“I am a book, buy me now!”
This book title by A. R. Penck could have been the motto for the mumok Art Book Day 2020, which would have been taking place here at mumok. Unfortunately, the artist book fair had to be cancelled this year due to the pandemic. So instead, we have decided to conduct interviews with four protagonists of the Viennese artist book scene. These will be available to read on our blog on four consecutive Thursdays. Even if we cannot substitute the personal encounters, dialogues, discoveries, and much more, we hope to provide a glimpse into the artist book sphere and the diversity in techniques and concepts. See for yourself!
Peeing in public, em dashes, and adopted books
Astrid Seme and Thomas Geiger, Mark Pezinger Books in conversation with Simone Moser
SM: You’ve been running Mark Pezinger Verlag, founded in 2009, as a duo since 2015. What made you get into this industry? How did you start, what does your program represent, and why this name?
AS/TG: Mark Pezinger was founded in 2009 by Karsten Födinger and Thomas Geiger; Astrid Seme and Natalie Obert joined in 2011. We’ve been running the publisher’s as a twosome since 2015. We initially wanted to build a platform for our own artist books. From there, more and more collaborations with other artists developed. The name: it’s a long story, full of secrets, perhaps for telling another time.
SM: One aspect of your publishing program is the Black Forest Library. It was within this context that your latest books were published: Peeing in Public by Thomas Geiger and Baroness Elsa’s em dash by Astrid Seme.
AS/TG: We began the Black Forest Library in 2019 as a paperback series that offers a locale for experts with a smattering of knowledge, specialist freaks, and those on the fringes. A place where the layperson becomes an expert and vice versa. Readers can expect to find phenomena wandering among established disciplines and in doing so creating surprising and absurd moments: a library of interfaces, interstices, and voids. Astrid and I produced the first two publications in the series ourselves, to give direction, so to speak. Astrid is a graphic designer and dedicated the first edition to the em dash used by Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loinghoven. Baroness Elsa’s em dashes is both an anthology on a paradoxical—if not the most paradoxical—punctuation mark and an homage to Elsa herself. The avant-garde artist was a terrifically significant person in New York’s Dada scene at the beginning of the twentieth century. From the age of twelve she wrote poems that were permeated copiously and consistently with dashes. The book provides various perspectives from the history of literature and printing, allowing other well-known “dashers,” such as Gertrude Stein, Laurence Stern, and Emily Dickinson, to have their say.
The second publication from the Black Forest Library is Peeing in Public, which came about through Thomas’s interest in what one can or cannot do in public: to pee in public is a battle fought in economic, political, technological, and sexual domains. When, where, and how to do our business is surely a question that has occupied us all at some point. Peeing in Public lends a voice to various (historical) personalities who all talk about their efforts, deeds, and concepts regarding this subject. Already this year, three new Black Forest editions have been released: The Book of Record of the Palm Capsule by Christian Kosmas Mayer, The Emblematic Cabinet by Hanakam & Schuller, and, just out, How to Play Tripple Dribble by Julia Borderie.
SM: Alongside this there is also the so-called Adoptives. How does the idea of “adopting” a book come about? What’s behind that?
AS/TG: Many artists self-publish their editions and books, beautiful publications that are often very hard to find or distribute. It was for this reason that we initiated Adoptives, where we adopt such self-published treasures, give them our stamp, and integrate them into our publishing company and distribution—as if we had published them ourselves.
SM: You publish your own books as well as books by other artists. What is the difference? And what is the best and most important thing in working with books?
AS/TG: The best is the collaboration on and joint development of a book. We don’t take any readymade publications into our program but are involved from the get-go—with Astrid as graphic designer and me as publisher. The joint production from start to finish is of immense importance to us. The challenge is greater with books by other artists because you have to engage with another person, another way of thinking. That’s fascinating and demanding.
SM: Why do artists make books? Where and how do you locate the artist book? What is your definition?
AS/TG: The answer to all three questions: because books by artists have always been physical experiential spaces for ideas and ways of thinking—and they certainly always will be.