Pyramid Atlantic Book Arts Fair showcases art you can flip, turn, wear and dive into
By HEATHER WRIGHT — During the upcoming Pyramid Atlantic Book Arts Fair (PABAF), conference attendees will be able to hear from the creator of the world’s largest pop-up book. The hope was that attendees would also be able to physically enter the book. Unfortunately, according to Kate Davis, executive director of the Pyramid Atlantic Arts Center (PAAC), “We realized we couldn’t fit it in our doors.”
PAAC is hosting “Radical Formats,” its 14th PABAF — described in the PAAC February newsletter as “the preeminent Mid-Atlantic book arts event that celebrates the printed form and the book as art” — from March 2 to March 4. The three-day event will be held at PAAC, the Hyattsville Municipal Building and the Minority Access Building.
“People know what books are, and people know what art is, but not a lot of people know what ‘book arts’ are,” said Pyramid Artistic Director Gretchen Schermerhorn in a PAAC press release. “Artist Books offer unique ways of storytelling. They are often works of art that move, that you can put your hands on, that you can turn, flip, or ‘dive into.’ Touching, turning pages, allows the viewer to be involved in a deeper, often physical level.”
During an interview, Schermerhorn further explained, “In this age of technology, we feel that it’s important that, when someone is engaging with a work of art, that it’s not just a visual piece, that it’s not just digital, [but] that they can flip it, they can turn it, they can wear it, even; they can have a physical experience with that work of art that is so different from, say, a painting. You know, they can actually touch it.”
According to the event website, the PABAF “will showcase a dynamic array of alternative and traditional book arts, limited edition prints, fine paper and zines.” It aims to attract and connect artists, printers, collectors, graphic designers, art lovers and “the simply curious.” Schermerhorn said that — unlike with the world of painting — book arts, printmaking and papermaking are niche endeavors, and those involved are often isolated and spread out from one another. Book arts fairs allow these artists to come together to network and “have a conversation with each other,” as well as offering a place for them to sell and “legitimize” their work.
A kick-off party and a preview of the exhibit hall will take place on Friday, March 2, from 7 to 10 p.m. across the three venues. Friday night events are free and open to the public. Starting at 10 a.m. on Friday, there will be private guided tours of book arts and print collections in and around D.C., including those of the Library of Congress, the National Museum of African Art and the Gateway Arts District. Advance registration is required for the tours and other conference events.
PABAF will include 17 lectures and demonstrations and 40 exhibitors, according to the press release. Demonstration topics throughout the weekend include “Make Your Own Book Cloth,” “Radical Folding” and “Tooling with Gold Leaf.”
Christopher Kardambikis, assistant professor at George Mason University and director of Navigation Press, kicks off the speaker schedule with his talk entitled “Publishing as a Radical Act: Self-publishing and DIY projects.” Kardambikis said that he will use case studies of publishing projects and endeavors that have a strong local focus in cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Baltimore and Richmond, Va. He gave as an example GenderFail in Richmond, “who publishes, promotes and archives work from queer and trans people and people of color.”
Kardambikis said, “I’m excited to be attending the fair at Pyramid Atlantic for the first time. My students at George Mason University will be showing their work at tables both as the undergraduate collective TEN09 and the graduate printmaking group Elements.”
María Veroníca San Martín, studio artist at the Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Program and a recent scholar at The Center for Book Arts in New York, will speak on “Moving Memorials.” San Martín was born in Santiago, Chile, and said, “Born during the dictatorship and coming to age in the so-called return to democracy in the early 1990s, I am a second-generation witness of the regime’s atrocities, and a first-generation artist experiencing the legacy of the dictatorship in the collective body.” She sees the books she creates as memorials and said, “These memorials are not there to be contemplated in the distance, but rather to be touched [and] mobilized once and again, inviting the viewer to participate in the experience of the work and its special and temporal possibilities.”
There will also be three surrounding artist exhibits open during the weekend. “For the Ancestors” features complex, large-scale photographic pop-up books by Colette Fu, a photographer and pop-up paper engineer. Fu designs intricate pop-up books made from photographs documenting the lives of Chinese minority groups. She also built the largest pop-up book (measuring a little under 14 by 21 by 5 feet), Tao Hua Yuan Ji, that people can actually enter. The book was inspired by the work of Tao Yuanming, a Jin Dynasty poet. Fu will speak on “Making the World’s Largest Pop-up Book” on Sunday morning. In her artist’s statement, Fu says, “My pop-ups are a way for me to speak and inform; the real and implied motion in the pop-ups link to a temporal element and an inevitable corollary is to awe and unsettle. Constructing pop-ups allows me to combine intuitive design and technical acuity with my love of traveling as I try to understand the world around me.”
The last PAAC Book Arts Fair was held in 2014, according to Schermerhorn. As the PAAC moved into the renovated Arcade Building on Gallatin Street in July 2016, this will be the first time the event takes place in Hyattsville. Schermerhorn said she likes that their Gallatin Street location brings together old and new elements, just like book arts do. “Even this building, it has a sense of history — it’s been so many different things: from a church, a duckpin bowling alley [to] an arcade,” she said. “What I find so interesting about having it here is that sense of authenticity, oldness [and] history, but also having these very new conversations about where does book arts fit in with technology, with this age of technology, what are new techniques in the field?”
When the PAAC was in Silver Spring, Schermerhorn found that there were a lot of high costs and red tape involved in finding flexible locations for their book arts fairs. Whereas here in Hyattsville, she said, “You just kind of talk to the city manager and you go, ‘Hey, can we do this?’ and it’s easier.”
The world’s largest pop-up book won’t be at the PABAF this year, but there will still be plenty of other pages to turn and works to dive into.
Weekend tickets range from $10 to $50 and are free to any Prince George’s County student. For the full schedule of events and advance registration, visit pyramidatlanticbookartsfair.org or call 301.608.9101. Door tickets may be purchased at Pyramid Atlantic based on availability.