Since the early 1970s, the origins of artists’ books have been extensively discussed and documented (Drücker, Lauf, Lippard, Phillpot, Gilbert et al.), yet the genre continues to generate new questions and paradoxes regarding its place and status within the visual arts as a primary medium. Whilst the conception of contemporary artists’ books lay in the medium’s potential for dissemination via mass production and portability, opportunities for distribution remain limited to a select number of outlets worldwide or, as an alternative, through the growing in number but time-limited artists’ book fairs, such as those established events in Barcelona, Berlin, Bristol, Leeds, London, New York and Seoul. In parallel with the development of screen-based digital technologies and social media platforms, we have experienced the exponential production of artists’ books in contemporary art practice, craft and design; a quiet revolution that emerged from both the centre and the fringes of the art world over six decades ago, developing relatively quickly as a gallery commodity through artefact/exhibition catalogue cross-overs, and more recently as a significant discipline in its own right within educational establishments. This begs the question, why, in an era of potentially print-free communication, do we continue to pursue the possibilities of the physical book format? What can the traditional structures of the codex, the leporello, the single section or that most basic and satisfying action of creasing a sheet of paper—the folio—offer the tech-savvy audience or maker? But artists’ publications offer alternative platforms for visual communication, resistant to formal forms of presentation, and they appeal to the hand and can question what it means to read in this digital age.
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