It can be hard to have meaningful conversations at art book fairs, where people are trying to buy and sell printed matter while making connections in the process. Now a new initiative aims to get vendors, creators, and consumers of art books talking to each other—without pretense or distraction.
Artist Publisher, a new online forum launched by the Chicago-based printing collective Temporary Services, aims to encourage online discussion of art books and to democratize knowledge of a precarious industry. In different threads, users can chat about such insider subjects as storage and what kinds of printers to use, as well as post book reviews and titles for trade. An in-progress list also attempts to track and chronologically organize every art book fair and zine fest—with more than 40 logged for 2019 so far.
“We see our peers over and over again [at fairs], but we have short conversations,” said Marc Fischer, who runs Temporary Services with Brett Bloom. “We wanted to create something that creates an intimate sense of community and amplifies book creators.”
The pair created Artist Publisher in December to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Temporary Services, which since its founding in 1998 has put out 118 books ranging from artist interviews to pamphlets on publishing. Another dozen titles have been released through their imprint Half Letter Press.
As artists in the Midwest, Fischer and Bloom hope the forum will be helpful to users in places where book events don’t rate the kind of attention enjoyed by Printed Matter’s New York and LA Art Book Fairs. “Somebody listed a small publisher festival and indie media center in Urbana, Illinois,” Fischer said. “It’s nice to know that things are being organized with a small audience but have vitality.”
Diana Chu, a zine-maker and illustrator in Milwaukee, believes that the forum could also be a help to artists who publish in their spare time. “Promotion of our work can be more candid. Distribution can be farther-reaching,” said Chu, who represented Kadak, an art collective of South Asian women, at last year’s Chicago Art Book Fair. “How would other makers know of happenings in their neighborhood, contextually speaking, if they believe the only hotbeds of action are in L.A. or New York?”
A storehouse for industry resources, she said, “could change the landscape entirely. The platform could reveal and map evolving interests that include all types of people who are entering the scene, DIY veterans, or the zine-curious. It would be the pulse of a community that values self-expression sans critics or intermediary editors.”
Artist Publisher was set up to be independent and decentralized. The platform is deliberately old-school—it was built using phpBB, an open-source forum package that makes for a simple interface evocative of old discussion boards. “We were frustrated with social media and all its abuses—the ways in which we’re farmed for our data and social connections,” Fischer said. “On Facebook, information is hard to search and gets absorbed into a giant beast. It doesn’t present things in a straightforward, useful, community-centered way.”
Artist Publisher is also an attempt to push against the art world’s persistent focus on superstars represented by mega-galleries. David Zwirner, Hauser & Wirth, and 303 Gallery have all launched successful publishing imprints, but indie presses are flourishing too. Fischer said he’s seeing many fresh graduates starting their own imprints.
“We’re in this great moment where there’s general fatigue with the digital experience and a resurgent interest in books,” Fischer said. “I hope this forum will be a resource for younger folks to air their trepidations and share their successes.”