Offprint Book Fair in London

There is something particularly special about printed word – its is both lasting and timeless, as it is fragile and of its time – which shields it from ever becoming oblivious. As Umberto Eco once said, reading books is a way of making one’s life a bit richer by living the experiences of others through books – “It’s a little reward for not being immortal”. That the world of books will not be easily dismissed (if we were to borrow the title of another Eco’s work), was made visible this weekend in London. Offprint publishing fair moved to the windy island for the first time – Offprint Paris is already a traditional annual appointment every November during Paris Photo fair – taking over the beautiful Turbine Hall space at Tate Modern.

Held in the occasion of Photo London, Offprint London was a vibrant and lively meeting with, mostly, art and photography publishers. Strikingly, the event has shown how much the world of ‘independent publishing’ has changed in the past couple of years, swiftly moving from rebellious photocopied-zine producers to elaborate, sophisticated volumes whose physical appearance and rich materiality is as important as their content. With more than 50 publishers filling the tables laid out within Turbine Hall’s rough concrete walls, this gradual change in focus, style and intent of contemporary independent publishing couldn’t have been more striking. If rebellion against digital technology gave way to exaggeratedly polished books, what does its say about the very scope of the movement? How do we judge its shift into a (very) profitable industry? Is there even room to make such a judgement?

Perhaps what Offprint London pointed to most vividly is precisely the vibrant plurality of independent and not-so-independent publishing today. Established publishing houses like MIT Press or Semiotext(e) perfectly coexisted with Nieves’ cult zines or student publications amassed on overcrowded tables. In the same way, visitors to the fair ranged from obvious young hipsters to older art lovers, in a perfectly apt mix of point of views, interests and ideas. What brought projects like sticker-tattoos, produced within Self-Publish Be Happy project space, and retired college professors together during four days of publishing exuberance, was nothing less than the particular magic of the printed word.

Rujana Rebernjak