Mystery Spot Books produces small run artist books, zines, and other publications that trace the contours and quirks of the human-altered landscape. Mystery Spot is a project of Minneapolis-based artist Chad Rutter and Austin-based scholar Emily Roehl, and collaboration between art and scholarship is central to their work. Mystery Spot has been publishing artist books since 2011 and currently has seven titles with two more planned for 2015. At the ASLE conference in 2015, Roehl shared one of Mystery Spot’s most popular titles, Pacific Tourist Redux, a re-working of a rare book originally published in the 1870’s that details sites, towns, and train tourism in the American West. In Redux, text passages and illustrative etchings from the original Pacific Tourist were scanned, spliced, edited, and collaged into a new book exploring subconscious understandings of national history.
Publishing with Mystery Spot Books combines Roehl’s scholarly interest in the cultural landscapes of North America with Rutter’s artistic disposition toward independent art production. The artist book can be understood in many ways: as a stand-alone art object, as one iteration in a reproducible series, or as a conceptual art project. Following in the vein of early art publishers such as Ed Ruscha and Sol Lewitt, Mystery Spot uses commercial printing as a means of art production and dissemination as opposed to the practice of high-craft and hand-made artist books. Mystery Spot makes concept-driven work that often functions like portable, hand-held art exhibitions. Mystery Spot’s book-based exhibitions are able to bring together image and text, photograph and caption, drawing and digital collage, in ways not always encouraged by physical exhibitions, which often privilege image over caption (though text-based conceptual art is an exception to this tendency). By pairing images and texts and by sequencing images through the layout and ordering of page spreads, a book-as-exhibition can lead a viewer through conceptually dense territory and provide affective registers for engaging material that are not always present in written prose.
In two upcoming titles, Drawings of Background Objects Seen In TV Shows and Stargazer, Mystery Spot Books is broadening its exploration of place-making to include the fictitious and in-accessible. In Drawings, seventeen artists contribute their observations from TV show sets ranging from Gilligan’s Island to Peaky Blinders. In Stargazer, California artist Aspen Mays uses found images collected during her time at an astronomical observatory in Chile to construct a loose narrative linking a quiet moment on Earth with the wider cosmos. Mystery Spot has exhibited nationally and internationally in artist book events including the LA Art Book Fair, the Tokyo Art Book Fair, Photobook Melbourne, and in numerous gallery exhibitions. Distributors include Printed Matter, Inc in New York, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and Ti Pi Tin in London. MSB titles can be found in archives and collections including The Indie Photobook Library in Washington, DC, the Midway Contemporary Art Library in Minneapolis, and the Joan Flasch Artists’ Book Collection at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.