“We are a sub-sector of artist-run culture, not of the publishing industry... The thing we share is a passion for audacious, educational, and accessible art publishing in all its forms. Relentlessly resourceful and productive, we are a source of innovation for publishing in this country and beyond. Our work plays an essential role in advancing critical discourse and documentation of contemporary art in Canada.”
Ref. Reporter: Gina Badger. Notes taken at the meeting of the TXT—Canadian Art Publishing Network Meeting, 7–8 November, 2014, Artexte, Montreal.
What Do We Publish, Why, And For Whom? Why it Matters?
Our title,The Grey Guide to Artist-Run Publishing and Circulation, refers to the not-so-familiar category of “grey literature,” a mode of text-based cultural production common to our organizations/institutions. This category includes reference works, manuals, reports, working papers, directories, grant applications and other ephemera—works that often look inward upon the organization that produces them and that reside and circulate mostly outside the better-known commercial and academic publishing and distribution channels.Furthermore, the title Grey Guide refers to the grey areas arising from an ongoing negotiation between owners and users of copyrighted content in the digital age, with the result, we hope, of bringing greater nuance to an otherwise polarizing discussion.
In this awareness, the Grey Guide focuses upon distribution as a key concern for publishing within artist-run culture, alongside complex issues like conditions of production, copyright and fair dealing, and ethical protocols arising from within a community of practice. A section on resources offers practical guidelines, a lexicon of publishing terms, some taken directly from the author’s essays, and links to other reference documents of interest to artist-run centres (ARCs) that wish to support publishing in all its forms as part of their activities. The Grey Guide not only investigates why we publish, how and for whom, it serves as a reminder that most makers of books in the visual arts wrestle with decisions at every step of their production, whether financial, material, ethical, or aesthetic.
Artist-run centres represent the interests of artists, critics, cultural workers and administrators working in relation to artist-run culture. Artist-run centres publish when artists choose to use the book, or related digital forms, as an artistic medium. Artist-run centres also publish in order to document exhibitions, producing pamphlets or didactic materials before or at the time of the exhibition, which can include short curatorial or creative essays. Less and less, artist-run centres produce anthologies including well-researched texts that reflect upon common themes arising throughout the past programming year.Artist-led publishing can take place through an artist-run centre, but also occurs in other institutional and para-institutional contexts.
The material forms assumed by artist-led publishing change as artists and their institutions seek new, agile and adaptive modes of dissemination. Such shifts in modes of address are responses, in part, to the pressures of chronic financial instability combined with a sincere desire to engage with the world outside of the physical gallery space. Among these agile forms, the book represents an ideal for communicating concepts to the public through text and images: easy to share through digital editions, easy to ship (despite rising shipping costs), easy to exchange online or hand-to-hand. The circulation of publications is valued in artist-run culture for its potential to generate social relations, creating new publics over time. The seemingly unlimited potential for dissemination promised by digital formats often assumes that once produced (often as a labour of love), our publications will continue to be cared for by readers and collecting institutions, rather than left to linger in brick-and-mortar storage or fester, thanks to link rot, somewhere on a cloud server.
“The Grey Guide not only investigates why we publish, how and for whom, it serves as a reminder that most makers of books in the visual arts wrestle with decisions at every step of their production, whether financial, material, ethical, or aesthetic.”
Art Publishing as a
Distinct Sub-Sector of
ARCA and RCAAQ hired Felicity Tayler as a contributing editor for the Grey Guide because of her unique combination of experience as an artist, critic, cultural worker and art librarian. Tayler also recently completed her doctoral thesis, titled Conceptual Nationalisms: Conceptual Book-works, Countercultural Imaginaries and the Neo-Avant-Garde in Canada and Québec, 1967–1974. The guide therefore benefits from art-historical grounding, as well as a practical understanding of the information systems that form the infrastructure of a future-oriented digital culture. Tayler’s discussion of theoretical issues around copyright and intellectual property are not to be construed as legal advice; rather, they outline some basic principles. Tayler’s tasks began with reviewing notes taken at various meetings of an ad hoc committee of independent publishers from Quebec and Canada (see below for a full list of these meetings).
She quickly realized that the content of the Grey Guide would have to respond to the concerns raised in these community-initiated meetings. Taking these concerns as a starting point helped to orient the focus of this guide toward addressing challenges related to distribution, rather than the materiality or production of publications per se. The quotes that introduce each brief are taken from the meeting minutes and capture the voices of participants keen to share their experiences of art publishing. These voices emphasize the fundamental role that discourse plays in the reception of contemporary art, as exhibitions are now frequently accompanied by texts that act as entry points to understanding the work—or, conversely, produce a veil of muted meaning. Overall, participants agreed the resources required for effective international circulation of publicity and publications are grossly underestimated. While some art publishers continue to enjoy the services of commercial distribution, most must rely on pro-active self-distribution.
So, What’s at Stake and
Why Should you Care?
This Guide seeks to provoke high-level debate about the role of publishing in artist-run culture. Combining theory with practice, the Grey Guide also offers practical guidance in this complex field, so that a new generation of artists and cultural workers who wish to professionalize may do so, while others may opt to remain resolutely DIY if they so please. Either way, somewhere on the continuum between adopting an entrepreneurial strategy and advocating for sustained public funding, this guide offers insight into the advantages and disadvantages inherent to a gamut of approaches.
Meetings of an ad hoc committee of independent publishers from Quebec and Canada, began quite organically at the New York Art Book Fair (2008-12);
Unpublished Minutes, Consultation on Art Books in Canada, Visual Arts Section, Canada Council for the Arts, June 2012.
Followed by these meetings organized by ARCA:
Art Publishing Forum, East of There, Saint John, New Brunswick, 23 June 2013;
TXT–Canadian Art Publishing Network Meeting, 7-8 November, 2014, Artexte, Montreal;
TXT–Canadian Art Publishing Network Meeting, 16-17 October, 2015, Or Gallery & VA/BF, Vancouver.
Meeting of Emerging and Developing Artist-Run Centres and Organizations, or, The No-Profit Model, The Pacific Association of Artist-Run Centres (PAARC), 29 March, 2014, Vancouver.∞
First brief on March 15, 2017. ∞
What Is a Public, What Is Publicity?—Tayler sets the tone for the Grey Guide in the first brief, offering a set of definitions to help artist-led publishers think about how the act of publication creates performative effects; that is, making books, blogs and other textual ephemera can create a sense of belonging among disparate readers, potentially bringing new modes of social relations into being. Because each publisher’s situation is unique—every organization is a distinct amalgam of institutional histories, mandate, governance, finances, stakeholders, and so on—no one model of publishing can be conceived, proposed, or promoted as a general “solution” for all organizations that participate in artist-run culture.
In Brief 1, Tayler also introduces a faceted taxonomy of book forms typically used in art publishing. The idea is to show how the aesthetic choice of form is critical to attracting a public and to facilitating circulation through atypical trade routes.When shown an earlier draft of this taxonomy of publishing forms and genres, artist Robin Metcalfe reflected upon the slipperiness of classification in a field that values hybrid publications that combine aspects of artists’ books and exhibition catalogues:
“The format for these is conceptually important, and directly involves the artist; these function only partly, if at all, as exhibition documentation in the usual sense, but might rather be considered a distinct publishing project that runs parallel to the exhibition. The emphasis may be on the aesthetic and material aspects (close to the artist’s bookwork end of the spectrum) or on discursive aspects (critical, historical, parallel creative texts, etc.), lying closer to the monograph.”
(R. Metcalfe, personal communication, 6 October, 2015)
The Grey Guide to Artist-Run Publishing and Circulation is produced by Artist-Run Centres and Collectives Conference(ARCA) in collaboration with le Regroupement des centres d’artistes autogérés du Québec (RCAAQ). Composed of a series of seven briefs written and developed by artist, critic, cultural worker and art librarian Felicity Tayler, this publication will first be launched through a bi-weekly e-campaign, from March 1st to June 7, 2017. The briefs and reference material will then be available for consultation on ARCA’s website, under the “Grey Guide” menu. A small run print version will be distributed for free to members attending the plenary assembly at the Flotilla National Conference on September 24, 2017, in Charlottetown.
Following a series of meetings of an ad hoc committee of independent publishers from Quebec and Canada, this guide seeks to trigger high-level debate about the role of publishing in artist-run culture. Combining theory with practice, the Grey Guide also offers practical guidance in this complex field, so that a new generation of artists and cultural workers who wish to professionalize may do so, while others may opt to remain resolutely DIY if they so please. Either way, somewhere on the continuum between adopting an entrepreneurial strategy and advocating for sustained public funding, this guide offers insight into the advantages and disadvantages inherent to a diversity of approaches.
ARCA wishes to thank all meeting participants, the staff at Artexte, Michael Maranda, Olivier Charbonneau, and François Dion for their astute feedback, as well as ARCA’s members for their confidence and ongoing support. This publication has also benefitted from the support of the RCAAQ via its program for promotion of publications as well as support for translation from Canadian Heritage.