Showing up, being present.
Offprint Paris in the glass court at l’Ecole des Beaux Arts
Jonathan Lewis, Wil van Iersel, Andreas Schmidt and Elisabeth Tonnard of ABC.
I’m back from Paris. A week to meet with my artists’ cooperative, present new work at Offprint Paris and remember how much I love this city.
My second art book fair, and I certainly felt anxious. It’s a set-up for vulnerability: bring your work and display it on a table in a grand space for some of the photobook world’s most prominent personalities to take a look. Curators, critics, photographers, artists, editors—as well as my own peers—are there to judge, buy, make deals and get a sense of what’s happening right now. It can be a supportive environment, too—there were encouraging words and beautiful chance encounters (with Richard Kostelanetz, particularly). It’s a humbling experience. I’m not used to this kind of public display. And as a way of measuring success, selling “stuff” makes me tremendously uncomfortable.
I found myself asking the same questions each day, and they linger with me here in NYC. Why am I here? Is this the right audience for my work? Am I any good at this?
Uncertainty and doubt. Unfamiliar territory. I’m playing out many of the ideas that I wrote about in Design Humility, for The Manual.
I love the work that I’ve generated during the last 18 months. I’m more proud of these books than anything I’ve ever produced for a paying client. That audience question is central to my anxiety, though: who appreciates this work? If Weymouths was a performative work and the audience brought it to life—on-site, in real time—then how do I keep the spirit of that project alive now that the performance is over?
With all of the freedom that comes along with self-publishing, there is also the burden (I would say pleasure, too) of building one’s own audience. And I’ve discovered after two events like this one that the art book fair is the wrong venue for a work like Weymouths. Publishers aren’t interested and no one has the patience to do it justice. It simply doesn’t translate.
Rob Giampietro recently wrote about unbuilding (or incompleteness) as a strategy in art and design. In a way, since I began building my own artist’s practice, I feel like I’ve been unlearning my design career. Many things that I used to measure success in design are less valid now, or have shifted into another direction, like the idea of gaining bigger budgets and better clients, which has been replaced by self-publishing’s economy of means and the value of small, meaningful encounters.
All I can come up with now is my own sense that showing up and participating in the culture of the book is a good tactic for moving forward. A year ago at the NY Art Book Fair I carried around my John Cage book, overwhelmed, showing it to anyone who would take a look. I thought—I could belong to this community, and I vowed to myself that I would somehow participate in next year’s fair. I’m very lucky to have found the tremendous support of new friends who’ve enabled that to happen.
I need to do more of this, and learn.