Two weeks ago at Transmediale, Janneke Adema and Gary Hall reminded us that it might be worthwile to investigate past and current artistic engagements with the book in order to reimagine the book for the digital age. In the past, artists have turned to book production as a way of enacting institutional critique, using cheap and widely available production techniques for exhibiting their work via independently produced and distributed art books, thereby circumventing the gallery system. And then, of course, there is the rich history of zine culture and self-publishing rooted in the DIY ethos of punk.
Currently a project on Kickstarter called The People’s Ebook aims to give artists the tools they need for producing art ebooks. Having their backgrounds in visual arts publishing and alternative arts funding, the initiators want to develop a free ebook publishing software with the promise that “what the photocopier was to zines, we hope The People’s Ebook will be to digital books.” With the funding deadline still 16 days away, the project already exceeded its funding goal. The slick mockups and video surely helped. However, I wonder whether the technical constraints that will surely follow from using an easy-to-use WYSIWYG tool might not hinder the medium-specific experimentation we know from paper-based art books and consequently yield homogenising effects. But hopefully someone will soon come up with an ebook as ironic a statement as David Stairs’ Boundless was in 1983.