Paul Soulellis is a graphic designer, artist, publisher and teacher. He works in New York City and Providence, RI. Soulellis is the founder of Library of the Printed Web, a physical archive devoted to web-to-print artists’ books, zines and other printout matter. He curates, designs, and publishes print-on-demand publications that have featured the work of over 180 contemporary artists. Soulellis is a faculty member at Rhode Island School of Design and a contributing editor at Rhizome, where he curates The Download.
Here, Soulellis shares his perspective as 2016 closes, as part of our annual series 2016: The Year According to.
Dennis Cooper’s novels really worked on me in the early ’90s. I lost track of him until this year, when I discovered that his latest work doesn’t contain written language at all. Now he tells stories with stacks of GIFs that he finds online, packaged into ZIP files. They feel like long scrolls or Tumblr posts; he develops them on his well-tended blog, which was famously deleted by Google this past summer. (All of the work was eventually returned.) These browser-based GIF novels and poems have characters and plot lines, but no words. And they feel every bit as violent and transgressive as his literary works. I recently wrote about Zac’s Freight Elevator, his latest novel. This deep dive into the possibilities of the found GIF helped me to understand how distributing open-source(-ish) downloadable ZIP files on the network can be an act of preservation, a form of protection, and a good way to publish art.
For Lorna Mills the GIF is a kind of cinema, and her work is a fantastic explosion of GIF-making energy. But she also has this remarkable way of bringing people together around her practice. She recently curated more than 113 artists to remake the four-hour-long television-broadcast version of John Berger’s 1972 Ways of Seeing. Each artist chose a one-minute clip and provided their own one-minute work in response. Lorna assembled them into a rewriting of the original series. It’s a tremendous, generous work that’s larger than its parts, and it’s featured in the Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art, 1905–2016 exhibition at the Whitney right now. I watched Lorna’s communal parade of digital makers and then laid down on the floor in Ben Coonley’s Trading Futures, a 3D experience in a cardboard geodesic dome that shares the same gallery space at the Whitney.
I seem to be into collaborative works this year. It probably has something to do with a renewed sense of urgency around collective belonging, which feels especially threatened right now. Since this summer I’ve been in awe of Morehshin Allahyari and Daniel Rourke’s epic collaborative work, The 3D Additivist Cookbook, which was three years in the making. The 360-page publication, inspired by William Powell’s Anarchist Cookbook, features 120 artists. It’s a manifesto-in-action for #Additivism, their movement to radicalize, queerify, politicize, and otherwise critically provoke 3D printing, additive technologies, and maker culture. I’m totally fascinated that they released this work as a 3D PDF—a file with dozens of embedded objects that can be viewed and manipulated in Adobe Reader (and printed at home). An archive of source files was also released as a 6GB torrent, making this a stunning example of network-based experimental publishing. I was honored to be a part of the launch at Printed Matter on December 2.
Attending the launch of the Cookbook with me was Christopher Clary, an artist who works with gay porn. In his practice he tries to provoke by finding it, collecting it, re-making and restaging it, and eventually destroying it. Shame and disappointment always seem to lurk just below the surface of Christopher’s practice. I was introduced to him years ago, but we only met in person last year, when I curated him as the first in the Rhizome Download series. Since then, I’ve seen him transform that commission (Sorry to dump on you like this.zip) into an all-encompassing, obsessive body of work that keeps him and his audience very busy. Every Sunday at 5 pm he restages a single JPG from his collection, performs it on CAM4, and auctions the props on eBay (FKNJPGS). His work around image, body, appropriation, identity and queer performance is significant and I can’t wait to see what he does with these 52 performances in 2017.
Christopher and I both exhibited at Printed Matter’s NY Art Book Fair in September. I can’t overstate the importance of the art book fair as a model for growing creative communities. Given the looming threat to arts funding, supporting (and enjoying) the fairs feels more relevant than ever. Printed Matter popularized the form in New York and LA, but artists, collectors, fans, and independent publishers like myself are now addicted to new fairs that are being held all over the calendar, all over the planet. This year I was able to attend Miss Read in Berlin for the first time, and this month brings me and RISD to the Odds and Ends Yale Art Book Fair for the third year in a row. But it’s Internet Yami-Ichi (“a flea market for browsing in real life”), started in Tokyo by the Japanese duo Exonemo, that totally transforms this indie spirit into something else. Not really a book fair or a flea market but somehow drawing on the energy of both of those models, this is a place to celebrate network culture and weirdness in physical space.
Gathering at the front door of Trump Tower the night after the election, in a spontaneous act of protest, I was sad, confused, and disoriented. By that weekend, marching up Fifth Avenue, the massive public display of energy had transformed into solidarity and action. I showed up without a sign and realized that carrying messages and symbols of resistance in this political crisis will be crucial. Whether we march in physical space or broadcast and amplify online, how do we send clear messages that cut through the noise? This is an essential question for today’s graphic design students. As a teacher, I recently looked back to the work of Gran Fury during the Reagan-era AIDS crisis for inspiration, and traced the history of the pink triangle. Graphic design that feels urgent, necessary, critical, even dark. Do we need a symbol now? What’s our message of resistance in the current crisis? I don’t have answers, but I’m looking.
In the middle of the march that first weekend after the election, somewhere around Fifth Avenue and 34th Street, I ran into my friend Sal Randolph. Sal is an artist and she recently started a new listening/publishing space called Dispersed Holdings, with David Richardson. They now host screenings, happenings, and reading events, enjoyed on grey felt cushions with red stitching, fashioned by David. The space, on the third floor of a very old building on the Bowery, used to be Eva Hesse’s apartment. Sal and David refer to Eva casually, like she’s still in residence, and keep her diaries and a photo on the mantle. These are two remarkable people who are devoted to nurturing creative space for community gatherings—friends, fans, and strangers communing in experience and experimentation. Their events are public, but intimate, occupying some sweet spot between a salon, a dinner party, and an open reading.
We need small, independent artists’ spaces now more than ever. They’re safe places for experimentation, where time slows down—real resistance to the commercial art world. Alternatives to the corporate paradigm. Philip Tomaru of Arts and Sciences Projects and Metropolitan Structures is soon to start a new one: Bulletin (located within Bullet, an artists’ space in the East Village). I dropped in to preview the tiny space, which contained an ad hoc display of zines by artist friends on a white shelf. A window looks directly out onto East 3rd Street, and I get the sense that this will be a kind of inside-outside laboratory, with just enough space to install and celebrate. A minimal move that yields something communal and powerful. This spirit of risk-taking and making public feels more and more valuable; urgent, even. Especially now.