Monthly Archives: September 2013

Arts and Politics in Fiction at The Brooklyn Book Festival 2013

Brooklyn Book Festival

The annual Brooklyn Book Festival took place this past Sunday, September 22nd in Downtown Brooklyn. With the grandiose backdrop of the Brooklyn court buildings, scores of publications and niche presses were set up along the sidewalks, mailing list sign-up sheets at the ready.

Joel Whitney moderated “Arts and Politics in Fiction” at the Brooklyn Historical Society. A panel of three authors, Alex Gilvarry, Rachel Kushner, and Nicholson Baker, read selection from their latest books. The readings were sprinkled with insights and anecdotes about mixing fiction and politics. The panel description read, “Art has always been a tool for political and social change. In these novels, it comes in the form of protest-pop songs, motorcycle photography and high-end fashion.” After the event, ideas circled my head as I people-watched and collected free bookmarks for the rest of the afternoon.

The author Nicholson Baker wrote a protest song for his book “Traveling Sprinkler.” Baker, known both for his essay writing and fiction, suggested there may be more truth in fiction than non-fiction. Baker said that writers need characters and a fictional landscape to grapple with their real life emotions. When Baker writes non-fiction he finds one main difficulty arises: the inconsistencies of his opinions and ideas. From one day to the next, his opinions are morphing and shaping. His answer to the complexity is to explore that inner conflict in fiction writing through characters who struggle with those same ideas.

When writing politically, authors face the challenge of finding the right prose. About words like “drone” Baker said“You can almost hear the reader say, oh god!” Certain words have connotations that overshadow any other meaning. Alex Gilvarry in his novel “From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant” takes superficial characters and puts them in a serious and scary world. He had trouble using “Bush” and “Cheney” and ended up replacing “Guantanamo” with “no man’s land.”

Rachel Kushner, author of “The Flamethrowers,” spoke about watching political dramas unfold from the comfort of her living room. Kushner has read about Autonomia Operaia (a ’70s Italian political movement) and has friends and family connections to both Italy and Occupy Oakland. The people around us inspire our politics and our writing. Kushner’s novel developed through her friend’s literature and hearing countless stories about ’70s Italy.

Though many of the vendors at the Brooklyn Book Festival were also participating in the NY Art Book Fair, I felt a very different energy at each. The best aspect of the Brooklyn Book Festival were the families and diverse crowd drawn in by the wide range of book genres. I had a blast last weekend connecting with publishers and book lovers in general. Just for fun, here are some of my photographs from the festival. Read last Monday’s Post on the New York Art Book Fair too.

Brooklyn Book Festival

Passers-by filled a bulletin board writing their current reads on Post-it notes.

Brooklyn Book Festival

The eye-catching Penguin book truck was in attendance.

Brooklyn Book Festival

“Barf Manifesto” called out to me at the Ugly Duckling Presse table.

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Selections from the New York Art Book Fair 2013

P.S.1 Art Book Fair

The small press masses united last weekend at the New York Art Book Fair presented by Printed Matter at PS1.

With no admission charged, throngs of visitors went through the museum. Publishers used to working in small studios and home offices were packed together throughout the courtyard, exhibition spaces, and the boiler room.

P.S.1 Art Book Fair

The fair included thousands of art books ranging from monographs, to academic art surveys, to artist made books, zines, magazines, and theoretical writing. The inspiration concentrated there by the art book community was almost overwhelming. With festivities starting on Thursday, it wouldn’t have been possible to see all of the special exhibits of ephemera and artists scrapbooks, panel discussions about the evolving industry, and check out the oyster bar and book signings.

Publishers were able to share the stories behind the books with visitors. “It’s a big opportunity to spread our idea of what an art book is,” said Nicola Ricciardi, an editorial assistant at Mousse Publishing who was working their booth. There were so many friendly faces, and familiar ones too. But what I enjoyed most about the fair was meeting curators and publishers in the flesh and learning about presses I had never come across before. Here are a handful of the many that impressed me.

P.S.1 Art Book Fair

1. Draw Down Books displayed books with bright, simple designs. Their title “Evil People in Modernist Homes in Popular Films” is just that; a simple catalog of the architecture that movie villains seem to love. Kathleen, a former librarian, and her husband Christopher started Draw Down Books after doing commission work for publications. They realized working for themselves might be more satisfying. When I asked Kathleen what makes a good art book, she responded “Someone who is passionate about making an art book.” A successful book takes a lot on the part of the artist to commit to making a quality product that people want to make collectible. Luckily, the artists Draw Down cold call are usually pretty happy to collaborate.

2. The Badlands Unlimited booth had print books and a Kindle featuring their e-books. I spoke to Matthew So about Badlands Unlimited’s interests in publishing original, unexpected writings and work from artists and figures more well known for other things. Matthew So gave the example of their book “On Democracy” which includes three of Saddam Hussein’s speeches about Democracy. As described on the Badlands Unlimited website, “This volume takes the speeches as an opportunity to ask what democracy means from the standpoint of a notorious political figure who was anything but democratic, and to reflect on how promises of freedom and security can mask the reality of repressive regimes.” I think it is bold to publish these writings and challenge people to think critically about how manipulative and immoral a political speech can be.

3. Three Star Books caught my eye from their incredible Billboard Book Project (A large format poster available in different sized book editions). Three Star defines a book loosely and, with artists, will build large scale books, editions, and objects of different sizes and forms. A more traditional book series that caught my eye was Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster’s RGB. Gonzalez-Foerster organized archival photos by color and created red, green, and blue books.

4. Issue Press, based out of Grand Rapids, MI, set up a vending machine to distribute their small, delicate pamphlets. They also had other folded up hand designed and drawn work. One that really stuck out was Time Poor. For this project artists followed John Muir’s instructions for where to go on a 24-hour visit to Yosemite. They did everything he said and hand drew a map of where they went and illustrated what they saw.

P.S.1 Art Book Fair

Thanks to Matt and  Stewart for contributing to the post, and Andrew for the top image!

P.S. The Brooklyn Book Festival was also this last weekend, look for coverage on the blog Thursday!

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The Museum of Fair Use

Zelfportret van Cor van Teeseling, september 1942, Cornelis G. van Teeseling, 1942

In the museum realm there seem to be two opposing schools of thought about sharing images and artwork on the internet. One belief is that images are privately owned. Museums with this practice place watermarks on top of images and take other measures so that images are not shared. The other school of thought is that the images are meant to be shared. People pin and tweet and blog images and the community should be given tools to expand the reach of these museum collections.

The Getty Museum announced this summer that many of their galleries will make high-resolution images available for download. The Getty pointed to a growing public desire to use images in research and to enjoy the collections far from the institution itself.

Rijksstudio offers free high-resolution images to the public. They are undergoing a large digitization project of their full collection, a staggering one million works. You can download images from their site, but you’ll have to sign up first. You can create personal galleries of images and have the option to save zoomed-in details of an artwork. The Rijksmuseum encourages users to download and re-purpose or tamper. “We’re a public institution, and so the art and objects we have are, in a way, everyone’s property,” said Taco Dibbits, the director of collections at the Rijksmuseum, in a NY Times interview.

Stamhoofd Coba (Kobe) met grenadiersmuts, schild en assegaaien, Robert Jacob Gordon, ca. 1777

Zonder titel Vignet voor boek 'L'art Hollandais contemporain' van Paul Fierens, vogel op het water., Leo Gestel, 1932 - 1933

P.S.  The Public Domain Review scoured the Getty Museum’s  images  for their favorites and shared them here.

Images from the Rijksmuseum.


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Archival Leaders Advocate!

Drawings of Panelists by Natalie Pantoja

As scholars study rare documents at archives and libraries around the world, they are bringing their smartphones and using them in their research.

At the annual Center for Jewish History event Archival Leaders Advocate on Thursday, Sept. 12 a panel discussed how new technology is changing scholarly research methods and what libraries and archives might do to address those changes. The discussion centered on a new Ithaka S+R report, “The Role of Archives in Supporting Changing Research Practices.” Ithaka S+R is the research group of ITHAKA, the non-profit that provides digital access to over 1500 academic journals through its JSTOR service.

Panel moderator Jefferson Bailey, Strategic Initiatives Manager at Metro NY Library Council, relayed his recent experience at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Maryland where scholars have been doing a lot of their own digital capturing, even setting up camera stands to photograph items.

Photo Capture Archives by Natalie Pantoja

Roger Schonfeld, a co-author of the report, said that the scholars interviewed have a strong appreciation for archivists with a deep expertise and who really know their collections. Scholars also said that for the most efficient discovery tool, Google Books often trumps looking in a book’s index. Schonfeld caught my attention most when he talked about the anxiety scholars felt to be comprehensive in their research. Schonfeld suggested that some of this anxiety could be prevented with research tools that could narrow search results to the tens instead of hundreds to sift through.

Melanie Meyers, Senior Reference Services Librarian for Special Collections at the Center for Jewish History was interested in how archives are handling the growing trend of researchers using iPhones at archives to curate and compile their own portable digital archives. She asked the open question of whether it is possible to take advantage of this trend. I think there could be an opportunity, for instance, in using scholar’s iPhone photographs and linking them directly to the online finding aid.

David Ludden feels that taking iPhone photos in archives leads to a “dismembering” of archives. Ludden, a Professor of History at NYU who was interviewed for the report, raised concerns that when people photograph parts of archives, the archival materials can be taken out of context or have their contexts altered. He equated the act of digital capture to the looting of unprotected archaeological sites. Ludden concluded with a plea to JSTOR to make their research materials more affordable and widely available.

Kate Theimer, a writer and blogger about archives at ArchivesNext, suggested that the report’s recommendations lacked guidance for archivists. Theimer feels archivists are already making efforts to address the changing needs of researchers, including the continuation of digitization efforts and accessibility of finding aids.

A common theme of the evening was the challenge of providing graduate students access to research training in archives and libraries. The question made me think that archive education could start even sooner than graduate school. Perhaps exposing high school students to archives could set them on a research track that would make them research experts by the time they are starting PhD programs.

P.S. Another topic discussed was “archival silences” and theories of missing links in relation to digitization, but I plan to cover that more in depth soon!

Illustrations: Library Manifesto

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#NYFW: Textile Archive Inspiration

Blue Rider Design collection of Andrea Aranow

Continuing with the library fashion theme from Monday, today’s post is dedicated to collections of culturally rich and aesthetically diverse textiles.

If I had to wear the same thing everyday for the rest of the year, it might be an Aymaran poncho. These colorful textiles have a history dating back to 700 AD.

Andrea Aranow gathered Blue Rider Design’s large collection of unique and original textiles as a resource for designers. In 2011 she opened her extraordinary archive, in Portland Oregon, to filmmakers Aaron Rayburn and Ryan Bush. “They don’t change their mind,” Aranow says of her beloved fabrics.

Another short but captivating look into the lush Blue Rider Design archive.

The small city of Krefeld, Germany has been a silk fabric production center since the 17th century. The German Textile Museum (Deutsches Textilmuseum) explores this history through a large collection of fabrics made in Krefeld and throughout all of Germany.

A 900 year old sock.

P.S. CLOTHES: A Manifesto. What women want from the fashion industry as compiled by Rebecca Willis. “Women are deeply concerned about the behaviour of the fashion industry,” writes Willis. “Its impact on our wallets, our sanity and our planet.”

Image: Blue Rider Design

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#NYFW: Fashion Libraries and Librarian Fashions

Fashionable Librarians

Librarians are stereotypically known for making fashion statements with the ultimate bookworm accessory, glasses. With fashion week in our midst I wanted to highlight the mutual appreciation between the library world and the fashion industry.

I love the sweethearts who send photographs of their librarian outfits to Librarian Wardrobe.

The Coach company history plays an essential part in their design process. This video from The Selby is an inspirational look at the Coach archives.

This photo spread of Swedish Librarians is a “do.”

The private library of Karl Lagerfeld. I’m expecting lots of books about Regency-era collar design.

The Smithsonian’s take on America’s most prominent week of fashion.

And remember even though you may hate those shoes from a few seasons ago, to an archivist, they’re just another item for the collection.

Images: Librarian Wardrobe, Anders Kylberg for Vice Magazine.

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A Place for Stray City Relics

City Reliquary photo:Comissar

I was delighted to find the City Reliquary featured on Brooklyn Spaces. The City Reliquary is a quirky little operation on one of the main drags of Williamsburg, Metropolitan Avenue. The museum is roughly the size of two rooms with a rotating exhibition space but there’s plenty to spy in glass cases and cluttered on the walls, from seltzer bottles to Pez dispensers, old subway tokens, and remains of city infrastructure like the aqueducts and railways.

My favorite things might be the sea of Statute of Liberty postcards, all with varying degrees of shadow and light, depending on the time and season they were captured. You can look at the same thing a thousand times and it will look different each time. Which sums up my feelings about Brooklyn, living here my whole life I never get bored and always peer out on the familiar scenes from the elevated trains I’ve seen countless times.

City Reliquary photo:Comissar

Brooklyn Spaces interviewed the President of the Reliquary, read it here.

Images: Maximus Comissar

P.S. Another micro museum delight: The Lunchbox Museum from Cool Hunting.

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Can Drawing Give us a New Perspective on Archives?

The Brooklyn Rail Matthew Barney Review

Anyone who’s ever picked up a pencil to draw knows that, most often, the end result and what we saw in our heads are not the same picture. How much is an archive a trace of something rather than complete and trustworthy representation?

I had just this thought while reading about artist Matthew Barney’s multidimensional approach to drawing in Thyrza Nichols Goodeve’s “A Possible Reading of Matthew Barney’s Drawings” in the July/August Brooklyn Rail. American artist Matthew Barney is known for his epic video works, but he is sharing his sketches in “Subliming Vessel: The Drawings of Matthew Barney” up at the Morgan Library through September 8th. In the show, framed drawings hang on the walls beside vitrines holding books selected by Barney from the Morgan Library and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (where the show will be on display October – December, 2013). In the context of The Morgan Library and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, these drawings bring to mind the relationship between creating a drawing and creating an archive.

In the article, Nichols Goodeve interprets Matthew Barney’s drawings through the guiding words of another artist, Roni Horn. Horn explains how drawings and the act of drawing can mirror memory making and documenting. A drawing in the words of Horn, “is a record of energy spent and mime recorded.” So, in a way, a drawing is a retelling of what has already happened. A drawing is layered with a series of sweeps, marks, dashes and dots. A drawing is a product of a continual thought. It builds on the previous idea. Each decision influencing the next.

Horn eloquently makes the connection between drawings and memories with this observation: “Sometimes a drawing is palimpsestic in nature, becoming a history of itself. The cumulative record of acts committed or a sum of memories recalled. It’s been said that every time you use a memory you change it, and that the safest memories are in the minds of amnesiacs. But for non-amnesiacs we have stories, traces, and drawings.”


The article has made me look more deeply at drawing which the reviewer Nichols Goodeve defines as “both a vehicle for action (verb) and an object of production (noun)” because isn’t the same true for an archive? I hope that examining the process of drawing can bring a new perspective to the practice of archiving.

Image: Cetacea (2006), via Art Observed

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