The Printed Matter Booth at LAABF, 2015. Courtesy of LA Art Book Fair..
While artists have been involved in the making of books throughout history, from illuminated manuscripts to illustrated manuals, the artist's book as a distinct form of art arose out of the early twentieth-century avant-garde and proliferated through the 1960s and '70s with conceptual art and its predecessors and antecedents. The 1980s and 90s saw the rise of the 'zine, and many artists experimented with forms of inexpensive, small-run self-publications. Today, the artist's book is alive and well, and more popular than ever. In spite of the heralded "death of print" in the digital age, artists' publications are, ironically, experiencing a resurgence, enabled by the internet and the networks of distribution, availability of materials, and printing sources that it can provide. Wandering the aisles of this year's LA Art Book Fair (February 11-14, 2016), one couldn't help but notice the sheer abundance and vitality of artists' books, from the sophisticated to the simple. Here are ten of our favorites from the fair, all published within the last year.
Cover of Where We've Been, Where We're Going, Why? Courtesy of Conveyor Editions.
This book is a compelling example of a perfect union between form and content. With a unique double Wire-O binding making two books into one, the artists communicate two complementary sides of one story--in this case, the 1986 Challenger space shuttle tragedy, presented through the official lens as well as through a distinctly personal one. As one flips through personal photographs, then NASA documentation, one is confronted with the highly subjective nature of experience, and how national tragedies, collectively experienced, become metaphors for our own lives. It is a heartbreakingly beautiful book.
Sample spread of Stanya Kahn, Die Laughing. Courtesy of 2nd Cannons Publications.
The humor in Stanya Kahn's work bubbles right at the surface, thinly disguising the deeper questions that simmer underneath. About her drawing practice, Kahn says, "It's a quick way to visually work out jokes--ideas about agency, pathos, anxiety, or distress." As in her videos, the characters in Kahn's drawings engage in seemingly mindless dialogue and jokey one-liners, unconcerned with their circumstances, which often point to impending doom. While many of the drawings will elicit laughter, the reader will just as often recognize how we continue on with banalities while the world continues to melt around us.
Sample spread with app view of Austin Lee, Spheres. Courtesy of Spheres Publication.
Spheres is an artists' book series developed in a year-long, close collaboration between one young artist and Swiss graphic designer Philippe Karrer. As a result, each book takes on a radically different form from the one that preceded it. The latest in the Spheres series, by painter Austin Lee, features Lee's cartoonish, neon-colored iPad drawings and integrates an augmented reality app. Viewing the pages of the book through the app reveals digital animations and 3-D elements--a fun, if highly mediated book experience.
2015, Edition of 300, $25
Andre Bradley, Dark Archives. Courtesy of the artist and ITI Press.
Presented in three separate folios in a small folder, with family photographs and snippets of text, Andre Bradley's Dark Archives resembles a kind of dossier, reflecting on the ways American society systematically categorizes and constructs black males. The book resulted from a performance and slideshow by the artist--a recent graduate of RISD's MFA program--incorporating autobiographical stories of his childhood in Philadelphia and meditations on representation, agency, and archives.
Sample spread of Irena Haiduk, Spells. Courtesy of Sternberg Press.
At turns witty, poetic, and caustic, the writing of Irena Haiduk spans philosophy, takes a sharp turn at fiction, and descends into barbed criticisms of late capitalism, Balkan history, the police state, and the art world. This compact book collects Haiduk's writings from her various texts and limited-edition publications, including her 80-point manifesto on "polite art," with custom typography in stark black and white.
Bora Bora Bora
2015, Edition of 500, $30
Cover of Bora Bora Bora. Courtesy of Exile Editions.
This collection of poetry and prose Daniel Feinberg comes tantalizingly packaged with a gold cover, gem-like photographs of a placid sea, and pages that seem to exhibit the kind of luxurious tan of one of the characters of the future Miami that Feinberg envisions. With poems that explore the nature of image, desire, and fantasy, it is apropos how the gold cover becomes sullied with one's fingerprints, gradually losing its luster.
From Matthew Connors, Fire in Cairo. Courtesy of the artist and SPBH Editions.
Winner of the 2016 ICP Infinity Award, shortlisted for the 2015 Paris Photo-Aperture Photography First PhotoBook prize, included on at least four "best of" lists for 2015, and reviewed in numerous international publications, Matthew Connors' Fire in Cairo truly is deserving of all the praise. This could have been produced as straight documentary of a season of conflict and revolution in Cairo, but is sequenced in an exciting, experimental, and purposefully ambiguous way.
2015, Edition of 200, €30
Cover of Smoke Screen. Courtesy of Lodret Vandret.
What happens when an image file becomes corrupted or obsolete? In most cases all one is left with is a file name, metadata. Paul Paper's new book emulates the conditions of the digital screen and mediated experience, by separating the image from its text, or "metadata," the keywords relating to the image. This smartly designed, monochromatic book frustrates easy consumption of the image while calling attention to the digital image's constituent parts.
2016, Edition of 200, $35
Sample spread of Jaclyn Wright, Afterglow. Courtesy of EIC Press.
Afterglow is one artist's attempt to visually express what exists at the limits of our knowledge of the universe--black holes, gamma ray bursts, dark energy. The book is comprised of photographs and digital collages of an installation Wright built in her studio, beginning with a grid representing the framework of spacetime, gradually accumulating matter, stretching, twisting, expanding, and fragmenting with increasing density.
Joan Manel Pérez
Sample spread of Joan Manel Pérez, Genesis. Courtesy of Belleza Infinita.
The LA Art Book Fair this year included a special focus on publications from Spain, with a dedicated room to Spanish publishers and distributors, which is where we found this charmingly cheeky zine by young artist Joan Manel Pérez. Appropriating the visual language of the IKEA instruction manual, Pérez tells the story of Genesis, with a few philosophical twists. The booklet even includes that ubiquitous IKEA tool--a tiny Allen wrench.