A comic book called "Twenty Six Days" explains with black-and-white graphics and cartoon lettering why you didn't get a call on your birthday. A hardcover book on monochrome painter Robert Ryman lavishly reproduces his work in a scholarly monograph. "Dead Planet Cookbook," a paperback book of traditional Indian dishes, advocates South Asian culture alongside a climate-aware cooking project.
As print publications have become scarcer, motivated local writers and small independent presses have been seeking more direct means to bring their work to the public. An annual Richmond Zine Fest began here in 2007. After two successful art fairs, the folks behind Current have their sights on a related genre with a fancier name: book art.
This Saturday, March 31, prefaced by a panel talk on Friday night, Current Books will take over Studio Two Three's new event space in Scott's Addition to hold a one-day fair with artists, publishers and historians from Virginia, Maryland, Washington and North Carolina who make artist books, photo books, zines, and art-history books.
"The space [at Studio Two Three] is very new and it's really an exciting asset for the art community here, that they have this flexible event space," says Current's director, Sarah Irvin. "They also have so many workshops that revolve around bookmaking. … People will be able to see their live demos [and] their letterpress."
Why a book art fair? According to Irvin, it's an educational opportunity to expose people to the already established community of Richmond book art-makers and small presses such as Zatara Press or AdHouse books. Other cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, have book art fairs, and Irvin maintains there is a national collector base and precedent. She says she received many inquiries regarding space for publications when putting together an art fair in October.
Book art is a fluid way of describing multidimensional practices that fall in and out of several print and digital categories. A member of Current's host committee, Yuki Hibben, who is assistant head and curator of books and art for Virginia Commonwealth University's Cabell Library's special collections and archives, notes that book art and artists' books, often interchangeable terms, are a genre within contemporary art that developed in the 20th century.
Photo books are a broader category that can come in many forms including standard codices, artists' books and zinelike publications. Zines are "independently published by individuals or small groups [that] are circulated outside of the commercial book and magazine industry," she says. "They are rooted in counterculture, niche, and activist communities."
An assistant professor at George Mason University, Christopher Kardambikis, will record interviews during the fair for his podcast, Paper Cuts, which focuses on people in the zine and self-publishing community. He describes zines more as a search: "If you don't see yourself and your interest[s] reflected back to you in mainstream media," he says, "a zine is a way to publish your own content and put it out into a community." Also, LookSee, a local podcast with Paige Goodpasture, will be recording before a live audience.
There is a community and do-it-yourself ethos fueling participating artists who self-publish. Platforms such as Richmond-based GenderFail, a project run by Brett Suemnicht that focuses on the perspectives of gay and trans people, recently had a solo exhibition at Sediment Gallery. And Baltimore-based Pellinore Press, which produces woodcut and letterpress books by artists Ursula West Minervini and Jonathon Poliszuk, both began as a desire to self-publish to bring work to the public on their own terms.
Like her previous art fair, Irvin intends for sale items to have lower prices to attract a younger patrons. But this time, it will be much lower. Literally, a few bucks will buy an original piece of book art: the Visual Arts Center of Richmond is displaying its Art-o-Mat with match-box-sized pieces of art made by 22 artists that can be purchased for $5. Irvin explains that most works, however, will be priced between $50-$100, with a few more expensive items.
Also Studio Two Three will offer to the public what Executive Director Ashley Hawkins calls "current books art week," with workshops during the week prior to the event and three-hour workshops, including Analog Zine and Alternative Book Structures, during the fair. Hawkins notes that several hundred people participated in workshops during Current's fall art fair. A food truck, cash bar, mimosas and Blanchard's coffee will also be on-site and visitors are invited to participate in podcast recordings.
And the third art fair in October? Irvin is brief: No announcements for the fall. S
Current Books is held Friday, March 30, from 7 to 9 p.m. and Saturday, March 31, starting at 11 a.m. at Studio Two Three at 1400 Mactavish Ave. An afterparty takes place on Saturday from 8 to 10 p.m. Free. For details visit currentrichmond.com.