I wanted to take some time and write a more thorough piece on my thoughts on the Codex Symposium and Bookfair. Here is the first part:

As stated in earlier posts, my overall impression of the experience was very, very positive. It was, of course, not perfect—but still very good. Most importantly, I had fun and I met other people in the field. A table at the Codex is expensive, and I did not even come close to making my money back. Part of that is because I was selling cheaper work, another part may be because the collectors looking to buy more expensive work did not circulate to every table, or maybe because my work, not necessarily looking expensive/traditional/super-fine-press-book-ish at first glance, simply did not interest them. Also, there’s that whole economy thing. Making my money back would have been nice, but, again, that’s not the most important thing.

I enjoyed the symposium lectures as a whole. There were two kinds of lectures: longer lectures on various bookish topics, and shorter lectures called “artist presentations” where individual artists spoke in depth about individual projects. Appropriately, coincidentally, this year’s speakers for the artists’ presentations were on the younger side and doing conceptually sophisticated work. These included Tate Shaw of Preacher’s Biscuit Books/Visual Studies Workshop, Emily McVarish, Clemens-Tobias Lange of Ctl-Presse, and Karen Bleitz of Arc Editions. All of these were thoughtful, engaging presentations of strong, interesting work.

The longer lectures were a bit more hit and miss. The first, by Lawrence Weschler, could have been really good but missed the mark. It was about the difference between reading from a book and reading from a screen, between books and the Internet. That old thing again. An important subject, but a few years too late for that audience. Weschler is obviously a very smart, funny, engaging man. But he did not know his audience—or maybe he did. His talk posited the traditional dichotomy between books and the Net (like books are linear, unified, the Net is non-linear, fragmentary) and perhaps part of the audience felt comfortable with that old routine. But I think many of us were aware that that dichotomy doesn’t hold, that such a separation doesn’t get us anywhere. It considers both books and the web as ossified, determined structures (books particularly). Tate Shaw spoke right after Weschler, about his new book The Placeholders Vol. 3, and showed, not necessarily intentionally, where that traditional dichotomy begins to fall apart. Shaw’s book was built around a relatively simple premise and used notions of software as its organizing metaphors. It created a non-linear, fragmentary space within the linear structure of the book. It showed how both sides of the book/web dichotomy can be contained at once.

Antoine Coron’s lecture was on the publishing of artists’ books, actually mostly fine press books, in France. He started with some history and then detailed the work of a few contemporary artists/presses. Interesting, but not really written for a talk. It was too academic. I would have much rather read it.

Ron King of Circle Press gave a lecture detailing his long and productive career. It was very good. I would say “inspiring” if I believed in inspiration. King has been making books for a long time and his work is very influential. He has done many different kinds of work, and has never let the fear of trying new things stop get in his way. A good model for the rest of us in the field.


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