Word is a Virus

Word is a Virus | Fan Letter: Printed Matter’s First Los Angeles Art Book Fair

Zine World at the LA Art Book Fair, held at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA. Photo courtesy Printed Matter, Inc.

Zine World at the Los Angeles Art Book Fair at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA. Courtesy Printed Matter, Inc.

The first ever Los Angeles Art Book Fair, presented by Printed Matter, Inc. at MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary space, from January 31 though February 3, was an unexpected raging success. “Completely overwhelming” was the most commonly heard descriptor when talking about the high-energy fair, which featured over 200 exhibitors from all over the world, showcasing a broad range of zines, artists’ books, journals, periodicals, catalogues, monographs and various other projects, exhibits and artifacts to an enthusiastic crowd that totaled over 15,000 by fair’s end.

It was amazing and heartening to me that a museum filled with publications could be the impetus, in this day of digital overload and rampant cultural illiteracy, to what felt like the hottest party of the year. The fair was consistently packed, with a lively and diverse crowd that included art connoisseurs, zine hounds of every stripe, and culture lovers in general. Even with the Geffen’s abundance of space, it was often difficult to maneuver, and at some of the more popular tables, I had to wait my turn before I could even see the offerings. Numerous celebrities—including James Franco, Diane Keaton, Bette Midler and Lena Dunham—were spotted in the crowds, happily shopping along with everyone else.

I could have easily camped out there all weekend, immersing myself not only in the endless collections of cool books, but also the many talks, panels, readings, screenings and performances; the tea/yoga/knitting/reading lounge hosted by Sundown Schoolhouse; and the live, interactive KCHUNG Radio broadcasts. As it was, my schedule only permitted me to attend the intensely social opening night and after-party (the latter of which was held at the new 356 Mission space, home to a suite of large paintings by Laura Owens as well as the just-opened Ooga Booga 2 bookstore), and the last few hours of the fair, which I spent diligently going through as many booths as I could. Like many people, I spent too much money, but I was blissfully happy with my findings.

Llano Del Rio's "Antagonist's Guide to the Assholes of Los Angeles," left, and Miniature Garden's "Exene"

(L) Llano Del Rio’s “An Antagonist’s Guide to the Assholes of Los Angeles.” (R) Miniature Garden’s “Exene”

Many periodical publishers rushed to put together new issues in time for the fair. Among these were Darin Klein and Friends’ Box of Books (discussed in my last column), and the new L.A. artist-run space Concord, which launched a beautiful large-format collection of writings with a print run of only 30 copies or so. Llano del Rio Collective, which has been creating alternative maps of L.A. for a few years now, came out with their most provocative issue to date, titled An Antagonist’s Guide to the Assholes of Los Angeles. Positioning itself as a sourcebook for artists and thinkers, each Llano del Rio guide sketches out a particular framework with which to consider the dynamics of this endlessly complex and layered city. Assholes features several intriguing essays centered on ideas of creative agitation, including a hilarious rant from Art21 contributor Lisa Anne Auerbach, along with a long list of annoying sites in the city (American Apparel, Boeing, Brentwood, Twin Towers Correctional Facility, UCLA, KB Homes, Bitch in the Hummer, etc.) sourced from friends and colleagues.

itch journal #15, designed by Tanya Rubbak

itch journal #15. Designed by Tanya Rubbak and Joanna Rosso.

The journal itch is one of the under-recognized treasures of the L.A. art publishing scene. Operated since 2006 by members of the city’s small progressive dance community, itch calls itself “an evolving art project qua artist forum cum journal/zine,” and it consistently puts out a high-quality collage of essays, poetry, meditations, stories, interviews and images, with each issue centered around a well-thought out theme. For their fifteenth issue, they employed the services of popular artist-designer Tanya Rubbak, working in collaboration with Joanna Rosso, to produce their most striking offering yet—a magazine that consists of a bundle of loose individual pamphlets and photographs, held together by a see-through plastic sleeve. With each piece having its own size and style, the collection functions like an unruly art object—individual pieces tumble out when handled, evoking the movements of dance and handily living up to the journal’s name.

Fair organizer AA Bronson, right, hangs out with the deejays of KCHUNG Radio

Fair organizer AA Bronson (far right) hangs out with the deejays of KCHUNG Radio. Courtesy KCHUNG Radio.

Most of my purchases in Zine World (the biggest and most popular section of the fair) came from local publishers, which makes sense given organizer AA Bronson’s observation that L.A. is the current “epicenter” of zine publishing. One of my favorite finds, however, came from a little organization of unknown provenance called Miniature Garden. From what I can tell, Miniature Garden puts out little limited edition books centered around discrete themes. The one I stumbled across that completely won my heart was titled Exene (by Casey Cook and Denise Schatz), and is basically a Valentine to the beloved singer/writer/artist. Each page bears an image that is evocative of her work, with some collaging images of the artist herself. In the center of the book, for the win, is a small dried rose.

Thanks to the lovely exhibitors at Torpedo Press, an art publishing house based in Oslo, I may be developing an obsession with Norwegian artists. When I found out where they were from, I asked the attendants if they knew Tori Wrånes, an outstanding artist whom I got to know during her stays in L.A. last year and the year before. They did of course, since the Norwegian art community is fairly small. We talked about how amazing Tori is, and they introduced me to several more native artists, whose books they carried. I walked away with some conceptual poetry by Karl Larsson, a compilation of the projects of internationally-known curator Geir Haraldseth, and a monograph by the artist Mai Hofstad Gunnes titled Baby Snakes Hatching. Ruins. Ruins.

Three zines by L.A.-based artist Esther Pearl Watson, left, along with Fluxus notes and a conceptual pulp romance novel from Sara Ranchouse Publishing

Three zines by L.A.-based artist Esther Pearl Watson (bottom left) along with historic Fluxus notes and a conceptual pulp romance novel from Sara Ranchouse Publishing (right and top).

My wallet was finally done in by the hopelessly charming Sara Ranchouse Publishing enterprise. Although I tried to resist its draw, editor and author Sally Alatalo was relentless in conveying the excellence of her various projects. I could not pass up a book that reproduces the 1982 Fluxus conference notes, photos and ephemera of Simon Anderson, the first scholar to do his Ph.D. dissertation on the movement. Nor could I not buy Unforeseen Alliances, part of the Sara Ranchouse Romance series, which makes new and fantastic conceptual literary works out of the raw material of actual romance novels. And if I’d had an extra $50 lying around, I also would have picked up Alison Knowles’ Plah Plah Pli Plah, a stunning volume incorporating handmade paper with bits of garden vegetables woven into it.

Pastor Kate Durbin and Guru Rugu perform Turbani Rugduke Guru Urchch. Photo: Sarah Williams.

Pastor Kate Durbin and Guru Rugu perform “Turbani Rugduke Guru Urchch.” Photo: Sarah Williams.

With such a wide range of publications to look at, I had no time for any of the special events. Luckily some of the best ones are archived. The KCHUNG Radio broadcasts, including an interview with AA Bronson, can be accessed here, while a religious service conducted by Signify Sanctify Believe (whose Library of Sacred Technologies I wrote about here two months ago) can be viewed in full here.