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Interviewed by Marco Arrigoni

Book as Art or Reading as Seeing: Volumes—Anne-Laure Franchette, Art Director at Volumes

Marco Arrigoni: Thorny problems always arise with definitions, but I think that being able to define something is sometimes a good starting point. Could you define what art books, zines, and magazines are?

Anne-Laure Franchette: Questioning and investigating the existing systems of production and classification is truly fascinating, as many zones of frictions and overlapping exist. To keep it short, we can say that art books are usually books about or containing art and which are by an institution, a publishing house, or an artist. Artist books are generally books made by artists, by themselves or with a publisher. Magazines are periodicals routinely published following a regular schedule. Zines can also be periodicals, but they are mainly self-published, with small means and circulation. All these categories are very permeable, and many hybrids formats can be found, even more so since the appearance and democratization of digital tools and formats.

MA: In your opinion, which direction should art publishing go in order to be really interesting and to be able to communicate something meaningful to people?

ALF: This is highly subjective. What I find interesting is that within the range of cultural objects, publications are amongst the most identifiable ones, which makes them very accessible and almost comforting. At the same time, they can be extremely versatile, in content and in form. What is the most interesting and meaningful to us, as organizers, is to showcase this diversity by making the platform we have created as inclusive and accessible as we can. We are deeply interested in the idea of self-representation which is at the heart of independent art publishing, the alternative art scene and the VOLUMES project. How do people create their own opportunities and distribution? How do they create their own social space, how do they share content that they care about but which is not represented? On wider terms, we are fascinated by the history of publishing, which lies in between art, design, and activism. Nowadays, there is a newfound fascination for the printed object, which is showcased by the surge in production and the unprecedented development of book fairs and related events. While being largely motivated by digital fatigue, this scene is incredibly supported by the new tools provided by new technologies. We are also very interested in this dialogue between the analogue and the digital. Our motivation, as a platform, is to showcase and discuss collectively the broad spectrum of publishing practices. This is why we try to invite and showcase many different voices, styles, and contents, so that every visitor might find something of interest and hopefully meaningful.

MA: In the last VOLUMES edition, the exhibition section featured installations by artists and collectives, which were activated through performances, workshops, and talks. Could you tell us what this section was, for what reasons it was created, and how the choice came about?

ALF: Since we started in 2013, we have been developing the combination of a classic book fair set-up with series of exhibitions, workshops, talks, and performances. As for the first six years, we were an itinerant event, our program was conditioned by the possibilities offered by each new space. We experimented with exhibition formats, analogue and multimedia performances, talks and workshops. As the event grew bigger each year, so did the program. The exhibition or display section came from a wish to showcase curated selections of books as well as to give more space and time to specific projects developed by artists, curators, researchers, or activists. Book fairs can be very hectic and packed, which is an integral part of their appeal as they bring people together. But it can be quite difficult for some projects to stand out. We try to create a variety of geographies and temporalities within the event, in order to provide different ways to experience the content showcased. As publications can be part of a much larger set of practices, mediums, and investigations, we invite projects to showcase their practice as a whole in the exhibition section. The displays function as islands which get activated one after the other through a workshop, a talk, or a performance. This allows additional entry points for everyone to dive into each other’s work. We think of the whole event as a community gathering, a huge showcase of practices. So, it is very important for us that participants are present and engaged with their own content and the content of others.

MA: In the Luma Westbau room, located on the third floor of Löwenbräu Kunst, there was also a program of talks, performances, and readings with the symposium “Publishing and Archival Strategies in Artistic Practices.” What emerged, what topics were covered, and what did the symposium consist of?

ALF: Last year, part of the program of performances, talks, and readings took place in the Luma room on both Friday and Sunday. And on Saturday it was home to the symposium “Publishing and Archival Strategies in Artistic Practices.” The idea for this symposium originated from the fact that VOLUMES has a collection/archive, of mainly printed material. Most of this collection has been donated through the frame of the International Open Call Exhibition, which was created as we started in 2013. We have been using this collection as a starting point to investigate and activate content through cataloguing and curating displays. It has enabled us to organize open discussions around the question of the collection and the archive, which is nowadays widely questioned, both in popular culture and academic discourse. Teaming up with Michael Hiltbrunner who coordinates the research project around the archive of the Swiss artist Peter Trachsel, we decided to explore collectively how artists, researchers, and curators experience the use of archives and the impulse to edit the content within it. The “archive fever,” or “mal d’archive,” as Derrida described is a “compulsive, repetitive and nostalgic desire.” Why do we long for archives, and how is knowledge produced through archives? Onto them we project our imagining and can be as selective as we like. Just like memory and history, archives can never tell the whole story. Thinking through the personal practices of the artists, curators, and researchers participating, we discussed methods of collecting, investigating, and re-writing. The very nature of archives is characterized by gaps. Some of these are random, as in the VOLUMES collection, which is composed by donations. Archives talk as much about content as about absence.

MA: On the basis of what criteria is the selection of exhibitors made, and by whom?

ALF: Every year, we release an open call to which anyone can apply. We try to spread it as far as we can. And we always try to invite a fair mix between the local scene, outsiders, and newcomers. As well as between zines, magazines, artist books, art books, and any other publishing formats or experiments. Zurich being a rather expensive city, many practitioners from outside Switzerland find it difficult to come. To counter this, we try to build relationships with funding bodies which can allow us to invite a wider variety of voices and practices.

MA: VOLUMES was born in 2013 as “Üsin, Zürich Small Press Fair.” The 2019 event was the seventh edition. What are the main transformations and evolutions, and what are the objectives for the 2020 edition?

ALF: We started very small, and we didn’t initially plan for this project to get so big. Initially, we just wanted to hang out and exchange with other people who made zines and artist books. The response was so enthusiastic that VOLUMES naturally grew into what it is today: a large interdisciplinary festival about publishing practices. When we started, the art spaces hosting us kept closing, due to rampant gentrification, so we had to change location every year. And by the time permanent spaces invited us, we had gotten used to being nomadic and decided to keep moving for a time, as it allowed us to experiment with different formats. But even though our events are big, we are a very small non-profit organization. So, in the long run, starting from scratch every year wasn’t very sustainable. We decided to try something new, which was to have a permanent address. For the last two years and the upcoming one we are at the Kunsthalle Zurich, and it has been great to explore how we can reinvent the same space. We have been reusing some of their exhibition displays, which is something that falls within our concern with topics of sustainability and production. In terms of topics, these last few years we have been focused on micro-history, self-organization, activism, feminism, decolonialism, and outreach. For 2020, our objective is to keep experimenting, try to invite as many exciting practitioners as we can, and try to think together about questions of representation, care, and degrowth.

MA: We are in 2020 (which is a 20 reflected): could you indicate the 20 art books, zines or magazines released in the last 20 years that in your opinion are really interesting and daring?

ALF: So many amazing publications have been published, and many lists following highly subjective criteria could be made. Beyond listing personal favorites and to somehow stay within the proposed numbers (two and zero), I would propose to look at two projects reflecting on modes of production in publishing:

- No Libros, by Bia Bittencourt, is a project based in Barcelona which reflects on the current excess and overproduction of books. This collaborative publishing interface works and distributes locally, in direct opposition to the interconnected system of big chains, systems of production and distribution.

- Futuress, by Common Interest, is an online feminist library of books that are yet to be written. The platform collects ideas for books that address blind spots and missing narratives in design theory and history, in order to foster critical awareness and democratize the making of design history. Because what we produce, how we produce, who produces, and for whom are concerns increasingly widespread and which are at the core of our own questions and preoccupations as a platform project.

VOLUMES 2019, Photo: Jan Bolomey and Spyros Paloukis

VOLUMES 2019, Photo: Jan Bolomey and Spyros Paloukis

VOLUMES 2019, Photo: Jan Bolomey and Spyros Paloukis


As a non-profit organization and collective depending on funding, VOLUMES happily accepts donations, and thank you very much for your support. You can find more information on our website: www.volumeszurich.ch.

Marco Arrigoni lives and works in Milan. He is an art consultant for Harper's Bazaar Italia, and writes about contemporary culture for Il Tascabile, Elle Decor Italia, and Capri Life. He won the Prada Foundation Degree Award in 2018. He studied literature and art history in Milan, Paris, and Zurich. He completed the Postgraduate Programme in Curating, CAS, ZHdK in 2020.

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