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An Interview with Strange Attractor Press

Celebrating unpopular culture since 2001, Strange Attractor Press is dedicated to publishing books from the outer edge, documenting lost, neglected, emerging and underground currents from areas including anthropology, psychology, science and magic, natural history, literature, sound and music, film and the visual arts. The MIT Press have distributed their books since 2017. We caught up with them at the MITP London office.

1. Who and what is Strange Attractor Press?

We are Mark Pilkington and Jamie Sutcliffe, occasionally assisted by volunteers and freelancers. We’ve been publishing for 15 years now.

2. How did Strange Attractor get started?

It began in 2001 as a series of events at London’s Horse Hospital, run by Mark and film maker John Lundberg – we called them “information happenings”, and they’d include talks, films, performances and music as they explored a theme. Amongst other things we hosted an occult ritual, a psychic surgery demonstration, a theremin orchestra and a conversation in Esperanto. From there Mark decided to start publishing a periodical Journal. It was originally intended to be quarterly, but we’ve only managed four since then! The fifth should be on its way this year.

3. What’s your publishing philosophy?

We love to publish books that might not exist otherwise, focusing on subjects that tend to stray into the weird, overlooked and anomalous. We’re keen to furnish all of our projects with high-end production values, while keeping them as affordable as possible. We also consider our books to be collaborations with their authors, and encourage them to be actively involved in thinking through their form, layout and presentation.

4. What are the main qualities you look for in a manuscript?

We are quite demanding! We ask for academic levels of research presented in an engaging and accessible style – two things that don’t often go hand in hand. We’re also generally interested in taking seriously authors and issues that might not necessarily find a comfortable home elsewhere.

5.Where is the strangest place you’ve commissioned a book?

It’s possible that our second book, The Field Guide: The Art and History of Crop Circle Making (2006), was conceived at the dead of night during the construction of a crop circle.

6. Alive or dead, who would be your ideal author?

Paul Reubens, aka, Pee-wee Herman

7. What has been your most surreal publishing moment?

There have been many! A few years ago Mark was wondering where he could acquire a copy of the legendary self-trepanation memoir Bore Hole by Joe Mellen, self-published in an edition of 500 copies in 1970. He was about to give up after a few days when he received an email out of the blue from Joe Mellen saying that he was looking for someone to republish the book, and might Strange Attractor be interested? Serendipity in action!

8. You write yourselves. Where can we see your work?

Mark has most recently written a piece on spiritualist art for Death: A Graveside Companion (Thames and Hudson 2017, edited by Joanna Ebenstein), a piece about the neurologist, psychonaut and dolphin-linguist John Lilly for Frieze magazine, and a foreword to the forthcoming book Strange Frequencies (Tarcher Penguin) by Peter Bebergal.

  1. writes regularly for Art Monthly, Frieze, Rhizome, The White Review and EROS Journal and co-edits both A-or-ist, a journal of new art writing, and Berserker, an annual collection of unabashed genre work, critical essays and oddball comics. He recently contributed essays to The New Museum’s Triennial catalogue Songs of Sabotage (Phaidon, 2018), and the artist’s book An Attempt At Exhausting A Place In GTA Online by Michael Crowe (Studio Operative, 2017).

9. When you’re not doing your day job, what are you doing?

Mark has always been heavily involved in making experimental music, working with numerous bands and musicians. He is currently half of the ‘heavy ambient’ synthesiser duo Teleplasmiste, along with bagpiper Michael York. Their debut album Frequency is the New Ecstasy was released in 2017 on the House of Mythology label.

Jamie has just completed an art writing residency at Humber Street Gallery, Hull, and is currently 2018 curator of a research programme at the London gallery Bosse and Baum, developing workshops and public discussions with artists Hardeep Pandhal, Anna Zett, Monira Al Qadiri and Claire Potter.

10. Where can we expect to come across Strange Attractor Press?

Thanks to the sterling work by our distributors MIT Press and Wiley, our books are available in all the major UK independent and bookshops, but also in galleries, record stores and occult shops. We also often participate in book fairs – unless they’re asking for exorbitant participation fees – and conferences where stalls are on site. We’re also online of course, with our web sales brilliantly facilitated by State51 in London.