Lik Ink recently attended the 2017 Printed Matter Art Book Fair at the MoMA PS1 museum in Long Island City, a section of New York City situated next to Brooklyn.
The fair had over 300 exhibitors of various sizes and shapes, from blue chip galleries to scrappy zine producers, all packed into the sprawling three floors and courtyard of PS1. The event also included live music, talks, symposiums and a live streaming radio documenting it all as it went along.
The room Lik Ink was located in might be classified as full of mid-range producers, certainly of the international variety, which included people from just about every continent with the possible exception of the North and South Pole (where I’m sure “artist books” are being produced).
For the producer/exhibitor, the event was exhausting, lasting over four days with a total of approximately 30 shop-time hours, sometimes solely staffed by one dedicated owner/operator who must not only be present but must correctly pitch the product and/or answer questions about whatever region they’re from, how they got started, how they keep going, etc.
This did lead to a certain amount of burnout, both in the audience and the exhibitors; it was not unusual to see glazed eyes on both sides of the table. Conversely, there were the stand-out, truly engaged interactions; individuals who sought out Lik Ink due to an interest in Hong Kong or Asia, or inquiries that pushed the audience (of approximately 11,000) in certain directions, let alone the camaraderie experienced between exhibitors who shared their stories of (for instance) getting through US customs with a bag load of art.
Another positive aspect of being there for so many hours was sort of getting a handle on what was actually available. Of course this also meant restraining myself from filling the empty space left in my suitcase through books sold, only to be filled with books bought.
Situated directly to my left at the book fair was Paul Soulellis of “Library of the Printed Web”, a very savvy project whose mission can be inferred in its name, likewise calling itself an archive of an archive. In an ironic reversal of digital’s intangibility, The Library culls material from the web and turns it into printed matter.
Some of the Library’s publications had magazine-like formats focusing on individual artists or web-based projects such as “Abstract Browsing” by Rafael Rozendaal which replaces blocks of website data with solid colors making for Mondrian-like abstractions.
“The Library of the Printed Web” also had thick compilations of material on hand, such as “Collected Works 2013 – 2017” and Paul maintains (in a reversal of the reversal) a website for the project. I highly recommend this article by Mr. Soulellis from his website which neatly explicates The Library’s impetus and outcomes.
In contrast to the post-post-internet qualities of Soulellis’ project, “Gato Negro” from Mexico City, deals in small books and pamphlets which are printed using Risograph, a high-volume but inexpensive digital photocopying machine that is all about tangibility; the qualities of Risograph makes for a matte-like painterly veneer. Taking that into account, along with the (mostly) diminutive sizes of the “Gato Negro” productions, one is most definitely left with an *object*.
Continuing with its object-like inclinations, some of the “Gato Negro” material was sensuously visual (as with the book images provided here) while the text-oriented books constitute a varied collection of essays, manifestos, and poetry. Maintaining international credentials, the “Gato Negro” catalog contains both English and Spanish language productions along with a global array of authors. For instance, “The Praise of Laziness” by Mladen Stilinović and “I Want A President” by Zoe Leonard.
To get a good idea of the “Gato Negro” sensibility it might be best to cite their blurb in the NY Art Book Fair catalog: “Gato Negro Ediciones is the collision of collective impetus and critical perversions that shaped as an independent publishing house since 2013. Armed with a risograph machine, its members and a mutant group of authors, Gato Negro seeks to spread materials they consider urgent in the context of a collapsing era.”
While the book fair made it clear that the production of artist books and zines goes on and on, a reassuring circumstance given the now-obsolete forecast of the web making all tangible products obsolete, the confounding flip side was the sheer weight of material, the impossibility of absorbing it all, and the inevitability that some producers will eventually fall by the wayside.
But . . . the positive aspects of irony or synchronicity did make themselves known. Gato Negro’s logo, like Lik Ink’s, features a black cat and each organization’s table was respectively managed by Andrea and/or Andrew. Additionally, it turned out, amongst the impenetrable heap, that a previously unknown friend of a friend, coming all the way from Slovenia, and was running the Zavod P.A.R.A.S.I.T.E. table.
Zavod P.A.R.A.S.I.T.E. is a branch of the P74 art gallery, established in 1997 in Ljubljana, that began publishing artist books and publications in 2004. Their output consists of exhibition catalogs, theoretical texts, regional art histories and items such as the one shown here, an idiosyncratic Slovenian round-up of the unavoidable (in terms of “artist books”) influence of Ed Ruscha. The book is so idiosyncratic that I can’t identify the book’s maker.
Most exhibitors were open to trading rather than being strictly commercial, and for the most part, this determined what I filled the empty spaces in my suitcase with. Sometimes the idea of trade didn’t have to be broached; if something (like Lickzine#2) was handed over, a comparable product was handed back. At the Zavod P.A.R.A.S.I.T.E. table I was given free reign, I could choose anything for the proffered Lickzine. I sized up the table and picked the Ruscha round-up, noting that it’s size and page count pretty much equaled Lickzine. This assessment was met with amusement by all concerned, demonstrating the strictures of the extra-economic exchange.
The random aspect of this survey should be easy to deduce, and though the volume of material at the fair was overwhelming, I frequently had the fantasy of dropping my own project and, if I was that rich, collecting everything that caught my eye. That would have filled far more than my empty suitcases.