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.
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.
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.
I just applied to the New Museum‘s NEW INC program, “a shared workspace and professional development program designed to support creative practitioners working in the areas of art, technology, and design.” I’m planning to reboot my design studio in the coming months, and while I think this would be an incredible platform for a new kind of “counterstudio,” if this doesn’t happen, something else will. Currently looking for new ideas, opportunities and scenarios.
NEW INC asked five questions as part of the application. Here are all of my responses, merged into one essay.
Raw notes from tonight’s talk at the New Museum, Stories from the New Aesthetic.
Aaron Straup Cope
The luxury of association
Elevator songs / whale songs / we assign value without meaning
The objects are recording stories
People are building stories around the things we collect
How we’re teaching things to see in the world and what’s bouncing back — patterns, bursting through
Crazy-talk narratives that can be shaped from those patterns
Automating the pattern matching
The inevitability of self self driving cars
Algorithms are emerging that people don’t know what to do with
Worrying that we’re building a future without narrative
Filters are the difference between flickr and Instagram / the past is just a medium, a screen to help make sense of the present
Massive feedback loop of the mirrored schroedinger’s box
The Internet isn’t a mirror it’s full of lies and stories and fictions
The map weirdness / not errors but what you see through the looking glass
How machines tell stories to us
The act of reflection / people not recognizing themselves in daguerreotypes
Dora Moutot / webcam tears
Tears are the new pornography
Google street view going inside franks LA
Trap streets / streets that don’t exist
Demarerializarion of the book / we had no way to express our fear, so we obsessively focused on the physicality
The real worries are around the ownership and understanding
Amazon warehouse — a space that is augmented by algorithm / co-space / humans & software processing, architecture a function of the software
Nostalgia / a deliberate act of committing the image to memory / engraining photographs with grain, giving them weight, then sharing, sharing is a form of memory, giving if weight, like putting them in a box
The city & the city / unseeing, moments of breach, and yet we choose to layer images all the time
Intense cognitive dissonance apple maps
Trying to find ourselves in the satellite image
Mishka Henner / Dutch landscapes
Data centers are the new civic architecture (post, admin)
Stuartgeiger.com bots on wiki / automated agents
Co-creating the system with us: our machines
Drone project / shadows of real technology that acts from a distance
The velocity of the material / jenniferbrook / book vs app
Opinions are noncontemporary
Tarot cards / incredible machine and storage device for storytelling
The network is like that
William Gibson / notional space, cyberspace
Living inside the machine, inside the network