“…what performance shares with some kinds of filmmaking, this importance of dissemination or, in film’s vocabulary, distribution, the meaning of the work being also in part contingent upon being shared in this way—when a work does not exist as a simple, unique object to be owned in the standard way as an art object is owned by an individual or a museum, it poses a challenge to the institution, if you like, one that is inherent in the work and has to be taken into account when considering what a work means.”[1]1
Ian White from an interview by Eva Birkenstock and Joerg Franzbecker with Ruth Buchanan, Emma Hedditch, Suchan Kinoshita, Falke Pisano, and Ian White in On Performance (Bregenz: Kunsthaus Bregenz, 2013), minute 0-30.

How do systems of distribution facilitate our encounter with artworks that refuse the status of the unique art object? Artists’ film and video and artists’ books have both occupied key roles within the practices of interdisciplinary artists for successive generations. However, they have existed at the margin of institutions, appearing most often under the departmental auspices of public and education programs or falling within the mandate of libraries rather than exhibitions. In a narrative of art history written by the accumulation of market value sutured to a limitation of access, the mutable and/or multiple status of artists’ film and video and artists’ books positions them as secondary in status to unique art objects. And yet, they produce a way out; a tear forms along the seam when artists’ film and video and artists’ books determine their own conditions facilitated by strategies and systems of distribution.

Is my initial question about the collective possessive? Yes. And bodies. And containers. In his talk The Artists’ Apostrophe, Mike Sperlinger asks what is being delineated by the apostrophe in order to problematize not only the collective possessive but also the control of a field itself. When is a claim to a form or medium being made on behalf of artists and when are artists themselves making the claim? Sperlinger insists that we must not think of a film or a video or a book or a publication only as a genre or an art historical form. He emphasizes that they are direct political tools and their predisposition to sharing and circulation is inextricable from an urgency: an accelerated access to organize via networks. What are the implications of that immediacy?

As Mason Leaver-Yap asserts, artists’ film and video is by its nature networked and collaborative. Cooperative even, as in the New York or London Filmmakers Co-ops that Leaver-Yap acknowledges as historical models of artist-run organizations and distribution. And yet, distribution cannot exist without a collection and all the historical parameters and permissions that implies. Beside and between institutions, the distributor occupies a parasitic mode of being, caring for a collection that occupies time and space temporarily.

A collection is always organized but it can also be improvised—premised on exchange and not just acquisition. The BAS collection of artists’ books is itself an artist-initiated activity, developed not from an institutional mandate but the affinities and encounters of Banu Cennetoğlu. Unlike the screens that border moving images, artists’ books eschew any standard media format. Each work claims the site of print and occupies a space of intimacy alongside one’s body on its own terms.

In contrast to the structures of film and video distribution that imply the long-term custodianship over an accumulating collection, Infermental, a magazine on VHS that also emphasized artists’ exchange, defined its own conditions of circulation, distribution decenters. A VHS tape can travel where people cannot and yet still pass from body to body.

If writing is an act and not just a form and if publishing encompasses not only the business of books but also the circulation of language, then performance can be considered another form of distribution. Ralph Lemon and Adam Pendleton both engage with the relationship between live performance and published material. For example, Okwui Okpokwasili reciting the Scaffold Room script of the former or Will Holder reading the Black Dada text of the latter. Between voices the page is a container, a place for words to wait.

As Gregg Bordowitz contends, containers are primarily objects; but containers also have consequences. Therefore, containers are material yet also arbitrary, and both artists’ film and video and artists’ books and the systems of distribution that circulate them are containers. Bordowitz asserts that containers do not exist in and of themselves; they only exist in relationship to each other and we can possess both the container individually and collectively. Questions can also possess us as individuals and as a group:

“How is a question a beginning?” [2]2
Gregg Bordowitz, Volition. (New York: Printed Matter, 2009), 101.

“Should I drive all causes into one? Is that for me to decide?” [3]3
Ibid., 8.

“Is another question necessary?”[4]4
Ibid., 129

“Is it possible that the job of art is to give everyone concerned—the artist, the viewer, the critic, the collector—an ethical part in creation?” [5]5
Ibid., 6.

“What is the question now?” [6]6
Ibid., 38.

“Am I looking for the most difficult way out imaginable?” [7]7
Ibid., 8.

Jacob Korczynski

Jacob Korczynski is an independent curator based in Toronto and the editor of Andrew James Paterson’s Collection/Correction (Kunstverein Toronto & Mousse Publishing). He has curated projects for the Stedelijk Museum, Oakville Galleries, If I Can’t Dance I Don’t Want to Be Part of Your Revolution, Mercer Union and the Badischer Kunstverein, and his writing has appeared in The Power Plant publication Jimmy Robert: Draw the Line (in collaboration with Oliver Husain) as well as in art-agenda, Girls Like Us, Flash Art, and Little Joe.


Preview image: Steffani Jemison, Stroke, 2016. Acrylic on acetate, dimensions variable. Installation view, "Steffani Jemson: Sol." Photo: Joanna Lee, 2016. Courtesy of the Jacob Lawrence Gallery.

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