On the occasion of the release of an anthology by GLORIA Books, Dwelling in the Margins: Art Publishing in Aotearoa, we are excited to publish an essay from the new publication. ‘Embracing Freaky Futures’, by Auckland-based designer and artist Gabi Lardies, questions what it means to be radical and offers an inclusive and liberating framework for a diverse future.
The third in a series of paperbacks produced by designer Katie Kerr, Dwelling in the Margins offers an insight into alternative and independent publishing in Aotearoa. Through a curated collection of stories and essays, thirty practitioners reflect on their craft, speculate on the changing landscape of book-making and imagine alternative frameworks for the future of publishing.
Dwelling in the Margins is published by GLORIA Books, an intercontinental publishing platform founded by Kerr and Berlin-based photographer Alice Connew, which produces art and photography books that experiment with the publishing process. You can find out more and order the book here.
Embracing Freaky Futures
Gabi Lardies (Pipi Press)
I try to think about what books the future holds, and what futures books hold. I glance at my bookshelf; it’s a little dusty and some of the volumes are scuffy and dog-eared with love. Romantic stories from centuries ago touch covers with poetry books published last year, shouldering dense theory books from the last decade. The stories, poems and theories are all carried in parallel vessels, which echo each other—lines of black characters on stacks of white leaves, collected and secured together then sheltered with covers. Once I tried to be savvy and modern by buying a Kindle. It sits alongside the books, with a flat battery.
The side of the skyscraper is lit up with a tiled LED screen, a beautiful lady pops something small into her mouth, her hair perfect. ‘A new life awaits you…’. On the street level neon flashes, something beeps, it is raining. Big, heavy, tropical drops. Harrison Ford reads a newspaper leaning against a shop window, glancing up at a screen floating by before folding the newspaper in half and using it as rain cover to cross the street.1
In Aotearoa, the screens we watch are not on skyscrapers, nor do they float, but are intimately small and either in our palms or heating up our bed sheets. My mum tells me she doesn’t like poetry. I hear my flatmate laughing through the wall after dinner, and some voices I don’t recognise. I get freaked out that everyone I know watches Netflix. I get freaked out that everyone I know consumes the same content along with everyone I don’t know. I get freaked out that my flatmate, just a few metres away from me, watches the same show that is popping off in Europe and the United States.
In the second quarter of 2020, Netflix had over 183 million paying global subscribers. Over 64 million people watched Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness.2
An Instagram filter tells me I am Carole, but I prefer the one that imposes my face within Joe’s mullet.
In contrast to these numbers, the book that my independent press, Pipi Press, published in 2019 is an edition of 300. In a way, or in a few ways, In Common is as freaky as a publication can get. We decided to drive ourselves a little crazier by creating something that is outside the usual production models. The book is composed of seven different parts, which are different in size, paper, printing technique, colour and design. These seven parts are stitched together through the centrefold in three groups, creating thirteen different sections—if you are confused then you probably have the right idea. The production of In Common was a trying labour of love, hugely analogue and manual. We definitely did not want to make more than three hundred. I hope nobody ever uses one as rain cover.
Since its rise in the 1960s and ’70s, art publishing has been thought to provide a means of democratising art through its perceived accessibility—by being a cheap, portable and multiplicious medium. Lucy Lippard stated that artist’s books are ‘considered by many the easiest way out of the art world and into the heart of a broader audience’.3 Books came to be seen as a fragile vehicle to deliver art to the masses, with artists dreaming of wide readership and selling in commercial spaces like supermarkets. History has shown otherwise, with art publishing remaining niche—not only to the mainstream but even within the art world itself. Not many people are interested in weird books.
When looking towards the future, it’s hard to escape the myths of success that capitalism has wired into me, but I’m happier when I do. Art publishing is certainly not a capitalist venture, and therefore those in this field don’t have to subscribe to myths of progress and infinite growth. Things don’t have to get bigger to get better, things don’t even have to get better. We don’t always have to strive to be more—doing what you like to do is not unambitious. Personally, I don’t dream of breaking into the mainstream, selling books at the supermarket checkout queue or creating homogeneity. My practice aims towards the opposite: I prefer being a fragment, a part of a non-singular, multitudinous world that is made up of many shifting viewpoints. My dreams are small dreams—intimate dreams concocted in bedrooms and studios, sheets and gardens, and shared between friends.
The art I am interested in is disruptive and utopic, opening new possibilities through critical engagement with, and production within, the world. Independent publishing can act as an expansion of these disruptive and utopic impulses, as alternative information structures, which are not imposed from ‘above’ by the powerful or dominant, but instead created by a thoughtful community. In The Principle of Hope (1954), Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch sees the utopic spirit as ‘expectation, hope, intention towards possibility that has still not become’.4 Art and independent publishing are both deeply utopic practices in that they are always a countervailing alternative to hegemony—they create spaces and practices to produce new ideas and modes of thinking. In the spirit of Bulgarian French philosopher Julia Kristeva, I believe utopia is not a destination but a constant movement in which the world constantly changes; rebalancing forces and persistently striving towards betterment in non-linear routes.5 Autonomous from the flow of information from capital or the state, independent printed media is not an authority but a questioning. This view of art publishing as a utopic practice points to its position on the outside, in the margins, as crucial to its desire to create movement and expand possibilities. It is key that art publishing does not strive towards dominance and instead constantly shifts away from the widely accepted in order to continue the movement of culture and thinking.
I have chosen to embrace the freaky outsider that I am, decidedly accepting the marginal nature of my practice. To be a freak is to be unusual, exceptional—and dedicated. It is to behave irrationally, as if driven by a curious heart rather than a calculating mind. My experience of publishing fits within this: a costly, time-consuming and underappreciated activity, which I find exciting and fulfilling. I love strange papers, colours, shapes, typefaces, obsolete printing technologies, binding techniques, weird formats and sometimes elusive or confusing content. I like thinking from the outside, about things that have not yet taken form. At the same time, I can appreciate that many people would rather watch the endless consuming content on Netflix. I’ll not worry myself too much with that. I’m happy not being normal, popular, wealthy or running a publishing empire. Instead I’ll continue my forays into marginality with small, freaky editions of books. It is nice though, to find a few other freaks in these margins, and perhaps it wouldn’t be too presumptuous to assume you—as a reader of this publication—might be a freak too.
If we accept our true selves and positioning as freaks, I think it would serve us to consider queer theory. Queer theory has progressed beyond being a critique of a specific subject (heteronormativity) and re-established its focus onto ‘a wide range of normalisation’.6 This subjectless lens positions queer theory against regimes of heteronomy and therefore it is impossible for the dominant culture or politics to incorporate, co-opt, contain or neutralise it through inclusion. Liberation no longer looks like inclusion or toleration, but is defined by doing our own thing. Rather than striving for acceptance from those who do not appreciate what art publishing has to offer, we need to continue to nurture our own spaces, platforms and communities to enable and support each other. It is our differences and our peculiarities that are important, not delusions of grandeur or traditional capitalist ideas of success. Art publishing of the future should embrace its radical nature to continue its work in being counter-homogeneous—the aim being not mass distribution, but to continue pushing the boundaries of the margins.
It is raining again, Deckard has failed to land safely on the next building. He hangs off a steel beam. Roy Batty stands over him, his white hair wet, holding a white dove. As Deckard begins falling to his death, Roy catches his wrist and pulls him to safety. As his body shuts down, Roy reflects on the things he has seen in his life: ‘All those moments will be lost, like tears in the rain’. But they are not lost, because Deckard has heard them, and is changed. The white dove flies, its black eyes shining.7
Gabi Lardies / Pipi Press
1 Author’s observation of the opening scene of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982).
2 Figures taken from Alex Sherman, ‘Netflix Has Replaced Broadcast TV as the Center of American Culture’, CNBC, 21 April 2020.
3 Lucy R. Lippard, ‘The Artist’s Book Goes Public’, in Artists’ Books: A Critical Anthology and Sourcebook, ed. Joan Lyons (Visual Studies Workshop Press, 1985), 48.
4 Ernst Bloch, ‘The Principle of Hope’, available at http://www.marxists.org/archive/bloch.
5 See Julia Kristeva, Revolution in Poetic Language (Columbia University Press, 1984).
6 David Eng, Judith Halberstam and José Esteban Muñoz, What’s Queer About Queer Studies Now? (Duke University Press, 2005), 3.
7 Author’s observation of the closing scene of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982).
Dwelling in the Margins, GLORIA Books
Contributions by Alan Deare, Alice Connew, Anita Tótha, Balamohan Shingade, Bridget Reweti, Bruce Connew, Catherine Griffiths, Chloe Geoghegan, Chris Holdaway, Dominic Hoey, Ella Sutherland, Erena Shingade, Gabi Lardies, Harry Culy, Haruhiko Sameshima, Imogen Taylor, Jonty Valentine, Judy Darragh, Katie Kerr, Lizzie Boon, Louise Menzies, Luke Wood, Matariki Williams, Matthew Galloway, Melinda Johnston, Samuel Walsh, Sarah Maxey, Simon Gennard, Sophie Davis, Sophie Rzepecky and Virginia Woods-Jack.
Edited and designed by Katie Kerr
Printed in Aotearoa New Zealand
Soft cover, 318 pages
First edition of 300
With screen-printed dust jacket
Order the book from GLORIA