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Akademia Cartonera: A Primer of Latin American Cartonera Publishers (2009)

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La Cartonera (México)

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In May 2007, in Lima (Peru), at the Sarita Cartonera workshop, a question was posed: why not set up a cartonera press in Cuernavaca? The editors Milagros Saldarriaga and Tania Silva subtly indicated the way. They pointed to the North Star, that star which traces a path toward the revelation of other worlds. Thus a seed was planted, as we became enthusiastic about the idea of making cartonera books, and we took upon ourselves the task of learning those kindred forms from the countries of the South. We explored how they worked, their intuitions, their actors, their paths, their dialectics and all the rest. The Sarita books were our first encounter with the world of cartonera publishing. A wonder that captivated us.

Naturally, like birth itself, nine months after that invitation, in February 2008, La Cartonera came into the world: without life insurance, without a fellowship or patrons, with no other impetus than that of concentrating on the mysterious experience of birth.

La Cartonera was born in a city where cardboard collectors have long been scarce. There are still a few of them around, but they are exceptions. This makes our experiences different from those of Eloísa in Buenos Aires, where cardboard is a way of life for thousands of porteños. Ours is a cartonera without cartoneros, but with an impulse to run through streets and computer in-boxes, parks and cafés, cybernetic conversations and the alcoves of any place on the planet, to collect the stories of our time, until we come up with some way to contact other galaxies.

Our first book was El silencio de los sueños abandonados, a song-book with a CD by Kristos, a musician who inspires creativity and wit in these lands and on our cartonera voyage. From then until February 2009, in just a year of life we've published six other books: a story by the American writer Howard Fast, Cristo en Cuernavaca; a bilingual edition of the essay Saving Lowry's Eden, by the Cuernavaca-based English artist John Spencer; Rocato's memoirs of Mexico 1968, Marylin Monroe, comunista: Entre el FBI y el 68; the books of poems Con Catulo de Rodilla, by Joseantonio Suárez; Respiración del laberinto, by the infrarrealist Mario Santiago Papasquiaro; and Un derecho & un revés, by Bárbara Durán.

In our short cartonera life we've carried out several collaborative projects, all of which became rich experiences: we published John Spencer's essay with the Museum La Casona Spencer and with the press La Rana del Sur. Rocato's book appeared simultaneously on Ediciones Clandestino; another experience that stretched beyond our borders was the simultaneous publication of Respiración del laberinto by Sarita, Eloísa, Animita, Yiyi Jambo, Felicita, Mandrágora, Yerba Mala, and Dulcinéia Catadora. This book was published, between December 2008 and March 2009, in Peru, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Brazil. On this voyage poets and narrators, all Latin American, came together, writing the various prologues to a book by an author who lived poetry as a defining experience.

Our cartonera press came about in the presence of a group of friends who already understood the navigable paths of the imagination: composing music, writing, painting, taking photographs, editing reviews and books. We decided to call ourselves La Cartonera as an homage and as desire to share that relationship with figures from daily life, people we know and greet with neighborhood camaraderie: the tortilla woman, the taco guy, the tamale woman, the butcher, the seamstress. La Cartonera represents that way of saying and feeling the intimacy of daily life.

From the beginning, the covers of our cardboard books have been a direct expression of the drive that nourishes us. Each of them is at once an intimate and unique act. The work of painters, illustrators, photographers, and other graphic artists is an unequivocal gesture of the paths traced by invention, paths that have served to turn the artistic creation into a festive, collective ceremony.

COLLECTIVE CELEBRATION

Although we didn't plan it, the proximity of a large number of artist friends began to give our cartonera project a particular tone. La Cartonera's book covers are made with the idea that the book might become, in every sense, a work of art within the reach of all: each one a traveling museum. Those who have managed to get their hands on these art objects have left with good literature and original art. Each of the covers is unique, hand-painted, with the traces of a particular painter, illustrator, or photographer. Cardboard books stimulate all the senses. Hands weave the words, stitch them together and draw life. The art of painting. The art of writing. The art of taking photographs. The art of sewing and gluing a book. The art of reading. The art of looking.

La Cartonera has been a form of reinventing communication, turning parties into creative ceremonies with nothing solemn about them. Collectivity has meant gathering and following the ideas of various artists and “ideologues,” all of which have shown us forms of communication capable of renewing our creative instinct. We, cartoneros, have learned that publishing is in our hands and, above all, in the heart that lets us feel books as living things. We get to know them even before they become books: we come to an agreement about what we'll publish, how the books will be made, how to make the covers, who will make them, how they'll be bound, and where we'll present them. Those ceremonies turn to nostalgia when the books pass from our hands to the reader's. But… that's what books are for: for populating new spaces with their letters and their art.

That's why one can say that the upside-down logic of irreverence reigns supreme on our cartonera voyage, because we believe in that North Star that has guided the way for those who have turned an impossibility into an act of reaching the new Gutenberg Galaxy.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

From this year-long journey we should mention those who helped this dream gestate and went down a different path, one that nevertheless we hope is close to our own: Kristos and Alicia Reardon. Hopefully our paths will cross again on this voyage. To the artists, canonical ones and newcomers, who have made our books into double works of art: Armando Brito, Arián Vega, Bárbara Durán, Barbara Julieta, Beatriz Stellino, Belem Sánchez, Blanka Amezkua, Cisco Jiménez, Chela Cervantes, Dany Hurpin, Eduardo Lugo, Eurídice Aguirre, Graciela Echeverría, Israel Malacara, Ita Castañeda, J. Murillo, Javier de la Mora, Kenia Cano, Natalia Cabello, Nadja Zendejas, Olmo Uribe, Oscar Menéndez, Rebeca López, Remy Benavides, Rocato, Seco Uribe, Valeria López, Vanesa Quintanilla, Yuri Vega, as well as a couple of anonymous ones.

To those who, with their knowledge of making and editing books, gave us new tools to come up with our own, daring style: Joseantonio Suárez and Félix García.

To those who have shared with us the possibility of co-editing and simultaneous publishing: John Prigge, Felix García, Oscar Menéndez, Rocato and the cartonera publishers of Latin America.

To the authors and heirs of the authors' rights: Bárbara Durán, Joseantonio Suárez, John Prigge (Museo La Casona Spencer), Kristos, Rebeca López and Rocato. Thanks to all of them for allowing La Cartonera to circulate their texts among those who, by reading, made this dream come true.

To the authors of the prologues: Rafael Catana, Raúl Silva, Kenia Cano, Javier Sicilia, Francisco Rebolledo, Pedro Damián and Joseantonio Suárez.

To the musicians who have accompanied us: Rafael Catana, Kristos, Leticia Servín, Gerardo Enciso and Iván Antillón.

To everyone else whose names go without mention but who have been there along the way: writing, illustrating, making covers, bringing corn cakes, sharing a glass of mezcal, making coffee and food, teaching how to bind books, interviewing us, spreading the word about our work and reading. Without all of them La Cartonera wouldn't be what it is.

We have formed part of La Cartonera as a “cartonera committee”: Alicia Reardon, Dany Hurbin, Joseantonio Suárez, Nayeli Sánchez, Raúl Silva, Rocato and Valeria López. Each one of us distinct, each one from a different place, inhabitants of distant geographical spaces at any given moment, with diverse abilities and knowledge, with particular humors, colors and scents, but linked by the ideal of La Cartonera: because we enjoy making books, because we learn by doing so, and because as long as play stays alive we'll continue.

CARTONERA MAXIMS

The paths of art are infinite. They cross and intersect. They're invented yet again. Without the internet, in the depths of the cave, intergalactic voyages are planned. Everything is possible as long as we can imagine.

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In these insane times, the publishing market is just a link in the chain of a notion of the world based on consumption and waste. We live within an enormous machine that doesn't and won't stop. The vertigo of success and mass culture is a sickness that seems incurable. Because of this, it's stimulating to know that at the margin of those enormous publishing monsters there are gestures that consist in constructing, with cardboard, castles in the air.

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Making a book as one who rubs rocks to start a fire.

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What matters in cardboard is its nobility, which gives heat to our hallucinations.

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Our books don't sleep in stores; they're traveling museums.

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Price will never get in the way of having a cartonera book.

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We make books that invent us.

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Libraries inhabit our hands.

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Our books awaken the arduous dream of the beehive.

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Our books—two A's: artistic and artisan.

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They are works of art within reach of almost everyone.

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Cartonera books are a constant opportunity for learning.

Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico. March 2009.
Dany, Nayeli, Raúl and Rocato.

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