‘In Numbers’ was one of four exhibitions that marked the final phase of X-Initiative, a one-year, non-profit project based in a huge building in Chelsea that once housed the Dia Foundation. Under the direction of Cecilia Alemani, X-Initiative featured exhibitions, lectures, performances and sundry events, and was a welcome gust of fresh air blowing along the streets of sometimes staid Chelsea galleries (though, one should note, it was founded by a local dealer, Elizabeth Dee). Its programme included solo shows by Keren Cytter, Luke Fowler, Hans Haacke, Christian Holstad, Mika Tajima, Tris Vonna-Michell and Artur Z˙mijewski; group exhibitions curated by Fritz Haeg (‘Dome Colony X in the San Gabriels’), Emily Roysdon (‘Ecstatic Resistance’) and screenings organized by Electronic Arts Intermix. There were talks and discussions by, amongst others, Hal Foster, Dan Graham, David Joselit, Emily and Sarah Kunstler, Sylvère Lotringer and Bruce High Quality Foundation. It was lively, certainly, though I doubt the structure seemed new to anyone familiar with the now-common cross-platform programming of many contemporary art institutions. Nor the language of its mission statement, couched in the faux-dynamic language that art has inherited from business and politics: a ‘consortium’ that will ‘challenge us to think’, ‘reach[ing] across traditional boundaries’ and ‘respond[ing] quickly’. But it was a comfortable fit for ‘In Numbers’, an exhibition of serial publications by artists from 1955 to the present that elegantly demonstrated the interest artists have had in collaboration and in alternative means of distributing their work – not to mention how they are represented through the media.
‘In Numbers’ featured 55 publications displayed in vitrines arranged across the gallery. Each case contained sample back issues or, in the cases of publications that only ran to a handful of numbers, a full set. Earliest among them was Wallace Berman’s Semina (1955–64) – taken as the show’s point of departure for its innovative approach to printing techniques – and the most recent included Continuous Project (2003–ongoing), LTTR (2001–ongoing) and North Drive Press (2004–9). The show included publications that have been running for decades (Stephen Willats’ Control, for example, which began in 1965), those that never got past two issues, the minimum qualification for inclusion here (Joe Brainard’s C Comics, 1964–5) and those that took seriality to an extreme (Adam Dant’s Donald Parsnips Daily Journal which ran to 1,303 issues between 1995 and 2000). Content ranged from the personal (Roni Horn’s chronicle of her visits to Iceland, To Place, 1990–ongoing) to the political (Martha Rosler’s Food Novels, 1974–6). There were also witty titles to enjoy, such as Everyday Hiking (2005) and This is the Salivation Army (1996–2003), although my favourite name, Fuck You: A Magazine of the Arts, was sadly not among them.
Featured publications hailed from Europe and North America, the exceptions being Argentina (Diagonal Cero, 1962–8) and Japan (Kiroku, 1972–3, Provoke, 1968–9, and Zerokkusu Shashincho, 1970). This raised the interesting question of localism. I was happy to see that The BANK (1996–7) was included, since its savage satires of the British art scene provide evidence that not every artist in the 1990s was living it up with Damien Hirst and Blur. Yet here in New York, I wondered how well any of its jibes at British critics, curators, dealers and artists, some long-since departed from the art world, might translate.
It was fascinating to see all this material, but ‘seeing’ was also a problem. Yes, there are archival and preservation issues at stake in exhibiting publications such as these – some desperately fragile, others rare-as-hens’-teeth – but being unable to appreciate the physical characteristics of publications (portability, the feel of the paper, the page-for-page browsing experience of pace and juxtaposition) rendered these ’zines mute, biblio-fetish objects. However, with the future of print media at stake, ‘In Numbers’ also raised the crucial question: ‘Where do we go from here?’