The printed page is not dead. Sure, many of its mainstream forms need a lie-down, and probably should be thinking about taking early retirement, but as text and images are being increasingly viewed in the same way — pristinely flat with glassy surfaces and shrunk to fit the size of the smartphone — there is still healthy enthusiasm for analog handmade “zines,” artists’ monographs, catalog raisonne, photography and picture books.
In other words, publications that have their own character as objects seem to be more indulgent, visual and tactile pleasures than ever before.
The upcoming Tokyo Art Book Fair (TABF, Sept. 16-19) is a great event if you don’t know your leporello from your four-hole pouch binding, and want to find out more about the wildly different ways pages can be assembled. If you do know the difference between a book that opens like an accordion and one that is stitched together (a design that dates back to the 14th century), then the event is no doubt already on your list of things to do in September.
The annual fair has been going for several years, and is a firm favorite among art and design students, but it also generally attracts admirers of the quirky, ingenious, and lovingly crafted. Last year had an attendance of around 10,000 visitors, and there’s no reason to suppose 2016 will not see even more people enjoying an event that exemplifies what it means to be a cool kid in Tokyo.
This year a section will be devoted to books from Brazil, with the organizers of the Sao Paulo Plana art book fair, and 10 of country’s publishers in attendance. There will also be a Food Section where it will be possible to grab a drink or bite to eat, courtesy of catering companies, bars or restaurants that also publish or sell books. Various stages and processes of book production will be represented by ink, paper and printing companies, allowing visitors to observe and try out, among other things, lithography and letterpress printing — the now economically extinct use of moveable type that was once responsible for disseminating the ideas of the Renaissance.
As one of the biggest events of its kind in Asia, TABF covers a lot of bases. At the more luxurious end of things is the high quality photo-book. In the past 10 years these have become eagerly collected as artworks in themselves, with rare examples being resold at auction for many times their original price. One of the world’s foremost art-book publishers, Steidl, is launching a new book award at the 2016 TABF, which aims to be an annual event for photographers and book designers based in Japan. The shortlist, chosen from 680 mock-ups submitted earlier this year, will be displayed at the fair, with the winner being announced in November at the opening of a Steidl-organized exhibition of Robert Frank’s work at the University of the Arts, Tokyo.
Marshall McLuhan, the media studies guru who coined the phrase “the medium is the message,” described technology like TV as “hot,” because it engaged several senses at once and provided a wealth of different kinds of information. “Low definition” printed matter, such as comics were “cool,” and in his definition, required more work and involvement on the part of the user to extract value.
Writing in the 1960s and ’70s, before the internet, 4K video and virtual and augmented reality, McLuhan was prescient about the fact that quicker access to a greater quantity of information does not necessarily cultivate understanding. By this metric, the book fair will be “hot,” but once you get home and settle down with your new reads, you’ll be a lot cooler.
The Tokyo Art Book Fair takes place from Sept. 16 to Sept. 19 at the Kyoto University of Art and Design, Tohoku University of Art and Design Gaien Campus, 1-7-15 Kita-Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo. For more information, visit tokyoartbookfair.com.
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