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Keanu Reeves Now Publishing 'Complicated' Artists Books With An L.A. Press He Co-Founded

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(Photo by Christopher Jue/Getty Images)
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Whatever your thoughts of Keanu Reeves are, it can't be denied that he's a man of many enterprises. Outside of his acting gigs, he's also played bass for (the now defunct) Dogstar, directed his own martial arts movie, co-founded a motorcycle company, donated millions to cancer research and animal welfare charities, and became a widely-shared meme.

He's a poet, too, which partly explains his latest project: X Artists' Books, an L.A. based press that publishes "artists books" that, in their own way, re-configure the way we perceive of books—of their purpose and their composition, for instance.

X Artists' Books, which has just launched, is founded by Reeves, visual artist Alexandra Grant, and designer Jessica Fleischmann. As reported by the L.A. Times, the trio took to the stage at NeueHouse Hollywood last week to introduce the press. Naturally, there was some difficulty in communicating what, exactly, the press' mission was. “They ain’t all bedtime stories,” Reeves said of the books. Adding that they may be beautiful to behold, “but they’re complicated.”

What we do know is that X Artists' Books will focus on works that are collaborative and highly interdisciplinary. Fleischmann told the Times that the, “Ideas can be put forward in a context and in a form that isn’t necessarily expected.” Grant added that there's often a social and/or political current running through the works.

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From 'The Artists' Prison' (From X Artists' Books/Facebook)
Still confused? It's perhaps best to take a look at X Artists' roster of books (there's only two so far). The Artists' Prison, which was written by Grant and illustrated by Eve Wood, is notable for its inception (among other things)—there's an inversion of roles here, as Grant is normally the visual artist, and Wood writes as a poet. As explained at Art and Cake, a blog that centers of the L.A. art scene, the book "describes the imagined crimes and punishments of over forty prisoners housed in a Kafka-esque environment as told to a nameless Commander by a similarly nameless Warden." Grant provides the (heavily redacted) text that describes the grim fate of these individuals, while Wood supplies the images that give us a visual representation. The pictures (while appropriately frightening and vivid) don't exactly correlate with the text: "Rather than illustrate Grant’s prose, Wood uses the text as a point of departure to create a visual narrative about pain, suffering, despair and hope," says Art and Cake. This is something that Reeves had touched upon with the Times, saying that the books are not like children's books—where the text is embodied by the illustrations. Rather, the text may be a "launching point" for a picture, and vice versa.

As for High Winds, designed by Fleischmann and authored by interdisciplinary artist Sylvan Oswald, the visuals provide a backdrop to the text, as if the words are actors surrounded by an elaborate set production. The imagery sometimes gives us a sense of motion, or a particular shade of a mood. Eventually, the text and the visuals meld as one to form a language that is, somehow, both succinct and obtuse. This method, which itself defies definition, is perhaps well-suited for the subject material—one that also eludes the boundaries of words. As explained by X Artists' website, in High Winds, "Gas stations, local legends, and unlikely rock formations become terrain for explorations of fear, fantasy, masculinity, medication, spatial structures, and bodily functions—inspired by the author’s experience of gender transition, insomnia, and moving to Los Angeles." As such, the book is one of emotions and ideas—topics that can be experienced but not described.

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From 'High Winds' (Via X Artists' Books)
So, if Grant authored one book for X Artists, and Fleischmann designed another, where's Reeves' contribution? As noted at the Times, he'll help bring in a work by Benoit Fougeirol, a photographer based in London. As explained on the press' website, the upcoming book—(Zus)—will take a hard look at the eleven Sensitive Urban Zones (or zones urbaines sensibles) on the margins of Paris. "These poor, marginal districts were defined by administrative boundaries in response to the “emergence of a social problem," says X Artists. "Fougeirol presents the stubborn vitality and dereliction of the Zus—and the failures of collective imagination that they represent. (Zus) documents each territory with an inventory comprising photographs, graphic representations, and toponyms, none of which alone can account for a totality."

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Color us intrigued. You can find copies of X Artists' publications (as well as locations where you can find the books) on the press' website.