The Artists Book A New History, by Michael Hampton Published by Banner Repeater Pamphlet ISSN 2045-8266
20 x 14.2cm when folded, 59 x 42cm unfolded.
This was a new writing commission for BR by Michael Hampton -
NEWHIST Michael Hampton, published by Banner Repeater, 2011 Review by Ajay Hothi in the Book Arts Newsletter
In a review of the exhibition The Vorticists: Manifesto for a Modern World (Tate Britain, June – September 2011), artist Ami Clarke wrote how “the prescience of some of the works is unmistakeable...Caught in a deathly embrace of that what ails them, they pre-emptively invoke a society overwhelmed by the machinations of capital.” Quotes from BLAST (1914- 1915), the manifesto and publication of the Vorticists, criss- cross NEWHIST as a kind of diagonal seam, a spotlight, a slash through the history of printed (art) word.
NEWHIST (or THEARTISTSBOOKASANEWHISTORY, to give it its full and proper title) is a pamphlet-cum- manifesto-cum-poster by Michael Hampton and published by Banner Repeater, a non-profit artist-led reading room and project space in East London that functions like a cross between a subscription library and a lending library.
Printed double-sided on a single sheet of paper, the poster has been folded to create nine B5-sized individual panels on each side. The reader is given an accelerated history of the artist’s publication, from Roman leaf-tablets to the Sternberg Press via Alan Moore, Stéphane Mallarmé and Andrea Vesalius’s 1543 page-turner, De Humani Corporis Frabrica Librorum Epitome.
This amalgamation of texts and references is like a grenade under your pillow. It gives us immediate, initial disclaimers that: “...this manifest... neatly avoids two significant problems... 1. The presupposition that the artist’s book has any essential qualities. 2. The need to circumscribe the medium.”
But we don’t believe it because it speaks with authority, citing histories, important developments and noteworthy textual responses to significant artistic situations. True to its word, it presupposes and circumscribes nothing. We shouldn’t be surprised or disappointed, despite its obvious qualities, because that’s precisely the only way to truly represent the artist’s book since Modernism.
Just like the Vorticist’s manifesto, which BLASTed and BLESSed its way through the English national identity, or Aspen magazine, that paradigm of Conceptual Art, or Interfunktionen, das Deutches Enzyklopädie von die Politisches Kunst, NEWHIST is a collage of disparate identities that actively seeks to provoke a reaction.
Of course it’s going to contradict itself and resist self-definition (while outlining definitions for others). You wouldn’t return to it if all the answers were staring you in the face.
What NEWHIST manages is to skilfully coalesce some of the diverse formal aspects that make artists’ publications still so relevant, so appealing, after all these years -- capturing the aphorisms, plagiarisms, inconsistencies and paradoxes that define today’s book work. For all of its omissions, and as Clarke mentions in her exhibition review, NEWHIST remains knowingly caught in a cyclical embrace of its own historicism. Perhaps Marinetti would have described it as exhibiting “All of the strengths / All of the weaknesses / of GENIUS”. The artist’s publication can be quick to judge but tentatively refrains from deliberate nomination and self-analysis. It is a fictocriticism and warning of canonisation. Unfortunately for us, iconoclasm can be the ultimate subversive tool in the hands of the self-aware.
Ajay Hothi, February 2013.
the Book Arts Newsletter that this review is taken from can be downloaded in colour from WWW.BOOKARTS.UWE.AC.UK/BANLISTS.HTM