A Project on Artist Novels
Curated by: David Maroto (Spanish visual artist, based in the Netherlands) and Joanna Zielińska (curator, Centre for Documentation of the Art of Tadeusz Kantor – Cricoteka, Cracow).
The Book Lovers is a systematic attempt to study the phenomenon of artist novels. There are some examples of artist novels in the 20th century, but it is in the last ten to fifteen years that an increasing number of artists have choosen the novel as an artistic medium. With The Book Lovers we intend to create a public awareness of this quietly widespread artistic trend. There are a number of questions that this project wants to pose: Has literature become a new tool for creating expanded narrations in visual arts? Is it justified to talk about a new phenomenon in contemporary art? What are the consequences for the production process when adopting a purely textual form, moreover a narrative? What link remains to visual arts? Is it possible to find a relationship to conceptual art, or relational aesthetics, or is this an entirely different artistic form? Collective writing, fictional artist/authors, ghost writers… what are the issues raised in relation to authorship and the re-skilling of art practice?
The artist novel can be contextualized within a wider phenomenon currently taking place in the visual arts, that of a ‘narrative turn’. The focus of this project is not only on the process of writing, but first and foremost on the process of reading. In the equivalence that we propose, the artist is the author, but the spectator also holds a double status as a reader. When an art project takes the form of a novel, it is not finished with its publication. The meaning of a novel is to be read. Otherwise, it is just an inert object. It needs to be activated by the reader to be alive. When someone opens a book and begins to read, it becomes a source of active engagement. We like to look at the novel as a relational object. It becomes alive in the here and now of the reading act. An act that is able to create a situation around it. Considered as a public art project, the artist novel goes beyond the exhibition space. The form of the book means that the work can be read in everyday contexts, on the train, in bed, and so on. It becomes life experience. The reception of such work implies an investment of time beyond what is typically expected, and favors reflection over fast consumption. This is exactly the opposite of ‘one-liner’ art, that is artwork that makes a short and powerful, though most likely superficial, statement. We quickly consume a one-liner and move on to the next one. The question is, what if I do not want to move on? What happens if I want to stay and engage the same artwork, deeper and deeper? Will it stand it? When visual artists turn to novels as a legitimate medium to carry out their work, they are looking for strategies to generate a protracted engagement with the spectator, to recover the idea of art practice as a process.
For many of the artists inside The Book Lovers project, the novel is a means of generating new art objects. The novel is positioned at the center of a constellation of works that find in it their final reference. At other times, both artwork and writing process have parallel lives. The relations between visual artworks and artist novels are as varied as the artists who make the decision to write them, but for all of them they ultimately function as a sort of engine that generates art. Artist novels find continuation in varying visual forms: drawings, sculptures, videos, sound pieces, installations, performances…
The central element of The Book Lovers project is a collection of artist novels. It includes a total of 264 titles and is being acquired by M HKA, Museum of Contemporary Art in Antwerp, Belgium. The collection is complemented by a parallel online database, an ‘ensemble’ also hosted by M HKA. Some artists present in the collection, among many others, are: Carl Andre, Keren Cytter, Salvador Dalí, Tim Etchells, Liam Gillick, Goldin+Senneby, Pablo Helguera, Stewart Home, Joseph Kosuth, Yayoi Kusama, Jana Leo, Jill Magid, Mai-Thu Perret, Tom McCarthy, Richard Prince, Roee Rosen, Lindsay Seers, Alexandre Singh, Andy Warhol…
Both collection and database will be presented to the public at M HKA on December 6th 2012. During this evening there will be a conversation held between the curators and Seth Siegelaub. Siegelaub has been active as an art dealer, publisher and independent art exhibition organizer, a political researcher and publisher, and a textile bibliographer and collector. In the 1960s, he expanded and opened up the exhibition environment to the new possibilities, issues and problems posed by new forms of art, especially what is now known as ‘Conceptual Art’. The conversation will revolve around the topic ‘What happens when the artwork becomes a novel?’ Possible links between artist novels and conceptual art; changes in the artwork’s production and distribution process when it takes the form of a book, and its potential to challenge institutional conventions will be some of the issues that will be put under discussion.
The Book Lovers project will develop throughout 2013 in different stages: a number of exhibitions devoted to artists who make use of novels as an artistic form (taking place at Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts Project Space, NYC; De Appel, Amsterdam; and Cricoteka, in Cracow), as well as a presentation on artist novels, with a program of lectures, interviews, discussions and performances (taking place in the Museum of Modern Art, in Warsaw). After the presentation a publication will be released.
Joanna Zielińska, David Maroto
Project subsidized by the Ministry of Culture and the National Heritage, The Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Flemish Representation at the Belgian Embassy
Partners: Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, M HKA in Antwerp
Media patronage: TVP Kultura, Polish Press Agency, Księgarnie Matras, Warsaw Insider, Radio Kraków, NOTES.NA.6.TYGODNI, Onet.pl