November 14, 2014

EXILE Books in Temporary Art Review

In the first few months since the launch of EXILE Books, the itinerant artist book installation and retail operation has already found its way to many of Miami’s most interesting spaces, from a recent exhibition at Locust Projects to an upcoming project at BFI during Art Basel Miami Beach. It is an unsurprising start considering EXILE’s founder and organizer Amanda Keeley’s extensive history with artist publications as a former manager of Printed Matter, Inc and former staff with Yoko Ono’s studio. We spoke by email about EXILE’s experimental mentality, how it connects to Keeley’s personal practice and upcoming plans for the upstart project.

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What is the significance of the name EXILE? Is it about wandering; remaining outside, uninscribed. Is it about distance?

The name EXILE not only refers to the project’s migratory nature but it also resonates the spirit of liberation. Freedom from a set place and from structural confines keeps this project experimental in nature.

I took some inspiration from Yoko Ono, who is a mentor to me, when she and John Lennon started Nutopia. Nutopia is an imaginary and conceptual country which has no fixed place or official citizenship. Lennon stated “NUTOPIA has no land, no boundaries, no passports, only people. NUTOPIA has no laws other than cosmic. All people of NUTOPIA are ambassadors of the country.” I found these ideas to still be radical today and I tried to incorporate some of these progressive thought processes into the formation of EXILE Books.

What prompted you to found EXILE in Miami after years in New York at Printed Matter, Inc and Yoko Ono’s studio? Where do you see Miami in this moment?

I returned to Miami last year to produce a few projects during the Art Basel fair. After the fair was over, I stayed. I grew up in Miami and left over 20 years ago- things have changed a lot since then. I believe Miami is experiencing a renaissance- the art scene is still relatively new, artists are free to experiment and create radical, innovative, and provocative projects that they would not be able to realize in other places. What attracted me to move back to Miami is this opportunity to pioneer, to create something that is entirely new and of my own.

How does EXILE interact with your other work as an artist and curator?

I view EXILE as an extension of my artistic practice. It is another vehicle to engage the public, to project a message to an audience, and to interact within a collaborative context. I have been encountering a lot of visual artists that are utilizing alternative practices as part of their work- either on a curatorial level, operating as a more commercial public enterprise, having a presence at art fairs, or writing/producing/organizing events and functioning as collectives. I am currently working with artists Eve Fowler, who runs a gallery out of her house in LA called Artist Curated Projects and Sam Gordon, who maintains an active curatorial role and is currently working with the Outsider Art Fair in NYC.

In terms of the physicality of the bookstore, I designed everything to be portable and modular. The store units are all on wheels, all furniture, fixtures, and books fit inside. When assembled, the rolling units look like Donald Judd was on a world tour. The design takes inspiration from his minimalist sculptures, with a nod towards the Memphis Group by incorporating playful colored formica surfaces. I also created a suite of sling back lounge chairs to encourage people to relax, unwind, and peruse the printed matter. The entire installation changes with each manifestation and is a portable work of art that is made to be interacted with and activated by the participants in EXILE.

Is it a time-based project meant to last a specific duration or do you see it as a sustainable project?

To be honest, I don’t know the answer to that question. I decided that EXILE would travel around Miami for one year and then I will evaluate where it stands, what kind of impact it has made on the community, and if/where it will remain.

What were your models? Are there other pop-up stores or artist-centric projects that you went back to in the development of EXILE?

I did a lot of research on the pop-up store model and how to launch a small business on a limited budget. I wanted EXILE to operated as a legitimate small business, to give it a chance to be a viable, sustainable organization. I think first and foremost is its cultural value. As it travels around to different communities it reaches different audiences, it is an educational initiative that fosters awareness about print culture and provides a gathering point and a catalyst for dialogue.

In terms of projects that I encountered during my research, I discovered places like the News Stand in San Francisco, which was an initiative by artists Carissa Potter and Luca Antonucci. The city gave them a old news stand for a free period in downtown San Francisco. They stocked the very limited space with one copy of various artist’s books and publications. When something sold, they would just replace it! Luca also has a great project with Colpa Press where he goes to various places and offers live on site risograph printing in collaboration with local artists to produce a book in a very limited on the fly timeframe. I had an opportunity to meet both Carissa and Luca this past summer and they are a breath of fresh air- engaging and full of youthful energy.

There is also The Newsstand (no relation), which is curated by Lele Sevari and used to be in a Brooklyn subway news kiosk. It made people curious- to insert these materials into a very unlikely non-traditional environment, with the high foot traffic of a general population, which was very daring of him! There are also projects like the traveling Sketchbook Project, which was crowdsourced. The most recent pop-up project that I have encountered that is most aligned with EXILE is D.A.P.’s new venture Artbook @ Swiss Institute. They change out their titles thematically but remain on site at the Swiss Institute. I found out about this project right after EXILE’s launch and was surprised by the synergy between both of these productions. The difference with EXILE is that we definitely encompass the grass roots activism, the unrepresented/ under recognized artists. EXILE strives to be democratic and I think DAP’s venture is a little more mainstream than our scope.

In many ways, your model works similarly to a publication in that it is distributed in some form and circulates through different spaces. What about the idea of being mobile attracted you?

I wanted to maintain my independence- to be free to alter and change components that worked and did not work. Every time EXILE changes locations, it evolves.

In the EXILE Manifesto, you talk a lot about freedom from material and fixity (“We sing the love of radical departure from material constraints” etc). How do you see that emphasis play out in the physicality of publications?

The EXILE Manifesto was actually a collaboration between two people that work with me- Lauren Monzon wrote the text and Gusto Mendoza did the graphic design. We researched the background and nature of artist’s manifestos- it was inspiring to see the broad history of these proclamations of identity harking back to the Futurists,Vorticists, and Russian Constructivist movements and then to realize this methodology within a contemporary context. I think it is important to give people a voice, to allow other artists to use EXILE as a platform for creative expression, hence publishing this free ephemeral poster.

In response to your question, information always requires embodiment, there should be no constraints. The artist’s books and publications that are taking on a physical form as opposed to other mediums are representing a democratic voice- it is the artist’s choice and I would like to support it all. The recording and documentation via printed materials is so important- imagine how much history we would lose without these kinds of archives to re-experience and refer to.

Are there any Miami-based publications you are excited about – either recent or forthcoming? How about artist publications/publishers in general? Anything you would want to specifically highlight?

There are a few publications that were published in the last year that come to mind. One of my favorites is called Forager: A Subjective Guide to Miami’s Edible Plants by Tiffany Noé & George Echevarria, which was published by Jai-Alai Books earlier this year. It features over 42 different species of plants that can be found in backyards all around Miami. Not only is this a useful guide, it is absolutely beautifully designed. Also, there is Adler Guerrier’s [NAME] Publications book Scenes from a Verdant Place, which provides additional insight into Adler’s process and his current exhibition at the Perez Museum. There is a little zine-like booklet by local photographer Sarah M.K. Moody titled It’s a Future Called Gold, which features polaroids that she took at an exhibition at the Little Haiti Country Club. The polariod film she used was expired, so all of the images have a ghostly amber glow to them. The new kids on the block are called Portable Editions, which is being spearheaded by the artistic team of Juana Meneses and Leila A. Leder Kremer. They recently published a series of remarkable little artist’s books that touch on all subject matters. I was impressed when they presented these to me and am happy to carry them in EXILE!

What do you have planned for upcoming iterations at Bas Fisher Invitational during ABMB and further into 2015?

For the Art Basel fair, EXILE Books will be housed at Bas Fisher Invitational. It will feature a group exhibition that is co-curated by Katerina Llanes of Perez Museum and myself with the artists Sam Gordon, Eve Fowler, and Lizzi Bougatsos. The foundation of the show is the idea of artists who experiment with archive. The opening reception is on December 5 when the entire installation will be activated by an art show, a book launch, and a collaborative sculptural “happening” accompanied by a sound composition by Lizzi Bougatsos. Eve and Sam will be elaborating on a windows project that they originally created for Printed Matter and there will be a display of related ephemeral posters and flyers. EXILE is partnering with Boo-Hooray on it’s first publication by Bougatsos, which will feature imagery and texts from her archives that she collected during her performances with Gang Gang Dance, I.U.D., Angelblood, and Actress. I am producing a large sculptural ice piece that will melt during the opening event, and have asked all participants to contribute items that will be entombed within the frozen archive. In addition to what is happening within BFI, Eve Fowler will be activating local downtown bus shelters with her public billboard project “the difference is spreading” which features quotes from Gertrude Stein.

For Art Basel, EXILE Books will also have a mobile push cart that will rove around the UNTITLED fair. The cart is designed like a Indonesian “Kaki Lima”- a traveling food cart. The cart will feature a selection of artist’s books and tropical exotic fruit! I thought it would be the perfect departure from the usual art fair projects.