Revolution, Zines, Ganzeer: “Artist-Books: What Are They Good For?”
[English below] Vor der Ägyptischen Revolution 2011 war der Name Ganzeer nur einem Spezialpublikum ein Begriff. Bekannt wurde Ganzeer dann schlagartig mit seinen regierungskritischen, soziale Gerechtigkeit einfordernden Künstlerpublikationen, mit denen er während der Revolution an die Öffentlichkeit trat. “Zines” sind in diesem Kontext als Publikationen in kleiner oder mittlerer Auflage zu verstehen, die mit einfachen Mitteln ohne Verlag (re-)produziert – oft einfach fotokopiert – werden. Zines werden oft unter der Hand in speziellen Gruppen weitergegeben, die wir uns in Ganzeers Fall sicher als künstlerisch-oppositionell vorstellen dürfen.
Zines (spezieller auch Art Zines bzw. Graph Zines) gehören im weiteren Verständnis zu Künstlerbüchern. Die Libri selecti der Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek sammelt auch in diesem Bereich seit Jahren. Nun ist es natürlich nicht ganz einfach, an Fälle wie die oben beschriebenen heranzukommen, denn die oft ohnehin beschränkten Auflagen verlieren sich in derartig unübersichtlichen politischen Verhältnissen. Ganzeer selbst emigrierte in die USA und lebt heute in den USA.
Gerade zieht er um und fand eines der Zines aus 2011 wieder (erste Abbildung): “Zine El-Arab #1 (or Zain El-Arab depending on how you read it)”. Es bleibt spannend: Noch zur Stunde weiß ich nicht, ob er es unserer Sammlung überlässt… Via Twitter konkurrierte ich sofort mit den Arabic Collections der British Library, und womöglich müssen wir uns beide mit einer Kopie begnügen. Wer kann schon sagen, ob es bei Copy Art überhaupt eine valide Idee vom “Original” gibt, das hier also als “in 2011 angefertigte Kopie” verstanden werden müsste. Eine neuerliche Kopie aus 2019? Herausfordernd für das Katalogisieren allemal, wie so oft bei Künstlerbüchern.
Als ich vor einigen Wochen mit Ganzeer Kontakt aufnahm, befragte ich ihn dazu, welche Rolle die unterschiedlichen Medien für ihn spielen, mit denen er arbeitet, und wie er zu den Künstlerbüchern als Medium kam. In seiner spannenden Antwort schien gleich zu Beginn auf, wie wenig im internationalen Begriffsverständnis das Zine zum “Künstlerbuch” gerechnet wird. Wo es schon bei uns besser wäre, in diesem Kontext von “Künstlerpublikation” zu sprechen, ist das “artist’s book” noch viel stärker auf die Idee eines “schönen Buchs” im handwerklichen Sinne zugeschnitten, lebt in diesem Terminus die Idee von handgeschöpftem Papier, aufwendiger Bindung, Letterpress, Unikaten, Originalgraphischem und so fort.
Ganzeer arbeitete seine Email-Antwort nun zu einem zusammenhängenden Text aus. Festhalten, es geht los!
Ganzeer says (so heißt übrigens auch sein Twitter-Account):
Institutions that collect rare books tend to collect everything from zines to massive screenprinted ephemera bound in somewhat bookish formats, to odd letterpressed scrolls and even mass-produced offset-printed books that are long out of print. Artists however tend to draw definitive distinctions between artist-books and, say, zines, or offset-printed books. Even if said offset-printed books were to utilize special paper and dozens of different Pantone spot colors, it still wouldn’t be considered a true artist-book, not to many, largely due to the major part played by mechanization in its production. The true artist-book (many artists feel but maybe wouldn’t flat out say) is the kind of book that involves a lot of manual hands-on stuff in its process. As someone who’s been involved in the making of all manner of books, the vast majority of them taken on as artistic endeavors, I find such hard distinctions a bit problematic, while I also understand the need for a degree of differentiation just for the sake of categorization and well, the ability to talk about projects and engage in some kind of dialogue about them. So, for the purpose of this post I will be referring to the very hands-on type books as True Artist-Books. This is not in any way to belittle artist-books that are a little less hands-on. Those too I’ll be talking about but referencing in other terms which I’ll get into in more detail shortly.
In discussing various types of artist books though, it isn’t enough to talk about medium, is it? One must also discuss purpose, because more often than not, the choice of medium is often dictated –or at the very least heavily influenced– by purpose.
In the same way that, say, a house (in the right environment) may be built entirely out of mudbrick but a skyscraper maybe not so much (although the town of Shibam in Yemen features 11-story mudbrick high-rises dating back to the 16th century). Both may be categorized as buildings, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they ought to be built out of the exact same material. A football wouldn’t be made out of cement because that would defy the very purpose of its existence (unless the purpose is to serve as a sculpture meant to highlight one’s inability to play with something that deceptively looks like its meant to be played with, as is the case with Khaled Jarrar’s brilliant sculpture: FOOTBALL, 2012).
But of course not every concrete object is considered a work of conceptual sculpture. Applying this same logic to True Artist-Books (or any work of art for that matter), it isn’t enough to define a True Artist-Book solely by use of medium, but purpose must in fact be a key consideration as well. But what defines purpose?
As far as I’m concerned, two core things:
1- The idea behind the artwork itself
2- The intended audience
The latter, by the way, is a major consideration that shouldn’t be overlooked in my opinion. Which is something too many artists get awfully squeamish about, coming from the perspective that the audience should occupy no consideration from the artist’s part, and everything the artist does should solely stem from internal personal exploration. It’s not quite that simple.
When painting a public mural, for example, a work of art that is extremely public-facing, considering the public when creating the work of art is of utmost importance. It doesn’t necessarily have to be something said public will WANT to live around on a day-to-day basis, something decorative that they can easily agree with, but it can very much be something that is intentionally confrontational in nature. Either way, the public is a consideration when conceiving of the work of art.
Painting on canvas, on the other hand, is a different story. For one, the act of painting itself takes place in the comfort of the artist’s own private space. It is, at the end of the day, a very private activity that naturally lends itself to exploring the personal. If, however, said artist is an exhibiting artist, the work also naturally has a public-facing lifespan. There is no reason why that aspect should not play a part in the artist’s conception of the work given that the artist has some idea about the inevitable existence the work will have beyond the artist’s own studio; thinking about how it will look when exhibited, what people may or may not read into it, the kind of silent dialogue that will take place between the work and the viewer’s mind. Or heck, even the more public conversations that may or may not revolve around the work. It should be noted, however, that the public exposed to a painting-on-canvas tends to be quite limited than that of a mural. Very rarely does one see a painting accidentally. More often than not, those who look at a painting have the intent of seeing art before having seen the painting. They’re planning on going to an exhibition at a gallery or museum or biennial or some-such. A mural, on the other hand, is out there on the street forcing its presence upon swaths of people who walk by it with no intention whatsoever of looking at art.
But how does any of this relate to artist-books?
Well an artist-book, a True Artist-Book rather, strikes me as the ideal venue for one’s innermost personal explorations, because it is the least public-facing of all artistic output. Collecting Institutions often keep them locked away in hidden temperature-controlled rooms that are only accessible to researchers and extremely determined aficionados. Even when put on “public” display, they are very often placed within glass boxes that deny the viewer the ability to handle them. This to prevent the book from expedited deterioration. But as we all know, the handling of a book is an essential part of experiencing a book. As such, the True Artist-Book is literally the least accessible art-form. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because what that means is that it is the most suitable venue for the most personal, most inaccessible output of any artist. But what that also means is that it is the least suitable medium for public engagement. Of course it goes without saying though that the fact that it is a book implies that it contains within its construction more than one surface, which can potentially allow for more in-depth exploration than can be afforded by the singular surface of the standard canvas (or single sheet of paper). And of course, there is the unleashed potential of all these surfaces being bound in one single volume, the sequentiality and/or associations that occur by the simple fact of the book’s construction.
Does that mean that books must strictly be designated to personal explorations, with only murals for public engagement, and traditional paintings solely for that sweet-spot in between?
Well, of course not. These aren’t hard-lined distinctions. This is merely an examination of the very “best” possible use for each and every art-form as it relates to the inherent potential embedded within.
And if one was really adamant about creating a publication intended for public-engagement (note how the word “public” is itself the basis of the word “publication”), well then that’s what available mass-production methods are for, namely offset-printing, wherein the more copies you print the more affordable each unit becomes.
But perhaps one doesn’t have the funds for such mass production but is still interested in subject matter that engages the public. Or perhaps the content of this publication is something printing houses do not want to touch (it might be too sexual or dangerously political or something thereof). And herein comes the benefit of the zine, printed using a basic home-printer or photocopied at the nearest stationary store. While it is unlikely that a zine will have the same reach as a mass-produced and professionally distributed publication, it still holds the potential of greater accessibility than the True Artist-Book, just based on the fact that it is inherently designed to be photocopied (of course, not all zines are designed or produced that way, but most). Based on this, it seems that the zine occupies an area that falls somewhere between the True Artist-Book and the mass-produced book, between the incredibly personal and the very public-facing. Perhaps as such, it can also be considered a very adequate medium for the kind of explorations that fall somewhere between the personal and public, endeavors that are quite personal but also intended for being presented to the public, even during the work’s very inception.
But y’know what? At the end of the day, each and every artist can do whatever they mighty well please. This is just no more than an outline of my own approach to art-making, however faulty it may be.
Desillusionierend – aber verständlich – Ganzeers Vorstellung vom Künstlerbuch, in der Regel gar nicht an die Öffentlichkeit gelangt, und wenn es geschieht, dann im Rahmen von Ausstellungen, die das Buch, tja, zur “Leblosigkeit” verurteilen (“(…) exhibited they are usually sitting in glass boxes unable to be touched or explored”: Ganzeer hatte es ursprünglich per Email noch etwas drastischer als im obigen Text formuliert).
Diesen Artikel zitieren: Ganzeer / Lilian Landes, “Revolution, Zines, Ganzeer: ‘Artist-Books: What Are They Good For?’” [German/English], in Kunst zwischen Deckeln, 9. Juli 2019, https://bookarts.hypotheses.org/304.