Reading and Listening to Extinction and Vitality

Phonautograph, 1859, via wikipedia:

Wow — that’s a whopper of a headline. But that’s exactly what I found myself thinking about on Sunday, after a weekend full of “born-again” media. It all began at Cabinet, where, on Friday night, the ever-amazing Jonathan Sterne and artist Sari Carel “revisiti[ed] extinct sounds.” Their conversation ranged from the “preservation” of extinct bird species through recordings of their calls; and the role of the phonautograph in the process; to the drive toward ever-expedited extinction, or deletion, in an age of ubiquitous digital archiving.

Then on Saturday we made our fifth annual trip to the New York Art Book Fair, held again this year at PS1. I recognized most of the exhibitors from years past, and I even remembered flipping through many of the same publications last year and the year before…and the year before that. Yet because I was able to provide new contexts for some of this seemingly familiar work this year, projects I might have otherwise walked right past instead pulled me in. I had read a fantastic article in Art Journal this summer on Wallace Berman’s Semina, and was happy to see the publication featured in the “Loose Leaf” exhibition on the first floor. And although I’d enjoyed the busy-ness of Werkplaats Typografie‘s project rooms each year, this year my husband and I were especially taken in by the pedagogical mission of their Mary Shelley Facsimile Library.


I loved e-flux’s chalkboard room last year and was sad to have missed — thanks to a torrential downpour — their Airstream trailer-based book coop in the courtyard. I so regret allowing a little rain (okay, a lot of rain) to prevent me from seeing this.

As much as I love the Jorge Pardo floor in the old Dia space in Chelsea, where the book fair was held for its first few years, PS1, a former school of course, just feels so perfect as a location for the fair. As a site rooted in communal learning and sharing materials, it highlights the vitality, the sociality, the materiality of the publishing, distribution, and reading practices it contains during this fall weekend each year. And of course PS1 itself is a project of Alanna Heiss’s Institute for Art and Urban Resources, which transformed abandoned or underused buildings into artist’s spaces. It’s a space of revival. And inside its walls each year I can’t help but feel the vitality of print — the persistence, the flourishing, of a print culture that many have presumed extinct.

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