Magazine article Art Monthly

Material Conditions

Magazine article Art Monthly

Material Conditions

Article excerpt

It's not often you have to make your own book before reviewing it. In this case, there are eight short artists' books which involve a complex procedure of folding, pinching, cutting and swearing to achieve an A6 booklet - otherwise known as Proboscis's open-source 'bookleteer' software. There is a choice of a sadistically concise, six-stage diagram (only helpful if you were good at following Kinder Surprise instructions) or a video set to an annoyingly chirpy soundtrack that is considerably more useful if you hit 'pause' every couple of seconds. You can read the books online - better for the colour pictures if you only have a black-and-white printer - but, given that the series is called 'Material Conditions', that option felt too much like cheating. Or you can spend [pounds sterling] 18 on a limited-edition set (one of 50), which, when you work out how much time and printer ink you spent making the damn books, might on balance be worth it. When I have calmed down from all that mental effort, I have to admit they are quite dinky.

Each of the artists or art collectives has been asked to respond to questions around the necessary conditions and inspiration for making art. A more conventional publisher might have collected the answers in a single volume but the variety of book formats (different fonts, layout, ratio of images to text) certainly emphasises the variety of approaches: the chatty honesty of the desperate optimists; the diary style of Jane Prophet; the philosophical musings of Sarah Butler, Ruth Maclennan, Janet Owen Driggs & Jules Rochielle; the scientific-report list-making of Active Ingredient; London Fieldworks' cryptic collage of photos and scribbled note; and Reconvexo's song lyrics. Nonetheless, there are a number of generalisations one can make. In our post-Fordist society, it isn't surprising that many fret about the distinction between work and art, hence the preference for the all-encompassing term 'practice' that most of the artists use. Considering the Blue Peter-inspired format of the books, it is ironic that there is very little object-making in evidence; practice has been dematerialised.

In practical terms, it would appear from this sample that the romantic vision of the lone artist has been replaced by the desire for public participation and workshops (Active Ingredient, Owen Driggs & Rochielle) and collaboration with colleagues (desperate optimists). Even the writer, Butler, discusses the need for conversation and community. No one mentions that seemingly dirty word 'delegation'. Few mention that once-essential premise, the artist's studio; Butler and desperate optimists instead both mention their offices.

It seems that money issues don't necessarily disappear with experience and age either: even after 25 years, desperate optimists admit to never having lost the fear of needing to get a 'proper job' and that art might just be a 'rich person's game'. The title of Prophet's book, making/do, likewise reflects her admission that funding for her site-specific projects has plummeted and forced her radically to change her practice, including relocating from London, UK, to rural New London, US.

One wonders, then, whether the recent phenomenon of the nomadic artist will continue to be an aspiration in a time of recession. …

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