Publishing Class III: How to Live Together
Inspired by Roland Barthes’ How to Live Together*, Publishing Class III will focus on writing as a tool for critical publishing and as a conduit of community. Traversing the realms of art and life, the class will locate artistic writing or non-writing at the heart of art publishing**. The programme also draws from Barthes’ antagonistic literary delineations of ‘readerly text’ and ‘writerly text’. Critically placed in opposition, ‘readerly text’ leaves no room for new meaning and is, instead, preoccupied with the act of consumption whilst ‘writerly text’ makes the reader a producer of new forms of work. Amongst the current plethora of information and publications, producing the latter seems to be an urgent task. Publishing Class III will approach ‘writerly text’ as an outcome of speculative thinking, which forms visionary knowledge or so-called “theory.” Consequently, the “class” will explore the nature of artistic writing—theory and knowledge––and the question of authorship.
The concept for Publishing Class III – How to Live Together has developed out of the previous editions of Publishing Class. The first edition experimented with collective publishing, and resulted in a participant-initiated journal series—Spencer’s Island—which narrowcasted to a community on a small Canadian island, with whom the participating students had no direct contact. Spencer’s Island experimented with modes of communication as well as group work. The second edition was dedicated to publishing with fidelity to both individual artistic practices and the collaborative working environment (what we called the ‘editorial cooperative’). This edition operated in an intensive collaboration with graphic designers from the Werkplaats Typografie, Arnhem. Publishing Class II resulted in 13 singular, small book editions, the majority as projects in themselves that integrated personal essays and fiction writing. For the third edition, we refocus our attention towards collective efforts through publishing a book that also accommodates experiments with both individual and collective “writing.” The third edition will be accompanied by monthly guest lectures, face-to-face meetings, seminars on methods of speculative thinking and writing, and occasional workshops covering practical knowledge for publishing.
Publishing Class III is also brought about through reflection on the last few years of art publishing. The current flourishing of publication practices in contemporary art still finds its roots in conceptual art practices from the 1960s and 1970s in which the book form was taken as an alternative site for experimentation with language or other conceptual work. As a result, a conceptual play of, or anti-stance to, language is at stake in many current artist publications. These contemporary publications clearly allow for independent platforms and circulating channels for current artistic practice, new visual experimentation and forms of encounter with “readers.” However, in the time of mass media monopolies, personal and social media, and self-publishing, this mode of practice may need to be complimented by opposite forces. These forces emerge from collective artist journals such as Chto Dlat, Variants, Pages, Fucking Good Art or from collective book productions such as The Book Trust, an outcome of a group of graphic design students at the Yale University School of Art, or Intersections At the Crossroads of the Production of Knowledge, Precarity, Subjugation and the Reconstruction of History, Display and De-Linking, published by the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. What is shared by these collective approaches is a clear configuration of publishing as a form of knowledge production, and an establishment of knowledge in common and for the commons. In this light, let us also recall the Whole Earth Catalog, a “DIY” communal journal that formed a vast underground community of readers, and was produced on the flip side of the conceptual art publishing of the 1960s and 1970s. We could dig even further to recall avant-garde practices of the early twentieth century, when collective journals and books were actively published as ‘vehicles for delivering artists’ agendas and were concerned with circulating ideas’ (Gwen Allen, Artists’ Magazines: An Alternative Space for Art, Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2011)—a local example in this period could be the Dutch De Stijl journal. Here, the proposal is not that artists should produce a theory for what they do, but it is advocating for the appreciation and practice of singular forms of artistic research and for the knowledge that this may form.
Publishing Class III – How to Live Together will undertake a collective writing process over the duration of one year. While leaving ample room for individual writing, the project will culminate in one book. The course will take inspiration from Barthes’ ‘rooms’ structure: We will invite guests to write and contribute a text for the publication that generates new visions and theories around the question of living together. Figuratively speaking, their contribution will be the construction of rooms that contribute to both the living structure and future thinking of our collective house. They will construct a room for a hothouse so to speak. In successive seminars, the guests will share how they developed this vision and reflect on the ‘labor of writing’ as an integral part of their practice. This will in turn feed into the students’ own writing, aid the creation of their own room, the formation of the “common room” and a community of writers.
Occasionally, workshops about practical knowledge on the pragmatics of publishing practice will be organised, outside of the Dutch Art Institute’s regular week structure. These workshops will challenge the existing boundaries of the practical and non-practical by inviting graphic designers, artists, theorists and book-makers to share their know-how around the processes of design, distribution, copy write, editing and so on.
During each DAI week, a guest artist will partake in studio visits or face to face meetings and a seminar, and present a public talk in response to the proposition: ‘Imagine a room (drawing from your concerns and vision) in the scope of your practice. Use this room to discern a speculative method and a mode for producing a theory around the question of living together.’
DAY 1: Speculating Aloud
Face-to-face meetings whereby students present their individual writing.
Public talk¬¬ or presentation by a guest in response to the room proposal (Open to the public).
DAY 2: Why I Write***
Seminar on the ideas and methods of speculative thinking and writing. Collective writing exercise whereby students will develop a single story line together.
Guests (full list to be announced)
October: Christian Nyampeta & Tea Hvala
Parallel research and an ongoing, informal publishing exercise by the participants are crucial for the DAI week meetings and to ensure the class makes sense to the students’ own practices.
Collecting artists’ writings
Students will be required to collect artists’ (speculative) writing throughout the course of the year, enabling them to study other’s writing and build an archive of references. Material gathered this way will also serve as possible content for the final publication.
Social media publishing
In parallel to the DAI week programme and occasional workshops, students will exchange their thoughts, materials and progress through social media (e.g. Twitter and Facebook). Here, we plan to address a question at the core of publishing—what is the purpose of making things public?—through a confrontation with social media as the dominant medium of contemporary information circulation. We aim to explore a non-purist approach to publishing, deploying a range of mediums, digital and non-digital, to expose different forms of knowledge and writing, while also learning to control their demands for time and attention.
- Publication of a common book (June 2013)
- Collective writing
- Individual writing (and non-writing)
- Experiments in social media
- Collection of artists’ (speculative) writing
A small group of Werkplaats Typografie students or participant-designers will join the community. They will design the final book, community identity, website and social media sites, and are also invited to join the overall process and to challenge the boundaries of design practice.
Publishing Class III – How to Live Together is developed by Casco ¬– Office for Art, Design and Theory on the commission of the Dutch Art Institute. The concept and framework is developed by Binna Choi, director of Casco. Yolande van der Heide, publishing coordinator of Casco, is the managing editor of the class.
Q: Will the monthly guests define the themes each month; will they give an actual (writing) assignment?
A: No, the guests will give feedback on the collective text as it’s generated over time. They will also give feedback on your individual writing (i.e. outside the collective). The participants can take inspiration from the public lecture theme, given by the guest.
Q: Do I have to take part in the collective writing process?
A: Yes, you are obliged to take part in the collective writing process. However, you are also asked to develop your own writing, in light of your own practice.
Q: Will we be guided and provided with tools for collective writing?
A: In the context of the occasional workshops, there will be a workshop led by Tea Hvala, a journalist and art critic, living and working in Ljubljana. Hvala facilitated a sci-fi collective writing exercise during Casco’s The Grand Domestic Revolution Futurist Writing School in February 2012. Together, you can figure out methods for the collective writing process. During the entire collective writing process, self-invention and mutual learning will prove crucial.
Q: Will we each have a spread in the book or will we work on one singular text?
A: The class encourages both collective and individual writing processes. The final publication should be able to accommodate both types of content but the order and layout for these forms should be thought of alongside the design development of the book.
Q: Will we collaborate with designers other than the WT students? Or could we end up not collaborating with any designer at all?
A: Collaboration with designers should be considered as the given context for the class, but the way you chose to collaborate is contingent on your encounters and efforts, and a few institutional factors.
Q: What is the agency of the editor for the collective text?
A: The whole process will be overseen and coordinated by the managing editor Yolande van der Heide. All of the participating writers should take part in deciding on the content and on developing the process in terms of writing and publishing the final text.
Q: Who’s the editor of the book in general?
A: We foresee the editorial board consisting of Binna Choi, Yolande van der Heide and the Publishing Class students.
Q: What community do you imagine will form around the book in the end? Who will these “new” theories serve?
A: This is to be imagined and determined by the participants. At this moment, we can speculate that the book could address young artists and designers as well as international professionals in art and culture who are concerned with publishing practices. In terms of the subject of artistic perspectives on how we live together, we may aim to address a much wider audience, the general reader, and enter into a broader publishing market.
Q: What if the exercise “fails” or how will we avoid succumbing to the pressures of developing a product?
A: It depends on the definition of failure. By any means, we don’t perceive a situation of “failure.” Adaptations and improvisations during the process will be key, with the aim of publishing a meaningful work, whatever the concrete outcome turns out to be.
The pressure of publishing in common will not be taken for granted: how to tackle and transform the pressure into other forms of energy is our task—this falls within the scope of the question of how to live together.
Q: How will we present the final publishing work?
A: It will be presented at the Dutch Art Institute, New York Art Book Fair and Casco, but other distribution ideas can be developed during the working process.
*How to Live Together, (Trans. Kate Briggs), New York: Columbia University Press, 2012, is a published series of lectures critic Roland Barthes originally delivered in 1977 in which he searches for a way of life that reconciles solitude and sociability, and looks for the degree of contact that is necessary for individuals to co-exist and create at their own pace. Barthes’ quest and journey are informed by ‘idiorhythmic monasticism’, a form of society that was practiced by Orthodox monks on the holy Greek mountain Athos in the fifteenth century. The monks were permitted to live separately in par with their respective rhythms of life. They would congregate for religious service and prayer but even this was optional. In How to Live Together, Barthes explores this phenomenon through five representative texts, which examine five different living spaces and possible ways of life, namely: ‘Émile Zola's Pot-Bouille, set in a Parisian apartment building; Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain, which takes place in a sanatorium; André Gide's La Séquestrée de Poitiers, based on the true story of a woman confined to her bedroom; Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, about a castaway on a remote island; and Pallidius's Lausiac History, on the ascetic lives of the desert fathers.’ http://cup.columbia.edu/book/978-0-231-13616-7/how-to-live-together. The inspiration for Publishing Class III is further indebted to Christian Nyampeta, whose current PhD research, also titled How to Live Together, takes Barthes’ writing as one of its main references.
** Non-writing is understood here as a form of communication that happens in the negation of any existing writing form.
*** ‘Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it. It seems to me nonsense, in a period like our own, to think that one can avoid writing of such subjects. Everyone writes of them in one guise or another. It is simply a question of which side one takes and what approach one follows. And the more one is conscious of one’s political bias, the more chance one has of acting politically without sacrificing one’s aesthetic and intellectual integrity. What I have most wanted to do throughout the past ten years is to make political writing into an art. My starting point is always a feeling of partisanship, a sense of injustice. When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, “I am going to produce a work of art”. I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing. But I could not do the work of writing a book, or even a long magazine article, if it were not also an aesthetic experience. Anyone who cares to examine my work will see that even when it is downright propaganda it contains much that a full-time politician would consider irrelevant. I am not able, and do not want, completely to abandon the world-view that I acquired in childhood. So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the earth, and to take a pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information. It is no use trying to suppress that side of myself. The job is to reconcile my ingrained likes and dislikes with the essentially public, non-individual activities that this age forces on all of us.’ George Orwell, ‘Why I Write’, available online at: http://orwell.ru/library/essays/wiw/english/e_wiw.