THE ART OF DISPLAY & DISTRIBUTE
by Nunnaree Panichkul04.09.2018
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Display Distribute explains itself as an exhibition space, distribution service, thematic inquiry and sometimes shop. But what exactly does it mean to me ?
To be honest, I am not quite sure how to explain my personal experience with Display Distribute. The first image that I recognized was shown to me when briefing about the gallery’s next project, To Whom It May Concern. The photo showed Elaine W. Ho from Display Distribute wearing a kind of apron-like costume packed with publications. The next memory is when she emailed me saying that she would send the second edition of their self-published『CATALOGUE』to the gallery with LIGHT LOGISTICS as an update from Display Distribute’s publications that were sold at Bangkok Art Book Fair in 2017. She did give me a website with a tracking code, but I was so busy that I forgot about it completely. It was only when Lee, Anchalee Anantawat of Speedy Grandma, handed me a catalogue in person that I thought of it again. “I need to take a photo of you getting the catalogue,” she said (this photo is still on record at dispatch HQL-198 on the LIGHT LOGISTICS website). I was not well aware of the concept then as I have come to learn more now.
In 2013, Ming Lin started a project named Display Distribute in Kowloon, Hong Kong. As a documentary gesture of an urban phenomenon, it has become an expedition in the form of interventions, research initiatives and exhibitions inspired by an existing pop-up store model that sells anything from counterfeit handbags to life insurance. Display Distribute explores the various micro and macro interactions that are rapidly transforming the social and material landscape, tracing its flows and fissures to surface new possibilities for collaborative and networked forms of production.
Personally, I think that is one of the most interesting things to take forward. Like that Chinese proverb on their website says: “To open a shop is easy, to keep it open is an art.”
For those who might not be familiar with Display Distribute, could you please introduce yourselves to them? What is Display Distribute? What is its beginning? Why did you decide to do it?
Display Distribute is a thematic inquiry and experimental infrastructure that grew out of a Hong Kong storefront in 2013. Documenting the various micro and macro interactions in and around the shop, an interest in the social, political and material factors that produced it subsequently inspired a series of investigations taking the form of exhibitions, interventions and publishing projects. These various activities form a unique document attesting to the ad-hoc arrangements emerging out of this particular socio-economic environment. Tracing the flows and fissures that are rapidly transforming the Pearl River Delta landscape becomes a means of investigating new possibilities for a sustained, networked practice. Of principle interest are such investigations not only as the content of research, but as strategies for novel forms of collaboration and cohabitation.
Like the previously existing Display Distribute shop on Waterloo Road (the enterprise of Wing Tat Development, Ltd., not ours!), it might be said that the current project emerged more out of necessity than by choice. Smugglers, hackers and artists can all be observed to operate parasitically—mining resources, space and information. Current conditions under global capitalism can be adverse to certain forms of access, expression and types of visibility, and Display Distribute aims to explore strategies for making use of, subverting and reappropriating overlooked resources. The first exhibitions were one-day affairs, taking advantage of the existing shared shop model. Inhabiting or upending pre-existing systems or ideas—and expanding them—has thus become a crucial mode of embodied research.
Before Hong Kong, we have seen that it was in Beijing, running as a quite permanent space. What is the turning point that it becomes a non-space space as of today?
The work in Hong Kong explores various modes of collaboration, just as HomeShop, the artist-run space in Beijing formerly co-organised by Elaine W. Ho of Display Distribute. But the configuration is different, and this necessarily recontextualises the possibilities for other kinds of work and collaboration. Whereas HomeShop operated as a fixed space with a specific group of collaborators in a very specific social, cultural, political and geographic context. Display Distribute's starting point of the existing pop-up real estate model provided a networked system as a starting point that opened itself up differently to a more networked manner of collaboration.
And rent is too expensive in Hong Kong! So many other things to spend money on rather than paying rent!
Why the two words; display and distribute? It has something to do with reflecting your philosophy of running the project?
The name Display Distribute is a generic name for the kind of shop arrangement that inspired the project. The Chinese term '展銷場' literally translates as 'Display (or exhibit)', 'Distribute (or sell)' and 'Site (or field)'. We like the literalness and simplicity of the term, as it points directly to certain features that we are interested in: aesthetics and the politics of display, strategy as form, self-organised practice and modes of circulation—how things and information move about and are themselves moved.
While the Waterloo Road premises of the ephemeral retail space—a set-up also known as a pop-up shop—has since dissolved (the landlord found a long-term tenant willing to sign a lease), in fact such configurations can be found in most major cities. Hong Kong—a port city with proximity to “the world’s factory”—can be seen as a microcosm of broader global trends that also bears witness to the capricious circulation patterns of “low-end globalisation”. By that we mean the secondary means by which most of the world encounters the goods that engender notions of progress and "the good life". We are interested in how this rhetoric gets diluted and further distilled—what can this tell us about our current modes of living together and survival?
Lastly, we are ourselves principally involved with projects of display and distribution, which is to say we take an interest in making structures visible both by inhabiting and facilitating them.
Since you also publish and select publications, your background is in printing or book publishing? Can you share with readers your past experiences and background?
Display Distribute is composed of a roving cast of participants who plug into the programme for different projects. Several of these characters share writing as a common practice, and publishing is one of those natural outputs that serves as an almost necessary space for reflecting, documenting and archiving the work of independent practitioners. HomeShop, the artist-run project space in Beijing, for example, produced its own journal called wear, an effort that included not only creating content, but designing, producing and painstakingly distributing it. This experience in part informs the interest in thinking more about how to develop infrastructures for self-organised practice.We particularly like the idea LIGHT LOGISTICS. Where is that come from? How’s the feedback and its operation so far?
LIGHT LOGISTICS is an artist-run distribution platform circulating independent publications from East and Southeast Asia. The project emerged in acknowledgement of the fact that there really isn't an infrastructure supporting this kind of small-scale production in the region. The project runs off the backs of individuals who are interested in the project and want to support independent publications, making use of their surplus carrying power to literally transport books.
This intimate infrastructure takes inspiration from the similarly artist-run grocery business, Farel Trade, founded by artist Kate Rich. "Never-in-time" or "maan dai (slow couriering)" dispatches are meticulously logged on a dedicated site, and this meta-data traces an alternative map of relations, as well as the neglected processes behind commercial exchange: the radical movements and flows of knowledge, critical practice and one-on-one encounter. Rather than simply quantifying movement, LIGHT LOGISTICS qualifies by a possibly useless set of parameters and through this subversion seeks to challenge both the use-value by which we define our notions of efficiency and progress, materialising a complicated network of relations that have thus far remained invisible. If a customer is frustrated by such inefficiencies and deliberations, they might unfortunately be missing the point!
Out of the LIGHT LOGISTICS project emerged『CATALOGUE』, an annual publication produced by Display Distribute that is best described as part mail-order catalogue, part reader’s digest, and part variety journal. Assembled within it are all of the publications DisplayDistribute supports, alongside complementary texts commissioned from invited participants. This summer,『CATALOGUE』will extend the conceptual possibilities of “conflating content with its means of circulation” with edition No. 03, an event-based programme to be hosted at the Mediacity Biennale in Seoul. Like the LIGHT LOGISTICS project, which engages forms of action and distribution around the act of reading, here publication is considered as a collaborative programme of study. Continued research, assembly and exchange on critical practices from the region aims to move beyond the printed page towards a more embodied practice of lateralising knowledge.
Can you tell us about the project Reserved for Display Distribute at the 2017 Festival of Future Nows? Is it a continuation of all things that you have been working? What are the insights gained from the festival?
Reserved for Display Distribute (2017) operated as a temporary holding ground and point-of-sales for LIGHT LOGISTICS cargo. Situated on the premises of the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum in Berlin for the duration of the "Festival of Future Nows" and then through the period of transition of the exhibition hall into the Friends with Books art book fair the following week, the project insisted on the subtle but deliberate act of simply staying in place. We were most interested in the multi-functionality of a space like a museum, which in certain way could be seen as not so different from the model of the Display Distribute pop-up real estate model. The installation of packed boxes and shipping ephemera made use of the space as a way-station, an artwork and even as a sales table.
For BABF 2018, we have heard a bit that you will do a project on Independent Publishing Network. What is it? Why do you think it’s important at this era? What to be expected from this project?
Establishing an independent publishing network is a longer-term goal that a project like LIGHT LOGISTICS attempts to foreground. The encounters and conversations that have come out of the project are a different way to think about reading and publishing, for example considering the root meaning of the word 'publishing' as a form of 'making publics'. Here, it's been the case that someone who bought books from Display Distribute ended up volunteering as a courier, and later even became more involved as a collaborator on several projects. This kind of blurring of the boundaries between consumer and producer, or author and audience, is crucial to this possibility of 'making publics’. LIGHT LOGISTICS focuses this activity at a very minute, one-to-one scale. Future projects may try to address these same questions at different scales and registers, but the impetus to consider the publics of publishing remains the same.
Special Thanks to Display Distribute