behind No-ISBN

Based on the collection of artists' books assembled by Bernhard Cella at the //Salon für Kunstbuch// under the umbrella term NO-ISBN
  • exhibition view: no-isbn, arabic edition 2019, beirut art center, photo by Bernhard Cella.

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.

Hier fehlt der Text zu NO-ISBN Arabische Ausgabe

Hier sollte eine Text stehen zu Beirut, Ausstellung

The Space Book of Book Space

Salon für Kunstbuch is providing a sneak peek into the development of its new publication: The Space Book of Book Space.

From the team that published “NO-ISBN- On Self-Publishing”, a reader that profiles the international boom of artists’ books in recent years, another book that opens up to a three-dimensional paper sculpture with eight different stages is in the works. The Space Book of Books spaces is a homage to contemporary cultures in self-publishing that manifests as a playful encounter with the various constellations in which authors, exhibitions, publications, and events interact in real space.

Unlike other books, it can be unfolded to 360 degrees when placed in an upright position. Magnets can be used to keep it standing upright. Comparable to adjacent rooms of a house, each space represents its own three-dimensional impression of a Book Space, created by, or for, books.

Once unfolded, the eight Book Spaces articulate some of the constellations in which producers of book objects find themselves in contemporary cultures of self-publishing. One Book Space displays how books are arranged as an intertextual and inter-object space; another shows their authors assembling around their works in conversation; another shows how books can be assembled to set up an exhibition. Finally, space D is dedicated to the legacy of Concept Art and its artistic strategies, ranging from the creation of book objects to performance art and happenings. The final stage belongs to No-ISBN – on Self-publishing as research into contemporary publishing cultures between the need for privacy and critiques of digitally enabled surveillance.

In addition to the visual staging of Book Spaces, a timeline situates such spaces in historical time. A booklet included in the publication provides readers with chronological information on the Salon´s guests, exhibitions, events, locations, and dates.

Quilting my Archive - Translating pieces of personal memorial objects into a sculptural statement of communal memory

As an artistic statement I have decided to research into the communal cultures and techniques of quilting. Originating in China, quilts are produced by sewing together three layers of cloth to produce a stepped blanket. Quilts were also popular with medieval knights who could wear them under their amour against the cold. In recent times, quilts are produced and gifted for rites de passages such as a child´s birth, to celebrate marriages or graduations, and they are often used for decorative and commemorative functions only. The visible layer of a quilt is made of patchworks of individual pieces of textile and such pieces may be re-assembled in other patchworks in the future, which makes them part of a culture where self-creation and re-use are marketable values.

Their material durability lets quilts function as living history of diverse groups such as families, religious groups, or minorities over many generations. One of the most famous quilts is the AIDS Memorial Quilt, which was begun in San Francisco in 1987, and is cared for by The NAMES Project Foundation. Weighing an estimated 54 tons, it is the largest piece of community folk art in the world. Each panel was created in recognition and celebration of a person who died from AIDS-related complications. Together, they form a memorial to a group of victims who has suffered from stigmatization for many years. Contributors to the quilt celebrate the lives of their deceased friends and family members.

The material I used for the NO-ISBN quilt is comprised of special group of textile works called ‘manquants’. Back in 2010, I realized how many titles that were meant for the collection had been stolen by visitors to the Salon. I was personally responsible for these copies, some were irreplaceable, and I had to spend weeks unraveling a few miserably complicated matters. In one case, I even had to chase a curator and pull a book out of his bag. Later, I tried to transfer the ugliness of these processes to a positive, logical connection by creating a new work. Several photos of the covers of missing books were translated into a series of tapestries called “Manquants” (2012), a collection of injuries in book form produced in a French Jacquard manufactory.

For the quilt, I combined these ‘manquants’, the ‘missing pieces’, with graphical representations of the network of creators we researched that are stitched onto cloth.

Qualitative Interpretation of the NO-ISBN community as a Social Network

Julius Deutschbauer, Jan Van Eyck Academy, Vienna City Council - three subgroups of the NO-ISBN-network graph. Nodes represent the publications. The connections (lines, network edges) represent related entities, individuals or institutions that produce, author, host, or finance them.

The colored groups mark subsections connected by Austrian artist Julius Deutschbauer (left position, dark blue), the Vienna City Council (middle position, light blue) and the Jan Van Eyck Academy (upper position, middle blue). They demonstrate prototypical functions within the network: Individual authors and producers tend to form tight-knit subclusters characterized by repeated cooperation of the same in-group. As institutions link between separate groups of otherwise unrelated people and projects, they let larger clusters emerge.

The central cluster of the network is rather complex as many nodes are connected via different paths. Small groups of three to five nodes frequently clump together due to having multiple links between each other, e.g. the same authors, the same publishing house, the same print shop etc.

The central cluster represents publications from Western European countries, but not all objects from that region are connected. Other, smaller clusters stem mostly from connections between productions from outside the EU.

There are also a large number of completely unconnected nodes due to individual artists who produce their publications on their own. They may or may not participate in the self-publishing scene at large, yet are not connected in terms of cooperation or institutional affiliation.

Printed Matter, New York (close-up view)

Outside of the central cluster, the network grows increasingly sparse, with smaller subgroups of ten or less nodes without connections to the main network. Still, bookstores, artist organizations and arts spaces such as Printed Matter are somewhat likely to connect at least some of these isolated groups into medium-sized chunks.

These and other insights were presented as part of the podium lecture “Dispersed or distributed” at Transmediale 2018 in Berlin. A quantitative analysis of network parameters proved to be impossible due to the structural characteristics described above: Frequently used metrics like centrality, density, or distance/degrees of separation all rely on the presence of one unified network. As shown in the qualitative interpretation, it turned out that the self-publishing community cannot be usefully described as such. Cutting out the one node that connects all the others, ie the NO-ISBN collection, lets the network splinter into a large number of clusters and individual, isolated nodes; leaving it in would distort the metrics due to the fundamentally different character of this node, which is not involved in the production of the vast majority of publications it consists of.