templates. Our publications in Tokyo worked really well in terms of the printed ephemera, and the culture of gift giving in Japan.
This interview is part of Louisa Prestonâ€™s dissertation Publishing within Visual Culture: An Analysis of the Symbiotic Relationship between Publishing and Visual Culture and the Impact of Technology on Publishing Strategies and Activity. Submitted for her MLitt in Publishing Studies at the Stirling Centre for International Publishing and Communication, Division of Literature and Languages, School of Arts and Humanities, University of Stirling. August 2012 ÂŠ Louisa Preston / Tracy Mackenna & Edwin Janssen The person using www.mackenna-and-janssen.net may view, reproduce or store copies of this paper providing the information is only for their individual use, and is not used for commercial purposes. Any use of this paper, in whole or in part, must include the copyright notice above and www.mackenna-and-janssen.net
Interview by Louise Preston with artists Tracy Mackenna and Edwin Janssen about the role of publishing in their collaborative practice.
Published on Aug 16, 2016
Interview by Louise Preston with artists Tracy Mackenna and Edwin Janssen about the role of publishing in their collaborative practice.