Interview

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In 1985, a conversation with Michael Gibbs was published on the occasion of the series A Survey of Alternative Spaces. Sound – printed – visual in the Belgium magazine Artefactum. This series comments various artists’ initiatives such as the Exchange Gallery (PL), Revue OU (F), Studio voor experimentele muziek (B), Club Moral/Force Mental (B), Artpool (H) and also Kontexts. In this interview as well, the uncompromising point of view of Michael Gibbs is clearly reflected:

Michael Gibbs: The first issue of Kontexts appeared when I was still at university. The idea then was to publish some concrete and visual poetry. Sending my small scale publication abroad I got feedback, people sent me material and so the magazine became international. It more or less stayed in the area of concrete and visual poetry but expanded into other areas. So it included works by different types of artists. In some way they were people as myself who fitted between visual art and literature.

Guy Schraenen: Did you work independently from financial aid?
Michael Gibbs: Yes. The first books were published quite cheaply by stencil,with a low budget. Each time I wanted to print something, I had to do it the cheapest way possible.
G.S.: After Kontexts you published another magazine, Artzien, in Amsterdam this time. Contrary to Kontexts, which published artists’ works, Artzien spoke about art.
M.G.: Yes, but there were sometimes essays and interviews in Kontexts; however it’s function was very different. My aim with Artzien was to provide a platform for artists to be critical on the art scene around them and to write about art.
In most of the art publications or newspapers, the writings are done by critics; those are little more than journalists who are only giving informations. I hoped that artists would be able to write about art in an intelligent, critical and polemical way. It maybe didn’t work out as I hoped because the Dutch culture is more a visual than a written orientated culture.
G.S.: Don’t you believe it is better to have a publication where artists show their work than where they explain their work?
M.G.: In some ways, yes, but I don’t restrict an artist just in making artworks. At least that is not how I would define my own activity. I think that one of the functions of an artist should be to put himself in relationship with the world.
G.S.: Is that the reason of your activity as publisher?
M.G.: Certainly, but at the same time it was also a means to enter a field as an artist. Above all, when I was living in England, in Exeter, there were very few artists around I could communicate with. Publication seemed to me another possibility of communication. So I could situate my own work within a movement and thus escape from a local situation.

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G.S.: Actually you seem to have restricted your publisher’s activity.Why?
M.G.: There are two reasons.The first is financial.
The second is that there are not enough artists around whom I feel interested to publish. In the beginning, my activities were in the defined field of Language Art. Actually, I don’t feel attached to any kind of movement except for a general critical approach.
G.S.: There is also a big problem to diffuse publications as yours…
M.G.: Yes. Booksellers do not want to sell publications of small publishers which stay on their shelves and they can’t make enough money out of it.
G.S.: However a contradictory situation exists: on one hand it is difficult to diffuse this kind of publications, on the other hand, after a few years they are out of print and get very expensive!
M.G.: But who buys such publications? The collectors!
G.S.: They are buying because they are interested in them when valuable, but they have no curiosity of discovery.
M.G.: The whole argument of producing for collectors is not valid.
G.S.: Why don’t people buy when it is easy to buy, which would permit the publisher to pursue his activities. Those publications are important tracks of todays artistic production. M.G.: I believe there is very little public interest. In any case there are archives for such a kind of material, like the one of Ulises Carrion in Holland and yours in Antwerp, which interested people can have access to.
Such places will be necessary to write history. But do we need a larger public? I don’t think so. It is aimed towards a circle of artists and friends, not to a public. To reach that sort of high public should not be the focus of our activities. If they are interested, they will come to us.

Guy Schraenen

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