Gee Wesley, Ulises Books, Philadelphia
Kimi Hanauer & Bomin Jeon, Press Press, Baltimore
Rachel Valinsky, Wendy’s Subway, Brooklyn
Devin N. Morris, 3 Dot Zine and Brown Paper Fair, Brooklyn
David Richardson, Dispersed Holdings, Manhattan
Sarah Hamerman, Artist Book Cataloger, MoMA Library
(below is the audio as well as the full transcript of the panel that took place on June, 4)
The Artist-Run Reading Spaces panel at the 2017 BABZ Fair brought together the founders of artist-run bookstores, libraries, and reading rooms. Ideas of community, access, and “making public” are central to both libraries and experimental publishing practices. The artist-run reading spaces that gathered in conversation, while operating in distinct contexts in New York, Baltimore, and Philadelphia, each offer alternative ways of actualizing these ideas outside of institutional paradigms. More than distribution points for texts, artist-run reading spaces function as social spaces of reading.
The idea to organize this discussion came out of my research on Other Books and So, a bookstore and exhibition space dedicated to artists’ publications run by Ulises Carrión in Amsterdam in the late 1970s. Other Books and So was one of many artist-run spaces during that period that highlighted books, publishing, and reading as means of constructing a broader, self-determined artistic public. The presenters here highlight some of the ways that this conversation about artist-run reading spaces has evolved or been reimagined in the present context.
Drawing on concrete poetry, mail art, and visual artists’ publishing activities, Other Books & So served as a key point of interchange between Latin American and European artistic communities. Carrión was one of several Latin American artists who settled in Amsterdam in the 1970s and worked in media such as performance, video, and publishing, but were not represented in ‘mainstream’ exhibition spaces for contemporary art. Its “public” was distributed around the world, but it was also a physical space where friends could gather around books. While there is necessarily a commercial aspect to an artist-run bookstore, Other Books and So was less a self-consciously entrepreneurial endeavor than another kind of space, somewhere between information center, bookshop and gallery. Carrión viewed Other Books and So as an artwork in itself, asking “Where does the border lie between an artist’s work and the actual organization and distribution of the work?”
Spaces such as Ulises, Press Press, Wendy’s Subway, Brown Paper Fair, and Dispersed Holdings extend this conversation in various ways, highlighting how communities can emerge through practices of reading and publishing. They might take shape as a library or a bookstore, as a book fair or a reading room. They might make space for communities who are marginalized from conventional cultural institutions, or they might emerge to broaden existing networks of artistic friendships. While they are indeed public spaces, notions of intimacy, hospitality, and hosting are also at the core of these projects. My hope is that organizing this discussion — and documenting it here on the BABZ blog — will encourage further collaboration and exchange between these spaces and projects like them around the globe.
Gee Wesley – Ulises
My name is Gee. I’m an arts organizer and arts administrator, and I’m from Ulises, a bookstore and curatorial platform based in Philadelphia. Ulises is informed by the legacy left by Ulises Carrión and Other Books and So as a paradigmatic example of an artist-run bookshop. The impulse to start Ulises came out of a pragmatic consideration. Until last year, there wasn’t really a space for access to independent art publications and artists’ books in Philadelphia, not only for a larger set of publishers that had relevance to contemporary art and visual culture and literary studies, but also a lot of the work that was being made in Philadelphia by artists there. Our hope was both to present publications that were coming out from other places, but also be a place to anchor all of the publications that were being made by Philadelphia artists.
Ulises takes as its starting point this long history of thinking about the relationships between publics and publications. For me, coming from [working in] an arts institution, a museum, when we think in terms of publics, we think of the viewing public the public that walks through the door. Historically there is a convention of the exhibition being the [primary] way of presenting art to publics, and there’s a kind of triangulation through which curatorial practices deliver to publics through institutions. That’s through exhibitions, public programming and through publications, and there’s a very clear hierarchy that we’re all familiar with there. The exhibition comes out, and people create a catalog that comes out of that, and there are exhibition-related public programs. We were really interested in this history of what happens when folks have looked at curatorial practice or artistic practice, and kind of pivot that triangle. Ulises aims to re-center publications as the point of entry, and see what happens when publications and public programming come out of that triangulation, or if you collapse that hierarchy altogether. Thinking through that, Ulises takes the quarterly structure of the periodical. Each season we devote to exploring a particular theme. We invite three or four contributors to respond to that theme, and that’s the way that our activities are predominantly organized. There are also autonomous book launches and things that fall outside the parameters of the theme, but that’s kind of the conceptual origin. This was Kayla [Romberger]’s conception, to be a magazine you have to have four issues a year or something like that. We would be this living magazine, thinking about the idea of this expanded field of publishing that so many people have taken up, whether it’s Aspen, for example, to think about creating these other platforms.
The first season was on the theme of voice. It was called Active Voice and we invited Steffani Jemison to contribute a work of hers called Same Time that was a re-performance of a speech by Huey P. Newton from Boston College. That was permanently on rotation. It’s a two hour long audio piece. And then we invited Hannah Black to have some videos of hers on permanent rotation. And we invited a curator named Mark Beasley to contribute a series of books in response to the theme of voice. It was also important for us to think about activating those contributions in some way. Steffani was able to come down for a listening session in which she went through some audio works that she hadn’t listened to for the last seven or eight years, and really unpack her practice and talk a little bit about the conceptual underpinnings. We had this event Screen Time with Hannah Black where she Skyped in from New York to do some readings of some work of hers.
In association with the reading list that we do every single quarter, we also had this series called Dear Reader, informed by this iconic work by Ulises Carrión, Dear Reader, Don’t Read. We focused on a particular book from the reading list and invited — usually it was a scholar but we also invited artists to respond to that discussion.
Our next season, the current one we’re in, is on intimacy. The contributors for that season were Sharon Hayes, who contributed a letterpress series that she had created; Badlands Unlimited, who organized some reading events with folks from their New Lovers series of erotica by artists; and Lauren Berlant, who contributed a number of selections on the theme of intimacy. There was also a design fiction workshop with this group called Love Optimized, where people were invited to create these conceptual, sort of like, love implements. And then, there was a screening event of this kind of like feminist masterwork called The Politics of Intimacy. And then that’s Nato Thompson, Philadelphia writer, giving a talk about his latest book Culture as a Weapon.
We’ve only been operating since November but when we initially began it was like 5 people, who came together like a year prior to last November, in this kind of unofficial way to say, “oh, we’re interested in creating this thing.” It didn’t really have a name, it didn’t really have a space, but we kind of just kept meeting on a weekly basis. I kind of knew everyone that was in the group but the others didn’t really know the others so it’s funny that we kept on meeting to do this thing for this shop or this project that we didn’t really know what it would turn into. Mostly was just to think about funding, and to think about what resources there were. If we were to create this thing, what would it end up being? In terms of funding, we kind of have an “all of the above” approach. We did an Indiegogo to sort of get off the ground. We were fortunate enough to have been invited as an artist group, before the space even existed, to do this pop-up project. That was enormously beneficial and gave a lot of start-up costs to purchase books and furniture. And also applying for grants. There’s this weird way in which the project kind of oscillates between being this private business, because it’s a retail project, we’re selling books, and being a public artist-run space. We’re a bunch of members and people — trying to create a DIY space for the artist community and also acting as a curatorial platform. In writings about the space, sometimes we’d be curators, and sometimes we’d be members and sometimes we’d be owners. Another idea about publics and publication that is interesting to me is thinking about this idea of where the commons resides. What is public, and to what extent is this private enterprise sort of overdetermined? We see the artist book as public, we talk about “going public” in a financial sense, when a company puts out their initial price offering, when they enter the marketplace. For us, “going public” was entering this kind of economic sphere. There are these oscillating ideas about what our role is as an organization and what this hybrid model is. But maybe that’s inherent to artists’ books in general.
Kimi Hanauer & Bomin Jeon – Press Press
K : Hi, I’m Kimi, and I am the founder and one of the organizers of Press Press.
B: Hi, my name is Bomin, and I’m also a member and organizer of Press Press.
K: And that’s Valentina. She’s also part of the crew. Press Press is a publishing initiative based in Baltimore and we do a lot of interdisciplinary work. We follow the definition of publishing as an act of gathering, and we primarily look at our work as the building of a set of relationships. We do make physical publications, but they often give form to more ethereal and programmatic work that we do. That’s kind of abstract so I’ll give more concrete examples. Press Press started in 2014 when we started a partnership with an organization called Baltimore City Community College Refugee Youth Project that does after-school programs for refugee youth across the city. We started a residency with them where we held creative writing workshops within their program but it’s just like a hangout group. The idea is that it’s a completely second-language-English speaking space so it’s immigrant and refugee people only. We just hang out and sometimes our kids participate in the broader publishing projects that we do when they feel like it. We don’t push assimilation into American English speaking models, it’s more fluid and about embracing whatever dialect you come with to the space. And that was kind of a big idea that Press Press was founded on.
B: I think it relates back to our history of being immigrants ourselves, and having to navigate, through coming to United States and going through public school systems and learning English, and finding that really challenging and something that feels oppressive in some ways. That’s also a big part of the workshop that we do with the kids is that it is an experience we can also connect with. Also Valentina has that experience, so I think it became a natural bonding for the whole group.
K: Using this thing that we maybe have experienced as a type of oppressor in a positive way, using it how we want to, and in that sense trying to undo past experiences. I think part of this idea for us is understanding that language isn’t just a way to communicate but it’s something that shapes who we are. . Since Press Press started in 2014 through the program, it’s expanded to do a lot of other work. Our practice broadened to do a lot of collaborative publication projects with Baltimore-based people, around usually Baltimore-based social issues. In 2015, coming out of the uprising in Baltimore, there were a lot of beautiful conversations and events happening with people in the city that we had the privilege of participating in or witnessing. Out of that time came this conversation about “What would you do if you ruled the world?” It was also inspired by the Nas classic “If I ruled the world”. We started having these conversations with people, and it evolved into a year-long process of 10 different conversations and collaborations responding to that prompt. Our kids did one of the chapters and this group at the time was mostly from Myanmar, and it was at the time when Myanmar was transitioning to be what we were told was a democratic nation and their response to this change. Their response to this prompt of “If I ruled the world” and this happening was creating a new human rights manifesto of what they hope the change will bring. One thing they said was,“No WIFI, No Life” but they also said access to secular education and health care and all these really powerful but also silly real things.
This past year, we’ve moved into a storefront space as a structure to help facilitate some of the relationships that direct our work. The space is a library, it’s a publishing studio that we use, but we also open it on the weekends for people to use and that is based on an exchange economy. People come in if they want to self-publish or if they need some support in doing that. We support them through that work in exchange for whatever they want to contribute to the broader project, and they pay for their materials.
B: You could basically babysit the library for the weekend and that would be an exchange. You can run open hours or you can teach something, hold a workshop. That would be our way of exchanging for the resources we share.
K: We also now run this library collection which is curated and organized by different people who are our friends or related to the work or who step into it in some way. Devin [Morris] organized a section, and Rachel [Valinsky], along with many others. Part of the idea is that we wanted to create a structure where the culture of our space could be constantly re-molded. There was a collective group of people who were directing our work in a way, because what’s in the library becomes the reference for our materials and also whoever steps in, and the programming that takes place. Part of the idea is to expand and learn more, build this collection together of what we think is really urgent. We also do workshops, and collaborate with other people in town on events, like when we did some programming with the Brown Paper zine fair in Baltimore.
B: We are currently only open during weekends. Our open hours are 1 to 4. But we are always looking forward to potential collaborators making it more accessible. We are also reliant on other people giving us ideas what could be happening in the space. Kimi has work and I have different work and to have the space open as much as possible, we also have to be reliant on our friends who have various interests in the space.
K: I think that’s a big part of the work– even though there’s specific publications and programs Press Press is initiating, there is so much that it is collectively run and is dependent on people being involved in that way, otherwise this stuff wouldn’t really happen.
Rachel – Wendy’s Subway
Rachel: I’m Rachel Valinsky, I’m one of the co-founders of Wendy’s Subway. We are a nonprofit library, writing space and event space in Bushwick. We opened in 2013 as a group of writers predominantly interested in having a space to write together. We opened a space that was on Metropolitan Avenue in an artist’s studio building where we were on the second floor. Originally, we had opened the space as a way to avoid writing in cafes and also to generate a greater sense of community around the practice. We also wanted to explore questions of publishing in many different capacities.
The publisher, bookstore, and gallery Castillo Corrales published a pamphlet series at some point called the Social Life of the Book. We were interested in thinking about the social life of the book in all of its iterations — writing and publishing, having a space to launch books, read together, gather around certain issues, and also dance and party, to live out all of the forms that the book needs to have. The way the library that we created coming out of this was very incidental. We had the space and realized that we needed to fill it with things to write around and with. […] We grew a library that now has over 2 to 3 thousand titles.
We moved last year to a space on Bushwick Avenue which is a storefront space, and in the space we’ve been hosting a number of different kinds of programs. These two shelves over there are from CC Catalogo, an organization based in Mexico City that is distributing reading lists to spaces predominantly in Latin America. We are the first location [in the U.S] to have some of their titles. We also have a letterpress and this library that is accessible now to the public, but we also function on a membership basis. This is another kind of way in which we’re straddling this line between a membership supported space, a public space, a nonprofit. We’re supported through fees that our members pay to use the space – people who are predominantly coming often to write and read and also be involved in programming and administration. We have anywhere between 15 and 20 members at any given time and we’re run by a managing board of 7 to 8 people. And in that sense, we were wanting to respond to some of the prompts that Sarah put forth in thinking about this panel, what kind of institution is a nonprofit. We’re still very much grappling with what that involves and how to apply for grants and do all the things that nonprofits do. We’ve also been thinking a lot about scale, and the human scale at which we’re functioning. We’re open Wednesday through Sunday from 10-6, we’re an all volunteer- run organization. We’re really interested in thinking about the space as instituting forms of care with the members of the space.
We’ve also been hosting a number of workshops, readings, book launches. […] Last year we went to the Los Angeles Contemporary Archive, another sister space to ours, and organized three days of workshops there with writers and artists on the margins of this larger conference called AWP, which is a small press literary conference. We host a number of types of workshops, but primarily writing workshops. In 2015 we began a Reading Room project where we took the library abroad. We’ve been invited to a number of places including Brown University, the Carnegie School of the Arts, when they hosted the Open Engagement Conference a couple of years ago. Each time we put together a reading room of titles that are related to the host situation that we’re entering. In 2015, we brought a reading room to Nada Art Fair, which is a strange situation to have books that are not for sale. We partnered with Aeromoto, a library in Mexico City, and brought books by Latin American artists and publishers that they have in their collection with books in our collection and invited 50 artists and writers to respond to the catalogue. We’re slowly working on a book that gathers all these things.
Another reading room that we did was at BAM for the Next Wave Festival in the fall, and we’re doing another one there next year. One of the things that we are doing for this reading room next year is to invite other libraries to bring to select titles for the library. We’re sort of trying to explode this idea, or I guess I should say, implode this idea of hosting so that each iteration of what we’re doing now is in collaboration with other spaces and other collections.
To that extent, we started a residency program at Wendy’s in October. We hosted the Free Black Women’s Library, which is run by OlaRanke [Akinmowo], and it is a roaming library of over 400 titles now. Every Saturday people came and traded a book by a black female author for a book by a black female author. She started on a stoop in Crown Heights and now continues to put this together in a number of places. We’ve been inviting libraries, publications, other collections, artists to come in and create another sub-library that enters our collection, but also organize programming and workshops. We had Makhzin which is a yearly Arabic-English publication and we invited three writers to come in and organize workshops and select books. Similarly we had the Kaf Collective in the space up until a couple weeks ago. We just published their two chapbooks. The idea is really to try to have collections continue to grow in a very intentional way within the space. We keep this nesting form of hospitality and hosting, and let it take form in different ways through programs that are flexible and that are coming in through both residencies and the group of members that are in the space. I just wanted to end with a small research project that we’ve been doing over the last couple of years called “All the Libraries,” which this is a small subsection of on the stage. We’ve been trying to catalog all these sorts of spaces all over the world that have like-minded collections and programming. Maybe there’s a way to put everyone in contact and create continuing collaborations this way.
Devin N. Morris – 3 Dot Zine & Brown Paper Fair
I started 3 Dot Zine in 2014, and it began as a result of a few socials that I used to host, first starting in Baltimore and then when I moved to New York. They were called Social Sunday, and they were an open form space where I would invite a lot of friends or just people who I met in the subway or anywhere. It began after my friend Abdu had a blog launch and then we had some wine left over, so the next day we were like “let’s just invite some people over”. Maybe 20 people came, and the day after we had the talk people would text me and say “I had such an amazing time”. I don’t know what happened but there was some kind of enlightenment from that interaction. We began to call them Social Sundays and continued to host them. From hosting them we were invited to many different spaces, where people would allow us to have the social and have the talk there. From there I was in New York. Everything came to get a little weird – the social way, and racially, and I didn’t want to be responsible for everyone’s opinions within the space so I started to think of more practical ways to be responsible as a host to the guests. I still wanted people to share their opinions and share their ideas. I also didn’t like the way that images were being proliferated within the internet and how blogs would disseminate the same image over and over and over again with too many different opinions associated with them. I was like, well how can I approach the image in a responsible way? How can I essentially create my own media? The flyers for Social Sunday are all handmade by me. I like to work in collage and mixed media.
From there I began 3 Dot Zine, which is a featureless zine and it acts as an extension of my art practice. I look at it as a collaboration and I call it featureless because I don’t try to teach you about anyone’s work. I don’t tell you that you should find this important. I typically have a conversation with an artist or with someone who doesn’t consider themselves an artist, and I ask them if they wouldn’t mind expanding on a conversation we’ve had. Hopefully from that, there is some interaction that is larger or that other people might find inspiring. It’s trying to take those conversations that we were having in Social Sunday in that more natural interaction, and then putting that in a zine format.
I think about 5 or 6 people were in the first issue. 2014 is when we began the zine, and everyone who was in it in that moment were kind of dealing with a transition, and so I realized the zine in general continually deals with transitions. The impetus for the second issue was “Gray Areas” and so that’s why we did it in black and white. Most of the collages that I had produced for it were using black and white imagery. I really appreciated the space that I was able to host people, and I liked demystifying this idea around being a writer or being an artist, or even for myself being a publisher, because it was so easy to produce media. I don’t have any editors, there’s no boss. I realized that many people can do this, and when I talked to friends I said, you should make a book. That’s not always easy to get someone to make a book, but it is easy to provide a platform for people to experience many other individuals who are making these things and expose the world of publishing to, for me, black and brown people because they are rarely featured in zine fairs.
I was invited to many fairs and quite often it was like 98% white and then everybody else is just not represented. I was wondering, why is that? It wasn’t that I was seeing the work being produced or anything. I don’t think that anyone was intentionally keeping black or brown bodies out of them, but there obviously was a communication issue. Whereas if you’re having an open call the open call is not being shown to individuals of color for whatever reason. And that’s kind of how publishing works sometimes. It’s brilliant, it’s beautiful, but so many people don’t realize that they can be a part of self-publishing.
I was having many talks with friends, and my friend Joey Davis was like, “you should do a zine fair,” and I was like, I am gonna do a zine fair, and I’m gonna do it to launch my third issue. But the opportunity came before the book was done. MoCADA had an exhibition called Dagger Above the Heart which was a photo exhibition by these women in Africa. They needed a program to go along with the exhibition and they asked me if I would do a zine fair. From there I knew that if I had this opportunity to have a fair it would be for black and POC artists because these are the people who I rarely see at the fair. Often when I was at the fair I would feel very much looked at and more kind of glanced over and I realized that sometimes if there was a brown person on the cover of a book then it would be overlooked. And I was like, well white people are in it too, it’s just a person on the cover. I just wanted to bring that media into focus.
So that’s what started the Brown Paper Zine & Small Press fair. That idea of collaboration and that idea that let’s demystify this moment, this business model, it’s not hard to throw a fair. How can I then provide access to this environment in a way that people can understand that they can be a part of it and they can do it too. That you can host a fair with six people, or eighteen, who knows. We originally found a lot of people who were interested and had six programs that were associated with the event at MoCADA and it was very successful. In New York it was interesting to have the fair because I didn’t know that it would be successful, I just needed to do the work to do it. Something that came from it was that I wanted to do another one, but I wanted to do it in Baltimore because I’m from Baltimore and I was like, this is what needs to be exposed to Baltimore, this idea of creating a community. I didn’t realize how important this work was until I did it and it felt right. The fair just felt different. It felt home like. People didn’t leave. They stayed all day and there were so many people I would see just walking through the halls at MoCADA and they just were hanging out. I want to keep creating environments like this. It’s getting me closer to my socials and being able to create a space that provides a platform for people to have natural interactions. It exposes the many different ways that one can exist in the self-publishing world.
I don’t really consider myself public in any way, business wise, I don’t make a lot of profit from anything that I do. A lot of times I’m working from opportunities that are offered to me. I haven’t had to figure out any business models but I am obviously running a retail operation as well, so I do think about that a lot and I look at my tables from a business perspective and as a way to provide space for individuals who might not be proliferated. With Baltimore we had the opportunity to work with Kahlon agency, which Bomin is a part of, and also we had a program at Press Press. Bomin was one of the facilitators who helped curate that fair. Baltimore was interesting because there is a prominent fair that happens there that is always like talk around it not being open or inclusive enough. I’ve been often reached out to from people who curate fairs and they want to be responsible about how they find people. I just thinking purely around who’s educated to create self-published work, who’s educated around how to use a letterpress or use a riso. That’s obviously an arts education and that’s not an education that is typically known to be a brown or a black space. If that is not the space then you have to use a different model to find people and in Baltimore that felt so real. Obviously there is a community but it just felt good to have everyone in one room. I’m hoping that this provides an impetus for [zine making] to be something that people know that they can do. What I’ve realized is that my practice is really about exposing and demystifying these models of being an artist or being a businessperson. I say that it is an easy thing but I wouldn’t say that it’s easy for everyone to make the connection on how you can do the work. A lot of times that’s what I’m trying to do is really educate somebody on how you can do this. It’s really to provide access to how to be an artist in a way.
David Richardson, Dispersed Holdings, NYC
I’m David. I’m here from Dispersed Holdings. We’re a space for sound and publication practice in Manhattan. We’ve been running for a little over a year and a half now. We started in December 2015. I’m one of its co-founders with Sal Randolph. I’ll talk about some of the aims of our project and I’ll try to articulate them through some of our publications and events, things that we’ve been doing for the past year. This is one of our earliest publications. It’s a book called Ever. It documents some of the research that Sal and I were doing on different spaces that were inspiring to us. Sal and I have been friends for about six years now and we were on a residency doing a different project and Sal was like, hey, I understand that you worked in spaces before. I ran a space just outside of Philly, before I moved to New York, and Sal had been involved in a space as well. We started talking about spaces that were mutually interesting to both of us. I’m going to pilot us in and talk about one space in particular. Perhaps it will give us an interesting figure for conversation when we open things up. This is a photograph of a performance at the Zodiac Free Arts Lab in Berlin. It’s a space from 1967 to 1968 run by Conrad Schnitzler and Hans Joachim Roedelius, two experimental musicians. The space is significant in that it was one of the founding centers in Berlin of Krautrock. Gives us Tangerine Dream which is an important band. And Cluster eventually. Very good to read to. That will also be important in a moment. The reason I want to talk about this is because perhaps we can attribute some of the Zodiac Free Arts Lab’s success to its the way it facilitated experimentation. There was a room in the Zodiac Free Arts Lab that had a series of instruments that were usable by all. You could go in and experiment with your friends and this generated a lot of really exciting music.
A question that Sal and I have asked ourselves over the course of Dispersed’s lifetime is how can we similarly activate a library? I think that all of us feel that sort of tick when we go into a bookstore or a library, maybe a friend’s house, we look at each other’s books. What would it be like to activate a collection of books in the same way one might activate a set of instruments? What would it be to actualize the mode of sociality that a group of books suggests, in the way that a group of instruments immediately suggests a sort of collaborative sociality? The instruments want to be actualized, they want to be played. How can we play books?
This is our library on the Bowery. Our first project in book activation occurred before we had our Bowery space, in our friend Audra Wolowiec’s studio in the South Bronx. We gathered twelve of our friends and we spread out a bunch of foam on the floor. We served food and for about three hours we played live music — Sal and I make music together — and we read from Gertrude Stein’s book The Making of Americans. These are both images from a book that documents the performance. It’s called Making. It’s on the table over here. Eventually we came to desire a space of our own to carry out these activations. This is a Google Maps image of 134 Bowery where we’re at now. We’re on the third floor here. The building on the far right no longer exists. It’s been knocked down and turned into a hotel, which is the fate of our building, which is part of the reason we’re able to be there. It turns out the space has a quite interesting history.
We are in Eva Hesse’s old apartment [where she lived from 1965 to 1970]. Believe it or not we did not know this when we took the lease, we only learned this after the fact. This is a postcard from Sol Lewitt to Eva addressed to our space. They had a really robust postcard exchange. When Sol would go out and have shows in Europe he would send Eva back a note of encouragement. He writes here, “Dear Eva, I hope this doesn’t scare you,” with an image of an Egyptian bull mummy on the other side. We’re running a project called Dear Eva right now. It’s a group of publications that is due to accrete over time. We have postcards at our table out front. We invite you to take one and write Eva a note and it will land in a book about letter writing, about postcard writing, and about Eva. Our friend Martin wrote in, “Art should be subject to the risk of being alive, allowed to grow old, and even, ultimately, allowed to die. So don’t worry if ‘life doesn’t last, art doesn’t last.’” That is a quote from Eva’s diary.
As we were reading about Eva and talking about books we developed an idea that we called the Ambient Reading Spectacular. It was meant to actualize books just in the way I was discussing earlier. It started as a series of public reading days. We would get together, serve some soup in the afternoon, and read the library, and then we developed this notion of a reading residency. Throughout the fall of 2016 Dispersed held 40 different readers in residence here in the reading room. These are cushions that we’ve made; we get our foam from a spot in the west village. Readers would come in and spend a few hours reading. We’d make them some food. We were sort of asking ourselves, what is the technology of reading? What do we need to provide for a reading practice? Privacy, some food, some coffee, little bit of talk maybe in the afternoon, but mostly time to yourself. This is my friend Matthew Strother demonstrating excellent, near balletic technique. He’s reading Lisa Robertson’s Nilling, which is fantastic. This is a note that our friend Leigh Gallagher left for us. She was one of our readers in residence. She’s a very athletic reader. She came in from 7 pm to 7 am for three nights in a row on the Bowery. So readers sort of activated the residency model in all different ways.
This is Charles Perry. Charles also has a table outside with his press called Mozzarella. Charles wrote an amazing essay called Sunsets, about its title. It was published by Molasses books about two years ago, and we decided to score the entire book. Charles read the book in its entirety — it took him about an hour and a half — and Sal and I made music for it. There’s a cassette edition designed by Nick Weltyk that we’re really excited about.. This is what a performance would look like at Dispersed. Our foam is spread out and audience members are invited to lay down. A lot of our performances last quite a long time. That Gertrude Stein performance was four hours long, I think. Nodding off is a way of acknowledging your appreciation, so that’s fine. This is the Sunsets cassette.
This is a project that our friend Emma Wippermann did. Emma did a project called “Whose Library” where she removed all of the male authored books from the shelves at Dispersed. An artist run reading space should reflect the public it wants to see in the world on its shelves and this is obviously a moment where we’ve fallen short. In the middle of the reading fall, of course, the election happened, and we were made to interrogate our project in a new way, think about it. We developed this Resistance Library that’s ever growing. Our friend, Mary Marge Locker, wrote this really wonderful zine, How to Not Give Up. This library has been read often since November in our public reading days. And this is a mock up of the reading room book. The fall residencies will land in a book called Reading Room. This is to show some of the contributors. It’ll be written projects, visual projects as well.