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LA Art Book Fair Artists: Christopher Kardambikis

– By Darin Klein, public programs associate

The Hammer is pleased to be a cultural co-sponsor for the fourth consecutive year of Printed Matter’s LA Art Book Fair on Thursday, February 11 through Sunday, February 14, 2016 at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA. Sara Beattie, Brooke Berlin, and Lauren Molina from the Hammer Store will be on hand at the Hammer’s booth with zines, artist books and editions, rare and out-of-print books, and other signature Hammer items. Each year we post tips and picks from Darin Klein, the Hammer’s public programs associate.

There are those among our ranks for whom the conception, execution, and distribution of their own zine, book, or record is only part of a bigger picture. These people take the spirit of the movement further by opening their arms in a big warm hug and promoting other people’s work, collaborating liberally, documenting/archiving, organizing, and generally strengthening the bedrock of the independent publishing community. I offer three examples as this year’s LA Art Book Fair blog posts for the Hammer. –Darin Klein


Paper Cuts on Clocktower
Paper Cuts newsletter

When I first met him at his studio in the Visual Arts Facilities at UC San Diego, Christopher Kardambikis charmed me with his welcoming demeanor and his tall-tales artwork that mashed up family history, Greek mythology, and comic book aesthetics in wholly new-sounding and fresh-looking ways. Subsequent studio visits over the course of his MFA studies were always a pleasure for me as he completed and began new projects—usually major works in large formats spanning prints, sculptures, books, and animations. One of our major bonding points (besides whiskey) was our mutual love for the printed page, with heavy leanings toward the artist-made, the small-press, and the otherwise independent. Although he relocated to the east coast last year, missives still bring news of projects at an alarming rate. His Book-a-Month project lasted two years, during which time he had road trips and residencies and both organized and participated in exhibitions and other projects across several states. He now even produces a regular zine podcast. Sadly, by the time you read this, Mr. Kardambikis may actually have exploded in a flurry of all the activity, all the time. I’m thinking of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode “Once More, With Feeling,” where the characters can’t stop singing and dancing. Look out, Christopher—your feet are smoking!

Darin Klein: Let’s peer into the distant past to talk about some of your early publishing endeavors and then move forward to your recent/present spate of activity. What was the first book you ever made? When and where were you? What would have inspired this first foray?

Christopher Kardambikis: First First Book—bringing to it the full intention of “This is a thing that will be made of pages and bound?”  When I was maybe in 2nd grade or so, I made an Avengers comic story with colored pencils on notebook paper. I vaguely remember something about Hercules finding Excalibur in New York City and using it to fend off an alien invasion. I kind of always wanted to be a comic book artist when I grew up.

First books I made as a student were at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. I had signed up for a bookbinding course after completing my introductory Printmaking courses and visiting the Special Collections at CMU’s Hunt Library. At the Special Collections, the librarian had brought out more books than our visiting class could possibly view in one sitting, and encouraged us to browse. This was maybe my second year at school, and being in that room with those books made my brain feel like it was on fire. It felt like a space that I could belong in and the experience dramatically changed what I wanted out of school.  

Encyclopedia Destructica
Encyclopedia Destructica

DK: Tell us about Encyclopedia Destructica.

CK: Encyclopedia Destructica was the first zine I put together—this was my senior project at CMU. I didn’t know much about the art scene in Pittsburgh outside of the school-bubble. The idea was to make an ongoing zine that would document the work of young artists in the city.  The focus would be on sketchbook work or process work at first (this would change), and we wanted to distribute to coffee shops, bookstores, libraries, and such—anywhere that people would actually roam into and pick up the zines. We wanted to approach the city and the arts outside of galleries. Each issue would have a new editor/curator and would dramatically change shape, materials, and binding methods. This would be a way for me to work with fun creative people, explore Pittsburgh, and alter some of the bookbinding methods I learned in school for a pseudo-mass production.

Strange Attractors: Investigations in Non-Humanoid Extraterrestrial Sexualities
Strange Attractors: Investigations in Non-Humanoid Extraterrestrial Sexualities

The first issue was 50 copies, printed on 4 or 5 donated or partially-broken cheap inkjet printers, and released on February 16, 2005 and distributed all around the city. The project grew, and Jasdeep Khaira (my collaborator at the time) and I eventually had a studio where we held bookbinding parties, shows, readings, and ran a DIY residency program.  All of our books were handbound in editions of 200, except for Strange Attractors: Investigations in Non-Humanoid Extraterrestrial Sexualities—this we put together with Suzie Silver, and the book and DVD had work by 69 artists, writers, and filmmakers all using science fiction to discuss sex and sexuality. We held a Kickstarter and secured a few grants to print 10,000 copies of the book and hold events around the country for it. Destructica became a big part of the Pittsburgh Art Scene, and Jasdeep kept it going for a while after I left Pittsburgh.     

DK: Give me a solid count of your published/creative book works, solo and collaborative. This would include your editions of 1.

CK: At CMU: 24; with Destructica: 24; Gravity and Trajectory: 4; At UCSD: 5; with LA collaborative: 5; Book-a-Month 2014: 12; Book-a-Month 2015: 12; Books in New York: 2 (plus the Book-a-Month books). Total: 88. Probably more like 90-some as I’m sure I’m forgetting something…

DK: Biggest and smallest books you ever made?

CK: Biggest Book in terms of area is Mundus Subterraneus (2012).  This book has a page size of 2’ x 3’ and is an accordion fold that extends to 28’. Multiple layers of digital printing, silkscreen, pastel, and ink work. Biggest Book in terms of pages is Reading List (2015) coming in at 1,520 pages. It’s 11.5” x 8.5” with a 7.5” spine. Multiple layers of Xerox print. Smallest Books are my Date Books (2004-2005).  This is a series of small accordion fold books—inkjet print and ink drawings on paper. 1.75” x 2.5” with a varying spine size. All of the above are editions of 1.

Mundus Subterraneus
Mundus Subterraneus

DK: For a heterosexual fellow you sure get wrapped up in some queer projects! Please explain.

CK: I always talk about zines as a search—a way to find people who share your interests, but more importantly to find a supportive community that exists outside of geographical constraints. Queer zines hold such a formidable spot in zine history, and as I’m making zines and books and documenting what people are working on right now through Paper Cuts, I try to be a student of, and engaged with, the history as well.  

Which is all one thing. But I’m also highly collaborative by nature and really interested in people and what people make. And I want to work with as many great artists and zinesters as possible. I want to make my collaborations open and a safe creative space and to be as much of an ally as possible without being the Straight White Guy Tourist who sort of skims the surface of his environment and walks away claiming some vast understanding of a life outside of his own.

As a zine artist, publisher, and educator, I want to work with and for the communities that grow out of and around these projects. One of the issues Destructica did was called “Secret Pockets.” We worked with the fucking amazing printmaker and DJ, Mary Mack, who we named our “Artist of the Year.” She edited the book and brought in artists and writers she knew from both in and outside Pittsburgh who discussed safe spaces and TQZ (Temporary Queer Zones) and contrasted that with experiences of harassment. So it starts with wanting to be involved in a medium and wanting to get to know the other people who are doing really amazing things in that medium. And each project opens the whole zine and publishing world in different ways.

DK: You collaborate like crazy. You and I have worked on some fun projects together. Are you deep into your own trip when you do solo projects? I interpreted the book-a-month project as a kind of regimented introspection.

CK: Yea, the Book-a-Month project has been taking me further down the rabbit hole. It’s been a great structure to keep me following my curiosities and using whatever I have available at the time to manifest an idea. The material and time restraints can really morph my original kernel of interest into something very different by the end.  

That being said, you can see themes, images, and materials circle back around from previous books and repeat later in the cycle. I feel that with my practice I need to be in a constant state of production—trying out new things and moving around some building blocks in my studio.

That being said, here we are in 2016, and I’m stopping the 30-day clock. I'm really looking forward to applying some of the lessons that I’ve learned and tools I’ve developed over the past two years to projects with a longer timeline. I’ve been sketching out the next couple books I want to work on and approaching new people to work with and looking at different processes.

The collaborative projects I’ve worked on have been great. I really enjoy opening up my process a bit and bouncing ideas around with someone else—letting go of my established process and finding new ways to problem-solve.  

DK: To you, what’s the difference between a zine and an artists’ book psychologically, materially, etc.? I imagine you see your own work as falling into and beyond a lot of categories between these two.

CK:  Yea, there are differences—like the idea that every square is also a rectangle, but not every rectangle is a square. Every zine is an artist book, but not every artist book is a zine. I would call Terra Nullius a zine or a book, but I wouldn’t call Reading List a zine, even though they’re both made with the traditional zine tool of the Xerox.

For me, while engaged with a 30-day deadline, the differences can be cut by time, materials, and intent. What materials do I have available/what materials do I need? Do I have time to make an edition of books by hand? Would this benefit from being an edition of 1? Do I want more copies of this book to exist in the world? How can I afford to print this? What printing process do I want to use? How am I constructing the images/pages?

All these questions need to be asked.

Personally, *my* zines over the past 2 years have felt more like sketches. An idea will form around a process or a specific visual and then I’ll try to spin that yarn for twenty-some pages and see where it takes me. The zines will come together quicker than the books.The “Artist Books” over the same timeline have had more specific rules for each piece or were pushed in that direction because of the materials and processes I wanted to use.   

DK: Can you talk about your transition from the page to the curation of the gallery exhibition Do Anything or the traveling Pulp Atlas project? Was this a natural progression, did you feel it enhanced the communal feeling you got from collaborative book making? 

This felt like a really natural progression. My collaborative zine projects like Destructica or Gravity and Trajectory (GR//TR with Louis M. Schmidt) were both ways to approach the book form as a way to show, collect, and distribute work. With GR//TR we kept saying that our gallery walls were the book's pages. So through both of these I had always been thinking of ways people look at and consume art works, and how that can be affected by environment and pacing and such. I am moving from looking at The Space of the Book to looking at The Book in Space.

Do Anything artist talk with Ed Luce and Ed Piskor at Space 4 Art.
Do Anything artist talk with Ed Luce and Ed Piskor at Space 4 Art

And both of these definitely came out of that collaborative drive.  Especially Pulp Atlas, which was setting up a system where the 12 participating artists all were tasked to hold an iteration of the show in their home city. Do Anything and Pulp Atlas each had major components that were not just the openings—discussions and talks were held around the work to constantly re-activate the space and bring viewers in multiple times.

Do Anything  had the challenge of looking more at the book and zine form in the space of a gallery. The show featured artists and publishers who were all approaching the form in new or interesting ways. I wanted this to present a varied landscape off the small press and DIY world. Presenting everything in one space allows for a contemporary narrative to be built by the viewer and also rooted in a history of zines, presented in the form of the accompanying zine collections of a few of the participating artists—displayed in vitrines throughout the gallery space.

Pulp Atlas was a way to look at books in alternative spaces or non-gallery spaces. I keep saying that the book is a very very different animal to the gallery. The book is immediately more approachable and it brings with it a simultaneous private and public viewing. You can look at a book in a library or in a subway, and no one else is looking at that page with you, even though you could be surrounded by people. Anyone can pick up an artist book or zine and know how to interact with it—which isn't necessarily true for art works in the gallery cube. This show also traveled. Each of the 12 participating artists had to organize a show or discussion around the work in their home towns. Again, non-gallery spaces only. Trying to look at the different ways that books can interact with the world and not just the Art World.

Second Pulp Atlas exhibition is installed in the Library at Hospitalfield House in Scotland
Second Pulp Atlas exhibition is installed in the Library at Hospitalfield House in Scotland

DK: From actual paper to the fiber-optic airwaves of Paper Cuts. Tell our readers about that.

CK: Paper Cuts is a program I host on Clocktower Radio that explores the contemporary world of zines and DIY publishing. On each episode, we feature artists and writers who have been sharing their work on paper and in small editions. This started in March of 2015 while I was a resident at Pioneer Works, the arts organization that houses Clocktower. Similar to how Encyclopedia Destructica allowed me to explore Pittsburgh, Paper Cuts has really allowed me to talk with so many wonderful artists here in New York.  

Paper Cuts, NY Art Book Fair 2015 Episode
Paper Cuts, NY Art Book Fair 2015 Episode

We’re currently 17 episodes deep with more in the queue. We’ve started up a reading series with each event taking place at a different New York independent bookstore, and we’ve entered the expanding world of newsletters where subscribers can receive some exclusive interviews and news from the expanding Paper Cuts family.


DK: What are you bringing to the LA Art Book Fair?

CK: I’ll be bringing a few zines from 2015 including IF YOU CAN SEE ME // I CAN SEE YOU, which is mostly drawings of me in my underpants dancing to Bowie; Terra Nullius, a collections of photos from my hometown of New Castle, PA; Over a Crumbled Universe, featuring drawings of broken ancient Greek sculptures; and some prints from my 2014 zine about LA, THIS IS THE INFERNO. I’m toying around with another zine right now, and if it comes together I’ll be bringing that along, too. You will have to stop by my table to find out!

I will also be bringing some recording equipment to talk with people in LA for Paper Cuts. I am very excited to be collecting conversations with old friends and admired peers.