Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Terre Noire Editions

At the back of the No Present books it is written « hand made by unemployed people ». Terre Noire is a publishing house based in Lyon (France) which focuses on social consciousness. On their blog there are many pictures which portraiy their activities (book making, underground art, propaganda and etc…)

A: It would be good I think to start with an explanation about Terre Noire’s commitments and the different types of books which you produce.

M: Terrenoire is a non-profit organisation, an independant workshop where we produce hand-made socially conscious books. We’re aways looking for new ways of experimenting with writing techniques. We use photography, collective writing, comics, press clips collages…We wish to account for the social reality of our generation and put an emphasis on the growing precarity present in all layers of society.

A: You prefer collective books, don’t you?

M: For the last 3 years we have been working collectively as opposed to publishing authors who’d have had a finished project. Voluntary workers, trainees, professional writers…everybody works on each step of bookmaking which makes it a very gratifying process. One of the advantages of working collectively is that it puts everyone’s ego on the side to always put the project first. It also allows us to work fast and seize rebellion and anger as it occurs.
A part of our engagement is also to pass on our working methods. It is important that people realise they can be self-taught and make things themselves with virtually no money.

A: Some history… When did Terre Noire begin? In which circumstances? What were the different steps and directions?

M: In 1997 three authors wanting to publish their own books started Terrenoire. It became a publishing house in 2004 when we got some machines and a location. The workshop then opened to the public. We were publishing underground comics and photography books back then.
In 2006 the editorial line took a social turn and we’ve mainly been working on the “No Present” collection since then.

A: It is possible to observe that with time some artists or authors are used for aims which seem to be radically contrary to their original values. Shouldn’t someone who presents a work be vigilant?

M: We are a tiny organisation and our aim is to diffuse our books as widely as possible. Anyone can also read and download most of them online. We often make books out of collected stuff and we don’t mind them being out there for anybody to use them in any way.
Asking one's self too many questions while working on a project could seriously slow it down. As opposed to that, we like to be reactive so that we can use our energy and raw emotions as they happen.
So I guess we’re not vigilant but we do try not to attack idividuals but ideas and facts. I’d say the only misunderstanding which there can be is that we’re thought of as having a quite dark vision of things but the truth is most of our books contain a lot of humour.

A: We realise nowadays that many authors, artists or graphic designer are reticent to support something or to assert their convictions. It seems thet they are afraid that their convictions could dirty the work either by resolving it or by depreciating it. Are we not encountering a new form of complacency? We don’t want this status quo, do we?

M: The world in which we live is based on entertainment, and everything which isn’t part of it seems difficult to get through. People are afraid to say anything. We are often called dangerous or scary. People ask us why we don’t look on the bright side of things, but what we try to do is see things as they really are and write about it. We completely assume that, from our books content to our display window (Homeless Barbie dolls, patronizing bobos dolls). Asserting our convictions actually is what we do best! Nevertheless, none of us support a political party, as I said before we work collectively and our work has to reflect most people’s experiences.

A: The collection « Losers » contains many true stories which are raw or cruel… Did you change the names of the people of whom you are telling the story? What are their reactions to the texts?

M: Most of them don’t know about it and yes, we did change their names. One of them didn’t want his story reedited so we didn’t, but we never had any problems. Society these days is obsessed with the “image rights” etc. We are opposed to that and strongly feel these unusual stories have to be told somewhere. Otherwise we’d only be told the same success stories over and over again by the media.

A: I have the impression that you choose neither to react to the current events nor to criticise the gouvernement. You prefer to testify about something real which is obliterated by the media and whose actors have other worries than writing the portrait of their lives.

M: Absolutely. There’s no point going on about the president or saying advertisings are bad. We try to be more subtle than that and bring to light things which are often hidden by disinformation. For instance, the book about the eco-business (“If You’re Not Organic It Means You Are Pro Earth Destruction”) is not so much about ecology itself but the hypocritical propaganda that aims at making people feel guilty and consuming even more to ease that feeling.

A: Several of your books show a peculiar lucidity towards the Liberation Movements of the second half of the twentieth century…

M: The "Generation of '68", the “Baby Boomers” as they’re called, have set themselves up as THE reference, although the era our generation is living in is totally different from what they have known. They measure our success and our ability to riot against their own experiences and don’t understand how hard it has become. What they used to rebel against is what we are fighting for today: a job, a home, enough money to raise a family...A lot of our work is about this generation gap, we need them to understand how offensive their behaviour has been and still is, we are sick of them being the only voice which is heard.

A: How does Terre Noire organize its action? In which libraries can we find your books?

M: We have a website with a catalogue and pictures of the making of each book. We always keep a record of our evolving projects from A to B. This can be seen on our blog that we update everyday.
People order books on our website where there’s also a list of the bookshops we’re at, about 50 of them.

A: What projects are you working on at the moment?

M: There are always a lot of projects going on at the same time. Right now we’ve almost finished two new books, one about the Eco Business and an Open Letter to the Baby Boomers. We’re also working on video portraits of underground artists and socially conscious individuals. We are making two documentaries which look at the evolution of alternative organizations and how the underground world is co-living with the institutions. We’re co-producing these films with Le Dernier Cri -an underground graphics publishing house in Marseilles.


ULAND said...

Great stuff. It's difficult to be socially oriented without making didactic work.
That print image is great too!

ULAND said...

I do have to wonder though, if the baby boomers' were not what they are, would a group like Terre Noire ever find funding?

Mr. Sean said...

Good point Luke about the boomers. It's a funny thing. I'd argue that they aren't what they make themselves out to be, most of the generation is totally square. You'd probably find the same percentage of people in any generation willing to fund certain kinds of art. I loved this quote. "The generation of 68, the “Baby boomers” as they’re called, have set themselves as THE reference, although the era our generation is living in is totally different from what they have known. They measure our success and our ability to riot against their own experiences and don’t understand how hard it has become. What they used to rebel against is what we are fighting for today: a job, a home, enough money to raise a family...A lot of our work is about this generation gap, we need them to understand how offensive their behaviour has been and still is, we are sick of them being the only voice which is heard."

Sagäuin said...

Yea sure many baby boomers are square but their moral and their lobbies are very present in our society. Even if most of them didn’t assume their ideals the way society transfigured them and made them normal, almost compulsory is just too obvious. Yes and I forgot, The images with slogans are probably the result of collective work (Well it seems to be). The first drawing is by Bertoyas, a talented cartoonist, the second one is by Ambre, a comic artist, and the photo is by Sylvain Bouillard. The M in the interview stands for Myriam.

ULAND said...

I'm not arguing that the boomer generation hasn't set the standard, or framed ideas about culture in their image.
I'm certain that the influence has manifested itself differently in France than it has in the US, and maybe I can't help but look upon social issues in ways informed by American political/social traditions, but I'm skeptical of any sort of organized front that seeks to influence the state apparatus or is dependent upon it. It's basically a Libertarian ethic, maybe even anarchistic, ultimately, that I subscribe to when it comes to these issues (activist art or "collective" efforts).Basically I don't think appeals should be made to a governmental power structure when it comes to social issues as I believe government should have very little influence when it comes to social issues. That said, I think it's great to get together with like minded folks to express all kinds of concerns, but I think it needs to go deeper than mere politics, or "social justice" as it can be legislated. I think this collective does go deeper, based on what I know, but at the same time it seems to position itself as a dependent to the State.
And, if they're being funded by the State, it seems like having your cake and eating it.

Mr. Sean said...

Great interview by the way, thanks for doing it! Luke, i largely agree with you, although i think my own philosophy is more along the lines of having my cake & eating it too, even if i don't eat cake anymore. haha, or, "by any means possible."

ULAND said...

Yeah, I hear you Sean. I do think the '68 deal in France was really different than the hippy "movement" in the US, but yeah, most of that generation were really square.
I don't really understand what the real complaints are that this group is voicing: Do they want a more stringent kind of socialism? Are they objecting to the Liberalization of market/industry/finance and Globalism in general?
-I'm certain they're not traditionalists/conservative, but in a weird way I could see similar sentiments coming out of an anti-'68 movement; "What they used to rebel against is what we are fighting for today: a job, a home, enough money to raise a family..."

ULAND said...

Yeah, the problem with participating in "reshaping" culture from a central position is that you enter with the assumption that that's how culture/society should be organized ( or managed) and you leave knowing that the next group, the one's that have gained power by opposing you, or going to take over the reigns.
I say decentralize the whole thing, or , if possible, create a central/hierarchy that's informed by a more deeply rooted cultural tradition.
I don't think that's possible right now, but I think it could come out of a period of nearly chaotic decentralization.

Mr. Sean said...

It's coming Luke! I see it coming. Not for a while though.

Editions Terrenoire said...

We don't get (and don't ask for) funding. If we did, we'd spend our time filling forms and try to convince people instead of working. Our book sales pay for our next publications.Most of us are voluntary workers.

ULAND said...


Sagäuin said...

Uland I think that hippies in Europe were quite similar to the American ones. May be there was a stronger existentialist influence in Europe (I’m sure there was in France and in the UK actually). What you said “I could see similar sentiments coming out of an anti-'68 movement…” was interesting because I asked in the interview a question about the possibility to change and use an artist’s discourse for aims which would betray its original values. Costes (a French artist –drawer, writer, musician, “in your face” performer) has very often been totally misunderstood. This guy for example would prefer to respect a poor woman from the ghetto who would vote for the national party (fascist) rather than to agree with a bland and politically correct discourse about tolerance. Sometime I have the impression that Le dernier Cri stopped to put texts in Hopital Brut because of annoying people who would dare make shallow and offending statements just after looking at fragments. I think Lionel Tran (he writes for Terre Noire) was part of Hopital Brut 4. In this book you really have many interesting texts (interviews, Folk art, art therapy, diaries and etc…)

Sagäuin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Editions Terrenoire said...

In fact, I work a lot with Pakito Bolino, and Jean Louis Costes, whom are a deep influence on my writting. Le Dernier Cri is a major political model for TerreNoire (collective and effective work, no aim to become famous.) I wrote serval texts for le Dernier Cri projects and movies (Pakito and I once worked on a manifesto, which is partaly visible on Le Dernier Cri website).
For 3 years, Le Dernier Cri and Terrenoire are co producing and creating a collection of art and political documentary movies, called DVsection. None of those films have yet be released, but we have 3 movies and 3 video portraits of artists in work.

Lionel Tran

Sagäuin said...


To listen to his music: