On Monday and Tuesday I moderated a panel called the Chapbook as Art Object, as part of the 2010 Festival of the Chapbook, at the CUNY Grad Center. The title of the panel was not my choice, and one of the questions I asked the panelists- (Jeremy Thompson, Autotypographer, and Roni Gross, proprietor, Zitouna press) was what they thought about it. My boss came up with the title, and I talked with Jeremy briefly about how I just don’t think that that artists themselves are all that interested in the object, in the end, even if they’re really invested in actually making objects, but that arts administrators are really really invested in the object, and that’s often what they are most comfortable interacting with.
Anyway, I did think that the title came right into the heart of this uncomfortable issue that often comes up with books, book arts, artists books, and the various communities that concern themselves with these things, which we talked about in terms of economics and price point on the first day, which inevitable became uncomfortable at the end, and in terms of distribution the second. What I liked about the discussion was the diversity of viewpoint; I get frustrated with conversations about books that talk about one approach/viewpoint, as if it’s the only option, or only rational/moral option. There’s so much of polemic around the distribution model and pricing of artists books which leads people into making rash statements about how books should always be cheap, or that handmade books are always precious, or that stapled xerox things are always less valuable, or letterpress is always beautiful.
Which is a load of rubbish, and I’m much more interested in finding out what someone who’s really interested in cheap, accessible, ephemeral modes of production has to say to someone who works with their hands, making limited-edition, finely printed work. Lots of things, actually, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. Isn’t it much more interesting to find out how different people with different ideas can agree on things? That’s what I was hoping would happen, and it did, which was a relief.
And I think, in the same way, that it’s possible to make a handmade object that is part of a project that has many parts, an event that it commemorates in some way, which is ephemeral, and all the documentation of the event, which people can see if they weren’t there, and the images of the book that was made, and the images of the book in progress of being made, and perhaps a trade edition of the handmade limited edition that’s at a lower price point, and a video of materials relating to the original book and the event that’s freely available to anyone who’s interested, in which case then I think arguing about the morality of pricing that handmade object as a handmade book art object (i.e, expensive for a book, but cheap for art) becomes sort of irrelevant. Doesn’t it?