Last December we published Material Conditions, a set of eight commissioned books exploring what it means and takes to be a professional creative practitioner. Inspired by the title of a behind-the-scenes blog post which followed, we’ve added a new chapter to the series, continuing a discussion which seems ever more relevant in the current climate.
Material Conditions: Epilogue is both a companion to those books – for those who read it, for the artists involved – and, as a pleasant paradox, an introduction for those who are not familiar with them. Five of the original contributors – Sarah Butler, Jane Prophet, Karla Brunet, Janet Owen Driggs & Jules Rochielle and Ruth Maclennan – have created new pieces for this publication, as they look back on the series, reflecting on their book and those by the other artists. Far from mere commentary, these responses are works in their own right, and are as poetic and profound as the initial eight books.
It’s also the first publication to launch the Periodical, to suggest the kind of iterative and experimental forms we hope to see being made and shared with bookleteer. As Giles stated eloquently in his ‘manifesto of sorts’, we’re striving for publishing as conversation; despite the finality of its title, this book can be seen as only the most recent part of a process. Here’s hoping for more.
Subscribe to the Periodical to receive your own eNotebook. Complete and return it to Proboscis for digitisation. Several times a year – depending on the quality and quantity of what we receive – we will select and print a Field Work eNotebook for inclusion in a Periodical issue.
For a decade or so we’ve been designing custom notebooks and sketch books for use in projects and workshops – for individuals, groups of participants, communities and some just for anyone who wants to use them. There’s a small library of ‘eNotebooks’ on Diffusion – many by us and some by others (see below and/or click for an example by architect Rob Annable).
Next month I’ll be travelling to Papua New Guinea to share my experiences of using our hybrid digital/paper notebooks for recording and sharing Traditional Environmental or Ecological Knowledge (TEK). Never having worked before in such an extreme climate (Tropical jungle) and in such a technologically remote setting, I’m hoping to learn more about how effective they may be and how much we’ll need to work around them and other constraints to make something locally-specific yet useful and replicable. Right now I’m experimenting with printing eNotebooks on waterproof paper stock to take with me to compare with standard paper stocks for durability and effectiveness.
All this preparation for the PNG trip, along with conversations with my old friend Brandon LaBelle, who was in London recently to teach on this year’s Field Studies summer school, has made me revisit some old concepts and plans for Diffusion Series and dust off one of them. I have also been looking into the remarkable and inspirational Sketchbook Project organised by Art House Coop in Brooklyn, NY to push my original ideas further.
A few years ago, I began to develop an idea for a series of Diffusion commissions that would take the form of a designed eNotebook being given to a number of participants who would be asked to use it to conduct and record field work according to their profession, practice or discipline. Their investigations might be around place, a subject, a process or a community – whatever they choose.
This idea for a series remained a series of sketches and notes as my ideas at the time morphed into the City As Material series of events and collaborative eBooks of Autumn 2010 (and following series). However, with my own imminent PNG field work about to take place and being in the midst of thinking about the nature of what a field notebook or sketchbook might be, the idea has returned and seems highly relevant to the concerns of making and sharing – public authoring – that are driving the ideas behind the Periodical.
Thus Field Work has formed as a new and discrete project that can exist within the framework of the Periodical – each subscriber will receive a blank Field Work eNotebook of their own to record an investigation of their own in (should they chose to do so). All completed eNotebooks sent back to Proboscis will be digitised and made back into eBooks that can be read and downloaded from bookleteer. Depending on how many we receive back, we will select and print someone’s Field Work eBook to be sent out to subscribers as part of the monthly issue – perhaps 2 or three times a year.
Why do this? There is an enduring fascination with the notebooks and sketches of artists, writers, scientists and composers etc – we see this time and again with our own modest eNotebooks for projects which take something unique and handwritten or drawn and make them into ‘shareables’, where the trace of the personal is directly communicated in the digitally reproducible. So much can be appreciated about creative process and intentions from the scribbles as well as the precision of thought, eye and hand that simply evades a ‘finished’ book, typed and formally illustrated. I think that the Periodical and bookleteer both have much to offer not just as a mode of production and dissemination of designed publications, but also as a means of sharing creative process in the raw.
When I first began the long journey towards building bookleteer, back in 2003, we built a rough working prototype of what we called the Generator. I was asked to give a presentation about my concept of public authoring at a symposium held at BT Labs campus, Adastral Park, near Ipswich – People Inspired Innovation. I presented our work on Urban Tapestries alongside the first test eBooks made with the Generator, and suggested how we might in future link them to enable both the sharing of local knowledge and data on mobile geo-annotation systems with physical outputs. One result of this presentation was a series of discussions with anthropologists Genevieve Bell(feral data) and Ken Anderson at Intel Research on how it could be used as a tool for field research : quickly capturing and sharing field work as it happens. Years later I actually got to explore this idea with James Leach when invited to help with the Melanesia Project at the British Museum.
So, working towards a very simple initial template for an eNotebook (i.e. not so highly focused as with some of the ones I’ve designed recently, such as the Soho Food Feast We Are All Food Critics notebook or one I designed for Tim Wright & Joe Flintham’s The Haunter Field Trip) we will send out a printed copy to each subscriber to take part in building up a library of field notes and sketch books. I am also thinking that some field studies and trips – extending the work we’ve done with City As Material – may also form part of this project and would love to hear from anyone interested in taking part or helping organise some.
I am delighted and proud to introduce the first of our friends and colleagues who have agreed to take part in this experiment in conversational, relational publishing. They’ve all agreed to publish at least one eBook with bookleteer over the next 12 months which will all go into the wider selection pool from which we will source the monthly issues. This is neither an exclusive group, nor people who necessarily know each other – they are all people with whom I have worked over the past 15-20 years and whom I admire and respect. They are all people who walk their own paths…
“In a world where publishing distribution models are broken, the idea of ‘spreadable media’ – media that gains value as it is shared through peer networks – is more relevant with every passing day; the Periodical will open up participation and conversation in new and unanticipated ways.”
“We live in a world of living data. Data that are constantly changing and accumulating. Data that feed conversations rather than decisions. Bookleteer offers an opportunity to embrace this evolution and produce unique publications that constantly evolve.”
“I have been involved with Proboscis’s excellent bookleteer project in various ways and capacities since its inception, including working with Proboscis to publish a series of short stories arising from my 2009 Leverhulme Trust residency at the UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies. I have done so because of my broad agreement with bookleteer’s clearly open and radical ethos, and because of what it offers to writers, artists and readers: a defiantly trailing edge e-publishing format which despite apparently low-tech underpinnings nonetheless remains sharply and continuously innovative. Indeed it is Proboscis’s (and the bookleteer format’s) continued capacity for evolution that makes this latest experiment possible; a new way of bringing bookleteer’s writing and reading communities together. For this reason I am delighted to have been invited to participate in the Periodical and I will continue to make it my business, both as a writer and as a reader, to use and to support the bookleteer project.“
“At a time of digital transience I am drawn back to the real, the physical. I am keen to be part of this project because it offers something very unique, special, desirable, to those who wish to immerse themselves in a timeless work of art. Words and images can resonate far beyond the span of a page but to return to that very same page again and again and relive it is something to treasure.”
I’ll post again soon with more quotes from others who’ve also agreed to take part – if you would like to find out more and take part, please read my “manifesto” for the Periodical, sign up to bookleteer and get bookleteering.
A number of people I’ve spoken to about the Periodical have asked me to explain more about the vision behind it. Why is it necessary now? What are we hoping to achieve? Why should people subscribe? So I’m taking this opportunity to share my thoughts, hopes and aspirations – both as a rallying cry for others who partake of the same spirit of independence from the mainstream and want to participate, and also in the hope of getting the ball rolling to attract some subscribers.
Publishing as a Conversation
Over the years Proboscis has been exploring ever more conversational forms of sharing our stories, knowledge and experiences – always seeking to make work that is reflective and inspirational, not a full stop. The form of the book and traditional publishing – requiring lengthy processes of commissioning, editing, design and production, not to mention financial capital – seems so often to be an end point. The finality of the published word, of the authoritative edition underscored by the exclusivity of the world of publishers, editors and writers. What our Diffusion eBook format and the bookleteer self-publishing platform have striven towards is to offer an alternative to these. Not a replacement, but another path.
When I originally conceived the Diffusion eBook in 1999 I wanted to create a hybrid that would disrupt the monopoly of the screen: a publication that would be distributed digitally, but would find form in being printed out, folded, cut and made up into a physical book. Something that could bypass whatever physical barrier that might prevent either a traditional book or purely online text from reaching whoever wanted to read it. We designed our eBooks so that they could be samizdat for the digital age. Email them, photocopy them, burn the files to CD-ROM to share. Use the cheapest, most long-lived and reliable medium we have (paper) for communicating what we value in a way that privileges what is being communicated, not the fetish of the mode of communication. With bookleteer we have extended this original concept into the world of mobile and social media. The physical eBooks all have links to their digital selves, both as QR codes and human readable links. We have bridged not just the digital and physical but the handmade and the industrially produced too through the Short Run printing service which makes high quality professionally printed and bound books available to all at very low cost and in low numbers (from 25 copies).
the Periodical : a space of oddments and all sorts
So what is it we are trying to achieve by selecting one eBook a month, printing it and sending out to subscribers? My vision is that we will not just send out beautifully printed books to paper fetishists and analogue recidivists but that we will build up a vibrant community of writers, thinkers and makers who feel empowered to respond – not just to read the eBooks published via bookleteer or those printed and posted out, but to make their own publications as ripostes, as new tangents or simply because they’ve been inspired to share their own stories, experiences or creations. The Periodical should be an incitement to a publishing riot. Everyone is invited, though not all will respond and even fewer will be selected to have their eBook printed and distributed. But it will be different. Not a magazine, nor a ‘best of’ compendium. Entire eBooks, selected for printing and distributing once a month.
This is most definitely a space for the eccentric and eclectic; for those who are seeking without always knowing what they are searching for; who value the off-beam, the esoteric, the strange and unfamiliar. As an editor of journals, books and essays over the past 20 or so years I have always tried to commission different voices, not just those people I already know and with whose work I am familiar. There are always threads of enquiry in my search for new people to work with, it isn’t random, but the patterns are perhaps best discerned over the long years and not in the more time-proximate juxtapositions which throw different people together in a particular issue or series of eBooks. Tracing these patterns is a job for another day, another post (perhaps by someone else) but, simply put, everything I have commissioned, every project I have devised and led, has been motivated by an attempt to push the boundaries of what we know, how we know it and why we value these experiences. This questing for new perspectives, to experience things through others’ eyes and senses, this drive to follow instincts and not follow the herd will be the engine of selection for the Periodical.
September 2012 is the twelth anniversary of the publication of our very first series of Diffusion eBooks, Performance Notations. Over the past 12 years, we shared almost 500 eBooks on our Diffusion Library website many of them new commissions as well as books by partners and collaborators for their own projects. We are also seeing some dramatic changes across society and culture. The public goods which we have enjoyed here in the UK since the end of the Second World war and birth of the Welfare State are being eroded and displaced. Our social and cultural heritage is being looted by freebooters and buccaneers in the name of economic efficiency and profit. The work Proboscis has commissioned and freely shared over the past 12 years through Diffusion and now via the tools and platform we are making freely available through bookleteer are our own modest contribution to the Public Good, to the commonwealth. the Periodical is a simple way to seed a loose community of like-minded people around the theme of sharing what we value in ways that evade being a full stop. That are an incitement, a provocation, and invitation or an inspiration. I hope we are able to attract enough participants to not just make this a sustainable project, but that can help us grow and expand what bookleteer can do, that might enable us to devise new projects and commission new works that are as ambitious as anything we’ve done before.
What Kind of eBooks?
Next week we will be deploying some major changes to bookleteer (see here for details). Non-users will be able to browse all the eBooks and StoryCubes which users have made and shared publicly on the site. There are some gorgeous publications that have been created over the past 3 years to give a sense of what is possible, some of which will be considered for early issues of the Periodical. I am also inviting an eclectic group of friends, colleagues and fellow travellers to commit to making and sharing at least one new eBook on bookleteer over the next year for inclusion in the selection pool. I’ll be posting about who they are and why they are taking part in this project very soon. Update : check out the new bookleteer Library page to browse what people have made.
Subscribe to the Periodical
To launch the Periodical we need at least 100 subscriptions – if you would like to receive a beautifully printed eBook once a month (more if we can also raise sponsorship for new series of commissioned eBooks too), then please subscribe here.
An eccentric monthly publication for an era of eclectic exploration
More and more beautiful, thought-provoking and inspiring eBooks are being created with bookleteer all the time so, with a nod to such illustrious forebears as William Hogarth, Joseph Addison, Jonathan Swift, Laurence Sterne and Charles Dickens we’re creating the Periodical, a regular monthly publication to share some of the best examples – from the most beautifully designed, illustrated and written to the most experimental uses of bookleteer, its API and what can be done with the format. Update : check out the new bookleteer Library page to browse what people have made.
For a small monthly or one-off annual subscription (see below), you can receive by post a different printed eBook each month crowdsourced from bookleteer. Our target is to launch the Periodical with at least 100 subscribers in October 2012, selecting and printing a new eBook each month for distribution. Whilst we build up the subscriptions we’ll be sending subscribers a choice eBook every month selected from among those we’ve previously printed for projects such as Professor Starling’s Expedition, Material Conditions, City As Material, As It Comes, Agencies of Engagement and others.
What Will Subscribers Receive? The Periodical will be a monthly delight landing on your doorstep – you can expect consistent eccentricity and eclecticism in our choices. We will be seeking out the most extraordinary and unusual eBooks created and shared on bookleteer. Some will be selected by us at Proboscis, others will selected by invited curators and from time to time we’ll invite subscribers to vote for their favourite eBook to be printed and sent out as the monthly periodical. Anyone who wants to take part can contribute a book for consideration for the Periodical by signing up to bookleteer, then making and sharing an eBook. Each month we’ll post on the blog about what we’ve chosen and why – but only after we’ve sent it out, so the subscribers have the pleasure of an unexpected arrival landing on their doorstep.
To kickstart the Periodical we’re inviting a number of our friends, colleagues, fellow travellers and others whom we admire to explore using bookleteer themselves and to create some new publications with it that will seed the initial pool of publications from which we choose the first few issues. We’ll announce more about these soon.
To complement the crowdsourced eBooks, we are also seeking sponsors to help us commission new experimental and imaginative publications using bookleteer. These will be printed and distributed to subscribers as well as shared digitally on bookleteer for all. We’re looking for sponsors who see the opportunity that bookleteer and the Periodical offer for commissioning exciting new experiments in publishing – sharing new ideas, new knowledge and experiences in multiple ways to people all over the world. They might be themed series in themselves (following on from our previous series such as Material Conditions, City As Material, Transformations, Short Work, Liquid Geography, Species of Spaces, Performance Notations) or simply a one-off commission. *** Please contact me for details of sponsorship opportunities.
Subscribing to the Periodical
You don’t need to use bookleteer or be signed up to subscribe and subscriptions from organisations and institutions are very welcome (email us with a purchase order to subscribe). The Periodical will be a great way to tap into the creativity generated with bookleteer, having some of its best creations delivered to your door.
Subscribers will also receive a 10% discount on any Short Run printing orders of their own (recouping their subscription by just ordering a minimum 25 copies each of 4 of their own eBooks).