ON THE THRESHOLD: ENTERTAINING SPECIFICITY (PART 2) // H.R. Buechler

15 Feb 2019 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

Before the end of my last post, I brought up the example of an artistic (or say: creative) versus scholarly (or say: intellectual) approach to knowing and thinking through a concept. This is because I believe there is an inherent tension between these two approaches. A long time cheerleader for the research-based practice, I have always argued neither approach should be valued more than the other; that both provide the reader, viewer, et cetera, a specific pathway to knowledge. However, as I also mentioned in the last post, there are certain instances or contexts where one’s use may be more appropriate, or better serve a certain purpose. [1] 

Context can be understood as conceptually related to frame, or the process of framing. [2] In making such an association, context understood as synonymous to frame may (at least semantically) allude to a structure. Though, as relative terms, I think this requires some tweaking. Rather than align context directly with structure, I would say: the integrity (structural; framework) of a given concept varies depending on the particular context (frame) in which it is encountered. 

The reason I make this point is because I associate structural integrity with the previous quality of concreteness as one of foundation. The context dictates the stability of a particular concept’s foundation. This noted, I will situate context as separate from the other qualities in the list I made in Part 1. What is the context then? Or, what is/are the frame/s I am evaluating? 

Book and publication are two frameworks, whose frames overlap. This implies a non-mutual exclusivity, and a bit of entanglement. While they do share something, there is also all of that which they do not share. It is not that a book is a type of publication, because it is published. It is a type of publication when it is published. Simply put: not all publications are books, and not all books are publications. Of course, the question is then: why does this matter? 

I’ll return to the personal baggage I bring to the table. As of late, I have found myself growing more and more fickle with the increasingly flimsy framework of “publishing” or the “publication” as/in artistic practice. This fickleness is located within myself, and my work, which evokes this nomenclature. It has occurred to me that “publishing as artistic practice,” [3] at least stateside, as a conceptual framework, feels to have been haphazardly slapped onto the already shaky framework of book in an effort to theoretically expand the book. Yet, in this way, it’s a retrofit—and if the previous statement is taken as a given, the framework of book falls within publication and not the other way around. [4]

This retrofit is well-intentioned (from the outset it appears laden with the potential to help define a new contemporary field!), but it has been launched out of a thing of which it already was a part, and to be more of a “catch-all” for whatever else is out there that we want to account for—or bring in to our field. Poetically, the book is increasingly unstable (nod to Aaron Cohick here), but at the end of the day, when it comes down to types, the book and a long list of other material publications (see screenshots taken from Wikipedia below for quick reference) are what they are. What is the context for publishing, for the publication, in/as artists’ books? My belief is that by bracketing things and activities that may best be understood strictly as publication arts under book arts is a considerable misstep. 

Is there a point when we have taken too much “poetic license”— when the affective elasticity stretches to a point of simply snapping? I would argue, yes. And especially yes if that which it has stretched to, it is actually a part of? Is it really that horrible to say, this is something else and should be stated as such?  

While art may be considered most powerful because or when it challenges established and preconceived notions, ideas, values, etc., within the context of “art practices” and writing about “art practices” the artist’s book, and now publication (which, is not a new phenomena at all!), may be looking like the end of a well-played game of Jenga. The fact is that our understanding of book arts is ultimately tethered to our understanding of the the book. This, however, cannot be applied to the publication. (See Fig. 1 below.) 

 Fig.1: elaborating on significance of types as formats within the process of contextualization

It is a matter of destabilizing the structural integrity of the object as a concept through non-specificity (or elasticity); frame within a frame ad infinitum. We understand the history of the book, but do we fully grasp the multi-nuanced complexity of the history of the/a publication(s) in such a way to bend it? Especially if we consider the implications of my referring to a pluralized thing—“a/the publication(s)”—it alludes and points to multiple formats, or sub-types, and a multiplicity of histories. (See reference again Fig. 1, and see Fig. 2 below.) 


 Fig. 2: screenshots from Wikipedia for examples of specific types of publication

This does not discount that some publishable formats are also, of course, direct descendants of the book, or that they too were designed to perform similar tasks and share similar qualities. But the fact is they are different, and have a specific history and materiality that should be accounted for as they become mobilized within our curricula and our practices. To distinguish between doesn’t hurt book arts, but may actually allow a/the publication(s) to offer what it has promised—perhaps even more—and actually provide the book with more robustness afforded by a critical untangling.   

I will continue this discussion in my September blog post.

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Notes:

[1] Appropriateness should be understood as “more suitable to the given circumstances” and does not necessarily indicate a higher value.  

[2] This is specifically in reference to: Erving Goffman, Frame Analysis (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1986). Frame analysis or frame theory is a social theory research method much utilized by communication studies. It is particularly apt to consider here, given the media involved in publication share the common purpose of communicating, and are inherently social. Further, if one of the draws of publication as an artistic framework is its quality of social performativity and engagement, it would be useful to use in more critical application. Here it is in reference, but as a more complex method, is not implemented; ‘context’ and ‘frame’ will suffice.  

[3] See: Annette Gilbert and Hannes Bajohr, Publishing as Artistic Practice (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2016).

[4] An example of this retrofit can be found in comparing the Clive Phillpot’s Artists Books Diagram to its 2013 revision by Kochi Kione (HalfLetterpress).   


H.R. Buechler is an interdisciplinary artist, researcher, and founder of OXBLOOD publishing. Her work is broadly concerned with historic and contemporary communication technology, classification, and the valorization of aesthetic objects. 



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