LILY POWER TALKS TO LYNN HARRIS OF AND PUBLISHING ABOUT NEW FORMS OF PUBLISHING FOR ARTISTS’ BOOKS.
Lily Power: What is the basic premise of AND?
Lynn Harris: AND is a platform exploring print-on-demand (POD) technologies and publishing conceptually driven artists’ books, based at Central St Martin’s College of Art, London. We consider print-on-demand to be a method and a tool for directly communicating to an audience. We’re interested in the immediate, automatic, editable qualities of this popular production process to make bespoke, critical publications. A POD book requires no money up front and can be printed one copy at a time. This allows us to develop an adventurous, inquiring creative practice without having to conform to the conventions of a mass publishing market.
We have two strands within AND: a research and publishing stream where we commission works based on our own interests, such as Variable Format and The Piracy Project; and a self-publishing strand called AND Public.
Through the AND imprint, we create discourse around a particular subject that we generate through public discussions, live events, reading rooms, workshops and commissions of new or existing works by artists whom we have approached. If an artist is interested in publishing their own work, they can approach us to use the AND Public resource, which provides a framework, offering knowledge and functional support for the production and dissemination of their own self-published POD books.
Through AND Public, we help artists navigate the printing options, such as Lulu, HP Magcloud and the Newspaper Club, and introduce ways to make the process and outcome personal through intervention and post-production. We give conceptual and practical advice in one-to-one surgeries, share our collection of printed samples and hold workshops to develop individual or collaborative projects – some experimental and some practical. On the functional side, we offer an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) and space to display and sell in our web shop and in physical kiosks in bookshops around London. We can also help with design if desired.
LP: What does this kind of publishing offer visual artists?
LH: Traditional art publishing will vet and publish a small number of titles each year that conform to the overall identity and vision of the publishing house. Quite a lot of money will be invested in each title for editing and production and they must be highly salable. This criterion severely limits the realisation of most book works; needless to say, the more experimental projects are almost always sidelined. These are the ones we’re more interested in – the ones that investigate form and content in unexpected ways; our model reflects this. When using POD and AND Public, an artist has complete control over content and form (within the given limits of each printer). And, most remarkably, you can test the progress of your book by printing and responding to proofs throughout the process. This means that you can see the materiality of the book as the project develops in order to amend the content, compare different formats and experiment with various options.
So an artist can truly work with the physical form in new ways or just be reassured that it’s working. This also means that an artist can create bespoke versions of each book every time a new one gets printed. And because you pay for each book as it is printed, rather than paying a significant upfront fee for a large print run, publishing becomes available to everyone. Digital platforms and social media allow equally cost effective promotion. This turns scarcity into abundance, and limited options of taste into a testing ground for many voices. We promote this attitude.
This approach also allows an artist to own their own copyright, distribute freely and take almost all sales revenues. We encourage artists to start intimate relationships with their audiences, not to aim for blockbuster sell out launches and sales but to find the right audience through more immediate or personal interactions – local, quality responses to the work.
LH: The most successful books are ones that find new potential within or in response to the characteristics or politics of digital publishing. Three very different projects come to mind: This Mess is a Place by Zoë Mendelson, Copied Right by Hester Barnard and An Incomplete Reader for the Ongoing Project, “One day, everything will be free…” v 0.1.7 by Joseph Redwood-Martinez.
This Mess is a Place looks at hoarding and collection through the voices of clinicians, cultural theorists, archivists, anthropologists and artists. Artistic practice and scientific research overlap like the submersion of materials within a hoard or the pursuit of order within a collection. The publication format reflects this – it is an illogical and precarious object. It is unbound with various papers and print techniques floating in a digitally printed box. Ultimately, the reader is responsible for the order (or disorder) of the piece.
Hester Barnard’s Copied Right, printed by Lulu, comprises screen-captured images of pages from a legal tome on copyright – Paul Goldstein’s International Copyright (OUP, USA, 2012) – taken from Google Books. The limitations of Barnard’s DIY publishing approach are of course that only certain number of pages can be legally previewed.
An Incomplete Reader for the Ongoing Project, “One day, everything will be free…” v 0.1. is a reader to accompany activities at cultural research centre, SALT ISTANBUL, and is positioned more like software than a physical publication. The book is updated, amended and changed at the discretion of its author and a new ‘version’ tag is added. So, like software releases – where version 0.0.1 is followed indefinitely with sporadic updates, bug-fixes and complete revisions – the publication is, and will always be, incomplete and unfinished.
LP: Self-publishing has become an increasingly popular option for many writers and artists. While some view it as a democratisation of the publishing process, critics argue for the necessity of maintaining traditional industry standards. Do you think a curatorial / editorial presence is necessary in art publishing? Is this part of your remit?
LH: Yes. Curatorial and editorial presence is definitely necessary, but we are trying a slightly different approach to finding, generating and sharing quality material. We encourage the projects that we think will work well on the platform and openly let artists know, if their work doesn’t quite fit in, that they won’t benefit from using the platform. But as a lot of interesting and appropriate artists do get in touch, we feel a kind of peer-to-peer critique or self-critique is happening, where potential artists are judging whether or not they think their work is strong enough to sit next to existing content.
Also, proximity to our own research and publishing activities – which include round table discussions, talks, exhibitions and launches – gives context and adds value to the books found in AND Public. We promote the platform in most of these situations, which are usually quite intimate circumstances. So we’re enabling a form of distribution that directly targets small pockets of interested audiences.
LP: What are your distribution methods?
LH: We spend most of our time working on the generation and production of new books – so unfortunately, we do not have the resources to widen our distribution efforts. But what we have in place is what we consider to be a ‘first step’ to distribution. This entails visibility on our website, in a few bookshops in London and curated selections at some international book fairs.
Currently we also have kiosks at X Marks the Bokship, ICA and Luminous Books at CSM. A red box sits within these bookshops that hold display copies of AND Public books. Each book has a slip of paper attached stating, “This is a copy of a self-published book using AND Public. Only one copy has been printed. If you would like your own, please go to the counter to purchase online. It will be printed and shipped to you or a friend on-demand”.
It’s important to us that the public has the option of viewing the actual material book, but we don’t want artists to have to print too many copies or get into complex sale and return schemes. By bringing the public’s attention to the fact that the books are produced through the POD process, we’re making the economies of production transparent and this reflects upon the content of each book. This is a different form of browsing and buying books where the audience is participating in the production process, ordering a POD copy through a digital interface.
LP: What are your plans for the future of AND?
LH: We’re adding more resources and ideally making a portion of it user generated – where the public can share resources – making it a more useful tool. But this depends on getting more funding. We would also like to invite select curators to choose AND Public books to be displayed together for periods of time. We think this approach will add more value to each book and bring out connections in approach, form or content.
We have just invited Andrea Francke to join AND; she has brought a lot of exciting ideas with her. Andrea is an artist who first came to us with her pirate research that spawned The Piracy Project. This means that we are starting new conversations about all manner of AND things. So more to come soon…
Lynn Harris works in collaboration to make conceptual gestures, books, print ephemera and online platforms for use by artists