“One day I’d like to see artists’ books ensconced in supermarkets, drugstores, and airports and, not incidentally, to see artists able to profit economically from broad communication rather than from the lack of it.” –Lucy Lippard [1]

An introductory post here, for a new thread, linked to the “Reception Is Production” posts…

Emily Larned’s presentation at the College Book Art Association conference, called “Splits, Trades, Reviews, & Distros: Zine Culture as Model” talked about the distribution network for zines in a pre-networked world. Zinesters got their work out, to each other, to new audiences, and they did it by helping each other and sharing resources. It was from that presentation that I learned about the Temporary Services store/distro called Half Letter Press (posted earlier). That presentation and some other conversations (with Emily and others) have helped to open up some new thoughts (or the desire for some “new” thoughts anyway) about the “democratic multiple” and how that idea fits into the form-content-production-reception field. This is about reception. This is about how all of those things are linked.

The idea of the “democratic multiple” is an idea that still often shows up in discussions in artists’ books, despite the fact that we’re supposed to consider it a dead idea; dead at least in terms of artists’ books, which have not, and most likely will not, obtain a cultural ubiquity that makes them “democratic.” (see quote above) But this idea of the “democratic multiple” came into currency during a very different time (1960s), both in the art world and in the larger world, and maybe now it’s time to reconsider, to see what’s changed, and to see if the idea can be adapted for current and future use.

Book artists have struggled to gain access to the gallery world for a long time. They have struggled to be seen as “real” artists by the larger art world. Books should be seen as a form equal to painting, sculpture, photography, (even though a single book can contain all of those things) and installation (the connections/interplay between books & installation are many and there’s a lot of material to work with there (more on that later)). And I respect that struggle for legitimation. But “legitimation” comes at a price, and do we need or want it from the gallery/market system?

One of the most exciting (and probably, in retrospect, heartbreaking) things about the artists’ book in the 1960s is that it offered a way to get the work out directly to people, to bypass the gallery system. Artists tried. Distros like Printed Matter started up, books were made, cheaply, and sold, cheaply. But no one made a living off of book production alone, and distribution never came anywhere close to the scale of commercial publishing. The democratic wave retreated. But now, particularly now, as the technology of the Internet is embedded thoroughly in our lives, and new technologies of textual distribution are clamoring for space, we need to look again. Things have changed. The fact that I, the proprietor of a small, small press can write this and that (hopefully at least a few) people will read it, and that those people could be anywhere in the world, is a big deal. This simple act was impossible in the 60s. Sure, one could write, but how were you going to get it out, easily, quickly, and affordably?

But here we are, or here we were. Let’s continue soon.

1. Lucy Lippard, “The Artist’s Book Goes Public,” Artists’ Books: A Critical Anthology and Sourcebook, ed. Joan Lyons (Rochester: Visual Studies Workshop Press, 1985), 48.

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