Sticky Fingers Publishing is an “intradependent feminist press” created by the sticky fingers of Kaiya Waerea and Sophie Paul. Their printed publications are situated within an “anti-genre” that refuses to be situated at all. It is writing that is always in flux, never quite finished, never in isolation and always prioritising “playfulness and pleasure” above all else. It is an endless experiment in publishing that facilitates a pursuit of creativity in defiance of all borders and binaries.
What inspired the name Sticky Fingers?
Sticky Fingers describes tactile, abject, embodied ways of moving through research, theory, and the world. It’s also slang for someone who masturbates a lot, a mode we occupy in respect to, and in admiration of, Audre Lorde’s Uses of the Erotic, Kate Zambreno’s description of lubed fingers all over library books in her book Heroines, and McKenzie Wark’s book-fucking passages in Reverse Cowgirl. Sticky Fingers also means to steal, which is working in reference to writers like Kathy Acker who practice plagiarism. So, the name Sticky Fingers Publishing employs a kind of multiplicitous referencing that gives us a way to think about the politics of how we research and occupy spaces that knowledge is traditionally created and distributed in, and think about ways to subvert it.
Have your motivations and goals changed at all since you first founded the publication?
When we started working together in 2019, perhaps our only goal was to share our work and the work of our friends – to cultivate spaces for publishing writing that was vulnerable in it’s smash and grab approach to theory, and anti-genre in that it didn’t really fit in any of the spaces that were visible to us at the time. In that way, our motivations and goals are still quite closely aligned to this, we still describe our work as too messy for literary spaces, too designerly for art spaces, too performative for design spaces, too anarchic for academic spaces. But we’re also more deliberate with our motivations now; as we have moved deeper in this work, we’ve got a larger readership and more responsibility, we’ve left university and have jobs that take up different amounts of our time. Increasingly our concerns are becoming how, within the broader context of our lives and those we work with, we can continue sustaining this work in ways which feel pleasurable.
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Sticky Fingers is an “intradependent feminist press.” From my understanding, this intradependence is an effort to contextualise yourself and your art within the multitude of interactions and inspirations that influence our lives. Could you expand on this? How does this look in practice (within publishing)?
We first reached for the term intra-dependant because describing ourselves as an independent publisher felt absurd, given the people and systems that we rely on to publish pamphlets, distribute work, throw launches and so on. Our writers, the printers we work with, the bookshops we sell through, the references we share with each other, all of these things make up Sticky Fingers Publishing and extend far beyond just us two.
Intra as a prefix means inside, and it describes how we become, how we depend on and influence one another. This notion comes from New Materialist Feminist theory, which was very influential for us when we began working together. This was, and to a large degree still is, a way for us to think through our material conditions and the scenes we move in. So, when we talk about the body rubbing against the page and smearing ink, what we mean is that there are ways of producing and circulating knowledge that resist objectivity and the idea of closed systems.
You describe your publications as the work produced “at the intersection of design, academia, art, visual culture and performance.” I love this niche! Did any one of these categories initially inspire the founding of Sticky Fingers, or did you always intend to create something that flowed between each creative outline?
We were publishing together for a year before we decided to call ourselves Sticky Fingers Publishing, created an online presence, and began describing ourselves in all the ways these things necessitate. When we made our first publication we didn’t imagine we would do another until we did, and then another and another. We have since realised what a rare and wonderful thing this is, because it meant that what we were doing was able to grow into what it needed to be and what spaces it needed to occupy on its own before we started to shape it with our own intentions.
We have always operated between some kind of collection of these fields though – academia, design, performance, and so on – partly because we ourselves work and have studied across these fields, and partly because we don’t find these distinctions that relevant to the actual writing that we publish. For example, last year we published a monograph by Evelyn Wh-ell called Memoirs of a Child-Like Plothole: How to Escape Yourself Without Even Trying. Both of the two parts that make up this text could be described as science fiction; one part could also be described as an essay; the whole thing is also deeply shaped by Evelyn’s PhD research into trans-masc representation in film so it's also academic and engaged with media studies in a direct way; it’s also hilarious and camp. Categories of creative fields don’t really hold up in the face of work like this.
I think most would be inclined to label the work of Sticky Fingers experimental. Is this a genre or term you identify with? Perhaps you’d prefer something like punk, subcultural or, dare I say, revolutionary!
(Laughs) Perhaps we’d say what we do is experimental in that we have no idea what we are doing until we are doing it, and so it's always an experiment for us! Some people see publishing as a place for finished or completed outputs. We see it as a moment of making-public where we and or our writers are at, and the act of making-public as one we should all learn from. We experiment, we make mistakes, we learn from them, we do it again. In terms of thinking about experimental writing and genre, perhaps for us the idea of producing experimental writing feels that it aligns more with the anti-genre.
We definitely resonate with perhaps not trad-punk but those who have been on the periphery of punk and post-punk; the amount of times we reference Kathy Acker is probably getting a bit boring now, but her approach to language-as-material is something that we find amazing to think about as a liberatory tactic. There is an aesthetic and modal sensibility here. The way we allow the things we produce to be shaped by necessity and how that creates a look, but also a method of behaving fanatically – thinking of the punk fanzines of the 70s – approaching research and practice the way a fan does, ecstatically, and connecting, through our publishing, with those who are also fans of that thing. This is what our Dead Lovers series in particular is all about. Here we commission three new pieces of writing in response to a short story by a deceased writer, and in doing so forge connections through time out of love for those who came before us, shaping our genealogy of practice, and being fans.
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Despite your divergence from mainstream publishing, you emphasise the importance of traditional print. Do you think the influence of technology has pushed publishing to a point at which physical publications are considered subversive? Why do you think it is necessary to preserve print?
We centre print simply because we love it. There is great potential in digital or hybrid publishing, but this work is work we do unpaid, with very limited time and resources, and so it's important to us that we prioritise what feels good to us. The irrefutable there-ness of physical material and the layer of poetics and meaning which operate in print make us excited.
We try and do as much production in house at our studio as we can, because this is the part of the whole process which we enjoy the most. Design and production makes up a very small part of what we spend our time doing, which, as in most fields, ends up mostly being emailing and organising social media. When we are able to get off screen and on the Risograph then it allows us to think about how the text sits on the paper, how the body interacts with the page – for us at least, this gives the text another layer of meaning, and an opportunity for the horizons of the writing to touch the edges of the body a little more.
One output of Sticky Fingers Publishing is your FDBNHLLLTTF (Fragile, Disorienting, Breakable, Naive, Hesitant, Loving, Lusting, Leaking, Trembling, Terrifying, Fucking) publications. This is a space for works-in-progress that feel “scary, vulnerable and fragile”. I think it’s so great that you spotlight the trial-and-error process, so often considered too embarrassing to share but entirely necessary to produce creative works. When you first started publishing, did you ever feel intimidated to produce perfect work?
One of the first open calls we wrote described finding “solidarity in taking a leap together” and perhaps this idea speaks out a notion of perfectionism too. There is pleasure, solidarity, and playfulness to be found in the refusal of perfect, because perfect is often defined through and with the same metrics that in traditional publishing we find oppressive – things like ableist deadlines, ideas of editorship that take away writer agency, and so on. When we say no to these metrics we make space for the things we are interested in, and ways of working that feel better. We’re serious about playfulness and pleasure – and whilst what we publish might not be traditionally perfect, it’s more fun to be weird, horny, sad, excessive, whatever.
Your latest series, A Series of Attempts, seems to embrace this same philosophy of creative vulnerability, risk and possible failure. What motivates you personally to continue writing and creating when this prospect of failure is so prevalent? How do you conceptualise this failure?
What Series of Attempts does with the concept of failure is that it asks you as a reader or writer to try again – do the thing more than once. As publishers we tend to serialise, because doing something once is one thing, but it's when you do it again and again that you become accountable to your own learning, and that's what pushes us.
The way that A Series of Attempts differs from the FDBN Publications, even though they both somewhat orient around the idea of creative vulnerability and risk, is that whilst FDBN is about works in progress, and is built around a very quick production schedule, A Series of Attempts asks you to stay with the thought a bit longer. At the time of writing, the second Series of Attempts pamphlet has just been published: Chesil Cliff House and other failures by Sam Moore. This essay is about meeting failure with the desire to keep on writing (and living). Especially with this latest pamphlet but also with the series as a whole, you’re prompted to look at what comes out sideways when you fail: what are the unintended consequences, whether there’s anything beautiful or interesting happening instead, which is a way of rejecting the binary of success and failure.
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You mention Audre Lorde’s Uses of the Erotic as an influence for your Masturbatory Reader publication first released in May 2023 and set to be re-released in November. Congratulations on the fantastic reception to the book! Lorde defines the erotic, partly, as an expression of “what is deepest and strongest and richest within each of us, being shared”. This seems to resonate with the work you do across your publications. Who or what else inspires your work in a similar way?
Being able to think with Lorde’s work is something we are continually grateful for. We borrow from Olivia Sudjic who refers to particular books which she keeps close to her in her book Exposure as her talismans. We have our own list of talismans now, which we come back to every now and again to see if it’s changed at all. Lorde’s collection Your Silence Will Not Protect You is one of our talismans for sure. McKenzie Wark’s recent work is similarly central to us – her book Reverse Cowgirl and (of course) her writings on Kathy Acker in Philosophy for Spiders. bell hooks’ Teaching to Transgress is something we speak about a lot in relation to modes of knowledge production, especially in a world that seems reliant on violence. hooks opens Theory as Liberatory Practice with “I came to theory because I was hurting.” A lot of us come to write, edit and publish for this reason, because like hooks, we see in theory the potential for healing.
Ultimately though we learn the most from the writers we publish! Not just about publishing, but about the world. The writers we have been able to work with across several projects – Rose Higham-Stainton, Evelyn Wh-ell, Amy Etheringon, Donna Marcus Duke, Kate Morgan – in particular. We are also lucky to be in a community with a lot of other brilliant publishers, and are really excited to be bringing some of these publishers together for our inaugural publishing fair at Lewisham Arthouse in South East London this November.
Do you think it is possible for mainstream publishers (e.g. academic journals, corporate publishing houses, non-independent journalism, etc.) to embrace Lorde’s conception of the erotic in their publications? Why or why not?
Interesting question. Perhaps it's more granular than yes or no – something that we really took from an interview we did with Lola and Christie from Bare Minimum Collective is something they said about how just because you are in an institution, doesn’t mean you are of the institution. Neither of us have any experience in commercial publishing, so perhaps we can answer this more in the context of the academy. We both teach, and while the marketisation of education continues, over and over again, to exploit and exhaust those already most marginalised, there are still sometimes spaces to carve out for what bell hooks calls the “liberatory potential of the classroom”. We each need to make our own decisions about what participating in these systems costs us versus what we gain from them.
Finally, how many years have you been working together on Sticky Fingers now? In this time, what have you come to understand about each other and or yourselves, through this intradependent process?
We have been working together for almost five years. We were second-year undergraduates when we started. We’ve grown up! (Laughs) In this time we have had three studios, lived together, done an MA together, and travelled together. We became friends through publishing together, not the other way around, so in these five years we’ve learnt how to support each other not only as collaborators but as friends too. We’re continuing to learn to work in ways that demonstrate care for each other, and that deepen the material practise our politics.
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