This interview was conducted for the Wells College Book Arts Center and String Room Gallery in support of Marianne Dages‘ exhibition, Objects of Unknown Use. The interview was released as No.2 in the In/Conversation: On-Language series from Oxblood Publishing, an independent publishing project founded by H.R. Buechler, the 2016-2018 Victor Hammer Fellow.
Wells College is uniquely situated within the greater scope of early women’s rights history. Regionally, the college is in close proximity to Seneca Falls, NY, site to multiple critical events in the US Suffragette Movement (in particular, the first National Women’s Rights Convention held in 1848 as the Seneca Falls Convention). Culturally, the college is of significance as originally being established as an all-women’s college by Henry Wells. The latter fact of significance because despite going co-ed in 2005, the Wells College population remains predominantly female.
Our students are no strangers to the current political climate. As such, it came as no surprise when one of our work aides at the Center, Alissa Bell (junior, Art History major), announced a few days prior to International Women’s Day that she intended to participate in the Women’s March initiated A Day Without Women, and not work her regularly scheduled hours. She also inquired as to whether or not I would be, and that our other work aide may also not be present.
The announcement, made in subtle passing, gave me pause.
As both faculty and studio manager to a small and intimate student-body, I make it a primary goal that all of my students think critically about every action within a greater social, political, cultural, and historic context. In response, I drafted an email stating my awareness of ADWW, expressing my concerns with what was at the heart of their decision to participate, as well as articulating my personal history, conflicts, and why I would be working. The email closed with a request :
…if you do decide to not work, to participate, I beg of you to think critically about what your actions mean, beyond just not working (…) to situate your position within a larger body politic. (…) to think about the visibility and inclusivity of this movement compared to other movements overall. I ask that when you do come to work, or see me later, to be prepared to have a discussion with me (…).
Additionally, as a print studio, you have the option to print materials expressing your political statement during work hours—something (the Center) would support and encourage.
The email resonated with Alissa, who decided to participate and generate a printed piece in response.
Alissa says of her decision:
Originally I had intended to participate in A Day Without Women knowing that it was flawed, hoping it would send a message to the college, hoping that it would help highlight how many women really don’t have the same privileges as I do.
However, it ended up meaning more to her, after unexpectedly having to grapple with this amidst the complexities of a rather difficult situation involving a friend and member of her cohort just days preceding. This situation placed a great deal of additional emotional strain and stress on Alissa (who I will say is a very kind, generous, and empathetic person). After a series of discussions with fellow cohort about her decision participate in ADWW, in conjunction with what she was grappling with on a deeply personal level, she arrived at the following conclusion:
Sometimes the most important, radical, and productive thing that we as activists can do is take a break and take care of ourselves so that we can continue to work and not run ourselves down to the point where we are no longer effective. Self care can indeed be a part of warfare and on Wednesday that’s what I needed.
Alissa later wrote, citing articles from the Feminist Killjoys blog and BitchMedia, as sources for her broadside text, which is a summarization of an Audre Lorde quote, who in her Cancer Journals said:
Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.
Alissa’s broadside is simple and elegant, but pointed—true to Alissa’s personal print aesthetic.
Utility also being at the crux of all printed action, Alissa was tasked to print enough to distribute throughout campus. An edition of 40, she distributed many to personal friends, but also has left some with the student mental health trial club, HOPE; the WRC,“which is, in fact, not the Women’s Resource Center but the Wonderful Resource Center because they were told it felt alienating [as being] just for women”; and has tacked them up around campus.
While a small campus, the statement resonates with a large part of the student body, but also resonates with all of us during these times of great unrest.
Thank you, Alissa, for reminding us of that.
On a wet, wintry February day, students from our advanced level book arts course, The Printed Book, made the trek out to visit the Cary Graphic Arts Collection in the Wallace Center at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). As “a library and archive of books, type specimens, manuscripts, documents, and artifacts related to the history of graphical communication (wiki)” this trip was of particular significance for students in this course, which explores the printed book, with an emphasis on the critical action of publication—from fine press to artists’ book to democratic multiple—within the scope of contemporary and historic publishing practices. Basically, anything you could think of wanting to pull for context in the realm of artistic [publishing] and [book] production was at the ready and in mass.
Books, as objects that are and occupy physical space, require interaction in order to understand them. The action of interaction is imperative to its reception, whether it be a journal, a chapbook, or an artists’ book (a term which encapsulates, in some cases, the aforementioned, but expands all the way to and beyond the Fluxus box—one could go down the rabbit hole and talk about digital space, but will digress). However, more often than not, students must often view selections of works that have been photographed, then projected onto a screen, or printed up in a handout, or—worse yet—merely engage with a citation and description. This is not exclusive to books, but all printed matter. This creates an interaction several times removed (amputated, in the case of the latter), void of the crucial action of interaction with the book as space, ultimately resulting in a less successful “read” of the ideas and materials they are expected to be understanding and working with.
As such, in every course at the book arts center, the viewing and handling of actual materials has been imperative before embarking on a new project. This class visit to the Cary Graphic Arts Collection preceded work on their second project: a collaborative artists’ book, wherein students would generate content, design, and produce a letterpress-printed book utilizing expressive typographic methods.
Due to the broad scope of publication methodologies covered throughout the course, the specimens pulled for students ranged from work demonstrative of not only expressive typographic and collaborative productions that spoke to the work they’d be creating, but also to alternative poetic/artistic publications utilizing various production methods. In addition to providing the collection with a list prior to visiting, both Amelia Hugill-Fontanel (Associate Curator, Cary Graphic Arts Collection) and Kari Horowicz (Librarian for the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences) added their own additions—giving the students a dense, rich, and exciting experience over the course of two hours.
Works ranged from: a facsimile of Dada Zeitschriften; multiple works from Imma Gerlovina and Valeriy Gerlovin’s Collective Farm project; George Brecht’s Water-Yam; a facsimile, translation, and original copy of Vladimir Mayakovsky and El Lissitzky’s For the Voice; Fortunato Depero’s Depero Futurista;—to—Barbara Kruger’s No Pleasure in Progress; Dieter Roth’s Picadilly Postcards; Margaret Kaufman and Claire Van Vliet’s Aunt Sallie’s Lament—to—Bern Porter’s The Manhattan Telephone Book, and multiple works from Wedge Press and Assembling.
(One funny aside was the copy of Ed Ruscha’s Twenty-Six Gasoline Stations, which had actually been in general circulation at the library, and rebound for durability over the years. It’s safe to say Ruscha probably would not have been unhappy with this (what now would be considered) clerical error of putting a work of “art” into mass circulation, and subsequently giving it greater accessibility for a period of time.)
It is without question that the resultant collaborative book this class produced (The Grid. Walked.) was more successful having subsidized their readings with this materially informed visit.