Union Editions collates sex worker cards from the early 90s
“It was important to show the design for what it is: taunting and sophisticated in its mix of humour and marketing,” says Union Editions publisher Giandomenico Carpentieri.
- Yaya Azariah Clarke
- 10 July 2023
In this day and age, the great appeal of archival material is in its ability to draw specific pieces of history outside of the mainstream. And for some of us, there is another level of appeal: the window it provides into the methods of those who bring the material into our view. That’s what drew us to the work of Rome-based Union Editions publisher Giandomenico Carpentieri, with its latest book Tart Cards – a printed edition of Francesca Bianchi’s collection of sex workers’ cards she found in London between 1990 and 1991.
“Francesca exhibited the cards in Pescheria, Rome at the Halo Fest last April,” Giandomenico tells us. “Seeing them all on the walls was so amazing – I immediately thought of a book,” he adds. The cards are particularly striking for their simultaneous on-the-nose and poetic text – ‘got a kink, i’m your link’ – as well as the photography and graphics. They come across as “direct and strong”, and leave you wondering about everything from the printers to the telephone boxes around the city that Francesca found them in.
For Giandomenico, the book’s black and white display is fundamental, as is the near absence of design. “We want people to appreciate the text, typography and composition of the cards. It was important to avoid the souvenir effect,” he tells us. What comes to the forefront is the range of styles in advertising and the way the women are leaders of their experiences – there is everything from collaborative design using prints of domination imagery to quick scribblings from the workers with a number and the promise of a good time. Union Editions also decided against providing additional context, evoking a certain timelessness and allowing the 90’s design and provocative nature of the cards to lay bare. “They offered services to satisfy basic needs,” Giandomenico tells us. “It was important to show the design for what it is: taunting and sophisticated in its mix of humour and marketing,” he adds.
Much of the books that Union Editions produces are based on collections, spanning years, taking time, care and perseverance. “A lot of it is owed to the authors,” he tells us. “I’m glad that Francesca collected the cards all those years ago, our job was to make them distributable and give them their deserved value.” Throughout the collection, every card has a unique character, narrative and objective. “They’re full of imagination and fantasy, and they tap into those sensations within the viewer,” Giandomenico says. “I like to think of the telephone booth as its original exhibition space.”
At its core, Tart Cards brings the taboo to the table – your coffee table – dawning Francesca’s collection internationally. It presents to us the old way of promoting something as old as time, with no censorship or tampering from the publisher. And with several projects on the horizon, including a book about the rave scene in Italy, Union Editions show us that presenting the archive in its rawest possible form can do great justice to the material, and its history.
GalleryUnion Editions: Tart Cards, London 1990–1991, Collected by Francesca Bianchi (Copyright © Francesca Bianchi, 2023)
Union Editions: Tart Cards, London 1990–1991, Collected by Francesca Bianchi (Copyright © Francesca Bianchi, 2023)
About the Author
Yaya (they/them) is an editorial assistant at It's Nice That, with a particular interest in Black visual culture. They have previously written for publications such as WePresent, and worked as researcher and facilitator for Barbican and Dulwich Picture Gallery.