The Artist’s Novel: David Maroto talking to Chris Kraus, Cally Spooner and others at Page Not Found
With Chris Kraus and Cally Spooner zooming in, David Maroto’s book presentation at Page Not Found promised to become memorable.
On the evening of Saturday September 18th, I take part in the symposium and book presentation of Maroto’s two-volume book The Artist’s Novel: The Novel as a Medium in the Visual Arts (Mousse Publishing, 2020). It is the final outcome of his PhD research (2014-2018) at the University of Edinburgh. The Spanish visual artist, researcher, writer and curator already started researching the medium in 2011 with the long-term research project The Book Lovers in collaboration with curator Joanna Zielinska. Maroto was surprised that there was no academic research about the Artist Novel and took it upon him to start this discourse.
Sébastien Tien, founder and co-director of Page Not Found in the Hague, a bookshop and small writing and publishing-related event space that focuses on artists’ publications and related writings, opened the evening by introducing Maroto to the audience. For the remainder of the evening, Maroto moderated conversations with his three guests: writer and curator Yann Chateigné Tytelman, artist Cally Spooner, and critic and writer Chris Kraus.
The symposium was well-visited: there were only a few empty chairs in the small event space connected to Page Not Found’s bookshop and the livestream of the event gathered quite an audience. Although the evening held very interesting discussion points to think about more in depth, overall it could have been more to the point. Every now and then, the conversations lingered on affirmations of the importance of Maroto’s book or the conversation partner’s work, which made it feel as if I was listening to a more private conversation that, in parts, was not necessarily relevant for the audience.
Yann Chateigné Tytelman, during the first conversation of the evening, took the role of asking Maroto questions. Tytelman himself is currently in the process of writing an Artist’s Novel, and wants to know the difference between an artist book and an Artist’s Novel. According to Maroto, the artist’s book was introduced in the 1960’s and is a physical container for the writings and works of an artist with the aim to make art affordable and accessible. ‘It did not make art more understandable for the general public’, Maroto explains. An Artist’s Novel, in contrast, aims to be as readable and relatable as a literary novel, applying narratives to make art more understandable. Maroto is convinced that the Artist’s Novel has the potential to replace curatorial texts and open up new possibilities for looking at art. I understand from his descriptions that most works in this medium are self-referential, often artists write about their process of writing or making the work that the novel is referring to. Maroto gave a few examples of the various ways in which an Artist’s Novel can be written and presented: it can be published in fragments, putting the conditions in place for the novel to be written, or as transcript, documentation or script for a performance.
A New Medium, the first part of Maroto’s two-volume book, is written in essay form and analyses four case studies, among which Cally Spooner’s Collapsing in Parts. Spooner is Maroto’s second conversation partner. She explains that the core of this project was the act of writing itself. Like many artists, Spooner writes to grasp what she is doing and to create a framework in which the work can happen. For this particular project, Spooner explained that she based her structural timeframe of eight months on the parts of Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition. Every month she had to produce and publish a reaction to one of the parts of Arendt’s book, thus working through and understanding what she was reading. After the monthly online publishing process, the unedited texts were bundled and published as a book.
At this point I start to understand why Maroto repeatedly emphasizes that an Artist’s Novel should not be read as a literary novel: its writing is not as thought through. Maroto even goes as far as stating that the potential mistakes in writing, the narrative and character development become part of the Artist’s Novel and its beauty: ‘Artists do not really know how to write a novel’, Maroto continues, ‘which makes them approach it from very conventional ideas about that literary genre, which Roland Barthes described as readable, desirable and not ironic’. Initially, I was skeptical when Maroto made this claim. But an audience member who told me that she was in the process of writing a novel, agreed with him. When Spooner read fragments from her book to the audience, I had to agree that, although Spooner had emphasized that her writing was terrible, it had a recognisable literary quality.
The third and last conversation of the evening focused on the process of writing itself. Writer and art critic Chris Kraus introduced the genre of fictocriticism. Fictocriticism mixes facts with fiction and can take the shape of a combination of review and essay, thus providing a more relatable and accessible form of critique writing. ‘It takes quite some unresolved obsession with something to be able to finish writing a book or even a short story’, Kraus emphasized. She referred also to the second part of Maroto’s book, titled The Fantasy of the Novel, which is written in novel form. This part describes the many decisions and obstacles that are part of the process of making an artwork. For this part of his research Maroto and his research team commissioned artist Alex Cechetti to write the Artist’s Novel Tamam Shud, to intimately observe the process of an artist writing an Artist Novel in real time.
As the evening drew to an end, I remained unsure what to think of the Artist’s Novel as a supposedly new medium and I keep wondering: why does it often remain unedited? I understand that the medium provides a way for artists to include the audience in their process of making and decision-making, while the speed and temporality of its production makes me think of it as a form of documentation. Ultimately, I think that Maroto’s research holds the potential to give artists the freedom to take up writing as one of their main media without the necessity of turning it into a performance or any other artistic medium. But I also hope that artists remain aware of the distinct literary possibilities that writing a novel offers.
For more information on David Maroto’s book, see The Artist’s Novel: The Novel as a Medium in the Visual Arts.
For more information and a list of other events at Page Not Found, see their website.
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