Astrid Vorstermans has worked with books her whole life. “I started really early, in a holiday job as a teenager, and from then ‘til the end of my twenties I worked in bookshops”, she tells It’s Nice That. From there, Astrid studied art history and worked with a variety of Dutch publishers, before she left to go freelance, driven by a want to engage people more in thinking about art: “What I was missing was reflection on art, especially in the Netherlands. Now it’s getting better, but at the time, when I went to Paris or London, there was a completely different climate, when it came to thinking about art”.
Soon after, she was approached by two artists who were making a book: “they wanted me to publish it, but I said, ‘I’m not a publisher anymore, I can’t do that’, and to be honest, they lured me into it, I knew them well, I knew the work, I thought, ‘Why not?’” From there, Astrid founded Valiz, a publisher focused on contemporary art, theory, critique, design and urban affairs. “I felt that there was a need for other ways of looking at art, thinking and reflecting on art, in a really international way.”
The first series, known initially as Antennae and now as Antennae-Arts in Society, started in a similar way to the publishers itself, with the intention of engaging with art theory and politics, with a different energy. Designed by Metahaven, the Antennae series “maps the interactions between changes in society and cultural practices”: “It looks upon the arts as ‘antennae’, feelers for the cultural interpretation and articulation of topical, political, economic, social, technological or environmental issues”. The first books in the series looked at photography and place, global art and memory, and the fall of the studio; all led by the thinking that Astrid “wasn’t publishing books only because I liked that type of art, but because of its link to society”.
Metahaven’s design approach combines visual clarity with thematic ambiguity: “We weren’t thinking of antennae in terms of insects, but as technological feelers. A universe that contains patterns representing this world in flux.” The collaboration came about through Astrid sharing a studio with Vinca Kruk and Daniel van der Velden, “I thought they’d be a great match – I had huge respect for them, their design work and thinking around what design might mean in relation to political culture – and it was also very practical”. Similarly, the development of the series has depended on social networks, between editors, writers and institutions; a collaborative practice that relies on community and generosity of spirit. “It’s a community that feeds itself” says Astrid, “it’s very outward looking, and as a true network, it’s easy to grow and combine”.
Alongside Antennae, Valiz publishes vis-à-vis, a series of books that are “less political, but they go against the conventions of the system – the discipline of art history, the rules of design, of themes”; and Making it Public, which is about the public domain, “not just a public square, but also asking questions about our intellectual public domain”. “You need all these layers to have context”, says Astrid. “As a publisher, it’s about making books, but it’s also not about making books!” Astrid says. “It’s about having certain content that you want to bring to a certain audience. It can be a book, an e-book, a programme; we make books, we’re trained in that, but it’s not about the physical book, it’s about what it’s about and how we can bring it into the world”. For Astrid, success doesn’t necessarily mean selling books, but contributing to something larger: “I want our books to influence the way people think, or shift things in a small way… it’s a huge ambition, but real change starts from small moments”.
About the Author
Billie studied illustration at Camberwell College of Art before completing an MA in Visual Communication at the Royal College of Art. She joined It’s Nice That as a Freelance Editorial Assistant back in January 2015 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis.