Natural Selection

Art, design and illustration collective Nous Vous has just launched the first title from its exciting new publishing imprint. We quizzed Jay Cover about the who, what, when, where and why of the venture.

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Nature Calls by Jay Clover, Nous Vous Press

Why is making books important to your practice?
At Nous Vous we make quite a lot of work that has no home, no context, no place where it can interact with an audience. This isn’t a bad thing, as it stimulates and informs our day-to-day practice and means we can quietly keep our mess and mistakes to ourselves. Steadily, we’ve felt like we wanted to bring purpose and direction to this investigative work, to take it more seriously, give it more purpose and form, take it somewhere rather than letting it fizzle out and fill a drawer.

We’ve always naturally been inclined toward working in different ways, trying new processes and methods to explore image-making, curating, performance and thinking. It’s practical to have a discipline and stick at it if you want to make a living, but we’ve always wanted to keep this fairly open ended. Publishing self-authored books is the closest thing we’ve found to wearing all those hats at the same time. It gives us the opportunity to create content, design, make art, curate, interact with people, take photos, write, make stories and create conversation through our work.

Over the years as we’ve moved more and more toward image-making over design, our individual practices have become more independent of one another. So as well as the aforementioned reasons this is a way of bringing us back together.

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Nature Calls by Jay Clover, Nous Vous Press

Why launch a publishing imprint now?
It’s reflective of the way things have shifted in our collective practice. Adapting and evolving is something we’ve always been drawn toward, not being stuck or fixed to a particular way of working, especially in a group dynamic where interests can easily shift in a tide of activity. We all get bored easily and having a fixed way of working isn’t appealing. Publishing feels like a natural evolution of something we already enjoy. In numerous ways it simply makes sense and felt right for our ambitions.  

There’s a warmth and generosity to books. Devices add their own agency to the experience of reading, which I find distracting. Books feel much more self-contained and wholesome. 

Regarding the the legitimacy and future of print: I’m aware of and excited by the potential for digital media and all the possibilities and promise that holds. However at the moment as far as I’m concerned it doesn’t stand up, and I don’t see it being a satisfying surrogate anytime soon. It doesn’t fill the void created between the intimate feeling of holding and looking at a book and the cold feeling of holding and looking at an interface. Not that I’ve ever experienced, anyway.

There’s a warmth and generosity to books. Devices add their own agency to the experience of reading, which I find distracting. Books feel much more self-contained and wholesome. It’s necessary and practical for devices to perform multiple functions, which creates an interference with content – it dilutes it. Makes the experience of reading content less meaningful in my opinion.

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Nature Calls by Jay Clover, Nous Vous Press

What sort of materials, bindings and printing methods can we expect from the Nous Vous imprint?
Speaking broadly, it’s safe not to have any expectations in this regard. My best answer is we don’t know and that’s appealing to us. We’ll let the work in some way dictate what shape it wants to be, how it will best transmit its message to people – responding to this is a fun part of the process. One of the positive things that the imprint opens up is the opportunity to have a more meaningful dialogue with our own practice, to find ways of turning it into something interesting for a spectator through the form it takes and not having any preconceptions about this.

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Nature Calls by Jay Clover, Nous Vous Press

Your books vary from handmade editions of twelve, to larger runs and un-editioned books – what are various benefits and challenges related to both the small scale and the more mass-produced approach?
Small scale offers the opportunity to try new things out without it being a burden to store and shift stock. It also means we can be a bit more risky with content and trial things. You don’t tend to make any money from this, in fact most of the time you make a loss, but it’s more about research and getting work out and seeing how people respond. Plus, it serves the function of broadening what we’re about and giving a wider view of Nous Vous Press.

It’s not a sustainable way of making money, which is what producing on a larger scale (hopefully) offers, as well as directly reaching a lot more people. There’s a more substantial upfront cost for printing lots of the same publication, but the individual unit cost is much lower than hand-making books. Obviously spending lots of cash on one book is a risk in itself, there’s never any guarantee we’ll make a profit or break even. But if it works, it should sustain itself and potentially generate enough income to pay artists to work with us and to pay ourselves to work on new projects and books. Attempting to sell that many books is difficult, but we’re feeling very patient on that front and are working toward finding ways of selling stock and reaching people. Once we have a couple more titles we’ll talk to distributors. One step at a time. Doing things slowly means we can assess and grow naturally, respond accordingly and allows room for making mistakes.

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Work in progress documentation, for Nature Calls by Jay Clover, Nous Vous Press

What are the crucial ingredients of a Nous Vous Press publication?
Personal enjoyment in making, and spectator enjoyment in reading. There should always be a large part of twisting the way we look at the world around us and a small comment on everyday life. Hopefully some interesting imagery, some with a familiar visual vibe, some with a surprising and challenging aesthetic. We’re intending on exploring a wide range of different subjects and interpreting them in different ways too, so you might see anything from a poetry book to an educational aid. Broadly speaking Nous Vous Press will be a reflection of our often wavering personal interests and studio practice, wherever we’re at, the content of the books will follow.

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Cover, Nature Calls by Jay Clover, Nous Vous Press