Samuel Brzeski is an artist living and working in Bergen, and participated in New York Art Book Fair 2019 with the publishing practice TEXSTpress, part of the BABF booth.
This text and participation at NYABF 2019 was made possible with support from Office Contemporary Art Norway, Norway General Consulate New York and Bergen Municipality.
"Sir. SIR! Come forward and stand behind the line next to the guard", were the curt instructions I was given by a medium-angry looking attendant in a definitely-too-tight shirt at the busy arrivals department of JFK airport. I walked up to where I thought the line was.
"No sir, that is not the line. Do NOT stand there. Stand in the same place but face the other way." Pivoting, I now faced the attendant who was switching from medium-angry to well done.
"NO SIR. FACE THE OTHER WAY SIR!" I really could not see the sense in this needless precision concerning the strange direction that they would have me facing in, as, whilst turning to the face the desired direction, I was facing almost completely away from the passport control desk. Thus, in order to see when my turn would be I had to crane my neck at a rather uncomfortable angle, a discomfort that intensified the residual neck pain from crooked aeroplane slumbering. By the time I had finished this strange and agitated waltz, it was immediately my moment to move on up to the desk.
This was the first time arriving in America that I could proudly answer "Business" when asked the purpose of my trip, but just as I was half way through saying "I am here for the New York Art Book Fair", I was told to move on to the next stage in the wonderfully graceless modern process of being allowed in to a country.
I wanted to write about how the book fair has restored my faith in the book as a prescient and relevant medium of artistic expression and dissemination.
I wanted to write about the care, knowledge and experience that is carried by the box-binding bosses, the risograph nerds and the paper fetishists.
I wanted to write about the too-many-new-books that I purchased whilst there, after my 'maximum spending allowance' was significantly breached in the first few hours that the fair was open, and continued to be hammered into a distant memory throughout the weekend.
I went to Central Park one morning before the fair opened and it was pretty overcast. The city seemed sulky in it's grey and heavy September humidity. I bought something that was sold to me as a cold brew coffee but tasted more like bitter frozen mud. It was so bad that I was convinced that I had received the end of the barrel, or whatever cold brew is made in, and I went back to the coffee shop and told them just that. The server looked a me with tired eyes and, without speaking, poured out a new drink for me. The 'fresh' batch tasted just as earthy and acrid as the first, so I dumped it out immediately.
In Central Park I re-did the Janet Cardiff sound walk that I had experienced when I was last in New York. The first time I had listened to it, it was early Spring, and the icy remnants of a wintry city were still very much in the air. Now, this heady humidity provided a significantly different experience, but the dulcet tones of Cardiff's guiding voice in my ears was still just as poetic as the first time she had spoken to me through the 50 minute track on my iPhone. She took me around the park, recreating a journey from a set of found photographs taken by a mystery couple, as the recorded sound of her high heels on the asphalt in the background brought her presence to my side. Visiting the sites that the photographs were taken at, multiple timescales collided into one shared and dynamic present. The sounds and the feelings and the bodies of Janet Cardiff, of myself, and of the mystery couple, came together briefly in a gentle synchronicity of temporalities, if only for a moment. This experience of melting timelines was further blurred by my repeating of this walk for the second time that year. I was in the same place, yet everything was entirely different. When the walk ended, I felt abandoned – the loneliness of the city swallowing me.
Back outside of the venue, I took a video of the long queue of people waiting to get in as I walked past them, before putting my phone back in my pocket. Inside the boastful busyness of the fair, I was slightly overcome by the sheer volume of paper offered up for perusal. I was amazed that any one voice could be heard in the vast polyphony of pages to be read, and felt freshly proud of the small amount of my own books that I had sold, considering the competition.
When you walk around a book fair hungrily devouring all of the potential additions to your bookshelf, you eat with your hands just as much as with your eyes. Every potential purchase is picked up, handled, passed over your skin, as well as the skin of a multitude of others that day. Many of the visual motifs, designs, structures and contents of the differing books find significant echoing repetition, reflective of the well worn tropes of art book publishing. But when the hands that have turned many similar feeling pages throughout the day are suddenly given the treat of an entirely new type of tactility, a whole other form of embodied reading is experienced.
The book that resonated most effectively on the surface of my flesh was Claudio Pogo and Magdalena Wysocka's 67-P, published by Outer Space Press. Risograph printed onto cool rock paper, this monochrome tome had the feel of the other about it. Somehow rough and smooth at the same time, it was cold to the touch, and silvery on the skin. Wysocka and Pogo took the publicly available archive images of the ten year long Rosetta mission from the European Space Agency Archives and created their own subjective narrative vision. The images of the rocky comet that the Philae probe landed on are subtly manipulated and overlaid with other images of deep space to form a narrative journey of it's own. Whilst the images sometimes drift off into black and white abstraction, the fingers of the reader are reminded of the celestial core of the book by the feel of the textured soy ink on the cool rock paper – somehow alien, yet uncannily familiar. The reader is transported via touch to the surface of the otherworldly comet, hurtling through space and adrift in time.
After a brief discussion with the publisher about coated papers and in- depth processes that I pretended to understand, I bought a copy of the book and moved on to the next table, with the memory of the touch still living on in my palms.