When the Tate Britain in London underwent physical renovation, certain parts, essential key points of the museum were closed; places where people would normally walk became unavailable. Messing with the way the museum normally functioned and making people in the building behave differently than they would otherwise, the renovation generated a side effect; people couldn’t move through space the way they were used to and meant to. In the language of architects this is called a “script”- a list of cues we, humans, take when we walk through a building. So when Curator Marianne Mulvey contacted Pratt-trained performance architect Alex Schweder with regards to this temporarily diminished “script,” it wasn’t for a casual renovation job but to devise a new kind of script, a different pattern of action.
It is half past six post GMT in the Duveen Galleries’ large corridor of the Tate Britain. Surprisingly, the gallery is empty: no Rodin, no antiques but the slow swarming of a young and emphatic crowd. The event is called “PRACTISE ARCHITECTURE: rehearse here, perform everywhere” a work by Alex Schweder and Lamis Bayar.
A quick glimpse at the old barrel-vaulted limestone gallery to discover, stuck to the wall, in white imprints, short, quick imperative sentences inviting to “Touch this wall” or to “Look only at this wall and turn left” or simply “Exercise free will”. And so it went: people interacted with the architecture yet following a different script than what the original would have been. Success. But Schweder’s work goes further.
“Performance: Life bodies working towards an aesthetic end.”
“Architecture: The construction and dissolution of boundaries between people in space.”
- Schweder -
“Subjects perform themselves differently and in different context depending whether you are a man or a woman. In the way we perform gender we simply take the decision of the room we choose to walk into: is it the one labelled male or is the one labelled female?” This concept borrowed from Judith Butler’s theory of performativity – or the way in which we perform being human beings – is at the core of Alex Schweder’s work.
“Through the history of performance,” he explains, “architects discovered strategies for performing the city in ways that would render it political, within very small interactions and in insertions that were neither costly nor labour intensive to do but with great impact on the populace.”
Using that same history, it is in 2007 that Pedro Gadanho, curator at the MoMa and Alex Schweder will develop a different approach that will refresh the subject of Performance Architecture. But while Gadahno’s focus will develop in urbanism opening a more political, almost activist practice, Schweder, having added Princeton University and a Fellowship at the American Academy in Rome to his portfolio, will choose quite a different path.
Interested in the religious embodiment of Gothic cathedrals and the symbol of perfection that the Truvian body represents, Schweder will devise his own theory: relation between bodies and buildings in the way buildings act as mirrors for our bodies when we think of our bodies through buildings.
“In history, the first performances focused on actions that occurred in everyday spaces: you have the audience here and the performer there: the audience watches the performer. With performance art it is often the audience doing the performing themselves. Now, taking this kind of thinking and applying it to architecture; actions and live bodies; situations in every day spaces; if you overlay these two things: the attitude of performance art with architecture, you start to become playful with behavior, with the action, with the program of the building. Thinking of the building having a program – what actions occur within the building – in my work, rather than program I think of performance. It’s the action of a building with more permission, with more invention by those who use it. You can think of it as either a Jazz musical score as opposed to a classical score which is intended to be followed quite closely, there’s not a lot of interpretation, or a John Cage score which is even more open ended. Performance architecture is about aestheticizing the action that occurs within the building and using the building as a script for doing so. There is a whole history of architecture involving the body as an example giving a kind of history of how idealized bodies have come to inform the way we design building, building as effigies of those bodies that we would like to have; and then we occupy these bodies that we would like to have.”
Trying to find ways of insufflating life into architecture, Schweder hatches with the concept of a “time based body”. Having worked seven years as a mold and leak expert in Seattle for lawsuits as a way of supporting himself, he comes to the point that buildings are alive, uprating much more similarities to our flesh than we want them to; that “if a building is time based we will see our bodies in it, if we can notice time passing we can see the body of that building and a building – like our imperfect bodies – rots.”
In This Apple Tastes Like Our Living Room Used to Smell, 2007, Schweder creates a small bioplastic model of a house. Filled with grass seeds, as time passes, we see the house degrading, decaying, as nature takes over the model. The building is performing itself as a building that changes overtime quickly enough for you to notice its change. Then it’s the epiphany.
Schweder comes with inflatables, such as A Sac of Rooms Three Times a Day, 2007 where a big inflatable vinyl reproduction of the four rooms of an 800 square foot house is stuffed into a 500 square foot bungalow and blown up by fans or in A Sack of Rooms all Day Long, 2009 the work, he explains, “is something too big inside something too small, causing the work to continually fluctuate between something recognizable and a jumble of lines. By using inflatables, you would have the same relationship to this structure as you would to a performance: you watch it change overtime. Which in that sense it is very much like a traditional performance.”
Although questioning dynamics, it would be too easy to brand Schweder’s rationale of dualistic. Understanding architecture as a kind of cue for actions, as something similar to Georges Brecht’s Chair Event, 1960, Schweder’s work is about the ways buildings construct relationship between people. Our Weight Around Us, 2009, an inflatable double settee sofa has only been blown with enough air for only a one settee sofa making it very difficult to sit on it. Furthermore in Counterweight Roommate 2011, we see Schweder attached to Ward Shelley, the absence of vertical circulation system implies that both have to use the weight of the other person to move. “Relationship and variables,” he explains, “coordination and synchronicity.”
Now look for Schweder and you might find him here in England accomplishing PhD studies at Cambridge, something he started in 2012. Or maybe you would find him at the Opus Gallery in Chelsea, Manhattan for his most accomplished project on until March the 1st. A scheme of work he started in 2009 in Its Form Will Follow Your Performance borne from the relation of subjects to objects and how do spaces and buildings start to make us think about ourselves, Schweder “renovates people’s homes” by changing the way they behave in them. Contacted via an ad on Craiglist or by simple word of mouth, they meet and discuss. Then our performance architect goes to their home and enacts the first performance, writing notes, instructions, that relate to how to perform what the situation is and what it will trigger. The photograph is then hung in their house for tenants to re-enact: in Schweder’s words, the client is thus the author of the work’s final outcome.
In a kind of architectural psychoanalysis session, people give insight on the way they feel about their space and their frustrations – no physical work here, but only written instructions designed to change the way people perform their house. Quite a convenient opportunity that Schweder is currently finishing a PhD. “People are more likely to come to a doctor,” he says.
SCENE 1. 1978, Wuppertal Opernhaus, Germany. A young dancer, her eyes closed, struggles to move freely in a darkened German kaffehaus, her movements made difficult by the walls that enclose her. Again and again, she hits the tables, she falls, she stumbles on the empty chairs that oscillate between being signs of an absence and being a very real presence as objects in space. Again and again the audience hears the sound walls make when hit violently by a tiny ballerina frame. This is Pina Bausch’s Café Müller.
SCENE 2. 1986, Chernobyl, Ukrainian SSR. As a result of a complex set of causes including various design flaws, one of four reactors at the local nuclear power plant exploded in the early hours of the 26th of April. What followed was a release of radiation amounting to at least 100 times the radiation of the infamous bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, leading the accident to be widely recognised as the biggest nuclear disaster in History and campaign groups such as Greenpeace to predict up to 93,000 extra cancer deaths as a direct result of it. This is the Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster.
Scene 3. 1992. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Representatives of the governments of 172 nations meet for the first ever United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). In an attempt to recognise the impact the continuing deterioration of ecosystems is having on the well-being of humankind and to to tackle its progression, the conference culminates with the publication of, amongst others, Agenda 21, a non-biding action plan for the implementation of sustainable development policies at local, national, and global levels. The document will then be reaffirmed and modified at subsequent conferences. This is the first ever Earth Summit.
Scene 4. 1993, Venice, Italy. A British filmmaker presents his very small audience at the 50th Venice International Film Festival with seventy-six minutes of flickering International Klein Blue projected onto one of the screens at the Pallazo del Cinema, and accompanied by ambient sounds and disembodied voices who, hopelessly, narrate different fragments of the artist’s daily battle with HIV and of his struggle with AIDS-related blindness. This is Derek Jarman’s Blue.
Scene 5. 1997, Rotterdam, The Netherlands. For its first solo exhibition to be held at the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, a famous fashion house collaborates with a Dutch microbiologist to create a series of eighteen dresses treated with different strains of bacteria and mould that, as the exhibition progresses, will be responsible for changing the colour and aspect of the garments worn by dummies displayed behind a glass wall. This is Maison Martin Margiela’s (9/4/1615).
Scene 6. Johannesburg, South Africa. A white man in drag wears an old chandelier as if it was a tutu and struggles to balance himself on his disproportionately high high-heel shoes while walking on debris, stones, and dirt in one of South Africa’s shanty towns. Around him, workers hired by the local authority, armed with crowbars and wearing orange overalls, demolish the locals’ dwellings to allow for the construction of the future Nelson Mandela bridge. This is Steven Cohen’s Chandelier.
Scene 7. 2002, Nature, Vol. 415. Nobel Prize winner chemist Paul Crutzen identifies a new epoch in geological time which, for the first time, coincides in time with the scientist’s writing. That new epoch is said to have started with the industrial revolution of the latter part of the eighteenth century, when humans finally became one of the most powerful forces of geological history, able to replace woodlands and forests with landscapes of steel, concrete, and smoke. This is the “Anthropocene.”
Scene 8. 2008, London, England. After announcing his true identity out loud to a packed theatre—”My name is Romeo Castellucci”, he says—the controversial Italian theatre director puts on a protection suit while a pack of German shepherds are led onto the stage by their trainers. After that, some of the animals attack the artist, bitting him while he lies defenceless on the floor. This is the Prologue of Socìetas Raffaelo Sanzio’s Inferno, the first of a trilogy inspired by Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy.
Scene 9. 2010, Ljubljana, Slovenia. A naked female body falls backwards in slow motion down the red-carpeted eighteen-century oval staircase of the Gruberjeva Palace. In its long fall, the body exists at the intersection of mastery and powerlessness, forced to permanently negotiate the unfolding of the event with the gravity that pulls it down and the late Baroque staircase that guides its movement. This is Kira O’Reilly’s Stair Falling, a rather alluring pas de deux between artist and architecture.
Scene 10. 2011, World Wide Web. In the aftermath of the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster, a video appears on YouTube in which an anonymous worker wearing protection clothing approaches one of the CCTV cameras of the nuclear site, points at his contaminated surroundings and then at the centre of the camera, in what looks like a reenactment of Centers, the 1971 performance for camera by Vito Acconci. After twenty minutes—the exact same duration of Acconci’s original work—the worker walks away. The video goes viral. This is the ecological age.
The scenes just described highlight the tight interconnectedness of humans and nonhumans and, as a consequence, pose serious questions to the dreams of autonomy and emancipation from “Nature” that humans have been pursuing more or less intensely since the dawn of Modernity with its ideology of Enlightenment. As a result of the present ecological age and the apparent fall of the wall that used to separate “Nature” from “Culture”, the Arts and Humanities are being forced to reconsider their own ambit of study: how can its disciplines adapt to the rediscovered reality of a flat world in which humans and nonhumans seem to be permanently enmeshed in one another, in which human actions seem to often have nonhuman consequences and vice-versa?
Departing from that premise and those problems, the series of monthly posts which I start today will try to think the consequences that the ecological age will have for contemporary theories and practices of theatre and performance. In those coming posts, I will be presenting an overview of the anthropocentric role theatre and performance have played throughout History, some of the ways in which they have been criticised and reinvented, and, ultimately, the ways in which they ought to be thought differently as a consequence of their unfolding on the broad Anthropocenic stage.
Watch this space.
- João Florêncio
February 25, 2013 · Print This Article
Last week I returned to New York for the first time in a month – my longest stint away since I moved there in 2002. If you’ve read any of these entries over the past year or so, you know that my part-time residence in Cedarburg, Wisconsin is a bit quainter than my neighborhood in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
Any quaintness Greenpoint offers is mitigated by the realization that it’s sitting on 30 million gallons of spilled oil, that comes out in occasional farts that engulf the neighborhood. It’s not a sharp scent, but one that hovers, a dull top note that occasionally drops in to interrupt one’s enjoyment of a hot dog or cup of coffee. It’s so subtle that you almost forget that it’s there. But a few weeks away from New York is the equivalent of eating a handful of oyster crackers before tasting a new wine. And my return offered a fresh sip.
In addition to the aerosol of volatile organics, I happened to be downwind from the Andreas Gursky-esque water treatment plant on Greenpoint Avenue, which added a tangy middle note to the urban perfume that gently spritzed the wrist of my day.
The bottom note of the multilayered fragrance came in the form of some especially earthy marijuana smoke seeping through my building’s ventilation system, which eventually melded with the others into a unique mélange that only Brooklyn could produce.
* Other sub-notes such as diesel fuel, boiling cabbage and wet garbage also contribute to this one-of-kind fragrance.
Ironically, I planned to meet a friend later that day to see, or rather, smell, a show called “The Art of Scent” at the Museum of Arts and Design dedicated to “olfactory art.”
It turned out to be a great change of pace from my traditional art safari. The content scents in the show emanate from a couple-dozen concavities in the wall, shooting fragrance when they detect the motion of a curious head. “Olfactory art” translates here to created scents, so there’s no “bacon” or “cotton candy,” just perfumes and colognes. That was a little disappointing, but I figured I could go breath the exhaust from a halal cart if I needed something more grounded than Jicky.
I went through the show three or four times, until the nerves in my nose surrendered. And until they did, it was a thoroughly orgiastic experience. Even the repulsive Drakkar Noir transported my back to a locker room in 1988. Given the vacuity of much of what’s passing for visual stimulation around the art world, one could do worse than to engage in an orgy of the nose. The only downside was that dinner afterwards, which I’m sure was loaded with flavor, tasted as bland as a handful of oyster crackers.
I left for the airport on Sunday morning, picked up by a car service whose dashboard was graced by a Lady of Guadalupe candle. Its smell blended curiously with Armor-All and residual cigarette smoke.
Northside No. 5.
I met my father-in-law at arrivals and we drove back to Cedarburg. When I got out at the homestead, I pulled in a long, deep drag of Wisconsin’s best air. And my sinuses froze immediately. It smelled like cold. Which smells like nothing. But, still, so inert and fresh.
I thought about all the air spritzers I’d purchased that claim to smell like water or cotton that actually smell like a Palmolive factory exploded. Not water, nor cotton. Not fresh. Olfactory metaphors. Is ‘freshness’ a scent, or lack of it? Pure Concept?
And, is a little sanitized nothing better or worse than a lot of pungent something? Or are scents part of a yin/yang cocktail of potent wine and oyster crackers, living symbiotically?
I walked inside the house where a pile of bratwursts awaited my arrival. Hot and glistening. Timed perfectly for my arrival.
They smelled, simply, delicious.
So you may have noticed that I’ve started posting a “week in review” column — as a way to tie different posts together and map what has taken place on Bad at Sports. Usually I post this column over the weekend — on Saturday or Sunday. However, this week/end I was out of town, so even though Mondays are about moving on and looking forward, I thought I’d pause to look back a moment. And, unlike my usual style, this week I’m going to go BACKWARDSzzzz.
The theme I found had to with books and book love and catalogues and the material of records.
Bailey Romaine (Happy Birthday, Bailey!) posted a really lovely interview between herself and SPARE, an artist residency and bookmaking project in Chicago’s SouthSide. It is run out of Kyle and Shannon Schlie’s apartment, where the two have reserved one room for artists to live and another for their Risograph printer — which, btw, I deeply deeply covet. As a lover of artist-run-project spaces, a bibliofile and a bookmaker, you can imagine why I would get so excited about this conversation. At one point Kyel Schlie says:
I came to books through art, so I often think of them in that context. Because I’m interested in how objects, and the ideas they carry, move and live in the world, books open up a lot of options that aren’t as likely for other art-type things. I feel like books have a potentially wider, or at least different, reach that interests me. Books circulate, books are distributed, and so on, which to me, feels like an exciting active process; one which I would like to take beyond just books.
Carrying on with the theme of books, Monica Westin interviewed Jessica Cochran, Columbia’s Curator of Exhibitions and Programs at the Center for Book and Paper Arts Gallery, about their current show “Structures for Reading: Text, (Infra)Structure, and the Reading Body in Contemporary Art,” — which opens up the conversation about artist books per se, connecting them to the body and the process of reading:
Now that the physical book’s very existence is in flux once again, the discourse around their fate and role in our lives is, one might suggest, incongruent to their reality as inanimate objects. If you read or listen to discourse around disappearing bookshops, or talk to a reader who is defiantly holding out against that “inevitable” Kindle purchase, you’ll find that these conversations are incredibly passionate—it’s like we think of these books as living things! This helps explain the currency of the book itself as a visual signifier of our contemporaneity, or what Terry Smith calls, “our passing present” particularly when it is sited within contemporary art projects.
Stephanie Burke did it again with everybody’s favorite Top 5 Weekend Picks.
Thea Liberty Nichols posted about The Stockyard Institute, using a text that will be published in an upcoming catalogue about their work, translating their very material, installation and situational interests into a book. In her closing paragraph, Nichols writes:
From the beginning, SI’s students have also been their teachers. Through a marriage of art and politics, they have acted transparently, embraced inclusivity, and stayed true to their belief that there’s plenty to go around. Above all, they appreciate a good spectacle, and this has been their trademark maneuver for reeling us in. The deal is sealed however, as soon as we realize that, through sheer force of will, they have the power to transform the ideal into the real.
I felt like there was a interesting, ambient connection between SI’s interest in material, and the presence of books this week (which I’ve started to think more generally as records, or placeholders of memory) in Julie Green’s work — a Northwest artist that Sarah Margolis-Pineo interviewed. Green has been working on an on-going series of blue and white paintings on porcelain dishes, painting the last meals inmates:
Corvallis-based painter Julie Green has opted to address the deeply flawed system of capital punishment head on. Her ongoing series, The Last Supper, has been a twelve-year pursuit to reveal the humanity on death row through intimate portraits of last meal requests painted on ceramic plates.
The plates, currently numbering 500, are a dissonant accumulation of lives lived and lost. Displayed in clusters along the perimeter of The Arts Center, (Corvallis, OR), each constellation speaks to an ad hoc arrangement of family portraits, a domestic sensibility that is amplified ten-fold by the use of readymade tableware as canvas. Despite the gravity of the subject matter, there is a touch of whimsy to Green’s project. Her meticulously rendered pizza slices, honeybuns, and hamburgers are most often completed without any visual referent. Filtered through the artist’s memory, the foods are imbued with an illustrative quality that borders on cartoony, speaking to the endearing texture of Maira Kalman rather than the inherent gloom of the memento mori. Further, each object in The Last Supper is painted in the tradition of blue-and-white china, a hue that is simultaneously absurd and significant, drawing from one of the most recognized traditions in ceramic worldwide, from Jingdezhen ware to Willowware.
The Last Supper, an exhibit with 500 of these aforementioned plates will be exhibited at The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, (Eugene, OR), in March, and travel to The Art Gym, (Portland, OR), in April, 2013.
I reposted an essay about performance by Amy Sherlock, and strangely feel like it also ties in to this overview, or memorialization or events particularly as it pertains to performance. She writes: “The Abramovic phenomenon in particular has come to exemplify the complicated alliance between performance, the museum, and institutional and commercial gallery spaces. For all its professed immediacy and the emphasis on the ephemeral ‘present,’ MoMA did a good job of packaging up ’the moment’ and circulating it. There are photographs, official catalogue and the feature-length film.” Which is exactly what books do, or (it would seem) plates.
Last, but certainly not least — there was a great hub-bub on Monday between the lush and vibrant images of Paul Germanos and Dana Bassett’s Edition #3 of T (Guess what’s Trending: COUPLES), with a new and fancy pants layout that makes it feel almost like a print publication.
As always — thanks for reading, Chicago et al. We Love You.
Stay Tuned for some writing on performance, Object Oriented Ontology, New York, London, and more coming up this week.
February 24, 2013 · Print This Article
I first came across SPARE residency at this past year’s MDW Fair, held at the monstrous industrial complex adjacent to the defunct Fiske coal plant and now known as Mana Contemporary Art Center. The fair was kind of a clusterfuck, but I somehow made my way through the madness to SPARE’s small table displaying smart, well designed books and postcards – all printed on a Risograph GR3750 stencil printer.
Among the things that caught my attention were “The Commodity,” a love story told in receipts, by Caitlin Warner and “A Family Home” by Megan Hopkins.
Another book that caught my eye was “Vaporware” – SPARE’s collaboration with Christopher Roeleveld of Working-Knowledge, a fellow Chicago Risograph owner – which was made specifically for the occasion of MDW.
Several weeks ago I had the pleasure of paying a visit to the home of SPARE’s Risograph – which also happens to be the home of Kyle and Shannon Schlie, their 9 month old son Theodore, and dog Roxanne. The family lives on the third floor of a graystone walk-up a stones throw from Harrison Park in Pilsen. Bookshelves made of recycled lumber and an array of vintage medicine cabinets hung over the bathroom sink decorate their cozy apartment. Two of the three bedrooms are dedicated to the residency: one is living quarters for the resident and the other houses the Risograph printer. Lining this small wood paneled workroom are shelves holding books, paper, a long arm stapler, basic book making supplies, and various other tools.
Tucked away under these shelves are large pod-like crates housing the different color ink drums for the Riso. The inventory of books and postcards that have been printed at SPARE occupies other boxes. Posters and printed materials paper the walls. A Spiderwort plant hangs by the sole window, which looks out across the neighboring rooftops.
At first glance the Risograph looks a lot like a standard office copier. However, when you open it up, there is a large cylindrical ink drum inside, around which a stencil of the image to be printed is wrapped. As the paper feeds through, ink is transferred through the stencil onto the paper. One color is printed at a time, and while registration is finicky due to the nature of the process, colors can be layered in really interesting ways.
SPARE has been in operation for about the past year and has hosted 4 residents so far, for 1 or 2 weeks each. Kyle and Shannon provide room and board as well as access to the Risograph and workroom. When I was at their house, their most recent resident had just completed a run of books, which were stacked neatly in the workroom.
The following is an email correspondence that followed my visit.
Bailey Romaine: How did you come to Risograph printing and what about it was so appealing to you? How did the residency develop out of or around your interest in this machine?
Kyle Schlie: I came to it through making books, which is in part a search for ways of making and printing on a small budget. I really liked the Risograph prints I’d seen, and wanted a way to print things myself, and the price was right, so it made sense to try it. One of our stipulations in getting a Risograph was that we needed a framework for allowing others to use it too. Since I’d been interested in the Riso for a while I figured others would be similarly interested, so we developed a residency program that we ourselves would want to be a part of and built it around the Riso.
BR: When I met with you at your home a few weeks ago, we talked a bit about the network of Riso printers that you have been finding your way to – or have been finding their way to you – since you acquired the press. You mentioned Issue Press – a small press based out of Grand Rapids that prints with a Risograph – as well as a number of Chicago artists who have Risographs in their homes or studios. Can you talk a bit more about these connections you’ve made?
KS: I wish I could claim more intention behind those connections. They’ve mostly been initiated by other people, or out of sheer necessity on our part. In Chicago, Christopher Roeleveld of Working-Knowledge and Clay Hickson who operates Tan & Loose Press found me shortly after getting Risographs and are each doing great things with them now. It’s typical for people with a Risograph to reach out to others as problems, questions, or sharing opportunities arise. Risographs being used for small press stuff is more common now and seems to still be growing.
BR: It’s a pretty intimate gesture to invite artists you’ve never met before to come stay with you and your family. Did the two of you have any reservations about how it would work out?
KS: Not really. There’s no way to know about things like that and at a certain point you just have to try it. The upside seemed great and we focused on that. Every person we’ve had so far has been awesome and the experience for us has been uplifting way beyond printing and making books.
BR: It seems like you’ve had residents come from all over. How have applicants come across SPARE? What sort of outlets did you take advantage of to get the word out?
KS: This is another question I wish I had a better answer for. Our approach has been to go for things we feel are worthwhile, then figure out and adjust along the way. We’ve had the residency posted on websites that post opportunities for artists. Initially we made almost no effort to let people in Chicago know what we were up to, since we anticipated more appeal for people abroad because we’re offering room and board in addition to the bookmaking stuff.
We don’t how people find us, but emails and applications continue to come in. It’s not a great answer but that’s how it’s been for us. Of course, we too are open to suggestions from people who actually know about these things.
BR: You are currently getting your MFA and your work seems pretty materially diverse. What do you think is the importance of making books – particularly in this aesthetic that both you have and SPARE seems to foster, that is somewhere between the finely crafted and the ad hoc?
KS: I think finely crafted can be ad hoc, and vice versa. I guess, to make a connection between my studio work and Risograph printing, I’m interested in what’s available or neglected and bringing it on board in service of certain ideas I’m pursuing. The Riso falls into this category. It’s no-hassle mass-printing before digital technology, and has fallen out of favor commercially and institutionally so most printers, schools, and churches are getting rid of them.
The aesthetic of the Risograph is unique in large part because of how it operates. I like that the process is visible in the final result. We’re making books by hand and though the Riso makes prints easily and in large quantities they come out slightly different each time. The machine has lots of quirks which require responses from the operator that often challenge how a book gets made. It’s a great in-between technology in that it’s mostly automated but inexpensive, and can quickly make one print or a lot of prints.
BR: Absolutely – I think that this notion of taking what you have and turning it into something discrete and well made is very clearly at the heart of SPARE. I really love the subtle ways you have designed around the quirks of the printing process – such as playing with registration and seeing how it shifts over an entire run. I’m really interested in the postcard project you did recently. Can you talk a little bit about this project?
KS: When I started grad school I knew the residency would take a back seat but I didn’t want to let the printer sit unused. And I still wanted to work with other artists but knew I couldn’t handle someone living with us for a few weeks and working intensely on a book while I was away in my studio every day. For the postcards, we came to the idea of using a simple standard format and to work more with the Riso’s inbuilt economy of printing. We contacted artists we knew and/or admired and offered paper and ink color options which were intended to maximize the printing quantity and variety and minimize the expense. I saw it as a chance to try different options on the Riso, almost in a print sample way, and see what others would come up with based on the options and restrictions we gave them. We worked with Dante Carlos to design the graphics and cards and I think they work really well in showcasing both the printing and the work the artists contributed.
There was also some hope that we could make a few dollars to support the residency program with the postcards, but that prospect seems unlikely. We can’t complain too much but at times it’s hard knowing that the residency will always be an occasional and maybe not very long-term thing because in addition to everything else it does cost money to run.
BR: Dante Carlos is also the artist who designed the “registration graphics” that you have up as gifs on the SPARE website? I think those are so great.
You guys have certainly been very generous in the way you’ve structured the residency. Something we talked about somewhat in depth before was the fact that Chicago really is lacking a good book store or gallery that supports projects like SPARE and could be a source of income to fund the residency (through books sales, etc.). How do you see your life post-grad school, Chicago, SPARE, and the printing/book making/small press initiative playing out? Are there things you would like to do or see other people do with these things in Chicago?
KS: I came to books through art, so I often think of them in that context. Because I’m interested in how objects, and the ideas they carry, move and live in the world, books open up a lot of options that aren’t as likely for other art-type things. I feel like books have a potentially wider, or at least different, reach that interests me. Books circulate, books are distributed, and so on, which to me, feels like an exciting active process; one which I would like to take beyond just books.
I also like that books are slow and give me the opportunity to really focus and lose myself in them. And beyond books, I’m in favor of slow focused venues for processing what other people have made. I think this is something that has to be fought for. I’ve started talking about it through the book, and consequently the places that allow us to get the book in our hands, but it exists in other ways. For example, going to a film screening versus watching it on your computer in your office while eating lunch. I’m not against the other options but I do know that if I want a bookstore to be around I have to support a bookstore. I can’t complain too much about the lack of anything unless I’m really working to help the things I value survive. So we have a residency program to provide the little bit of what we want to see remain. I don’t know if it’s the most necessary thing to do but it’s what we’re doing right now. We’ll keep offering artists our time and our printer, and food and a bed, and keep making books, and see what comes of it. Even thinking of it a success or a failure seems like a luxury right now. The poles are more like doing-it or not-doing-it.
I should also say regarding the previous conversation you hinted at, there are lots of great places, bookstores and otherwise, in Chicago. I just finished getting some new books ready to take to Quimby’s where some of the SPARE books are stocked. Quimby’s is really supportive and has been around for a while which I think strengthens other related endeavors. I think those foundational places are the key to allowing other scrappier things to emerge and grow. There are certainly other things I would like to see in Chicago but I’m optimistic overall about what’s happening. I’ve been trying to think of an idea or example while answering this question, and I don’t have it, but here’s what I came up with. A Chicago Supplemental Library which includes all the non-book stuff that should be available. If I were doing it it would be a museum-library-laboratory hybrid kind of system with check-out-able equipment, artwork, assistants and a variety of other world-class programming. But I’m not going to run it so it could be just like a place to borrow an umbrella for an afternoon or whatever.
Bailey Romaine is a printmaker and bibliophile currently living in Chicago.