The fair was the latest incarnation of Canadian Louis Rastelli, a bi-lingual author, life-long Montrealer, and cottage-industry publisher of emerging artists who was quick to ride the first big wave of digital publishing. Unwilling to acquiesce to the cynicism and ephemeral nature of our technologically driven moment, Rastelli assumed the mandate to preserve independent/alternative culture and to promote that culture when he founded the nonprofit ARCMTL twenty-one years ago.
The onset of photography in the mid 19th century raised fears that painting, certainly realism and particularly portraiture, was dead. Similarly, with the explosion of digital printing technology and the birth of the book distribution behemoth Amazon it was commonly thought small independent booksellers and publishers, individual artist-entrepreneurs, and local bookstores were facing eventual extinction. In 2018 Art & the Book Volume 1 MTL, a week-long conference and art book fair in Montreal, brought together more than 50 publishers, creators, and hundreds of visitors who participated in discussions, presentations, and visits to archives around the city focusing on the complex relationship between words and images. Far from facing extinction, there is a resurgent interest in books made by artists as well as publishers specializing in books about art.
In 2002, under the ARCMTL umbrella, he launched Expozine. This annual book fair for zines and indie publishing of all stripes became the largest event of its type in North America hosting over 300 publishers and more than 15,000 visitors during the course of one weekend. Drawing a cross-section of visual artists who make wordless books and photo zines that blur the line between the literary and the visual Expozine became almost too popular, attracting international and American artists and publishers nearly outgrowing its modest church basement location. Establishing the spin-off fair Art & the Book Volume 1 MTL was a way to differentiate between more traditional art publishing and ephemera.
Some of Volume 1 MTL highlights included Innovation and the Artists Book, a discussion at the University of Concordia Fine Arts Reading Room. At Artexte, a contemporary art documentation center, participants also tackled the definition of the genre in the debate, What is an Artist’s Book? The business side of the industry was covered in Art Publishing and Distribution, a training session offering practical tips for artists interested in different forms of publishing. Augmented Reality and Art Publishing, a hands-on digital and traditional printing workshop conducted at Atelier Circular suited those interested in exploring cutting edge advancements in technology. The jam-packed program also offered studio visits and additional artist presentations.
The first edition of the fair laid the groundwork for Volume 2 MTL 2019 this fall. The programs and workshops are unified under the theme “The book as a space for collaboration” and will explore collaborative practices such as collage and mail art, pairing visiting and local artists creating original works during the event.
Anna Banana, a British Columbian artist known internationally since the 1970’s for her humorous, Fluxus influenced mail art and stamp art projects will be attending this year along with Brooklyn artist Andrea Burguay whose Cut Me Up Magazine is a unique participatory art project perfectly suited for inclusion where collaboration is the calling card. Pakito Bolino of Le Dernier Cri, a publisher of artists' books in Marseille, France will be at the fest celebrating thirty years of bringing challenging outsider art and often disturbing limited edition work out into the world. Supported largely by government funding, ARCMTL is able to offer these programs free of charge, guaranteeing another well-attended event for lovers of books about art and those who make them.
Montreal Art Book Festival, Volume 2 takes place October 1-6, 2019. Look to Art & Object for continued coverage of this unique fair.