Tique | art paper asks eight questions to an international art book publisher about its motivation, practice and role today. This week: Torpedo Press.
What motivated you to start publishing?
We started up in 2005 as a bookshop and exhibition space for printed material, and in 2006 we published our first book (“What Does Public Mean? Art As a Participant in the Public Arena Ed. Tone Hansen). At that time there were not many publishers focusing on art books in Norway. Our main concern was to help artists to publish their projects more easily, we wanted to professionalize this form of artistic contribution by working closely with artists, writers and graphic designers for the best possible result. We were inspired by publishers like Chrisoph Keller´s Revolver Verlag and the bookshop Printed Matter in New York. As a bookshop, we were well acquainted with the international publishing scene and wanted to raise the standard of Norwegian releases. It was a goal to convey Norwegian artists’ publications through participation in international art book fairs. One wish is that the books we publish will constitute an important voice in the discourse in the art field.
How would you describe your role in the creation of a publication?
Our role is to connect people, cooperation is central to how we work and collaboration is a big part of our working method. We spend a lot of time discussing the project ahead of time and connect appropriate writers and talented graphic designers together. Everything occurs in this collaboration where people from different fields meets. In some cases, we will receive an inquiry about a project, but usually we initiate and invite the project to take place. We act as initiator, adviser and partner. Sometimes we are more in the background, other times we are more clearly involved with a clear editorial voice. We value the actual process that the publication entails, not just the finished product. The process ahead and also the time after a publication has been published are as important and interesting as the publication itself. This is unfortunately often overlooked. The conversations and choices taken along the way and afterwards are equally important and may be worth looking closer into.
What do you look for in a project?
It is difficult to give a clear answer to this, but first and foremost, it is important for us that the project makes sense for us personally, that it helps to raise interesting and important questions relevant to our time. Today we need art more than ever, as a corrective or space for critical practice. If it is a project that interests us and we get engaged in it, our enthusiasm will be evident in the publication and translate to others. On our press we have released everything from critical anthologies to artist books and fanzines. Lately, we´ve been particularly interested in issues that revolves around publishing and archival practices. We miss having more time to dive into each project and are looking forward to be able to work on a few projects over time in the new space.
What advice would you give to anyone planning to make a publication?
See what’s already out there for inspiration in terms of paper quality, formats, etc. There are many amazing art books being published today. Contact someone you can talk with about the project and search online for help. There is a lot of information out there about everything from the actual printing process to distribution. What many forget when publishing books on their own is that the biggest work really starts after the book is released. There is little point in publishing a book if it does not reach an audience. And this is also where the hardest part of the work starts. If you don´t take distribution into consideration it´s easy to end up with boxes of books in your basement.
What do you consider to be your biggest challenge?
We have many economic challenges in our industry, for each project to be realized we are depended up on funds, so it may take time to realize a publication. The economy also makes us vulnerable in terms of working force, as we are only two employees and one who works part-time. In relation to the publishing house, distribution is an ongoing challenge, not least within Norway and Scandinavia. To meet these challenges we have teamed up with the design and publishing studio Eller med a, and initiated a distribution cooperation with other Norwegian publishers. There is a clear need for an overall platform that can assist with distribution – both in Norway and internationally. We will establish an organization for small publishers and artists publishing in Norway. The organization will also work to promote the interests of small scale publishers and for a general professionalization in the field. The idea is that we are stronger together.
As a lot specialised (art)bookstores are disappearing, is it harder to present the publications to a wide audience? Are you using new channels to reach them?
A lot has happened in the field since we started in 2005, in fact we find that there are more specialist art book stores today than before, several art book fairs (each city has its own art book fair today), but all in all there are still not many independent bookstores around. As mentioned earlier, our biggest challenge is distribution in Norway and Scandinavia. In Norway, as elsewhere, the big chains dominates and it is difficult to get in. We hope to make a difference with our forthcoming organization and distribution cooperation, that it will help us to reach an audience outside of the traditional sales arenas. Internationally, our books and projects circulates in several like-minded small bookshops and publishers like Section 7 Books in Paris and Archive Books in Berlin / Milan, and other. We are constantly working on developing alternative distribution networks. Art book fairs such as the NY Art Book Fair and similar fairs in Berlin, Brussels, LA, London, Tokyo and more have been important for us to form an international network and have served as social meeting points with colleagues.
What do you find the most rewarding?
Not much compares to the first physical encounter with a new publication we have released. The tactile experience is always exciting: the smell. How it feels in the hand. How it opens. How it is on the table. How it reads. A physical impression of a work that may have been happening over years. But it does not stop there. The object itself is nevertheless not the most important, the conversation and the relationships that the book helps create, how it reaches a reader, and the reception is all part of this … This whole process of publishing interests us and inspires us to continue.
What does the future hold?
In the autumn we will open a new venue in Rostocksgate in Bjørvika, Oslo, together with Eller med a (Lotte Grønneberg, Karen Grønneberg and Marte Meling Enoksen), an Oslo and Copenhagen based design studio that also has experience from running the bookshop -1 at Den Frie in Copenhagen. The new space will be our offices, and contain a small bookshop and exhibition space that will be dedicated to investigating different aspects of publishing. Moving into this new space will feel as a new start for us, an opportunity to redefine our practice. After 11 years of publishing it´s refreshing and important to take a new round with these questions.
We will have many exciting projects coming up, among others, the These are Situationist Times exhibition, a research, digitization and publishing project dedicated to the magazine Situationist Times (ST), organized by Ellef Prestsæter and Torpedo ( Elin Maria Olaussen & Karen Christine Tandberg) in close collaboration with Jacqueline De Jong. The project was initiated with the event These Are Situationist Times: A Symposium on Topology, Culture, and Politics, with Ellef Prestsæter, Jacqueline de Jong, Matthew Fuller, Eric de Bruyn and Tiziana Terranova who took ST as a starting point for a broader discussion of cultural topologies. The exhibition will be traveling to other cities.