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Field Notes

Ho Tam and Jenny Lin

A Conversation on Art Book and Zine Fairs

Photo: Jenny Lin, 2018.

Ho Tam is an artist based in Vancouver. He works in a variety of disciplines. Currently his focus is on his self-publishing practice, under the imprint of Hotam Press.,,

JL I was interested in thinking about art book fairs and zine fairs as spaces to exhibit one’s work and have a different sort of contact with the public compared to exhibiting in a gallery space, for example. They are spaces for a contemporary art audience but also draw a general public that is interested in independent publishing and making, also community-based gathering and networking. In the case of NYABF (New York Art Book Fair), it’s also a party space for people to gather, with DJs, drinks, food, etc, drawing tens of thousands of attendees.[1]1 (2016). Printed Matter's : NY Art Book Fair. Art book fairs are continuing to pop up in so many cities around the world. What do you think of this?

HT I think it is great, the more the merrier. It shows a democratization of the medium and the practice. Having been an artist who shows in galleries, I really cherish the autonomy of creating (and curating) my own work with indie publishing. I sense a breath of fresh air, or more correctly, liberation, in this form of art making. In gallery systems these days, artists are making and showing work to curators rather than a larger audience. Artists are under that atmosphere to try real hard and sometimes end up making things that are not accessible beyond the gallery wall. Maybe it is a bit like making art in art school to show to your classmates and the teacher. The art book fairs are much more inviting, and the audience is very diverse, as you have pointed out. This encourages a multitude of voices.

JL I love book fairs but sometimes find that the format of the fairs can seem a bit homogenous and repetitive, especially upon first glance. There are definitely differences with each fair, though, in their general vibe and intention, the audience that attends and the range of participants that take part. I find that the chosen venues and the activities that are organized as part of the fairs make a difference in enriching the fairs (like the talks or workshops that take place, although it’s hard sometimes to go to any if you are at your table with your work). Some events that have stood out for me are hearing Lucy Lippard speak at the NYABF[2]2Lippard, L. (1969). New York 13.; having odd side events like the endurance project, “24-hour Dance Party”, in a space close to the NYABF that fair visitors could easily drop into as an escape from the crowded and overwhelming fair; and the pop-up project by the Angry Asian Feminist Gang at the recent Toronto Art Book Fair 3, for which they occupied a former ice cream shop in the book fair venue, Chinatown Centre, with a curated selection of books from Art Metropole that featured Asian artists and content (including your hotam magazine). [3]3 (c. 1993 - ). Dossier 410 - Tam, Ho.

When I first got to know about your work, it was because I had seen you tabling 88Books and XXXzines at the NYABF but inside of PS1. After that year, you shifted to table in the zine tent outside and we would often table across or near each other in the (mostly) queer section.[4]4 (). To "table" is to perform the work of sitting at one’s designated area, usually a table, during the fair. . Can you talk a bit about what your experience of this has been, being both inside and outside?

HT I don’t really see any difference or distinctions between the two ‘worlds.’ It was mostly an economic decision for me. I was representing other artists when I was making 88Books and XXXzines then and my concerns were to show the best side of the artists and to help them to gain greater exposure.[5]5 (c. 1993 - ). Dossier 410 - Tam, Ho. Now that I have started to make my own books, I see the book fair more as an opportunity for experimentation and to try new ideas. The zine tent seems a more raw and personal space with good company of artists and publishers like you and me.

JL Can you tell me a bit about the book fairs you’ve participated in? What are some aspects that draw you to participate in so many of them?

HT They are all different. Some are very grassroots and down to earth and some are on the higher end, like only accepting prestigious press and a handful of selected indie publisher. The Artist Publisher Fair in London is one of the more memorable because it is only for people like us, artists who publish. So naturally it represents the kind of work that I am drawn to. But it is a one-day only event, in addition to the travel distance, so I have only attended once.

Books can travel easily. I seldom go away and art book fairs seem a great excuse to combine work and leisure, except I have to sit at the table a few days in a row.

JL The cost of travel, accommodation and tabling fee has really dictated where we have participated, so, as a result, Eloisa (Aquino, B&D Press) and I have tended to table at fairs that are in Montreal or in the cities where our families live (Toronto and Sao Paulo).[6]6 (c. 2009 -). Dossier 410 - Lin, Jenny. I especially appreciate the grassroots, community-based aspects of zine fairs, particularly queer zine fairs. I think the accessible format of a zine encourages more people to make their own and that zines build community as people include their own experiences and perspectives in their work. There are more marginalized voices that are represented through people’s zines at queer zine fairs, which matters a lot.

What are some of the contradictions or flaws you see in art book fairs?

HT I don’t really look at the fair from the curators’ or organizers’ viewpoint so I can’t really think of anything critical. It is nice that each fair seems to have its own characteristics and touches so they are all unique. Of course, the best ones are the ones with just the right amount of artists and publishers and a lot of audience. It is not good when there are more people tabling than people who visit.

JL I’m finding that people increasingly buy clothing or pins and buttons more than books and zines. I think art book fairs should certainly include these other types of artist multiples besides books but I do find it a bit frustrating when some visitors beeline to the t-shirts and ignore (my) books!

I find it extremely satisfying when tabling at a fair becomes a conceptual project in itself that critiques and comments on the characteristics of a book fair, like with Micah Lexier’s project during this June’s Toronto Art Book Fair 3, in which he invited visitors to collaborate on a small artwork with him for $5, asking them to co-sign a contract, pick a place on a sheet of paper where he would punch a hole, and then document the collaborator holding the finished work.[7]7 (c. 2007 -). Dossier 410 - Lexier, Micah. It was a short transaction emphasizing direct contact with the public (who is also a participant / collaborator), that highlights the spirit of artist multiples – affordability and accessibility, the idea that anyone can make art and anyone should be able to own it.

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