From Mimeograph to Paperback--A Short History of Sara Ranchouse Publishing
Sally Alatalo, 2007

My love of books and printed material; my experience in the production and publication of art, writing, commercial products and advertising ephemera; and my interest in creating a sustainable practice all contribute to Sara Ranchouse's intersecting activities of studio laboratory, collaborative engagement, distribution collective and small business.

Since I can remember, I have made books. Some early efforts include a fancifully decorated photo album given to my mother on her birthday, and a cookbook consisting of recipes contributed by members of my second-grade class, carefully typewritten onto mimeograph stencils and printed by our schoolteacher, who redistributed them back to us to personalize with a hand-drawn cover. Mine shows a symmetrical arrangement of gingerbread men, pies, cakes, cookie jars, and hamburgers, all labeled, apparently to preclude any confusion as to what they represent.

My conscience choice to work as a publisher, however, predates by at least ten years my 1993 registration of Sara Ranchouse Publishing as a business. As a young artist I gravitated toward art that connected to everyday life and that offered an alternative to what seemed an impenetrable and impossibly intimidating art world. Bits and pieces of art history such as the Dada publications, as well as artists including Eleanor Antin, Alison Knowles, Suzanne Lacy, Linda Montano, Ed Ruscha, and small publishers like Coracle, Something Else Press and Weproductions, influenced my early projects. Their printed publications provided what seemed a perfect model with which to coalesce my simultaneous interests in text, image, print technology and form, and came with a built-in distribution network that allowed me to circumvent a conventional gallery context.

A seminal project, Duda magazine [variously entitled Chicago Dada (after Man Ray's New York Dada), DoDa, doo da, do dah and finally, Duz] provided a place to play. Available by subscription, it also afforded an opportunity to participate in the small press and burgeoning mail-art scenes. Back issues of Duda evidence my continuing interests in found, rearranged and recontextualized texts, images and materials; in the significance of the physical make-up and production requirements of a publication in relation both to its content and to its subsequent functional and economic life; and in the pursuit of collaborative projects, especially those that resuscitate material that has been under acknowledged. [I refer to my early collisions of found texts and images as “appropriation poetry.” See especially Duda Vol.4 No. 1, and Duda Vol.4 No. 4, both 1988, and Duz #2, 1993.]

DUDA Magazine

Sara Ranchouse maintains the objective to use and promote printed matter, especially the book, as a space in which to make and read visual art and unconventional texts. My interest has expanded, though, to the larger context of mass-market publishing. I am both fascinated with and perplexed by our culture's porosity for, and tendency to legitimize, printed material, and in its enormous accessibility in terms of location and ownership.

Borrowing from literary publishers, I have adopted a standard paperback format for its economy of production and relative ease of distribution. This supports my desire to engage with, but also to critique, the material efficiency of, and easy reception afforded to mass-produced books. Somewhat unwittingly, this choice of format influences the content of the work I make and publish, by provoking a consideration of the visual style and language of the paperback, in particular genre fiction, in addition to its physical form. Thus, Kevin Riordan's opportune noir-influenced photo-collaged texts appear in both the Mystery and Adventure series, and Doug Huston's visual commentary with respect to the cut-up and wasted western American landscape becomes its textual mirror in VAST, the first Sara Ranchouse Western. Though at first it seemed more challenging to work within the blatantly generic themes and constraints of the romance novel, once initiated, the material of love has proved endlessly fertile, and become a particular interest of my own. The sheer abundance of romance novels and their readers is a popular cultural phenomenon that provides occasion for both study and play. And even more so than other genre forms, romantic fiction offers the potential to work within a well-established economy of production and use. Janice Radway's sociological study of the genre and its readers, Reading the Romance, is a model of the former and has greatly influenced the conceptual trajectory of the Sara Ranchouse Romance Series. [Radway, Janice. Reading the Romance. North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press, 1984, 1991.]

Genre fiction calls particular attention to the objectification of language and its capacity to function as material as much as meaning. The ready availability of instructional books on how to write genre forms affirms the condition of text as a plug-in for a story that has already been told. Further, such instructions pervert the literary agency of the writer and ask whether her project is, rather, one of collecting, rearranging, reformatting and recontextualizing. All of the Sara Ranchouse paperback issues, but especially the romances, co-opt, play with and subvert the linguistic data provided by their book informants.

Sole proprietorship of a publishing business requires mutability as editor, author, designer, collaborator, production staff and business woman; the degree to which I invoke each role, and when, varies in response to particular projects. The paperback series has its own life--the form, the style, and even the conceptual thread has been established and artists are invited to work within those conditions. Other Sara Ranchouse series, such as SQUARE (comics), similarly capitalize on an established format, devised in consideration of production capabilities and artists' interests. Some publications have elicited my participation as a collaborator (Imperfect Sutures by Sally Alatalo and Anne Wilson); or designer and editor (KAYSAYS: ESSAYS and interviews by kay rosen); while others, such as Lubb Dup and It's no different than, both by Ann Tyler, have been intricately designed by the artist to support and reiterate their contents, and require little intervention.

As with content, the business and marketing of publications provide opportunity for reconsideration of standard practices; one of these is the reading and signing event--a fairly predictable marketing situation for authors and newly published books, but ripe for interruptions such as: repositioning the reader and/or audience; reinterpreting the author's relationship to her book; and upsetting the means by which the book is sold. Many of the books are released in conjunction with readings performed in adopted personae such as romance author, detective moll and cowgirl; one engendered an intermedia production that included live bands, a multi-part theatrical interpretation and fancy dress party. The development of live performance of the texts has gained importance as language surfaces as a predominant concern.

The making of objects, especially in multiple material forms, impels consideration of the ecological impact of their constituent materials, production practices and distribution networks. I am especially interested in an ongoing analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of the centralization of material, production and distribution in relation to the development and impact of technologies that enable making books on demand, including those that utilize electronic formats. I continue to pursue a hybrid practice that takes advantage of the benefits of centralization to minimize the redundancy of resources, but that remains local enough to allow for deviation of established norms. Additionally, I distribute work published independently by other artists, and by other small presses and publishers, especially from Chicago, in an effort to share costs.

I find myself in a moment of rich overlaps in the methods used to produce print, and in the accompanying shifts in the way printed stuff looks. Though nuanced, I believe that each technology has its own syntax, and that the mere choice of printing method may instrumentally change how material is read. For example, the rapid exchange of photo-mechanical offset printing for digital pre-press and ink-jet, laser and dye sublimation technologies, parallels and signifies particular moments in recent cultural history, i.e. the moment of 70s anarchist publications is easily discerned from that of Wired magazine. One of my intentions is to challenge our assumptions about technological variants, and to exploit their potential meaning.

Following are descriptions of some titles that illustrate the activities of Sara Ranchouse:

a rearranged affair
by Anita M-28 (romance author pseudonym of Sally Alatalo)
Sara Ranchouse Publishing Romance Series #1 (1996)

Sociological research suggests that habitual romance readers use books to escape from, rather than as a reflection of, everyday life. The typical circumstance of romance reading--time snatched between domestic tasks--is served by stories that one can enter into quickly, and that will withstand frequent interruptions. To help meet their readers'needs, publishers provide prescribed formats to their writers. In any particular series, then, readers can expect consistencies such as the length and general structure of the story, and will not have to spend precious minutes figuring out a narrative that is too disjunctive or obtuse.

a rearranged affair is an edition of 188 (the usual number of pages in the series I used) Harlequin romance novels whose spines have been cut off and their pages recollated in their correctly numbered sequence, one leaf from each, to make 188 new, each unique, novels. (This was done twice to reckon the page count with the fact that each leaf contains two pages, recto and verso.) The idea is that, though the characters' names and the locations change, the stories read coherently, since the formula is consistent, i.e., the encounter, the conflict, the denouement, all occur on about the same page. The cover has been redesigned and offset printed, utilizing a black, or blank, screen, onto which the reader may project her own recombinant scene in place of the customary cover illustration.

Though a rearranged affair more or less functions as a readable, if disjointed, text, it unexpectedly manifests, physically, the impossibility and failure of the mass manufacture and consumption of books. Some of the books are a fraction of an inch taller or narrower than others; some have a red painted edge and others do not; the font and point size shift from one to the next. One reader left a burn mark through an entire book that occurs on only one leaf of each rearranged book, dissipating the drama of the original event.

Legendary, Lexical, Loquacious Love
by Eve Rhymer (romance author pseudonym of Karen Reimer) (1996)
Sara Ranchouse Publishing Romance Series #2

A commercially published romance novel that has been alphabetized; each chapter corresponds to a letter, from a-z. Special characters, such as punctuation and capitalization, are kept intact. The cover features Sally Alatalo as a romantic heroine being rescued from the sea after a fateful shipwreck

a rearranged affair and Legendary, Lexical, Loquacious Love were performed by Kate Walsh and Lizzy Yoder under the direction of Erika Yeomans at Printed Matter, Inc. in New York City in 1996. The mantra-like repetition of Legendary… was interrupted by the abrupt shifts of character and location in a rearranged affair. Intermittently, bonbons were consumed, cologne was delicately atomized onto wrists and tears were brushed away with soft tissue. Anita M-28 (Sally Alatalo) and Eve Rhymer (Karen Reimer) dressed in romance author drag to sign copies of their books. Heart-shaped cookies and pink champagne were served.

Legendary, Lexical, Loquacious Love Eve Rhymer (Karen Reimer)

Unforeseen Alliances
by Anita M-28, (Sally Alatalo) (2001)
Sara Ranchouse Publishing Romance Series #3

Unforeseen Alliances addresses romance readers' compulsive dispositions, and bears witness to my own pleasure in collecting, arranging, and generally playing, with books. Titles of extant romance novels have been recycled into new love poetry--each line of each poem is the title of a novel. An appendix of those titles perused appears at the end of the book.

Unforeseen Alliances Anita M-28 (Sally Alatalo)

The cover image is adapted from an image I came across in an interior design book. I am drawn to images of situations in which people, especially women, are pictured reading. This image interested me because the woman is portrayed in black dress and pearls, as if dressed for a cocktail party, but a book, rather than a man, is her date for the evening. I subsequently recreated the environment as an actual space, styled myself in the persona of the woman, and performed a reading of the book as if to reproduce her experience.


photo credit: Annie Morse

Light Bound
essays by Christian A. Peterson and Simon Anderson (2004)
Sara Ranchouse Publishing Romance Series #4

Light Bound functions as a record of an exhibition of the same name curated by Christian A. Peterson at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, which featured photographers who use the book as a subject. A love story happens between the camera and the book:

He favored her with an intent stare but she quickly averted his gaze. She wasn't prepared to open up to him. Sometimes she wondered if she would ever be ready. His fingers played delicately on her jacket, reminding her that it was no armor for the power of his gentle, yet suggestive, touch. She trembled in anticipation of the impression she would impart. Secretly, she yearned to be caressed, to be read deeply, to be able to lose herself, as if a character in a novel…

Christian Peterson contributes an introductory, curatorial essay, and Simon Anderson extends the discussion by speculating on the relationship between books, photography and conceptual art. A visual catalog of the contributing artists' work plays with their images of books in relation to the book itself.

Light Bound essays by Christian A. Peterson and Simon Anderson

Love Takes Two/The Other Side
by Anita M-28 and Sal Clarke (both Sally Alatalo) (2006)
Sara Ranchouse Publishing Romance Series #5

As a challenge to William Carlos Williams' pronouncement that “the coining of similes is a past-time of a very low order” [Williams, William Carlos, Imaginations. New York: New Directions, 1970.] this back-to-back book plays with the construction of genre fiction only by means of the simile. In the poem, Like a storm gathering, the structure of a typical romance novel is kept intact, but is written in free verse form, using as its text only similes collected from extant romance novels. The other side of the book, The Other Side, by the pseudonymous lesbian romance author Sal Clarke, features an essay, A Comparative Analysis of the Simile in Heterosexual and Lesbian Romance Popular Romance Fiction. Other pieces in the book examine the word “as”--as preposition, conjunction, pronoun and adverb.

Love Takes Two and The Other Side Anita M-28 and Sal Clarke (Sally Alatalo)

The Big Wasteland
by Kevin Riordan (1993)
Sara Ranchouse Publishing Detective Series #1

The Big Wasteland, the first issue of the paperback series (1993) is a showcase for Kevin Riordan's pre-digital photomechanical manipulations of type and image. Riordan sets the tone for the paperback series as he dissects and re-envisions T.S. Elliot's The Wasteland. In Riordan's version, “April stinks; revival tents cropping up like lilacs…”

The Continental Caper
by Sally Alatalo (1993)
Sara Ranchouse Publishing Detective Series #2

The Continental Caper presents a collage of texts and images including: an extraction of all of the sentences from Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep that refer to (frequently otherwise unnamed) women by characteristics of their hair, interrupted by the author's poetic commentary; reproduced clippings of sixty-three women's hair, which evoke a diversity of texture and tone absent in Chandler's text; instructional diagrammatic drawings of complex hair styles; and silhouettes of wildly various and sculpturally referent hair grooming tools.

This book remarks on the reductive use of hair as a signifier for character types in mystery novels, and in opposition, observes the richness of hair as material, and the complexity of the skills and tools of the important popular cultural art of hairdressing.

Chicago After Dark
by Susan Anderson, Annie Morse, Karen Reimer and Kevin Riordan (2001)
Sara Ranchouse Publishing Detective Series #3

A mystery anthology by three artists and a writer, all who take advantage of Chicago's legendary history as a crime-riddled metropolis. Kevin Riordan looks at the future from the past with image and text in a sci-fi thriller set in the 40s. Photographer Susan Anderson spins a photo-narrative around romantically grimy shots of Chicago's industrial corridors, lovelorn Mason, and his dream-world dame Maureen. Writer Annie Morse uses flashback to investigate a murder mystery, but ends up revealing a who-dunnit of paternity. Karen Reimer transcribes and corrupts a mystery, making it all the more mysterious. The cover features Sally Alatalo as a detective moll, photographed by Susan Anderson.

Chicago After Dark Susan Anderson, Annie Morse, Karen Reimer, Kevin Riordan

VAST
by Moore Lande (Doug Huston) (1994)
Sara Ranchouse Publishing Western Series #1

957 footnoted excerpts from Huston's collection of western novels are recombined to make VAST. Literary tropes are emphasized to absurdity, as in this aggregate of howls:

A coyote howled on the southwest rim of the Caprock, and he thought he heard a bobcat scream up near the head of the canyon. Coyote yapping was so faint and far away that the high-pitched protests became lost in the shifting wind currents. Once a coyote howled dismally from the edge of the mesa.

VAST was released in conjunction with the VAST Jamboree, which included performances by two live bands, an interpretive theatrical reading of the book by the theater company Doorjka and an array of western drag performed by audience participants.

Batforum
by Gary Piattoni (1999)
Sara Ranchouse Publishing SQUARE (comics) Series #1

Piattoni's wide-eyed bats make salient observations about the New York art world.

Batforum Gary Piattoni

Make No Plans,
by Kevin Riordan (2007)
Sara Ranchouse Publishing SQUARES (on photography) Series #3

Make No Plans is a sumptuous photo-collage of architectural forms gone psychedelic, in which Riordan has retained the chaotic, inky sensibility he generated with his publication Stare magazine in the pre-digital 70s and 80s.

Make No Plans Kevin Riordan

Lubb Dup
by Ann Tyler (1998)

Interactive elements inspired by antique children's books relate an episode of the nationally syndicated Jenny Jones television talk show, during which one man reveals his crush on another who, offended by the implication of his own homosexual desire, murders him.

Lubb Dup Ann Tyler

Imperfect Sutures
by Sally Alatalo & Anne Wilson (1995)

Alatalo's text and Wilson's textile-based imagery interweave to reflect upon the subversion of a domestic task.

Imperfect Sutures Sally Alatalo & Anne Wilson

KAYSAYS: ESSAYS and interviews by kay rosen (2007)

This project introduces an interest in publishing artists' writings. I believe that the many significant, erudite texts that are typically published scatter-shot throughout an artists' career can become something different when reconvened as a whole. Not only do Rosen's collected texts function to offer us a more sustained and complex understanding of her work, but together they become--like chapters in a novel--compelling narratives in which her practically anthropomorphic letterforms enact scintillating little dramas.

In addition, Rosen has adapted three of her visual language projects to page format specifically for this publication. One of these, Blurred, originally designed as a large-scale corner wall painting, takes particular advantage of the syntax of the printed page spread. The corner gutter of the page contributes the requisite directional change, and a rainbow-roll of blue and red ink produces--physically and visually--exactly, its sense.

KAYSAYS: ESSAYS and interviews by kay rosen