The Vancouver Art/Book Fair occurred this month on Oct 5/6, 2013, drawing crowds of varying age groups from the curious to the connoisseur. Exhibitors occupied various rooms, on three different floors, within the annex area at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Exhibitors had on display zines, magazines, books about art, artist books and ephemera were on display to peruse, discuss and purchase.
Exhibitors were local, national and international in scope. Grassroots organizations; distributors and publishers; established galleries; and more set up displays to sell limited editions and/or mass produced publications. I noticed a selection of the Contemporary Art Gallery (CAG) publications gracing the tables of various exhibitors. The subtle salesmanship from seasoned exhibitors (with stacks of their select publications) took place alongside earnest first time exhibitors launching singular publication.
Also taking place were Fair programmed talks and workshops where publishers, galleries and artists spoke about their publishing practices and experiences. Workshops about artist books occurred, with artists and publishers outlining their processes from the initial concept to publishing options.
Artist books seemed prevalent at the fair. For those unfamiliar with the concept of an artist books, I will explain some features to differentiate this form of publication from other art books. I would describe an artist book as an artwork that is primarily conceived of and/or produced by an artist. They can be handmade (from concept to content) or produced by the artist(s) and processed as a limited edition through a printer and/or publisher. In recent months, I’ve encountered artist books at CAG exhibitions by artists such as Ciprian Muresan, Kay Rosen and currently Mike Nelson. Additionally, I’ve had the pleasure of cataloging various artist books, while volunteering at the CAG working in the Abraham Rogatnick Library collection. These art objects can have a tangible permanence in an individual’s life or literary collection beyond an exhibition time frame. By this I mean that limited editions of artist books might circulate as an art object within a collection (public or private) and be handled and seen by a wider audience, than for example, an artist’s painting or installation.
Moreover, artist books have been described as leading to new outlets of development or avenues of production for the artist(s). The work developed in an artist book might be the starting point of a project that is transformed or developed into other means of production and so forth. For example, I sat in on a presentation by a small publishing house, La Silueta Ediciones, based in Bogata, Columbia. The speaker stated that their mandate was to “publish books that [they] believe should exist.” He described how one of the artist books they produced gave rise to its development into an awards winning animated film. Here we saw a book with personal, community and political undertones depicted with the artwork engaging with individual and groups. Other artist books have been seen to have impact in terms of addressing political issues, fostering advocacy work, and more.
Artist books seem to be a sort of bridge to exhibition spaces for both producer and viewer. And according to some exhibitors producers of such work have been finding a surprisingly successful production return. Not only in terms of a viable revenue stream, but also for drawing interest that are non-arts based. One exhibitor described the art world as a “somewhat incestuous group,” but that they have seen interest for artist book from a following that was not the usual arts based suspects. Artist books are garnering interest from a diverse spectrum of the population; individuals from all walks of life and varying interests are engaging with art in their everyday lives in unexpected forms and places. Could this be the humanist perspective at work? The belief that art plays an important part in an individual’s life.
Even so, any art publications and their life beyond or instead of an exhibition, raises questions about the effects on the individual seeing original art work versus reproductions within alternative formats. This is a topic that was raised during Erin Shirreff’s recent exhibition at the CAG with respect to her engagement with the sculptures of Tony Smith in texts versus in person. Does prior knowledge about an artwork alter ones perception, in the reading or researching of work prior to seeing the work itself? I’ve been challenged by this conundrum when researching artists and artwork. Often the only means of viewing work is in some from of reproduction removed form the original form. For me it has been a question about the impact of art work and the journey one takes in engaging with artwork. I consider the possibilities of what might be overridden or misdirected in an initial processing of an artwork due to the filters of others critiques echoing through my own thoughts. However this is a larger discussion this is perhaps best saved for another time or place.
– Jocelyn Statia, CAG library volunteer