01 Jul 2019 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)


These posts are a meditation on process—in fragments, chunks—accumulating the way that ideas do in the studio. Disjointed, awkward, inarticulate, sprawling and retracing. I think that I have to have an idea at least three times before it sticks. I have probably written some of these things before. I am hoping that this is useful as an articulation of the frames in which ideas develop, ranging from practical/structural concerns about process and form, to conjecture about ideas and how they happen. Again and again I return to the question: what am I—what are we—actually doing in the studio?


I am basing the form of these posts on the work of Nancy Spero. The Siglio Press version of her 125’ drawing/scroll, Torture of Women, helped me to realize that Spero’s multi-panel, text-image wall pieces can be seen as books. Beyond that, they provide a possible model of freedom for the artist that makes books—the freedom to edit, rearrange, erase, repeat, remove whole sections, etc. The freedom to not commit until the piece is finished. This is also the freedom of the writer, of the filmmaker. So here I am, writing in chunks, arranging and rearranging. Decomposing and recomposing. Dreaming about books that do the same. The central question: is there a way to make an artist’s book, one that I am actually printing, that stays open and flexible, that is in flux until it’s finished? And maybe longer? And does that provide something better/different than a book that is composed the same way, but is made with a single original and then reproduced later?


I can’t be quite sure when it began, but for maybe 6 years now I’ve been consciously approaching printing in way that is open-ended. That is, I am not executing a design that I’ve already finished (which is how I was taught, and how I approached printing for the first 13 or so years), but setting up a series of possibilities with only a vaguely defined end goal. Just a vision, perhaps. And the challenge is to get to that vision, while the process fights, complicates, alters, improves, and/or ruins it. This generally includes lots of press runs, a willingness to test the limits of legibility, and a willingness to fail and start over. And failures do happen, though my solution is usually just to keep printing.


I can’t resist the pun of the idea that a book that is first designed, then dutifully executed, is meant for the library-as-graveyard, for the reader-as-solemn-mourner. We should be building/producing/creating/synthesizing/elaborating/constructing/birthing/growing/vomiting/singing/etc. our books, not executing them.


I often have doubts.


I am calling the book that isn’t finished until it’s finished “the emergent book.”


The emergent book would not be resolved in a mock-up. The emergent book would be written and printed simultaneously. The emergent book would show its edits, its seams. The emergent book would arrive at the moment of assembly, or at the moment of reading. The emergent book would be editioned, but that edition would most likely be highly variable. The making of the emergent book would be closer to writing, or shooting and editing a film. The emergent book would risk failure all the way to the end. The emergent book would avert failure by not stopping—more press runs, more pages, more layers, a new sequence, pages split and glued together, painted out or stripped away and reprinted, reprinted, reprinted.


I often have doubts.


As of this posting, seven other sections of this text were drafted but were removed—possibly to be used later, possibly to be deleted. The sections that are included were not written in the sequence that they appear. This is obviously pretty normal for writing. Which is exactly the freedom that I want.


In a conversation with Amos Kennedy in January of 2019, when we were talking about this approach to bookmaking, he told me that what I am talking about is essentially the way that Walter Hamady makes his “Gabberjab” series. Hamady writes and prints them signature by signature, building them slowly, always willing to “go back” and add or change things. There must be other artists that work this way. Karen Kunc? Amos certainly approaches his prints this way, and the zine that he recently made at The Press at Colorado College was highly improvisational. Ken Campbell? Henrik Drescher and Wu Wing Yee? Others? I am sure that I am late to the party, and I am curious to hear from more people about how they approach these things.

Aaron Cohick is the Printer of The Press at Colorado College and the proprietor of the NewLights Press. He lives and works in Colorado Springs, CO.


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