herman de vries

answers to anne moeglin-delcroix's questions (2001/05)

how did you come to self-publishing in the early sixties?

i had published several articles in the field of zoological research. that made it obvious to do the same in the field of art. but, who should do it? there were no artists' books publishers i had heard of. i like to do things myself so i did it, just in the simplest of ways as that is my style - and there was almost no money, i was poor and it was not possible to do more than the simplest - and that was enough in fact. what i did was new.

in 1960 i was no longer content with the scientific approach to reality/actuality, it was too one-sided. in that year i received the offprints of an article of mine in the journal mammalia, published by the laboratoire de zoologie des mammifères du musée d'histoire naturelle in paris, titled 'aperçu et nouvelles données sur la répartition géographique de quelques mammifères aux pays-bas' [= general survey with new data on the distribution of several mammals in the netherlands]. i took off the cover, turned it inside out, typed the new title 'manifest van de gecastreerde werkelijkheid' [= manifest of castrated reality] and put it around the publication. that was the only previous 'book' before wit is overdaad and wit/white. (wit/white was made with the help of some friends who also had no money but gave practical assistance.)

how did the idea for noise came about, the first book [note 1. noise. temporary travelling press publications 1 (1974) 150 numbered copies] published by your 'temporary travelling press publications' started in 1974 - and, materially speaking, how was it made in kathmandu?

at that time i used random programmes to create works that were without personal expression 'random objectivations' as a continuation of my white paintings. the white painting came from the zen-buddhist concept of emptiness, they did not participate in the overdone expressionism of the 'genial' artists of that time. at the same time white was not in fact really empty because it was still something. i liked white as a very total complete colour, so i did not call the paintings 'empty' but 'white' after their reality.
the concept of 'white noise' contained all sounds but in a no ordered way, free. at the same time i was fascinated by the possibility of a text that was true in every combination of the words; like 'to be all ways to be' [note 2. to be all ways to be. temporary travelling press publications 2 (1974) 150 numbered copies], also printed that year in kathmandu, that was influenced very much by the idea of mantras. in fact 'to be all ways to be' became my own mantra. i still use it, in every possible combination - and in many circumstances.

in 1974, susanne and i stayed in kathmandu for a longer time as it was a fascinating place. i discovered some small printers with unexpected possibilities: they were still printing with lead type that they obtained from india where the printers were selling their old lead type because they preferred to work with the more modern offset. so we had a choice of older types that were no longer available in many other places - and, more importantly, it was cheap.
the 'temporary travelling press publications' 1 and 2 were printed at the sangram press, run by buddhists who also had hindu signs available. so, on the noise cover we can see a picture of ganesha, the 'lord of chance'.

the choice of paper was small but sufficient. they had some indian industrial manufactured papers and handmade nepali rice paper and thin rice cardboard. in the village street of kirtipur, a neighbouring village, handmade paper was hanging on lines to dry. the lower quality papers were used to pack bread in the shops. for the book to be allways to be and the postcard to be [note 3. asiatische & eschenauer texte (bern : artists press, 1975) 50 numbered copies] i found the right types but too small. so the printer showed the example to a tibetan woodcut-maker and he cut the letters for this publication.
at the sangram press i also printed a sheet for my portfolio asiatische & eschenauer texte [note 4. asiatische & eschenauer texte (bern : artists press, 1975) 50 numbered copies]. later, in pokhara i discovered a still smaller printer in a little shop: himali chapakhana - and as i had developed some new philosophical ideas i had two other sheets printed there for this portfolio: 'different & identic', first in english and nepali, the second sheet 'different' in nepali only. (in february 2002 i have an exhibition in the musée des beaux-arts at lausanne with this old but still topical theme). i liked the primitiveness of this printing; that was enough and therefore good. the people were kind and that made work easy and pleasant. i liked to work 'on the road' and in an asian country because of the many asian influences in my thinking.

did you have any prior experiences of book design, printing, etc.?

i had no prior experience but previously was very interested though critical of much printing and lay-out i had seen.

originally 'eschenau summer press' and 'temporary travelling press publications' were separate editions. does the now combinated name of 'eschenau summer press & temporary travelling press publications' imply that some of your books are printed in eschenau during the summer and others when you travel during the rest of the year? also am i right in supposing you are deliberately suggesting ideas of freedom ('summer' or 'travelling'), lightness (no heavy luggage) and the ephemeral ('temporary')?

yes. 'temporary' came from the fact that i was not travelling all the time and 'summer' because i worked in summer in eschenau. now i work mostly in eschenau so it is eschenau. should i have the chance and need to do something agoin while travelling or in another place, i would revert to the 'temporory travelling press publications' name.

you often send books as gifts when they came out. what was your intention at the beginning; selling them, giving them away for free or both?

it was direct communication. selling was not easy. almost nobody liked to buy them. in 1971 i published a book printed in malayalam type [note 5. random structured semiotic fields, work number v71 - 194s (1971) 150 numbered copies] in the town of mahé on the south coast. each copy cost 10 deutsche marks, but i sold no more than 10 copies out of the 150 i had printed. some years ago i discovered that a single copy was priced 1400 francs in a parisian sales catalogue. that is much more than the whole edition cost to produce and much more than i earned from the copies i sold. in fact, i liked doing my own thing and communicating - that was enough.

how did you become as simon cutts would say, an "artist publisher"? what were the causes and circumstances behind your first works?

almost from the beginning i liked the idea of this form of publishing and communication and was thinking not only about my own work but also about the possibility of contributing to the work of other artists. from the beginning i only worked for artists i knew personally and whose ideas i could relate to. for no 3 [note 6. as wide as. the eschenau summer press publications a continuation of the temporary travelling press publications 3 (1975 150 numbered copies] i wrote from kathmandu to marinus boezem, a dutch conceptual artist. his project was not easy to execute while travelling so i made it back in eschenau.

how do you choose the book projects - or do you choose the artists first? do you initiate projects to be made specially for your press or are proposals sent by the artists themselves?

i always choose the artist first and still do so. the project or concept comes from them and i give them a free hand... i only tell them for example to make it smaller, shorter, better. i have always accepted whatever artists proposed except in one case when an artist wished to do something that was more a graphic than a publication.

how much have circumstances played a role? do your book projecis mostly stem from chance meetings wlth artists or are they based on personal affinities?

both.

what is your working method when collaborating with artists? does the mail play an important part? or meetings? or phone conversations? is it sometimes difficult? did it sometimes happen that projects failed? examples? do you spend much time in publishing books by others?

sometimes i spontaneously solicit a project from somebody when face to face. sometimes by letter. mail has always been important. the time i spend on publishing other artists' work is variable: with boezem i had mainly to do it myself by hand as i needed the visual contact of working with a pair of compasses. later i suggested doing a second publication of his work while travelling and he proposed '3 sec. of light'. i carried a lot of photographic paper that i exposed, sheet by sheet, 3 sec. in the light of every place i chose for it. i carried out his instructions in several places making an edition of 150 copies. a heavy weight for our light luggage. when i returned he did not like the result (on 13 × 18 photopaper) and withdrew the project. he later realised it himself in a much larger format with 4 sheets exposed in european, asion, and australion light. but typically for a conceptual artist he really exposed all the sheets to 3 seconds of light in holland. light turns photo-sensitive paper black in any case. i think it was not good because the concept and its realisation should be the same, the real result and the concept have to be true together, one.

why do some books that have never been published appear on the 'eschenau summer & temporary travelling press publications' list? (e.g. nannucci).

a few artists forgot my invitation (e.g. nannucci).

did you originally set out to form a collection of more or less periodical publications in a small format and does their unity come from artistic, philosophical or spiritual ties or maybe simply from friendly relationships with other artists?

i started with the idea of a loose published series and so it is today. i liked the smallness as it simple and as i have said before, simple is enough. there is a link in the themes and i think that this is the relation i have to the ideas and work of those artists i published. in this way it was often but not always also a case of friendship.

does the number of copies - often 100 or 150 copies but sometimes more - depend on the artist's will, fame, on the kind of book or on anything else?

mostly i make editions of 150 copies with 50 for the artist himself. sometimes the number has been smaller for practical reasons. some issues were 300 at the request of the artist. i think a small number is enough to communicate in a small circle of people and if it is important enough it will also spreod the idea or concept even if the number is small. it has nothing to do with exclusiveness!

as to the diffusion of your books, do you send them to your collectors, your frlends, etc. - or are they distributed by people like lydia megert (the first time i have heard of you was through her at the basel art fair in the early '80s) - or by the artist-authors themselves?

diffusion was done by mail, or i gave them to people i met and i thought would be interested. some went to collectors, for example to hanns sohm with his great archive that is now in the staatsgalerie stuttgart. he had a 'nose' for these things and was very keen to get them immediately, not later. but serious collectors such as sohm were and are rare, very rare.
i worked for a while with urs and ros graf from the 'artists press' in bern for the distribution but as they stopped their activities i had it to do again myself. also lydia megert helped a lot with distribution after the 'artist press' stopped.

when you began 'the eschenau summer press & temporary travelling press publications', in 1974 you had already published books from as early as 1960: what was your knowledge of the so-colled artist's books phenomenon in those years, and to what extent did you realize there was a burgeoning international activity in that field? for instance did you know that other artists were making books and that some were publishers? had you seen books by other artists?

my first book was in 1960 and reprinted in 61 [8. untitled (wit is overdaad (1960) 120 numbered copies; id. (1961) 120 numbered copies]. i had not heard at all about what we now call an 'artist's book', for me it was a 'publication'. i had made publications before but not published myself. they were zoological and not artistic. i was not aware of the phenomenon at the beginning. i had the idea that now artists were 'emancipated', so i did it myself. i also gave short talks at the openings of my own exhibitions for that reason in the sixties. i knew about artists making their own publications and in 1964 i even published a bibliography on zero/nul/new tendencies in art in the museumjournaal [9. 'bibliografie / nieuwe konseptie / zero / nul / nieuwe tendenzen = bibliographie / nouvelle conception / zero / 0 / nouvelles tendances', in Museumjournaal 9, n° 5/6 (1964) 114-133] in holland but the idea of 'artist's books' was at that time unknown to me. i knew one artist in holland who made his own 'books'. he was stanley brouwn. his books mostly contained trivial objects. i think that brouwn and i were the first in holland to do what we now call 'artist's books'.

do you have any statement to make on artists' books in general - or on small press publications?

statement: almost anything is possible. it is good to keep it open, since it means freedom. it is the same with art. we have no fixed definition of art* and that is a rare thing in our society, something we have a name for but is not to be grasped in a definition. it is good that way because it means freedom of possibilities, free development. it can be new and different all the time.
small press publications are fine: you can do them yourself without others imposing their ideas on how it should be done.

i have a definition, but it is my own. there is no need for others to work within its frame. they should do their own thing, not mine! if they work in a similar way, then we are relatives. and, i am free to change my definition if it no longer suits me.

herman de vries, eschenau 20.09.01

source: Anne Moeglin-Delcroix, 'answers to anne moeglin-delcroix's questions about artists' books and so', in herman de vries. les livres & les publications : catalogue raisonné (centre des livres d'artistes/pays-paysage : saint-yrieix-la-perche 2005) 272-277.