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Q&A: Vancouver Art/Book Fair founder Tracy Stefanucci

VABFlogoNext week, art-book creators from across Canada (including this writer) and abroad will arrive in Vancouver for Artists Book Week and the third annual Vancouver Art/Book Fair (Oct. 3–5). Taking its inspiration from international events like Printed Matter’s NY Art Book Fair and the London Art Book Fair, VA/BF is the only one of its kind in Canada.

VA/BF is an initiative led by Project Space’s Tracy Stefanucci. In 2006, Stefanucci founded an art-and-literary quarterly called one cool word. By 2011, she and art director Jaz Halloran had opened an associated bookstore and art gallery, and in 2012, she brought these initiatives under the umbrella of Project Space.

Q&Q spoke to Stefanucci about the upcoming fair, a forthcoming co-publication with Talonbooks (Jordan Abel’s Un/inhabited), and the state of art book publishing today.

How has the fair evolved since its launch in 2012? It has steadily grown, which I take to be a signifier of the demand for and importance of the event. Each year we have been able to expand the square footage; the amount of hours we are open; the number of attendees, exhibitors, and sponsors; the amount of artist fees we are able to pay out; the number of people working on the event’s production, etc. Our programs have expanded to include Artists’ Books Week, and we have an increasing number of artist projects released or displayed at the event, some of which are commissioned for the fair.

What is Artists’ Books Week? ABW is a platform for artists, publishers, curators, artist-run centres, collectives, and institutions that work in the medium of publication to participate in VA/BF’s programs by hosting events across the city. It is an opportunity to raise the profile of the medium and the local practitioners who are active in it, and also to get people into the spaces where these activities thrive.

What kind of work does Project Space do throughout the year? Organizing the fair is a year-round project and anchors the activities of the organization. We also operate Project Space Press, which has been publishing one title a year on the occasion of VA/BF, and OCW Magazine, which we publish intermittently. As our organization’s capacity grows, we’d like to offer open studio hours with a reference library, workspace, and possibly some intimate programs.

Why did you want to include international exhibitors? We have a lot of publishers from abroad represented in our list of exhibitors and our programs. Visitors are pretty much guaranteed to see work they’ve never seen before and that may not be available elsewhere in the city or country.

Essentially the “second wave” of artist publishing (following the “first wave” in the 1960s, when publishing technologies became more accessible to the masses) has been the result of digital technological advances that support ease of production and distribution – namely, the internet has facilitated a global community and dialogue. It is very important that Canada has a voice in this conversation. We aim to facilitate discourse and community in Vancouver, but also across Canada and with colleagues abroad.

How does Vancouver (or Canada, in general) fare within the international art-book publishing scene? Vancouver and Canada have deep roots in the history of artist publishing (Fillip has a great podcast by AA Bronson that provides a glimpse of this). Canadian publishers like Art Metropole, Fillip, Or Gallery, Publication Studio Vancouver, and ECU Press are also known and respected at international art book fairs. The London Art Book Fair partnered with the Canada Council for the Arts this year to help bring a number of Canadian art book publishers to their event.

What kind of support is out there for creators of art-books? In terms of resources, Ooga Booga – which operates two amazing art bookshops in Los Angeles – runs Printer Resources for Independent Art Publishers and Swill Children from New York runs the website Paperweight, which has resources and articles. You can find places to sell your books at the Bookshop Index. In terms of funding, if you are a non-profit organization in the visual arts or a professional artist or curator you can apply for funding through the main visual arts streams, but it is competitive; publishing grants are generally out of the question as they are tailored to trade publishers.

What can you tell us about Un/InhabitedProject Space Press has co-published before, but this is our first book with a trade publisher (Talonbooks). Un/inhabited is by award-winning Nisga’a poet Jordan Abel, whose experimental practices blur the lines between text-based art and poetry.

To create the work he copied and pasted all 91 public domain Western novels available on Project Gutenberg into one document, which he subjected to search-term queries that pertain to the political and social aspects of land, territory, and ownership. The resulting book accumulates a representation of the public domain as a discoverable and inhabitable body of land.

It was important to us to situate Abel’s work in a visual-art context. We invited former Vancouver Art Gallery associate curator Kathleen Ritter to write a text about Abel’s piece – the first piece of scholarship on his work. We also invited Tania Willard, who co-curated the nationally touring Beat Nation: Art, Hip Hop and Aboriginal Culture with Ritter, to create the book’s cover artwork (in dialogue with Abel’s work) and collaborate on the design with our art director Jaz Halloran.

This interview has been edited and condensed.