September 7th, 2009


There is a shadow publishing system behind the one we know

The best way to communicate the excitement of the art books weekend we've just had in Berlin (Miss Read, the Motto Self-Publishing Fair, and Kiosk: Modes of Multiplication) is to tell you that it evoked the excitement 14 year-old me felt putting together a family magazine using an IBM Selectric typewriter, a Letraset catalogue, and the photocopier at my dad's office. In talks by Zak Kyes and Stuart Bailey that autonomous, polymath, slightly insurrectionary excitement recurred when they described taking over the publications rooms of various institutions (the Architectural Association, the Whitney Museum).

Zak came across as rather more saintly and institutional, whereas Stuart (who appears, from his accent, to be Scottish, but has already picked up some LA twang) is more inclined to paint himself, pointedly, as a pirate, provocateur and parasite -- he happily admits, for instance, that Dexter Sinister developed the idea of "performative design" (producing an issue of Dot Dot Dot magazine live in a gallery, for instance) as a way to raise cash when the grants ran out. Here's a mirrored image of a writer Bailey recommended in his talk, the peripatetic Pole Stefan Themerson:

"Critical design" is a term that came up a lot in the presentations, because for these polymaths design is synonymous with thinking (which reminds me of the REDESIGNDEUTSCHLAND idea, the basic concept powering my Book of Scotlands; that nations can be redesigned too). There was also a focus on the non-separation of style and content; design is not just a slick envelope you wrap around someone else's content, but a process in which the two arrive together, bounced off each other by enthusiastic de-specialised renaissance people, or generalists. In these accounts, a shadow publishing system began to emerge behind the one we know, something like the Court in Kafka's Trial, or -- one of Stuart Bailey's favourite images -- W.A.S.T.E., the alternative postal system in Pynchon's Crying of Lot 49, represented by the muted Trystero post horn.

Two things seemed to be on everyone's lips over this weekend: translation (in which material is inevitably lost or "wasted", but gets replaced by something else), and the relaunched (and self-translating) Korean graphic design magazine GRAPHIC, brilliantly re-designed by young Amsterdam-based Korean designer Na Kim, whose blue hat was bobbing around all weekend.

GRAPHIC is now bi-lingual (English and Korean) and is in the process of getting worldwide distribution. Its summer 2009 issue on Self-Publishing was very much in the spirit of this Berlin weekend, even down to the slightly perplexed sense that we'd seen a lot of covers of attractively obscure underground publications without knowing what exactly -- if anything -- was inside them. But if form and content have been thoroughly melded, and the professions of designer and writer de-specialised, perhaps the cover / inside distinction has become unnecessary. Maybe what awaits beyond the cover is simply more covers -- obscure, intriguing, and expertly curated ones, wrapped around each other like the skins of a print onion.

Finally, an image of the scrambled Freud editions by artist Simon Morris that I mentioned the other day. Freud thought there was a system of shadow meanings behind the explicit meanings of language; Morris reveals a second Freud hidden behind the Freud we know.