Books as a Medium: 2021 abC Art Book Fair re-connects communities

TEXT:Sue    DATE: 2021.7.20


Exhibition View of “2021 abC Art Book Fair in Beijing”

“Books today could still bear the ability to criticize and speculate about the ‘public field’; they can even break through circles and cocoons of information, and further establish a broad and common social imagination among strangers.”[1]

After experiencing the tension and restraint caused by the pandemic over the past year, the opening of the “2021 abC Art Book Fair in Beijing” at Today Art Museum was obviously lively and joyous. With the theme of “The Common Street”, the organizer hoped to describe and form  a unique and autonomous social field as “it does not only refer to the intersection of multiple meanings, but it also denotes the open collection of communities that can be formed in the process of dissemination and communication.”[2]

As the original vision of an art book fair was presented, it became a community that was connected and formed by various informal independent publishing organizations, artist studios or platforms, comic artists, and music labels, etc., and it was also an art event that could be promoted by independent art bookstores and artists. Diverse, independent, wild and humorous, can all become tags. From July 9 through to 11, “2021 abC Art Book Fair in Beijing” invited 139 publishing organizations, working groups and independent artists from more than 20 countries and regions in the world to share their thoughts and practices with “art books” as the medium. Although international exhibitors were unable to be present personally due to the influence of the pandemic, 41 publishers from New York, Berlin, Paris, Tokyo and other cities commissioned the organizer to display thousands of publications on art and culture at this book fair.

02“2021 abC 艺术书展·北京”主视觉海报.JPG

The Poster of “2021 abC Art Book Fair in Beijing”

Exhibition View of “2021 abC Art Book Fair in Beijing”

With a further integration of art book fairs and popular culture, the Sixth “abC Art Book Fair” ceased to be a niche art activity, but it has more diversified and integrated characteristics. While keeping the positioning of an art book fair, it contributed to the exchange and interaction of art communities as well as gradually absorbing the elements of popular culture. This means that in the book fair, visitors can browse and purchase ingenious independent publications, discuss thoughts with publishers, designers, and editors, and they can also experience many techniques such as printing, binding, comic books, hand-made books, etc.. There are even picture books, handcrafted design, cultural and creative peripherals specifically for children.

Exhibition View of “2021 abC Art Book Fair in Beijing”

I. Regarding “The Common Street” as the Preface to Get a Glimpse of the “Newsstand” of Independent Publications

Different from “curating” in the conventional sense, the themed exhibition unit of this year’s book fair was composed of rich and diversified art projects, art spaces, bookstores, avant-garde art platforms, and editorial offices of independent publishers. Founded in 2007, The Type (formerly known as Type is Beautiful) is an independent Chinese project focusing on typography, design and society. Through writing, publishing, podcasting, events and other activities, this brought about comprehensive results of practices and publications which have attracted attention; the Arrow Factory, which was closed for various reasons in 2019, also brought independent publications that they have insisted on promoting different forms of art exhibitions, collaborations and experiments; A4 Art Museum is a project platform dedicated to promoting international avant-garde art and it presented the publications of contemporary art exhibitions undertaken by them.

08“2021 abC 艺术书展·北京”展览现场.JPG

Exhibition View of “2021 abC Art Book Fair in Beijing”09 箭厂空间在2021 abC 艺术书展·北京”展览现场 02.JPG

Exhibition View of Arrow Factory at “2021 abC Art Book Fair in Beijing”10 A4美术馆在2021 abC 艺术书展·北京”展览现场.JPG

Exhibition View of A4 Art Museum at “2021 abC Art Book Fair in Beijing”

The “Newsstand” unit gathered ten independent publishers of magazines, including Stack Magazines which was launched in 2008 in London and it helps people discover the best independent publishing; Artforum which has consistently delivered informed and inspired criticism of the latest developments in contemporary art. There were also da大in print/rondade, which focuses on practice and research and publishes art books in Beijing and Tokyo, VOLUME PRESS, which operates in Shanghai and Singapore and it focuses on the production of independent magazines and art books, etc.. Although the number of publications that can be displayed was limited by the space constraints of the book fair venue, editors would like to take this book fair as an opportunity to communicate with readers. The “TOO RICH” nomadic installation by the artist and designer Huang Heshan was in the center of the “newsstand”, conveying the poetry of socialist plastic punk with the intuitive sense of wild design...

Exhibition View of “Newsstand” at “2021 abC Art Book Fair in Beijing”

Huang Heshan, Installation View of “TOO RICH” at “2021 abC Art Book Fair in Beijing”

II. The Composite Ecology of Art and Publishing

Independent publishing does not mean that it has to go through a complicated production process as it can convey the author’s opinion and ideas through hand-painting or other art forms. Therefore, independent publications have a more distinctive feature if compared with traditional publishing in terms of content selection, layout and binding design. In the “Main Fair” unit, the bilingual independent magazine BETWEENtheLINES collected reflections on the pandemic by open entries in 2020. The left side of the magazine is in English, and the right side is in Chinese. The contents of Chinese and English are independent and complementary through ingenuity. The unique design establishes a middle ground connecting different cultures and various artistic fields. Prickly Paper, founded in Guangzhou in 2019, insists on presenting the content in a handmade style. The cover of each issue is usually made of woodcut printmaking, while the inner pages are made of newsprint sheets printed by the family printer. In the form of “woodcut + publication”, hand-made book workshops have been carried out in seven cities successively, connecting a wider and diverse group of people.

15 双语独立杂志《言外之意》在“2021 abC 艺术书展·北京”展览现场.JPG

Exhibition View of BETWEENtheLINES at“2021 abC Art Book Fair in Beijing”

Exhibition View of Prickly Paper at“2021 abC Art Book Fair in Beijing”

With the increasing popularity of art book fairs and having attracted public attention in recent years, the proportion of individual artists (or groups) participating in the form of studios has increased year by year. Book fairs provide opportunities for exhibitions and communication, and they further generate inspiration and new possibilities of cooperation. At the pre-opening ceremony of “2021 abC Art Book Fair in Beijing”, the creative platform UNDERPLAY and abC invited artists, musicians, costume designers, educators and exhibitors of the abC Art Book Fair to join in the “wearable book” performance, through a dazzling array of booths, creators with various forms share the “common street.” This gradually complex and diverse artistic ecology, although slightly dazzling, constitutes an equal dialogue since existence means possibility.


Performance of “wearable book”

Exhibition View of “2021 abC Art Book Fair in Beijing”

In addition to the main exhibition area, the art book fair in 2021 also sets up three other special curatorial units: jointly curated by Anyone and abC, “Sound Nomads” used sound and video as the universal language to explore interdisciplinary cooperation and local creation; The “VAI PURE!” Reading Room of Art and Feminism curated by AP Project & abC Art Book Fair, provided a perspective to understand female art and the logic of artist books by re-reading and sorting the rich and diverse female art books, art practices and archives in Chinese and international contexts; “Violence of Image and the Violated Image” curated by the independent art bookstore postpost tried to ask the audience questions, if you focus on observing how the “violence and violence mechanism” works in the movement and circulation of images, what will you find?

Installation View of “Sound Nomads”

The“VAI PURE!”Reading Room of Art and Feminism25 独立艺术书店 postpost策划的“图像的暴力与形象的违犯”展览现场.JPG

Installation View of“Violence of Image and the Violated Image”

In the “Best Dutch Book Design China Tour” presented by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in China, two books by designers based in the Netherlands were related to China. They were Amsterdam Lunch by the artist and designer Chen Jhen from Taiwan and Chinese architect Wang Zhuoer’s Cycling@Shanghai. The “Art Book in Italy” project presented by Silvia Ponzoni from Genda Magazine, gathered 56 publications and magazines from 24 art publishing houses in 14 cities in Italy, forming a group portrait of participants in Italian cultural life.

Exhibition View of“Best Dutch Book Design China Tour”


Exhibition View of “Art Book in Italy”

III. The “Re-Connections” of Art communities

From the initial niche gathering to the integration of art bazaar that has emerged in recent years, the development of art book fairs in China is stimulating emerging inspiration and more participants. For creators and publishers, there is no longer a profound contradiction between independence and survival, and book fair organizers may gain more stable partners and support. The new generation of young Chinese artists is bringing more creativity and possibilities to this art ecology. At the same time, art books and their derivatives (stickers, postcards, canvas bags, posters, etc.) are gradually being accepted and loved by a wider range of young people. In addition to these, what also attracted young art lovers were events such as releases of new books, lectures and conversations, film screenings, music performances, etc., thus “2021 abC Art Book Fair in Beijing” reconnected art communities with rich and flowing contents. What publishers of art books are looking for is never a blockbuster or following the trend, but they do pursue more far-reaching and beneficial influences, so that there is empathy between the art and the audience, and the audience’s resonance with the content will be even greater.

Activities Organized by “2021 abC Art Book Fair in Beijing”

The suspension of some newspapers and periodicals has triggered a discussion on “print media is dead”, and the development and rise of art books may provide a new form of “rebirth” for this slow demise, as they can provide a more diversified reading which is not just for obtaining information. It may be a more efficient way to “connect” the art communities and attract a greater audience. Although art booksellers are adhering to the original intention of maintaining independence and a diversified art ecology, in terms of survival and operational prospects, they are inevitably affected by the influence of the Internet celebrity economy such as the “Xiaohongshu(Little Red Book)”, exploring possible promotion and discussing insightful and in-depth visual language presentations which seem to be going on in a parallel manner in this art book fair. Regarding to the maturity and extensive coverage of the international art book fairs, the abC Art Book Fair still has a lot of room for improvement, either from the perspective of form or content, it has never stopped exploring, and it is also trying to contribute to the future development of the art book fairs in China by providing more references and possibilities.


Image Courtesy of abC Art Book Fair.


[1]-[2] “2021 abC Art Book Fair Beijing” Preface, Today Art Museum, 2021.