figure | ground (Numbered Editions, #1)

2020 Selection

Designed by Clare Bell

Editors: Nathan O’Donnell and Marysia Wieckiewicz

Contributors/artists: Jennifer Brant; Marianne Hoffmeister Castro; Serena Lee; Eoghan McIntyre; Julia Mejnertsen; Wendy Peza; Sheilah (Wilson) ReStack; Abigail Taubman

Categories: Editorial

Industry: Cultural

Tags: Illustration / Photography / Typography / Visual art / Art direction / Bookdesign / Publishing / Social / Art / Print / Publication

figure | ground (Numbered Editions, #1)

This publication, and its imprint, Numbered Editions, have their origins in a 12-day residency curated by Marysia Wieckiewicz and Nathan O’Donnell at Cow House Studios in 2017.

Entitled ‘The Map is Not the Territory’, and organised in collaboration with the director of Cow House Studios, Frank Abruzzese, the residency set out to explore the geography of Cow House Studios, unpacking ideas of abstraction, translation, cartography, and other fictions. It took place in the wake of Hurricane Ophelia, which had—on the morning that the residency started— left a trail of destruction along the south-west of Ireland. Trees had been toppled. Lines were down. When we arrived, the power at Cow House Studios had cut out completely. There was no electricity, no hot water, no heating or light, no way to use the artists’ studios in the large converted cow shed from which the centre gets its name. These conditions, which only became clear as we arrived, made things feel jumbled, calamitous but also strangely energised.

The artists had workshop sessions with guest facilitators, a poet (Christodoulos Makris), a visual artist (Sarah Pierce), and a cartographer (Barry Dalby). They also undertook a field trip to Dublin, starting with a derive led by artist Conor McGarrigle, following which we visited NCAD (for a lecture on systems mapping by Francis Halsall), Trinity College Dublin’s map library (for a tour by map librarian, Paul Ferguson), and Poetry Ireland (for a conversational event featuring writer Sara Baume and artist Tamarin Norwood).

Through this series of interactions, the group devised a set of questions in relation to cartographic practice, developing processes and propositions around (dis)orientation, non-Western mapping practices, walking-as-research, the psychogeography of the rural. These propositions formed the basis of the work gathered on the pages of figure | ground, a rich set of visual and textual reflections on mapping and place.

The residency model is an unusual basis for a publication, but it turned out to be generative, allowing a sense of interconnection and trust to inform the work assembled. It also allowed the designer, Clare Bell, to interact with contributing artists and writers in studio, at the point of process, enabling a design methodology that was deeply responsive, to the artists, to the work, to the context. Here, she worked with each of them exploring to how best to develop their work for publication so that it would mobilise across the theatre of the pages, both on an individual level, and collectively when viewed concurrently with all participants’ work throughout the publication.

This led to a design proposal to use the format of an issue of Archigram, a radical architectural magazine, from 1970, stapled along its cover’s right-hand edge, as a model for the publication: a format that could reflect some of the experimental, performative, playful quality of the artists’ work and the processual map-based focus of the residency. A copy of Archigram Nine had been an object of the designer’s fascination, for a number of years, as it allows for the viewing of multi-pages and page spreads simultaneously, in a variety of folded configurations. It was hoped that this format would capture something of the intermingling of the residency, not quite collaboration—but not quite not.

The colour palette (Pantone Black U, Pantone Black 5 U, and Pantone 10262) drew on the technologies of the materials, photography and development processes used by many of the participants during the residency, and to the colours of the earth and the geology of the land surrounding Cow House Studios.

We had expected to assemble and print this publication by the following summer. In the end it took much longer, gathering images, texts, playing with the binding, the paper stock, the fold; the unusual format; the drama of the turning page. At the very last hurdle we were tripped up by the pandemic.

These are (some of) the conditions that led to figure | ground, just over three years in the making. The result reflects our interests, as an editorial and design team, in the legacies of radical publishing. We are interested in forms of writing and publishing that can destabilise the fixed status of the ‘book’, extending it instead along participatory, collaborative, processual lines. The same interests led us to conceive of the publication as the first in an ongoing series of Numbered Editions, which we have established as an ongoing experimental imprint for artist’s writing across forms.

— Nathan O’Donnell


Size: 155 x 247 mm

The paper specified is Munken Bookwove at 80gsm.

Cover: G.F Smith Colourplan Harvest 270 gsm

Printing: Print Media Services