Cowboys PoD’s

Cowboys (Untitled)
2008 – ongoing
Print on Demand books
various sizes and page count
AllBooks
In recent years print-on-demand (PoD) services have added a new platform for Book Artists to produce and distribute their bookwork. PoD enabled anyone with a computer and access to the internet to produce and distribute books without the need of editors, designers, publishers or external retailers. It eliminates the financial burden of the upfront print-run and provides an unfiltered, immediate and entirely artist-driven system.

PoD is inherently antiauthoritarian, decentralized, fast and current. PoD takes full advantage of the digital domain, and its economics are based on new digital printing technologies combined with online marketing, retail, and distribution systems. In my opinion it radically redefined the book as an “edition” of production and reshaped my notion of the “book as an unique object”.

In 2010 the popular image hosting service Flickr reported that it was now hosting more than 5 billion images, making it clear that we had arrived in the age of digital distribution. An era defined by social networking, file sharing, on demand publishing and personal broadcasting – tweets, blogs and status updates.

The question arises of what “art (books) in the age of digital distribution” means for the entirely analog medium of the book. How can a static system based on ink on paper keep pace with this new digital paradigm? How can the book stay relevant if confronted with the flux of the web? Can it in the first place, or should it even try?

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The work “Cowboys (Untitled)” tries to touch on some of these issues. The book pays homage to Richard Prince’s “Untitled” (Cowboys) – perhaps the best known example of what is now known as “The Picture Generation”, a group of artists shifting their focus from production to reproduction, introducing appropriation to the mainstream art scene. Prince re-photographed billboards featuring the iconic “Marlborough Man” and brought advertising images (like Warhol 10 years earlier) back into the gallery context.

Beginning in 2008 I periodically began searching for every single image that I could find of the most famous of Prince’s cowboys and printed the results for each search using different PoD services. (kodak.com, wallmart.com, blurb.com, lulu.com)

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Although the resulting books differ in size, style and page count I see them all as part of the same “edition”. For me as an artist there is no difference between them and the dissimilarity is irrelevant. I am also completely indifferent about the actual quality of the printed books. I don’t care about paper quality or the kind of printer used, as I feel that these factors are not important in my work.

The uniting factor is the act of collecting the images and making them available (not publishing) in printed form. Each of these “snapshots” only mark a point in time. The formal differences mirror the visual difference of our cross browser – cross platform environment online. The images themselves, all based on the same “original” cowboy, show an astonishing variety caused by the various compression formats and pixel sizes, questioning the notion of original and copy.

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The romantic notion of the horse riding cowboy recalls the idyllic image of the pony express cowboy in a flip book manner. The images – viewed as a sequence – evoke “The Wild Bunch”, Ford’s “Searchers” and other western movies of my childhood. So in a way this also a very personal and sentimental project…

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