As I have begun to think more about the pamphlet as a form, I've been reading a bit about the historical period that gave birth to pamphlets. The seventeenth century English civil war was an era when the technology of the printing press coincided with huge political and religious upheaval – making the pamphlet a powerful, and reasonably accessible tool for spreading revolutionary ideas.
Marcus Nevitt describes the early pamphlet's 'promiscuity, shameless tendency to traffic intelligence, apparent sophistication and rumour... whilst breaking all manner of social boundaries.' These pamphlets 'brought political debates from behind the closed doors of parliamentary chambers into the noisy, dusty, crowded street.'1
I love the idea of a piece of print being 'promiscuous'. But I realise that we have so many forms of media now that allow us to traffic intelligence and rumour, and make it easy to self-publish. A pamphlet in the era of the internet has perhaps lost some of it's subversive power. This leads me to think about making pamphlets that perform the inverse of their original function. Where early pamphlets made use of the latest technology to quickly and cheaply disseminate ideas and arguments, the internet now largely fulfils this function. So, considering the pamphlet as a vessel for artworks, I might be doing the opposite of 'democratising' ideas and information – I might produce rare objects that are only available to a few.
I have had several conversations with people about this project, that have made me consider what these pieces of print might be for, who they might be for. Am I more interested in easy reproducibility or in rarity? Do they act as documentation, or reflection on live projects that have occurred? Or are they invitations – either to become involved in something or to 'do it yourself'? If they are invitations, do they need to be seductive, persuasive, beautiful or intriguing? I am enjoying the possibilities of playing with these ideas, and the sense of freedom in being able to experiment. I think I might end up making something quite different to what I initially imagined.
Nevitt points out the essential relationship between writing and action. He sees pamphlets the English civil war as essentially dialogic – part of a very real and lively debate that effected and was effected by political and personal change. Perhaps in thinking about pamphlets as a form, I am recognising the importance of writing and dialogue in relation to my live practice.
1Nevitt, Marcus, Women and the Pamphlet Culture of Revolutionary England, 1640-1660, Ashgate 2006
I started this project with a notion that I want to try and process some of the live work I have produced in the past two years. I thought I would create a space for reflection and a means for sharing some of the ideas within the live work in a different way. In january I eagerly went into the print room and re-aquainted myself with screen printing and other print methods. It was a lot of fun making images in this way again, and also challenging. But in terms of the work I'm hoping to make, I haven't got very far yet... And I think that's because before I start designing pieces of print and trying out different methods, I need to figure out the content.
I need to write.
And that feels peculiar because I feel like I should be using the resources that are available to me through the AA2A scheme – sitting in my studio and writing requires nothing but myself, a notebook or laptop, and some self-discipline. But until I go through this process, and look back at the scraps of writing and stacks of images generated from the live projects, there's little point in attempting to design anything.