The project behind NO-ISBN raises questions about the structure, self-definition, and motivations prevalent in the community. In contrast to other genres, actors from varying backgrounds, ranging from fine arts over media theory and philosophy to areas situated within an institutionalized art scene, like cultural management, gather around the relatively young medium of the artists' book.
Approximating an operational theory of art in the sense of Arthur Danto, we understand the artists book and the related discourse as resulting from the community's activities, and its continuous definition, validation, and reproduction of the medium. Therefore, research on the community represents an essential contribution to understanding the development and significance of artists' books in contemporary art. Drawing upon theories from cultural studies, motivational research, and social network analysis, we set out to develop a detailed snapshot from the community's inner perspective. Following the tradition of Bruno Latour's concept of networks, we deliberately assume a pro-relativist stance. Instead of attempting the construction of an overarching explanation, this approach targets a nonhierarchical mapping of the plurality of self-assertions and -definitions of actors.
In addition to a compilation and analysis of the factors leading to the actors' devotion to books as an artistic medium, identifying structural moments in the publishing practice and establishing connections to topics of cultural studies, such as construction of artistic identities, materiality, and post-medial interdisciplinarity was central to our research. During the empirical part, actors connected to all registered publications were questioned on their experiences and attitudes through interviews and an online survey. The analysis of collected data with methods of statistics and network analysis allowed us to identify patterns and was finally condensed into an image of the community represented by the NO-ISBN collection. Throughout the project's course, artistic interventions reintroduced aspects into the public discourse in the form of small-scale events. Several international contributions to exhibitions, a book sculpture and a hand-made quilt visualize different facets of a dynamic artistic community.