50 / Printed Matter

Introduction: Printed Matter

By Catherine McChrystal January 18, 2012
CRASS 1977-1984. New York: PPP Editions, 2011; Large folio; 73 black-and-white and color illustrations on newsprint; Edition of 1,000. Courtesy: Andrew Roth Inc, in association with PPP Editions, New York.

Art Practical from its inception has been an issue-based publication, which enables us to produce content on a frequent basis and to explore how arts writing might overcome a seeming disconnect of art from everyday life. There’s an inherent ephemerality in such serial publications, as Gwen Allen notes in her introduction to Artists' Magazines: An Alternative Space for Art, which is excerpted in this issue. They have the power to link what’s in print with what’s happening now, reflecting the impermanence and transience not only of the medium, but also of the ideas catalogued therein, which will perhaps become obsolete by the time the next issue publishes.1 It follows that the transition of the printed magazine to an online form would allow for that power to persist despite the lack of any physical form to mark the transition from one to the next.

As an online venue, Art Practical strives to create such a connective dialogue that brings today’s art to life, but it also aims to historicize the interactions between artwork and viewer, writer and reader. “Printed Matter” is concerned with Art Practical’s indebtedness to print culture; we ponder the extent to which Art Practical can serve as an archive while constantly evolving alongside its own conversations as part of an ever-shifting digital frontier. There’s a tension between the ephemerality of being in the present and the staying power of a constructed archive. Our fiftieth issue, “Printed Matter” is a self-reflexive pause within this space.

The content of this issue is varied, and intentionally so; it looks at print culture in relation to artworks, art writing, text, and publishing, aspects that are all very present across the Bay Area through artists and organizations that remain devoted to the culture of printed matter. Art Practical editors start the conversation by talking with the editors of the print publication San Francisco Arts Quarterly, hashing out the differences and similarities between print-based and online arts publications. At the heart of the conversation, and representative of the content in “Printed Matter,” is how the choice to be a publication situated in print or digital media affects our interactions with our own records and the opportunities to explore the intersections between a malleable, online archive with a tangible paper record. 


From that premise, we look at the physicality of books: Chelsea Wong leads a conversation on Bay Area books arts that explores the relationship between the act of bookmaking and archiving or historicizing ideas. She inquires into the ways the book as an object can affect how we communicate and the things we choose to say. Larissa Archer reviews Paul Madonna’s monograph Everything Is Its Own Reward (City Lights Publishers) and gives us a glimpse of the fleeting bits of text laid over Madonna’s depictions of San Francisco. And Tess Thackara ruminates on book design and books as mass-produced art objects in relation to the development of the e-book.

Stepping back, Kara Q. Smith takes the exhibition of artists' books at the Legion of Honor, Favorite Things, as an opportunity to think about accessibility, reproducibility, and the distribution of ideas in the twentieth century, while Keturah Cummings gives us a Bay Area overview of zines and artists books in relation to the future of digital media. She advocates that a new golden age for print publications is needed now more than ever, especially as legislation threatens the free-expression realm of digital media.

Above all, what we’ve found is that print culture remains multifarious and exploratory, adding dimensionality to the practice of artists in the Bay Area—Bean Gilsdorf profiles the Kadist Art Foundation Magazine Residency Program—while also providing outlets for arts to engage the participation of the reader. Patricia Maloney’s exploration of print as an alternative space considers publications that invite or even require our performance as readers or participants to be successful.

The cumulative effect of the disparate topics in “Printed Matter” points to the complexities between print and online publications and all the modes of existing in between. Allen writes that “the qualities that made [printed] magazines such a compelling medium for artists—such as their temporality and their process-oriented nature—also make them fascinating art historical documents.” Art Practical, too, offers its own version of this history as an archive, one that we create with you, our readers, and our writers as part of the ongoing dialogue that connects and reconnects art with everyday life.


Art Practical Mail Art Subscription

In this day and age, receiving a letter in the mail that's a piece of correspondence can be rare. As such, it goes beyond its intended purpose to communicate and becomes a testament to effort and attention. You hold the envelope in your hand and think about how long it took to get to you and the actual, physical distance it traveled. Your name and address written in a familiar handwriting somehow has the power to close both those gaps, while the unfamiliar scrawl provokes surprise and anticipation.

I thought about these things after receiving a letter from the artist Alicia Escott. Enclosed was a black-and-white photo of a coyote in a desolate area; the note on the neatly typed page grieved his extinction and separation from me. I discussed the work with Patricia Maloney—who also had received a photo accompanied by a letter expressing longing and regret from Escott. Though we knew them to be works of art, installments in Escott’s ongoing project, letters sent sometime before the continents split and separated us, Patricia insisted on calling hers a love letter.

In conjunction with “Printed Matter,” and in honor of our fiftieth issue, we want to encourage you, our readers, to think about the value that exists in both the undifferentiated and ready access to information, ideas, and archives that online publishing grants and about the intimacy of a hand-addressed envelope intended for a single individual. In some sense, to consider how Art Practical might arrive in your mailbox.

So we invite you to subscribe to the Art Practical Mail Art Subscription project to receive a piece of correspondence from each of six artists, starting in March 2012. Some of the participating artists are local—Anthony Discenza, Alicia Escott, and Colter Jacobsen—while others, such as Anthony Marcellini, based in Sweden, will correspond from greater distances. Each artist will explore our archive and respond to their choice of article in a form of their choosing—a text, letter, photograph, drawing, etc.—which you will receive in the mail, once a month for six months. 

We were inspired by the history of Mail Art, in which correspondence between individuals could also manifest as a network of communication, demonstrate a self-directed means of exchange, and utilize a democratic form of access, not unlike online publishing. The articles the artists respond to are therefore catalysts for the correspondence, an idea expressed by the writer that prompts reflection, retort, or inquiry in one direction or another. And we will encourage subscribers to reply in turn, via a postcard enclosed with each piece of correspondence.

Art Practical’s Mail Art Subscription will be produced in a limited edition of 150 offset prints for each artist; subscribers will receive the print, a copy of the referenced article, and the addressed postcard. Proceeds from this project will support Art Practical as we embark on our next fifty issues. We look forward to extending the Art Practical archive to your mailbox.

To subscribe and for more details, please visit http://www.artpractical.com/products/mail_art/.


1. Gwen Allen. Artists’ Magazines: An Alternative Space for Art. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011.

Comments ShowHide

Related Content