Cultured Magazine

June/July 2015

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Paul Chan was an artist. He received an Master of Fine Arts from Bard College in 2002, created animated projections, made a video essay of Iraq just before the U.S. invasion in 2003, staged "Waiting for Godot" in post-Katrina New Orleans, and made a large-scale projection work inspired by the Marquis de Sade, which was shown at the 2009 Venice Biennial. Then he retired. In April 2010, after cleaning all his floors and checking his e-mail 100 times "like a typical retiree," Chan realized he needed a day job. So he started Badlands Unlimited, a publishing house named for a Terrence Malick film that specializes in unique artist books—one was printed on stone—and e-books by the likes of Petra Cortright, Calvin Tomkins, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Chan himself. The latest publications are a series of erotic novels under the name "New Lovers." The first three—by Wednesday Black, Lilith Wes and Andrea McGinty—were called "colorfully hot reads for the thinking pervert" by the Paris Review's Jennifer Krasinski, and point toward Chan's more than fleeting interest in erotica and sexuality. "When I started Badlands, one of the models for publishing was the legendary Olympia Press, the Parisian press from the 1960s that first published some of the greatest experimental and avant garde novels of the 20th century," he says, noting that the designs for Badlands' book covers— monochromatic purple overlaid with simple block letters—mimic Olympia's own minimal covers. "They were among the first people to publish Henry Miller, Samuel Beckett, Nabokov, William Burroughs, Anaïs Nin. The more one looks into the history of erotica and pornography, the more one realizes that the best types tend to be a mixture of so many other things besides sex," Chan says. "It was always peppered with and enlivened by other things like making fun of the church or making fun of the aristocracy. That's something we keep in mind at Badlands." Chan still seems amused by the fact that he started the press in the first place. He refers to it as an office job, though he notes that it often doesn't feel like an office. "I feel like a fraud," he says. "I don't have a background in publishing. I have experience writing and editing, but I've never done it professionally. I always say it's like wearing a Halloween costume of a publisher. In five years, one would like to think one has learned something, but the more you learn, the more you realize that there's so much more to learn. It just is never- ending—the more I learn, the dumber I feel." What makes Badlands so special is the fact that Chan isn't a publisher. He and his team of Ian Cheng, Micaela Durand and Matthew So are constantly shifting the meaning of what a book is, how it should be held and what it means to read. These are constraint-free concerns not often explored by a traditional publishing house, or even an independent one. "All of us at Badlands have some sort of moving image background— I've done animation and video, Ian does animation and Micaela is a filmmaker," he says. "Over the years, we realized that making e-books was not unlike making moving images, insofar as moving images are a sequence of images that move over time. In a way, we think of e-books as almost like digital flipbooks. The fact that you turn the page gives it the potential to be animated," he continues. "Thinking about e-books that way—as moving image works—gives us another level of concerns and opportunities for making interesting books. Not only is it important what's on the page, but it's important how the page transitions over time. It's nice to think about it that way." Badlands will continue publishing "New Lovers" series—they plan on doing 26 works of fiction in total—and will issue Sarah Ruden's new translation of "Hippias Minor," an early Plato dialogue that was previously thought to portray Socrates as believing good liars are morally superior to bad liars, and even to truth-tellers. Chan was intrigued that Socrates's word polutropos, widely translated as "lying," can also be translated as "cunning." In this light, says Chan, "it's possible to read the dialogue as not about Socrates championing liars, but Socrates championing artists insofar as cunning can be seen as a creative act." And though Chan has lately returned to art-making, opening a show of existing and new works in 2014 at Schaulager in Basel, Switzerland, and subsequently, winning the Hugo Boss Prize, which brought him a show at the Guggenheim earlier this year, he's almost completely made the transformation to publisher these days, though he muses that the two aren't so far apart. "The size of the book, the pages, the pagination and the font size—all those things contribute not only to an aesthetic, but to an experience," he says. "And I think we realize that the experience is how we remember the books that we love. That comes from the story or the idea, but also from the experience of actually reading it, holding it in our hands in our bed, in our kitchen, in our bathroom. All those multisensory elements contribute to that experience and to our remembrance. In that way, I realized that it reminds me a lot of art—the best of it, anyways." 84 CULTURED PORTRAIT BY GAVIN KROEBER Best Seller After a quick retirement, artist Paul Chan returns to work in a new medium—publishing. BY MAXWELL WILLIAMS Paul Chan models his book covers after those by Olympia Press, the legendary French publishing house from the 1960s.

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