Ephemeral mash-ups from the stranded rock | Nigel Baldacchino

Architect and musician Nigel Baldacchino speaks about his first foray into publishing, as the small collage-book ‘Soon Out of Context’, conceived in collaboration with Josmar Azzopardi, is released through indie US publisher Unsolicited Press

oon Out of Context
oon Out of Context

Could you tell us a little bit about Soon out of Context? It appears to be designed as a curio from the get-go – an object in and of itself, apart from also being a book...

It’s essentially a curated series of spreads, each containing a short written piece on the left and an image on the right, respectively. The text parts were lifted from my own writings while the images were taken from old publications now fallen to the public domain and available through free online archives such as archive.org. I had developed a habit of collecting these images for no real reason after bumping into related blogs online, out of the sheer sense of ‘awe’ at their evocative power and fascination with the fact that all they were really intended to do was ‘illustrate’ some basic thing (for example, pools and swings). In a similar fashion, the text was taken from heaps of fragments that I had put aside over the years as ‘leads’ to be developed and expanded. These fragments ultimately just grew in number without growing in scope, resulting in pieces belonging to a larger ‘context’ that never took shape.

The publication at large is about the assembly of found material. Unlike what is usually meant by a collage, though, there was never any intention to blur any boundaries between the different elements, fusing all into ‘one thing’ which uses found things as its fabric. The exercise here was much more basic in nature: a matter of presenting things in abstraction, in their integrity as individuals, next to one other, in an attempt to repurpose them, creating some extended poetic discourse.

It’s not hard to imagine why then for me it’s much more ‘I created an object’ rather than ‘I wrote a book’.

Nigel Baldacchino
Nigel Baldacchino

What was the initial process of putting the book together like? Did you always have a tendency to gather the kind of curiosities and verbal/visual ephemera which make up the final book? And how did your collaboration with Josmar Azzopardi come into it?

My creative process typically revolves a lot around using ‘complete things’ as raw materials or instruments. Sometimes I ‘generate’ the raw material myself, while other times I see things that strike me in some way… and I hoard profusely and catalogue sporadically. I like ‘taking’ things and I like the idea of copying badly, creating something else. A typical example is a situation where I would be listening to some song or audiobook in the car, and I misunderstand some lyric or phrase, which I would then keep repeating and reshaping in my head till I get to where I need to go, park the car and write the product of all that on my phone. The limited length of the written pieces could very well be, in fact, a reflection of how short (my) car rides and commuting times are in Malta…

In the particular case of this book, at one point it struck me that I had all these fragments of text without context and all these images I had willingly stripped of their original context... that’s where the basic idea came from.

I then immediately approached Josmar, who has been, across all my artistic curiosities, the closest thing I can think of to a consistent and holistic mentor and chief editor of my work. Given my approach of ‘generating a large volume of raw data to use later’, Josmar very frequently is who I turn to first, to help me distinguish wheat from (a lot of) chaff. I was extremely glad and grateful that he would let me involve him so actively in this project. I printed an initial selection of images and text separately on A6 paper, spread them around a room in my apartment, and brought him over to help me piece things together and start structuring. After an initial selection, we met once more to set the order. In no more than five hours net total, I laid out an initial digital document to send to publishers and it was basically done.

The title is strong and perhaps telling. Does ‘soon out of context’ refer more to the work itself, or the ever-changing, hyper-distracted times we live in?

After the initial intuition (mentioned before) came to mind, I started thinking about it and why the idea lingered in what I thought of as a very meaningful way. I could think of various reasons, eventually. In these times of generation of data beyond any conceivable control, it’s increasingly tough to keep track of the ‘original’ context in which something was said or published. This original context then becomes an elusive, negotiable ‘player’ in the game of attaching ‘meaning’ to most of the things our urban environment regurgitates at us relentlessly in our daily lives. This ‘player’ soon enough grows tired of playing and just retreats, abandoning all data to the mercy of people’s twisted agendas. This, of course, went completely off the rails on social media etc., and all signs show that it will only get more and more pronounced, like all things that feed on rotten incentives.

‘Soon out of context’ then becomes a comment on all this… highlighting the whole process by making a poetic tool out of it. The archival images lend themselves perfectly to this cause, being remnants of probably the last age whereby the original context of data was fairly concrete and unambiguous.

How did you first establish contact with Unsolicited Press, and why did you believe they were the right publishers for your work?

Upon finishing the digital document mentioned earlier, I just started looking around online at small independent presses worldwide and reaching out to some which I thought were relevant. I kind of always knew at the back of my mind that the US in general would be more receptive to the book, partly because my work, especially in writing, is so much informed by American literature. Having started my reading experience very late in my life, I am by no means a literature buff of any sort. However, this has allowed me to somehow be more selective of what I read, for better or worse. I immediately gravitated towards 20th century American short stories and poetry, which has pretty much stuck ever since. It felt natural then to favour American press in my search, within wider American distribution networks and so on.

Having, therefore, gotten in touch with mostly American publishers, I awaited feedback, and Unsolicited Press immediately took on the idea, showing great attitude and enthusiasm. This surprised me, especially considering that they had effectively merely received a random emailed PDF accompanied by one of those invariably awkward cover letters by some unpublished nobody with an internet connection hailing from a stranded rock in the middle of the sea on the other side of the planet.

Soon out of Context is published by Unsolicited Publishing. For more information, log on to: https://nigelbaldacchino.com/soon-out-of-context/