Interview with Bretta C. Walker and Jean-Jacques Martinod, Founders
How did Evidence House start?
When we started in 2017 we were both coming from different angles. Our own artistic practices are much more aligned with cinema, photography and the hybridity that comes within our transmedia practices in the liminal realms they inhabit. One day during a sort of enlightened conversation we decided to try and establish a publishing project that would expand our own practices while narrowing the communion we were having with certain other artists, poets, ghosts. It was completely random and we had absolutely no idea what we were getting into. Bretta had experience in making one-of-a-kind artist books and working with print production design, but that was about it. We kind-of just wanted to see what was around the corner… to build a house for the things we loved so they could all live together.
At the time we believed we would curate an annual exhibition of multimedia works which we would release under the Evidence moniker. And so our first publication came about, the Evidence Annual: Exhibit A. Meant to operate as a sort-of unfinished cartography of inconclusive yet inspired avenues, where the reader would have to maneuver a collection of objects at their own pace and discretion. Over 30 artists were involved. It included a cassette tape of music and soundscapes, an absurdist puzzle, diaries, poetry, essays, photography, painting, and even installation documentation. The endeavor ballooned quite quickly and we realized pretty early on that we wouldn’t be able to sustain for following years, at least not with the same approach or vision we had held initially… Bretta sews all our books by hand on her own and finances were tight. But all said, we still had a lot of energy and were determined to find a way of carrying on.
Around that time we were fortunate to be invited to become part of the Montréal-based research cluster, The Centre for Expanded Poetics, where they had an amazing archive of chapbooks from a variety of poetry movements from around the world. They also had a Risograph printer, a pretty incendiary resource for us which would become our main ally for the next couple of years. In 2018 we also had the opportunity of visiting surrealist painter Susana Wald and her partner, surrealist poet and collage artist, Ludwig Zeller at their home in Huayapam, Mexico. Along with their extraordinary artworks, they shared with us works from their publishing operation, Oasis Publications, which they had founded in Toronto in the 70’s. These were simply stunning limited editions, almost talismanic. Even at their most simplistic they emanated an intense devotion to the illuminated object that’s reminiscent of Benjamin’s auratic explorations—a sort-of innate power suffused into the original book object. Mostly they were of Zeller’s poetry and Wald’s drawings, but also collage collaborations between the two of them. Susana told us of how there were times they forewent having their electricity on just to fund their publications and work, how it was always labor of love and how it is essential not to stray from this modus operandi—to remember why you started and to keep that flame alive. She encouraged us to bear this same torch.
The time we spent with them in Mexico was pretty revolutionary for the project. We decided to simplify our objectives while still maintaining the original idea of publishing works that spoke to the liminality of our contemporary experience, always anchored in a labor of love. We realized that through the resources we had we could meld our own creative studies with the diverse content we would find ourselves scouring by developing chapbooks infused with our own sensibilities.
Tell us a bit about Evidence House. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
Neither of us comes from a literary background in the sense that our main practice as artists is much more in tune within the worlds of cinema, photography, performance, and other transmedia explorations. We constantly find ourselves challenging how language maneuvers itself within the multifaceted image. The works we’ve decided to publish in some form or another strive to contest, expand, or negate this notion of language as fixed into the literary word. This has created an environment of fluidity where we feel we actually serve no particular mission other than exploring whatever our own innate desires or curiosities are as artists ourselves. This has resulted in a curatorial practice that prioritizes chance and fluidity over a direct objective.
Can you give us a preview of what’s current and/or forthcoming from your catalog, as well as what you’re hoping to publish in the future?
We just recently published Jean-Jacques’ cinematic collage-like self inquiry into the nature of our relationships with living-images titled Notes for an Aleatory Flame.
This November we also just released a piece that departs quite drastically from anything we’ve done before (which feels like it’s what we are always doing, one publication after the next): the bilingual edition of Gene Youngblood’s manifesto Secession from the Broadcast, which addresses the ways we might want to consider realigning our “media life-worlds” for a more radical, revolutionary future. It’s our first purely theoretical publication, and the most politically overt… but we still think it addresses issues we’ve continued to raised thus far, in form and content. It’s an adaptation from a lecture Youngblood gave several years ago so still it reads as if straight from his throat, soul. Plenty of edges—pure devotion, desire, vision.
We are also planning on releasing another book of Bretta’s in the early months of this coming year of 2021, a photo-essay titled Not a Drop to Drink. It portrays and explores the landscape and peoples of Saskatchewan’s far-north as documented while we were filming Jean-Jacques’s latest film, Before the Deluge. It’s been some-time in the works, its contents demanded some space to breathe postpartum—so we’re excited to finally be sharing that soon.
After that our crystal ball goes a bit foggy. We’re looking to embark on a more nomadic way of life in the next year—selling all of our belongings, moving continents, rambling on—so it’s going to become an interesting (yet exciting) challenge to see how the project evolves with us. This year we were aiming to start an artist residency in our space through Evidence House and had two artists lined up to come and work with us. The idea was that a book collaboration would emerge between the artists and us from the time spent in residence, but the pandemic changed the course of this being put into motion unfortunately. We still hope to one day reawaken this initiative.
We used to ask, “What about small/independent press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?” We’re still interested in the answer to that, but we’re even more interested to know what you think needs to change.
We feel as if we are outsiders within the publishing world….and so therefore we don’t feel we can truly speak to the contemporary practices within publishing. We are deep admirers of a handful of presses that challenge what the book form can host in its effervescent ephemerality and temporal nature. Wilt Press, out of Peaks Island, which mostly focuses on photography performance is one we admire deeply. Gato Negro out of CDMX is another that truly expresses primal capacity, utilizing the book form in an almost bodily, sculptural sense. Their necro-political book Why did you shoot me? by Alexander Bühler operates as aggressive molding and is a great example of how to violently oppose the blood out of our days via its own resources. Definitely a favorite of ours. Inside the Castle from Lawrence, Kansas, is also up to no good—defying and declassifying poetic realms transfiguring them into new labyrinths. Also, Void, which is an Athens-based nonprofit publishing incentive has been churning out some seriously top-tier work.
How do you cope? There’s been a lot of conversation lately about charging reading fees, printing costs, rising book costs, who should pay for what, etc. Do you have any opinions on this, and would you be willing to share any insights about the numbers at Evidence House?
We feel our operations need to be positioned within a sphere of revolt and radical will. Pure, pure love. We work not because of any semblance of income. We (and the works, we feel) would ultimately be polluted if we were to look at it from that simplistic of an angle. We lament that that seems to be the vision of our present days. From what we hear, the publishing world can get pretty incestuous so we’ve decided to never truly enter its claws.
We barely break-even financially, but we think this is how it ought to be given our contemporary landscapes. It’s the price we pay for our freedom. Money is dirty, we probably all know and understand this by now. All of our income goes directly back to publishing new works, no matter what they turn out to be. All of our publications are designed and printed with a lot of care and we would never consider charging artists for us to consider their works. Their trust has been our ultimate reward. We suppose this is all simplified by the fact that we don’t really host an open call. We’ve always been open to the possibility of collaborating with artists who approach us out of nowhere though. The poetic cinema manifesto Solares by the radical filmmaking collective Colectivo Los Ingrávidos was such a case. Carlos Lara’s God Wave was an amputated limb from Exhibit A. Azul Profundo / Deep Blue stemmed from a lengthy transcontinental email discussion we had with Colombian experimental filmmaker/philosopher Sebastian Wiedemann.
There’s never been a clear entryway into how we’ve organized our catalogue or how our future plans evolve, it’s always been very organic. But in a sense, Evidence House is a survivalist endeavor and we don’t know how long it will manage to run. The world is raging, any publication might be our last.