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The Potential of the Printed Matter

Blackbook Publications is an artist book collective and by extension an exhibition vehicle of visual artists that include

Lotta Törnroth, Simon Berg, Annika von Hausswolff, Rikard Laving, Kalle Sanner, Agnes Thor and Emanuel Cederqvist. Simon Berg and Lotta Törnroth speak to C-print about their work as publishers as well the collective's exhibition in the month of September at Centrum För Fotografi (CFF) on the subject of the potential itself of the printed matter, emphasizing particularly the artistic process as exhibiting artists and publishers.

C-P: Blackbook Publications is ultimately an artist book collective of a number of you visual artists grouping together. There's something very sympathetic, I feel, about artists organizing a joint venture the way you are, reaching out to the public on a more independent command. What I love about it is that it's so evidently a labour of love and soul, not to mention sublime aesthetical standard. What's the background story into Blackbook Publications?

S.B: I’ve always been interested in printed matter and fascinated by how photography is transformed and changes meaning when its printed on different materials or objects. I made my first artist book, as well as collectors plates and t-shirts, as soon as I started art school. When I made my first ”real” book in 2008, Apan är rädd, I started to collaborate with Kalle Sanner, another photographer from Valand Academy who just like me didn't know much about self-publishing. In the beginning we wanted a platform for our artist books and for sharing our knowledge and learning together was the first step. And we knew from day one we weren't the only ones interested in this so we decided that this would be a growing project for people to join. A flat organisation with artists we liked and who wanted to contribute.

C-P: Blackbook appears like a very active project with your taking part in international artbook fairs and with your also extending it beyond a publishing platform, as well to an exhibition vehicle. Aside from time and funding, what's the greatest challenge in operating a project like this? On a reversed note, to what extent might social media be paramount for supporting the project and reaching an audience?

L.T: Well, apart from time and money I would say that there are not so many more challenges. Even though the dialogue part with festivals and exhibition coordinators can be an issue, who said what and to whom. People in our collective live all over Sweden which makes e-mailing the easiest way to discuss and that means a lot of e-mails back and forth. But we are getting better and better at this, trying delegate responsibilities for certain things within the group.

Because we all are working full time with our respective art outside the collective as well it can be time consuming to always have a democratic vote on which festival to visit and so forth, so normally some of us just decide that it would be fun to go and then take money from our own own pocket or apply for funding to do so.

So I guess organisation is the biggest problem for a group of people who are either disorganized or just very busy all the time. About social media it is crucial I would say for us to use it, and because we’re such a small collective it’s easy to see how quick we have gained from using for example instagram. But what is more important than social media is that we actually are going to these festivals to show our books. Without being active and meeting the audience in that way we would not sell anything. And also by participating we are getting more and more offers, for instant we where at Libros Mutantes in Madrid in March this year and was invited back by La Fábrica to attend the Photobook week during Photo España.

C-P: What might be some present currents that you see internationally as far as the artist book is concerned?

S.B: The good part is that you start to see a trend of artists working with the printed matter in the exhibition space. Using cheaper techniques, books and pages to make intimate exhibitions with the tools you learned from making books and dummies. Those exhibitions are often very interesting. The sad part is that book fairs can make you very tired of books. You get the feeling that the desire to publish is greater than the desire to actually produce work. An artist’s work can easily be destroyed by heavy design. I would like more artists to take control over their own publications and make smaller pieces with their latest work, and then go on to another book project. People take publishing too seriously, ourselves included.

C-P: Blackbook is currently presenting a very neat exhibition at Centrum för fotografi that runs along the premise of the "potential of the printed matter" which of course rings a bell and to some extent at least is self-explanatory. What I loved about the presentation that is that is really takes advantage of the potential of the exhibition space and audience participation. An idea here was to emphasize the actual work process and allow the process itself to be at the foreground of the exhibition. How did you materialize the idea?

S.B: We decided to focus mainly on two aspects. First of all, the artistic process, the key part when it comes to artist books since those books also can function as a tool to develop your own work. Second, we wanted to work with different kinds of materials through out the exhibition to state what may be obvious in the exhibition, that images and the experience for the viewer changes a lot depending on how you decide to present them.

L.T: All of us in the collective work towards both exhibitions and artist books and we wanted to use that to create a sort of meta exhibition, luring the viewer into reading the exhibition as a book. You can see the artist book as a form of exhibition, with the difference that you can take the exhibition with you home. And we wanted to use that aspect to give the viewer something extra.

C-P: An interesting element of the show is that you present sheets of your work that the audience can fold together by their own merits into an artist book of the collective's work, limited to an edition of 150. I think for certain this is the first time I've had the pleasure of taking part in such idea. It's no less than great.

L.T: When we started to discuss the idea of the exhibition and what to show and how to show it we decided early that we needed to involve the audience in our process. We needed to be extra generous and create something unique for this show. And this artist book was a very easy way to not interfere with each artist’s integrity. We said it would be in A3 size and then we all got free hands to create whatever we wanted based on that form. We asked our friends from Lundgren+Lindqvist, who made our website, if they wanted to do the cover for us and then Louis Kang at L+L made a very ambitious and fun cover. Once all the posters were put forth in the space it is up to the viewer to do whatever with them. I must say for myself that it is very uplifting as an artist who likes to be in 100% control to give away some of the control to the audience.

C-P: What's in store in the near future for Blackbook Publications?

L.T: We have new books arriving shortly by Agnes Thor, Emanuel Cederqvist, Simon Berg and myself. And also releases with two new contributors Casia Bromberg and Rikard Laving. Rikard is also part of the exhibition at CFF, and neither Casia nor Rikard have ever worked with us before so that feels especially exciting for us.

The exhibition Blackbook Publications - "The potential of the printed matter" is on view at Centrum för Fotografi (CFF) in Stockholm through September 23.

Photo credit: Images courtesy of Simon Berg and Agnes Thor

To learn more about Blackbook Publications visit,

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