Post-Object Publishing

by Lucy Ives & William S. Smith

Notes on an expanded field.

“Post-Object Publishing” was produced in partnership with the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, as part of Triple Canopy’s contribution to the exhibition “Postscript: Writing after Conceptual Art,” curated by Nora Burnett Abrams and Andrea Andersson and on view between October 12, 2012, and February 3, 2013. Triple Canopy receives support from the Brown Foundation, Inc., of Houston, the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and the New York State Council on the Arts.

Stéphane Mallarmé, fan for Misia Natanson, 1894.
As Lewis Carroll put it in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, I was searching for “a grin without a cat.”
     –Mel Bochner, “The Medium and the Tedium”

WHEN IN THE 1960s, conceptual artists spoke of extending their work beyond the confines of the gallery, it’s doubtful (though not impossible) they had anything like QR—or Quick Response—codes in mind. Visitors to “Postscript: Writing after Conceptual Art” encounter a series of these codes on the gallery walls, along with explanatory texts encouraging them to use a smartphone to photograph each black and white grid. Those who take advantage of these portals will be digitally delivered here, to a special issue of Triple Canopy, Corrected_Slogans.

But where, exactly, is “here”?

Historically, conceptual art has exploited the fungible nature of the written word. Artworks composed of text could circulate easily between the gallery space and the printed page. QR codes may well be an appropriate testing ground for the contemporary legacy of conceptual art; they define a transit between print and the Web. QR codes blend easily into an exhibition about new approaches to writing, since they are binary-code texts and embody a version of language that profoundly shapes contemporary life but is legible only to computers. Like the wall labels that elaborate artworks nearby, QR codes take part in the exhibition and have the potential to comment on it. But unlike wall labels, they point us to an experience of artwork outside the gallery setting; in this sense, they’re a doubly fitting point of access to Triple Canopy’s role in “Postscript.”

Anatomy of a QR code.

Triple Canopy’s special issue, Corrected_Slogans, is both a contribution to and an extension of the exhibition. Three artists represented in “Postscript”—Erica Baum, Caroline Bergvall, and Gareth Long—collaborated with Triple Canopy to produce new artworks specific to an online reading environment. Corrected_Slogans also offers a window into Triple Canopy’s own nearly five-year trajectory as an editorial collective informed by the history of conceptualism. In addition to new pieces by Baum, Bergvall, and Long, Corrected_Slogans contains selections from Triple Canopy’s archive: works of poetry, visual art, and prose are here reframed.

If “Postscript” asks what it means to write after conceptual art, Triple Canopy explores how the same tradition has transformed the act of publishing. Disruptive critiques of language that emerged in the 1960s were grounded in a new sensitivity to context; the meaning of a given text was understood to be contingent on its mode of circulation and its audience. It’s no surprise that some of the most influential works of conceptual art originally appeared on the pages of magazines.

At a 2010 panel discussion hosted by Triple Canopy, the artist Mel Bochner recalled the importance of magazines as a site for his own early work. In a 1967 issue of Arts, for example, Bochner published “The Beach Boys—100%,” a sly piece of conceptual art in the guise of a fawning tribute to the Southern California pop band. Bochner collected fragments of text from teenage fan magazines and assembled them into a roughly coherent treatise on surfing, music, and “the fun sound.” The style and tone of the language remained true to the teeny-bopper source material, but the design and layout of the piece were indistinguishable from the other articles in Arts that engaged in serious discourse on contemporary art. As a work of musical criticism, “The Beach Boys—100%” is hopelessly vapid. But as a work of art designed to be viewed on the printed page rather than on a gallery wall, “Beach Boys—100%” enacts a clever critique of the conventions of art criticism.

Art and writing published by Triple Canopy consciously extend this line of inquiry onto the Web. What constitutes a critical approach to online publishing, however, is anything but straightforward. On the Internet, the distance between writing and publishing can collapse in real time, giving rise to new strategies of manipulating text and new modes of authorship. Impersonal, rule-based (and, for the time, radical) approaches to composition pioneered by conceptual artists find analogues in the Web’s most popular venues. Indeed, appropriated text, copied and shared, has become one of the most recognizable conventions of writing on the Web. Critical Web publishing might mean working against the modes of writing and image making associated with social media in order to “slow down the Internet,” as Triple Canopy’s founding mantra put it. But it might also mean engaging distracted modes of reading online, as well as Web-native writing styles. If the QR codes included in “Postscript” inevitably provide a distraction from the gallery, Triple Canopy’s role as publisher is to seek to understand the relevance and texture of such an Internet-specific detour.

From Mel Bochner, “Beach Boys—100%,” Arts, March 1967.

As conceptual writing slips into vernacular forms online, Triple Canopy has defined a space to examine the intersections of these forms with contemporary art and literature. Triple Canopy asks artists and writers to realize work that “translates” core elements of their practice within the parameters of the Web. These translations are often most successful when they reveal gaps and inadequacies in our assumptions about what the Web can be. Erica Baum’s piece for this issue, for example, is based on a collection of photographs of words and symbols printed on vintage player piano rolls. It insists, with attractive conviction, on the materiality of language—even as it is displayed in a supposedly immaterial medium.

Triple Canopy rarely publishes straightforward critical writing or theoretical statements. Instead, the magazine’s activities enact through practice an expanded conception of what it means to publish. As part of the collaboration with “Postscript,” Triple Canopy organized a series of public discussions that brought together contemporary artists and poets to discuss the legacy of conceptualism. These events have generated content for a forthcoming book, Corrected Slogans, a representation of a public discourse in print.

So, to the reader, wherever we may find you, let us recommend the following compositions and (re)sources: Erica Baum’s focus on the curious charm of player piano print; Caroline Bergvall’s poetic reactivation of a character now lost to anglophone print; and Gareth Long’s resurrection of a disputed lineage of donkey stories, in the form of a play starring a trio of disgruntled authors. From our archive: Dan Hoy’s lyric rejigging of a descriptive audio track from the movie Basic Instinct; Caolan Madden and Paul Hughes’s site-specific reconception of Dan Graham’s site-specific poem “Schema”; Amir Mogharabi’s computational synthesis of logic and the mysterious sooths of Heraclitus into a poetic series; Renee Gladman’s essay-ditties on the time of her own writing; Stewart Sherman’s performance scripts and gridded poetry; Ariana Reines's MoMA session on Sherrie Levine and Gustave Flaubert; and Kate Shepherd’s scrolling exploration of line, letter, and the digitization of the hand drawn. And, finally, a preview of our forthcoming print publication, Corrected Slogans: a series of comment cards anonymously inscribed by those in attendance at Triple Canopy’s September 15 symposium on conceptual poetics, “Poems for America.” We hope that these materials serve as a good introduction for new readers of (and a convincing summary for those already acquainted with) Triple Canopy’s ongoing engagement with publication after conceptual art.