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From William Blake Tattoos to Concrete Poetry, Art Books from Mexican Publishers

In its third year, the Index Art Book Fair in Mexico City had strong local representation, with independent and experimental publishing houses excelling in the art of bookmaking.

The Index Art Book Fair, Museo Jumex, Mexico City (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

Index Art Book Fair wrapped up its third year this past weekend, presenting 49 international publishers and their works. The crowd circulated steadily throughout the terrace of Museo Jumex, the contemporary art museum hosting the fair for the second consecutive year. This year, Index, which focuses on the work of independent and experimental publishers, had strong local representation, with 18 Mexican publishing houses setting the bar for technical precision in the art of bookmaking.

A select few stood out as further innovating what we may imagine as an art book, highlighting how the form of books informs their content. As Mexican conceptual artist and theorist Ulises Carrión once asserted, “A book is a series of spaces.” Here are five publishers from the fair that exemplify the scope of art books as objects, performance props, fetish pieces, and artworks in their own right.

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Aeromoto’s lecture garden at the Index Art Book Fair, Museo Jumex

Aeromoto

At the entrance of the Index Art Book Fair was a lecture garden designed by Aeromoto, a library for contemporary art. The garden was host to artist readings throughout the festival, including a collaborative reading by Ricardo Pohlenz, a leading voice in contemporary Mexican poetry. He presented his book Backgammon, a collection of concrete poetry published by Gato Negro, which is just four years old but may be one of the most prolific independent publishers in Mexico City, with 90 unique titles bearing their stamp. Backgammon was passed around and the words of the poems were volleyed between audience members. Near the end, Pohlenz played his harmonica into the mic to accompany his piece.

Books at Mexico City-based Gato Negro’s booth at the Index Art Book Fair

Ediciones Hungría

Ediciones Hungría had a balanced display of artist books and works on paper. Until this year, this publishing house represented solely visual artists, and only Mexican ones. I noticed a book that was not a book, but a cover, a take on Ulises Carrión’s El Arte Nuevo de Hacer Libros (“The New Art of Making Books”), a self-reflexive piece on artists’ books written in 1975. Designed by Santiago de Silva in 2011, the cover unfolds into a large, single piece of paper, divided into many small boxes of text that expand upon and answer the question: “Qué es un libro?”, or “What is a book?”

Santiago de Silva’s take on Ulises Carrión’s El Arte Nuevo de Hacer Libros (“The New Art of Making Books”)
Ediciones Hungría’s table at the Index Art Book Fair

Fuck Zines Editorial

Fuck Zines started in 2010 as a digital zine library on Tumblr, and has been gaining momentum as an international network of artists since. In 2014, the digital project became a physical one, amassing printed books by the artists in their network. Fuck Zines is still primarily digital and borderless, though the books on display at the fair focused on a range of Mexican artists. One of the favorites was La multitud que he sido (“The Many that I Have Been”) by Santiago Solis, published by Mano de Papel, that turns an agenda into a visual diary, with scratched-out appointments and scratched-in faces for every day of the year. I was most drawn to the books of Conjuntivitis, aka Fuck Zines co-founder Paulina Morales, that contain precise, vinyl-ink silkscreens of dripping eyeballs and witchy nails.

A book from Conjuntivitis at the Fuck Zines booth
The Fuck Zines booth at the Index Art Book Fair
La multitud que he sido (“The Many that I Have Been”) by Santiago Solis at the Fuck Zines both

El Insulto

El Insulto is an archival project centered on works of and about the body. Their main focus is on erotics, and they approach books as fetish objects. The project has since expanded into a bookstore and publishing house. At the fair, El Insulto shared one of its favorite pieces with me: a copy of the Mexican pornographic magazine Bravo from the 1970s. Perusing the primarily vintage pornography and how-to fetish books, I almost missed a pile of humble-looking hand-drawn fanzines for William Blake. Bound with nail polish-painted wooden scraps and staples, the zines contain tattoo designs inspired by Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, a collaboration between Trapos Press and Libros Caballo. The archive of El Insulto may be aptly described in Blake’s own words, “Those who restrain desire do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained.”

Trapos Press and Libros Caballo’s fan zines for William Blake at El Insulto
El Insulto booth at the Index Art Book Fair

Casa Maauad

Casa Maauad came as a publishing house, but they didn’t bring any books. An artist-run residency program in the San Rafael neighborhood of Mexico City, the organization has turned to publishing art objects as a way to sustain its residency space. Sculptures made by the artists-in-residence are released in editions, and packaged in colorful wooden boxes. The graphic force of the display and the lack of literature seemed to intimidate some onlookers, who kept a distance of several feet before walking away. As I approached, I was greeted warmly and shown the function of one of the pieces, a graphite bust of Jesús Malverde, a Mexican Robin Hood-like “narco-saint,” by Dmitri Obergfell. The piece can be used by the owner to scrawl on the wall, unexpectedly transforming into a writing tool.

Dmitri Obergfell’s bust of Jesús Malverde at Casa Mauud

The Index Art Book Fair took place at Museo Jumex (Blvd. Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra 303, Amp Granada, Mexico City) April 14–16.

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