I’ve created a new graduate studies elective called Experimental Publishing Studio at RISD, and it’s now underway with 12 students. And I decided to publish the syllabus on NewHive as a sort of manifesto. It’s my agenda for the studio but it’s also a way to start talking about the current state and future of digital publishing.
It’s nice to see the work that went into it getting some attention. Kenneth Goldsmith calls it essential and it’s the subject of an editorial by Michael Connor at Rhizome. He says it’s “required reading,” and that it offers a cogent way to think about digital publishing and the scriptural economy.
I’m thinking about how to get the students to collectively publish the output of the class so that it can be shared. Lots more to come.
When I launched Counterpractice in September, before I knew what it really was, I heard from people who said they were looking forward to seeing what would come out of it. I wondered, too. Even though I didn’t have any kind of plan, I knew that it was the right time to reboot and redefine my practice, after a few years of drifting from client work to residencies to teaching.
However vague, I had a few ideas. Counterpractice would need to embody a spirit of resistance, research and radical curiosity that I’d been building during the last few years. It would be home-grown, small and DIY. Less a service, client-based business and more “ideas laboratory.”
Tomorrow, the New Museum is hosting “demo day,” where 20 select members of NEW INC will present what they’ve been working on here. From what I can see, it’s a chance for the museum to showcase the program and the products that members are developing here.
I’m not presenting, and I have mixed feelings about this.
I’m focused on building my practice right now. Not by growing my client list or launching a product but by synthesizing what I do — what I previously thought of as side-projects or interests — into a single, articulated studio practice.
Much of this is “invisible” work. Defining how I work, balancing what I do and deciding which risks to take. This is a difficult agenda to quantify.
I don’t even see Printed Web as “product” but as an ongoing idea, with the magazine being just one way to articulate my thoughts around independent publishing, artistic practice and network culture. Teaching at RISD and events like Theorizing the Web and Interrupt (at Brown) are good venues for me to expose these ideas (I’m presenting at both)…but packaging them into a five-minute slide show to New Museum media and trustees feels “off.”
So I’m trying to shape (and sharpen) my overall practice and be selective about how and where to expose myself.
All of this has happened since I arrived at NEW INC just a few months ago, where the conditions have been ideal. A super-stimulating community and ample institutional support are excellent motivators; I had lacked both of these for a long while. Plus, a studio space like ours — open, shared and collaborative — means we’re constantly “working in public,” which can create a heightened sense of productivity.
Maybe these ingredients — community, institution and exposure — have given me a kind of permission, too. Sometime between September and now, it occurred to me that my studio is four connected parts. And for the first time, I’m giving equal weight to each:
4 Client work
Even though this looks like an obvious list, the first three components are totally new for me. They weren’t part of Soulellis Studio from 2001–10, or my career before. For twenty years, I had been solely focused on client work. So I look at this list and I see a new way of working.
What’s critical for me right now is being fully devoted to each of the four. And working hard to integrate them. My syllabus for Experimental Publishing Studio (a new graduate studies course I’m about to start teaching at RISD) contains readings and ideas that come straight out of my own research, which come out of (and fuel) my Printed Web projects. And I’m constantly looking for ways to bring this openness and these kinds of connections into the work I’m hired to do for clients.
So, this is Counterpractice right now.
Since I started Library of the Printed Web last year, and launched the first two issues of Printed Web this year, the project has gained a good amount of international attention from design students, artists, curators, critics, collectors, librarians and others interested in the so-called post-internet moment, appropriation, collecting, photography and technology. And from the talks, panel discussions and feedback that I’ve received, I’ve started to develop a more critical stance regarding the value of digital work in the context of the printed page.
Why is printing the web so compelling? How does it relate to larger conversations about materiality, circulation and the new ease of independent publishing?
When I first started to articulate my thoughts about this (Search, compile, publish), I focused on the more obvious aspects of web-to-print — like the tactility of the printed page (its thingness), speed of consumption and the basic techniques being used by artists working in this space, like hunting, grabbing, scraping and performing.
I always suspected I could go further, but that’s only come with a bit of time and a lot of dialogue. So I’ve written a text that tries to get at it — to position this moment in a more critical fashion, especially as it relates to independent publishing and the artist’s practice in a networked context.
I’m continuing to work on it, so it’s still a draft, but in the spirit of continuous, ongoing publishing (and working in public) — read the full text here.
ABCEUM will be featured at Offprint Paris this weekend. ABCEUM is a collaborative bookwork created by 16 of us at ABC [Artists' Books Cooperative]. I’ll be there with several members of ABC to represent the project, which was recently shown at the Brighton Photo Biennial.
Our own individual works will also be featured at the ABC table and I’ll have both issues of Printed Web available for purchase.
14–16 Nov 2014
Beaux-arts de Paris, l’école nationale supérieure
14 Rue Bonaparte 75006 Paris
And on Saturday at 2pm, I’ll moderate a discussion about printing the web with
Mathieu Cénac and David Desrimais [Jean Boîte Éditions]
Tarek Issaoui [Rrose Editions]
Yannick Bouillis [Offprint Projects]
I’ve moved into my new studio at NEW INC and Counterpractice is real. And it feels different. Overnight, how I work has changed. I’m in a huge studio space filled with creative people and we’re all stretching into new territory. Working here is public and social. The stimulation is infectious. I haven’t felt this motivated in a long while.
And just off of the quiet of Portlander, I’ve landed in a September frenzy. A good frenzy though. Printed Web No. 2 is about to launch and a nice series of talks and exhibitions is coming up. Here’s what’s happening:
- Tonight, It Narratives opens at Franklin Street Works in Stamford, CT. Curated by MoMA fellow Zanna Gilbert and Brian Droitcour, who asked me to present a selection of print-on-demand titles from Library of the Printed Web, including Printed Web #1. Also part of this show: David Horvitz’s call for mail art. I sent over a copy of Portlander from England last week, so I hope it’s there.
- I wrote an essay on the printed web for CODE X, a new book published by Bookroom Press in London (edited by Emmanuelle Waeckerle and Danny Aldred). The book launches at the London Art Book Fair at Whitechapel Gallery (September 26–28). Alessandro Ludovico, Emmanuelle Waeckerle, Delphine Bedel and Colin Sackett will talk about the project on September 27. Wish I could be there.
- I’m launching Printed Web No. 2 at Printed Matter’s NY Art Book Fair at MoMA PS1. There’s an artists’ talk on Sunday, September 28 at 1pm, part of “The Classroom” (organized by David Senior, MoMA Library). More about that soon.
- ABC [Artists’ Books Cooperative] is launching a major new project called ABCEUM. 20 print-on-demand publications by 16 of our artist members. Each book is a room in a museum; together, the collection is a museum exhibition in print. I’m participating with NEW MEDIA (420 Videos). ABCEUM launches at the NYABF, as an installation at the Brighton Photo Biennial in England (October 4–November 2) and at Offprint Paris (November 14–16).
- I’m speaking about my work at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston on October 8.
- The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has invited me to participate in the Hanes Visiting Artist Lecture Series as part of a panel discussion (with Larissa Leclair and Taj Forer) on photobooks and self-publishing on October 30.
- I’ll be at Offprint Paris with Printed Web No. 2 and ABCEUM (November 14–16).
- And finally, I’m offering an all-day Printed Web Workshop at The Type Directors Club on November 21.
And in a few days I go back to the Isle of Portland to present Portlander during the b-side arts festival (September 5–14).
We printed 3,000 copies with Newspaper Club and we’re distributing them at libraries and all of the festival venues. It’s 64 pages and contains countless photographs, artist submissions, text fragments, oral histories and links and connections to everyone I met on Portland in June.
I’m anxious. The last time I saw everyone there, the project was a mystery. It was still open, with all of the potential that anyone could imagine and hope for. Now, the attention will be directed away from me, away from them, onto the printed piece. I’ll be putting my work in their hands (an unplanned side-effect: Portlander is full of images of hands!). That materiality is powerful. We can all point to it and talk about it. It becomes the thing that’s seen, given, received, carried, admired, saved, remembered, forgotten, thrown away. It’s a container for emotion and thought and conversation.
So of course I worry about reactions and thoughts and conversations. How will it be received. A printed publication freezes time and space. There’s something inscrutable there in its ability to show us some things, to present subjective experience and culture, but to deny us others. There’s no way to really capture anything, and yet these projects attempt to do just that. The publication exists somewhere right there in the space between a yearning to understand and the disappointment of never getting there.
And that’s a lesson for me. I was aware of it from the moment I got to Portland. I’ve done a few of these projects. I try to get closer to a place by creating a thing that embodies personal experiences, relationships and community. I embed my self in another territory — in public — and to do it well, I have to sort of give up my own identity (I push it aside to absorb the lives of others). It’s exhausting work, but it works for me. Built into each of these projects is my leaving. I always leave.
But does it work for anyone else? Is it worth the effort to share? This is what I’ll be asking myself in England.
I’m giving a talk on Portland tomorrow, after more than three weeks here and just a few days before I leave. I’ve been doing everything I can to meet people, chat, photograph, gather and assemble some kind of collection of materials for the forthcoming publication, so this is a good moment to take a look at what’s happened here. And to begin some preliminary thinking about what it all means within a larger practice.
Soon after I arrived, someone advised me to say that we’re “on,” not “in,” Portland. There’s no town of Portland. It’s referred to as an island, even though it isn’t. Portland is a peninsula—Latin for almost-island—although there’s nothing “almost” about this place. It’s a solid block of limestone in the sea and it’s got a hard edge. It’s connected to the mainland (sometimes referred to locally as England) via Chesil Beach, as well as by a causeway, although that’s relatively modern. For most of its history, Portland’s only physical link to the outside world was a massive, ancient, 19-mile long pile of pebbles. Its border, crossing the beach and separating it from Weymouth, is only a few meters long.
Its hard edge is made up of cliffs and coastline—and a guarded demeanor. You can see the island-like outline on a map, but its real shape comes across less visibly in conversation.
Most of my chats with people here begin with my asking how long they’ve been on Portland. The response, anywhere from entire lifetimes to a few months or years, tends to set the tone of the conversation to follow, or can even shut it down. A few days in, I approached a woman who said she’d been on Portland for only 42 years, and therefore was not a real Portlander. And so, she could not participate in a project about Portlanders, she said, because she wasn’t qualified. I thought she was joking. She wasn’t.
And so I heard about the family names that have been here for over 500 years, and met some of them. People learn that I’m doing a project about the place and talk to me about generations of Portlanders, proudly showing me family trees and old photos. I’m intrigued by these documents and momentos and I’ve been photographing them, because they act as a sort of evidence of something. Proof of identity. They say “oh, you must try to find so-and-so, they really know this place. They’ve got stories.” I’ve heard about fathers and fathers’ fathers who worked in the quarries, almost as though the family histories come right out of the stone. Pride is careful here. Defensive, even. One can be proud of this place, but only if you are really of the place.
Portland has a funny way of working with language to support these stories. They’ve created a slang word for those not considered real Portlanders: kimberlin. It’s not an obscure term. It’s written into the poetry and you hear it in local conversation. There’s a Kimberlin Club. And a “stranger’s cemetery.”
And they’ve removed language, too. Saying the word “rabbit” is considered bad luck on the Isle of Portland, so it’s not allowed (it has something to do with seeing a rabbit rush out of the quarries, taken as a sign of imminent collapse). They’ve simply removed the word from the English language. Hare or bunny is fine, and keeping rabbits as pets is okay too—but the word “rabbit” is banned. It cannot be said, written, heard or read. The irony, of course, is that by removing language the concept is strengthened (called the Streisand effect, elsewhere). It’s one of the most powerful stories of the island and it’s continually reinforced, particularly by the elderly, who knock on wood if they hear it on television.
I guess one way to really be of the place is to know the community’s bounds—its rules and limits—and to pass that knowledge on to future generations. Even when the telling of it is the only reason for a tale’s existence (and this is certainly one aspect of culture, no?).
That original border with the mainland is marked on Chesil Beach by the Portland Bound Stone, and every seven years the community “beats the bounds” by taking two school-children and beating them with a stick while they lay across the stone, with prominent members of the community watching. It’s an ancient custom from a time before maps, when the town would walk the parish boundary and literally beat the line into its collective memory. It’s a ritual to define a territory by physically (and emotionally) inscribing it into the mind. On Portland, the beating of the bounds has been officiated for centuries by the manorial court leet, a small group of men who “exercise frankpledge” and collect rent on behalf of the crown (recording payment by inscribing marks onto long, wooden reeve staffs). The court leet represents the island’s oldest families and watches over Portland’s ways, writing its history and keeping its identity. It’s a tight system and it defines the heritage of this place. While mostly symbolic at this point, it hasn’t gone away.
Again and again I’ve been directed to those people and places on Portland where I would have access to these easy narratives—who’s been around, who’s got stories from the old days. Who’s real. I’ve explored many of them.
But on my own, I’ve discovered others who are willing to talk or contribute, regardless of lineage. Recently, a couple excitedly approached me to contribute to the project. “We’re moving to Portland in August,” they said. They’re Portland’s newest and proud of it, even though they aren’t here yet. And I’ve received a submission from one of Portland’s witches (of the local pagan group Dolmen Grove), and from a 13-year-old self-published novelist. And the 30-year-old personal, intimate diary of a long-time resident.
I met a Filipino mom and her young son at a pre-school group. Her husband is Cypriot and they moved here from Cyprus three-and-a-half months ago. How does their story connect—or not—to the place? Are they Portlanders? Portland isn’t a diverse place. Almost everyone is white.
Who is a real Portlander? I’ve asked again and again and never received the same answer.
What about Shahib, who lives in Weymouth but has nurtured his business on Portland—an Indian restaurant—for ten years? I’d like to say that to me, he’s a real Portlander.
Most of the people I’ve met here were not born from stone; they came here because they wanted to. They’ve generously offered me their stories, or some particular view of the place, as outsiders who came and stayed.
And after a month of meeting and talking with the people who live and work on Portland, I can say with total confidence that every one of them is a real Portlander.
If I can offer anything at all to the community, it’s an inclusive view from the outside. Perhaps it’s a kind of challenge, a call to the community to look within its bounds and find itself on the pages of a simple artist’s publication—not as a tight narrative, but as a loose, flowing collection of voices. Changing over time. Isn’t everyone here a Portlander? That’s what I can offer.
And so I’m going to use language too. I’m changing the name of this project to “Portlander.” I won’t try to define who or what that is. I’ll simply include everyone and everything that I’ve encountered, and put a powerful word on it. “Portlander” is more of a question than a statement. Who makes a place?
I’m happy to announce that I’m moving my studio to the Bowery this summer. As of August 1, Counterpractice will be open for business within NEW Inc., the New Museum‘s art/design/tech incubator. This is the first of its kind: the museum is setting up a non-profit, collaborative work space at 231 Bowery, next door to the museum. They’ve hired SO-IL/Gensler to build it out with desk space, work shops, class rooms and a kitchen. We got a walk-through a few weeks ago and it’s beautiful; Rhizome and Studio X are our studiomates. The mission is impressive—develop a place where artists, designers and entrepreneurs can experiment, influence each other and benefit from in-person, cross-studio stimulation. A brave move by an arts institution to create a new kind of ecosystem.
After I gave the Resistance talk at Build I struggled with next steps. I kept making and teaching but none of it was sustainable and I didn’t know what to do. It took a good six months to understand that I should use that talk as the basis for a new kind of studio—one that’s wide enough to include projects like Printed Web and Portland Bill but selective enough to take on meaningful client work at the same time. So, Counterpractice was born. And it needs to live in a collaborative place.
I don’t have an elaborate description or a Counterpractice manifesto. Simply, Counterpractice questions the red-hot center, and looks for magic in the margins. The studio favors longevity over right now, thingness over ephemerality and agility over perfection. Above all, radical curiosity drives the work. That’s it. The rest will come as I do more work.
I didn’t mention stretching, but opening up to uncertainty is a big part of this (or rather, allowed this to happen). So, I built Counterpractice.com by hand. For anyone familiar with front-end web development, this is almost laughable—it’s a dumb one-pager of minimal text and images. For me, it was a big deal. During the last couple of weeks I used Codecademy to teach myself HTML and CSS and I made it work (Krate stepped in to clean up the code, thankfully). It was the first time that I didn’t hire someone else to build a site for me, and it’s my first Counterpractice project (similarly, an early version of Soulellis.com was the first project I did as Soulellis Studio, back in 2001—using Dreamweaver! it was also the last site that I ever built myself). Counterpractice.com is pretty bare bones: images are hosted in an Amazon S3 bucket and the site sits within my Dropbox account. Still, it’s a start.
A free, public publication.
Artist Paul Soulellis will be in residence at Portland Tophill Library for the month of June to produce Portland Bill, a print-on-demand, community newsprint publication. Paul will gather material from Portland communities and design a multi-layered, diverse expression of local life and history. Portland Bill is a participatory publication—all material included will be contributed from residents of Portland and freely distributed back to our communities in September 2014.
Creative writing, essays, folklore, photography, drawings, maps, digital art, found material, poetry and recipes are all welcomed, but anything may be contributed to Portland Bill. Every effort will be made to include all submissions. Any resident of Portland may contribute—regardless of age, education or artistic experience.
Your contribution may be submitted in a few different ways —
— by sending digital material directly to firstname.lastname@example.org;
— by attending one of the artist’s meet-ups during the month of June;
— by leaving your submission at Tophill Public Library;
— by leaving your submission in one of the local Portland Bill dropboxes.
Submissions are due by 27 June.
Please consider lending words, pictures, memories and impressions to create a diverse, community-based publication. Each voice included will deepen Portland Bill’s personality and add to this unique portrait of Portland.
Portland Bill will be freely distributed during the b-side multi media arts festival in September 2014.
A few years ago I did the Weymouths project and spent some time in an incredible place on the southwest coast of England. I just went back and looked at the photos and this is one that stands out for me. We took a sunset walk on this seaside path on the Isle of Portland, just off the coast from Weymouth, and I remember thinking: this is one of the most beautiful evenings of my life. A perfect combination of people and place and light that marked the conclusion of weeks of work (months, really). I took a photo because I actually wanted to capture something, not simply consume the scene and be done with it. I wanted to save it and store it away as insurance against the fear that soon enough I would forget it. And that if I didn’t forget it, maybe I would see these new friends and this place again someday. That’s what I see when I look at this photo that I took on August 8, 2012.
And so, I return. For the entire month of June I’ll be in England to create a new publication for the residents of the Isle of Portland. I’ll be based at the public library as an artist-in-residence. The project is a commission for the b-side arts festival and Dorset County Council, funded by Arts Council England.
My proposal: a publication (probably a 64-page newspaper) called Portland Bill (after the lighthouse situated dramatically at the southern tip of the island, surrounded by the roughest of seas), containing content from the people who live on Portland. I’ll collect and assemble their material with little or no editing, and the entire thing will be printed in August (with Newspaper Club) and distributed on Portland during b-side’s arts festival in September.