Seminar #9 Self-Publishing


The table in the conference room was strewn with books, magazines and other printed matter for our last official session of the seminar. The subject was self-publishing and our guide for the night was Walker’s Senior Designer Emmet Byrne.

A fan of small press publication, artist’s books, design zines and all other forms of independent-publishing, Emmet gave us a jumping mini-history of self-publishing. Trolling through time, he started with Virgina Woolf’s Hogarth Press, founded in 1917 by the writer and her husband. According to Woolf, using a press made her much more conscious of the written word, enabling her to think of text visually, as in blocks of words to be arranged on the page.

Moving along, he showed images of different resistance newspapers published during WWII and then talked about a later underground form of publishing, samizdat, the practice of reproducing banned text in the Soviet Union leading up to the successful resistance in the 1980s. The term translates from Russian to mean “itself” (sam) “publishing” (izdatelstvo), yet former Soviet political dissident, author and political activist Vladimir Bukovsky defined it as follows: “I myself create it, edit it, censor it, publish it, distribute it, and get imprisoned for it.”

Emmet also talked about the developments in copy machine technology that yielded countercultural output starting in the 1970s, and then advances in design software that made publishing available to anyone with a desktop computer. The last stop on Emmet’s tour covered the newest trends in print-on-demand through sites such as

Another form of resistance publishing we looked at is the practice of leaflet bombs (or leaflet balloons in this case), where propagandistic messages are distributed aerially in places where crossing land borders is difficult. This tactic, practiced by entities ranging from South Korean activists to the U.S. Army, may have an uncomfortable place in a conversation about self-publishing. It begs the question about what “publishing” is and what comprises the “self” in such an act. Must it be an individual? Can it be an institution? What happens when it is the state?

This question of definition is pertinent to this seminar for another reason. This residency includes the possiblity of a publication to reflect on the project with contributions for those involved. Open-ended by nature, this component is still being determined. As a way into thinking about the publication and the roles different kind of print pieces play in museums (such as catalogs and gallery guides), Emmet presented this list of words for us all to think about:

Public Private



Other Artists


Nice list, Emmet, and I hope this private/elite/generative/interpretive/opaque/utilitarian thing comes into existence. It’s interesting to end the seminar with a list of binaries, as Haegue’s work seems to start with binaries and twist them into mobius strips. I particularly like the pairs precious/utilitarian and dumbed-down/opaque because they don’t seem like exact opposites; they have poetic potential. Precious and dumbed down does sound like a precise description of “middlebrow” “culture”–Landmark cinema, for instance. Whereas utilitarian and opaque puts me in mind of melamine dishes.


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