Maria Fusco and The Mechanical Copula

Author and Director of Art Writing at Goldsmiths enjoys the art of book publishing, but remains wary of the e-reader revolution

Originally from north Belfast Maria Fusco, writer, editor and Director of Art Writing at Goldsmiths, University of London, is back in the city for a short visit with her family before travelling to Dublin to launch her latest short story collection, The Mechanical Copula.

‘I haven't lived in Belfast for about 20 years. I was generally very unhappy here,' she admits. 'It wasn’t anything to do with my family, it was purely about trying to excise myself from the political situation.' She chuckles wryly and adds, ‘Which of course, you can't, but you don’t know that at 17.’

Today Belfast still lingers in Fusco’s inflections, on the odd word and in her work. One of the stories in The Mechanical Copula is a ‘meditation on mizzle’, that particularly Northern Irish dripping mist. Belfast also plays a prominent role in the novel Fusco is currently working on, a first-person account of Belfast in the 1940s from the point of view of a monkey.

‘I say it's mainstream,’ Fusco comments thoughtfully. ‘I hope it's mainstream, but I won't know until it's done.’

As editor and founder of the experimental journal The Happy Hypocrite, of course Fusco has a slightly different idea of what is and isn’t mainstream than most. She says that she is 'interested in the ditches and the gullies and all the bits where things get lost. I am interested in down the back of the settee. You know, having a ferret around down there.'

There is something undeniably appealing about Fusco’s monkey novel, although it is hard to say whether the appeal comes from the idea of a monkey with a heavy Belfast accent or from Fusco’s contagious enthusiasm for the idea.

‘I've been going through it over and over again and I think it might work,’ she says, explaining her choices of narrator and tense. A pang of either modesty or creative doubt makes her pause and add, ‘But I’m not sure.’

If anyone can find a way to make it work it is probably Fusco. She is something of a Jill-of-all-Trades, but subverts the traditional wisdom by being the master of quite a few. Her escape from Belfast during the 1990s took her to the University of Sheffield, where she received a Fine Art degree. However, although she loved the theory and discourse she hated the actual practice of making objects. So, after graduation she returned to Belfast ‘for about two seconds’ before moving to London.

After working in ‘a variety of jobs, some of which were interesting, some of which weren’t,’ Fusco ended up working as an editor in a non-profit independent press that published contemporary artists. ‘They were something like a poetry or literature press,’ Fusco explains, ‘but they weren't making visually led books, they weren’t monographs. They made books by artists who write.’

That distinction is one of the things that has shaped Fusco’s transdisciplinary practice and her course at Goldsmiths. Fusco’s stories are constructed as much as written. Her work in progress explores vernacular graphically as well as linguistically, creating pages that advance the aesthetic of the book as well as the story.

In The Mechanical Cupola Fusco worked closely with the designer on the typography to suggest ‘an odd proximity between the name you give something and the thing itself'. In the collection the titles are huge – sometimes seemingly longer than the minimalist stories themselves – and rendered in a blocky serif font that nudges its way into the story’s space. A copula created from typographic artifice.

‘That was part of the reason I wanted to work with Sternberg Press,’ Fusco explains, flicking through her copy of the book to demonstrate. ‘They are very good at working with both design and text.’

It is also the reason that Fusco hesitates to comment on the growing popularity of e-books and e-readers. It isn’t that she has anything against e-readers, but she doesn’t see their relevance to the work she’s trying to build a constituency for. E-readers such as the Sony and Kindle are perfectly capable of reproducing text, but they are not yet sophisticated enough to deal with books where layout conveys as much of the meaning as the words themselves.

Fusco points out that books such The Unfortunates by BS Johnson could simply not be replicated meaningfully by an e-reader. The Unfortunates is an unbound book in 28 sections that were designed to be infinitely shuffled.

‘You might lose a bit, you might get rid of a bit, you might accidentally not get a bit but the message is that it's not about completeness,' argues Fusco. 'It's to do with the individual reader and their individual read and it makes the reader very active in that sense. That's a very important facet of the work that I try to produce.’

Besides, Fusco adds, she is too attached to the idea of making books, as an author and an editor, to abandon the medium now. Her concept of the book is that it is an object in itself, an active social package that signifies cultural capital and social mobility; all themes that Fusco is engaged with and that she references, elliptically and directly, in her writing.

‘You have all your research and you make the work better through educating yourself about certain things,' Fusco shrugs. 'You are always your own primary resource as a writer.'