Publisher! Publisher!

NEIU Art Center Gallery, 
Chicago, IL 

June 13-July 25, 2014

When asked to do a solo exhibition at the Art Center Gallery at Northeastern Illinois University, I decided I would use the opportunity to address an issue I had been thinking about for some time. I had noticed how the New York Art Book fair and the new L.A. Art Book fair were growing more popular with each passing year. But I also observed that a lot of the growth in this area relied on the voluntary labor of dedicated publishers who were stuck behind the table, and out of the limelight. With this exhibition, I wanted to highlight and celebrate this somewhat invisible labor.

Curatorial Essay by Amze Emmons

Who Publishes the Publishers?  

I could write pages and pages about why I like books, ranging from the unprecedented historical importance of the day the codex and printing press met, to the countless innovative ways artists and writers have found to fill these discrete, indexical containers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a luddite, but I fret about the design problems inherent in our glowing rectangles, the shortcomings of the hypertext scroll, the tyranny of the search term, and the corporate and ideological systems hidden under the surfaces of our information age. In my opinion, old-technology books often elegantly sidestep these new-technology problems. However, more interesting than the content delivery wars is what happens when creatives move in and start playing with book technology. Of course, creative hacking of book technology has been around for as long as there have been books. A sampling of artists’ books can give a sense of the variety of bibliophilic interventions through time, from the truly eccentric (William Blake), to the avant-garde (Futurists, Vorticists, Constructivists, Dada, Surrealism), to intellectual deconstruction (Concrete Poetry, COBRA, Dieter Roth, Ed Ruscha), to the boldly experimental (John Cage, Fluxus, Yoko Ono, Johanna Drucker, Claire Van Vliet), to the slow explosion of contemporary artists’ books. And this brief list doesn’t take into account the compelling worlds of zines, underground comics, experimental writing, poetics, etc. The contemporary scene of hard text publishing is a thriving world of people modeling alternative textual experiences, documenting important and mundane events, and creating room for thought experiments. And what is most interesting is that the divide between the publishers and the makers is closing; the content creators are the publishers. This is not vanity publishing; rather, publishing has become an important part of an art practice. It’s a method for getting the work out of the gallery or the bookstore and into the hands of a diverse audience, as well as a means to circulate ideas in a community of makers. It’s about putting something in someone else’s hands. Q: Seriously, though, that sounds cool and avant-garde and everything, but who has time to sit and read a book anymore? A: I’m glad you asked; that question is really the impetus for Publisher! Publisher!. In conceiving of this exhibition I wanted to celebrate the work of a handful of small press publishers, using their talent and diversity to speak for the larger community of book publishers working today. I also aimed to create a space that invites the audience to spend a few minutes doing what I most want to do: slow down and read a book. And I wanted to create a publication that would have a life after this exhibition closes.   


Exhibition Collaborators:  

Booklyn, Brooklyn, NY; Cantab Publishing, Chicago, IL; Esopus, New York City, NY; Justseeds Artists' Cooperative, globally distributed collective; K48/Scott Hug, Queens, NY; Megawords, Philadelphia, PA; Office of Culture and Design, Los Angeles, CA & Manila, Philippines; Pens Press, Los Angeles, CA; Pre Libri, Tokyo, Japan; Publication Studio, Portland, OR; Rotland Press, Detroit, MI; Francsec Ruiz, Barcelona, Spain; Siglio, Los Angeles, CA; Temporary Services, Chicago, IL & Copenhagen, Denmark; Torpedo, Oslo, Norway; Ugly Duckling Presse, Brooklyn, NY; Work Press, St. Louis, MI.  

Exhibition design completed in collaboration with Blender Architecture, Chicago, IL. 

Publication design completed in collaboration withJ. Pascoe, Philadelphia, PA  

Photographs of catalog by J. Pascoe