“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!
The book formula or Cracking the book code (reading)
Darja Shatalova in conversation with Simone Moser
SM: Your artistic work is transdisciplinary. Alongside performances, room installations, and films, you also produce books. What role do books play in your work? Why the book as a medium?
DS: For me books represent the master document of every artwork. The conceptual phase of a work begins with sketches; they accompany the entire creative process and form the reference for developing a new piece of work. Consequently the sketches in the book form an integral part of every subsequent translation into another medium. By making notes and graphically depicting thoughts on paper, I construct a system. That’s really important for me in the structuring process, and it enables me to detect complex correlations.
SM: You work with encryption, symbols, numbers, and formulas that have their origins in mathematics. What is your concept?
DS: I endeavor to capture, analyze, and structure in images events from my personal history, i.e. from the microcosm, and current environmental events that affect or occupy me, the macrocosm, and to recognize patterns and relationships and thus come to a higher understanding. It is a search for supposed order in a supposed chaos, in which these two polarities are also strongly interwoven, if you look at the sketches in my books.
SM: Do you have any (historical) archetypes?
DS: There are numerous artists and works that inspire me, appeal to me, or have visible parallels to my own artistic work process. But I don’t wish to name any names because the list wouldn’t be complete and it changes continually. New references are always surfacing through the active flow of time.
SM: Where do your artist books come from and which techniques do you use? What do producing and publishing look like in your practice?
DS: Each artist book begins with a sketch, often on separate pages, which already includes certain visual material, such as a proof or earlier note. New thoughts are added to the existing page’s format, similar to knowledge generation, where earlier experiences are set in relation to current ones. Using the technique of visual collaging, more and more interesting connections emerge over several stages of the sketches, which in turn initiates new thought processes. I then bind individual sheets in the studio, which constitutes a one-off. This is then scanned and finally printed in an edition, resulting in distinctions between hand-bound books, with some completed by hand, and purely mechanically produced copies.
SM: The range of your artist books includes one-offs to books in print-runs. Are there qualitative and quantitative differences, hierarchies? If so, how do you evaluate these? And what makes an artist book for you, how do you define it?
DS: The different book formats represent various forms of a concept. Also each variation of the artist book represents a translation process in which information gets lost or is reconnected through its collocation. Of course the one-off is the highest ranking book; it’s my most important conceptual collection. Reconstructions of the source material then form hierarchies arranged below this, depending on personal intervention and individual design.
For me, an artist book is a self-contained artwork. It can be viewed in connection with works in other media but also functions independently of them. At first glance it has the form of a book, but it does not have to follow any criteria regarding content and design. As a hybrid it unites aspects from various disciplines in one unique haptic form.