Interdisciplinary collective Press Press opens up a public studio for publishing, a library, and more

Press Press began a few years ago as an interdisciplinary publishing initiative. The collective—currently comprised of Kimi Hanauer, Bomin Jeon, and Valentina Cabezas—has printed a number of zines and books, such as “The Chilly Smart Model,” a collaboration with the Baltimore City Community College Refugee Youth Project (who Press Press continues to work with on a regular basis), and last year’s “If I Ruled the World,” a series of conversations among local folks about envisioning ideal worlds and how to create them. Press Press’ new space, which used to be the home of artist-run project Bb, will operate as a zine- and publication-making workshop with a couple different types of book binders, a small press, and a Xerox machine (that Press Press is holding onto for Open Space, by the way), plus a few more pieces of equipment to come, as well as a reading library and a space for panel discussions.

The walls are painted baby pink with posters and prints tacked up on bulletin boards; special shelves built by Kimi hold zines strapped in place with thick rubber bands (“They’re publication seat belts, because publications need to be safe also,” she says). I met up with Bomin and Kimi a couple days before their grand opening on Jan. 14 and talked about resistance and reaction, how publishing is a way to gather people, and the value of DIY spaces. This conversation has been edited and condensed. 

City Paper: Can you talk about your roles with Press Press and reshaping the space?

Kimi Hanauer: It’s kind of my baby in a way, I guess, it’s like a central thing that I do now in my art practice. I do other things as well. Sometimes I’m an editor, sometimes I make the shelves and those publication seat belts. Sometimes I paint the walls, make the books, coordinate the programming, find garbage on the street. Yeah, I think that’s a hard question for me to answer. So part of how Press Press started was our partnership with Refugee Youth Project, and Bomin stepped in, I think two years ago?

Bomin Jeon: Two years ago, yeah.

KH: [RYP] is the primary educational aspect of this work, although that sort of swoops into everything that we do, an educational thing. Basically [the group we work with through RYP is] a completely second-language English space. It’s occupied by immigrants from the non-western world, and we basically do things like we choose to not assimilate into American English speaking standards, we use consensus processes; it’s more of a type of collective feel, or we try to make it feel like that as much as possible. 

BJ: My way to Press Press was through Refugee Youth Project because we ended up making a publication and I got to contribute part of that one chapter [in] “If I Ruled the World” and that was my stepping into more work that is Press Press. I still am very new. I am no expert on publication or printing. My role is also very flexible, and I think I spew out ideas, like, that’s really weird and wild at times, and I’m more interested in actually learning the process of publication and making a publication and printing and things like that. That’s something I wanna learn from Kimi. And I’m here, physically, as a manual laborer, [laughing, to Kimi]: If you want to catalog everything, I’m here for that. I’m also really interested in the future of this space as becoming a programming space. We talked briefly about a podcast, maybe there could be a podcast that’s recorded in here. And also I’m gonna be here as a fake librarian, a pretend librarian for open hours.

KH: Our relationship and the way that we work together is a good sort of mini example of what Press Press is and how it works, in the sense that different people have stepped into this process and worked together in ways that we didn’t necessarily plan on working together, and it’s never really about the product but more about the relationship and what comes out of it. That reflects back to how we’ve been thinking about this project and the space, but also this is something that came out of the process as we worked on “If I Ruled the World” which we spent basically a year on …[It] described the process between us but with tons of people, that relationship building, looking at publishing as the act of gathering people, and doing that in public or whatever that means. There’s many meanings to that and that’s probably too broad but that’s one way I’ve been thinking about the programming for the space is that being a gathering space and being an active resistance, and that being publishing.

CP: I like the idea of publication being a thing that gathers people—it gathers voices and it can be disseminated amongst many people.

KH: Press Press [is] a set of relationships, and this has also come out of our work with RYP, or, in a sense, fueled our work with RYP for me, that we’ve talked a lot about but also the reasons we relate, is the use of English language. English is a symbol of power and [we’re] using it as a form and subverting it, not assimilating into English speaking standards, and centering voices that aren’t usually centered and approaches that aren’t usually centered. And the book and printed text occupy that same territory of being a symbol of power—but anybody can make a book. So I think the book and publications are really symbolically deconstructing power structures in the gatherings that we do and the programming that we do. Which is another overarching focus of the work.

BJ: This space will just be a different part, a different form of publication, that’s not a book exactly but it’s like unfolding chapters of events that happen here.

KH: That idea, that way of looking at the space is what for me fueled the library project. Press Press is formed by all these different people who come in and change it and step out or step away or come back later. I was looking at the library as another form where people could come in and pick, curate, and rearrange again and again the actual resources in a way to really mold the culture here. The initial round of selections was curated by friends and people we’ve worked with, people we admire, other artists, and then I’m hoping that more people would come and rearrange the sections or mold the sections as a way of changing the culture in the space.

CP: Are all the books and publications in the space right now those curated selections you were talking about?

KH: There’s this shelf that’s all curated by different people and then the rest is all curated by Press Press people.

CP: What other kinds of events are you planning to have here?

KH: We don’t really know yet. We had a little conversation here three weeks ago with Temporary Art Review to release our book, but that was a fruitful forum for us because we had a panel of amazing speakers like Malcolm [Peacock], Jenné [Afiya], and Fire [Angelou, as well as Emeline Boehringer, Kory Sanders, and Sarrita Hunn]. It was also really beautiful in the sense that it didn’t feel as hierarchical as other talks I’ve been to, the “audience” people were just talking and participating in it, and it was a really fun conversation and that forum was really productive for all the reasons Press Press functions. So that’s something I’d be interested in doing. There’s definitely people we want to work with, that we’re excited about doing projects with, but also this goes back to how Press Press works in general, like we don’t really plan anything, we just work with people and then figure out what makes sense and then things wind up—not really making sense, but making something.

CP: It’s just more organic, like you plan it out but you don’t plan it out a lot.

KH: Yeah, we don’t sketch it out. I’m hoping things will happen here. It’s also the kind of space I’m hoping people make it what they want it to be in a way that’s useful. There’s definitely things I just wanna do because I think it’d be fun, like having dinners and conversations and like a podcast. Or doing shows that are curated out of the book collection and silly stuff like that. I think we’ll find out.

CP: So what happened at the talk you had here in December?

KH: It was called “To Make a Public,” it was about that idea of gathering publics, creating intentional spaces and intentional communities, and why you do that, what form does it take, what are you reacting to, and how do you do it?

That led to talking about a lot of different things, from Trump’s election to how you get to that, how you talk to people you don’t know. This is actually the conversation we’re releasing as a zine [called “The Making Of: Publics + Liberation.”] They’re free and they’ll be available online.

CP: Do you think there’s anything in particular about the conversation you had here that made it be more fun and less hierarchical?

KH: There was an atmosphere of kindness and generosity and respect—that was how I was feeling; I can’t speak for anybody else. It was the people in the room. The people that were generous enough to participate and see this thing that hasn’t been here before.

CP: People “being generous” like you said, with their feelings, is important. Last year was really hard for a lot of reasons. But for a lot of people the election led to some recalibrating of what’s important to you in your life, and many people I know that were really devastated by this incoming thing have talked about holding onto friendships and relationships more closely and paying more attention to them.

KH: One of the things we’re reacting to—I mean capitalism, white supremacy, those are structures, or that is one structure that makes it so our relationships are commodified and our interactions are commodified and everything’s always related to capital— that’s one of the things we’re trying to think through in the space and how we’re trying to sustain [the space, without adhering to those structures.] And also in the intentional gatherings that we want to do, it is about human interaction and gathering, centering that, and centering our experiences that aren’t usually centered, and quite literally in the models that we’re trying to work through—that we’ll probably keep working through as more people start to interact with us—is thinking of this public studio as a space, where if you come in and you don’t know how to use a machine, I’ll teach you how to use this machine. We figure out how much time that took, and that’s the amount of time you owe to teach somebody else or contribute in another way. And obviously time is never gonna not be related to money, that’s gonna be flexible as well, but that’s something we’re trying to think through in the literal model of how this space is gonna sustain itself, and always trying to tie it back to relationships between people as opposed to capital.

BJ: And also skill-sharing; who has access to what could be the littlest thing, like, I have this discount at this art supply store or I have a car that fits most things or I have a van...

KH: And figuring out how to make things happen together. The Press Press thing, this isn’t something that I can do by myself. No one project is something that would’ve been possible for just one person to do.

CP: You said a few minutes ago something about this being a space for resistance; can you talk more about that?

BJ: [It’s] definitely giving a space for the conversations that are directly or maybe indirectly about resistance, for example in reaction to this presidency, or social justice movements and things like that. Being an open space for those kind of conversations to happen is really important and it’s not something that only happens in one place. It has been happening everywhere in Baltimore. But that’s very crucial.

KH: Yeah, and there’s still just a power in gathering together. Just gathering for the sake of gathering is always political.

BJ: I think it’s about like choosing to be there.

KH: Yeah, it’s a type of agency. … That’s also the power of DIY and the value of DIY, which is essentially, the system doesn’t work for me, there isn’t a place for me in the way that I need there to be, how do I hack it to make my life function? That’s really beautiful not just because of the perceived and real agency that creates, but it’s also just like—

BJ: Agency and possibilities. A space you can actually feel it’s not impossible to do something that you’ve been thinking about.

KH: There is a lot of beauty and a lot of things we can learn from DIY spaces in the city. There is this psychological thing where that value is being questioned.

CP: The value is being questioned for sure but it seems like it’s also just not being recognized or seen. That felt like a point of contention, for me, at the Mayor’s Safe Arts Space task force meeting the other day.

BJ: [There are] a lot of lingering questions, like people who do not understand the concept of DIY spaces or people who are unfamiliar, their question is: How does it function? How is it sustainable? Things like that—without the capital, how does this happen and why does this happen and things like that. We actually don’t know. We have to figure it out for ourselves and a lot of times it’s very like, oh, we gotta do what we gotta do and we do the most we can. That’s important, trying to make a space for yourself and other people in a system that doesn’t allow you to. If you don’t have certain privileges or funds to do so.

KH: And that’s why gathering is resistance, because there’s always things that are working against us doing that and against us being centered.

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