In early 2015 a post in e-flux conversations asked ‘why has there been such a boom in art book fairs?’[i], a timely thread given the proliferation of art and DIY book fairs in the preceding half-decade. It focused mainly on hugely popular fairs situated in global megacities such as Offprint in Paris, The Whitechapel’s London Art Book Fair, and Printed Matter’s New York and LA Art Book Fairs, which at the time were enjoying a major upswing in their already-significant popularity. The widespread interest in publishing as artistic practice remains strong three years later, signified by the many independently organised fairs of various sizes and themes flourishing globally.
The weekend of 28 – 29 January 2018 saw the second annual zine fair at Ground, an artist-led organisation situated on Hull’s Beverley Road. The co-operatively managed building consists of members’ studios as well as a public exhibition space, in which a handful of exhibiting publishers from Leeds, London, Rotterdam and the local area were housed for the weekend’s fair.
Major art book fairs exist primarily to address one fundamental concern: the major challenge of meaningful distribution facing small and often under-resourced makers. Alongside networking with one another, fairs grant publishers access to huge new audiences and geographies. Publishers often pay dearly for this, with tables costing anywhere between a hundred and thousands of pounds, depending on the fair (and therefore expected footfall), and in many ways major fairs have developed similarly networked patterns of structural norms to the gallery and museum complexes they originally sought to help artists circumnavigate.
In a small, regional city like Hull those audiences are not pre-established, fairs are self-organised (with tables costing more in the region of a fiver) and these questions become more open-ended: what does distribution mean outside of major global cities, and what pushes people to make and distribute zines in cities without pre-established audiences for art publishing?
The emphasis for exhibitors at Ground’s fair was rather less on an engagement publishing as artistic practice, and more on DIY culture, publications as a vehicle for illustrative works and the distribution of information. Of note was Balcombe: An Action-Camp Diary: a chipper, brightly-coloured anti-fracking comic printed and distributed by Footprint Workers Co-op, Leeds. I was also pleased to pick up a neat, anonymous repro of Out of the Woods’ Disaster Communism – appropriate for a sinking city.[ii]
Ground’s co-operative model of operation reflects some of the now well-established sensibilities around artists’ publishing: self-made platforms for makers uninterested in gaining conventional access to audiences through art-institutional networks. The fair was punctuated by a demonstration against homelessness in the city on the Saturday, which several of those present at the fair chose to briefly break away and join. Ground are very clear that their space is courtesy of the charity Hull Independent Housing Aid Centre, and though without a formal ‘outreach’ programme they remain embedded in many layers of the local community.
Whilst nominal demographic gains have been made in museum and gallery audiences over the last few decades, circulatory works and modes of distributing art outside the gallery space remain crucial for both artists and audiences to reach one another outside of ostensible geographic centres of culture and power. Both artists’ publishing and occupation of city-space remain reflections on ownership and access: to resources, audiences and institutionalised forms of power.
Ground Zine Fair 2, Ground, Hull, 28 January – 29 January 2018.
Jay Drinkall is a writer and editor based in the UK.
[i] “Why has there been such a boom in art book fairs?”, e-flux conversations [available at: https://conversations.e-flux.com/t/why-has-there-been-such-a-boom-in-art-book-fairs/948]
[ii] “Hull could be wiped off the map in 100 years if sea levels continue to rise at current rate, warns expert”, The Independent [available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/experts-fear-for-hulls-future-as-sea-levels-continue-to-rise-10285219.html]