China’s biggest city, Shanghai, located on the country’s central coast and most well known for its global buzz in the finance world, is now also tackling the wonderful world of independent publishing through the Shanghai Art Book Fair.
Founded in 2018, the festival took place this weekend gone on the 17 – 19 May. Featuring 190 different art publishers, bookshops, zinesters, artists and graphic designers worldwide, the spectacular roster of speakers and exhibitors saw many It’s Nice That favourites take centre-stage.
Attracting an impressive 8,000 visitors last year, this year’s numbers expected to topple a staggering 11,000 visitors across the weekend. Exchanging a rich bank of international knowledge across the variety of workshops, talks exhibitions and installations, the event (organised by Bananafish Books and Jiazazhi Press and Library) brings Shanghai’s thriving scene to the forefront of arts conversations.
“The slogan for the book fair is Unfold as in the unfolding of a book and the unfolding of a new stage for young creatives in China," Wei Guan, art director of the Shanghai Art Book Fair tells It’s Nice That. He adds, “as a young fair, we still have a lot to learn,” but the acclaimed line up of speakers and exhibitors seems otherwise as the likes of XXL Studio, Design 360 Magazine, Bienvenue Studios, edition.nord, Little Mountain Press, Misaki Kawai, Nieves, Spector Books and many many more exhibited throughout the weekend.
“The fair is a powerful place to show the alternative beauty of publications, print, posters and zines,” continues Wei. Along with Beijing, the city sees increasing amounts of creative graduates settling in Shanghai after studying abroad and festivals like the Shanghai Art Book Fair hope to facilitate more opportunities and generate open discussions around the hub of activity flourishing in the city.
With a bold visual identity designed by the Beijing-based studio A Black Cover Design, the festival additionally hosted a myriad of talks from some familiar names. For instance, all the way from Seoul, Hezin O, graphic designer and head of OYE studio since 2014, discussed her research methods and the interest of form throughout her work.
One of our grads from 2018 Can Yang also presented a talk. Currently freelancing in Shenzhen, Can shared her thinking process around brutalist designs and how she is inspired by commercial Chinese niches which go onto inform her haphazardly raw digital style. In her talk at the festival, she questions “How can designers decompose the ‘flatness’ of 2D elements, breaking the rigidity of the grid system to recreate space?”
While this year’s programme beholds enough information to fill several volumes of books, unfortunately we can’t even begin to skim the surface of the content explored during last weekend’s packed activities. To give you a flavour of some of the other talks however, Stairs Press investigated the traditions of contemporary photography, ori.studio presented the first issue of c-SITE; centred around “the abstract implications of the concept of the ‘new’”, and the Taipei-based illustrator Hori b.Goode introduced her new works including a series of self-published pocket books.
On the subject of the book design in Shanghai, Wei goes on to say: “The art of book design is still underestimated here. We hope the Shanghai Art Book Fair can be encouraging and inspirational to the traditional publishing industry. We try to champion the sense of beauty and the sensitivity within book design.” The more Wei and his team showcase an array of versatile international publications, the more multifaceted the design in the industry can become.
While “censorship from the government is always there”, Wei explains, “the bigger the fair gets, the longer the process of organising the festival takes as there is more dealing with the governmental departments.” If you are a small publisher however, producing small editions of 50 or 100 zines per se, then luckily there is no hostility against you (as long as the subject is not related to anything too political). But as for the expanding team behind the Shanghai Art Book Festival, the preparation and planning will be sure to increase as the fair continues to grow, presenting the city of Shanghai with some of the best names in the industry.
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.