“I think the main value of this work is to transform our daily actions into art actions and thereby transform both. Fluxus uses found things and daily utilitarian things like spoons, apples, and a ladder. The importance is to put a focus on the ordinary activities of our lives in contrast to the huge spectacle art pieces we often see in museums and galleries, which is part of the drive to commodify art. Fluxus has just a different value system.” — Alison Knowles, interview in Brooklyn Rail
Signal-Return is a newly opened book arts/letterpress and artist co-op space in Detroit. A recently created exhibit there displays multiples and original works by the multifaceted Fluxus artist and teacher Alison Knowles.The Detroit Journal online includes a photo essay series of Alison Knowles “Loose Pages” performed live at the opening in the Signal-Return space. “Loose Pages” is a human-scale sound, body and paper piece she’s performed in various venues around the world.
Knowles works are simple, minimalist, “inter-media” and poetic. Using soft handmade papers, performance, Japanese screens, flags, torn papers, fabric, seeds, instructional directions and Fluxus boxes, Knowles is an inventive master, bending apart, opening up and re-framing how art functions and is defined. Her works can be small as a bean or epic in scale. They each still resonate as revolutionary artworks that contain elements of indeterminacy, humor and chance (through John Cage) and call into question the definition and blurred boundaries between art and life.
Knowles along with her husband Dick Higgins, were among the first practitioners of Fluxus, a community-wide 1960s anti-materialist art movement founded by George Maciunas (1931-1978). “..to promote living art, anti-art, promote NON-ART REALITY, to be fully grasped by all people…” –George Maciunas, Fluxus Manifesto, 1963
“I can’t mention Cage clearly enough in terms of his influence. Maciunas, for me, falls into a space of almost being used by these concepts, balancing them out with his own absurdities, clown-like ways, and interesting personality.” –Alison Knowles (Ruud Jansson interview, 2007)
Knowles and her husband Dick Higgins founded the landmark Something Else Press, an experimental artist-run press which helped spread conceptual art, performance art, Fluxus and documented almost the entire historical avant-garde with texts written by the artists’ themselves. The press’s influence in fields of contemporary music, performance and visual art cannot be overstated. In one interview Knowles said, “I feel that the Something Else Press was European based. We published so many poets from Europe. Fluxus tours and The Big Book ended up in Europe. The impact of the work was not immediately felt in the United States.”
A good selection of Something Else Press books, Fluxus histories and some of Knowles’ own Great Bear pamphlets (a series within Something Else) are on face-out display. The 1965 inaugural pamphlet in the Great Bear series, printed 17 proposals for Fluxus actions by Knowles. It included instructions for some of her earliest works like #1 Shuffle (1961): “The performer or performers shuffle into the performance area and away from it, above, behind, around, or through the audience. They perform as a group or solo: but quietly.” Proposition 1962: “Make a Salad” or #2a Variation #1 on Proposition (1964) “Make a soup.”
Many uniquely eccentric works are shown, including some beautiful large paper banner instructional paintings for a music/dance performance and several one-of-a-kind Emily Dickinson looking poem-dresses are seen mounted against the bare-brick walls, giving them a mysterious floating presentation and impact. Many works are simply laid out on long tables with some of the more fragile objects and older works kept in vitrines or pressed under glass. Knowles herself directed the layout. The variety of different displays creates an excitement of discovery and enchantment within the space. Its a rare thing to experience book arts and fine-printing done well and Signal-Return has done justice to the spirit of Fluxus. Bravo. The exhibition continues through March 31st.
The mission of Signal-Return states, “Our overarching goal is to create a hive for dynamic visual production… The collaborative spirit of Signal–Return will motivate participants to stretch their reach, as they expand their toolkits, vocabularies and means of production.” Its a valuable and welcomed workspace and creative exhibition area for artists and the city. There are ongoing workshops, classes, weekend dinner-salons where people make their own books and community outreach projects where the gallery presents films, archives and artworks in a friendly bright and buzzing space.
Signal-Return stocks a small curated selection of hand-made books and zines with an emphasis on those locally made. They also produce handmade letterpress invitations and posters for private and commercial events. Signal-Return is located at 1345 Division Street just off Russell in the Eastern Market area of Detroit. Their winter hours are Thursday–Saturday: 11AM–6PM.
Alison Knowles is interviewed and discusses her Marcel Duchamp print “The Coeurs Volant”:
The following article was lifted from Shelf Awareness a daily newsletter about events in publishing and books:
“I know I’m going to be portrayed as bipolar for having Jack and the Box and Breakdowns come out at the same moment,” Spiegelman says. Yet, he argues, “It’s all on a weird continuum.”
Characteristically Spiegelman broke all boundaries of the book format with his first children’s book, Open Me, I’m a Dog! (HarperCollins/Cotler, 1997). The dog, who narrates, attempts to convince readers that they really are holding a dog in their hands, rather than a book. The tail pops up, as if to wag, there’s a furry patch children can pet, and a leash attached to the spine. “Did you ever see the point-of-purchase display I did for Open Me, I’m a Dog? It was the most diabolical thing I’ve ever done,” Spiegelman, delighted, gets up from the table to grab a sample. “This had a battery and it was placed presumably at kid level. And then what would happen is the mother would be in the store and there’d be this thing with a wagging tail hypnotizing the kid and saying, ‘Buy me, buy me.’” The actual slogan on the display says, “Read me, feed me, take me home.” This was a throwback to Spiegelman’s days with the Garbage Pail Kids and Wacky Packs. “There the idea was to wrest the quarter out of the kids’ hands directly,” he says. With Jack and the Box, he has to get past the customary gatekeepers–parents, teachers and librarians: “It’s a different world where one is talking to the kid as a member of a civilized and socialized unit rather than the barbarics in a candy shop.”
As always, he did a fair amount of research for Jack and the Box. Mouly has been working closely with teachers and librarians to ensure that the vocabulary and the concepts are well matched to the beginning readers she’s trying to reach. Again, with shades of his Wacky Packs days, Spiegelman was using his equivalent of a rhyming dictionary, as he did with, say, his “Quacker Oats” trading card. “I was reading about how kids learn to read; they don’t teach Q in some schools in first grade because it’s too complicated to have a “Qu” and I thought, what can I do? I can’t misspell it; that would be wrong. So I just figured okay, if it’s Zack, Mack, Jack and then there’s a duck and his mouth is open and there’s something that says, “Quack,” they’ll be introduced to Q a couple of months before it would come their way otherwise, and all the clues are there.” He adds slyly, “So if they’re on a desert island trying to decode this book they’ll figure out what the duck is saying.”
If you don’t believe his work is all on a weird continuum, take a look at the entry in Breakdowns called “Cracking Jokes.” It stars a jack-in-the-box. Here’s what it says on Jack’s box: “The child’s jack-in-the-box provides a potent example of the joke in its primitive form. A momentarily threatening surprise proves itself to be harmless. The child learns to master its fears through laughter.” Indeed, that’s just what Jack does in Jack and the Box (though the surprise is not quite as “harmless” for Jack, all ends well). The jack-in-the-box in Breakdowns, however, sports a jester’s cap made of flaccid penises, which Spiegelman explains, was true historically–the cap indicated that the jester was impotent (a castrate) and therefore could say whatever he wanted. “I was trying to do something in ‘Cracking Jokes,’ which was to use comics to make an essay, which isn’t what comics were for,” Spiegelman explains. “They could be used to tell a joke, an escapist adventure story, a tedious history lesson in the educational comics, but to actually make an essay that made use of the fact that you had the visual component as part of the essay was for me one of the discoveries when I was doing these more experimental strips.” He says that the strip also influenced others, including Scott McCloud, who later told Spiegelman that “Cracking Jokes” is what told him how to do his book Understanding Comics.
Despite Spiegelman’s often bleak world view (“After all, disaster is my muse,” he writes in No Towers), he remains, dare we say it, hopeful about the future of comics. “You can take something appalling like Obama Nation or [something like] James Joyce and feed them both into a kindle and look at it in whatever typeface you want and it will all pour in. But comics are totally site-specific. They have to be a certain size and they have to be a certain way, and the paper makes a difference, like in the Breakdowns book the stiff paper that separates the 1970s cover from the front and again in the back, making this a three-part work. You can’t do that on a screen,” Spiegelman says. “We keep hearing about the death of the book and the rise of the kindle and all of that stuff. What’s ironically great is the same technology which is ostensibly replacing the book has made it possible to print the most beautiful books in the history of printing. And I think that’s why comics are flourishing right now.” Source: Jennifer M. Brown, Shelf Awareness
Mingering Mike is a legendary soul superstar and an owner of dozen’s of record companies you’ve never heard of. I first came across this legendary soul /funk master artist in an article published in WAXPOETICS , one of my favorite vinyl/music magazines. The art work of Mingering Mike was a fascinating blend of outsider/folk-art sensibility and collector mania spanning four decades. Mike was the Howard Finster/ Henry Darger of record collecting. The work embodied many of the fantasies and projections that occur among devoted music fans and collectors. A recent book, MINGERING MIKE:The Amazing Career of an Imaginary Soul Superstar, collects many of the artworks together with several essays and was published by Princeton Architectural press.
Some background history: hundreds of these invented albums, complete with liner notes, bar-codes, spine titles, and shrinkwrap were found at a flea market sale somewhere around Washington D.C. The mix of album’s intoned enticing titles like ‘Mercy the World’, TV Dinners of Mines’, ‘Bloody Vampure’, ‘Ghetto Prince’ and ‘Channel of Dream’. They appeared on the made up labels; Ramit Records, Puppy Dogg, Fake Records, Decision Records, T.T.H. records, Lord’s House, Sex Stereo, Spooky, Mercy Records and many others. Some of these “albums” even had hand-drawn grooves printed on the cardboard records they contained. There were also stacks found of hand-drawn 7″ 45s. Some of the albums contained their own hand written lyrics:
Better get hip Come off This Trip
Killin your Own Kind
Poisoning Our Minds
Stealing Without Concern or Feelings
Beating and raping our women
“where have we come?”
“Where have we been?”
“Where are we going?”
When every, everyday some what
We’re living in sin
“PEOPLE! PEOPLE!… WELL… WE…”
Better get hip and come off that trip…
– From The Drug Store, by Mingering Mike
Its a story that has come full circle with the publication of Mingering Mike’s beautiful new coffee-table sized book. Work once discarded is rescued from oblivion and given a second chance. A star is reborn. Mike has now joined the ranks of visionary African-American artists such as Mose Tolliver, Bill Traylor, and James Hampton. This just in: you can now listen to vintage Mingering Mike recordings taken from old ascetate pressings he made in the early 1970s, hear several mind-blowing selections on MINGERING MIKE’S MYSPACE PAGE
I dreamed I’ve been to Paris and Rome
Throwin’ shows for people
I been everywhere
And I ain’t been nowhere.
“You’ve never seen anything like Persepolis--the intimacy of a memoir, the irresistibility of a comic book, and the political depth of the conflict between fundamentalism and democracy. Marjane Satrapi may have given us a new genre.” –Gloria Steinem
Marjane Satrapi’s autobiography is a timely and timeless story of a young girl’s life under the Islamic Revolution. Descended from the last Emperor of Iran, Satrapi is nine when fundamentalist rebels overthrow the Shah. While Satrapi’s radical parents and their community initially welcome the ouster, they soon learn a new brand of totalitarianism is taking over. Satrapi’s art is minimal and stark yet often charming and humorous as it depicts the madness around her. She idolizes those who were imprisoned by the Shah, fascinated by their tales of torture, and bonds with her Uncle Anoosh, only to see the new regime imprison and eventually kill him. Thanks to the Iran-Iraq war, neighbors’ homes are bombed, playmates are killed and parties are forbidden. Satrapi’s parents, who once lived in luxury despite their politics, struggle to educate their daughter. Her father briefly considers fleeing to America, only to realize the price would be too great. “I can become a taxi driver and you a cleaning lady?” he asks his wife. Iron Maiden, Nikes and Michael Jackson become precious symbols of freedom, and eventually Satrapi’s rebellious streak puts her in danger, as even educated women are threatened with beatings for improper attire. Despite the grimness, Satrapi never lapses into sensationalism or sentimentality. Skillfully presenting a child’s view of war and her own shifting ideals, she also shows quotidian life in Tehran and her family’s pride and love for their country despite the tumultuous times. Powerfully understated, this work joins other memoirs; Spiegelman’s Maus and Sacco’s Safe Area Goradze-that use comics to make the unthinkable familiar.
Persepolis is a great graphic story and the first the Book Beat reading group has read. It is a fascinating and highly enjoyable read. Members unananimously praised the book as sensitive, hilarious, raw and brilliant. You learn something about history and the way war and rebellion effects us on a deeply personal level. It is a perfect graphic work to start with if you are just exploring or thinking about looking into the genre. It can be recommended for anyone interested in censorship, global awareness, foreign cultures, peace and violence in childhood and is especially important for politically and socially aware young adults. It is a book that will open the world to you through the eyes of a child. Be aware there is a sequel, Persepolis 2 now out (you will want to read it as soon as you finish book one) Another volume is coming soon to complete the trilogy.
“Perhaps part of the reason why West Point cadets read this extraordinary book is because they are being trained to think â€œglobally.â€ You have probably heard that term before, but have you thought about what it means? It means that none of us live in isolation. Social and political events in one country impact all countries.” – LaRouche College, reading program
“From the time I came to France in 1994, I was always telling stories about life in Iran to my friends. We’d see pieces about Iran on television, but they didn’t represent my experience at all. I had to keep saying, “No, it’s not like that there.” I’ve been justifying why it isn’t negative to be Iranian for almost twenty years. How strange when it isn’t something I did or chose to be?
After I finished university, there were nine of us, all artists and friends, working in a studio together. That group finally said, “Do something with your stories.” They introduced me to graphic novelists. Spiegelman was first. And when I read him, I thought “Jesus Christ, it’s possible to tell a story and make a point this way.” It was amazing.” — Marjane Satrapi
Read more of Marjane’s interview at ON WRITING PERSEPOLIS To purchase a copy from Book Beat try: Perspolis: The Story of a Childhood
“McSweeney’s 17 comes disguised as junk mail. I’m pretty sure this takes the crown for most ridiculous media packaging that I have ever purchased. Screw the comb that came in my McSweeney’s 16, the material in this issue is packed inside of envelopes and even comes with a rubberband!
The ridiculous packaging is an odd, yet appropriate, choice for the mixed assortment within. There’s The Envelope, which is a big brown envelope containing reproductions of various contemporary art, mostly paintings. There’s humorous inserts, my favorite being the plural clothing brochure. There’s Yeti Researcher, a parody of a scientific research journal filled, too filled, with yeti research articles. I was more frightened than entertained by the amount of effort that went into reproducing that much straight-faced yeti research articles. And, of course, there are a couple short stories, though most shorter than the usual McSweeney’s fare.”
Source: KWC ORG to purchase your own soon-to-be-collectable multi-media junkmail explosion online: Hit Me! McSweeny’s #17