What do you do, and how is it interstitial?
The fact that I can’t even think of one label to sum up what I do should indicate its interstitiality. One year I’m a publisher, the next an artist, the next an author, but they’re never separate from each other. Each influences the other, facets of one appear in all and when I’m asked what I do for a living, I draw a blank. I have been yearning for that one label for my entire life, if only for the sake of my sanity.
Right now I mostly make books. I’d say that most of those books are not interstitial. A traditionally bound book is a book and generally cannot be categorised as anything but a book. The content I publish in those books is, for the most part, easily categorized. The limited editions produced by Papaveria are books that just happen to have unusual covers. The book assemblages I create are where the interstitiality happens. In those pieces elements of the book form are explored and utilised to give the impression of a book. Pages can sometimes be turned, text of some sort is almost always present, and each one brings to mind the idea of a book, but they are not books. They are book art, and that label brings its own interesting dilemmas as even the artists who work with books cannot agree on a definition of “book artist” or “artist book”. Richard Miller says that an “‘Artists book’ is a [controversial term given to] book or book-like object in which the primary interest, or emphasis, is visual rather than textual.” (from the Books Arts List, March 1998) Others disagree, claiming that even this broad definition boxes us in.
For a long time, the field of book arts fell into this interstitial space (at the time known as limbo), where it wasn’t traditional bookbinding but neither was it recognised as fine art. Since it wasn’t one or the other, it was impossible for the artists to achieve any kind of recognition. They were simply written off.
I would like to mention one book I’ve published that stands out as possibly being interstitial. There are stories in Amal El-Mohtar’s collection The Honey Month that certainly fall under fantasy. There are poems in the collection that are literary, there is food tasting which falls under… what? Food critique? Who knows! There is artwork in there by Oliver Hunter that defies any label I know. (Eds. note: the Interstitial March series also contains C.S.E. Cooney’s review of The Honey Month and interview with Amal El-Mohtar — click the links to read them.)
Has being interstitial (i.e. creating a project that falls outside recognized marketing categories) created difficulties for you? If so, how?
My difficulty lies in promoting the work. If I can’t figure out what to call it, how can I possibly attract interest in it? Where do I go to market it? What do I do with it? I’ve got stuff lying around the house that I probably should get out there into the world, but where do I put it? How do I figure out who wants it? I believe that for everything, a label can be found. Sometimes it’s like squeezing into those old jeans — uncomfortable, but at least you’re in. The question one has to ask is, is the discomfort worth it? For me, it’s not.
What strategies have you used to get around this? What advice would you give to another interstitial artist in a similar position?
My strategy was to give up worrying about these things, and to simply focus on the work itself. If I want to make a book, I make a book. If I want to create some unusual assemblage with paper and bone, I do that. I put them on my website and hope for the best. I take the systems and industries that require a label with a grain of salt, and in no cases do I let a lack of a label stop me. That would be my advice: do what you’re called to do and don’t let anything stop you.
If you could change one thing about the situation, what would it be?
There are a lot of brilliant artists out there, and authors, and all manner of creative people, who are right now being overlooked because their work doesn’t fit into any predefined categories. I would see that change. I would see something in place for those people who look at their finished product and think what have I done. There is nothing worse than exciting work collecting dust on a closet shelf.
Erzebet YellowBoy Carr is an author, artist, and bookbinder, and the founder of Papaveria Press, a micropress specialising in fairy tales and fantasies. She is the co-editor (with Donna Quattrone) of Cabinet des Fées and (with Sean Wallace) of Jabberwocky. Her work is concerned with memory and transformation, and she loves fairy tales. Visit her website at www.erzebet.com.
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