The Mimeograph, A Tool for Radical Art and Political Contestation
Bergen, Norway: Alt Går Bra, 2016
Edition of 50
Soft cover (stapled), 29 x 2 cm. (11.8 x 8.6"), 143 pages.
Conception, design, printing, and binding by Alt Går Bra. Manually printed on two-drum/silkscreen Gestetner machines (models 366 and 466). Original colors produced by hand inking primary colors.
The motivation for this book is to discuss a tool, a printing tool: the mimeograph.
Alt Går Bra finds inspiration for this book in its own printing practice and in the thought of G.W.F. Hegel concerning the tool. “In the tool the subject makes a middle term between himself and the object, and this middle term is the real rationality of labour . . . On account of this rationality of the tool it stands as the middle term, higher than labour, higher than the object (fashioned for enjoyment, which is what is in question here), and higher than enjoyment or the end aimed at. This is why all peoples living on the natural level have honoured the tool.” (1)
Unlike Alt Går Bra’s two previous mimeographed books–which were meticulously laid out and bound–The Mimeograph, A Tool for Radical Art and Political Contestation experiments with the modes of production of mimeograph publications from the 1960’s and 70’s. This book was laid out from hard copies of the articles that were cut and glued onto pages to build a maquette from which stencils for the mimeograph were made. Other texts were produced using typewritten stencils, styli, and lettering guides. The final section of this book illustrates some of the tools and methods used to produce this publication.
G.W.F. Hegel, System of Ethical Life and First Philosophy of Spirit, trans. H. S. Harris and T. M. Knox (Albany: S.U.N.Y. Press, 1979), 113.
Recently, the Pompidou Center in Paris had a large-scale exhibition dedicated to the Beat Generation. A large room at the entrance displayed the machines used by the Beat artists, including an Underwood typewriter, a reel-to-reel sound recorder, a calculator, and several other machines. Even if a few mimeographed works were part of the exhibit, there were no mimeograph machines on display. As in Tacitus’s famous sentence about the conspicuity of an absence, the mimeograph was conspicuous by its absence at the Pompidou’s exhibition.
This absence at the Pompidou Center reflects the ubiquitous absence of this office-like and non-pretentious machine. In the words of Brazilian mimeograph poet Nicolas Behr, as he already stated it in the 1970’s, “there is a certain prejudice against the mimeograph. A mimeographed book does not have the “status” of a book.” The generalized unacknowledgement of the mimeograph, in the past and present, stands in sharp contradiction with the fact that mimeographs were indeed so popular worldwide throughout the last century. As discussed in the articles in this book, mimeographs were not only at the heart of private and public offices, associations, churches, and other collectives, but were also used by other marginal groups. This book aims to render the mimeograph more visible, directing the attention to the tool that played an important role for radical art and political contestation in the 20th century.
Far from attempting to be an exhaustive and balanced publication, this book compiles some of the existing contemporary literature on the mimeograph. This compilation is a contribution toward filling in the gap in publications dedicated to mimeography–to our knowledge, there are no books dedicated to mimeographic works. This publication focuses primarily on the artistic and political use of the mimeograph, with some articles discussing the history and technical aspects of mimeography.
Alessandro Ludovico’s text succinctly surveys the history of the mimeograph and reviews the use of these machines in the USA and the USSR. “The Mimeograph or Stencil Duplicator, Enabling Underground Publishing” is part of Ludovico’s book Post-digital Print, The Mutation of Publishing Since 1894 (Onomatopee 77, 2012).
In her article “Revaluing Mimeographs as Historical Sources,” Elizabeth Haven Hawley takes the Daughters of Bilitis’ pioneering LGBT publication The Ladder as a case study to identify duplication methods. A second text by Hawley, an excerpt from a presentation, analyzes the uses of the mimeograph by the Black Panthers and Ukrainian prisoners of war during World War II.
In “Il ciclostile, strumento novecentesco del conflitto dal basso” (“The Mimeograph, Tool of the Grassroots Conflict in the 20th Century”), Sergio Carpinello investigates how Italian political movements from 1968 ...