Thursday, April 9, 2009

What is democracy?

Last week I was at the opening for a fab book show, Reading in Installments: Book Art Meets Installation, curated by Elysa Voshell and on display here in Philly through April 20 at the Center for Emerging Visual Artists. (Check it out!) Someone mentioned the uncanny knack that some book artists who have been long devoted to the democratic multiple have developed for strictly defining what does and does not count as book art. That is, those who have championed publishing books cheaply and distributing them widely, ostensibly as a democratizing practice, seem strangely resistant to embracing a plurality of practices within the book arts field.

The Book Arts List administered by Peter Verheyen through the Philobiblon website periodically displays a similar intolerance (through no fault of Peter's, I might add). A thread of the past few days demonstrates perfectly the behavior that causes me to unsubscribe from the list in disgust approxmately once a year. Someone submitted an inquiry to the list seeking resources connecting queer theory and the artist book. There were some thoughtful and supportive responses, but unfortunately these were counterbalanced by a cavalcade of those ready to set this individual straight, as it were.

Many lambasted the researcher for making assumptions about the marginalization of artist books, as well as about their connections to queer theory. However, these individuals made a swath of assumptions about the person posting the question -- first, that as a student this was an inexperienced researcher and scholar, and second, that there was something offensive about this conclusion or connection. As it turns out, the individual is a writer with multiple Master's degrees. And as John Cutrone succinctly put it in a post to the list, it seems quite clear that both artist books and the LGBT community are marginalized and are linked, at the very least, in this. See eco-feminism and social justice for more on the idea that all oppressions are connected. (Not that I'm claiming the word "oppression" for application to artist books, as many are able to practice in such a field precisely because they inhabit a position of privilege.)

I know that the Book Arts List is comprised of many different people, vocal and not, and I feel a strong sense of community with some of these people. But I find myself hard pressed at present to feel that this List as a whole is a community, or at least one I would be other-than-embarrassed to be a part of. There are few individuals out there writing about the artist book. I would think the book arts community would want to support such writing, even if it focuses on a part of the field to which they do not feel connected. I can only think that there is a deep sense of homophobia at play here, even if expressed in the guise of promoting proper scholarly methods. Otherwise, why not let the research process take care of itself. If there's not information to support the idea, there won't be a paper to be written. I suspect that there's a good deal to investigate here - hence the backlash on the list.

And all this within a week of the legalization of same-sex marriage in two states. Change comes, but it doesn't come easily. This week I am proud to be a former Vermonter, at least.

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