Earlier in the year, in June, I was invited by Loughborough University School of the Arts to present a roundtable discussion and as part of a panel discussion for the Postgraduate Researchers event ‘Researchers Essentials: Publishing and How To Get Published’ in relation to my work as a transcultural curator, text and book artist, arts writer and PhD researcher. This was an exciting opportunity as I have never before been given an explicit opportunity to talk about my self-publishing practice, my ideas and definitions of self-publishing as an art practice in the print to digital age, or self-publishing in Asian and Chinese contexts. Since this event, it has now become an area of my research that I am beginning to share more and more through lectures and teaching, realising this is needed as part of arts education…where last Thursday, I facilitated a day, two three-hour workshop sessions, with the Part B Fine Art students at Loughborough University School of the Arts. Definitive wordgirl moments…where I loved every second of knowledge sharing…which you can tell in how long this blog post is…get ready to digest a lot of self-publishing!
Taking place across one afternoon, ‘Researchers Essentials: Publishing and How To Get Published’ began with a keynote presentation by Andrew Hewish from C4RD (Centre for Recent Drawing) at Loughborough University School of the Arts. He talked through the aims of C4RD and it’s four different areas of publishing – print through artist editions; web (visual) with the C4RD online community, online residencies and an exhibitions archive; recordings, and bound publishing called Z4RD (zine for recent drawing) and D4RD (documentation for recent drawing). How does publishing show the work and the practice? It is rhythmic in how one associates with the other. How do you honour the work in a print publication? Experience of the book is an equivalence of the experience of the actual work…temporal aspect with spatialisation. What is your aim in being published? Is it inherent in your practice? The collapsing of experience based on the image you see. ‘This is the experience, this is the echo’ – Yve Lomax.
Q: Where lies the artwork?
A: It is the rhythm between the pages. The Internet is not neutral – bright. The whole experience of viewing on the Internet – what is this space? Or is it “another” page?
Q: Publishing is “fashionable” the DIY/zine/artist book fair scene. Is this really a fashion? A hobby aspect as it is accessible?
A: The more artists succeed, it is not DIY, it is inherently related to the quality of production, the extra value it bring, not its economic value.
Q: The question of language in publishing…
A: It is something which is produced. Something which is a labour of love. A reproduction – something that is missing. It is the relationship between aestheticism and materiality – the fetish of materiality sewn into the publications. It is collaboration that combines.
“Aren’t artists highly refined hobbyists?”
In session one, I decided to go to the roundtable discussion group ‘Curatorial Practice and Publishing Connections in Museums’ hosted by Sofia Mali and Damian Etherington. Damian stated that in today’s museum culture there are two current areas of development within curatorial practice – the democratisation of curatorial practice and the digitisation of curatorial practice. Here are some further thoughts from the session. Curatorial practice and publishing are two very similar areas…ensuring people are constructing meaning…this can be through a tweet, a comment, a blog. It makes an object become culturally significant through “publishing”. It give museums a voice to speak to all people, to speak to groups not naturally in their communities. It can be traditional. Ultimately questioning, ‘how do we engage people?’
“The curator is no longer the of sole creator of content, they to be the manager of created content. Today, the curator works in a multi platform, poly-vocal museum. They source multi-source knowledge that is constantly changing, from the traditional to non-traditional, new methods and strategies.”
Discussion moved onto the issue of the “selfie” as a form of publishing…that I have previously blogged about including Marco Bohr’s article, again cited on the day. Issues of curatorship were also discussed in the realm of the “post-digital” era that we are so embedded in, the digital in which we always assume its presence, ‘so what now?’ Today, there is far more thought from museum professionals as to what gets put online as the main window to the world is the website. However, as digital resources and digital archives are put online, you miss the tangibility of the object you can see and touch.
As part of my roundtable discussion, I looked at my practice as a book and text artist citing works from my degree show to last years book ‘Lovecut’ (2013); my experiences of working with AMBruno; my PhD research and the use of a blog as a research diary that has now become to define my professionalism; the practice outcome of my PhD, ‘The Temporary: 01’; projects that I have worked on including ‘Tumbler: Indie Print in China’ at CFCCA, Manchester and ‘Haze and Fog’ by Cao Fei, including the associated e-book that I produced; my assistance with external publishing such as the art libraries journal ‘Special Issue: Chinese art documentation in China’ (2014) Volume 39, Number 2, concluding on a quote by one of my favourite creatives right now, Céline Condorelli, who sees connections, networks and friendships as a form of artistic practice…I love her new book:
‘Perhaps one of my favourite definitions of cultural production is of “making things public”: the process of connecting things, establishing relationships, which in many ways means befriending issues, people, contexts. Friendship in this sense is both a set-up for working and a dimension of production. The line of thought that threads through the following pages is thus that of friendship as a form of solidarity: friends in action.’ – Céline Condorelli in conversation with Nick Aikens, Avery F. Gordon, Johan Frederik Hartle and Polly Staple, 2014
The day was another opportunity to engage with like-minded academics and professionals, to talk more about the changing landscape of “the book”, with the paper and the book obsessed…just like wordgirl.
Last Thursday, I was invited back to Loughborough University School of the Arts again to facilitate two workshops sessions – one morning and one afternoon – with the Part B Fine Art students…a course that I once studied (apparently nearly 10 years ago…we’re having a reunion next year. Um, how did that happen?!). I was told that potentially 70 students would attend, 35 in the morning, 35 in the afternoon…in the end just over 40 joined me for the day, which I think was a pretty good attendance.
After a brief introduction, I’d organised the workshop session into five parts, starting by asking students to write three post-it notes – a definition of self-publishing, one positive aspect of self-publishing and one negative aspect of self-publishing – in response to the 2014 article ‘Artists’ self-publishing: where the digital and handmade coexist’ by Catherine Roche that they were supposed to read prior to the workshop (some read it in front of me…organisation guys, it was two A4 pages). This opening exercise was to gauge their initial understanding of the subject that we could then reference and build on throughout the three hours.
After this short exercise, the second part of the session was to introduce self-publishing through a lecture and material I’d brought along and laid out across tables for students to peruse, leaf through, smell (as print smells great) and gain inspiration from…this included my own artist’s books and self-publishing including from the recent ‘The Temporary: 01’ project; books by creatives Mengxi Zhang, Xiaoxiao Xu, Xu Bing, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Céline Condorelli, Mikko Kuorinki, Liz Hingley, Fiona Banner; examples from self-publishers including Pam Flett Press, The Caseroom Press and Rope Press, and publications produced as project outcomes such as Where you going?, Transnational Dialogues, Book Art Object…and so many more as you can see. I felt it was very important to bring a reality of self-publishing to the session so students could get a tangible idea of what is out there. The real thing as such. That’s actually the name of one of my PhD case studies!
From this, I gave an hour-long lecture on my self-publishing practice, definitions of self-publishing whilst referencing the work of others including diverse and out-of-the-box examples. This knowledge base then (I hoped) set students up for the project part of the day, and part three of the session – giving them one hour, I asked them in small groups to come up with a short illustrated proposal of a form of self-publishing/self-publishing platform, relevant to their fine art practice.
After an initial moment of the unknown-questioning-thinking-clarification, they all went at the project from different angles and completely blew me away with their ideas! These included:
- Using logos, motifs and tags to lead audiences to exhibitions/projects/platforms/paintings/artworks…such as the #snail project that leads audiences from one point in a city to another location to view an artwork; a barcode logo to be scanned by the public leading you to an exhibition that looks at the development of the digital age and it’s affect on human kind; paper/real leaves embellished with text stating the exhibition invitation/information, again leading you to a show; the use of money, or redesigned and appropriated money stating project links, again to get public interactivity and engagement; luggage tags that encourage a continued audience participation and engagement as they travel across the world, building experiences, textual (and I suggested oral) recorded histories;
- How artworks in their own right can be used as a form of self-publishing…self-publishing by the artist from artist book projects including the creation of a dual book project that relies on the reading of one to complete the other; the development of pop-up books; photographic zines of current work; limited edition book runs of artist/photographic works, books created from blog posts;
- Social media as self-publishing, specifically the use of Instagram to create a digital exchange project, which the group called “Response” (Instagram link here…or not as I can’t find it!)…one photographic image would be shared each week, where artists/creatives would be invited to respond to the image with another image, video or text tagged with the project hashtag. The most associated image would then be curatorial selected and uploaded to the Instagram account…once a year’s worth of photographs were collected, they would be published in a formal in-print book as an archive. This project was to breed and work on the value of networks and connections of the artists, where internationally acclaimed artists would be invited to take part – we spoke of famous creatives who use social media;
- The curatorial platform as a form of self-publishing through the use of fragmented objects or artists’ works brought together by the public to build and create a space and exhibition…the audience again becomes a self-publisher;
- A parody on the tension between “real” and “in-print”self-publishing…a sculptural tower book where the cover is made from a screen grab of Google search, they suggested searching for the work “art”, and the pages are then the list of all the results, the millions and millions of results, hence giving it it’s tower-like and potential unreadable scale…also looking at home this would be one snapshot of the definition of art as the search results would be changing every second;
- Performance practice and performance collectives as self-publishing where a group of students did a public intervention with vegetables that conceptually symbolised the premise of their feminist research and performance practice…the concept I can’t share as it is to be kept under wraps apparently! I’ve respected their request but wish I could tell you! However, I can share photos…so see below.
After the one hour, students were then asked to collectively feedback (part four to the session) to the rest of the group where discussions from the two workshops and day examined:
- The interplay and debate of the value of “real” in-print publishing versus digital, online publishing…from zines to magazine, and e-books to Kindles (which I dislike and would happily snap over my thigh)…what are their place in today’s society and economy and what place will they have in the future? Will in-print books become more like sought after artworks? Will the expectation of printing an exhibition/project catalogue stop?;
- Self-publishing as a curatorial platform…relating to the students’ degree show in 18 months time. The relationship of self-publishing to exhibition promotion…and how self-publishing can lead and guide an audience to an exhibition, project or platform, again as some of the groups discussed;
- How you should write about yourself, your work and your specialism…how do you want to present yourself to the public? What do you want them to find and see? What do you want to say about yourself? This was discussed in terms of what information everyone shares through social media, how everyone has access to this, the impact of your social media history on your future opportunities, and how this presents and impacts your professionalism;
- The notion of the book or the artist portfolio self-published book as becoming a wanted object…limited edition…high art as such, an artwork in its own right…but the lack of public exchange and financial gain from this as it is for a very specific audience;
- Tagging as a motif of self-publishing. How the logo and “brand” of a person, platform or project (for self-publishing) is very important, as is the title (which I didn’t always make them decide on as it can take a lot of time to do this in the real world), and how gaining consultation from friends and colleagues is necessary to make sure that nothing is lost semiotically, nothing is lost in visual translation, and the image says what you want it to…which was illustrated in one project where the images of a rectangular barcode over the top of a black clothing tie on a shirt collar also visualised a lamp…as shown below;
- Whether text was necessary as part of self-publishing, could self-publishing just be images? An image series? Or image reels? And what does this say to the reader?;
- Does self-publishing online breed a reputation to the same degree as in-print? Can you build an academic reputation through the Internet and digital means? Is there academic acceptance? Does this come down to peer review?;
- Issues of ethics and copyright…how appropriate and when can you use other people’s work, images or texts…the use of credit lines and citations. Is the Internet…are images and texts on the Internet freely available to use? Students discussed Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook and more as to how they use images and what rights they have to use those images. Also ethical issues around the appropriation of others objects and artworks, also legalities of this…can you re-appropriate money? Do ethical and copyright issues change how you use a platform and what you say? Do cultural contexts change how and what you say? (I made reference to the journalism limitations in China);
- How self-publishing can be a form of performance practice or a performance collective as one of the groups above examined as part of their project…it can be film and video…documentation of a situation, happening or event;
- The value of connections, networks, friendships…talking about and sharing what you do and how this can fundamentally develop you self-publishing practice;
- One positive was there was not much mention of funding or money (a few post-it notes made a mention), the need for financial support to make projects happen…which is completely true! Emphasised was that there should be no fear in asking people to collaborate or be part of projects as most creatives will just say yes…all for a common gain, a shared vision and ultimately, the same outcome.
At the end of the day, the final exercise, part five to the session, was to go back to the wall of post-it notes and to again write three post-it notes – a definition of self-publishing, one positive aspect of self-publishing and one negative aspect of self-publishing…and it was pretty revelatory. The students suddenly had an enthusiasm and quickly wrote down their thoughts…honest, directed, educated and in part controversial where one student said self-publishing was “FAKE”, which in part I agree with…self-publishing can become a way of talking of the other, your other self, a non-reality or fabricated reality. Therefore, I thought I’d finish on a list of the all the definitions, positive and negative aspects, of self-publishing…here in FULL, and I think it shows a real insight and potential into the next generation of self-publishers. I can’t wait to see what they create…
- YOU – in another format that can be published.
- Still a tad confused but I think it’s like basically anything you publish yourself – your work or thoughts on others.
- Self-publishing if creating your own book without the help/use of a company.
- Being ones self with the world with open expression.
- Self-publishing is the distribution of ideas and opinions.
- Self-printed and bound artists’ books.
- Self-publishing is writing about your own work for the public to read. E.g. using blogs, books and social media.
- Self-publication is finding a way (logo, name or tag) that becomes recognisable.
- You’re in control, just you creating the book.
- Not just books, self-publishing is pushing your ideas, not necessarily your artwork physically.
- A way to get you out there across the internet and world by being yourself.
- Interaction è Communication
- Engage with an audience.
- A good way to show your own work.
- I now feel self-publishing can be through a lot of different means, i.e. e-books, posters, film, sound, images, etc. and not just books.
- Advertising yourself/your work on the internet, in books, posters, magazines, tV etc.
- Advertising yourself as an artist.
- Advertising yourself to the world.
- Self-publishing is when an artist or writer gets their book made publicly available (as an e-book or a hard copy) – can use websites like lulu.com
- The best way for us to communicate.
- When one produces their own work in their own format that is catalogued, e.g. book, magazine, leaflet etc.
- The most personal way to show your work.
- Creating your own book, something you produce. All the content and binding etc. Self-bound artist books.
- A production carried out by one’s self. Their work is categorised. Books, leaflets, digital formats etc.
- Self-publishing is embracing, exploiting and disrupting aspects in a dynamic position.
- Becoming known.
- When an artist releases a book.
- When an artist releases a book which they’ve created without the restriction of an editor or publishing company.
- Writing and publishing your own work even as simple as a short Tumblr post. Advertising yourself and becoming well-known.
- Taking the position of work into your own hands – maintaining full ownership and authorship.
- Sensitising and personalising documentation of artists’ works.
- Production of media.
- Something original and approachable.
- Publishing your won resources – making books?
- Creativeness of the mind, producing something that adds something else into the world.
- Self-promotion. Initiative. Inventive advertising.
- Self-publishing is where someone chooses to produce their work through print (books/magazines) or through online media (websites/blogs).
- Self-publishing is when someone puts together their own book unofficially.
- Publishing your own work yourself without a company doing it for you.
- An opening.
- Self-promotion in an interactive manner.
- Own resources used – no restriction in what you can do.
- Infinite possibilities
- There are many ways to spread your artwork.
- Freedom from editorial restrictions.
- Internet has made self-publishing easier “offers unprecedented opportunities”.
- More depth and thought into how work is presented to form an experience.
- It gets your work out there.
- Usually free.
- Your work can be viewed around the world.
- “Liberating form for distributing artists’ ideas”.
- Not restricted by mainstream publishing processes.
- With help from digital technology and the internet, an artist’s work can easily be seen by millions across the world in a short space of time.
- You’ll be able to advertise it in the exact way you want to, as an individual.
- Creative, bringing your ideas to life.
- Promoting yourself! Getting your name, message or work out there without needing a middle man.
- Don’t have to rely on anyone else.
- Able to maintain all rights and ownership of the work – cutting out separate entities.
- Publishing keeps material for relevant audience – not just any old person.
- Doesn’t use other companies. Maybe not ‘so official’. Not much publicity.
- Everyone can be a writer. You can hear everyone’s opinions.
- More in control of your project.
- Freedom to your work.
- Artists can use the book as a bit of art as they can present them in whatever way they wish.
- Cheap and personalised.
- An awareness of the work.
- All credit goes to you and recognition.
- You have the control and freedom.
- Everyone has the option to publish something online, e.g. blog posts.
- Own creative process and more personal.
- It’s quick – a book can take months to be released, whereas a blog post can be submitted in minutes.
- You don’t have to have other people editing your work.
- Freedom of expression.
- Don’t need someone else’s approval.
Positive and Negative
- For artists’ books, usually only one is made
- Limited advertising for self-bound and printed books.
- Having to advertise yourself, no platform.
- Artists have to use their own money to produce their books.
- Without the help of a publishing company, fewer people will hear about your book.
- Does it reach as many people as possible? (not a small number)
- Creating the right tag/logo/name is a risk.
- Not widely known. Not as much publicity.
- Not as far-reaching as if a popular publisher published it.
- Less advertisement for your work.
- Having to workout and manage the process yourself – steep learning curve.
- Everyone can be a writer – some people say stupid stuff.
- Hard to get noticed quickly.
- Very difficult to change once the medium is published, i.e. if it is judged negatively.
- Copyright laws – making sure the images published are your own.
- Anything is grasped as a sense of art.
- Completely self-reliant.
- Not many contacts at the beginning.
- Artists’ books are rarely meant for sale so it can be very costly with no profit made.
- Can be lost in digital age.
- Unethical/cruel/gossip etc. can be published easily online.
- Self-publishing is in constant competition with the Internet due to accessibility.