The Opening — The Vancouver Art/Book Fair



THE OPENING is all about delving into the fascinating, quirky and wonderful visual arts in Vancouver. Each week we’ll feature an artist, cover an exhibition, discuss a lecture and everything else in-between to delve deep into who and what makes art happen!

Whoever said that print is dead surely wasn’t looking in the right places. Today marks the first day of our city’s second annual Art/Book Fair, a sprawling and lively occasion that celebrates independent publishing in all its strangeness, subversion, and beauty. Besides the booths, where you can load up on all sorts of artist-made ephemera, the fair hosts a number of related events from readings about children who begin unrequited love affairs with sculptures to “Google Trips” that take participants on zoom-in, zoom-out adventures through unusual virtual landscapes.

Vancouver Art/Book Fair director Tracy Stefanucci was kind enough to speak with me about her “accidental” interest in artist publishing, her role in founding Canada’s first Art/Book fair, and where she sees print culture going in the future. Though she insists that she doesn’t play favourites, she does make some killer recommendations.


Vancouver Art/Book Fair. Photo: Project Space.
Vancouver Art/Book Fair. Photo: Project Space.


VIA: You played an integral role in founding the VA/BF, and are linked to other amazing independent publishing organizations such as Project Space and Canzine. Can you tell me more about your interest in independent publishing and the book as an art form?


Tracy Stefanucci: I arrived at artist publishing accidentally. I did my undergrad in creative writing at UBC, during which time I co-founded OCW Magazine, an art and literary magazine that came with a CD compilation of local music. By 2008, I was working with a new partner on the magazine, Jaz Halloran, who brought his visual artist/graphic designer sensibilities to the project. At first, we tried making it more like a typical magazine (trying to make it closer to what might get funded by Canada Council), but that felt like dressing it in someone else’s clothes. Later, as our interest in exploring form deepened, the less OCW resembled a “magazine” at all. Looking around the landscape of cultural and literary publishers that had been our community, our magazine didn’t fit in and didn’t make sense. People weren’t really getting it, though we were happier with it than we had ever been.  It was at that point that I encountered artist publishing and had an “aha” moment. What we were producing was an artists’ magazine: a publication that explored the magazine—more simply, serial publication—as an artistic medium.

VIA: What are you most excited about at this year’s VA/BF?


TS: It’s hard to isolate any one thing. Really, we’ve expanded pretty quickly and ambitiously decided to launch a book on the Friday night (Hammock Thoughts: with love from the Hammock Residency, 2006-2013) and a magazine on the Saturday (OCW #21: Feminisms, at Amber Dawn’s performance in Room 403 at 4pm on Saturday), so in general just seeing it all unfold and getting to hold two new publications in hand will be a great feeling. I am also excited to connect with all of the exhibiting and presenting publishers, particularly those that came from out of town who I haven’t met yet!

VIA: Have there been any exceptional challenges that you’ve had to surmount this year?


TS: Knock on wood … but from the point when I founded the fair until now, things have gone unnervingly smoothly. In response to this, a small part of me worries: “Okay, what’s about to go wrong?” But then another part of me—the part I think is right—believes, instead, that this is just the right time and place to do this and so it is showing in the results of our hard work.


Don’t get me wrong though—an almost insurmountable amount of effort goes into VA/BF and is done by a relatively small team of volunteers. I was actually just thinking tonight … If you imagine all the people busying themselves with things to do with VA/BF: hosts of Artists’ Books Weekend events, exhibitors preparing for their tables and possible projects to be released at VA/BF, presenters getting ready, Brick Press printing our programs, the Vancouver Art Gallery Library preparing for their book sale at VA/BF, etc. etc. When I really zoom out, there are so many people expending energy right now on this project! It is a very humbling and exciting thought.


VIA: Who are your favourite independent publishers in the city right now?


TS: I don’t really have favourites, but I am inspired by Brick Press’ DIY attitude, using salvaged print equipment to do the whole production process themselves. I also admire the energy Star Gods Press puts into their work. Patrick Cruz makes some of my favourite zines (last year at VA/BF he “read” one of his image-only zines in the form of what I believe was an improvised rap). Many fantastic publications are also coming out of the ARC community and ECU Press.


In general, I really admire the variety, amount and vitality of independent publishing that can be found in our city—if you know where to look.


VIA: Part of the allure of independent publishing is its intrinsic link to alternate histories and subversion. Are these themes resonant for you personally? Can you speak of experiences you’ve had working with artists who are drawn to these streams within the medium?


TS: Yes, this definitely resonates with me. I think most independent publishing projects—OCW Magazine included—are borne out of a feeling that your community is not being seen or heard. Publishing creates a voice and platform for a community to manifest and become visible. Even in AA Bronson’s talk about the history of Printed Matter he describes how FILE Megazine was born out of a similar sentiment. Our VA/BF Library (in Room 302) explores the idea of generating alternate histories, as does the Libraries installation (in Room 301), curated by Heidi Nagtegaal of the Hammock Residency, which “investigates the limits of written archives of the past: Who decides what gets written and what gets kept? How can we explore the limitations of the written word and pass through them?”


VIA: Tell me more about the curatorial process behind VA/BF—how did you connect with such a diverse array of artists and publishers?


TS: As I have also been operating Project Space (which until October 31 includes a brick-and-mortar storefront that sells artist books and hosts exhibitions exploring ideas around publication), keeping an eye on what’s happening in artist publishing via the internet has been a regular practice. I make note of things that resonate with me or that I see as relevant to VA/BF or Vancouver’s practitioners and community, and then we approach them about 12-15 months in advance to see if they would like to present at the fair. We also went to the LA Art Book Fair in January, which helped us to meet more publishers face to face, which always helps.


The curatorial process has been relatively informal so far, but my focus, as you’ve mentioned, has more been on ensuring that there is diversity—both in terms of content and representation—and that the programs address whatever it is that publishers are concerned with, right now. I am more interested in selecting the presenters and then seeing what it is they want to share or feel needs to be discussed, than to prescribe my own ideas (though I do sometimes make suggestions or work with them on developing their concept).

VIA: Where do you see the future of publication going?


TS: I won’t make a prediction, but I will say that different types of content and styles of engagement are suited to different methods of delivery—whether that be a print publication, a digital edition, a website, a performance, etc. This will inform what happens in the realm of publishing. I believe print publishing (what is often thought of as “publication”) is just one channel for delivering content, and am interested in how publication can be more than just a vehicle for information (as in artist publishing, where the form is often part of the content). I also support an expanded definition of “publication,” as has been described and modelled really well by Publication Studio, which defines publication as “the creation of a public” through such things as publishing, gatherings in physical space, the circulation of texts, a digital commons, etc.



The Vancouver Art/Book Fair runs today until 5pm, and tomorrow from 12 — 5. View the complete schedule.
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