Print never got close to becoming obsolete. Turning our gazes more towards digital media only made us realise the importance of the tactile connection we have with books that screens lack. Sure, engaging with printed matter often demands more time and energy. But that commitment is an investment that changes the experience and makes us more engaged with the stories we hold. Carl Sagan once compared books to time travel machines that bring us to works written centuries ago – words that still resonate today.
And print is more than just literature: it’s a medium that encompasses graphic novels, comics, art books and magazines. Art books are especially interesting – there is a misconception of them being high-brow, but they can function as accessible gateways to art and culture.
When Allen Lane founded Penguin Books in the 1930s, he broke down barriers and removed the exclusivity that reading had at that time by making high-quality paperback fiction and non-fiction books affordable. Art books that showcase works of art through print do the same – anyone and everyone can read art books without needing to physically go to an art gallery.
Publications can also be conceived as artworks in their own right. Reading them then becomes one of the most intimate ways to “view” art, in which one uses multiple senses to engage with details of the artwork, from the material of the paper used, to the layout of the page, to the binding of the spine.
For this year’s Singapore Art Book Fair, we’ve made it a point to have the content be as wide-ranging as possible rather than cater to a niche audience. There will be exhibitors from Asia, the United States, the United Kingdom, Chile and even from El Salvador, who have things to say about anything from prata (South Indian flatbread) and bacon to skateboarding and even the spectrum of skin colours of the world’s Chinese populations.
“Keeping print alive is not always about big players making big changes in big ways”
Ultimately, what we provide is also the platform for interaction. These exhibitors come to Singapore from around the world to exchange ideas with each other and with visitors. Understanding print as art invites a reflection on the properties of the form itself. The fair expands the personal connection visitors can get by providing chances for them to talk to creators.
Keeping print alive is not always about big players making big changes in big ways. There are smaller publishers around the world putting in effort to support artists and make their works available to the public, such as Printed Matter in New York, twelvebooks from Japan and Singapore’s AlsOdoMinie. It is a global community that is continually being fostered, with everyone doing what they can with what they have and with the support of one another.
Illustrations by Stuart Patience
This article was originally published in the June 2019 issue of SilverKris magazine