Questions We Ask Each Other: Collective Witnessing at the lumbung of Publishers
Insights into the lumbung of Publishers by Halik Abdul Azeez.
This July I will be attending documenta fifteen as a member of the lumbung of Publishers, a gathering of independent publishers and book makers. We come from various disciplines including art, activism, comic books, fiction and more. “Lumbung” is an Indonesian term for a community rice barn, used here as a metaphor for collectively pooled resources that are then distributed among stakeholders as needed. Over a week of organized and informal programming at documenta fifteen from 6 to 10 July 2022, the 22 members will gather to process our various practices, looking for ways to collaborate in the future.
An affinity for hyperlocal and illegible (both deliberate and inadvertent) material plays a significant role in the work of the collective I am a part of. Our collective is called «The Packet» and it came together in Sri Lanka in 2019 with the aim to work together in play and community. In our publications, digital and site specific interventions, we choose to dwell in digression and flux, resisting the urge to produce constant artistic hot takes.
Nowhere is this more visible than in our Instagram account run simultaneously by anything up to eight people. Privileging Jack Halberstam’s notion of the “silly archive” as a means of making sense of the world around us, we weave together tik-toks and memes with excerpts from academic articles, pop culture and twitter rants.
Along with similar movements that are cropping up across the Global South, we have started to think of Illegibility/obscurantism as a principle of empowerment and resistance which allows room for new forms of being to arise. With the lumbung of Publishers, we will attempt to connect across these different worlds of acting and being otherwise, looking for mutualities that tie us together. While each of us work in hyper-specific contexts; speaking directly to local communities and in local languages, a common belief in the strength of community, mutual support and sharing as a basis for counter-power holds us together.
But collective organization, while already difficult within smaller settings, is bound to balloon in complexity when enacted across a global scale. Moreover, there is an irony in the attempt to enact independent ideas in one of the biggest art festivals the Global North has to offer. The danger that this will become a one-off exercise like many before it, too driven by international funding networks and art world dynamics, is a real one.
Manageable goals and objectives then become a key factor. If not one single global body, perhaps smaller pockets of collaboration will emerge. And ways and means of helping each other with aspects such as sales and logistics, the most essential needs of survival, will result in synergies that will ease the hugely complex task of running independent publishing activities.
Out of this will surface acts of mutual understanding; ways and means of knowing and learning from each other because of, and not in spite of, the landscapes of flux we each occupy. This mutual knowing breeds hope for a collective future the shape or form of which might escape us in the present. This kind of collective witnessing, as Natasha Marin says, is a revolutionary act that will allow us “to see ourselves as whole and healthy in a world so titillated by our subjugation”- a revolution that might take shape in bits and bursts, or slow burns spanning years of conversation, but will take place nevertheless.
As the group regularly gathers in the Lumbung of Publisher’s cloud-based “digital living room”, some of these mutual sense-making efforts have already begun. In the following “micro-interviews/conversations”; excerpts from a chain of questions we continue to ask each other, we attempt to process a burgeoning community still in formation.
microutopías >> Marjin Kiri: We try to respond to the questions: Which is the best format for this idea? Is it the only way to materialize it? Does it make sense? Addressing the greatest impact with the minimum of available means, we consider the format as another content layer. In many cases, format is the cause and also consequence of what is being published. It is a chicken or egg question, what comes first, the format or the content?
Kuti Kuti >> Kuš!: Right from the beginning, the idea behind the free magazine was to introduce the new aesthetics to people and increase the amount of the audience for contemporary comics. From an artists’ point of view, there’s a certain importance to getting work published physically and Kuti as a recognized magazine can contribute to their future careers.
Halik // The Packet >> Tanja // Stripburger: A zine can be made very easily and distributed, without needing any large scale publishing infrastructure. This was liberating to me. And eventually, when I started collaborating with people on book projects, it became a great way to house collective research and conversation. I love that they are artworks that can be removed from gallery spaces and taken away, and at comparatively very little expense.
David Kaiza >> Crater Invertido: I believe (as a writer) that memory is the effort (I believe memory is work) to exist in a continuum against the ceaseless river of time. As work, I think memory is the attempt to account for what just went past.
Jalada Africa >> HAMBRE: There is an intriguing young collective that started a year or two ago in Cairo, Egypt. It’s called Esmat Publishing List. They work between cinematic, artistic and discursive languages. “Esmat” = عصمت is an Arabic term that is non-gendered. The collective defines itself in brief as “A collection of publications and characters.” For now, they consider Esmat a space to think cinematically about bookmaking. How can the glamor of cinema be translated into the printed format—the play of light, sound, movement, scenography, textures, gazes, and embodied feelings?
The lumbung of Publishers:
- Bananafish Books, China
- consonni, Basque Country
- Cooperativa Cráter Invertido , Zürich
- Hambre, Chile
- Jalada Africa, Kenya
- Kayfa ta , Egypt
- Kutikuti>, Finland
- kuš! , Latvia
- La Impresora, Puerto Rico
- Marjin Kiri , Indonesia
- microutopías, Uruguay
- Nieves, Switzerland
- Relampago, Kenya
- Rotopol Press , Egypt
- Stripburger, Slovenia
- Strapazin , Switzerland
- The Packet, Sri Lanka
- Erick Beltrán , Spain/Mexico</li
David Kaiza , Kenya
N’fana Diakite , Mali
Abdul Halik Azeez is a visual artist, independent researcher and writer based in Colombo, Sri Lanka. He is a founding member of the Sri Lankan collective «The Packet», itself a member of the lumbung of Publishers.
The Publishers Lumbung at documenta 15 is supported by Pro Helvetia with the aim of facilitating and strengthening exchange between independent publishers, book-makers and artists in Pro Helvetia’s global network.