It’s a surprise and delight to see such positive feedback following the very first Bangkok Art Book Fair

The spectacular number of people visiting the National Book Fair at Queen Sirikit National Convention Center over the ten days of the event came to 1.5 million in total. The booths of publishing houses occupied almost every square meter of the place and the time slots packed with writers’ signing sessions for fans reminded us of some famous singer’s meet and greet. The image of what a book fair is has been increasingly commercialized, which is understandable, especially due to the fact that we’re living in a time when the printing business is losing the fight. Some publishers use the sales from these book fairs to determine the number of copies that are going to be published for this type of event, as well as a chance to clear its stock without having to pay any incentives to distributors. We don’t remember exactly when such mainstream book fairs originated, but we still remember the heyday of the magazine industry happening between the late 90s and early 2000s, when the release of new magazines was so frequent that we couldn’t keep up with which was which; a stark contrast compared to today when magazines drop like flies as we readers try to get our hands on one farewell issue after another. But despite the ups and downs of mainstream magazines, we’ve seen works and activities being created from the minds and hands of independent publishers (call them art books, zines, handmade or indy magazines or whatever you please), finding their way to enthusiastic groups of followers, no matter how small they may be.

BANGKOK ART BOOK FAIR 2017 was the city’s first art oriented book fair. Held at BANGKOK CITYCITY GALLERY between the 7th and 10th of September 2017 as a collaboration between Studio 150, the graphic design studio and publisher of Chavalit Soemprungsuk’s ‘Whether it is Art or Not,’ text and BANGKOK CITYCITY GALLERY, the event’s humble goal was to create a platform for contemporary art books and publications to exchange their visions and an opportunity for art book buffs to get their hands on publications that are not easily found at mainstream book events.

With THINKK Studio acting as the mind behind the design of the event’s rather minimal program, we got to see the vibe of the handmade book fair that blossomed during the early 2000s with rows of tables showing a small selection of books. Artists / publishers, a good number of them being interdisciplinary practitioners between art and design, sat down and spent time engaging in conversations with interested individuals, explaining the concepts and production processes behind each work unhurriedly. The gallery’s space was packed with an impressive amount of spectators comprised of an interesting mix of students, artists, designers, families with young members and foreigners (the latter demographic making us wonder how they heard about the event considering the fairly low-key public relations).

Apart from over 30 tables selling books from independent publishers and artists, exhibited at the center of the main gallery were handmade books and indie magazines popular during the 2000s, which gained the eager interest of viewers. This was probably the most generous archive considering how it offered younger viewers (who may have never seen these indie publications before) a chance to actually turn  the pages and enjoy the experience of reading magazines that they previously knew only by name. Located in the small room on the other side of the gallery was an exhibition of works by students who participated in Data / Storytelling & Book Workshop, which invited experts from fields related to the design and making of art books and covered topics ranging from data and structure management to illustration, printing and binding techniques. Just as interesting as other parts of the event, the finished works showcased the diverse possibilities of effective data management including the use and development of everyday-life contents.

We saw that most of the handmade publications ranged from zines to artist books while held over at the SPACEBAR ZINE table of Spacebar Design Studio was a parallel activity introducing artists who collaborated with the studio before the event kicked off. On the opposite table, the Data / Storytelling Book Workshop that we mentioned earlier invited 20  art and design students to present their own versions of “Bangkok As You Like It” in the shape and form of a zine.

Artist books found their place at the fair as well. Waiting You Curator Lab and ARTIST+RUN, the artistic platforms from Chiang Mai and Bangkok shared the same table, featuring an eclectic collection of exhibition catalogues including works such as the 15 copies of ‘Dream’ that Nipan Oranniwesna created specifically for the event. While Nova Contemporary, despite its status as a rookie gallery that has been open for only a little over a year, was able to share exhibition catalogues of big names such as Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook with the art book enthusiasts. The host and the booth, BANGKOK CITYCITY GALLERY SELECTS, didn’t disappoint with its collection of catalogues of all the exhibitions held at the space and debut of new books, Thai Politics No. 7 and 8 by Miti Ruangkritya and Flavour of the Day by Parvit Pichienrangsan. Last but not least and one of the event’s highlights was the gallery’s garden that was transformed into a little street food parlor by Samrub forThai serving freshly cooked dishes while the group took advantageof the event as a chance to introduce their first book, ‘The Funeral Book of Street Food.’

Judging from the amount of people who came to the fair (with an entrance fee), we hand over a big congratulations to everyone involved in the making of BANGKOK ART BOOK FAIR 2017 for its success that exceeded anyone’s expectations despite being the first year of the program and a limited amount of PR. To attract a more diverse audience in the future, the organizer plans to promote next year’s event with aims of gaining wider recognition and has the additional objective of bringing these works together in an archive that could evolve into a public library, which is a direction we anticipate seeing being taken by mainstream book fairs in the future as well.


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