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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

“The most important thing is honest exploration and search of senses”

Founder of the Indie Publishing House “Niice” Arianna Khmelniuk on present-day self-publishing
12 February, 2014 - 18:04
Photo courtesy of the author

The splash of civic activity in Ukraine has been reflected in the media. Versatile information is important for people; they start to publish booklets, newspapers, and leaflets on their own. Recently the project “Chronicle of Current Events” has been launched: the volunteers of Ukrainian southeastern regions download a small digest – its first issue is published on two pages – then print, and distribute it. The activists hand out the leaflets to policemen in Bankova Street and governmental area.

Throughout the world artists, journalists, and simply inquisitive people are involved in self-publishing, no matter what the external conditions and situations in the country are. Art-books can be both self-published works, and a documentation of research. In the 1970s the shop, which is a territory of activists and artists, was created in spite of institutionalization sluggishness in New York – now it has become a measure for connoisseurs of independent publishing houses, which publish art books and zines – amateur small-seize periodicals or non-periodicals (handmade journals, informational bulletins, photo albums, almanacs). Ukraine is essentially lagging behind the world processes and practices. Arianna Khmelniuk from Kyiv offered to develop the new market and founded the first independent publishing house Niice. She told The Day about the development of present-day self-publishing.

What is the peculiarity of present-day self-publishing?

“In Ukraine self-publishing is associated with samizdat, banned publications of Soviet time, when it was the only way to get the unavailable information. In that context it was an important element of communication. In the 1990s this format stopped developing and remained only in subculture layers.

“Modern self-publishing is a means of communication as well, but owing to technical progress it has acquired much more possibilities. Skeptics would think that there is no place for self-publishing in the age of the Internet, but they will be disappointed to find out how successful book and zine shows can be in New York, London, Paris, and Tokyo. Information is easily lost in the web. The endless stream of links and information overload our attention, and we don’t savor the content. Once you forget to pay for the domain, the website will simply disappear. And contact, above all physical and mental, remains important for people. Paper, paint, the way of brushing – this is a kind of art in itself. That is why conferences, exhibits, and presentations are taking place. Many interesting things are taking place in this area.

“The Internet gives numerous opportunities of all kinds; with its help I hold many virtual meetings and dialogues. But the Internet is oversaturated. Publication is not a blog, but your own private artistic space, a history you look through and reread many times. You want to keep this artifact for a long time. It opens one collection and supplements the existing one. Previously booklets for artists’ projects were not widely spread, and now if you don’t document the project, it has practically never existed.

“Both periodicals and one-time projects can be self-published; they may have any kinds of format. The most important thing is the idea and independent realization of the project. Honest exploration and search of senses. The process does not leave out a team work; you should be open for new people and opinions.

“Nearly all creative young people in Europe and America become involved in self-publishing: at least once you will try to make a zine based on your most lively interests.”

What interesting self-published projects are present in Ukraine?

“In my opinion, the project ‘Book Lunch’ created by artists Alevtyna Kakhidze and Kateryna Sverhunenko deserves special attention: several years ago they studied what kinds of art-books are there in Ukraine. I take less interest in subculture publications, because they are limited by the interests of their environment.

“The creative union VAL creates much content with the help of manual kinds of printing. Their zine Valka is published in limited number of copies and is totally distributed at creative meetings. They often make joint projects with the studio of manual kinds of printing Hachi Prichi. Probably, a bright example of successful young photography is the Synchrodogs duo; over the past two years they have taken part in a number of world competitions and exhibitions. Maybe, this is a rigid example, but in my opinion avant-garde is useful for our photography which is somewhat stagnant. In the field of Ukrainian graffiti the magazine Element and photo-punk zine We Are The City Scum created by four graffiti writers and photographers from Kyiv, Ternopil, and Yalta deserves special attention.

“It is funny, but few people in Ukraine are familiar with the format of self-publishing, although in other countries there are large-scale exhibits, conferences, where famous design studios look for new professionals among the students, for whom they are source of self-education and enthusiasm. Self-publishing abroad is present in shops where art-books and zines are sold, such as Printed Matter (New York), Motto (Berlin and other European cities), Do you read me?! (Berlin), Self Publish, Be Happy (London), TiPiTin (London), Super Salon (Warsaw), Etudes (Paris), and many others.”

Can self-publishing become a business?

“I don’t think self-publishing can be ascribed to business activity. But if you are an owner of a shop or a typography, distributor, then yes, because there is scale and print-runs. For an author it is a self-sufficient limited project which is not aimed at making money. The number of copies is usually limited, printing expenses are quite high. But if an independent periodical magazine wants to be rentable, like Berlin-based periodical Mono Kultur, it can become something more than a hobby or a business.

“Self-publishing can be available, like classic zine, or extremely expensive, like an art object of multi-format publishing house Visionaire (New York).

“Niice publications sell well, but for any print-run to be repaid, you will have to be ready for expenses which won’t be repaid, until ads, at least conceptual, appear on its pages.”

What are the initial results of the Niice Publishing House?

“Over several months of our existence we have held about 40 lectures and workshops. We think it is logical to start with ABC: we should tell what self-publishing is and what stages of works the author undergoes. We as well visit Ukrainian cities, talk about self-publishing with designers and students.

“We have published a project of the studio of manual kinds of printing Hachi Prichi and creative union VAL, which they realized at the last Book Arsenal. The result was a double zine of A5 format. The project of Hachi Prichi and VAL became interactive and lasted for a week, and everyone willing could take part in it. People were patient and showed wonderful examples of Ukrainian poster art.

“The second project is publishing of the works of Ukrainian Photo Alternative (UFA), a youth association of photographers from all over the country. We published authors’ cards of A5:50 format – a total of 50 shots. The process of gathering the works was quite interesting, it was rather an observation, because in result we had a cross-section of sentiments in today’s young photography. The presentation of the cards took place in Prague at the well-known photo forum, and now they are sold in Berlin’s Motto. The UFA has more than 130 participants, and this is only the first part of our cooperation. At the moment we are developing new ideas of cooperation with them, but it is too early to talk about this.

“Many people want to cooperate with us: it’s good, but we are actively looking for new authors, especially unknown ones. We are working in a dialog and not just put our logo: if we like the idea, we help to develop and realize it; what’s important for us is the dialog, cooperation, post-sale support, producing of the project in the West. We have no format limitations: we work with illustrations, graphic works, photography, and texts. For us it is important to arouse in young authors the aspiration to create and start dialoging with the world art community.

“Because of current events in the country we have postponed a number of projects, important educational workshops, and publication of new zines till spring. All my friends and colleagues are sincerely supporting Maidan, and all our thoughts are about our common future – for it depends on each of us and starts in the heart of every Ukrainian. Freedom and justice are common desires of our people. I believe that soon we will have more time to develop ideas connected with education and self-publishing, and we will continue to create a free alternative on our market of education and art.”

By Maria PROKOPENKO, Donetsk