Something I truly loved in college was the humble reader, especially in my art history classes. These reader mix-tapes were how I got to know my professors. I found magic and boredom bound up in a shitily copied, plastic bound 300 page compilation. Recently, I got to know two young artists who were making the ambitious zine YTB, a co-institutional publication between RISD and MICA students initiated by twin sisters Alice and Daphne Taranto. The zine was a major production in scope and the format shifted for every issue. As I learned about YTB,, I inquired about other ongoing projects and Alice let me know she would soon be self-publishing a reader focused on serialized artist publications. Recently, I spoke with Alice Taranto about her RISD project that grew into the book Unbound.
Alice Taranto: I started writing Unbound during an Independent Study my senior year at RISD and self-published the book via a successful Kickstarter campaign in the fall of 2015 after graduating. I originally started my research into the niche world of artists’ magazines, journals, and serial publications to contextualize the work I was doing with my sister on our own artists’ zine, YTB. Writing Unbound came after the realization that our work was comfortingly and inspiringly located along a trajectory of other artists and designers also working in the medium of serial publishing. Amassing and curating these references—the 8 historical and 9 contemporary publications featured in my book—strengthened my understanding of independent art publishing’s rich history and where my contemporaries and I fit into that (extant) culture. Unbound is also a voice for this fascinating genre of artists’ projects, which are usually low-budget and whose circulation is generally very small—even consisting solely of the contributors themselves.
For now, the book lives amongst those who supported the Kickstarter campaign and in select not-for profit art spaces, art school libraries, and art book fairs, shops, and collections. With the help of a publisher, Unbound could find a greater audience soon. However, it was important to me to get the book off the ground and on the press as soon as possible. Self-publishing allowed me that immediacy.
Jeff Bergman: The first historical document that I wanted to discuss was Dick Higgins “Great Bear Pamphlet Series”. The fact that production of these pamphlets coincides with the era of Fluxus, and that Fluxus boxes were being made in their wonderful weird ways, these writing booklets are as boring a format as could be, on a range of topics that were far from boring. This was real art and ideas for the people, without the fanfare or wild outsiderness of the Fluxus movement. I have yet to read any of them but from the Unbound chapter related to these I was instantly drawn to their accessibility.
AT: Yes, exactly. The Great Bear Pamphlets look about as familiar as church or community-organizing pamphlets, but they contain some ideas that were and still are radical. My only hope is that art book readers/collectors will suspend the judgement of books by their covers here for a moment since the Pamphlets are deceptively banal. Sometimes we ascribe intellectual or artistic value to the price of an object, but here that common relationship is markedly reduced. Primary Information did a wonderful job of sanctifying the whole set in a pricey (and sold out) collectors’ edition box. However, the pamphlets are still available as they were originally at sub-$10 each for those who can forgo razzle dazzle.
JB: And as its antipode, the S.M.S. (aka Shit. Must. Stop. series) from 1968 – 69 marshalled by William Copley (aka CPLY). I feel like this, more than Fluxus, is the real predecessor to DADA. What impact do you think the short lived S.M.S. had on what came after?
AT: S.M.S. was indeed a short-lived project with a mere 6 issues. This correlates in no way to the significance of S.M.S., whose primary legacy is its publishing model. Here I use “publish” as its root: to make public or distribute. This “serial art subscription service” co-opted the magazine subscription model in the name of art, charging $125 per year for an ultra high-quality bimonthly that instantly became collateral for art collections in formation. (Issue 2 is now for sale at Printed Matter for $1500.) This business model undoubtedly historically trickles down to the contemporary subscription art publications (think Esopus and The Thing Quarterly), but also services like CSA—not the fruit and veggie variety, but Community Supported Art. This sales model goes directly from artist to consumer without the limiting and pre-defined structures of a gallery or museum.
S.M.S. was also influential as an early example of a now-stereotyped scenario: artists hanging around in a downtown, converted industrial loft space in a neighborhood that’s now the darling of the real estate market, making work that is ahead of its time but with no specific destiny for financial success. The beautiful, utopic vision of the artists’ clubhouse rings most closely with Warhol’s Factory and Gordon Matta Clark and co.’s FOOD.
JB: These models are so different but so much about the ethos of their time. I love the egalitarian nature of the “Great Bear” and the hell with the market nature of S.M.S. In your contemporary section, you have outlined a number of publications that follow in these footsteps, including your own. I wonder which of the “object” based publications like S.M.S. (Parkett, The Thing Quarterly, Visionaire) your think will be important to future generations.
AT: Yes, rising independent and art publishers (including myself) do and will look to publications like The Thing Quarterly and Visionaire as models for their own practices. This is not only because they are unusual and “object”-based, but they keep their approaches contemporary and realistic. The Thing Quarterly is almost ten years old and is successful because the structure of edition-collaborators, like guest editors, appeals to the cravings of our day: each personality-based issue draws in that particular artist/designer’s own (possibly cult) following. Alternatively, Visionaire is primarily known for their truly innovative and wild object-based issues, but they now produce art installations, performative events, have a film/video arm, and so on. Adaptability and responsiveness to the times are key.
JB: Unbound is an amazing resource for the Printed Matter, NYABF obsessed among us. It’s novel design and encyclopedic take on serial publications makes it a singular object (is that ironic?). Thank you for producing it. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
-Jeff Bergman in conversation with Alice Taranto