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.

the periodical

the Periodical issue 1

Our inaugural October 2012 issue of the Periodical included two eBooks, Material Conditions and the Field Work eNotebook. See the preceeding posts to find out more about each one, read them online or download, print out and make up your own copies.

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news the periodical

Material Conditions: Epilogue

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.


Zineage Kicks

I haven’t featured any Zine related stuff on the bookleteer blog for a while now, so whilst we’re busy producing the eBooks for City As Material 2, I thought I’d share a blog I’ve just discovered.

Zineage Kicks is a behind the scenes look at a number of the early Zines of guest contributors, chronicling their conception and what it took to get them made via interviews and testimonies. It’s a side of small scale publishing that rarely gets heard, unlike the wealth of talk that surrounds the inspirations and working practices of mainstream writers, artists and designers, and might surprise people who perceive Zines to be generally low-consideration, offhand artefacts. The blog seems to have been started a few months ago, but already I can see it becoming a regularly visited bookmark, especially due to the parallels with our latest series of eBooks, Material Conditions.

Oh, and I left the most obvious comment to last… great name, eh?


‘According To The Artists’ / ‘Talking Art’

Before the New Year, we published the first series of Material Conditions, a set of eight eBooks asking professional creative practitioners to reflect on what the material conditions for their own practice are, especially now in relation to the climate of change and uncertainty brought about by the recession and public sector cuts.

Since then, I’ve come across a couple of books that draw parallels – miniature libraries of creative insights and artistic working practices – which should be of interest.

According to the Artists – 13 Questions, 51 Interviews, (the title is pretty self-explanatory).

Talking ArtInterviews with artists since 1976 , (collected interviews published by Art Monthly).

We’re starting to plan the next series of Material conditions, this time centered around collective responses rather than individual commissions. Stay tuned for more news.


In the Margins

This recent article from the Guardian Books blog, ponders whether or not it’s acceptable to make notes in the margins of books. Reading it, I was reminded of how annotating draft bookleteer eBooks during the editing and proofing stages of Material Conditions was an invaluable part of the process.

We were able to quickly transform the draft books into the final printed format to get a feel of what they would look like on the page, and then to cross out, change and empathise parts, scribbling notes without feeling they were too precious to make marks on. Having a hard copy of previous changes, with progressive layers all on the same page, lets you revert back if you change your mind – something I’ve also come to appreciate in my own notebooks, when early choices are all too often lost with a newly edited digital file. Working with multiple versions and backing up regularly are safeguards easily neglected, as we all know.

As an alternative, use the online bookreader to preview eBooks without messy edges or any dodgy printer issues, and to show collaborators your work instantly.

Paper or digital? Both.


Material Conditions, Series 1 – Epilogue

Yesterday, Proboscis launched the first series of Material Conditions, a set of eight eBooks created with bookleteer, asking professional creative practitioners to reflect on what the material conditions for their own practice are, especially now in relation to the climate of change and uncertainty brought about by the recession and public sector cuts – part of Proboscis’ wider programme of activities, Public Goods.

For this series, we commissioned 8 artists and artist groups (Active Ingredient; Karla Brunet; Sarah Butler; Desperate Optimists; London Fieldworks; Ruth Maclennan; Jules Rochielle & Janet Owen Driggs and Jane Prophet) to produce a book each. Half of the contributors took the opportunity to design their own layouts and use bookleteer to create their books themselves, whilst the other half (often busy working on various projects and unable to make the books from scratch) took advantage of our in-house design and production team (for the most, myself, with assistance from Giles Lane) to create their books. My practice, as a writer, is usually contributing text but for this venture I took on a role as co-commissioning editor and designer – coordinating responses, reviewing early drafts and producing front covers, guided by my co-editor, Giles. In this way, the process behind this project also echoed one of its main themes – how do we continue to be creative and productive everyday in the face of limited resources?

Collaboration and co-creation are at the heart of our practice and ethos, for the riches they bring as much as resources dictate their necessity. This stance has led to a very different, and I believe perhaps more exciting, output for this series, than if all the books had simply been commissioned by us and created entirely by the artists involved remotely. I relished the chance to guide and inform, alongside Giles, the direction of several of the books, to be the first set of eyes to witness a first draft outside of its author, to design covers – sealing a visual stamp upon a beautifully written piece.

Being able to instantly generate and preview drafts in the relatively new bookreader format has also been a huge boon during the design process, and it’s accessibility will ensure Material Conditions can be read, shared and used as a resource globally, by anyone, in addition to the printed set and the downloadable PDFs. In fact, all the printed books carry a QR code link to the digital version on the back cover, so they can be instantly shared amongst smart-phones and tablet devices.

Thank you to everyone involved – we’ve got a great, diverse collection on our hands. 

All the books are now available on our archive of publications, Diffusion. Delve in, and enjoy.

The next series of Material Conditions is scheduled for June 2012, for which we’re planning another experimental approach, shifting away from individual commissions to a collaborative process generated through an intensive ‘booksprint’. Stay tuned for more details.

events news

Material Conditions – Launching 15/12/11

On December 15th we are launching a new series of eBook commissions called Material Conditions. This series asks professional creative practitioners to reflect on what the material conditions for their own practice are, especially now in relation to the climate of change and uncertainty brought about by the recession and public sector cuts.

The contributors are:

The first set of 8 contributions will be published as eBooks made with bookleteer and available as downloadable PDFs for handmade books, online via bookreader versions and in a limited edition (50) of professionally printed and bound copies which will be available for sale (at £16 per set plus P&P). You can pre-order a set via paypal:

Material Conditions 1 Set (inc P&P)

We’ll be releasing one eBook every day on Diffusion until the print launch on December 15th in our Clerkenwell studio, where copies of the full limited edition printed set of 8 books will be available.

Yesterday saw Sarah Butler’s Knowing Where You Are; today it’s making / do by Jane Prophet.

(Material Conditions is part of Proboscis’ Public Goods programme – seeking to create a library of responses to these urgent questions that can inspire others in the process of developing their own everyday practices of creativity; that can guide those seeking meaning for their choices; that can set out positions for action around which people can rally.)