BAR Magazine

Issue 02

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Behind the Boston Art Book Fair with Randi Hopkins and Oliver Mak

Interview

by Jameson Johnson

12 October 2018

All images courtesy of the Boston Center for the Arts and Melissa Blackall.

After a wildly successful debut, the Boston Art Book Fair (BABF) is back for its second year at the Boston Center for the Arts (BCA) on October 13th and 14th. The fair was co-created out of an unexpected collaboration between the BCA and BODEGA, but together have attracted a diverse range of international and local artists, galleries, writers, publishers, and designers around a shared love for print ephemera. This year, the BABF has nearly doubled in size with over 100 exhibitors setting up shop inside the BCA’s Cyclorama.

Amongst exhibitors and attendees alike, the BABF has been heralded as an event that sparked communal change in Boston’s art scene by facilitating connections for collaboration, engaging diverse communities, and further contextualizing Boston as an established contemporary art hub. It is seldom that a single occurrence can leave a continuous ripple through a community, but the arrival of the fair feels like just that; a momentous shift towards the future of contemporary art and publishing in Boston.

We caught up with co-organizers Randi Hopkins, Director of Visual Arts at the Boston Center for the Arts and Oliver Mak, Co-Owner and founder at Bodega, and Exhibitions Manager, Zelana Davis at the BCA to learn more about organizing this year’s Boston Art Book Fair.

Paul Soulellis of Printed Web at the 2017 Boston Art Book Fair. All images courtesy of the Boston Center for the Arts and Melissa Blackall.

Jameson Johnson: Could you tell me a little bit about the history of the BABF? Where did the idea initially stem from?

Randi Hopkins: For me, the idea first surfaced in February 2017, when Oliver Mak reached out about organizing an art book fair in Boston. I had been a long-time fan and devoted visitor to Printed Matter’s annual New York Art Book Fair. I have always loved everything about print, text and great visuals. I jumped at the opportunity to see what we could do with this in Boston, a city with its own unique relationship with the printed word.

Oliver Mak: Right, I think Randi and I both saw the power of similar events in LA and NYC (shout out to Printed Matter). Both of us are curators and part of that is to create paths and opportunities for artists to find their audience. This format is one of the most accessible, diverse and innovative ways that we saw to activate and unite the creative community. DIY and zine culture has always been the voice of marginalized people, fanatics and people outside the system – the Black Panthers Party was doing their own press in the 60’s. Punks in the 70’s would spread ideology and cool photos of people wearing leather through home-made zines. We were drawn to the format and freedom of this world and saw an opportunity to unite it with the academics of Boston, while bringing in other projects from outside of our network.

JJ: What does having an art book fair mean to Boston? Where does this position us in the context of other global art hubs? 

OM: The fair brings creative people to the city resulting in lasting networks of creatives. For example, if we did not do this fair, Vacancy Projects from LA wouldn’t come to Boston. I ended up going to Chicago for Photo Mercado because I linked up with Adam Jason Cohen from the first Boston Art Book Fair. Art thrives as a community and the fair links Boston to all these other hubs where great work is being produced.  

JJ: With that, how do you think the BABF differs from art book fairs in New York, LA, or San Francisco?

RH: Each fair certainly has its own personality and unique vibe.  We’re really proud to celebrate the interesting mix of creative factors at play in our city, including the influence of our university and academic culture, our sharp tech-forward initiatives, our witch-y past and the important role Boston has played in activism and gender rights. We throw all these things into the international mix of exhibitors and visitors to the book fair and facilitate an environment for creative exchange.

JJ: Oliver, the collaboration between Bodega and the BCA has led to exciting intersections of art, music, fashion, and design. What led you to get involved as a cofounder?

OM: Sometimes you just know what your next quest is and you are the one who can make it a reality. I saw that nothing like Bodega existed in Boston, so I made that happen. I saw that nothing like Boston Art Book Fair existed so I found a team to help make it happen. Similarly to how you and your crew saw a need for Boston Art Review so you made it happen.

JJ: Looking back, what were some of the greatest challenges you faced last year for the first event? 

OM: Anytime you do things for the first time, you learn a lot. Last year, for example, we had [the fair] spread out between three spaces across the BCA’s South End Campus and it was hard to get attendees to check everything out.

JJ: And to remedy that, the fair is going to be moving to the Cyclorama? What sparked this change?

Zelana Davis: Moving the BABF to the Cyclo was my brain child – I wanted to create a more unified and expansive event for both exhibitors and guests. Providing a centralized location to enable guests to enjoy music, food, drink, lounging, experiencing programs and workshops as well as visiting our many exhibitors seems like a great way to experience the intersection of art and printed media.

JJ: What other exciting changes can visitors expect with this year’s fair?

ZD: This year is familiar yet completely different! This year we will have a beer garden as well as family friendly catered food and refreshments. We have a very robust suite of talks, workshops, and even a preview screening of the new Art 21 season. And most importantly, everything is housed in the beautifully unique and historic Cyclorama.

JJ: You’ve also introduced some programming changes. Can you share a little bit about the lecture and workshop series? What can audiences look forward to at these speaker events? 

RH: We will have a series of public programs throughout the day on Saturday and Sunday. I am particularly excited to hear Paul Soulellis’ talk – Publishing as Practice as Resistance, building on the riveting presentation he gave at last year’s BABF. Soulellis is going to be launching the final issue of Printed Web, a series he has edited and published since 2013. He describes it as “an urgent act of publishing that closes out one archive to begin a new one—queer, radical and as yet, unnamed. It is an assembling of queer methodologies, with a particular view towards network culture, failure, and refutation.”  

We also have Creating Space – a panel on issues of pressing interest to artists trying to make work in cities, moderated by Boston Art Review, Spaceus – a panel on Street Culture and Print organized by HIGHSNOBIETY, a premiere screening of Art21’s brand new episode on “Johannesburg”, an interactive DEMO Radio being live streamed from BABF during Saturday evening hours and hands on zine-making and bookbinding workshops for all ages.  

JJ: What has been the most rewarding part of working on the BABF? How has the community in Boston responded? 

RH: One of the most rewarding things about the first Boston Art Book Fair was the enthusiastic response of the many Boston communities we interacted with, including those who participated as exhibitors and those who came as visitors. The feedback that I heard made me think that this was a really new lens on art for many people. It was all together refreshing. There was both a buzz of excitement around this new event, but it also felt very down-to-earth and community oriented. I think our wide range of visitors were surprised and really engaged by the whole expanded concept of “art books.” This year, we’re anticipating around 7,000 guests over the course of the weekend.

JJ: Who are you most excited to see at the fair this year? Any new folks we should look out for?

OM: I love the work of Draw Down Books for graphic design inspiration. I am extremely interested in Fully Booked – they are the only art book fair in the United Arab Emirates. They will have artist books from Middle East, North Africa and South East Asia.

RH: I am looking forward to everything! We have large exhibitors like MIT Press, Aperture, and ARTBOOK | D.A.P. with several up-and-coming zine makers like Hayleigh Mun and Hayley Kim. It is so delightful to see the common ground that everyone finds in this collegial setting, with innovative artists forging a new model for supporting their creative work.

Poster designed by PROPS.

The Boston Art Book Fair opens this Friday, October 12, with a ticketed preview event from 6-10pm. Admission to the fair is free and open to all ages from 12-8pm on Saturday Oct 13, and from 12-5pm on Sunday, October 14. All event programming and exhibitor information is available here.

You can catch Boston Art Review all weekend long at the fair. We will be hosting a panel discussion about creating space for contemporary art and discourse in Boston on Saturday, October 13 from 2-2:50 PM with Ellen Shakespear of Spaceus, Madison Trapkin of GRL SQUASH, Jamilah Unique of Art Plug, Emma Leavitt of Dorchester Art Project, and Lauren Pellerano Gomez and Jameson Johnson of Boston Art Review.