Introduction

Imprints: Art Editing Modernism is the centrepiece event of the Imprints of the New Modernist Editing project. The project followed on from the Network on New Modernist Editing, which ran in 2016-17 as a response to the observation that new editions of modernist literary texts were being produced in increasing numbers, and bring together those working on those editions to share their expertise and experience.Summaries of the Network’s three meetings can be found on its website: https://newmodernistediting.wordpress.com/events-and-workshops/. Its two outputs were a digital edition of a short fiction by Virgina Woolf (https://nme-digital-ode.glasgow.ac.uk/) and a special issue of the journal Modernist Cultures (https://www.euppublishing.com/toc/mod/15/1). While the Network had a primarily academic makeup, it also included artists, writers and editors, and it became clear that the questions and issues discussed were of great potential significance and value to the wider community of those engaged in working with text, including artists, designers, editors, proofreaders, publishers, and writers of many kinds, as well as ‘common readers’ (to use Virginia Woolf’s approving term) of modernist texts. The Imprints of the New Modernist Editing project was therefore set up to cultivate discussion, inspiration and cross-fertilisation on the topic of ‘editing modernism’ across multiple areas of creative and professional endeavour. We ran five interdisciplinary workshops drawing on expertise across fields, bringing together diverse groups of people to share their insights on and approaches to relationships between text, image and editing, and to put these insights into practical application. These workshops and the conversations they generated were an intrinsic part of the evolution of the Imprints: Art Editing Modernism exhibition.

The conceptual parameters of the exhibition are outlined in our three key terms. ‘Modernism’ is a hotly contested concept and definitions vary both within and between disciplines and fields; the definition we worked with was ‘broadly experimental literature of the late nineteenth to early twentieth century’. The early twentieth century was a period in which there was frequent cross-fertilisation between visual and textual creative works: writers came to understand the aesthetic potential of typography in new ways; visual artists responded enthusiastically to varied experimental approaches to writing, which often broke existing rules of form, genre, syntax or punctuation; artists in both text and image found inspiration in the play with perspective and scale which characterised much work of the period. ‘Editing’ is an equally complex term: it implies doing something to an existing text, but this can range from minimal intervention (e.g. producing a facsimile of an existing edition) to extensive: correcting ‘errors’ in the text, combining various versions of a text in a new edition, adding annotations such as explanatory notes or introductory commentary. Editing is, therefore, itself inevitably a creative and interpretative process. Finally, we felt it important not to pre-judge what kind of ‘art’ might be made as part of the Imprints project. Therefore, in line with the open and interdisciplinary nature of modernist experimentation, our call for proposed work for this exhibition was not restricted to ‘artists’ as such, but allowed potential participants to self-select and self-identify as practitioners interrogating the form of the book and/or text.

When planning this exhibition, then, we invited contributions from a number of creative practitioners in various fields whose practice we knew engaged with the questions we were hoping to explore. But we also issued an open call, offering this opportunity to as many different practitioners as possible. We invited potential participants to consider a range of questions arising from the work of editing a modernist text, which could be broadly be grouped under two headings:

a) technological and practical: the effect of the rapid change, development and innovation in print technologies during the period in which these texts were being produced, concomitant with the unprecedented way in which writers embraced the process of revision in this period; and

b) aesthetic and cultural: the particular characteristics of fluidity and uncertainty which permeate modernist aesthetics, the centrality of the relationship between the verbal and visual in the modernist period, and the very wide range of allusion characteristic of many modernist texts.

As well as sharing these questions, we also invited contributors to explore a range of editions of modernist texts. These included scholarly editions, student editions, trade editions, facsimiles, first editions, editions including text and image, editions as collaborations, and digital editions. While canonical modernist authors such as Virginia Woolf, James Joyce and E. M. Forster were represented in the package – or constellation – of texts we shared, we also included a range of lesser-known figures such as Gertrude Stein, Jean Toomer and Zora Neale Hurston, as well as the many writers represented in collaborative avant-garde publications such as BLAST and Neue Jugend.

The proposals we received were, as we had hoped, excitingly diverse in both medium and intention, and we made our selection in order to reflect this diversity. Numerous traditional techniques have been used, emphasising their continued relevance in artistic responses to works published a century or more ago. Digital techniques are also widely represented; just as innovations in print technology transformed aesthetics in the early twentieth century, so twenty-first technologies offer opportunities to engage with existing texts in striking new ways. Stimulus has been found in experimentation with layout, typography and the concept of the book by authors ranging in period from Stéphane Mallarmé to Vladimir Nabokov. The work of Virginia Woolf has inspired collaborative, digital artworks as well as drawing, painting and letterpress work, demonstrating the wide variety of ways in which one author might prompt creative responses. There are sound works, digital prints and engravings, sculpture, collage, and artist’s books, responding to texts from a range of different languages and cultures. Taken together, the works included in this exhibition are a thrilling representation of the way in which the nexus of art, editing, and modernism continues to be a richly generative one; indeed the works prompt numerous further questions about the relationship between these terms.

The form of this very publication was itself a response to one of the artworks we included as a reference-point in our call for works: Marcel Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare of her Bachelors, Even (Green Box) (1934). In this work, Duchamp gathered together an archive of 94 documents containing the notes he made while constructing the work of the same name between 1915 and 1923. Likewise, while this publication includes the material that one would expect to find in a conventional exhibition catalogue, it also acts as a record of the Imprints of the New Modernist Editing project as a whole, and breaks free from conventional form to offer the reader, or viewer, a multitude of experience – textual, visual and tactile – reflecting many of the ideas initiated and explored by the project in general and by the artists and writers in particular. The publication, therefore, in addition to catalogue material, includes a range of new writing (some commissioned in response to our workshops or to the artworks made for the exhibition, some offered by participants in our workshops in response to a call for contributions), as well as editions of a number of works included in the exhibition. Our approach to the publication reflects the perhaps paradoxical approach taken by Duchamp in his work: the material has been carefully selected, edited, and designed; but each item is left deliberately loose, allowing the viewer the opportunity to piece together their own interpretations of the material from this selection, to juxtapose them in their own way – or, in other words, to produce their own ‘edition’ of this project publication. We end, then, by handing over to others (literally putting in their hands) this record of the work of the Imprints project, in a form which invites them to experience some of the creative and critical challenges and pleasures that come from editing, and in the hope that this continues to inspire innovative responses to art, editing, and modernism.


Imprints of the New Modernist Editing
Art Editing Modernism