Johanna Drucker's Artist Books
An online repository of facsimiles, metadata, and commentary

Simulant Portrait


Project Statement

In the late 1980s, I was still involved in working on the biography of Ilia Zdanevich (Iliazd), begun in 1985 when I was a Fulbright Fellow in Paris, working on my dissertation. That biography went through many iterations, and was finally left unpublished after Northwestern cancelled my contract. I had lost interest in the project, swept up in other matters, but the process of research and synthesis from documents and snippets of different kinds of materials had touched a nerve. I found this utterly satisfying to a certain obsessive streak. And so the structures of biography-writing, with all their connect-the-dots assumptions, varieties and ranges of sources and voices, evidence and documents, etc., were extremely appealing. Structurally, then, Simulant Portrait was conceived to mimic that process of research. Thematically the book was closer to older themes, of women and their lives, biographies and celebrity, the tensions of mass and literary culture in my own mind, and so on. The cyber-pulp aspect of the book is harder to place, as my proclivities were hardly sci-fi at that moment. Only that such notions were in the air, with Philip K. Dick (particularly the film Blade Runner) and William Gibson (rising star) occupying a certain popular imagination.

Production Narrative

I began this project thinking that it would be easy to produce the text and images on a Mac. I had not used a Mac, only an IBM at that point, and didn't own a Mac. I was at Columbia, and could use the Mac Lab by pretending to be a student. I went in and began to try to produce the text, but was fairly clueless. I didn't even know the difference between click and doubleclick on a mouse until MaryAnn O'Loughlin, my old buddy from Paris (who taught Mac skills as part of her work), came and gave me a few hours of basic instruction. I didn't know anything about page layout programs, or software, and ended up setting the entire book in MacWord or MacWrite (whichever, I can't remember), printing out the texts at school in fairly crude paper prints, and then doing the entire layout using a piece of glass, a lightbulb, and either glue stick or some equivalent. The photographs were straight ahead black and white glossies from a strip of film I shot of MaryAnn. Then the collages were done right on top of them and reshot by Brad Freeman from the layout. I did the entire layout on regular, old-fashioned pre-press boards, camera-ready. The little images in the book, the pixel drawings, were done in MacPaint or MacDraw to look like they were scanned images, but they were just little drawings of faces, not based on any photographic original. The entire thing was quite "simulated" in that sense. Doing the layout was a bit of an ordeal. It was really hot in New York, I felt quite alone sitting in that apartment on 115th Street. Had a bit of a crush on the guy upstairs who was between his boyfriend and his pregnant wife-to-be. We watched David Lynch films and he paid no attention to me beyond the merest formality. But he did introduce me to Ellen Lupton and Abbott Miller that summer, for which I'm grateful. They were still quite young, not established, but they were very very sure I would not want to have a book produced with "the jaggies" in it! How wrong they were! I always have loved the way this book looks, typographically, and only regret the bad cover design. Very weak, as has too often been the case with my books. Anyway, I remember the air in NY was thick, that grey soup that comes with summer humidity in the polluted North East, and I leaned over that damn lightbulb and sheet of cheap glass from a picture frame bought at the dime store at 110th and Broadway, and I tried not to sweat too much into the layout. I had promised Brad I'd have the whole mockup to him by sometime in July, so I did, but that also meant writing the whole thing, and getting it all printed out and laid out in a short window -- late May through late July. I'd only heard about the grant in early Spring, I think, and first met with Brad in March in Philadelphia to talk about the production parameters. Still, it was one of those marathon production times that can be extremely satisfying, even if it was exhausting. I went off to the Berkshires after that, and spent a month at Geoff Young's, in his barn, working on Theorizing Modernism. As is so often the case, the creative project and academic project were twinned.

Critical Analysis

Design Features

typographic: Early MacIntosh typography, system fonts, all jaggies deliberate, to create an early cyborg aesthetic.

imagery: Photos to have the somewhat slick look of women's magazines or features in Life. Or at least, to reference them a bit.

graphical: The design has several parts, consistent throughout, to divide the different orders of discourse, a common feature of my work. So various narrative levels and voices are separated by the design treatment -- headlines, body text, imitations of literary genres, notes, comments by the supposed author and by the supposed simulant. Each level of design has a consistent voice, consistent treatment, and is distinctive as well as distinguished by its point size, treatment, placement on the page etc. Highly organized and highly structured.

openings: These are consistent as well, with chapter openings, body of the text, etc. all following a single formula for all the chapters. The exception is the front matter, table of contents and introduction, where thematic and narrative notes are introduced. Even there, the materials are thematically organized in clearly distinguished graphical treatments. Also referencing what was, at that time at least, some of the graphic structure and format/style of women's magazines.

turnings: Variety from spread to spread, even in the consistent treatment, is meant to keep the reader's interest.

development: Textual, rather than graphical.

Critical Discussion

This book presumes to tell the tale of a second-generation replicant, a "Simulant," from the point of view of her fictive biographer. The idea was that first generation cyborgs had no history, no idiosyncracies, and insufficient personal neurosis to enter into meaningful inter-personal relationships. So as the new generation was being designed, it was determined that they should all have elaborate histories written for them, filled with personal memory and individual lived lives. Supposedly, the author of this book was the person hired to write the story of the simulant, her autobiography. Hence the title page "auto" "bio" "mono" graph "y" subtitle to the subtitle. Because the replicant in this case was a little dim, she was particularly attracted to the autobiographies of film stars and celebrities. The author tried to interest her in literary forms as well, and literary personnages. These literary texts appear on the upper right corner of the second spread of each chapter. All the levels of text interlink in this work. Each carries a different part of the narrative and each could be discussed in detail.

Detailed Analysis

The overlay and intersection of texts (letters and words) shows how close this is to The Word Made Flesh chronologically, even though it is very different thematically. The I/Her with "she" in the background also shows its connection to History of the/my Wor(l)d, with its various split subjectivities. The jaggies are highly exaggerated here, as are the shadows.

The titles and banners across the top and corners of the spread identify the different textual elements. Headlines about the chapter contents are listed at left, and rhyme with rather than repeat chapter titles (e.g. "Humble Beginnings" becomes "Not Born" in the opening title of Chapter 1.). "A Life Lived" "as information" describes the double texts that follow on that page. "Rhetorics" and "programming the extant" are brackets defining the field in which the right hand page texts are operating -- at the level of machine consciousness and machine language (the cyborg's own sensibility and awareness of interior life). The "notes" at the bottom left introduce the cyborg and also the author, the split her/I, she/me subject of the authored texts. The comment next to the image on the upper right is just to give it voice, albeit a mute one. Dense page.

The face is MaryAnn's, the infant in the picture is me, held by my then very young mom, her lean cheek and small chin showing her youth. All this pasted together on the black and white glossy in production along with the banner headlines. All the motifs here such as drop shadows on the boxees, type, and patterns in the backgrounds, were part of then current magazine design. Deliberately quoted.

General Comments

The sheer density of this book and number of references and ideas in the text made it seem almost like a blueprint or sketch for a much longer book. Maybe so. Certainly the issue of how we invent a subject position from a feminist point of view remains a pressing matter.



Johanna Drucker

type: initiating


Pyramid Atlantic

type: initiating


location: Maryland

note: The grant for this project came from Pyramid Atlantic, thanks to Betsy Davids. This grant prompted the project.

Publication Information

publisher: Druckwerk and Pyramid Atlantic

production: 1990-03-15 Production took place from March through July, 1990.
publication: 1990-08-30

publication history: One edition only, about 300 copies, all distributed by Pyramid Atlantic.

Aesthetic Profile

artists' books (LCSH)

themes: Female subjectivity, feminist theory, cyborg and sci-fi themes.

content form:
narrative (local)
experimental text (local)

publication tradition:
artists' book (local)

inspiration: Philip K. Dick always has to be acknowledged as a background figure. But ghost written Hollywood movie star biographies and autobiographies were definitely an inspiration as well as the graphic forms of women's magazines.

related works: In my work, Against Fiction, Narratology, and A Girl's Life, for the feminist and also popular culture graphic references, obscure as they may seem. The connection to work to Donna Haraway may seem obvious, but this book was written, produced, and finished before I had seen or heard of her work, and before I had read any William Gibson. My ignorance, but interesting to note.

other influences: Women's autobiography and biography, popular and literary.

community: none

note: A project conceived in peculiar isolation, though I was living in New York City at the time. A hot summer, and a lonely one, working hard.

Related Documents

manuscript type: correspondence

location: artist's archive

note: All sorts of correspondence and such exists.

manuscript type: mockups

location: artist's archive

note: Plenty of these exist, along with trials.

manuscript type: texts

location: artist's archive

note: All the texts, outtakes, etc. exist.

manuscript type: texts

location: artist's archive

note: Many related documents exist for the project, and its production. Some may even be interesting.

General Comments

In many ways, this book is part of a much larger project of writing that has been a persistent theme: women, narrative, popular genres, and fiction, as well as issues about the construction of female subjectivity. How do we become the subjects of our own narratives? What are those narratives? Where do they come from? How are they constructed in popular culture and in literary fiction? Because this project includes so many citations and references from various sources in literary and popular culture, it is an inventory of such ideas.


Publication Information

edition type: editioned

publisher: Druckwerk and Pyramid Atlantic

place: New York, NY and Maryland.

production: 1990-03-15 Production took place from March through July, 1990.
publication: 1990-08-30

note: The printing took place at the Borowsky Center at the University of the Arts, thanks to an arrangement between Helen Frederick (Pyramid) and Patti Smith (University of the Arts). Brad Freeman was doing his MFA at University of the Arts and was a fellow and printer as well, hence his involvement.


horizontal: 7.25 inches closed

vertical: 8.5 inches closed

depth: .2 inches closed

Production Information

production means:
digital laser (local)
offset (local)

binding: mashine sewn (local)

bookBlock: paper Warren's lustro
endsheets: paper Warren's lustro

ink (local)

other materials: none


general description:

format: codex (AAT)

cover: paper

color: yes


pagination: unpaginated 48 pages

numbered?: unnumbered

signed?: unsigned


For those of you wondering why the type looks so bad, why I would print a book in such godawful, hairy fuzzed printout, well, so much for amateur use of sophisticated equiptment: this is Macked on a laserwriter, not a Linotronic, because of the endless hassles encountered in the course of June 1990 trying to get my files converted into something printable, running around NYC in the hot edge of summer, losing my temper, sense of humor, and all regard for quality in the process. Many thanks, however, to all who offered the kind of advice which might have helped--Susan Bee, Abbott Miller, Gino Lee and the various now anonymous technicians at services and sites throughout the city. The book has been printed on Warren's lustro something, more or less archival, we hope, under the careful, attentive eye of Brad Freeman, at the Borowsky Center at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Thanks to Lois Johnson, who provided production advice and support. Much thanks to Helen Frederick at Pyramid Atlantic, 6111 66th Avenue, Riverdale, Maryland 20840, without whose initial interest this would never have happened. Pyramid Atlantic provided funding from the Maryland State Arts council, Ruth and Marvin Sackner, and private sources, and for that, I am, of course, grateful to eternity.