Sunday 15 January 2012

A place is a space we give meaning

New magazine folio calls itself an "exhibition space on paper" and presents the work of several artists per issue. With print undergoing rapid and tumultous change, it's undoubtedly an interesting time to launch such a product.

Image supplied by courtesy of Paul Bailey / folio magazine

Editors Merve Kaptan and Charlie Coffey, artists themselves, commissioned graphic designer, lecturer, and co-founder of agency We Draw Lines Paul Bailey to produce "A place is a space we give meaning", a special work which explores the content within folio issue zero. How do we experience three-dimensional, sculptural, time-based and de-materialised work within a physical, two-dimensional environment? We invited Paul, Merve and Charlie to discuss the challenges of print and how the work came into being.

Please introduce your collaboration – how did you end up producing A place is a space... for folio?

PB: folio magazine announces an open call for submissions for each issue, to which I responded with the hope of publishing an adaptation of a previous piece of work entitled The book is dead, long live the book: a homage to the double-page spread (2010). Merve and Charlie responded with a proposal to work on a project to coincide with the launch of issue one instead. I was obviously very happy to take them up on the offer!

CC & MK: Initially we were thinking about working with pages of the previous issue to create another, perhaps three dimensional, outcome to the magazine. We wanted to give issue zero another outing, and push the flat format into something new. Paul's submission showed a strong awareness of the physicality of the book, and we were attracted to his almost investigative testing of its limits in his practice. We especially liked the series of book sculptures he'd done and the Objects publications he'd published. It was exciting to see how he used the pages as layers, which was exactly what we had in mind for him!


The work "examines the challenge of representation". Do you think that there is sufficient challenge in representation, and why not? In the digital age where anyone can be anything online, are these challenges now as much about the self as much as the viewer?

PB: A place is a space... explores the challenge of representation in that it examines the selection of work published in folio issue zero in its carefully edited, designed, printed and bound state. It ignores the fact that this work may have, or continues to, exist as a 3D physical object, a video, a six-by-four inch photograph or otherwise in a particular 'place' or 'space'. I was primarily concerned with each piece of work in its new state; scaled colour images and set pieces of text, printed on un-coated creme paper, bound within folded and stapled pages of the publication.

What A place is a space... seeks to represent, in quite a literal but consequently abstract form, is an opportunity to experience of a piece of printed work in the round. In this case the 'piece' of work is the image I have removed from the publication, so as to enable me to look at it 'in the round' as you would a three-dimensional object – the top, bottom, left, right, up, down, back and front. These are the aspects of representation I am asking the viewer to consider, and therefore challenge, in the re-appropriation of the content.

CC & MK: We were very clear from the outset that we wanted folio to be a space that avoided standard magazine format, as in something that 'features' artists, which is why we conceived of folio as an exhibition space in print. We really wanted it to be like walking into a curated exhibition, where there's a dialogue between the works on show - we're not sure we achieved this with issue zero but by issue one we're much closer!

With A place is a space... after weeks of experimentation, Paul's focus gradually shifted from the more installational assemblage works, in which every component of the magazine had been deconstructed, to the scans he'd been making of the edges of the images. What seemed to emerge was a concern with their positioning in space and the architecture of the magazine. What you get in A place is a space... is a kind of representation in which interestingly, but not overdone, certain works remain within their original sequencing creating an indexical relationship to issue zero. It's difficult to say how much Paul was concerned with probing the '"challenge of representation"... he was tasked with this very open brief which didn't really come with an overt obligation towards representations of the artists' work.

Image supplied by courtesy of Paul Bailey / folio magazine



It consciously constrains three-dimensional and time-based artwork into a flat, printed publication. What messages are you intending to connote in terms of how the viewing of art, or at least the reproduction of work, is undertaken?

PB: The title of the publication A place is a space we give meaning refers to the conscious and unconscious decisions that are made in the processes of documenting, editing and reproducing a piece of work to be housed/viewed/experienced in an alternative format. I use the term 'unconscious' in the fact that a scupltural artist does not always set out to create a piece of work to be experienced on a flat, printed page, nor do they allow this to dictate the potential of the piece.

A place is a space... is about the act of extracting/relocating/repositioning the core elements of a piece of work from its original/live state/space to be redistributed/shared/archived in another context or form. I align it to the conflicts an artist or curator may deal with when re-staging a site-specific piece of work for instance. Within the publication, the images containing solitary pieces of paper (the extracted images from folio) scanned at 1:1 scale, held in place by my own hand, surrounded by darkness invites the reader to contemplate anything they deem lost/unseen/disguised/removed in this particular act of reproduction, but also that which may been gained in such a process. The image is still the image, the only difference here is that the viewer is only shown one perspective at a time.

One of the things I enjoy about the visceral and personal experiences art affords us, the viewer, is the fact that we can, and often do, walk away with our own interpretation of an artist's intentions formulated, rationalised and digested. I also love the fact that this interpretation can and does change depending on the way, space, mood, and indeed the format in which we experience the work. The folio offer of a "platform for three-dimensional, time-based, de-materialised work to be realised on a flat page" intruiged me and provoked me to take this offer a couple of steps further:

  1. A place is a space we give meaning as described above.
  2. Issue 1 of 1: a one-off 80-page loose-sheet supplement distributed across 40 special edition copies of folio issue one. This aspect of the commission moves further in that the images of the scanned edges from A place is a space... are over-printed and re-aligned to the edge of its corresponding image upon the pages the original magazine.

The common messages that stem from these two publications refer to notions of frequency, familiarity, recognition, but primarily the very simple fact we are conditioned as readers. We approach the experience of printed matter with particular expectations in place, be it a book, magazine, supplement or otherwise. We disconnect or retract from the presented content if these expectations are not satisfied, rewarded, or some case challenged enough.

The conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner, a consistent point of reference for me, consciously acknowledges aspects of these motivations, in that he constructs his sculptures inviting the viewer/reader to bring their own depository of experience along with them to a specific space to assist in formulating a personalised meaning of his text-based work. He never seeks to conclude or maintain authority. I think this is something that is also at the very core of folio magazine's intentions too.

CC & MK: You could certainly argue that reproducing artworks in a magazine format risks commodifying them, certainly the more dematerialised works we're interested in showing, such as performance or sound/music. Whilst we didn't set out to directly comment on these limitations when we started thinking about the magazine, it was natural to question how material is viewed when reproduced and represented in this way - what are the limitations and how can we build an awareness of this into the way we work? In a way, there's that same impulse that Paul talks about - a desire to create another means of experiencing "in the round" something that exists elsewhere in another state and location. folio attempts to be an alternative platform for viewing artists''s hard to see exhibitions in person all the time! On a more serious note, there is a longstanding interest in the physicality of paper and printed forms on our part and folio is a natural extension of this interest.

In Paul's case, he talks about motivating the viewer's reading or experience of the issue. When you look at A place is a space... you get a real sense of this, of not necessarily experiencing the content of the issue (there are fragments of certain works but as a whole they tend to be quite oblique), but the sensation of flicking through the whole body or entirety of a publication from the front page to the last. In this way the book is also reminiscent of a flick book - not in such a flippant, snappy way but in that it creates a sense of motion and a sense of following a linear action from start to finish (front to back).

Image supplied by courtesy of Paul Bailey / folio magazine


If A place is a space... is reconstituting work in other (more?) media into a flat, 2D publication, then how much of this is about reproducing – or modifying – work to communicate the limitations of the medium, and how much are you actually creating a new piece of art as a result?

PB: The content of A place is a space... was created by cutting each image out of issue zero along the edge of its frame. Each loose image was then scanned along its four edges (left, right, top and bottom), producing three hundred and ninety-nine individual scans. The intent to scan the images, rather than to photograph them was deliberate, to actively record the actual scale of the piece of paper, as much as possible. Consequently due to the materiality of each piece of paper – its length, width and height, along with the way in which I held each single piece, the scans capture moments of movement and produce live and original recordings of this process.

In effect, the scans collated and bound together in an indexical fashion function collectively as an act of performance - the performance being my own experience of viewing the work in the round. Interestingly, I don't view the book, nor the supplement, as a new piece of art per se, but more, an alternative way of coaxing the reader to consider the way in which they may approach a similar experience in the future.

CC & MK: Both folio and Paul's commission are very much about 'modifying' or recontextualising work for another format, but - as talked about above - we'd question how much this is a direct attempt to communicate the limitations of the medium. With Paul's work, it was always our intention that he create a new piece of art as a result of the commission, which we were very pleased with.

Image supplied by courtesy of Paul Bailey / folio magazine


What expectations do you think that artists have in terms of the reproduction of their work into 2D printed form? How much dematerialisation is acceptable?

CC & MK: For us, folio isn't about handing over completed images to the editors. We always want more engagement with the artists than that. Having said this, of course sometimes a work might seem perfect for the issue and need far less editorial input. Often this is how we begin, with one work becoming a focal point around which everything else falls into place. This starting point nudges us towards a larger framework that binds the whole issue together, a kind of lens or prism through which we seek and select other artists' work.

Insofar as dematerialisation is concerned, it depends on what meaning is taken from it – folio is still quite object-based despite being on the flat printed page, and after all it adds yet another magazine to the wealth of objects out there in an increasingly over-saturated world! If anything, what folio tries to do is reconfigure relatively dematerialised artists' works onto the flat page, imbuing them with three-dimensional form or materiality within a two dimensional plain. So, there's always a tension between these two, and a challenge to see whether this is possible.

That's how we see the folio partnership with artists and we're always interested in working with people who want to push the conditions of display and receivership of their work beyond the terms they've already set as the artist/creator. So for us, it's not so much a question of how much dematerialisation is acceptable - more of whether we can produce an interesting result within folio's quite specific remit, which naturally plays with the materiality of artists' works.

PB: I agree with Merve and Charlie. I view the process not as a process of dematerialisation, but more an act of translation, taking into account the particular nuances, sensibilities and the intent of the artist, the purpose of the work, and environment it is intended for.


folio itself is an "exhibition space on paper", which itself creates an interesting collision with the themes coming out of A place is a space... - so how does folio seek to work with the limitations of print when it, itself, deals with so many media?

CC & MK: Despite some of the above comments, we're not always thinking about the limitations of print! When designing the issues we try to act as though there aren't any practical considerations for the sake of encouraging interesting ideas.. Ask us the same question in a few years time. Of course, we know there are limitations (how to add sound to the page without using a CD?) but this is the interesting thing for us - can you reveal unexpected elements about a work by transforming its medium.

What we asked Paul to do with folio issue zero is what we do to other artists' works all the time. Disassembling and reassembling the magazine over and over again. He really familiarised himself with the magazine as an object, as a physical space and as a site of content formed through a succession of images. folio isn't so much about offering artists another outing for preexisting work, but an opportunity to take it apart and put it back together again in another medium or chronology. In this sense, it's most like an extension of an idea of collage.

Image supplied by courtesy of Paul Bailey / folio magazine



Paul Bailey is a graphic designer, lecturer, and Director / Co-founder of agency We Draw Lines. Further information on Paul and a selection of his works, is available on his website. Further information on Merve Kaptan and Charlie Coffey, and selections of their own work as well as further information on folio, is available on their websites (Merve, Charlie).

The folio website provides further information on "A place is a space we give meaning" including the opportunity to purchase books and prints related to the work – as well as the magazine itself.

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