Slimvolume is the invention of curator, writer and all-round artful explorer, Andrew Hunt. His publishing project is driven by a curiosity which playfully navigates the entangled threads of our cultural complexities. Broadly speaking, its impetus is to make very decent printed matter with very decent artists. What more could you want?
Andrew has recently been appointed Professor of Fine Art and Curating at the Manchester School of Art. So, he’s kind of a new neighbour to us which is pretty cool. We like Slimvolume a lot and so we decided it would be nice to invite Andrew to chat with us about what makes him tick. He graciously agreed and provided us with this fascinating account of what inspires the Slimvolume vision. Replete with references from John Coltrane to Georges Bataille, from Factory Records to Oscar Wilde and much more besides; this, dear friends, is a treat to read.
Andrew, if Slimvolume had a particular sound, what would it be? Punk? Reggae? Disco? …and why?
“I guess Slimvolume’s sound would be tight tradition with a psychedelic undertow, one that messes with its own strong mechanical structure, a relaxed slowing down of time and rhythm after what the writer, Jon Savage has referred to in his book, 1966: The Year the Decade Exploded as a kind of circular or looping sound opposed to linear time. Or the similar reverie and circularity in electronic music – I think what the Kompakt label has produced in Cologne since the late 1990s would have a comparable feel to Slimvolume’s identity. Or, how John Coltrane reinvented the molecular structure of rhythm, time and mathematics. For me this music connects Einstein and Bergson’s arguments about relativity, duration, science, art with musical spirituality. And this links with my interest in cutting-edge book design, typography, fashion and art after the internet, as well as philosophical ideas of temporality and reading – I like the idea of discussing dilated time, graphic design and painting in the 2010s/20s.”
You’re formally the Director of Focal Point Gallery in Southend-on-Sea. In what ways has this experience informed what you do now in publishing?
“Slimvolume predates FPG by a significant margin, so in terms of my own history, FPG is sandwiched in the middle of SV’s activities. I started Slimvolume in 2000 and ran FPG between 2008 and 2014. To be honest, when I rebranded FPG and gave it its current identity, I applied many things that I had done previously in terms of design’s relationship with contemporary art to reinvent it – what one might call the historical double-helix between design and contemporary art. For example, I used a numbering system for its printed material that was taken from IPS in Birmingham, a now defunct university gallery that I ran between 2005 and 2008. In turn, this system was taken from Norwich Gallery’s activities, where I worked for the curator Lynda Morris between 2003 and 2005. Before that, Lynda took this system from first generation conceptual dealers such as Konrad Fischer, who she worked with and knew intimately. So, you can see that there’s a much wider historical precedent that informs the narrative structure of Slimvolume and FPGs printed material in terms of contemporary art history and rhythmic structures for printed matter. Essentially, at FPG I wanted to make as much printed material as possible and send it out for free to amplify the gallery’s activities. During my time there, we made fifty different numbered pieces of print which consisted of invitation cards and books, plastic bags, cotton bags, book marks, posters and records that presented an alternative productive sense of ‘minor’ culture, one that I hope had a certain sense of integrity within the sometimes-problematic sphere of publicly-funded contemporary art in the UK. Slimvolume is a similar project – I try to make beautiful books by artists whose projects wouldn’t be produced anywhere else because they’re seen either as too risky, too niche, commercially unviable, or curators/publishers simply don’t get what the artist is trying to do. The artist and designer Scott King told me he thought Slimvolume’s ethos was a bit like Factory Records, because it doesn’t care about money and has a terrible business brain, it just loves making good books and records, which is funny since my new job is as a Professor at Manchester School of Art – for better or worse, I’m now surrounded by Tony Wilson’s legacy 24/7.”
It appears that Slimvolume began by making limited edition sets of posters created by artists. How did this idea come about and what attracted you to the ethos of the ‘gift’ rather than selling?
“I started an annual project called Slimvolume Poster Publication simply to work with artists that I liked in a very immediate way. It was about turning a limitation into a liberating premise: we had no budget, so instead of discussing fees and production, and arguing over costs, everyone made work for nothing. Basically, thirty artists each produced an edition of 150 numbered and signed prints each year with the limited resources they had (this created some beautifully improvised prints), I made the covers to each set on letterpress and collated the portfolios. My role was to give the finished editions to curators, gallerists and people in the art community who were nominated by the artists in the project. I also chose specific museum collections to ensure the work went to the right places. So again, this form of gift economy started to create a very tight process, and got rid of the need to sell work and have publications hanging around in a rather depressing manner in shops. This gift economy relates to ideas around Potlatch, as well as theories from Georges Bataille and Marcel Mauss, but Slimvolume is really quite straightforward – we just like to be as generous as we can.”
When you make a book, how involved is the artist in the creative process? Do you have any favourite examples of when you think this publisher–artist dynamic has worked particularly well?
“Sure, yes, the artist always determines the book, and my involvement is similar to a curator who works on an exhibition. I’m always involved from the very start of a project – I like to make the initial invitation to an artist, discuss the project that is most suitable, then commission and realise the book with them. Once we’ve decided what we’re going to make it’s usually pretty straightforward – I just help the artist to make the book. Two good examples would be Cally Spooner and Scott King’s publications, which for various reasons both took around two-years to produce. For me, both of these books are a great manifestation of a very close working relationship with an artist who has been totally committed to a project.”
Artists books often exist as an alternative, more liberating and accessible creative space to the gallery system. Are there any historical precedents of this art form that have inspired what you do?
“Matthew Higgs’ Imprint 93 was a big influence on Slimvolume’s initial incarnation. I liked it’s small, minor quality. Matthew sent out printed artworks for free for the price of a second-class stamp. Strangely, in relation to the major media-led yBa phenomenon of that time, the artists involved with Matthew’s project in the mid-1990s now seem to be the more significant.”
How important is long-term collaboration to Slimvolume? Are there any particular artists, designers or writers with whom who you’ve crafted the Slimvolume vision over time?
“Like many people, I tend to be a recidivist as a curator and a publisher, in that I often work with artists and designers over a period of years on multiple projects. This is often for emotional reasons – I sometime get very personally attached to people and their ideas. Ironically however, it was part of Slimvolume’s initial premise to work only once with an artist, so if you look at the initial poster publications (they are all listed on the website – slimvolume.org), you’ll see that no single artist appears twice in the entire series. But having said this, I’ve worked with many of these artists in other contexts repeatedly. In terms of designers, I worked with Ian Gabb the letterpress technician at the RCA to make all of the initial poster publications. Fraser Muggeridge is another consistent presence in terms of book design, while I’ve also worked with James Langdon, Abake and my partner Sarah Cashman, who recently designed the very elegant looking The Critic as Artist, a small but perfectly formed fanzine edited by Michael Bracewell and myself based on Oscar Wilde’s art criticism.”
If you could offer one piece of advice for a budding independent art book publisher, what would it be?
“I’d say the best advice is to follow what most excites you, and then to try to turn any limitations and restrictions into possibilities – that’s where the fun is.”
As for the future of Slimvolume publishing, what’s coming next? Can you tempt our taste buds with any juicy clues?
“We’ll be publishing a boxed edition of prints by Tris Vonna-Michell in 2018. This will be co-produced with designer Manuel Raeder’s company BOM DIA BOA TARDE BOA NOITE and Tris’ Mount Analogue. I’d also like to start making some more single editions and zines, and perhaps reanimate the poster publication at some point soon, which would be exciting. In addition to this, I’m starting a curatorial project between New York, Berlin and Manchester called C. R. McBerny with the German artist Veit Laurent Kurz, and this will have an annual journal attached to it published by Slimvolume. So, there are a lot of potential projects in the pipeline.”
Thank you, Andrew. We thoroughly enjoyed that demystification. Come over for a coffee any time!