Jan Voss from Boekie Woekie bookshop in Amsterdam, assembling his vacuum-cleaner dust bag multiple of all the dust from the bookshop collected in a given year. An edition of seven. Apparently, the bigger the dust bag in the edition, the fewer the books sold in the shop! photograph by Hrafnhildur Helgadóttir.
Sterne’s seeming contemporariness is perhaps as a result of the dislocated narrative of Tristram Shandy. With its use of various visual devices, its gradual publication over a period of time, it might seem a fore-runner of some of the work to be seen at the Small Publishers Fair, and the wider stream of current publishing.
In 2008 artist and poet Simon Cutts curated the exhibition Certain Trees: The Constructed Book, Poem and Object 1964 – 2008 for Centre des Livres d’Artistes,
St Yrieix La Perche. The exhibition also came to the V&A, where Elizabeth James, Senior Librarian at the National Art Library Collections wrote the gallery guide.
This short excerpt from James’ guide sets out ideas that are relevant to the work of many Small Publishers Fair participants.
“…they (the artists and poets) act as the editors, and often printers too, for their own short-run, self-funded small presses. Self-publishing is considered ‘not a vanity but a freedom’, a ‘critical alternative’ to the commercial mainstream. In the absence of wealth or patronage, economic constraints are embraced as creative conditions.
Here, the material nature of the book becomes central to its content. Size, colour, the fold of paper, the page and its turn are consciously deployed. The same approach applied to a pamphlet, broadside, postcard or standing card, or other kind of object. The aim is to find the right form for the idea.”
It seems to me that the Small Publishers Fair is a model of arts administration. Requiring no subsidy to make it work: the money in is the money out, and you can happily forget the Arts Council and pen-pushing.
Of course the whole enterprise is necessarily limited by corrective scale, and if you can only get 50 tables into the Conway Hall, then you have the requisite number of publishers. The New York Art Book Fair is overpowering with 10,000 visitors on the Saturday. The Small Publishers is almost a family affair by comparison, and long may it remain so, by far our favourite.
Clearly there may eventually be issues of demand, but so far this has not been a problem. It should never become an issue of ‘selection’ as at the esteemed Whitechapel, (in the age of Prizes), because it seems like self-selection has been adequate, and sharing tables and on a first come first served basis. I think the SPF can move into a new era, thanks to the ground work done by Martin Rogers and other RGAP comrades.
Simon Cutts. Coracle