Small Press Explo: Scott Hug’s Hell to Pay

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Scott Hug is a Queens-based artist whose work spans a design+art practice, with a razor focus on the book and zine form. Utilizing all of the digital tools of a modern collagist, Hug’s work, Hell to Pay, enters into a conversation with the seminal, art/poetry, and counter culture figure, Bern Porter.

One of the things that is remarkable about this book, as well as Hug’s other work, is the way he uses print as a nexus for a kind of aesthetic conversation between various creative communities. In this case, he is working his way into the Porter’s process, but it also ties into an exhibition, and a public lecture. The book (and related poster) serve both to mark the public events, but also to  model the ideas discussed.

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As a segue, Hug has been publishing a wildly successful art world zine titled, K48, since 2000. The book is a dense nugget of contemporary art, fashion photography, experimental writing, and often includes a music CD, often involving dozens of collaborators.

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Hug described the K48 project:

“K48 Is the quintessence of publication-as-synthesis, embracing music, fashion, art, and design as it disregards genre in the pursuit of an aesthetic of sensory overload. Its name evokes the inscrutable codes at the loose In the culture (on pharmaceuticals, automobiles, electronics, and weapons). Each Issue is a CD-size block, containing contributions from dozens of artists, friends and heros, often with a CD of music and videos. Youth Culture permeates the magazine, from the implicit demographic of its advertisements to the explicit youth of issue 3′s “Teenage Rebel.” Anarchy lies in the magazine’s tonal diversity, in its appropriation of styles and icons from the broader culture. The result is an idiosyncratic, collaborative parallel culture that blends naive celebration with curious skepticism, a self-described “personal expressive Pop.” K48 exists, according to Hug, as an act of generosity on everybody’s parts,” a hybrid even in its perpetuation.

Issues frequently appear in conjunction with Installations, a thematic fusion of space and object, the two pieces at once freestanding yet inseparable. Themes are usually in response to previous concepts: for example the expansive travel of issue 2 led to 3′ s introspective teenage bedroom, which was the point of departure for Kult K48′s investigation of religious cultures in issue 4 . The natural environment encountered by the Boy Scouts became the theme for issue 5: caged animals, taken from nature, inspired the prison issue. As a liberation from this enclosure, Hug employed an outer-space theme for issue 7.” via

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 pp 14-15 from Bern Porter’s artist’s book Wastemaker, 1972, via Ubuweb.

For Hello to Pay, Hug focused on the work of Bern Porter. Porter was an enigmatic figure who defies easy summary, but let’s take a shot at reduction anyway. He was a scientist whose work contributed to the invention of the television, the Saturn rocket program, and the Manhattan Project. The resultant effects of the latter turned his focus to more creative pursuits.

From the nice people at Wikipedia:
“Porter’s career is complex and filled with contradictions. He was born in 1911, in Porter Settlement, Maine. All his life Porter had a love for literature, the visual arts and poetry in particular. As a child he created countless scrapbooks filled with collaged cut-outs of texts and images from newspapers. This process, used in the early scrapbooks, would later be developed into his technique of visual collaged poetry that he refers to as “Founds”. As a pioneer author of artists, books, experiments in poetry, typography, and collage Porter published his first artist book in 1941. And since then has authored dozens of books and poetry broadsides as well as created paintings, sculpture, prints, and experimented with photography (included photograms in the early 1940s). He was also an early experimenter with alternative publishing, mail art, and performance poetry.”

you can read more about him and see pictures of his ‘Founds’ in a post we did on him here back in 2011, which was a review of this Moma exhibit.

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In the same way Porter used to the detritus of material popular culture of his time (1972, in the case of the Wastemaker) combined with the latest in printing technology (Offset & early xerox), Hug wades into our printed/digital visual culture. Self-impressed fonts, and web graphic flotsam compose themselves with a grace that confounds their ambiguous cultural meaning. A subtle knife is choreographing our visual experience on the page. While at the same time the work defies our sense of ‘collage-ness’, we have learned to un-see the magic of digital desktop publishing tools, Hug calls our attention back to this unseen everyday.

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To read an interview with Hug about this book, follow this link.

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Published in 2012 the artist’s book was timed to coincide with an exhibition at Rawson Projects and a lecture at the Queens Museum, associated with the Queens International 2012 Exhibition.

Why review a book from 2012 you might ask? Good question, here is my four pronged response, First, it reached the top of my stack of artist’s book, second,  if you haven’t heard of Scott Hug before now, it’s all new to you, and third, he’s about ready to launch a new issue of K48 and a new artist’s book that sounds totally wild, read about it here. Both of those books will debut at this year’s Printed Matter New Art Book Fair. And lastly, books, unlike exhibitions or periodicals, exist in long time, when a reader picks up a book for the first time, the published date is secondary to the lived experience of seeing and holding the publication.

This particular book was published with several print-on-demand posters, which were available at the exhibition.

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Categories: Artists, Book Review


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