Tag Archives: ICI

Searching for Sebald (trade edition)

Searching for Sebald: Photography after W.G. Sebaldlayout from Searching for Sebald

Searching for Sebald (trade edition): $30.00    BUY NOW

Searching for Sebald: Photography After W.G. Sebald is an anthology of original essays and visual projects inspired by the work of one of my favorite writers, the late German novelist W.G. Sebald, author of Rings of Saturn and Austerlitz. I served as an Associate Editor on this project as well as the lead designer, in charge of design concept and development. I also contributed an essay entitled “All That Is Beyond Hearing: A Life of Arturo Ott”. It was a mammoth undertaking that took four years to complete, finally being published in 2007 by ICI Press.

Sebald interwove his texts with photographs in a highly idiosyncratic fashion—as seen in the layout above, which compares pages from two different editions of one of his novels. The focus of Searching for Sebald is a re-examination of the relation of photography to text in Sebald’s work and in the work of various modern and contemporary artists. I’m proud of the fact that this project was truly international in scope, featuring essays by European and American writers and artwork by Shimon Attie, Joseph Beuys, Christian Boltanski, Andre Breton, Tacita Dean, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Pablo Helguera, Gerhard Richter, and others. (More about the project here.)

Searching for Sebald is available for purchase through artbook.com ($39.95) or amazon.com ($29.16). At over 600 pages, the anthology is a steal at either price.

Posted in 2010, books | Also tagged , , , |

earth boxes

Earth Box (Irvine), ca. 2000

Earth Box (Irvine), ca. 2000

In writing about my current recent installation at the Institute of Cultural Inquiry in Los Angeles, Evidence of Evidence, I didn’t tell the whole story. I focused on Louise Brigham, whose unusual history became the centerpiece of the show, but there is actually a good deal more to it than that.

Earth Kabinett

the ICI's Earth Kabinett

There is also the laboratory area where I worked on the show, which I came to call “the mud room”. One of the themes of the show as a whole is dirt work of various kinds—cultural dirt work such as Lewis Hyde discusses in Trickster Makes This World, house-cleaning, recycling, composting, building with adobe and its relatives mudcrete and papercrete, the building techniques of the paper wasp, the colorful dirts that we call pigment, and so on. In the mud room are traces of all of the above, in the semi-organized mode of a work in progress.

Earth Box (Irvine), ca. 2000, open flat

Earth Box (Irvine), ca. 2000, open flat

Among the objects included in the show are two “millennium earth boxes” I made for the ICI back in 2000 or so. As I recall, the ICI commissioned these boxes from several ICI associates with the idea that we would use dirt from the ICI’s Earth Kabinett, which holds specimens of dirt from many parts of the world. Although all the boxes were identical in format—small, slender wooden cases painted flat black on the outside, with shallow vitrine-like interiors—each associate went about this in characteristically different ways.

Earth Box 1, ca. 2000

Earth Box 1, ca. 2000

For my boxes, I chose to use dirt and other materials as an instrument of inscription. In one box the word “Irvine” appears (Irvine, California, was the source of all the different dirts used in the box); in the other, the word “earth” itself, together with a selection of rocks tagged with different geolocations.

Earth Box 1, ca. 2000, open flat

Earth Box 1, ca. 2000, open flat

The millennium boxes are for sale through the ICI; please email the ICI, info@culturalinquiry.org, if interested. Or visit the ICI to see boxes made by other Associates as well.


Posted in 2011, unique | Also tagged , |

AIDS Bottle Project

Braun-Munk-bottle-cropThe AIDS Bottle Project is a long-running project of the Institute of Cultural Inquiry in Los Angeles. Each bottle is etched with the name of someone in the arts who has died from complications of HIV/AIDS and contains the fragments of a broken light bulb. A brief biography is printed under the lid. During public displays of these bottles on International AIDS Day, they are left open so that anyone who wishes to can add objects of personal significance. At the end of the display period, the bottles are given away freely to members of the community. Through this participatory structure, the bottles underline the highly personal and ever-changing process of memorialization.

The bottle shown here, originally made in memory of the publisher Eugene Clarence Braun-Munk, has been in my keeping for some years now. I have added to it the military dog-tags of my maternal grandfather, Charles Hercules Boisssevain, from his service as a doctor in World War II. Born a Dutchman and naturalized a U.S. citizen in the 1920s, he served as an army doctor in Great Britain where, towards the end of the war, he was diagnosed with intestinal cancer from which he died not long afterwards. My uncle always maintained that his father was an indirect casualty of the war because he didn’t get proper care quickly enough as a result of wartime constraints. Keeping his tags in this bottle signifies for me the many ways that bad luck, history, genetics, and individual actions can intersect.

The pennies came later, when I found myself thinking one day about how, during my lifetime, people have begun to agitate ever more vocally for the abolition of the penny, and what this says about how we decide that something is valueless. So the pennies in the jar are a reminder of the ugliest side of the AIDS crisis: the indifference or outright hostility of those who feel that people with HIV are worthless.

The bottle no longer sits where it is shown in this photograph from a couple of years ago, but as always it is in a spot where I see it every day.


Posted in 2014, latest | Also tagged |

Speculative Pentimenti

Speculative Pentimenti cover

Speculative Pentimenti: $40.00






Speculative Pentimenti: Painting in the Age of Endarkenment, the most recent book I’ve designed for the Institute of Cultural Inquiry, has just been released. It is one in a series of monographs the ICI is issuing about the work of its Associates. Speculative Pentimenti is about the work of painter Sande Sisneros, specifically a series of paintings from 2009-2011 in which she deploys fluorescing pigments to create two strikingly different states of each painting, one visible under normal daylight or incandescent light, and the other under ultraviolet light. The book includes an essay about the related phenomenon of bioluminescence (by Lise Patt), an essay about Sisneros’s work (by Sue-Na Gay), an interview with Sisneros, and reproductions of selected paintings in both their daylight and UV-visible states.

Speculative Pentimenti spread 2

the opening spread of the Gay essay

Speculative Pentimenti spread

a spread from the Patt essay

Posted in 2013, books | Also tagged , , |

artistic license

Terra Incognita, 2011

screenshot of "Terra Incognita", 2011

The Institute of Cultural Inquiry—of which I am a longtime Associate—has put up a page of photographs taken ‘in the field’, most in the course of researching their many projects and a few just by the way. Some are captioned, some aren’t, but they do provide a kind of snapshot of the ICI’s persistent interests: trauma, memorials, shrines, and cults; journeying, witnessing, and mapping; obsolete media and personal interventions. A route winding through Berlin, Amsterdam, South Carolina, Buttenhausen, London, New York, Chimayo, Memphis, Sri Lanka, Los Angeles, often halting and doubling back on itself before forking off again. (Many of the projects named on the “Terra Incognita” page are written about in more depth elsewhere on the ICI’s main website.)

(And here I must digress long enough to mention that the ICI’s annual garage sale and fundraiser is tomorrow, Saturday August 27th, 9 am–2 pm, at their headquarters at 1512 S. Robertson, Los Angeles. Stop by if you’re in the area: there’s always something unusual on offer at these events. And if you want to visit the ICI itself and find out more about its projects, a good day to come by will be Saturday, Sept. 10th, 4–6 pm, for the launch of the ICI’s latest publication project.)

Limited Artistic License, 1990

Limited Artistic License, ca. 1990

Since this page includes an image of one of the “Limited Artistic Licenses” I made some years ago, I thought I’d write a little bit about them here. The term ‘artistic license’ generally signifies that one is allowed to do anything, that ordinary constraints (ethical, aesthetic) need not apply. However, the canonical story of western art suggests that each generation took this license cautiously, extending its field of operations only incrementally for the most part. At least until Duchamp changed the game almost overnight by adding—or to be more accurate, trying to add—the entire spectrum of what had been understood as ‘not art’ to the license.

When I made the first of my “Limited Artistic Licenses” in 1990, however, I was thinking about how a small set of restrictions were still in effect on artists’ practice, even post-Duchamp. The biggest area of restriction is forgeries and fakes, about which I’ve written a good deal (see, for example, this article). To this day, something tagged as a forgery cannot be admitted into the canon of western art. Duchamp’s Fountain, ok; anything by Elmyr de Hory, not. It was to pry open this closed door that I founded my Museum of Forgery, which sponsored the “Limited Artistic Licenses” project.

The second area of restriction is what might loosely be called ‘non-signature’ work. That is, once an artist has become well known for a certain kind of work, it becomes increasingly difficult for her to gain recognition (and markets) for work done in other styles and media. Technically, the artist can still do the work, but the psychological barrier to doing so can be formidable. It is for this reason that the “Limited Artistic License” is actually a license not to do certain kinds of work. If you read the fine print, it says:

This certifies that [name of artist] has executed the artwork shown at left and is therefore EXEMPT from ever having to do anything of the kind again, so long as this LAL shall remain in effect.

Yes, I made the license revokable so that the artist truly would have the freedom to do or not do as she chose—and also because it seemed so entirely contrary to the nature of official documents of all kinds to have an erasable signature:

Upon receipt of this LAL, bearer must make some kind of REMOVABLE mark in the space above. This LAL will then take effect and remain in effect SO LONG AS the mark is not removed. Thus, bearer may revoke and renew this LAL at will.

old California fishing licenses

My old California fishing licenses look a lot like these. The newer ones don't have these great stamps.

I’ve always been fascinated by the symbolic arcana of official documents—the numerological codes and blurry stamps, the colored inks and wavy cancellations, the circles and triangles and dadaist jumble of fonts. I designed my license in this spirit of maximal iconography, and I modeled it especially on the fishing licenses that I’ve been collecting for most of my adult life. Hence the otherwise opaque allowance: “Valid in ocean waters and for taking frogs.” (But then, what license doesn’t contain at least one wholly opaque instruction?)

The title “Limited Artistic License” was intended to be contrary to fact, since the entire license was an essentially contrary undertaking. In the years since I made the first—and only—handful of these, the title has become factual in the sense that this is now a de facto limited edition. I imagine the ancient computer file (in what obsolete piece of software?) exists on my backup drives somewhere, but I have no intention of digging it out and trying to restore it to usability in order to make any more of these.

And I will just add this: like any really proper official document, it includes at least two secret ‘internal’ codes parsable only by the bureaucrats in charge of issuing the license. That would be me and N. Fisher. Good luck with your decryption efforts.


Chief Operations Officer, LAL Division, Museum of Forgery

Posted in 2011, latest | Also tagged , , , , |


Anna Ayeroff, installation at the ICI

Anna Ayeroff, installation at the ICI

The Institute of Cultural Inquiry has opened a new series of projects that will showcase 10 shifting curatorial visions over 100 consecutive days. In each case, the curator will be using the ICI archive as a jumping-off point (I’ll be doing one of these in the spring.) The first one was curated by Alex Harvey and Anna Ayeroff and explores points of intersection between the ICI archive and the fractured, “better-world” impulses of Anna Ayeroff’s multimedia installation “Clarion Calls.” It runs until March 3, 2011.

DATES: January 31 – March 3, 2011
LOCATION: 1512 S. Robertson Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90035 (two blocks south of Pico)
HOURS: Thursday – Saturday, 12-5pm by reservation
FEES: Suggested Donation, $5
PARKING: Street Parking Available

Posted in 2011, latest | Also tagged |

Benjamin’s Blind Spot

Benjamin’s Blind Spot, trade edition:$20.00   BUY NOW

Benjamin’s Blind Spot, commemorative edition: $35.00    BUY NOW

I designed this little gem of a book in 2001 for the Institute of Cultural Inquiry in Los Angeles. Its full title, Benjamin’s Blind Spot: Walter Benjamin and the Premature Death of Aura & ICI Field Notes 5: The Manual of Lost Ideas, gives a good sense of the unusual nature of the project. The first part of the title refers to the inclusion of a group of essays that use Walter Benjamin’s landmark 1937 essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” as a springboard to apply Benjamin’s insights to a diverse selection of topics. The second part refers to the fact that throughout the book, the margins are used to present excerpts from a curious manuscript known as The Manual of Lost Ideas, together with a commentary on the Manual by Arturo Ott.

The Commemorative Edition includes a separate sheet of full-color artist’s stamps showing a selection of  images from the Manual of Lost Ideas.

What the critics said:
“It’s been months since I’ve been this excited about a book that’s scholarly in nature. Benjamin’s Blind Spot is two books in one: a collection of essays by various authors who consider Benjamin’s treatment of aura; and reproductions of the Manual of Lost Ideas, an odd compendium of art, text, and objects…. The impressive use of typography, editing and design made me think about aura as I read the book. And Arturo Ott’s descriptions of the contents of the Manual are eerie and provocative.” [Joanne Diaz, amazon.com]

“[a] concise and rewarding collection of essays…. cleverly provokes far-reaching reconsideration of the lingering presence of blind spots and aura in today’s art and culture.” [Angela Glass, Afterimage, 2002]

The type design for this book uses my 1999 Checco font.

Posted in 2011, books | Also tagged , , |


Searching for Sebald: Photography after W.G. Sebald

Searching for Sebald

I’ve just added two pages to the site about a book entitled Searching for Sebald that I worked on a couple years back. It ended up being issued in four different editions: a trade edition and three special artist’s editions. I’ve included links to the sites where the book is being sold.

Since Searching for Sebald was published by ICI Press, a wing of the nonprofit Institute of Cultural Inquiry, all sales of these editions help to fund future ICI projects—I don’t see a dime of the proceeds myself.

Posted in 2010, latest | Also tagged , |

Searching for Sebald (special editions)

In addition to the trade edition, three unique special editions of Searching for Sebald were produced by the Institute of Cultural Inquiry:

  • the Artist’s Edition, a limited edition of 100 housed in a unique vintage suitcase containing artworks by 20 contemporary artists ($1000; buy here);
  • the Collector’s Edition, housed in a black clamshell box with a drawer containing study documents, a magnifying glass and a stereoviewer ($200; buy here); and
  • the Reader’s Edition housed in a silver cardboard sleeve with study documents ($40, buy here)

For the Artist’s and Collector’s Editions, I produced limited edition artist’s projects. The Artist’s Edition has a set of small, sealed memory cases entitled no longer not yet. Some of these enclose photographs (the ‘no longer’ of the title) and a handful of wildflower seeds (the ‘not yet’), while others enclose dirt, sand, salt, raw pigments, and botanical materials including seeds.  In the second group, salt introduces a destructive (‘no longer’) potential into the  dormant (‘not yet’) miniature ecosystems. Each unique box thus is both an abstract landscape in the representational sense, and an actual low-relief landscape in the physical sense.

For the Collector’s Edition I created a single-sheet ‘study document’ that relates to the research I did for my essay in Searching for Sebald about a reclusive collector named Arturo Ott. Surrounding a closeup photograph of a page from one of Ott’s albums are 5 comparison images found in a related group of albums, with red lines connecting the pairs of similar images. The purpose of this visual comparison was an attempt to uncover the workings of Ott’s mind.

All of these editions can be ordered directly through the Institute of Cultural Inquiry at the links above (Paypal accepted).

Posted in 2010, books | Also tagged , , |