Printed Matter, Inc.
Written in 2009
We cannot precisely say what is not appropriation. Impossible to draw a categorical line. Appropriation is practiced everywhere and all the time, also by people who never have heard the word. As someone said before, no author has his complete meaning alone.
The books on this list have in common that they are somewhat more explicit, sometimes strategic… sometimes indulging in borrowing, stealing, appropriating, inheriting, assimilating… being influenced, inspired, dependent, indebted, haunted, possessed… quoting, rewriting, reworking, refashioning… a re-vision, re-evaluation, variation, version, interpretation, imitation, proximation, supplement, increment, improvisation, prequel… pastiche, paraphrase, parody, forgery, homage, mimicry, travesty, shan-zhai, echo, allusion, intertextuality and karaoke.
The other common denominator of the titles compiled here is that they are—or were, at some point—available for purchase from Printed Matter, New York.
There are a variety of techniques of appropriation employed (often combined) in books today:
- the strategic use of found and pre-used material, be it image, object, sound, text or thought
- the use of an existing layout scheme or corporate identity (see Kippenberger, especially)
- the 1:1-use or paraphrase of a historic book title, using the same or alluding words, syntax or rhythm
- the reenactment of an “old” concept with “new” material - the reenactment of “old” material with a “new” concept
- if a book paraphrases one explicit historical or contemporary predecessor in title, style and/or content, this technique is what I would call a “greatest hit”
By now the appropriation and paraphrasing of Ed Ruscha constitutes a genre of its own.
TWENTYSIX GASOLINE STATIONS, VARIOUS SMALL FIRES AND MILK, EVERY BUILDING ON THE SUNSET STRIP, SOME LOS ANGELES APARTMENTS, NINE SWIMMING POOLS AND A BROKEN GLASS, THIRTYFOUR PARKING LOTS, A FEW PALM TREES, REAL ESTATE OPPORTUNITIES, DUTCH DETAILS, BABYCAKES WITH WEIGHTS, 5 GIRL FRIENDS
sounds so Ruscha.
SIX HANDS AND A CHEESE SANDWICH, THREE PALM TREES, BETWEEN HOMES IN TORONTO, TWENTYSIX ABANDONED GASOLINE STATIONS, MORE LOS ANGELES APARTMENTS, 73 HOUSES OF SINEMORETZ, NONE OF THE BUILDINGS ON SUNSET STRIP, THIRTYSIX FIRE STATIONS, 29 GAS STATIONS AND 26 VARIETY STORES, FIFTEEN PORNOGRAPHY COMPANIES, SEVEN SUNS, SOME BELSUNCE APARTMENTS, SOME FALLEN UMBRELLAS AND SOMETHING ELSE
sounds so After-Ruscha.
Eventually this perception, to relate them all “back to Ruscha”, has to do also with the historical attention span of the viewer. It is certainly possible to span a larger arc of tension. We may for example go back into the 18th and 19th century in Japan, when image-based chap-books were published in 3-, even 4-digit-print-runs, most notably under the authorship of Hiroshige and Hokusai:
THE HAUNTED HOUSE OF THE ONE HUNDRED HORRIBLE STORIES, SEVEN FANCIFUL HABITS, SEVEN ASPECTS OF THE ACTOR, FIFTYTHREE STATIONS OF THE TOKAIDO, FOUR SAMURAI FAMILIES, THIRTYSIX VIEWS OF MT FUJI, ONE HUNDRED VIEWS OF MOUNT FUJI, UNUSUAL VIEWS OF FAMOUS BRIDGES IN VARIOUS PROVINCES, ONE HUNDRED POEMS EXPLAINED BY A NURSE sounds like the appropriation and paraphrasing of Hokusai constitutes a genre of its own.
Did you know, that 12 years before Ed Ruscha published EVERY BUILDING ON THE SUNSET STRIP, a Japanese artist called Yoshikazu Suzuki photographed buildings on Ginza, Tokyo, in almost the same style, and, believe it or not, published it under the title GINZA HACCHO (along with a second volume by Japanese writer and artist Shohachi Kimura) as an accordion foldout book?
Did Ruscha know? Does it matter if he knew? Maybe the belief that an appropriation is always a conscious strategic decision made by an author is just as naive as believing in an “original” author in the first place. Probably the wheel, just as the telephone, too, was invented more than once.