Interview with Caroline Picard, Editor
How did The Green Lantern Press start?
The press started in 2004 but it took us a year to put our first books out (Urbesque and God Bless The Squirrel Cage). I say “we” because Nick Sarno and I started the press together. Another friend, Jason Bacasa, helped design everything. Nick and I had been roommates in San Francisco and often toyed with idea of starting a literary magazine. I was working at an artisanal cheese company at the time and wanted to explore the idea of “slow media” as a corollary to “slow food.” I moved to Chicago in 2003, found a loft apartment in 2004 where I could host art exhibits, and I called Nick up to see if he still wanted to collaborate somehow. It seemed perfect that the apartment gallery would be inextricably tied to a publishing enterprise, and a small press seemed easier to tackle than a periodical.
We didn’t get nonprofit status until 2007, but that was a turning point in the trajectory of the organization. Something settled around that time. SPD started distributing our titles and we published fairly regularly, commissioning different screen printers to produce silk screen covers. I think I realized that The Green Lantern—as publishing house/gallery—wasn’t going away anytime soon. It’s funny to think about those landmarks; they seem so indistinct as they happen. 2010 was another year like that: the apartment gallery got shut down for not having the right licensing, I wrote an essay about public/private space, Nick left the press and started a bookstore with Paulina Nassar, and the GLP re-reprinted an 1821 newspaper originally written by a fleet of icebound sailors who were stuck in the Arctic for nine months. I’m probably getting the chronology wrong, but that book, The North Georgia Gazette, was the first time I organized a collected edition of old and new work (visual and written) with footnote annotations by the poet/transcriber Lily Robert-Foley. The book was also tied to a group exhibition that occurred first in Chicago around 2011, then in Philadelphia, and was revised and reinstalled last summer (2015) at The Hyde Park Art Center (also in Chicago). I was interested in The Gazette because it seemed like the perfect model of a DIY artspace/publishing endeavor: the sailors put on weekly plays for one another and published a paper, often with theater reviews. They had no way of knowing if they would ever survive the winter, but unlike most English expeditions at the time there were very few fatalities. I like to think it’s a good example of how cultural endeavors—those things so often resistant to monetary return—make a vital contribution to the well-being and health of its surrounding participants. The Green Lantern Press version of the book came out the same year the Northwest Passage opened up as a result of global warming, so it also marks the beginning of my interest in ecology for sure.
A little over a year ago the GLP went another through another major transition. Poet/artist/GLP Co-Editor Devin King and I moved into a new storefront location in Logan Square where the press continues to produce exhibitions and books as a nonprofit, while a for-profit bookstore + bar, Sector 2337, pays for any and all costs associated with a brick-and-mortar location (rent/insurance/what salaries exist). At that time the GLP began to concentrate on poetry collections and hybrid works that reference contemporary art in some way; last year we co-published a book by Lise Haller Baggesen, Mothernism, that looks for “the mother shaped hole” in contemporary art; her book is related to an art installation that’s travelling to Austin early next year. The year before that The Green Lantern Press also released The Pedway of Today, artist Hui-min Tsen’s guide book through an ad hoc series of under and overground passageways around Chicago’s downtown, and two poetry collections by Nick Twemlow and Joel Craig.
Tell us a bit about The Green Lantern Press. What are your influences, your aesthetic, your mission?
Nick and Joel’s books are good examples because they function both as printed objects and texts to be spoken; the GLP is increasingly invested in hosting live readings for poets (and others) at Sector, as a way of providing free public platforms for independent culture. For us, I think, it’s a way of encouraging a casual and intimate dialogue in public around those cultural forms that often seem exclusive or difficult to access. It’s also a way for us to encourage crossover between poetry and art communities, or art and philosophy communities…that sort of thing. Again, it’s exciting to muddle the almost autonomic assumptions around specialization.
Lise and Hui-min’s books are great examples of GLP projects because they function as autonomous books in their own right, while being affiliated with specific art projects. Over the years, and because I work both as a curator and a publisher/editor, I like to think of the book as a curatorial space. There isn’t such a difference between the physical art exhibition and the space of a book, except maybe that a book demands a kind of linear and one-on-one experience that physical exhibitions more easily disrupt. Because I don’t necessarily prefer one option over the other, I’m more interested in trying to push and pull through that difference, while keeping the text’s primary function—which is where The Green Lantern Press might differ from an artist book project. Somehow our books remain within conventional expectations of what a book should look like, while trying to torque the overall effect of that experience just enough. I think it comes across especially with a couple of the press’s recent exhibition catalogues where documentation from the exhibitions is only a small portion of the book, the rest of which is comprised by essays that thematically resonate with the show, even if (as is usually the case) the show itself is not mentioned. In that way, each essay almost has the same function as a single artwork in the show, and it’s hard to work which is primary: the art exhibit, or the book, the art works, or the essays, or even the ephemeral events and conversations that happened around the show. I like to create a lot of slippage between what constitutes documentation and what is the main event.
Ghost Nature, The New [New] Corpse, and then a forthcoming addition to that series, Imperceptibly and Slowly Opening all behave similarly. Each book is affiliated with group show that challenges the Nature/Culture binary imposed by western traditions. Sometimes that involves teasing out the boundaries between species—for instance, Ghost Nature features Art Orienté objet, where Marion Laval-Jeantet has a horse blood transfusion as part of a performance, and Milan Metthey who tries to court a duck. Using Mt. Everest as a kind of muse, (or more specifically, the trash and corpses littering Everest’s climbing route) The New [New] Corpse applies that same dissolve to the Body/Mind division (as it parallels Nature/Culture); maybe one’s self is not a stable and single unit, but instead an assemblage of constantly shifting parts. I thought about Jane Bennet’s Vibrant Matter a lot, particularly the way she points out how metabolization mixes boundaries delineated by inside and outside, “revealing a vitality obscured by our conceptual habit of dividing the world into inorganic matter and organic life” (Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter, Duke University Press, 2010, p.50). Those kinds of questions are really exciting to me. Exploring embedded categorical assumptions about the way we think is important to me. I always hope that doing so — for instance challenging the way we privilege mind over body—might cause such a radical shift in one’s assumptions about the world, that different aspects of the world’s external conditions would emerge in new and transformative ways… Imperceptibly and Slowly Opening tries to look at plants similarly, borrowing a line from Clarice Lispector for its title and drawing on the work of Michael Marder. Using an interdisciplinary mix of visual work, theoretical writing, and poetry, all three books try to stretch through the consequences of our ecological and economic times and how certain artistic endeavors engage them. It’s been an exciting series with rad contributions from people like Irina Botea, Sri Chowdhury, Julia Drescher, João Florêncio, Nettrice Gaskins, Judith Goldman, Graham Harman, CJ Martin, Timothy Morton, Xaviera Simmons, and Jamila Woods, to mention a few.
At the same time so much of what happens at the GLP is inspired by others. Projects like Semiotext(e), K Verlag, Ugly Duckling, FENCE, Counterpath, Paper Monument, Kenning Editions, La Houle, e-flux, BookThug, Triple Canopy, Dalkey Archive, and Dorothy: A Publishing Project push me and my collaborators to think in new directions about art, poetry, design, or even a sentence. And then there are the glorious bookstores—too many to count— like Ooga Booga in LA, MOTTO in Berlin, BING Art Books and Quimby’s in Chicago, Woodland Pattern in Milwaukee, Open Books in Seattle, and Nick and Paulina’s place in SF Press: Works On Paper. The constellation of those projects and spaces makes me feel excited about the world.
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 have a lot of exciting stuff on the docket, and have just launched our first ever subscription program where you can pre-order copies of these titles + a tote bag with our latest newspaper to boot (we make newspapers periodically. You can see the digital versions of our latest paper produced for our Annual Poets Theater Festival here). I’m also really excited about the lineup for 2016. We are going to release three books: culebra by Roberto Harrison, NOTES ON by Magalie Guérin, and the book I mentioned already, Imperceptibly and Slowly Opening. Roberto Harrison’s culebra is due out this February, with a special limited run of dust jackets silk screened by Sonnenzimmer. It’s a thick and glorious collection of poems that slip between mythic and personal fields or, as George Albon wrote, where “world-creation is inseparable from local encounter.” Roberto is a Milwaukee-based poet and it has been exciting to work with him on such a phenomenal collection.
NOTES ON is an a-chronological studio diary that Chicago-based/Montreal-
Imperceptibly and Slowly Opening is a book I’m also very excited about. I mentioned it’s the third in an ongoing series, though this one in particular studies the strangeness of plants. Some contributing writers include Giovanni Aloi, Karen Houle, Joela Jacobs, Kiam Marcelo Junio, Renan Laru-an, Michael Marder, Mark Payne, Steven Shaviro, Monica Westin, with in-process poetic manuscripts by Kristina Chew, Eleni Sikélianòs, and Ronald Johnson. The in-process is important; Devin and I have been trying to explore how the book might demonstrate a growth-in-thought like a vegetable growth, for instance the way a vine might crawl up the side of a wall. Maybe that isn’t so different from the way a sentence or a paragraph draws into focus…That book will also capture and reflect on the exhibition it is affiliated with. Our hope is the show (+ book) will travel, but we’ll see…
What about small/independent press publishing is particularly exciting to you right now?
I come across a ton of small press projects through the Sector bookstore. It’s awesome. I fall in love with something different everyday. Sometimes the projects are local—like the books published by Soberscove, Featherproof, or The Renaissance Society—but then also international publishing projects with artistic agendas. For instance I found this amazing catalogue about Black Mountain College published by Spector Books that collates a vast collection of essays about Black Mountain, alongside with documented photographs and ephemera. I feel like Black Mountain College is such an idealistic place in my head, but of course you can imagine maybe it would be quite claustrophobic to be there, in the middle of a break up, say, or even just because you couldn’t eat a meal alone…so one quote I really love is from Helen Frankenthaler “I was very young and it was sort of dreary. The food was terrible. Most of the people were dingy. The barracks were unspeakable. Most of the personal situations were nightmares. And there were snakes.” Or this book I found recently and just started reading, Allegory of Cave Painting with a collection of essays on a bacteria in the pigment of ancient cave paintings in Australia; the pigment continues to live actively, maintaining a vibrant color that also etches deeper into the rock face its painted on. My favorite examples of independent publishing are those books that exploit the possibility of small-ness, embracing the idiosyncratic and often peripheral knowledges or insights that remain somehow less-marketable but totally mesmerizing. In those small acts, I feel the politics of independent publishing are reinforced: why shouldn’t anyone be able to make a zine or a pamphlet? What does it mean to do so?
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 The Green Lantern Press?
It’s tricky and ongoing. I will say that the beauty of a small press is that you can take small risks, and ideally use any limitations as assets. One of the things that I love about the stories of Black Mountain College is that they had little in terms of resources but nevertheless had a tremendous cultural impact. Of course it’s easier to think like that now that we have a degree of stability, but especially in the beginning we had little to no overhead. Which is a good thing, because it took about four years before the first two books we’d published paid for themselves. Since then the press mostly maintains itself, but definitely I would say it’s a lucky thing to break even on a project and any earned income goes into future publishing projects. Also the Green Lantern Press doesn’t have any employees, so on the one hand it’s great because over half of the organization’s income goes straight to artists and authors generating new work. On the other hand, the model raises a lot of questions about long term sustainability. Having a distributor helps tremendously. (Thank you SPD!) I also wanted to have a little more control over the sales side of things, so I started a very small bookstore where we sell Green Lantern Press titles alongside resonant publishing projects. It feels like a great alternative to Amazon whose terms were always prohibitively expensive. Between the Sector store and SPD, we have a good way of interfacing with a virtual audience. Sector has also helped. Sector 2337, The Green Lantern Press’ headquarters, is a for-profit bookstore and bar. It hosts cultural events produced by The Green Lantern Press, all of which are free, and then pays for itself (in theory) through drink and book sales. I say in theory because it still feels very new and experimental. I wanted to explore a hybrid non-profit/for-profit model so that the non-profit could remain nimble and responsive to different funding opportunities, while having the stability that a regular income provided. Still, it feels like there is a lot of work to be done: as I mentioned we’re launching our first subscription package, in an effort to generate income in advance of a given book’s release, and and just organized our first fundraiser in ten years. So. Let’s check back in 2019 and see if and how it’s working…