At Publication Studio Vancouver until March 1
Publication Studio Vancouver, which prints and binds books on demand, recently opened an alternative gallery at 222 East Georgia Street and launched it with Some Woolly Buzz. This group show consists mostly of small-scale laser prints by three dozen local, national, and international artists, writers, and curators, including Arnaud Desjardin, Eileen Myles, Rodney Graham, Myfanwy MacLeod, Ian Wallace, Fiona Banner, and Kota Ezawa. Their wildly various imagery and texts range from the whimsical to the arcane, with references to everything from rock music, cult films, and cartoon strips to modernist architecture, political history, and cultural theory. Oh, and art.
What the show’s unlikely title signifies, Kathy Slade tells the Straight on our visit to the converted storefront space, is a way of generating interest and attention. “Woolly buzz excites the fans and confounds the critics,” she says. And perhaps we are confounded—although not by the books-on-demand publication project or by the engaging exhibition. We are gobsmacked that two people as busy as Slade and her husband and PSV codirector, Keith Higgins, would voluntarily commit themselves to the demanding job of running a gallery. Slade is an award-winning, cross-disciplinary artist who exhibits widely while also working at the Charles H. Scott Gallery, operating READ Books, teaching a course in artists’ publishing, codirecting the Musical Appreciation Society, making records, and hosting stalls at art-book fairs hither and yon. Higgins, an artist whose long-term project involves documenting all the Vancouver Specials in town, is the executive director of the Unit Pitt Gallery, and was cofounder of Artspeak and the Pacific Association of Artist Run Centres.
Previously, the couple operated PSV out of their home, aligning its activities with those of the founding Publication Studio in Portland, Oregon. Its mandate, as stated on its website, includes using “any means possible to help writers and artists reach a public: physical books; a digital commons; eBooks; and unique social events with our writers and artists in many cities”. Slade and Higgins have produced some 35 publications so far, from books by contemporary artists to 17th-century proto-anarchist political tracts. Hanging by threads in the gallery’s front window are 14 of their books, an installation that accords with their stated intention of blurring the boundaries between editorial and curatorial practices.
Digital technology is what enables the Publication Studio network, which extends across the United States, Canada, and Europe, to function. It is also what makes Some Woolly Buzz possible. Contributing artists sent PDFs to Higgins and Slade, who printed them and mounted them, unframed, on the walls. Slade points out that this inaugural exhibition harks back to the mail-art networks of the 1960s and ’70s. In the case of Some Woolly Buzz, the postal system has been replaced by electronic mail as a way of exchanging images and ideas outside the institutional and commercial confines of the art world.
A “double manga” by New York artists Dan Graham and Mieko Meguro consists of Meguro’s tender portrait of Graham sleeping and Graham’s scribbly line drawing of Meguro inside his dream bubble, with the words “I am the anti-Yoko.” Tim Lee’s monochromatic text piece Back to Black conflates high abstraction with the now-historic Black Power movement in the U.S. Mina Totino’s Floor Drawing is a photo of an accidental but eloquent splat of blue paint on her studio floor, outlined in pencil. Kota Ezawa uses image and text to conjure up the ghost of Jackson Pollock. So, yes, there’s a heap of self-referentiality and cultural in-joking in this show—a fine way, indeed, to generate some very woolly buzz.