Journal

The journal on portikus.de operates as an extension of the exhibitions at Portikus themselves. A wide spectrum of contributions including essays, interviews, fictional writing or photo- and video-contributions provide a closer look on artistic interests and reflect on topics that concern our society, politics and culture.

Mutant Creature Making Books

Manuel Cirauqui, María Mur Deán
2022-10-20

Before ruangrupa invited consonni to produce and articulate some of documenta fifteen’s key publications, this Bilbao-based publishing house (the words collective, cooperative, and agency would fit them equally) had already evolved a manyfold practice for nearly three decades, engaging in a multiplicity of actions as well as media, and defining a substantial space in the dissemination of critical culture throughout Spanish-speaking territories. Their launch of lumbung stories in eight languages, including Arabic, Bahasa Indonesian, Basque, German, Portuguese, and Spanish, in addition to English, aptly accounts for consonni’s deep commitment to emancipatory difference, transnationalism, hospitality and decoloniality – key aspects in their fluid agenda. This conversation between consonni co-founder María Mur Deán and Manuel Cirauqui, co-curator of HOW(EVER) Radical Objects, foreshadows the symposium to be held at Portikus on October 20–23.

Manuel Cirauqui: At consonni, you approach publishing quite broadly, we could say you do so in a transversal and militant way. Yet, your work invites us to think of the book as seashore, as a seam between practices: an entry point, so that a diversity of people oversteps certain borders and accesses new spaces for theoretical as well as practical imagination. In its enabling movements and accesses, the book is still a vehicle of unique strength. What has been the evolution of your understanding of the book and editorial production, to bring consonni to the place of reference where it stands today in critical culture?

María Mur Deán: consonni is, as you know, a mutant creature whose superpowers are feminisms and listening capacity. Listening to our closest community is fundamental to consonni’s evolution. In the late 90s, it acted as a center for contemporary artistic practices in Bilbao, as the Guggenheim museum did not even exist yet. The needs of the artistic context were very concrete, and there were not so many spaces for their showcase. When production came to be a necessity, in a context in which the notion of solo artist working in their studio was becoming obsolete, consonni evolved into an artistic producer. Editorial production initiated closely glued onto artistic production, and our first books were catalogues containing the projects we produced. Slowly, we wanted to depart from self-referentiality, and we progressively discovered the power held by publishing to amplify critical culture. What is important is the work we do with artists and professional wordsmiths, in order to discover the optimal ways of carrying out our communal project. On many occasions during our conversations, we have discussed how market demand tends to appear as a suspicious thing in the art world—but in the book world there is something liberating about the distant horizons that literature can reach; the feeling of responding to a call. The point at which we are now, in between artistic languages, that trans-disciplinary place, is powerful. It is in that breach that an empowering dialogue emerges—one that allows us to embark on journeys that go beyond the topics and stereotypes of either of these two worlds. Such an intermediate place allows us to transcend both disciplines. It is not about editing and publishing books which are read by no one, but about introducing ourselves into a book world that is sustained by its readers. And this is not about escaping from the art world, but precisely the opposite. Our literary work is, somehow, an artistic project in its totality, while artistic production, like any experience, is narration and nothing more than narration.

MC: In certain occasions, you have mentioned the idea of sharing a responsibility between readers and authors, that of „embodying discourses”. I find it a beautiful way of accounting for the efforts, searches and labours of an editorial project; but it also seems to me that it emphasises something one may tend to overlook—perhaps because of solemnity or formalism—which is the performativity of the book: whatever makes it a portable object and a public space in itself, a place for activation. During HOW(EVER) we hope to address this layer of reading as an activity that involves us, embracing our bodies. It seems that this performative conception of the book has found an ideal model of exploration in the lumbung.

MM: Yes, a book is indeed a collective project, a project of action and of activation. It is an artefact and it is sometimes explosive. At the same time, it is also fundamental to remove the romantic charge that the book has and to escape from its fetishisation. Cristina Rivera Garza thinks of writing in terms of re-writing, in terms of an unfinished exercise, which produces this being-in-common, in communality. More important than the content or message is the process of sharing that accompanies thought. Our relationship with literature goes through the idea of community, as noted by Jean-Luc Nancy—just as production, under our own point of view, goes through the Benjaminian notion of unveiling the apparatus of production and seeking to transform it. The concepts of lumbung, tequio, auzolan have enabled us to move in this direction at a greater speed. We mobilised words to point out the limits of the expressible through literature and through our embodying of those words. We have collaborated with choreographer Idoia Zabaleta on different occasions to develop book readings, and specifically of lumbung stories, this anthology of tales on collectivity which we coordinated within the framework of documenta fifteen. To dance reading. To read dancing. The body interprets the stories, the rhythm adapts to messages and to tones. Words embody bodies and the audience reads the curves, the cracks. Once again, we intervene in literature through art. Reaching documenta fifteen through fiction shows the powerful capacity of literature and fiction to generate communality and to perform.

MC: Becoming and transformation are key to understanding consonni’s practice. You have referred to it as a „mutant creature“ – almost like a character in one of the fictions you could publish yourselves – and as an „interdependent publishing house“. It is at once a platform, an agency, a production office, a swarm of desires. Do you think you are on a path of consolidation of your methodologies and your program, or do you rather feel the need for a systematic mutation or nomadism, a form of resistance to identity itself? There are evocative words, from transformism to animal mimicry and the art of escape, which perhaps resonate with your current state of mind. I am thinking of harriet c. brown, your most recent collective pseudonym.

MM: You are right that mutation has become a constant. And this seems inevitable, since consonni is a polycephalic creature too, a revelation of the different bodies and heads of those of us who embody it. It responds to the different contexts and the times in which it breathes. Each person, each tempo, expresses different needs. Just as the pink panther, as noted by Deleuze and Guattari, paints the wall pink, consonni tweaks its environment in order to become that world. It is not so much about camouflage, but about contagion. In Marina Garcés’s words, it is about being affected by the world and attempting to affect it. In this sense, becoming and mutating seem infinite, as long as the creature breathes. And if it stops breathing, it seems as though it will also mutate through stories and memories; that is uncontrollable, infinite. It does look as though this nomadism is systemic, although knowing this variable creature that consonni is, which has a life of its own, it may even surprise us in that. harriet c. brown is an exercise in constructing a lumbung body, an identity that embodies that which is collective. It is a humanoid tool. When consonni needs to be a proper noun, one more exercise in fictionalisation to complexify the identity, for in its constant metamorphosis consonni also makes a proclamation for fluid identities. consonni is an art center, an agency, a publishing house, a factory of creation. It is all of that and none of that. Actually, those are subject-based identities, while what interests us is to construct identity as mutable, through a predicate. Through acting and thinking. Subject identities are only interesting as political tactics in specific moments. That is why variation, too, is in the DNA of consonni.

MC: Fluidity of identities, of plural forms of organically being– she-bodies, they-organisms – are very present in your own selection of voices and alliances, in the content of what consonni publishes in its books. I can imagine that, for you, the debate around the complexities of identity politics, and the analysis of its many creases, are constant. Nowadays, the nuances that distinguish communities, heritages, legacies, preferences, orientations, territories; ways of narrating and designating and managing oneself; dimensions of identities, which need to be recognised and cared for in a decolonial, non-hegemonic, non-normative framework, are very present. These recognitions are always tied to a liberating force that generates bonds and enables potencies. To what extent do such nuances, forces and potencies, the new constructions of identity, let us say, constitute an editorial agenda for consonni?

MM: Yes, they certainly do insofar as we understand identity not as a reified structure, but as a variable option or a political strategy, working on the multiplicity of identity and with it the disparity of narratives, which is fundamental for us. From [the Indonesian collective] ruangrupa, we have learned the concept of the interlocal, which is truly more fruitful than the concept of the international. In the end, we all depart from our localities, from that which is specific, from our cultures, and what is powerful is when these concrete and specific realities start a conversation. It is essential that bibliodiversity exists, that a diversity of publishers of different sizes coexist, and that in each publishing house there is also a plurality of voices. At consonni, sometimes we depart from our own identities, while at some other times we search for otherness in order to create dialogues.

We are currently a plurilingual team of four feminist women, María Macia, Munts Brunet, Dina Camorino and myself (some of us speak Galician, some Catalan, and some Basque), coming from different parts of Spain, and Argentina. The colleague who handles the press, Belén García, lives in Seville. These territorial realities are reflected in our translation of books by Basque, Galician and Catalan authors (Antxine Mendizabal, Uxue Alberdi, Miren Agur Meabe, Eli Ríos, Ada Klein Fortuny) and in the publication of Latin American authors, such as the Argentinean Ana María Shua, the Salvadoran Jacinta Escudos or the Cuban Iván de la Nuez. We constantly seek the intersection between art and literature by publishing artists, such as the Mexican Verónica Gerber or the Colombian Viviana Troya, who understand literature as part of their artistic practice. Reflecting the fluid reality of the LGTBQ+ community is also a labour that runs through us as a team, hence translating Larry Mitchel and Ned Asta and their book The fagots & their Friends between revolutions, as proposed by those who translated it, Jesús Alcaide and John Snyder. From this point, the conversations and nuances brought by racialised feminisms are the reason why we published Nivedita Menon or bell hooks.

In essay form, Charlene Carruthers, and through fiction, Akwaeke Emezi reveal the way in which colonialism infects people and countries, and investigate the borders of personal, social and gender identity. We also try not to translate English-speaking voices only, in order to spark dissimilar interlocalities. As argued by translator Tana Oshima, translating is not only about transcribing words but, above all, about interpreting cultures. For example, to publish a text that discusses colonialism or race, and yet failing to integrate that debate within the translation itself, even if it causes a certain estrangement within it, is, to say the least, shocking. There is a similar issue with so-called inclusive language, and how to use it, and how it affects a reading. Rather than generating a single recipe, we like discussing each case with the person who signs the text and the person who translates it. With a translation that is unaware of certain nuances, you can ruin the identity and strength of the original text. Even those who make the book covers respond to this notion of pluri-identity, dialogue, and connected interlocalities. At consonni, artists add another layer of content to a book’s cover. Zanele Muholi has contributed with an image of hers for the cover of Charlene A. Carruthers's book on queer and black precepts. German photographer and artist Ursula Schutz-Dornurg has provided the cover photograph for Antxine Mendizabal's Vínculos, a novel about three generations of isolated women. Artist Solange Pessoa collaborates with a drawing in the next book by Vinciane Despret that we are going to publish. In this way, we complexify identity like a kaleidoscope, so as not to simplify it into a pastiche or instrumentalized exoticism, which is the danger of multiculturalism.

Translated from Spanish by Mireia Molina Costa

María Mur Dean has been part of consonni’s fight through the fields of publishing and independent cultural programming since 1999. consonni produces and publishes critical culture since 1996, is written in lower case and is a mutant androgynous and polycephalic creature.

Manuel Cirauqui is a curator, writer, and the founding director of Eina Idea, a think tank and programming platform at EINA University Center of Design and Art, Autonomous University of Barcelona.

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