This text first appeared in The Silver Bulletin #1 - a first attempt to address ideas of distribution and the exchange that takes place when a publication changes hands.
This is the fake publishing imprint that adorns the cover of How to Disappear in America, a book released in 2008 by artist Seth Price. What at first seems to be an abstract mark resembling a figure dancing or falling or maybe blowing in the wind is soon discovered to be a negative representation of keys being passed from one person to another. Suddenly it becomes almost overwhelmingly earnest, symbolically portraying the passing of knowledge or something else of value, but, on second thought, given the nature of the content of the book, maybe its intentions are more sinister and secret - perhaps the are keys stolen?
Released in a format akin to that of a pocket sized travel book, How to Disappear in America is described as a handbook; ‘devoted to clearing any obstacle that a person may face in seeking to leave his or her public life behind.’1
The book is designed as such that I can imagine it replacing the Gideon’s bible in the top drawer beside the bed of those generic cheap motels that seem to be littered along every highway in America - or maybe sitting next to the bible - an alternative form of help. The book contains no immediate credit to an author and is in fact made from a bunch of found and altered texts both old and new. In doing so, Price creates a voice that is not his own nor that of anyone else. The author has disappeared. That said, in his summation of the work in an article for Artforum Tim Griffin writes:
‘Paradoxically, it is in the very act of “disappearing” that some figure in the background begins to come forward—or more precisely, the readers begin to look for that figure, or to imagine one in its absence and then project that subjectivity onto the written word.’2
In other words - what seems to run parallel to the overriding theme of disappearance here is the exact opposite - the idea of re-appearance or at least re-invention.
Disappointingly, How to Disappear falls short of complete disappearance/reappearance as Price includes his name on the spine, leaving a trace of origin. This spoils my fake motel scenario; imagine if he had left his name off it completely - if he had let the book be freely distributed to the world and let it find its audience. At that point the book as a whole - not just the content - belongs to the subjectivity of the reader. Price most likely never sees these incarnations again apart from maybe one that he manages to hold onto for personal archive. Other than that they have all disappeared. Even a reprint only serves to further exaggerate the phenomenon.
In 1865 The Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould took it upon himself to chronicle the somewhat dubious existence of werewolves by compiling folklore, historical accounts of werewolf trials, possible explanations, and a sermon; ending the book with a whole hearted amen. Examining a certain origin of the wolf-man in Nordic tradition, Baring-Gould collects a number of accounts of men known as ‘berserkirs’ who would don the skin of a wolf in such a way as their eyes were all that remained visible beneath the costume, enabling the man underneath to take on the persona of the wolf - to lose himself, and inevitably create an illusion that over time and through word of mouth earned a mythical status:
‘I think that the circumstance insisted on by the Saga-writers, of the eyes of the person remaining unchanged, is very significant, and points to the fact that the skin was merely drawn over the body as a disguise. (...)The berserkir were said to work themselves up into a state of frenzy, in which a demoniacal power came over them, impelling them to acts from which in their sober senses they would have recoiled (...) and as they rushed into conflict they yelped as dogs or howled as wolves.’3
Much like the idea of disappearing through a new identity, we see the wolf skin here acting as an enabler - allowing one to be perceived as something other - the wearer is given power through how he has presented himself and subsequently how this representation allows onlookers to place their own subjectivity upon the costume and its content. In the same way as How to Disappear was relieved of an author, these men leave their old selves behind - giving up any responsibility for where their bodies go and what they become. They have designed the way they are experienced by others - their ‘audience’ if you like. This same theme - that of content, how it is framed, distributed and ultimately experienced is picked up on in Bruce Russels’ article Are You Experienced: Jimi Hendrix—A Lyric Poet of the Era of Post-Industrial Capitalism in The National Grid 6. He talks of Walter Benjamin’s writing on experience and the origin of the historical artifact not only being in its making, nor solely being with only those first on the scene, so to speak, but also with each new viewing and each new historical perspective:
‘He was striving not to explicate what these things meant in themselves, but what they mean to us, at the point of their reception. This he termed their real ‘origin’, in which the audience also participates. This radical concept of ‘origin‘ is the key to Benjamin’s valuation of subjective experience by actual people in a specific historical context.’4
In a roundabout sort of way this brings me back to my imagining someone finding a copy of How to Disappear in America in the bedside drawer of a cheap motel room with its hard cover and fake publishing logo waiting for someone to pick it up and experience it. The room becomes an integral part of the experience - it adds to the significance that already exists in the contents of the book and how that content has been presented through the book’s design. We get a designed experience. The cheap motel becomes a place of temporal transit and How to Disappear becomes the map.
In imagining this I find myself somewhat at odds. Because I’m really interested in what happens after the fact - once something changes hands, and, in the case of my scenario with How to Disappear in America this aftermath would never be seen. I can only imagine these situations, how it would be experienced. Such a publication would lose any sort of tangible exchange, that is; a rather romantic notion I currently hold that to send something out will trigger some kind of self-perpetuating series of back-and-fourths. This brings me to this bulletin. In nearly every way The Silver Bulletin is the complete opposite to How to Disappear in America. This is designed to be a local newspaper, with local content, for local people. It is to be talked about, participated in and experienced collectively. Its intention is not to disappear but become ever more visible with each issue. It is a tangible object in a time when our environment is changing and such objects are harder to come by. Independant publisher and more recently dilettante distiller Christoph Keller once said this when asked about the similarities between making books and making bottles:
‘The big difference for me is that for all these years we were making books, inevitably giving them away to people, and the reaction is always, ‘oh yeah, yeah, nice, good … thanks …’ and that’s it. With a bottle of schnaps, on the other hand, people will literally tear it away from me, ‘I have to drink it! It’s amazing! How can I get some! I’ll buy a whole box! …’ an immediate genuine reaction...’5
Of course he is right, but then you’d expect the printed object to be a bit more of a slow burner... I guess we’ll see what happens.