Reason 2: Function

Here’s part two of my series of posts explaining reasons around why I started publishing. I’m sure I’ll miss things, and these posts are here to get my thoughts in order as much as for the interest of the internet.

‘The gallery’, I wanted to avoid. I wanted something quick to make and to ‘exhibit’. Affordable, to make and to buy. Easy to transport. Something that could exist in multiple, and so be in more than one place at a time. Something that is an edition, not necessarily to limit the edition but so there is no ‘original’, and all copies have the same intrinsic value.

Prints would have done, to an extent, but within the context of my work at the time, they would have been single images on single sheets, and prints and printing are expensive. Photocopy prints aren’t expensive though, and they prevented me becoming precious as I had with the paintings that took nearly two years to make.

My influences are pretty wide and include ideas around Minimalism and Conceptualism — many of those discussed in Lucy Lippard’s Six Years, Don Celender, In Numbers exhibition, Felix Gonzales Torres, some street art, American underground/free press, Hand made signs, Modernism, 1970s teaching packs, National Trust info pamphlets, bookies’ cards from horse races, ephemera and collectibles…

The idea of photocopied prints was kind-of the antidote to the problems that painting and galleries were causing (me), and they fitted with the aesthetic, DIY-ness and spontaneity of my influences. But, they were single sheets and one image, and felt a bit light. Literally speaking, copied onto heavier stock felt like I was trying to convince people they were something they weren’t. Light in a content sense too though, just a bit of paper and a picture — a copied one.

So, I photocopied a sketchbook and stapled it together, to make a rough copy of the original. Sketchbooks are very personal things, no one ever really sees them, and certainly I’d never sell one. If you price things on time alone, then a sketchbook would run into 1000s, and even then I’d regret selling them. To me they were the place all else came from. By copying it, and making another 25 or so, I was breaking down the ‘original’ and the personal. Now I could send it to or swap with anyone, and if they didn’t want it, they could give it away. It was open. These copies spidered their way around the world very quickly. My work, overnight almost, was in 24 more countries than it have ever been.

The book (I wasn’t calling them books, still don’t really. I was calling them copies), I thought, was a useful multi-purpose container. A container to house things, a collection of drawings or photographs for example. A container to transport things, or a container to be used as an archive, to present ‘data’ of some kind. It’s an immediately functional and purposeful thing — I’ve never really been sure of the function of painting. The type of book I was / am interested in, was no bigger than the sum of its parts. IE, no grander, no more valuable, not decorative, not manufactured in a way that gives the impression it’s better than it is. Part of me ‘doesn’t see the point’ of decoration or embellishments. If something is made of the most appropriate materials and is shaped to provide its best function, I’ll take it, over the version of the same thing with a pattern, or with ears, or with a badge, or with gloss, embossing and tail bands. Plain, straightforward, simple things. Extra is unnecessary, and extra gets in the way. I see a lot of art in this way, including a lot of the paintings I used to make. If a subject or work is about ‘kitsch’, for example, then a function of that might be to demonstrate kitsch, so the form would follow, decoratively, and the decoration would be purposeful. That would be ok!

The book: It’s personal, shareable, can be read anywhere. It can be posted worldwide in a day or two, inexpensively. It can be sent direct to someone, on their terms, rather than them coming to see it, on the maker’s terms. It can still be shown in a gallery, collected by a museum, held in a library. If it’s a picture book, it’s universal. It can be a starting point — a window into a subject or thing. The content can be curated, submitted, or selected.

The way I’d usually hung things in a gallery was quite linear. The viewer would generally travel from left to right, reading the labels and sometimes looking at the work. Now I had the advantage of facing pages, turning pages, repeated images, flipped images, gatefolds, French folds, covers…All the tools I wanted and could use to lead people, create a story or narrative. The book pauses people. At least, a flick through, usually stopping as something catches their eye. There’s a physical action necessary to ‘use’ a book which I don’t think is there in a gallery. You can walk through a gallery and not see anything. The pause, on the reader’s terms, encourages seeing.

At the time, I didn’t know of any social media. MySpace had just begun. Flickr too. No Facebook, instagram, only just Gmail, so the everyday mass communication we’re now used to, wasn’t really there. Artists, illustrators, photographers were online, just about. Basic, static websites to act as a portfolio. I was starting to build myself a website, searching for how-to code HTML guides, then CSS later. Metadata come up and I realised that at that time, if you used enough keywords and meta data / website info, then those keywords would affect search results, and so expand my audience to people not necessarily looking for the thing I had to show. So the first book, of the copied sketchbook, I called, ‘Happy Birthday’. Keywords and titles included the words Happy and Birthday. At one point, quite briefly, when searching online for Happy Birthday, my site came third in the list. This was just playing, but I enjoyed the idea of subverting the internet. I also enjoyed the idea that by adding nothing new, only using what already existed, I could ‘do something’.

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