WCMA’s Publication Studio holds impressive promise

WCMA’s Publication Studio was unveiled last Thursday in a series of celebratory events. Photo courtesy of Tom Anderson.
WCMA’s Publication Studio was unveiled last Thursday in a series of celebratory events. Photo courtesy of Tom Anderson.

Last Thursday, Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) held the October installment of its monthly WCMA at Night program, designed to provide a recurring space for artistic engagement on campus. From 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., the College community was invited to engage with WCMA’s current exhibitions and the temporary Publication Studio, which will be housed in the rotunda until Dec. 19. Aptly titled “P.S. I Love You,” WCMA dedicated the night to the exhibit, abbreviated “P.S.,” as well as to the love of books and art.

Visitors on Thursday were granted the privilege of printing their own postcards on a vintage clamshell press in the atrium. Against a carved wooden block and with rubber-based ink, participants pressed the words “P.S. I love you” onto blank cards. The museum even provided postage for the finished products. On their way upstairs, students decorated themselves with “P.S.” tattoos, and at the top they wrote love letters to works of art. These letters were hung up for the evening and will be part of an epistolary publication, available for copy at WCMA as well as digitally in late November.

A 20-minute gallery tour was conducted at 6 p.m., led by a WCMA Gallery Guide and focusing on just two artworks. Wine, cheese and skyr with a toppings bar were available, and vintage vinyl spun in the Stoddard Gallery all night. In the rotunda, visitors watched the Publication Studio machines in action. Publishers-in-Residence Patricia No and Antonia Pinter were available for discussion and demonstration. No and Pinter first measured and marked the dimensions of a book between up-cycled filing folders. Having clamped the book securely in the first machine, they then ran special glue along the soon-to-be-spine and flipped the pages into place. Then, still warm from the heat of the glue, the book was trimmed on a massive guillotine cutter and stamped with its title with interchangeable letter stamps.

Although co-owners No and Pinter have now departed, the Publication Studio is available for free use during museum hours through December. Several professors have integrated the exhibition’s capabilities into their fall curriculums, and students are encouraged to utilize the space and machines for an array of personal projects. Possibilities are endless, as in addition to the binding equipment, the rotunda houses a desktop computer with design programs including Photoshop and InDesign and links to free Lynda tutorials, as well as free access to color scanning and laser printing. The equipment has a maximum dimensional capacity of 12 by 12 inches, but books can be trimmed to any intermediate size. The maximum spine width is a full ream of paper.

Founded in Portland, Ore., Publication Studio began in 2009, and co-owners No and Pinter publish original work of all kinds – from poetry and fiction to interviews and student research. According to their website, “Publication Studio is a laboratory for publication in its fullest sense – not just the production of books, but the production of a public. This public, which is more than a market, is created through physical production, digital circulation and social gathering. Together these construct a space of conversation which beckons a public into being.”

The press prints and binds its publications one at a time and on-demand. Rather than editions, each copy is stamped with the date on which it was printed. Publication Studio utilizes a range of methods to connect writers and artists to the public, including a digital commons where anyone can read and annotate the business’ books for free. It produces unique social events to launch its books, fostering literary communities in several cities. Its books can be bought online at any of its 11 international sibling studios and in 60 bookstores worldwide. Publication Studio operates for-profit and represents a feasible new model for modern literary consumption and artistic publics.

Later this month, WCMA and the English Department have invited two prominent poets to direct writing projects utilizing Publication Studio. Claudia Rankine will produce a multi-authored publication, read from her new work Citizen: An American Lyric, and share a selection of public contributions. Craig Dworkin will guide students in collecting, cataloguing and analyzing language read from his work and explain the “infraordinary” – that is what Georges Perec calls “what happens when nothing happens.”

WCMA is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Wednesdays. Students and faculty interested in initiating projects should contact Publications Assistant Kate Barber at kate.barber@williams.edu to discuss plans and set up an orientation time.