Saturday 1 December 2018

The Kippenberger 'Challenge'

In the summer of 2018 I decided to participate in the Kippenberger Challenge. This challenge is an open invitation to equal Martin Kippenberger's average annual printed output of 7.45 books. Officially I started this challenge on October 4th and completed it 23 days later, by creating eight books and one annotated edition. During this time I had an average printed output of 1 book every 2.55 days, the equivalent of 142.83 books per year. Quite obviously I'm unable to sustain this excessive tempo, but it nevertheless seems as if there is some discrepancy between the perceived difficulty of the Kippenberger Challenge and its real world counterpart, where at least momentarily an almost 20 times greater output can be achieved without too much effort. The simplicity of the challenge holds up even when considering concrete variables, rather than the subjective idea of a book. I myself published 204 pages in those 23 days against a mean of 674 per year with a standard deviation of 139 in the oeuvre of Kippenberger.

Even though it can clearly be seen that the Kippenberger Challenge can be effortlessly completed within a year, Martin Kippenberger nevertheless is regarded as an artist with an outrageously high production volume. So where does this idea come from?
The challenge part of the Kippenberger Challenge ultimately exists within the general perception of what a book is or should be. In the same way that a bonsai tree is nevertheless a tree, it is not the size of the volume that defines the idea of the book. Instead, I would consider the inclusion of a page to be the essence of a book. When viewed in this way, a newspaper is simply a book without a separate cover and a stack of unprinted paper is a book that isn't bound. A huge sheet of metal can be a book, as long as you can turn it over. Some books have many pages, others barely two, but all of them are books.

It does not seem like much of a challenge to think of eight ways to fabricate a page within the span of a year. Yet within its current stipulations, that is exactly what the Kippenberger Challenge entails and anything else is self-imposed difficulty.
Kippenberger himself often embraced the odd forms that books can take, with objects such as a table with two projectors, a 'structural plan for a book-column' and a folded serviette being included in the catalogue raisonné of his books published in 2011. The amount of man hours and resources that go into producing a folded exhibition poster is obviously much less than would be put in a 400-page catalogue with two detailed essays. This fact helps to partially explain his unseemly large output.

Yet simply classifying a-typical objects as books can’t fully explain the scope of Kippenberger’s production, especially when we consider some other artists who are similarly well-known for their books.
When we take a look at some other prolific book-makers, we can easily see that the largest difficulty does not reside in the creation of the books per se, but rather amassing the content that goes into these books. Ed Ruscha published sixteen books in a fifteen year period, with most of them nothing more than a mere variation on the most famous ‘Twentysix Gasoline Stations’, such as ‘Nine Swimming Pools’ and ‘A Few Palm Trees’. Something similar is the case with the many books of Stanley Brouwn and Sol LeWitt, the former basing most of his books on some kind of measurement and the latter by and large creating geometric shapes or grouping photographs of similar subjects. It can be said for most prolific artists that their books tend to explore one idea and many of these ideas are closely related to the ideas present in their other books.

Such is also the case with Martin Kippenberger. He, like the others, creates books that explore one idea, but with a greater variety of themes than is present in most other artists. His book production didn’t assume the proportions we associate with him until the middle 80’s, when he had already created a large number of other works that could serve as a content pool for him to freely take from in order to create the books. On top of that, Kippenberger is of course known as an artist to whom the very idea of meaningful content was slippery territory. In his books he often took this notion to its extremes, by publishing the same book twice with different covers, a 900-page book with only one drawing reproduced and a 400-page book with one letter, amongst other things. He reused essays and interviews in different books and let's not forget that his ever-present snapshot collection gathered from whatever source and subject he could get his hands on featured in many publications throughout his lifetime, being the subject of his first signature book 'Frauen'.

When I decided to participate in the Kippenberger Challenge I found myself, largely subconsciously, employing similar tactics. Of the twelve books I have now published since the start of the challenge, all but one have harked back to specific works or photographic material I have collected and created in the last seven or so years. After deciding on a format for the books and their outward appearance, 21x14.8 cm sizing to keep costs low and black on white covers to compensate for a lack of actual graphic design knowledge, it was simply a question of leafing through the archive to find older material to rearrange, reconsider and present within the specific limitations of the book-form.
This has left me with the realisation that although this year the challenge has been a walk in the park, to repeat my own achievement and sustain a lifetime average of 7.45 books requires a vast collection of materials both in- and outside the books. This is likely only possible within the universe of unnamed haphazard co-production that was Kippenberger's domain.