Next week, the 2016 edition of Rencontres d’Arles opens. We talked with Yannick Bouillis, head of Offprint Projects, about his plans for the festival.
Nina Strand: This year, now that you’re back in your hometown of Arles, you’ve said that you aim to ‘make available art publications on photography, image making and new technology. 100 publications have been carefully selected to stimulate a critical approach and to reinforce the consideration of political, environmental and social issues in the production of our contemporary visual culture.’ Can you tell us more about the plan for this upcoming Arles Fair?
Yannick Bouillis: It’s actually pretty simple: it’s a library project where I split the selection into two kinds of publications. The first deal with political, social and environmental issues within art practices. Arles is the city where one of Luma Foundation’s main locations, Luma Arles, will be based, and where we’ll try to articulate art practices and local issues, among others things. This isn’t easy because you have to deconstruct 100 years of misunderstandings between urban and rural cultureS, where on both sides everyone thinks he’s smarter than the other. If you consider how urban culture as countryside culture deal with Nature, we can seriously think everyone needs to sit around a table. Offprint in Arles is nothing but the question (with no answer) of the relationship between Nature and Culture, a classic within philosophy, probably the most important question of the twenty-first century. Our presence as a few of the publications we’re presenting try to answer those questions at a modest level.
The second part of the selection deals with art, photography and new technologies in the context of our Luma Arles summertime program. This is the other major issue of this century: technology. I’ve selected publications by artists that challenge the use and abuse of images today. Most of the artists and their publishers presented are active within contemporary art. I’m sure it will contribute deeply to a questioning of our relationship to technology. A camera is technology, but nowadays there are so many technologies dealing with images, I thought it fruitful to bring them into the context of the Rencontres d'Arles.
The Garage du Cloitre, where we’ll be based, has been designed by Christiaan Bakker, a Dutch designer introduced to me by Jan Boelen a few weeks ago: I guarantee a nice experience. He designed the whole space with a central piece by the Carpinteros, a young group of artists from Cuba.
NS: What are you most excited about in general when it comes to this edition of Rencontres d'Arles?
YB: I’m very curious about the exhibition Systematically open?, curated by Walead Beashty, Elad Lassry, Zanele Muholi and Collier Schorr. Each of them operates in a different field of our visual culture, so I’m curious about how they’ll make a meaningful whole and what they each have to say from their own perspective. Philippe Rahm has been involved in the exhibition, it must be interesting to see.
NS: Arles director Sam Stourdze stressed in an interview we did with him how important the photobook is for showing photography, saying that it’s as significant as the gallery space. When the artist has a book in mind at the beginning, as opposed to just making a sort of portfolio or an exhibition catalogue, it makes for a good narrative. What is it that makes a good photobook in your opinion?
YB: As an additional note to Sam’s, I’d even say that books and online/offline magazines (especially fashion magazines) are covering 90% of the interesting things going on nowadays. There is indeed a tremendous energy to be found in photobooks, as in magazines – a freedom you can’t find in the institutional world. A publisher is something of a curator too. But of course you can’t ignore strongly curated exhibitions. There are some important one, and when they’re good, they’re really good. One that was brilliantly curated by Simon Baker this spring was Tate Modern’s Performing for the Camera. (Since I organise Offprint London in collaboration with Simon, people, including him, will think I’m biased, but I found it a very stimulating exhibition.) Exhibitions are definitively not dead.
NS: This year saw a great Offprint London at Tate Modern in May. I would especially have loved to see the performances by Self Publish, Be Happy. What are your plans for Offprint Paris in November?
YB: We’re busy developing Offprint, aiming to give it more visibility to Offprint participants. There’s still a gap between the art audience and Offprint publishers, partly because what you see at Offprint is fresh from the printer, partly because the complexity of the publications requires them to be focused – they can’t be done justice within three days with 150 participants offering more than 200 publications. It’s too much. This is why, besides improving the communication around Offprint, we’re busy developing a marketplace as an Offprint academy, supporting publishers and their activities all year long. We’re not there yet, but working hard on it.
NS: Offprint is an art publishing fair and, as you've said in previous interviews, not solely for photography books. Since the beginning in 2010, the Offprint fairs have been in Paris, Amsterdam and London. There’s also been talk about Offprint publishing.
YB: Publishing is also definitively what we’re busy with, but it might not be as a book publisher; more as a promoter of the publishing world itself: we hope to make the word ‘publishing’ within art as serious as the word ‘curating’.
Yannick Bouillis is the founder and artistic director of Offprint, produced by Luma Foundation. He published in 2016 a visual essay on Jacques Derrida and the question of Authorship within Photography, « I Forbade All Public Photographs of Myself »
Offprint Library is a forum gathering independent publishers online through a continuously updated website and in numerous locations, including the Palazzo Clerici in Milan (12–17 April), The Ecole des Beaux Art in Paris (10–13 November), Tate Modern in London (20–22 May) and Le Cloitre in Arles (June–August 2016). Offprint Library is produced by LUMA Arles, where it is also headquartered.
LUMA Arles is currently developing an experimental cultural centre in the Parc des Ateliers in the city of Arles. Some of the artists represented are Artie Vierkant, Travess Smalley, Claude Closky, Thomas Bayrle, Alexandra Leykauf, Elad Lassry, Lisa Oppenheim, Geert Goiris, Camille Henrot, Melanie Bonajo, Austin Lee, Keren Cytter & Nora Schultz, Lilit Azoulay, Mohamed Bourrouissa, Cameron Jamie, Wade Guyton, Walead Beshty, Jodi, Jon Rafman, Avery Singer, Rob Pruitt, Robert Heineken, Joe Hamilton, Rafael Rozendaal, as well as smaller publishers such as Rrose Editions, Triangle books, Manuella Editions, the Library of the Printed web, Jean Boite Editions, and better known organisations like Roma Publications, JRP Ringier, Sternberg, Presses du Réel, Spector books and Mousse publishing.