Lisa Pearson of A.R.T.'s longstanding publisher partner Siglio Press shares insight into her process of editing, with Richard Kraft, Felix Gonzalez-Torres: Photostats. A.R.T. is thrilled to offer this title through our Library Program.
Most people encounter a Felix Gonzalez-Torres work in a museum, and it can be a revelatory encounter. But not everyone goes to a museum, and there are certain kinds of experiences that are difficult to have in that space, partly because it's public and mostly because it's difficult to stay for long: time in a museum, even when lingering, is limited. Books can do something different. They give you time and the ability to return, again and again. But most books serve as transparent delivery devices, as catalogues or documents, whereas the books Siglio publishes are meant to be sites of primary experience. If the artwork originates in a medium other than as a publication , then Siglio books are intended as translations, not from language to language, but from form to form. This act of translation was very much at the heart of Siglio's publication of Felix Gonzalez-Torres: Photostats as my co-editor Richard Kraft and I shared the conviction that these works were meant to be read, and, through the acts of reading, there was the possibility for a different kind of experience with Gonzalez-Torres's work.
Made at the height of the AIDS crisis in the pre-internet era of late the 1980s and early 90s, the photostats are a series of texts in white type on black fields, framed behind glass to create a reflective surface. The texts themselves are profoundly suggestive lists of political, cultural, and historical references whose relationships may not be immediately apparent. Even thirty years ago, Gonzalez-Torres recognized the bombardment of information, and how invisible power structures often shape that information and our reception of it. The photostats—like so much of his work—are both poetic and political, specific and ambiguous; they operate as open fields illuminating both connections and discontinuities. They disrupt linear time and the seemingly causal relationships of chronology.
When Richard Kraft and I began working on this book in 2019, we felt the photostats were deeply connected to our present moment, but we did not foresee how explicitly. In the spring of 2020, as we were readying the book for press and the two contributing essay writers (poets Mónica de la Torre and Ann Lauterbach) were working on their texts, the world locked-down because of the coronavirus. A few months later the U.S. convulsed with the protests against social and racial injustice in the wake of George Floyd's death. We acutely felt the urgency in Gonzalez-Torres's work, finding connections between AIDS and COVID, between the culture wars, foreign policy, and structural racism in the US during the 1980s and the upheaval in 2020, between the grief and anger and hope in the work then and our experience of it now.
There are various kinds of reflections in the photostats—literal and metaphorical—and we wanted to find a way to embody them, to translate them in the book as a physical object. When exhibited in a gallery, mounted on a wall and behind glass, the photostats recall the screen—the television then, and now the computer and phone—in which we see ourselves, and our assumptions, reflected. Gonzalez-Torres's work is often incomplete without the collaboration and participation of the viewer, so acknowledging her presence in the photostats is paramount. And yet, that reflection may obscure the language to be read as writing.
So we devised two ways to read the book, which opens from both sides. On one side, the photostats appear as framed objects on a high gloss paper so that the reader sees something of herself reading: she is inside the book. That set is followed by an essay by de la Torre that mines the dates and references of specific photostats, constellating Gonzalez-Torres's with her own references. Then in the middle, the reader finds she has reached the end. The book must be turned over and opened from the other side. Here the photostats—the same set, in the same order—are translated. The fields of black reach the edges of the page as full bleeds; the ink seeps into and saturates the heavy, rough paper, and the white text confronts the reader: language here is primary. The reader does not see herself, but is instead invited to enter in a very different way. This section is followed by an essay by Ann Lauterbach that penetrates the atmosphere of the photostats, entering in the spaces in between that language creates.
Through these different acts of reading, seeing, turning, opening, and touching, we hope signal to the reader (as Gonzalez-Torres's work often does) that there is space for contradiction, for incongruity, for paradox, that there is no one way to read or understand, that we are connected to our histories and our present moment in unexpected ways.
Lisa Pearson is a publisher, editor, designer as well as the founder of Siglio Press, an independent publishing house driven by its feminist ethos and committed to publishing uncommon books that live at the intersection of art and literature. In the fourteen years since Pearson started Siglio in a garage in Los Angeles, Siglio titles have won two AIGA 50 Books/50 Covers awards and garnered high praise from the New York Times, London Review of Books, The New Yorker, New York Review of Books, among dozens of other media. Siglio is now located in a barn in the Hudson River Valley, New York.