01 Oct 2019 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

It is autumn: Art Book Fair season. 

Last weekend was the New York Art Book Fair (NYABF); reportedly 40,000 visitors attended in 2018. The Tehran Art Book Fair is happening right now, in Iran, as I type this. This coming Sunday is the Northampton, MA Print & Book Fair. The following weekend is the New England Art Book Fair in Portland, ME; simultaneously there are art book fairs in Montréal, Vienna, Sheffield (UK), and Nampa (Idaho). Detroit, Vancouver, Manchester (UK), Antwerp, Toronto, and Setouchi (Japan) all are hosting Art Book Fairs in October. There are at least 15 more Art Book Fairs happening in November, including fairs in Italy, the Netherlands, France, Argentina, Ireland, and Lithuania. And Leah Mackin’s Internet Art Book Fair is always online.

All of these Art Book Fairs have emerged in the 21st century; many in the past decade, most in the past five years; some are new this year. In fact the “Art Book Fair” named as such is I believe a 21st century invention, coined by Printed Matter’s inaugural New York Art Book Fair in fall 2005. (The New York Art Book Fair was preceded by fine press / book arts fairs such as the Oak Knoll Fair (DE) and the Pyramid Atlantic Book Arts Fair (MD), and numerous Antiquarian / Rare Book Fairs. But the “Art Book Fair” which gathers together zinesters, multi-disciplinary artists, activists, students, book artists, photographers, graphic designers, small press publishers, rare book dealers, collectives, contemporary art galleries, risograph printers, organizations, etc., anis especially popular among young people, appears to be a Twenty-First Century phenomenon: a post-internet turn to publishing as artistic practice.)

While the Art Book fair may be new, the “Book Fair” famously dates back to the earliest days of incunabula. The Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany, first held in 1454, is assumed to be the oldest continually operating book fair. Prior to the first Frankfurt Buchmesse, the city was already well-known for its brisk trade in manuscripts. (The Frankfurt Book Fair, by the way, is also held in October.)

I have never been to the Frankfurt Buchmesse. But have you been to the NYABF? It is nuts. Immersive and enormous, being among books among people being among books. Surveying a table with a glance; picking books up, paging through, intermittent reading, fluttering pages; conversing with other publishers; meeting book lovers, artists, collectors, booksellers, librarians, curators, distributors, old friends; being crushed by crowds; waiting in lines; the exhausting heat. Tabling at the NYABF is a very particular expression of the book as a hub of social activity — morphing into a blur of thousands of micro-interactions with hundreds of people, many of whom are bookmakers themselves — demonstrating yet again how the book is deeply socially charged, and always has been. So I’ve been thinking about how the act of tabling at a book fair, of presenting your work to members of a book-buying public, and explaining your ideas over and over again, is itself a type of publishing: or shall we call it public-ing? 

Publish : make generally known, make available

Publicus (Latin) > Publicare (make public) > puplier (Old French) / public (English) / publish

From Oxford

Tabling at a book fair is “making [your work] available” through individual interactions one person after another.  It is a series of potentially intimate, confessional encounters in a very public space, not unlike reading an anthology of autobiographical essays on a subway. Publishing as an artistic practice is not just the making of a book as an art object, but considering every stage of its creation from inception to amplification and distribution, considering as integral to the whole the systems that sustain the book. Tabling is just one method of distribution, of inserting one’s work into an enormously elaborate network. But tabling and fair-attending is a very particular manifestation of the social life of the book that warrants much closer attention than I am able to give it here, as I am out of time. I need to print for the Art Book Fair happening this Sunday.

Works alluded to: 

Publishing as Artistic Practice, Annette Gilbert, ed.

The Social Life of the Book (SLOB) was a series of commissioned essays published in pamphlet form by castillo/corrales (2007-2015), Paris.

Some Forms of Availability, Simon Cutts.

Emily Larned has been publishing since 1993, when she made her first zine as a teenager. She is co-founder of Impractical Labor in Service of the Speculative Arts (ILSSA), a union for reflective creative practice. She is currently Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at the University of Connecticut, Storrs.


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