The Gradient: Design, art, and the gradient between, featuring the creative output of our in-house design studio.
Adam Michaels, co-founder of Projects Projects, who also edits and designs the Inventory Books paperback series (published by Princeton Architectural Press), has extended his passion for print and sound in another role: a rock(or should we say book-rock?) musician in the band The Masses. The Masses released their “spoken arts record that you can dance [...]
Adam Michaels, co-founder of Projects Projects, who also edits and designs the Inventory Books paperback series (published by Princeton Architectural Press), has extended his passion for print and sound in another role: a rock(or should we say book-rock?) musician in the band The Masses. The Masses released their “spoken arts record that you can dance to”—The Electric Information Age LP last year, as to explore the legacy of Marshall McLuhan. The LP is also an acoustic interface to The Electric Information Age Book, which is the third and most recent title from Inventory Books paperback series.
In connection to the LA Art Book Fair (Feb.1–3, Opening on Jan.31), some of the questions here revolves around the theme of books. Michaels is going to take part in a panel discussion about design authors and designer’s books during the fair, while Project Projects will share table with Paper Monument.
What makes a book valuable?
The value of a book is based on the combination of a number of attributes, including quality of its ideas, means of its presentation, character of its physical attributes, degree of scarcity, and so on. For me, something like McLuhan / Fiore / Agel’s The Medium is the Massage is the most valuable kind of book — all aspects are strongly conceived and implemented, but the book was printed in large enough numbers that anyone can easily locate an affordable copy.
Do you have any favorite publications from recent years?
I’ll recommend two titles from recent years that have I’ve particularly enjoyed:
1) Beyond the Dream Syndicate: Tony Conrad and the Arts after Cage, by Branden W. Joseph, Zone Books, 2008 2)Infinitely Demanding: Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance, by Simon Critchley, Verso, 2007
What is the last book you read?
I recently completed Ed Sanders’s Fug You: An Informal History of the Peace Eye Bookstore, the Fuck You Press, the Fugs, and Counterculture in the Lower East Side. (I’d elaborate, but the subtitle aptly covers both the subject matter and its tone…!)
Apart from commissioned projects, you also self-initiate and edit books. Can you talk a little about the process of doing a particular self-initiated project? And what role does those projects play in your design practice?
When conceiving of Project Projects over 9 years ago, Prem and I always intended to incorporate client work with non-client work, basically with the hope of producing a more integrated life / less alienated form of labor. As both our client and non-client work tends to be strongly collaborative, I find that there’s less of a divide between client- and studio-initiated work than it may appear from a distance; all gets produced through similar processes, during the same working hours.
In the case of the Inventory Books series, it was a multi-year process to conceptualize the first two books (Street Value, and Above the Pavement—The Farm!, produced simultaneously); produce and circulate a lengthy prospectus; secure publishing (Princeton Architectural Press is the series publisher); write grant applications; secure funding (the Graham Foundation has funded each of the series books thus far); then oversee and take part in generating writing, imagery, and the crossover thereof; then layouts, corrections, production; then promotion and distribution; then starting the whole process all over again for each new book. All is a pleasure to do, but the process is lengthy and consuming; as such I’m currently taking a bit of a break between the third book, The Electric Information Age Book, and the fourth book.
Describe an impossible/dream book that you’d like to make — if you could do all the impossible and crazy stuff.
While appreciative of the various sorts of production techniques that can be utilized to create a physically unique book, the impossible / crazy thing that I’d currently like to figure out is something like a sustainable contemporary model for publishing. In saying this, I have my book series, Inventory Books, in mind — the most enticing impossible/dream situation that I can imagine is one in which I can fully focus on content and design for the next books, rather than fundraising…!
Tell us about the Electric Information Age ALbum LP you have recorded together with Jeffrey T. Schnapp and Daniel Perlin.
The LP came out of the awareness that Jeffrey Schnapp and I had of The Medium is the Massage LP, which was released shortly after the paperback book. Dubbed “The First Spoken Arts Record You can Dance To,” it was actually a nearly unlistenable mix of McLuhan lecturing with musique concrete techniques, comedy sketch bits, and the overall effect of flipping through a set of TV stations in the mid 1960s. Anyway, we wanted to take up the challenge and produce the real First Spoken Arts Record You can Dance to — so Jeffrey and I worked with our friend Daniel Perlin, a Brooklyn-based DJ and music producer, to work up a set of music that incorporates spoken elements from our book with references to the McLuhan LP. Daniel suggested we take the band name The Masses for the project, which seemed fitting on numerous levels.
You can listen to the whole album here on Bandcamp:
And how was the tour?
With the addition of Shannon Harvey on keyboards, we adapted the recorded material for live performance (not at all our original intention when working in a very nonlinear manner on the recordings) following an invitation to perform in Milan at the MiTo festival last September. This was followed by another performance at a particularly choice venue: the New York Art Book Fair at PS1, within a dome set in the courtyard there. Happily, I can report that a number of audience members were in fact seen dancing during the set.
Can you tell a bit about your music legacy?
For years I played in a number of DIY punk bands,such as Cowboy Suit from Chicago in the mid-90s,
and The Ending Again from Minneapolis in the mid- to late-90s.
Those bands each put out 7″s vinyl EPs. All the bands that I was in were part of very particular independent scenes in Chicago and Minneapolis; we had no hope or desire for widespread notice, so it was a pleasure to both utilize and mess with conventions of then-current underground genres.
How does the fact of being a graphic designer affect the making of this LP?
It was an interesting experiment to produce music with something akin to design methods, rather than the organic composition methods of noisy rock bands. The task of situating Jeffrey’s prerecorded vocals with various fragments of music recorded by Daniel and myself was like the aural equivalent of laying out book text, interwoven with form. One other geeky side-note: the LP features a number of tracks where the sound of flipping through book pages is used as the basis for creating beats.
Is there any current or upcoming publication projects that you’d like to feature here?
Given our subject matter here, I would remiss not to direct the reader’s attention to the new Inventory Books tote bag, designed in collaboration with Slow and Steady Wins the Race. This tote bag is about formats — it features pockets designed to hold a 12″LP, an ipad, an e-reader like a kindle, and a mass market paperback — all forming an Albers-like composition of squares. This is produced in a fairly limited edition, and will be for sale at the Project Projects table at the L.A. Art Book Fair. You can also purchase it online via http://www.slowandsteadywinstherace.com.
Drucksache is a publishing house based in Stockholm, founded in 2010 by Jacob Grønbech Jensen, Rikard Heberling and Emi-Simone Zawall. So far they have published five works, focusing mainly on poetry, linguistics and artists’ books, all by contemporary Swedish writers, except for the most recent publication: the first Swedish translation of Martin Heidegger’s On the [...]
Drucksache is a publishing house based in Stockholm, founded in 2010 by Jacob Grønbech Jensen, Rikard Heberling and Emi-Simone Zawall. So far they have published five works, focusing mainly on poetry, linguistics and artists’ books, all by contemporary Swedish writers, except for the most recent publication: the first Swedish translation of Martin Heidegger’s On the Way to Language. Drucksache releases not only printed editions but also deals with transforming these into various live activities such as performances, readings, lectures, seminars, screenings, opera, etc. At this year’s New York Art Book Fair Drucksache is a part of the joint exhibition/table Publishing as (part-time) Practice.
Above: 1) På Väg Mot Språket (On The Way To Language) by Martin Heidegger, Drucksache, 2012 2) Darger Reviderad by Leif Holmstrand & Jonas Örtemark, Drucksache, 2011 3) Fjärrskrift by Lotta Lotass, Drucksache, 2011 4) Detail from Röda Rummet (alfabetisk) by Pär Thörn, Drucksache, 2010 5) Public reading of Röda Rummet (alfabetisk) at Skånes Konstförening, 2010. Photo by Jonatan Jacobson.
What is the last book you read?
We’re still working on the classics… If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino, Revolutionary Letters by Diane di Prima, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction by J.D. Salinger, L’immoraliste by André Gide are some of them.
What is the first book you can remember?
Mio, min Mio by Astrid Lindgren, Sagan om det röda äpplet by Jan Lööf, the Bible.
Can you recommend some recent publications to the reader?
1) ‘K by Karl Holmqvist (JRP Ringier) 2) Secrets of al-Jahizby Daniel Heller-Roazen (part of the 100 Notes, 100 Thoughts: Documenta 13 Series, Hatje Cantz) 3) Work, Work, Work – A Reader on Art and Labour(Iaspis/Sternberg) 4) Ulysses by James Joyce (retranslated into Swedish by Erik Andersson, Bonniers)
The books you’ve published are often with some form of appendix such as public performances, readings, films and even opera. What do you see out of the gesture of including these events or even using them as an essential part of the publication?
The social and communal aspect of publishing is really important to us. We put a lot of effort in transforming the printed material into something outside of the book object, to question the traditional role of the book as a media for isolated, quiet, linear reading. Often this results in some kind of performative remix of the text, where the book plays a specific, but secondary role. Essentially we don’t see our books as end products in themselves.
For example, our first publication, Röda Rummet (alfabetisk) by Swedish writer and artist Pär Thörn, is a remake of August Strindberg’s classic The Red Room. In Thörn’s version the word order is re-arranged alphabetically, but still within the structure of the original chapters. The book was presented in “mass-readings,” organized in three different cities during the time of the release, in which twenty-nine persons simultaneously read a chapter each, creating a beautifully chaotic sound piece. So in this case we treated the book partly as a music score intended to be read aloud in groups.
We also work closely with critics and theorists as means to integrate the book with its reception and critique. In Handlingarna (“The Acts“), a one-poem-book written by Ulf Karl Olov Nilsson, we invited author and critic Mara Lee to write a commentary that turned out to be almost more relevant to the publication than the actual poem itself – designed as a kind of intro-&-outro-duction, literally wrapping around the main text.
Can you tell a cautionary tale related to the design or production process of a particular book?
All our poor books have been more or less victims of production errors, going through the violent process of offset printing, not to mention shipping. On one hand there’s not much to say about this since it’s just how things are, errors and mistakes are part of all human activity, and as long as it’s only books that are harmed it’s not the end of the world. But on the other hand it’s interesting to see the connections between production faults and the ever-changing economic cirumstances of the industry. Most printers seem to be making money off pizza menus so that’s where priority goes, at least in Sweden. Errors and the general amount of poor quality will be constant in an industry with this high demand on fast delivery, cheap raw material and labour. So we don’t have a tale in particular but the whole biz of making books is inseparable from risk-taking and the consequential regrets and rewards.
Pick five books that would be friends.
1) Marcel Proust, À la recherche du temps perdu 2) Lars Norén, En dramatikers dagbok 3) Anders Jacobsson och Sören Olsson, Berts dagbok 4) Susan Sontag, Reborn: Early Diaries 1947-1963 5) Dieter Roth, notebook
Do you have a plan of publishing books in English in the future alongside the Swedish ones?
We don’t really have a plan of publishing in any particular language. If the material is relevant for us then we don’t care if it’s Swedish or English or anything else, as long as we’re capable of understanding what we’re editing. But since we’re quite drawn towards language-specific writing, when meaning is embedded in a certain framework, it’s just been interesting for us to work in a local context. That doesn’t mean we’re not open to other languages, quite the opposite, but so far our interests have been elsewhere.
Do you have any book-related rituals?
Sometimes we make pilgrimages across the world to attend book fairs.
You went to this year’s NY Art Book Fair as part of the participating publishers in the Publishing as (Part-time) Practice project, which selects some of the Swedish publishing houses run by graphic designers. Can you tell us something about this project?
“Publishing as (part-time) Practice” was a one-day seminar held in Stockholm in May earlier this year, initiated by graphic designers/publishers Matilda Plöjel (Sailor Press), and Mattias Jakobsson and Peter Ström (Konst & Teknik/Andperseand) and Iaspis (the Swedish Arts Grants Committee). The seminar brought together artist-run initiatives, both Swedish and international, in the fields of literature, photography and visual art as well as design, to share and discuss various approaches to publishing from a designer/artist’s point of view.
The project continues at the NYABF as an exhibition featuring twelve Swedish publishers who are, either partially or wholly, run by graphic designers: A5 Press, Andperseand, B-B-B-Books, GUN, Museum Paper, Nilleditions, Orosdi-Back, Oyster Press, Pionier Press, Sailor Press, Tree Fruit Press and ourselves.
Do you have any projects that you’d like to feature on our site?
Fjärrskrift is an artist’s book published in 2011 by Lotta Lotass. The work is a one-sentence poem without punctuation marks, printed on a 50 meter long telegraphy strip, or “ticker-tape” – paper surviving from the 1960s – using Telex machines from early 20th century. It was mass-produced in 100 copies, and packaged as a rolled-up scroll in a box.
Fjärrskrift was also presented as a one hour “movie” version, in which the complete poem was filmed as it was printed, and screened in cinemas around Sweden as a silent, collective reading – creating a rare situation in which a public reads the same poem together in silence, for about 60 minutes.
Now the filmed book is available online as a free, unlimited version of the limited scroll.
Describe an impossible book that you’d like to make (if you could do the impossible).
We’re currently trying to figure out how to make a book out of a tennis court.