This summer, the Serpentine Gallery in London (UK) played host to the latest installation of the Bidoun Library, an itinerant collection of books, periodicals, audio-visual art and ephemera produced or utilized in the Middle East. The Library’s wide range of printed matter is acquired from sources as diverse as the region’s artists and activists, to state departments and international corporations long entrenched in the oil industry.
Founded in 2004, Bidoun is a collective of internationally-based artists, curators and writers who oversee a range of educational outreach, exhibitions and publishing projects including the much-renowned contemporary art periodical Bidoun and the pop-up Bidoun Library. Through these projects and collaborations, Bidoun seeks to create a forum for critical reflection on cultural production within the Middle East and Middle Eastern diasporas, as well as on political, academic and cultural iterations in regards to the region from Western and mainstream sources. The first instance of Bidoun’s touring Library was at Abu Dhabi Art in November 2009.
The tensions, opinions, mandates, ideologies and other insights that are reflected in collections and archives of small press publications, zine and ephemera, such as those curated and compiled by Bidoun and other artist-run spaces including Toronto’s Art Metropole are crucial for filling out and sometimes countering traditional, mainstream and unquestioned narratives both local and global. Furthermore, archives of printed matter can make visible the multiple connections and movements inherent in transnational culture. As the current archivist at Art Metropole, the role and function of such collections are of great interest to me. The following exchange, between Babak Radboy of Bidoun and myself, took place over email in August 2011.
How do publications and artists’ books make their way into the Library? Do you get a lot of submissions, or must you continually seek out publications and unique book works?
To answer this question directly might be a bit misleading. The thing is, the library is not a collection of the coolest or best art books coming out of the Middle East—although we may possess many of them—it is in fact a material critique of cultural production and the discourses that presuppose such books. The basic premise is that since the bound, print object has been displaced by new technologies as the primary vehicle for information, books and periodicals have acquired a new opacity and thus a new vulnerability to material critique. They are no longer just the transparent envelopes for discourse, they are objects—and as objects are subject to the pressures and incentives of material production and a wide range of material objectives; economic, historical and political.
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Denise Ryner is the current Registrar/Archivist at Art Metropole, a Toronto-based artist-run centre that collects, publishes and distributes artists’ -books, -editions, -multiples and related ephemera. Her current projects include a curatorial collaboration with Barbara Fischer, director of the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, and the Jackman Humanities Institute at the University of Toronto, on a year-long exhibition titled Location/Dislocation that considers the implications of a variety of uprooting, as well as establishing forces ranging from post-colonial diasporas, multiculturalism, cultural re-articulation, economic exploitation to urban gentrification. Denise has recently joined the editorial committee of FUSE magazine. This is her first contribution to FUSE.
Babak Radboy is an artist and art director living in New York City. He is the creative director of Bidoun magazine and the curator of the Bidoun Library. He is currently nominated for an MTV Video Music Award for Best Art Direction for the music video POWER for Kanye West. We are living in strange times.