Nothing like a long, holiday weekend. Emerging from an existential fog. The Noise in the System. I’d like to take a moment and apologize to any readers of this blog for what I feel has been a decline in the quality of the writing lately. Is it bad to admit this weakness? Perhaps. At any rate, I have not been satisfied.

[do not read this, space for contemplation, do not read this]

So, a few things about a few things:

The deadline for the first issue of Et Al, the new experimental, jet set, trash and five-star journal of the arts, is this coming Sunday, the 31st of May. Click here for more info. We have already received some very intriguing submissions.

The writing thread of last week, about issues of display & reception with artists’ books will continue, most likely with a few digressions. Museum visits always get me thinking about scale, scope, and ambition of artworks. (For those of you in the Bay Area, the William Kentridge show at the SFMOMA is incredible. I was, honestly, surprised by how much I liked it. The show closes this weekend. Go see it if you haven’t, and make sure you block out at least 2 hours so that you can watch all of the films.) So more on that old thing. Hopefully it will cohere into coherence.

The NewLights Press has made an official decision to return to painting, or, perhaps, more specifically, to intervene in the discourse of painting. What this actually entails is the execution of several (old, developing, marinating) ideas for hand-mechanically painted books. The crucial difference that is they will officially be referred to as “paintings,” and talked about/shown as such.

The bookarts critic and scholar Betty Bright has started a new blog to document her research. Here.

A few other things, swirling: a new essay (sub-manifesto?) for the third issue of Mimeo Mimeo, a book of poems by Kyle Schlesinger, a new book of concrete-performance-hand-mechanical-printing poems by NewLights, aforementioned paintings, the second volume of (De)Collage, the world tilting madly towards itself, and the brilliance of days.



The first provisional solution to the books-in-gallery problem is to set up the gallery like a reading room or library. (This is an option that many of us have seen, participated in, and one that NewLights has used (and may very well again.)) The premise is simple—allow the books to be handled and read. Break the traditional “look but don’t touch” rule of the gallery, which has been done with various forms of experimental, interactive art since the 1960s. The gallery has become a kind of generic framing device that tells the public that whatever is inside, being it a series of paintings, a person living their daily life, or a bunch of flies and rotten meat, is art. So if anything else goes in the gallery, why can’t we just read books in there and be satisfied with that?

The gallery-as-library has many advantages. I think first and foremost is the fact that galleries are spaces that are open to the public, and shows often last for at least a month. So that is a large amount of time for people to come in, sit down, and read the books (and even a completely visual book with no words needs to be read). A show in a gallery will provide more time for engaged interaction than most other commonly available experiences with artists’ books—book fairs and library special collections. (Private ownership allows for a great deal of time to spend with the work, but inherently excludes the idea of public access.)

But books are often an awkward fit within the gallery. Artists’ books shows that are meant to be handled are often littered with tiny signs that encourage visitors to do so. Often shows will have a mix of work, some to be handled, some in glass cases, some out on shelves or pedestals and NOT to be touched, all of which can get confusing. Another danger of the “mixed show” is how display cases affect the work that is inside as well as outside. The case lends the books inside of it an aura (in the Benjaminian sense) of preciousness and authority. The book under glass is positioned, posed, preserved and unknowable, a mannequin and/or an image, glowing with the soft light of monetary value on display. The display case functions as a sort of auratic lens, gathering and focusing that discursive glow on the objects inside of it and rendering the books outside of it, radical in their denial and dismantling of the preciousness/untouchability of art, as decidedly ordinary objects. Books—we all are familiar with them. And indeed it is in that very familiarity and ordinariness, that common touchability, that makes the book form an excellent vehicle for the perpetual circulation of meaning, power, and authority. Which is why we love it so much. Which is why we believe that there is something at stake in the form.




The problem of the display of artists’ books is a well-known and much discussed one. Briefly, the problem lies in the fact that books are meant to be handled and read, but art objects, traditionally, are not. So a very expensive and/or fragile book is displayed under glass, completely inaccessible, and the would-be reader becomes a viewer, having to be content with a single page spread. Ultimately, a reader-become-viewer is blocked from ever knowing the book.

A few solutions exist and have been implemented, ranging from acceptance of the glass case to the complete refusal of it, with the books always being shown for gallery visitors to handle. Other provisional solutions include the use of white gloves for reading, the creation of “display copies” (difficult for unique works), and/or limited, supervised reading time for the books in the show. It seems that at least 30% of the various calls for entries are for shows where the work is meant to be handled. But I see just as many books locked in glass coffins. Sometimes it seems that artists aren’t thinking about/dealing with this (fundamental) problem, that we simply acquiesce to whatever the terms of the show, usually set forth by the venue/curators.

But the point of this series of posts is not to go over all of those old arguments again. What I would like to think through is the various conditions of presentation/reception set in place by the traditional gallery, how those terms are complicated by the book, by book (or art) fairs, and to look at the possibility that galleries are not the best venue for showing artists’ books.




This morning I was making notes for my upcoming classes at the San Francisco Center for the Book, so I thought I'd use today's post as a chance to plug them:

Basics of Boxcar Plates:
May 27th, 6:30-9:30 PM. Learn to use the photopolymer system made famous by Boxcar Press: a transparent, plastic-backed photopolymer plate that is adhered to a gridded aluminum base. You will learn how to make the plates, and the many advantages that these plates provide on the Vandercook, from registration to changing your layout while on press. This class qualifies you to rent time on the Center's photopolymer platemaker. Prerequisite:
Letterpress I.

Heavy Metal Typography: June 23rd, 6:30-9:30 PM. This class will introduce you to the finer points of typography and setting lead type by hand. We will cover design history and basic theory so that you can start to set complex, elegant compositions entirely in lead. You will learn tips for handling and composing type for easy lock-up and registration, how these ideas translate into digital typography, and more. Prerequisite:
Letterpress I.

Production: The Sophisticated Chapbook:
July 24th, 10 AM-5 PM. Learn how to design and construct structurally sophisticated chapbooks efficiently and cheaply. We will cover a series of simple binding techniques as well as how to "upgrade" them to make more complex books. There will be discussion centered on relating form, function, and content, and other design issues, as well as the practical nuts and bolts of chapbook publishing.



On the train ride this morning I was thinking more about discipline, about having it in order to get one's studio work done on top of having a full-time job and trying to have some semblance of a social life. When I was in NYC my friend Sara told me an alternative definition to the word discipline that she had been using. I'm not sure where it comes from:

Discipline: Patience with and faith in the physical world.



I literally peeled this out of a book yesterday. It’s a quote from Walter Benjamin’s One-Way Street:

[…] Printing, having found in the book a refuge in which to lead an autonomous existence, is pitilessly dragged out into the street…. If centuries ago it began gradually to lie down, passing from the upright inscription to the manuscript resting on the sloping desks before finally taking to bed in the printed book, it now begins just as slowly to rise again from the ground. The newspaper is read more in the vertical than in the horizontal plane, while film and advertisement force the printed work entirely into the dictatorial perpendicular. […]


My friend Max showed me this blog the other day. Not only does it have a portmanteau name, it’s also smart, funny, and about contemporary printmaking:




Translucency instead of transparency/opacity. Transparency is the ideal of the crystal goblet. Opacity is complete illegibility of the text. (Note: we are assuming that what is being printed is meant to be read as text.) Translucency makes the surface of the goblet visible. We can still see the contents, taste them. But we can see our fingerprints as well. We feel the fragility of the stem. The proper movement could destroy the whole thing. The drop of water on the camera lens. The fingerprint on the window, on the surface of the page. How does that fingerprint extend the work (the work of the artwork in question) into the broader field?



If you are in the Bay Area on Saturday, come on down to the Pacific Center for Book Arts Printers' Fair. The NewLights Press will have a table & I would love to show you some books. There will also be some letterpress prints from my friend & colleague James Tucker. Here's the official text:

This annual event features dozens of vendors (45 tables this year!) presenting their finely made books, papers, prints and more. An array of printmaking, bookbinding and paper decoration techniques will be featured by various artists. There will be a children's book arts area, hands on printing demonstrations, and mini-workshops by PCBA members. The event is free and open to the public. Hope to see you there!

PCBA Book Arts and Printers' Fair
Saturday, May 9th
Ft. Mason Center
Building A
San Francisco
For directions please visit:



How to construct a thing (a book, printed) both badly enough and goodly enough. How to make making it count. Bend the process towards the surface of legibility. The printing becomes the text. What is says, how it says it, how the how says what it says, & how what is read by the reader. Infinite elusive figure. Recedes. Unlimited offerings to an unknown force. Unknowable? Unpredictable? Thus the how of reading. Thus the irruption of form into content, process into reception. Always the principle of uncertainty. This is certain: it moves.

“What you see with new outbreaks is a series of smaller outbreaks.” Some part of the object twists inside the subject. They unite. Production, vomitous or accretious, ensues. In this we twist. Ah, the object flows and surrounds.


Inter-webbing turned these up yesterday:

Projective Industries: http://www.projectiveindustries.com/

Interbirth Books: http://www.interbirthbooks.org/

Good stuff!



The NewLights Press is nine years old today. Thanks to everyone out there. It seems worth reiterating the end of the "official" mission statement:

The NewLights Press represents only one of the many geographical/historical meeting points of a vital and diverse community of active, thoughtful people, and our work would mean nothing without that community. The production of books is our own way of telling the rest of the world that we believe in them.



Taking notes, playing in the stream of the dictionary. All definitions from the 10th Edition of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary:

Legibility: adj. (of handwriting or print) clear enough to read

Print: v. 1) produce (books, newspapers, etc.) by a mechanical process involving the transfer of text or designs to paper. produce (text or a picture) in such a way. publish. produce a paper copy of (information stored on a computer). 2) produce (a photographic print) from a negative. 3) write clearly without joining the letters. 4) mark with a colored design or pattern. make (a mark or indentation) by pressing something on a surface or soft substance. 5) fix firmly or indelibly in someone’s mind.
n. 1) the text appearing in a book, newspaper, etc. the state of being available in published form. [as modifier] of or relating to the printing industry or the printed media. (informal) a newspaper. 2) an indentation or mark left on a surface or soft substance by pressure. (prints) fingerprints. 3) a printed picture or design. a photograph printed on paper from a negative or transparency. a copy of a motion picture or film. 4) a piece of fabric or clothing with a colored pattern or design. a pattern or design of this type.

Handwriting: n. writing with a pen or pencil rather than by typing or printing. a person’s particular style of writing.

Clear: adj. 1) easy to perceive or understand. leaving or feeling no doubt. 2) transparent; unclouded. free of mist; having good visibility. (of a person’s skin) free from blemishes. (of a color) pure and intense. 3) free of any obstructions or unwanted objects. (of a period of time) free of any commitments. 4) free from disease, contamination, or guilt. 5) (clear of) not touching; away from: the lorry had one wheel clear of the ground. 6) complete: seven clear days’ notice. (of a sum of money) net.
adv. 1) so as to be out of the way of, away from, or uncluttered by. 2) with clarity: I heard the message loud and clear.
v. 1) make or become clear. cause people to leave (a building or place). [chiefly soccer] send (the ball) away from the area near one’s goal. discharge (a debt). 2) get past or over (something) safely or without touching it. 3) show or declare officially to be innocent. 4) give official approval or authorization to or for. (of a person or goods) satisfy the necessary requirements to pass through (customs). (with reference to a check) pass or cause to pass through a clearing house so that the money goes into the payee’s account. 5) earn or gain (an amount of money) as a net profit. 6) (of a person’s face or expression) assume a happier or less confused aspect.

Read v. (past and past part. read) 1) look at and comprehend the meaning of (written or printed matter) by interpreting the characters or symbols of which it is composed. speak (written or printed words) aloud. (of a passage, text, or sign) contain or consist of specified words; have a certain wording. 2) habitually read (a particular newspaper or journal). 3) discover (information) by reading it in a written or printed source. [as adj. read] having a specified level of knowledge as a result of reading: she was well read. 4) understand or interpret the nature or significance of. (of a piece of writing) convey a specified impression to the reader. 5) proofread. 6) present (a bill or other measure) before a legislative assembly. 7) inspect and record the figure indicated on (a measuring instrument). indicate a specified measurement or figure. 8) [chiefly Brit.] study (an academic subject) at a university. 9) (of a computer) copy or transfer (data). enter or extract (data) in an electronic storage device. 10) hear and understand the words of (someone speaking on a radio transmitter).
n. 1) [chiefly Brit.] a period or act of reading. 2) [informal] a book considered in terms of its readability.