Collaborative Ty/opography

Article excerpt

Brad Freeman and met in the spring of 1990 while he was director of the Offset Artists' Books Program at Pyramid Atlantic in Washington, D.C. I had received a grant to produce my book Simulant Portrait (1990). It was one of my first opportunities to work in offset printing, a medium with which I had far less familiarity than letterpress, but in which Brad had developed conceptual and technical skills as an artist. The project brought us together in a professional relationship that quickly made me aware of the ways in which our individual abilities and sensibilities meshed. The experience also sensitized me to fundamental differences in our working methods. Since then we have collaborated formally and informally on books and articles, the editing and publishing of JAB: The Journal of Artists' Books and in curating exhibitions. Brad is primarily a visual artist and I think of myself primarily as a writer, but disciplinary lines are frequently crossed in our work.

It was clear to us from the outset that we were both committed to a critical apperception of contemporary life from an individual, subjective point of view premised on the idea that fine art provides an essential alternative discourse to mainstream dominant culture. What drew us together is a similar sharp edge to our work. One of the things that struck me when I began to work with Brad was that he actually read the entire text of Simulant Portrait while printing it and engaged with the science-fiction and biographical tropes that motivated its investigation of the problems of creating a feminist subjectivity.

Both of us perceive the complex density of the book form as a means of communicating intimately through a book's dynamic properties as experienced by an individual reader or viewer. My tendency is to work through a project to a nearly complete mock-up before I begin printing; Brad is far more sensitive to the printing process as a way of thinking creatively as his project progresses. Whether working in letterpress or on a computer for digital pre-press, I will change the text on a piece to make it fit the space, give it a particular visual shape or, in the case of letterpress, accommodate running out of certain letters as I am setting the type. This approach reflects the fact that I have a layout in mind and that much of my bookwork is format-driven. However, have watched Brad entirely rethink a page after it has been printed and come up with a printing solution (another plate, halftone screen, color area or pattern or other application of ink) that pushes the sheet in a completely new direction. I watched h im transfer this sensibility to the production of his book MuzeLink (1997), an extensive project, almost monumental in scale that was not entirely laid out in advance of production. Much of the book's final appearance is the result of Brad's continual rethinking of the relationships among the elements in the book that only became apparent as he was producing it. He would sequence photographs in a section, sketch them into the dummy, then project forward for a few days, letting the next sections emerge schematically. In some areas, whole sequences were worked out while the intermediate pages were still blank. He was also able to introduce events that occurred in his life into the still-malleable form of the piece. The difference between working a book out in advance and conceptualizing it during production is fundamental. Sometimes this has introduced a certain tension into our collaborative process, but overall it has been beneficial in working on Nova Reperta, our most ambitious collaboration to date.

Although the project engaged our concern with systematic experimentation with narrative, striking differences in our working methods remained. My sense of narrative is deeply rooted in literary traditions, cliches, tropes and other forms that I absorbed in the process of reading the great literary classics. Reinvestigating these narrative lines has been a crucial part of my interrogation of the links between my own internal life and that of the cultural context in which my psyche intersects with the social imaginary. …