BY Emily King in Frieze | 03 MAR 03
Featured in
Issue 73

Palm Reading

Pocko Editions' Pocket-Sized Art Books

BY Emily King in Frieze | 03 MAR 03

The small west London publishing house Pocko Editions is an unusual hybrid, part art proposal and part business venture. Founders Iñigo Asis and Nicola Schwartz both studied photography at the RCA in London and particularly admired the long-term Bernd and Hilla Becher-style projects that are rife in contemporary photography. In this spirit they have undertaken to publish 96 books over the next ten years, regardless of the indications of their accountants' spreadsheets. This steady stream of product creates a business-like façade, a piece of cultural sleight of hand made possible by sponsorship from the clothing company Diesel that allows Pocko to pursue its no-money-spinner with the cute disclaimer 'No artists were damaged in the sponsorship of this publication'.

The series' magical number of 96 derives from the format of the books. Bound in 16-page sewn sections, the length has to be a multiple of that number. The editions' A6 dimensions are also determined by the processes of print and allow Pocko to reap the benefits of working with standard paper sizes. As well as being economical, they fit in with the current mini-book boom. I doubt anyone actually carries these books in their pocket, but the fact that you could, allied to the invented diminutive title 'Pocko', is endearing. In the run-up to Christmas I noticed tidy piles of Pockos tucked next to undersized self-help manuals by the cash desks in mainstream bookshops. With barely a wince Asis describes the books as 'impulse buys'. He may be running an anti-business, but he has an eye for a marketing opportunity.

Pocko's launch publication was Atsuhide Ito's impressive collection of rejection letters Dear Thank You Yours Sincerely. It isn't the first time such missives have been cast as entertainment, but Ito's collection is particularly affecting. Over a three-year period he is overlooked for group shows, gallery representation, art prizes, teaching jobs and much, much more. About two-thirds of the way through the book there are a couple of slightly more positive letters, raising the hope that the last section will offer some relief. But then it all goes awry and the book reverts to relentless rebuttal, culminating in Ito's heart-wrenching refusal for the 2002 Stoke Newington Festival. Number 00 in the series, the publishers regard this book as a manifesto of sorts, although with each passing publication the balance between rejecter and rejected tips further in their favour.

In keeping with the tenor of Ito's book, the next few Pockos record some worryingly obsessive undertakings. Each displays either the items of a peculiar collection or the results of a bizarre self-imposed project. Asis and Schwartz have both authored books in this batch. The former's Yamanote (Pocko 1) is a series of photographs taken on the Tokyo equivalent of London's Circle Line during the rush hour, at the moment before the carriage doors close. These extraordinarily dowdy tableaux show office workers crammed together, wearing uncomfortable corporate clothing and inexpressive public faces. Also dealing with experience-worn individuals, Schwartz' Tablehead (Pocko 3) presents an international league of table footballers. The players' chipped-paint or worn plastic features loom eerily in the photographer's flash, creating an atmosphere of unmitigated melancholy. Other collections include I Am Me (Pocko 7), a set of drawings submitted to the Japanese tweeny magazine Nicola. Edited by Yasumasa Yonehara, the pictures and slogans are a decorative expression of a state of mind that is a mystery to anyone over 15. They twitter prettily about appearance, friendship and personal goals among Japanese early teens, but their meaning remains obscure, verging on the opaque.

Of the self-imposed projects, Lost Weekend by Paul McDevitt (Pocko 5) and Day by Day by Ori Gersht and Tracey Ferguson (Pocko 6) make the best use of the 96-page format. McDevitt shut himself away in an empty white studio for two days with nothing but a pile of A4 paper and a black biro. The book is an edited selection of the resulting outpouring of 274 drawings. The terms of the project mix self-importance with silliness and so do the pictures, but brought together in a neat little volume they make a pleasing blend of mischief, violence, scatology and charm. Meanwhile in Day by Day Gerscht and Ferguson took pictures of each other every morning from the beginning of 1996 to the end of 1997. Spots, unremoved make-up and baggy eyes abound, although every now and then a more world-readied face appears. The book works well on a cruel, voyeuristic level: it is fun to go through it with friends and judge which of the two authors comes off worse.

Although only two years old, the Pocko tradition is already well defined; which makes it all the more noticeable that a couple of recent publications have strayed from the original agenda. In particular, U El El Ul El Te Ka (Pocko 9) bears the hallmarks of institutional curation (rather than individual fixation) and is the worse for it. This appears to be only a temporary blip, however. Asis and Schwartz are anxious to stay close to their original programme and plan to include further books dealing with popular culture and real life subjects in the expanding Pocko library. For the next eight years the pair are committed to scouring the world for material that combines sameness with difference. Completing the cycle of 96 books will be a significant test of stamina.

Emily King is a London-based writer and curator with a specialism in design.