Nexus books at Spruill Gallery tell stories with lessons for the present

burnaway.org, May 5, 2011

 Scott McCarney, In Case of Emergency, 1984. Image courtesy Spruill Gallery.

Scott McCarney, In Case of Emergency, 1984. Image courtesy Spruill Gallery.

In a megalopolitan area that remythologizes its self-image every six months or so, it requires only four or five years for things, people, and institutions to be utterly forgotten. This is not intrinsically bad, since history moves onward and Atlanta has been even more obsessed with newness than the rest of America. The problem comes when the reasons and motivations are forgotten; these tend to be overlooked even when the people and institutions behind them are remembered.

Nexus Press is one such institution, and, while it is unfortunate that it was allowed to go out of existence, it is even more unfortunate that the details of the place’s DIY spirit have slipped into our largely unrecollected history.

The few books on display at Spruill Gallery in the Out of Print exhibition do no more than hint at the accomplishments of an operation that did as much with as few resources as any Atlanta artistic venture I can think of. Some of its defunct contemporaries are properly honored by present-day incarnations of their motivating spirit — the printmaking passion of the late Wayne Kline’s Rolling Stone Press is echoed in the differently organized Atlanta Printmakers Studio, for example — but Nexus Press’s stubbornly imaginative low-budget combination of low- and high-tech has never quite been equaled since its demise.

 Ruth Laxson, A Hundred Years of LEX FLEX, 2003 (this was the last book produced at Nexus Press). Image courtesy Spruill Gallery.

Ruth Laxson, A Hundred Years of LEX FLEX, 2003 (this was the last book produced at Nexus Press). Image courtesy Spruill Gallery.

Nexus Press circumvented the limitations of older color-separation methods, devised a way of enfolding digital technology into production on equipment designed for a pre-digital age, and frequently completed a number of inventively hand-bound volumes on an as-needed basis (or in volunteers’ spare time). These are stories that need to be heard, and my flawed memory of them isn’t sufficient to recount them accurately.

The stories of how interns designed their own books to be laid out in the page trim from projects already on the press schedule, and how the Cultural Olympiad provided a source of funding for some of the press’s most impressive productions — these also would be instructive analogies for what could be done in today’s changed circumstances. (Click here for a 1995 New York Times article on the Cultural Olympiad in Atlanta.)

 Fernando Lopes, The Flag Book, 1996. Image courtesy Spruill Gallery.

Fernando Lopes, The Flag Book, 1996. Image courtesy Spruill Gallery.

Darya Von Berner, Lupus Viator Atlanta (installation view), 1997. Image courtesy Spruill Gallery.

Fortunately, the longtime Nexus Press stalwart JoAnne Paschall is still very much among us. During the organization’s heyday, she handled everything from planning to one-woman hand bookbinding. Today she continues creating her own book art, some of which is on exhibit at Spruill.

 Darya Von Berner, Lupus Viator Atlanta (installation view), 1997. Image courtesy Spruill Gallery.

Darya Von Berner, Lupus Viator Atlanta (installation view), 1997. Image courtesy Spruill Gallery.

Paschall will be speak about “The Books of Nexus Press” on Wednesday, May 11, 2011, at 6:30PM. Select copies of publications by Nexus Press are available through the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center.

 

Disclosure: Hope Cohn of Spruill Gallery is a member of this publication’s Board of Directors. In pursuit of featuring work that contributes to important cultural discourse, as well as our commitment to transparency, our policy is to disclose instead of exclude.

The exhibition, Out of Print, continues at Spruill Gallery in Atlanta through Saturday, May 21, 2011.