Thursday, May 30, 2013

Out of Print at Modern Fuel

"I knew that I wanted to touch upon...instances where Kingston was directly mentioned (such as an article addressing the burning of General Idea’s Miss 1984 Pavillion)."--Kevin Rodgers

 I was delighted to make good time between Toronto and Kingston earlier in the month to attend a series of presentations at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre about the exhibition, A Vital Force: The Canadian Group of Painters (for which I copy edited the catalogue). Arriving early meant I got to visit Modern Fuel, which has an interesting exhibition of art publications on display until June 15. Artistic Director, Kevin Rodgers, is interviewed below.

H- As a former art librarian, I was delighted to see gems like the Dennis Tourbin catalogue in Out of Print. How did you curate the selection of materials on display?

K- I should provide a bit of background first. In December 2012, I started my position as Artistic Director at Modern Fuel. At the time I noticed the collection of print material (magazines, artists’ books, etc.) that were casually placed on a row of shelves in the offices. As someone who has an interest in print material, I was curious to see what was actually there (at that point, there were no records that I knew of that indicated what the contents were). This row of shelving was officially called the Nan Yeomans Resource Centre, and it was a recent initiative of the gallery.

Over the next few months, I began going through the contents. Some items I was familiar with, and others were completely new to me, such as the Dennis Tourbin books.  I could tell after a few hours of going through the material that there were some rare and quite wonderful artists books and items, and I wanted to exhibit them. I wanted people to know what we had on hand.

The selection of works was rather organic: I knew that I wanted to touch upon the political publications of the late 1970s and early 1980s (Red Herring, Incite), some conceptual practices (N.E. Thing Company) and instances where Kingston was directly mentioned (such as an article addressing the burning of General Idea’s Miss 1984 Pavillion). These were the starting points.

H- When did Modern Fuel begin collecting catalogues and books for the Nan Yeomans Resource Library?

K- The Nan Yeomans Resource Library was created in 2006. It was the name given to the collection of material that had been accruing in the offices--either by subscription, sought out by former board members and staff, or donated. The material dates back to 1977, the founding of the KAAI (Kingston Artists Association Inc.).

H- The postal system has really networked Canadian artist-run centres over the years and ARCs continue to have an impressive catalogue exchange system. Is that how the majority of items in your collection were amassed?

K- There are numerous items that were acquired through the catalogue exchange system. I would say many of the items from the 1990s were acquired this way, although I’d be speculating on how the majority of items were amassed. Part of the pleasure of looking through this stuff was thinking about how it came to be here, and there are many that remain mysterious.

H-Some of the items on display are showing their age. Was the value of the material discovered or agreed upon only recently?

K- I don’t think the contents of the Library had really been gone through for some time. My understanding is that there was an awareness of the value to some of the material, and acknowledgement of this by transforming the collection into a Resource Library.  However, many items were poorly stored and one of my initiatives is to get this material properly catalogued, preserved, and displayed.

H- Did you find any interesting inscriptions while going through the materials?

K- There were not a lot of inscriptions that I found, surprisingly. Some signatures, some dates. Even those are few and far between. Mind you, I am slowly working my way through the collection, so I am sure there are still some to be discovered.

H- How would you say the role of an ARC library differs from that of a larger institution? The reason I ask is that you have displayed the catalogue for Joyce Wieland’s (landmark) show at the National Gallery, who would have preserved the catalogue already in a climate controlled facility and promoted access by cataloguing it.

K- This is a very interesting question, and I’m not sure I have a satisfying answer. I would like our Library to be a resource, but also a place to see print works displayed in conjunction with the exhibitions. So for each exhibition, selections would be brought out from the collection to complement the artwork, to provide another angle for meaning and to activate histories. This is one way that perhaps it differs from the collection as archive, removed from context so to speak.

Artexte in Montreal is an amazing facility for collecting artists' books and material, and I appreciate the type of exhibitions that they put on in relation to their collection.  Modern Fuel has a completely different mandate, and much less material in our library. What we will do is still something to be seen, but the spirit of Artexte is one that I’d like to keep in mind.

H- Agreed: Artexte is a wonderful model. My first impression of their space was admiration of their journal collection. Speaking of journals, can you tell me about Matriart? I had no idea that Canada used to have a feminist art journal!

A- Matriart was a publication out of the Women’s Art Resource Centre in Toronto, and lasted for eight years.  We have about six issues, including the first one launched in 1990. Each issue was organized around particular thematics, such as Empowerment and Marginalization, or Women in Prison. It is a journal that I was unfamiliar with prior to finding it in our collection, and one that I’m also interested in looking more into.

H- Are there any plans for the Nan Yeomans Resource Library that you’d like to reveal?

K- While I’ve mentioned a few ideas throughout my answers so far, the main change will be when Modern Fuel moves to our new location at the Tett Centre in the summer of 2014. In that new space, we will have a proper display area for the material, and visitors will be able to access the collection easier. We are also reinstating subscriptions, and reconnecting with galleries for print exchanges. I certainly think there is a resurgence of artists interested in producing books and multiples, and I’d like to see our Library be a place (again) where this type of work is encountered and supported.

H- Best of luck with your move, and thanks for your time, Kevin!