BOOKS 
A YEAR

AUGUST 2016

Edmund Clark and Crofton Black
Negative Publicity: Artefacts of Extraordinary Rendition
Aperture, 2016

DEAR FRIEND OF 8 BOOKS A YEAR,

This book is a real life James Bond file. One without dangerous ladies, wonder weapons or pompous temples of evil. Instead, it comes with bureaucrats, torture and run-down warehouses. And while watching a 007 movie might be entertaining, I'd describe the experience of going through these pages as disconcerting. No worries, there's not a single photo in this book which you should be warned about looking at beforehand. No, it's the kafkaesque feeling that engulfs us when we get an idea of the tremendous apparatus which is at work here. It's hidden, poorly monitored, ugly and ultrabanal all at the same time. The incredible amount of work Edmund Clark and Crofton Black had to invest to collect all these snippets and pieces of evidence – or "artefacts" as they themselves call them – made me realize how difficult it is to unveil such obscure activities … not to mention the risks the authors very likely have to take. I once learned that it is not hate that is the opposite of love, but fear. We also know that the idea of "fighting fire with fire" usually just results in more fire. I regard the making of this book to be a fearless act of love. It's still a privilege to live in a society where we're allowed and able to produce, to purchase and to read a book like this. With its help we should dare to look behind the curtain. After having done so already, I'd suggest starting with the excellent afterword, written by Eyal Weizman. The yellow pages provide the required background information on the documents and photos. What you're holding in your hands right now really deserves your attention and maybe 1 or 2 hours of your time. Less than an average visit to the cinema.

All my best,
Christian Kaspar Schwarm

MAY 2016

Annebella Pollen
The Kindred of the Kibbo Kift: Intellectual Barbarians
Donlon Books, 2016

DEAR FRIEND OF 8 BOOKS A YEAR,

Nowadays even electronic music labels are already celebrating their 20th anniversaries – I just realized that and I would guess there are even older ones. The one which led me to this insight is Raster-Noton, an independent company co-founded by the artist Carsten Nicolai. On the occasion of their anniversary the label rebuilt a huge light and sound installation at Berlin’s most famous club. Just google "White Circle" and "Berghain" to get an idea of the project and of the location. I’m mentioning this here because besides its visual and acoustic power, it also had a spiritual quality. People gathered themselves in a circle created out of a lot of vertical lights and some nearly invisible speakers and subwoofers. Everybody sat or laid down and many visitors closed their eyes at some point since you were still able to perceive the bright light signals through your shut eyelids. Some even meditated. Eventually the word "ritual" occurred to me and the whole thing suddenly felt like a reinterpretation of some old mystical event where all members of a tribe or a village came together to share an exceptional experience. There’s a kind of archaic yearning in all of us, looking for chances to drop our guard and connect to each other on a deeper human level. However, especially we Germans still become very sceptical when cult moments merge with political contexts. The Nazis seem to have discredited this mix forever, although there were also such modernist, pacifistic movements in the 20ies of the last century. They dared to bring together what likely belongs together: progressive thinking, natural sciences and metaphysics. Have you ever heard of the Kibbo Kift? I hadn’t until I recently discovered this book. They were far, far ahead of their time.

All my best,
Christian Kaspar Schwarm

MARCH 2016

Bill Maurer
How would You Like to Pay?
How Technology Is Changing the Future of Money
Duke University Press, 2015

DEAR FRIEND OF 8 BOOKS A YEAR,

After finishing school, my grandma Anna worked as a maid on a remote farm in the Bavarian mountains. It was a time of scarcity, but every February 2nd she got her annual wage of 20 German marks. Since she was given free board and lodging, she was able to save most of her money. After 12 years of hard work and a life full of privation, she suddenly heard of a threatening phenomenon going on in the distant cities: hyperinflation. The 27 year old woman grabbed her savings, borrowed the only bike around and drove from Obermurbach to the village of Lenggries as fast as she could. All she got there for 200 marks was 2 skeins of yarn. A little later, by November 1923, an American dollar was worth 4.2 trillion marks. As my grandma died before I was born, I could never ask her what effect this had on her. But we can imagine that her relationship to money was different than ours. Maybe hers was a more accurate one, unmasking money to reveal a mere agreement that functions only as long as all the players still agree. Today all the world’s money (including cash and checking deposits) is estimated to have a value of 28.6 trillion US dollars, with the market capitalization of all stock markets equal to 70 trillion. At the same time we face global debts of 199 trillion and – hardly conceivably – at least 630 trillion dollars for the size and scope of the global derivative markets. How many skeins of yarn would that be? This little book, written by an anthropologist, opens up a new perspective on money, describing it as a “chain of promises”. And it doesn’t forget the developing world, where most people are as far away from the stock exchanges as my grandma Anna was in her time.

All my best,
Christian Kaspar Schwarm

FEBRUARY 2016

David Horvitz
Mood Disorder
Chert (Berlin), Motto Books (Lausanne/Berlin), New Documents (LA/Vancouver)

Including a personal letter from the artist to our subscribers

DEAR FRIEND OF 8 BOOKS A YEAR,

Hacking means infiltrating a network using technology. Social hacking does the same by taking advantage of the weak point we call “the human being”. We seem to be calculable, even predictable. Take the Trojan horse as an early example of an effective social hack: a gigantic victory trophy at first sight, but it came with a price tag. Nowadays lotteries just have to place a car in a shopping mall to collect shoals of addresses in a few days – totally understandable … how else should they know where to deliver their first prize? But let’s not feel too safe just because we see through this simple marketing game, there’re a lot of others. The American artist David Horvitz played his own: He took a photo of himself, sitting by the sea, seemingly desperate with his face buried in his hands. David then put this picture onto Wikipedia's page about “Mood Disorder” and made it “free-to-use”. The bait was in the water. Look what happened. When I flipped through the pages of this artist's book, I really felt like I had stumbled into the commoditized third world of the internet. It seems to have its own economy based on interchangeable articles with stereotypical stock-images. Who in the world produces them? Who reads them? David Horvitz used them and created a conceptual artwork. It consists of frozen screenshots. It will become a time capsule and it’s being shown at the New York MoMA right now, appropriately enough as part of its ”New Photography” show. Your copy comes with a personal letter from the artist.

All my best,
Christian Kaspar Schwarm

DECEMBER 2015

Ruth Slavid (text), James Morris (photographs)
Ice Station: The Creation of Halley VI
Britain‘s Pioneering Antarctic Research Station
Park Books, 2015

DEAR FRIEND OF 8 BOOKS A YEAR,

While thinking about this book’s introduction, I saw a lot of options:

  • Nearing winter and upcoming cold (Berlin changes when that happens: believe me, it's like living in a whole different city)
  • My embarrassing difficulties in correctly remembering whether the Antarctic is in the north or in the south …
  • ”I spy with my little eye, something blue and red”
  • The discovery of a hole in the ozone layer in 1985 (p. 76)
  • Paris, still in a state of shock, now hosting the UN Conference on Climate Change, which some experts think might eventually be called ”mankind's most important event ever”
  • The inspiring success story of a relatively unexperienced architect who started by building a ”Girl Guides headquarters”
  • A house on skis – how weird is that??
  • The challenge of living in total darkness for 106 days (p. 13)
  • My surprise at hearing the term ”Antarctic Architecture” (p. 89)
  • The tip to flip back and forth between pages 15 and 10
  • The insight that sometimes it can be an option not to choose between different options
  • Another insight that I should do that only once

All my best,
Christian Kaspar Schwarm

OCTOBER 2015

Sven Völker and Sting
There‘s a Little Black Spot on the Sun Today
NorthSouth Books, 2015

Signed by the designer and his son for our subscribers

DEAR FRIEND OF 8 BOOKS A YEAR,

The relationship between father and son has always been a special one. On both a conscious and subconscious level it often oscillates between straightforward encouragement and undetected rivalry, honest recognition and hidden suppression, large-hearted sharing and anxious restraint. Throughout the centuries these complex layers have been the raw material for countless novels, plays and movies and will continue to engage us, most likely forever. My own father just turned 81 and the older I get, the more patterns of behavior I discover in me which were obviously influenced by him – whether I like it or not. After we visited my father to celebrate his birthday, I travelled to California where I picked up a car and started driving up the West Coast, heading to Oregon. Believe it or not, I spotted one of the best bookstores I’ve ever visited in a wonderful small town called Mendocino. Among dozens of interesting new titles, one caught my attention. It’s called “Sons + Fathers” and presents cultural icons reflecting on their begetters. Quite interestingly, sometimes a single case can tell you more about life than a collection of 100 stories. Take Sven. He has 2 sons, 1 of whom, Malo, became terribly ill at the age of 3. During one of their drives to the hospital, Malo asked his father about the song that was playing on the radio … and about its lyrics. These were written by Sting when he realized how much it still hurt to think about his ex-wife. On hearing this, Malo immediately claimed the song’s title “King of Pain” for himself. His father thought of making a book for his son when he recovered. He has, and so we have this book. Signed by father and son.

All my best,
Christian Kaspar Schwarm

SEPTEMBER 2015

Andreas Trogisch
Runway
Peperoni Books, 2015

Edition of 180 signed and numbered copies

DEAR FRIEND OF 8 BOOKS A YEAR,

How do you define non-fiction? The German director Werner Herzog once characterized his documentaries as often being more fictitious than his feature films and his feature films as sometimes more documental than his documentaries. One of the most interesting things in life is to explore such gray areas, where the world neither is white nor black – in your mind, in your actions or sometimes just beneath your feet. The latter is what happened to the maker of this extremely rare book. His object of investigation is a single runway strip, which in reality measures 90 centimeters in width and 30 meters in length. You find it at the Tempelhofer Feld in Berlin, a huge area that was part of the former Tempelhof Airport. Today a much-loved public park, this place really has a lot of stories to tell: started as a parade ground for the Prussian army, it first became a recreational area and then an airport. As such, Tempelhof was among the most important infrastructure projects of Nazi-Germany. From 1948 to 1949, the Western Allies organized the Berlin Airlift via Tempelhof – over 200,000 flights provided the isolated people of West Berlin with an incredible amount of life-saving goods, up to 12,000 tons per day. In 2014, a majority of the citizens voted against a large real estate project that the local government had planned to realize on the site. And the world keeps turning: Just a few days ago, Berlin decided to set up a camp for refugees at the former airport – at least 40,000 are expected to arrive in the city by the end of this year. In one way or another, all these events leave traces. Keeping that in mind, even an abstract picture can turn out as great non-fiction.

All my best,
Christian Kaspar Schwarm

JULY 2015

Eran Ben-Joseph
ReThinking a Lot:
The Design and Culture of Parking
MIT Press, 2012

DEAR FRIEND OF 8 BOOKS A YEAR,

Some months ago Hillary Clinton claimed she would become the future US president for all “everyday Americans”. Sounds down-to-earth, but what does this “everyday” mean? When politicians talk of “everyday people” they sometimes misuse this term, attempting to justify a kind of resistance to looking at things from different angles and to discussing them in a more profound way. Or – you could say – it betrays a lack of willingness to see things in all their complexity. On the other hand “everyday” can mean rather the opposite: It has the potential to open our eyes to the “everyday wonders” of life. Do I seem cliché now, talking about stopping to smell the roses on your way to work? Not necessarily, since even our least subtle fellows appreciate a rose’s beauty. But take the Swiss artists Fischli & Weiss who, for decades, took hundreds of photos of airports – anonymous airfields with planes being loaded and unloaded, busses and trucks driving around. They might seem boring at first sight, but they simply aren’t. Instead they show technological and social microcosms, highly organized cross-border intersections and the backbones of one gigantic organism called global infrastructure. Boring? Not at all. So, being an “everyday human” could also mean becoming conscious of what is usually hidden. We can surprise ourselves by discovering the concepts, both the good and the failed ones, behind some structures we are confronted with every single day. Do you own a car? Where is it right now? What is it doing? Most probably, nothing. It’s parked.

All my best,
Christian Kaspar Schwarm

MAY 2015

Martin Eberle
Voyager – The Grand Tour
Drittel Books, 2015

Edition of 300

DEAR FRIEND OF 8 BOOKS A YEAR,

Jodie Foster got me wondering. I was playing around on the internet while Contact was being shown again on TV. I already knew the movie, but I realized that I know almost nothing about the sheer dimensions of our universe. It took me a short while to find some basic but by all means astounding facts. For example, have you ever wondered how many stars you can see with your bare eyes when you look at the sky on a dark and cloudless night? You won't be able to count but about 5,000. Fewer than most people expect. Every visible shining dot belongs to the Milky Way, our home galaxy. How many stars would you guess it hosts? Since Earth lies within one of the Milky Way's gigantic spiral arms – each a wall of stars that even our most modern telescopes simply can't see through – astronomers can only estimate. Still, it is certainly between 200,000,000,000 and 400,000,000,000 suns. Indeed, we're talking about billions here in 1 of, again, billions more galaxies. Keeping that vastness in mind, jump back to 1977 when a team of scientists grabbed the unique, foolhardy chance to step into the void and explore all 4 outer planets of our solar system in 1 grand tour. 2 unmanned spacecraft were sent out. Both are still functioning. Both are about to leave our planetary neighborhood behind. Each has a golden record on board which, in a distant future, could become mankind’s greatest document. Imagine yourself, as an alien, flipping through its pictures from the 1970s. What would you think about humans? An incredible book project.

All my best,
Christian Kaspar Schwarm

APRIL 2015

Stefan Sulzer
The day my mother touched Robert Ryman
Edition Taube, 2015

Signed by the artist for our subscribers

DEAR FRIEND OF 8 BOOKS A YEAR,

Every true story can still be told in a thousand ways. What is your perspective on what happened? Your conclusion? Your dramaturgy? These 3 decisions have to be made – consciously or not – before you share any narrative. While established media too often fails to make this process transparent to us, this small book is an overwhelming example of how a true story can be revealed in another, more differentiated, way. By looking through the lenses of both protagonists’ perspectives, it creates something invaluable in a fracturing world: empathy and, therefore, tolerance. Line by line it digs deeper and deeper for what really counts. Without ever dictating to you what to think about the written, it only blocks one exit for us: judging too easily, too quickly. I thought of my mother. Subsequent generations can enjoy the privilege of learning more about nearly everything. Who knows … in 30 years you might damage your son’s quantum fridge by opening it the wrong way. Fortunately this won't matter as long as not only technology evolves, but also the way we describe and perceive what goes on around us. Great artists sometimes have the ability to predict a future. This is undoubtedly an artist book – but certainly not one only about art. I'd rather call it poetic and political. I read it thoroughly from front to back: I recommend you also give yourself a chance to let its pure, radical concept unfold.

All my best,
Christian Kaspar Schwarm

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