Have you ever come across something retrospectively and immediately regretted missing out? This happened to me last year I was introduced to independent art publishing fair Offprint.
Offprint was exactly what I’ve been looking out for: an international publishing fair bringing together a range of conceptual and experimental publishing practices.
While the 2017 Offprint London date has been on my iCal for over a year, I decided to maximise my visit down south by joining it with a research visit to Tate Library’s artists’ book collection.
Tate Library holds around 5,500 artists’ books from 1960s to modern day. While international in scope, the collection focuses on British artists and editions.
Fighting through the throng of visitors queuing to visit the Hockney show, I checked into Tate’s reading rooms. Highly procedural, as you’d expect from an internationally significant archive, I picked up my pre-reserved books – one at a time – and white gloves. When pre-selecting books from an intranet database your selections align strongly with your existing knowledge and the short descriptive text provided. You obviously loose any real chance/material encounters that arise from rummaging through shelves, however idyllic this archival notion is.
I spent a good hour with Katrina Palmer’s book The Dark Object. A set of inter-related but self-contained short stories within The School of Sculpture Without Objects, the publication demonstrated Palmer’s razor sharp and sculptural handling of language. I’m a massive fan of Palmer; I still think of The Necropolitan Line at Henry Moore Institute.
Laure Provost’s anarchic publication The Artist Book is loud, voracious and slippy. Content overlaps, meaning fractures and contributors’ voices merge together in a colourful visual cacophony of rules and forms. It’s a mischievous bottle rocket that demonstrates Book Works class as a publisher (Book Works published The Dark Object, too).
Over the next several hours, I handle a range of books, pamphlets and editions making notes on material, binding, edition information and ISBN. It all helps and fuels my research away from the archives.
David Batchelor’s The October Colouring Book was a revelation. An ongoing series I keep returning to involves me amending and retracting information from magazine pages in art publications such as Frieze and Art Review to create abstract works. Seeing Batchelor recontextulaise the canonical October publication, only ever printed in black and white, in his trademark colour bursts made me appreciate his intervention and the framework he set himself. It also made me consider different possibilities of presentation for my own work.
I spent the majority of the next day at Tate Modern for Offprint. The fair featured over 130 independent and self-publisher stalls with enough books on display to reach the Turbine Hall roof. The fair also featured workshops and talks throughout the three days.
My objective was to spend a few hours meeting publishers, asking plenty of questions and filling a bag of research/reading material. Oh, and actually buying some research material.
The full list of participants can be be found on the Offprint website. A few highlights below:
ABC Artists’ Books Cooperative is an international network created by and for artists who make print-on-demand books. Responsive to new contexts, the cooperative shares knowledge and works together online and at book fairs and exhibitions. It is an interesting model for sharing knowledge and practice.
Sternberg Press produces beautiful books that reinforces the artistic autonomy and criticality of each publication.
London Centre for Book Arts is doing some excellent work and going from strength to strength. A new book from Simon Goode and Ira Yonemura has just been published.
As someone who struggles with buying too many books, I rationed myself to picking up free research material and a reasonable personal budget. You could literally have spunked your entire budget by the third table; self-restraint is a necessity.
Book Works, as previously mentioned, tested my buying resolve. I picked up Gavin Wade’s recent crowdfunded publication Upcycle This Book. The book collects for the first time twenty years of writings by Gavin Wade and explores a practice that he refers to as ‘upcycling’, a process of stealing, copying, recycling, using other texts and artworks, and responding to existing conditions. This process, with strong connotations of appropriation, greatly interests me.
The book which has left the greatest impression is Publishing as Artistic Practice Annette Gilbert (Ed). An anthology of what it means to publish today, it contains essays addressing different aspect of a shifting landscape. It’s a beautiful object in itself (the design is an inherent part of the book) but also a great reference point. I’ve already read it twice over and will keep returning. K.Anranik Cassem, Matt Longabucco and Rachel Valinsky’s joint contribution, ‘Bad Workers: Notes on Socius and the Book’, draws on their own experiences of founding Brooklyn library and reading room Wendy’s Subway. Their parallel contributions consider the sociality of publishing in an inventive and engaging manner.
My research visit was just before I delivered a festival, which preoccupied me between April-June, so it took a few weeks to digest and return to my jam-packed tote bag. This material continues be extremely useful 3 months later.