Last weekend, various locations across Manchester played host to some of the most exciting minds in independent and artist publishing.
At Chetham’s Library – the oldest public library in Britain, dating back to 1653 – Strange Perfume was invited by Book Works, to host a queer culture book fair as part of the programme of events surrounding the launch of Drawing in Drag by Marie Duval; at Sachas Hotel – a wildly postmodern, marble-clad, chandelier dangling hotel, which looks like it “dates all the way back to 1972” – Over Here Zine Fest showcased the work of Black, Asian, BAME and POC zine makers, artists, activists and writers; and at the Whitworth Art Gallery – built in a Jacobean style – Bound Art Book Fair presented artists publishing from the UK and Europe, alongside new commissions and an extensive public programme.
There was an exciting, open, productive energy to all three fairs; packed with experimental approaches, compelling work and engaging conversation. The collective atmosphere was in total contrast with a lot of recent London book fairs, which seem dull and tired in comparison to the hum of activity in Manchester. Part of what defined the strength of each fair was the commitment to real engagement with the public; whether that’s through free access, or workshops and talks programmes held at each event. At Strange Perfume, there were studies and workshops on lesbian semiotics and queer zines; Over Here Zine Fest had a series of workshops, with events either open to anyone or specifically for people who identify as Black, Asian, BAME or POC; and at Bound, the programme focused on practices happening outside of standard networks of publishing. These included a tie-dye workshop with Keep it Complex; a conversation between Season zine editor Felicia Pennant and Belinda Scarlett, collections officer at the National Football Museum; a talk on the zine culture of the north-west of England in the 1980s and 90s; OOMK on publishing ecosystems; a presentation of On our Backs, a radical sex-positive magazine for “the adventurous lesbian”, and an artist talk with Jamie Hawkesworth.
Bound Art Book Fair also presented a new commission by artist Aaron Guy, Stand by your Banner, developed in collaboration with the Working Class Movement Library. An installation and performance work – with an archive film, Despite the Sun, by Mark Saunders – responding to the archive, and speaking to state-sponsored violence, class struggle and the drum as a key motif and symbol. The work was presented on a path of connected scaffolding, taking the form of a sort-of giant, loose leaf book, completed by a close-of-fair performance, where with drum accompaniment, Aaron painted a white flag with “We Don’t Negotiate”.
The commission was representative of the expanded approach to publishing at Bound; with the form, context, structure, production values and methodology being challenged. There were books with soundtracks; zines produced one-page-per-day during a trip across America; publications as scarves, T-Shirts or pants; loose-leaf performative pamphlets; visual essays and text as image; AR experiences and archival editions; alongside zines, artist’s books, anthologies and journals.
The organisers of Bound Art Book Fair also commissioned an expression of artist Connie Butler’s Nomadic Reading Room project, which the artist describes in an introductory text as: “[a project] developed to overcome difficulties in accessing spaces that would allow me physical space to develop and show my work”. Connie would show her work in disused or marginal locations, and the project quickly gathered pace, with her going on to work with libraries, collections and archives including the Arnolfini Artist Book Collection and Kew Gardens. The publication, A Nomadic Reading Room of One’s Own, is a collection of texts intended to: “pay homage to artists and writers that are adept at creating room within their writing; issuing an invitation to claim the space of the book”. Bound, Over Here, and Strange Perfume were doing exactly that; creating room, both literally and figuratively, and inviting people, both participants and audience, to claim the space and potentials of the book.
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