Art is a Small Adjustment

Ross Hair, curator of this year’s special exhibition ‘Avant-Folk – Publishing in the Vernacular’ explains the choice of image for this year’s Small Publishers Fair card.

spf-2016-ecardThe image on this year’s card for the Small Publishers Fair is of Ian Hamilton Finlay’s edition of a scarf that bears the words ‘art is a small adjustment.’ Both text and object reflect the sentiments and ideas that underpin this year’s exhibition, Avant-Folk: Publishing in the Vernacular.

Produced in a small, limited number and distributed as Christmas gifts in 2001, Finlay’s scarf tacitly evokes a cottage industry of craft and textile work—a creative sensibility and a way of life—in which aesthetics and functionality, the unique and the everyday, are inseparable. This spirit extends not only to how many of the publications in Avant-Folk have been made (often with similar resourcefulness and by modest means), but also to the ways in which much of this work has been exchanged and shared within an extended community of poets,artists, and publishers working outside the mass market.

Given rather than purchased, cherished rather than fetishized, the modesty of Finlay’s scarf, again like many of the publications in the exhibition, encourages a subtle modification—an alteration—of what we might take for granted, deem worthy, or value enough to be deemed ‘art.’ It is a matter, then, of not just what one makes, but of how one makes it and for what purpose. Just as the way one might wear their scarf, each publication in Avant-Folk might be seen as a small adjustment that, nevertheless, yields considerable effect.

Ross Hair, October 2016

N.B. The exhibition ‘Avant-Folk’ grew out of Ross Hair’s work on his book ‘Avant-Folk: Small Press Poetry Networks from 1950 to the Present’. We are delighted that this important new book will be launched at the Fair, where it will be available at a specially discounted price of £50 (instead of £75).

There will also be an Avant-Folk seminar and, to mark the exhibition, UEA Publishing Project will launch a pamphlet ‘Avant-Folk – Publishing in the Vernacular’. Designed by Colin Sackett and Bethan Sackett-Thomas of Uniformbooks, this 32pp pamphlet will be on sale at the Fair for £5.










A visitor’s view

Artists book specialist and, for 22 years chief cataloguer for Tate Library, Maria White explains why she is a regular visitor to Small Publishers Fair and what she’s looking forward to at this year’s Fair.

Small Publishers Fair is one of the highlights of the artists’ book year: a gathering of eminent book artists from Britain and abroad. With over 60 publishers, the fair is a good size without being overwhelming. For collectors, whether for public collections and libraries or private collections, it is the opportunity to see a large range of high level work at one time. Librarians and collectors can meet artists and publishers, make contacts and discuss work.

The fair always has a good atmosphere and its popularity among publishers sees many return year after year. I believe that it is the one place in London can you will meet Coracle, Weproductions, Moschatel Press, Peter Foolen Editions, Boekie Woekie, Uniformbooks and Impact Press together. Other returning presses include Ambeck Design, AMBruno,, Corbel Stone Press, Ensixteen Editions, Jane Cradock-Watson, John Dilnot, Mandy Branner , Mark Pawson and whnicPRESS. However do not let the fact that there are returning publishers lead you to think that the fair could be stale in anyway. It is certainly not! The continuing production of new and exciting work prevents that.

The fair is accompanied by an exhibition and talks. I am looking forward to seeing this year’s exhibition of work by Nancy Campbell. The display will show selections of her work from the past decade from her own imprint, Bird Editions, and from her collaborations with other artists including Mette-Sofie Ambeck, Abigail Rorer and Roni Gross. Nancy will also be talking about her new book, Proviso on Friday afternoon (3.30 pm). 

The fair has always had a touch of poetry about it so it is not surprising to find a number of poetry titles being launched. These include Orcs!!! by David Ashford, VENUSBERG by Eleanor Perry and Of sirens – body and faultlines by Nat Raha, all published by Veer Books, and a selection of Brian Coffey’s poems in How far from daybreak, published by Etruscan Books. The Saison Poetry Library (South Bank Centre) chooses the fair to publicise its collection by taking a table and holds its open day on the Sunday after the fair.

However for me the heart of the event lies in the fair itself: the opportunity to see exciting artists’ books, talk to the artists and publishers and to purchase amazing books.

Maria White | @maiaewhite

Construction Storage Despatch

Small Publishers Fair 2015 sees the launch of a book by Coracle that celebrates the life and work of Fair founder, Martin Rogers. A few words here from Coracle Director, poet, artist, writer and editor Simon Cutts.

cover Martin RogersMartin Rogers, printer, sculptor and publisher, was the exemplar of a condition that had become prevalent after the nineteen sixties. He had moved the physical materials of his work to the production of multiple objects in printed form, to books and publication, eventually embracing the idea of publishing as the platform for the work. At the same time, in the way he avoided the side-track, even the cul-de-sac, of the so-called artists book, he becomes emblematic of that repositioning.

With this book we attempted to site this as a different model. The work moves from its Construction through Storage to its Despatch into the world as Publication. The book becomes a homage to Martin within the context of the Small Publishers Fair, which he established in 2002 and continued to organise until 2012, and will be available from both the information table at the Conway Hall Fair and the Coracle stand, the publishers of the book.

Texts by John Bevis and Simon Cutts, with a survey of the Research Group for Artists Publications by Jill Mustchin, with assistance from Rodger Brown, and a bibliography by John Janssen.

Simon Cutts, October 2015 | @thecoracler

Conversations and Collaborations

Some years ago I was lucky to encounter a number of people much older and more experienced than I was, all of whom knew exactly what a book should look like. The strong self-belief of these letterpress printers fed their exquisite presswork. As an apprentice, it was my role to listen and learn from each in turn, but it did not take me long to figure out that they could not all be right. Their own diverse works were proof enough that there was more than one way of making a good book.

Doverodde 01

From ‘Doverodde’. Text and photography by Nancy Campbell. Published by Bird Editions, 2012


From ‘Doverodde’. Text and photography by Nancy Campbell. Published by Bird Editions, 2012


‘Tikilluarit’. Text by Nancy Campbell, production and design by Roni Gross and Peter Schell. Published by Z’roah Press, 2014

The exhibition at the Small Publishers Fair 2015 aims to give a taste of the many ways in which it is possible to make a book. Sometimes my publishing choices are led by aesthetic considerations, but more often they are informed by necessity: from the poetry pamphlet printed with lead type that I cast at a foundry in the Brooklyn Navy Yard (Boat Trip) to a book begun in rural Denmark miles from any presses, loaded into an online template, and now available to print on demand in China (Doverodde).

Visitors will find almost as many artists as printing techniques represented in the exhibition. I relish the collaborative nature of publishing, with ideas for new projects generated by meetings and conversations that often begin at events like the SPF. The first book I produced, An Edifying Essay Upon Slugs, was cooked up with the distinguished American wood engraver Abigail Rorer when we spent a rainy summer together in the Rocky Mountains. (I’m delighted that Abigail will be flying over to the SPF to see her work on show).


More recently I’ve had the honour of seeing my poems become artists’ books in the hands of New York artists Roni Gross and Peter Schell. Many of these books started out as late night discussions over a glass of whisky; others stem from an impulsive email or Tweet. And what ends up in print is only a small part of publishing – there are always imaginary books, the books that have featured in many conversations but are yet to be made.

Despite the occasional scare when pundits suggest that the book is on the verge of extinction, I believe it has a great future. Perhaps this cannot be said for the Arctic, an environment that features in many of my books. I am particularly interested in endangered Arctic languages and how the fate of communication in the region is intertwined with the changing climate. The book I will launch at the fair, Proviso, is about the words we all choose to lose, the texts that are not kept on record. Visitors and publishers will have the chance to and win and lose words by playing an Arctic dictionary game: ‘The Astonishing… The Ephemeral… The Transformational… Vanishing…! Polar…! Tombola!’ I look forward to starting new conversations over the tombola table.

Nancy Campbell, October 2015 | @nancycampbelle

Chicken-of-the-Woods fungus on The Dead Sweet Chestnut Tree at Shandy Hall alive in the time of Laurence Sterne


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.

On the Small Publishers’ Fair

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