Michalis and I would have met each other at some point in our lives, at a book fair or exhibition or something to do with publishing. That moment was just accelerated by me asking the man behind the counter of a New York bookstore in February 2006 if he had any examples of work by artists working with newspapers. The bookstore was Printed Matter and the man behind the counter was AA Bronson. The newspapers he pulled out for me was by a German artist called Michalis Pichler who had just recently had an exhibition there.
The first newspaper was in a pile by the door. It was for sale for $1. A flimsy tabloid newspaper, the cover was almost entirely blank except for a centered statement, too small to be a headline; mournfully declaring “i fell in love”. With every turn of the page the declaration faded in print until the story conceded “i fell out of love.” I handed over a dollar.
The exhibition that I had missed by a month was Michalis’s solo show i fell in love, i fell out of love, 100$, potato chips, airplanes, clouds & sky at Printed Matter in January 2006. It was been accompanied by the launch of two other publication projects by Michalis Pichler: “WAR” diary and New York Garbage Flag Profile. Both originated during his residency in New York as a Daad Arts Fellow in 2002/2003. Taking up themes and formal strategies introduced in his powerful newspaper piece from 2002, New York Times Flag Profile, the books investigate the phenomenon of patriotism in post 9-11 New York.
In “WAR” diary headlines and images from the Daily News are collaged onto the dense stock pages of the New York Times, creating subtle ghosts of words like “OUTRAGE!,” “BAGHDAD,” and “CAUGHT” on top of or cut into endless columns of numbers. The incisions are spliced seamlessly throughout the stream of financial data interrupting the flow of text on both the front and the back of the page. A collection of 23 days are collected and reproduced as a large format newspaper.
I returned to London with “WAR” diary to add to my growing collection of artists’ newspapers, plus a scribbled email address for Michalis Pichler.
I had been collecting examples of artists newspapers for a newspaper project I hoped to self publish that would be a collection of artists who worked with either the language, structure or material of newspapers. I wrote to Michalis with an invitation to contribute an extract from the “WAR” diary to the Business section of my paper that I had recently titled The Newpaper.
The series of email exchanges that followed started a long-standing friendship between the two of us; we both shared an interest in newspapers, artists’ books, publishing practices and conceptual writing. A year later in 2007 we were back again in New York sharing a table together at Printed Matter’s art book fair; Michalis with a back catalogue of his books and the newly printed poster les dés sont pipés (Ackermann) extracted from daily newspapers and reprinted on newsprint, and me with a suitcase full of The Newpaper my first artist newspaper. We had reproduced the section from 4/5 April 2003 from Michalis’s “WAR” diary in The Newpaper and the original collages were pinned up on the walls behind us.
Many things happened at the fair as we sat behind our table for three days. Observing the burgeoning artists’ book scene gave me a few ideas that went on to instigate the opening of my bookshop X Marks the Bökship in London. Perhaps Michalis got ideas that would help him go on to start Miss Read Book Fair too. We met Nick Thurston from Information as Material, active in the conceptual writing scene, I met the artist Cheryl Donegan, who on buying a copy of The Newpaper mentioned that her husband Kenneth Goldsmith had produced the artwork Day by transcribing a day from The New York Times into a book. I watched a thriving arts community who were self initiated, politically active, who were producing work independently of the commercial art scene. They had created a new scene for their work to exist. Book collectors swept the fair for special editions and students searched for cheap bargains. I sold my newspaper for one dollar and saw my work leave in the hands of artists, writers, publishers, bookstores, collectors and the press. At the end of the fair I swapped the few remaining copies I had with other publishers for their books and carried a pile of books back to London that may have never been distributed here before.
Six months later I went to visit Michalis in Berlin. We worked on a newspaper together Some Fallen Umbrellas and Something Else that he was publishing with the French newspaper publisher Uls. It was a collection of photographs of umbrellas discarded by people after heavy rain and something else. As the title shows this work was part of Michalis’s growing fascination with Ed Ruscha appropriations that would develop into several other bookworks and curated exhibitions such as Six Hands and a Cheese Sandwich (2011), Twenty Six Gasoline Stations (2009).
I also accompanied Michalis on several occasions to his local pharmacist to use their precise scales to weigh tiny pieces of paper, small American flags cut out from the newspaper, that were carefully measured and weighed and logged for his Flag Profile Index, a project where he undertook the task of assembling a meticulous index of data recording each and every American flag that appeared in the anniversary issue of several New York newspapers.
It originates from the New York Times Flag Profile, a self-published New York Times replica artists’ newspaper published by Michalis in 2003. All 144 of the American flags from the New York Times issued on the first anniversary of September 11 were cut out and pasted into back in place into a blank dummy newspaper. Some of the flags are large, appearing in full pages adverts or leading photographs, whilst others could be from a small flag being waved in the background of a crowd scene or on a bumper sticker of a car. Each flag is listed in page order in the Flag Profile Index, a supplementary sheet slipped in New York Times Flag Profile with information about its size in square inches, its size ranking and the context it appears in.
It was printed in rotation offset in an edition of 1,000 and for one day on the second anniversary of 9-11, in 2003, the newspaper was offered for the price of $1 along with the real daily papers at local groceries and newspaper stores in Brooklyn and Manhattan. It was also distributed at art galleries and bookstores in New York.
I hadn’t seen The New York Times Flag Profile on my first visit to Printed Matter, it was a beautifully simple publication, which had been popular and had since sold out. Its strength lies in solitary flags, marking a silence like that of a remembrance service, juxtaposed with the unemotional categorisation of the statistics related to its origin, particularly when used as a patriotic gesture by advertisers and corporations.
It was the New York Times Flag Profile version that made it into a print edition, but Michalis also filtered other 9-11 anniversary newspapers and produced single editions of a New York Newsday Flag Profile, a New York Post Flag Profile and Village Voice Flag Profile that were never printed but exist as handmade master copies for potential later editions. It was these pieces that we were weighing and cataloguing, paper flag by paper flag, in a bemused pharmacy in suburban Berlin.
We reproduced a New York Times Flag profile index, a Village Voice Flag profile index and a New York Post Flag profile index in the second issue of The Newpaper that we published in 2008. I changed the size from broadsheet to tabloid format and featured one of Michalis’s Untitled series on the cover. This collage series is constructed in a similar way to the New York Times Flag Profile but instead of flags it focuses on the front cover’s screaming headlines. Michalis constructs these handmade ‘collages of the day’ by deconstructing the front pages of German newspapers such as Bild and removing all of the text leaving only the punctuation and heavy underlining crying out against a blank page. He refers to these collages as poems at speechless punctuation as excitements. They are remnant of the covers of futurist manifestos. As with his other collages, the back of the page is as important as the front and on flipping them over you can see the fragments of letters on the reverse, chance poems, as well as the tiny stickers which reveal the painfully meticulous cutting process.
I returned again to Berlin to curate a show with Michalis called the Newpaper Reading and Research room. For the exhibition we consolidated our individual collections of artists’ newspapers, picked up over several years from art bookshops, exhibitions and studio visits and found we had around 150 newspapers of which 10 of them were our own. Although it’s probably easier to publish newspapers now than it has ever been I don’t come across as many artists’ newspapers as I used too. Maybe the medium has lost it political currency or it’s as cheap to publish books, or just a reflection on the newspapers declining status in society. I had commissioned an article about the ‘Death of the Newspaper’ in the first issue of The Newpaper and whilst eight years later that prophecy hasn’t quite materialised there has been a noticeable difference in the volume of newspapers that are being produced and distributed. When Michalis was walking through the streets of New York in 2002, scouting for interesting rubbish for his New York Garbage Profile publication he would have come across newspapers on every street corner, handed out at stations, folded under the arm of every worker, then left to litter the city. The material manifestation of the news collaged our landscape and its aesthetic is engrained in the daily documentation of 20th century. Its predecessor, the constant news stream of digital data that slips neatly into your pocket also offers the possibility for cut and paste, but its potential lies beyond the book or printed matter.
Vonne Brown, Eleanor, "All The News That’s Fit to Print," in Thirteen Years: The materialization of ideas from 2002 to 2015, ed. Annette Gilbert and Clemens Krümmel (New York: Printed Matter, Inc., Leipzig: Spector Books, 2015), 22-25.