Open Call: Material Conditions 2

Nine years ago Proboscis commissioned a series of bookleteer publications called Material Conditions, inviting creative practitioners to respond – however they wished – to the question of what are the material conditions for being creative now? In 2011 we were just beginning to feel the first bites of “austerity” that the ruling UK Coalition government was starting to implement, on top of more than two years of cuts and changes caused by the 2008 financial crisis and its subsequent fallout.

Nine years later, we have witnessed the impact of austerity and related policies adversely affect civil society and people in numerous ways. Many egregious examples are set out in the 2019 report of the UN Special Rapporteur (Philip Alston) and documented elsewhere in cases such as the “Windrush Generation’s” terrible experiences of the “Hostile Environment”, the increasing number of deaths (especially suicides) of people with disabilities denied state benefits by being wrongfully assessed as “able” to work (often when demonstrably incapacitated or even with terminal conditions), or those “sanctioned” from receiving benefits for minor infringements or justifiably missed interviews. The sheer number of appeals the government loses in such cases (up to 80% in some areas) reveals the nature of this ideological assault.

Beyond this, there are social and cultural shifts that have occurred too. The increasing intolerance against people from abroad who have made their lives here; the growing confidence of explicit racism and hate for ‘difference’ of all kinds. The worrying advance of populist and nationalist tendencies and agendas, as well as the abandonment of the UK’s established role in Europe for an incoherent future of false promises and jingoistic hyperbole.

And in the past few months, in response to the coronavirus pandemic, we have seen a right-wing ‘Conservative’ government forced to adopt state-led interventionist policies of a type that they ridiculed in an election just a few months previously. Even then, their management of the situation has been haphazard at best, disingenuous and deceitful at worst, as well as incompetent and irresponsible in practice.

Over the past couple of months I have been contemplating how to respond to the pandemic and what Proboscis can do in our own small way. My first instinct was to act immediately, but then the potential of slowing down, of taking stock, of not being reactive but proactive took hold. Our daily lives, ways of working and methods of engagement have been drastically altered in the past few months, and the longer term outlook is that this will continue – not merely in direct response of the pandemic, but in concert with all the other forces, such as climate change impacts, which are just beginning to be felt. We are not going back to ‘normal’, no matter how much we may try or wish to. There is only going forwards and choosing to make a different future.

So what, in 2020, are the material conditions for being a responsible creative practitioner? How do we continue to make work that is socially, culturally and politically relevant? What adaptations – to modes, methods, materials, tools and venues – will we need to make as we move forwards? For many, being a creative practitioner is not just a career choice to earn an income but a vocation, a calling. How do we adapt to the changing circumstances and keep faith, keep true to our calling, foster hope in darkening times?

Viral Commissioning & Open Call

Over the past 25 years I have commissioned hundreds of different people to make pieces for publication – sometimes essays and articles, sometimes visual artworks, sometimes hybrid ‘projects’. I have always tried to commission pieces from new people and not to rely on a ‘pool’ of existing contributors. However, my reach is limited – my networks grow slowly and fitfully, a process that requires an ongoing diligence for developing new contacts and making new relationships.

So I have been pondering alternative ways to broaden out who participates and can use this platform to share their voice and perspective. This is more vital than ever given all the pressures described above and recent events around the world. Forces of oppression are visible everywhere, unleashed and egged on by would-be authoritarian regimes, revelling in the chaos and using the distractions for their own nefarious purposes.

One potential route is to adopt a ‘viral’ commissioning model, whereby I initiate a sequence of commissions and then invite those contributors to nominate and broker an exchange with a further person from their own networks to commission, who then nominates a further person and so on (with the aim that nominees ought not have previously been commissioned by Proboscis or bookleteer).

Another way is to adopt the ‘open call’ method and ask people to self-submit a publication on bookleteer and then to review and select from whatever is proposed to add to the series.

For Materials Conditions 2 I propose to utilise both methods.

The proviso is that Proboscis no longer has the ability to remunerate contributors financially. We stopped receiving grant funding for such activities from Arts Council England in 2012; bookleteer operates as a self-publishing platform that doesn’t charge users for its services (except for physical print-on-demand options) and its (minimal) running costs are covered by Proboscis from our income on other projects. I remain loathe to tie this activity into the agendas of funding organisations like ACE in exchange for (often inadequate) grant monies, so will explore alternative strategies for rewarding contributors.

Revisiting the Periodical

One option might be to initiate a new version of the Periodical – our former monthly subscription service (2012-15) which posted out selected bookleteer publications that had been professionally printed and bound using our print on demand service. Instead of remuneration, selected authors (who had already self-published on bookleteer) received 25 copies of their printed publication each.

A monthly service would be unfeasible now, both economically and practically. However, a twice or possibly three times a year posting out of selected publications could be viable.

It might also be a suitable way to develop a community around the Material Conditions 2 series – people who are invested reciprocally both as participating authors and members of an audience for the ideas and experiences of others.

If any of these possibilities interests you – contributing to the series or subscribing to a new version of the Periodical – please leave a comment to this post or respond via Twitter or on bookleteer’s Facebook page.

No rush: let’s do things slowly, with care and consideration.

news publishing on demand

Beltane Offerings

Two new eBooks have been recently published with bookleteer, both by long time friends and collaborators of Proboscis:

Charlie Gere’s – Poems From My Chinese Typewriter

and Gareth Evans and Andrew Kötting’s, Another Alphabetarium of Kötting


Making Custom Notebooks

We have been making custom project notebooks for many years – they are very popular with participants in workshops or when doing field work as we can make them bespoke for the purpose, and the participants can personalise them as they wish.

Our TK Reite Notebooks project is perhaps the classic example, but we have made many others, such as the recent Field & Group Notebooks for the Antarctic Cities Youth Expedition.

Here is a simple guide to help understand the steps in the process.

Download the PDF here.


Republic of Learning

Giles Lane and Rachel Jacobs have put together two bookleteer books documenting Republic of Learning workshops about responses to climate change. We’ll be adding more books as the series continues.
View the collection here.


Antarctic Cities Youth Expedition Notebooks

Giles Lane has designed a set of personal field notebooks and a group workbook for the participants of the Antarctic Cities project’s Youth Expedition to Antarctica. Five young people each representing one of the “Gateway Cities” have been selected to spend a week at the Chilean Base in Antarctica this February. Look out for the results soon!
“View the Collection here.”


From Posts to Books

I’ve recently re-worked some of my posts from my personal website into bookleteer eBooks:

Hiding in Plain SightRead Online or Download PDF

A Calculation is Not a JudgementRead Online or Download PDF

The Data Sublime & A Poetics of DataRead Online or Download PDF

Daemons of the Shadow WorldRead Online or Download PDF

View other publications i’ve made on bookleteer here.


Bookleteer’s 10th Anniversary

10 years ago, in early September 2009, Proboscis launched bookleteer and enabled a new approach to making and sharing publications. It combined a simple method for uploading content and generating booklets in our Diffusion eBook formats (originally designed and launched in 2000), as well as our StoryCubes format (originally designed in 2005).

Over the past decade we’ve run a variety of workshops and engagement projects using bookleteer and its publishing formats to enable people to make and share things they value, both here in the UK and abroad. We’ve collaborated with research and academic partners (including museums and libraries) to devise practical toolkits for social and cultural action; as well as creating methods of sharing knowledge, discoveries and experiences outside the usual channels for public dissemination.

Bookleteer has become the foundation for a whole new way for local communities to develop their own self-publishing cultures, such as our work with Reite people in Papua New Guinea on the TKRN project.

There’s still plenty more to be achieved in the next decade…

examples news

Inspired by Caribou

Canadian artist Joyce Majiski has published another stunning book of artworks, this time, as the eponymous title suggests, inspired by caribou (reindeer). These are the Porcupine Caribou herd – the keystone species that roams across Northern Canada and Alaska – which she has encountered several times in the Ivvavik National Park in the northern Yukon.

examples inspiration news

A Field Guide to People Centric Practices

A booklet of personal reflections, by Giles Lane, on what a set of principles for working from a people-centric perspective might be.

People centric practice implies not just a human centred approach, but one which encompasses the whole context in which we live and work, and impacts on other creatures and lifeforms that are part of such environments – the more-than-human world. It addresses the whole ecologies of which we are part, on upon which we depend for our very existence. People does not have to mean exclusively human – we might consider other species (trees, birds, mammals etc) as peoples, as some indigenous humans have done, since they constitute their own societies and ways of being in the world. All have as much right to life as each other, it is only human hubris which champions our right to own and exploit everything else as paramount.

The booklet brings together, in a simple way, a set of principles and guides for working based on empathy, common sense, trust and agency. It is centred on establishing and following an ethos – through listening and responding, trusting and being trusted; anticipating consequences and reflecting on what you do. It adds into the mix principles for building trust borrowed from Baroness Onora O’Neill’s 2002 Reith Lectures, as well as the Precautionary Principle, Duty of Care and the Nolan Principles of Public Life. It also includes personal values: passion, intensity, intimacy, pleasure, obligation, responsibility, culpability.

Download on bookleteer, or read the online version.

inspiration news

A Cabinet of Alchemical Curiosities

Long-time bookleteer, artist Joyce Majiski, has created a new book of postcards exchanged between herself and artist Zea Morvitz during 2014. Its an exquisitely illustrated collaboration across both time and space – Joyce lives in the Yukon, Canada, and Zea lives in Point Reyes, California. The book is part of a current exhibition of their work, “The Art of Staying in Touch” at Sometimes Books in Point Reyes California. See more images of the exhibition on Joyce’s Tumblr.