I came, I saw, and I left broke. This is a familiar experience for lovers of art book fairs the world over. It was certainly what happened to me at the recent Singapore Art Book Fair 2016, an annual showcase of arts publishing from the Southeast Asian city-state and its surrounding region. Inspired by similar fairs in Tokyo and New York City, independent bookstore BooksActually founded its own version of this fair with creative consultancy Hjgher three years ago. After sitting out last year, the fair returned last weekend, turning the ArtScience Museum in Marina Bay Sands into a “Cabinet of Curiosities.”
Stacks of zines, books, prints, and objects from over 30 exhibitors were testament to how the self-publishing phenomenon has taken root in Singapore. Local artists like Robert Zhao and the design studio Atelier HOKO displayed their collections of self-published titles created over the years—including their latest books on Myna birds and eggs (which should give you a sense of the range of topics at the fair)—while THEBOOKSHOW, a local initiative to encourage young artists to produce photo-based books, showcased the bounty of titles it had amassed in just two years.
While much smaller in scale than the decade-old New York Art Book Fair, which filled the entire MoMA PS1 museum last year, the Singapore Art Book Fair wasn’t lacking in energy or publications to spend good money on. Here are five that burnt a hole in my wallet:
In the Land of Punctuation
Amidst the publications from fresh and emerging talents was a set of exquisite picture books and prints by the two-decades old Tara Books. This publisher, based in Chennai, South India, works with local artists and designers to roll out pictures that are entirely handmade, from the paper to the printing and binding. In the Land of Punctuation sees the publisher working with graphic designer Rathna Ramanathan to vividly bring to life German poet Christian Morgenstern’s 1905 comic poem on how language flows—a marvel to behold.
School of Thought
Creative director Pann Lim takes a jab at Singaporean parents with this “examination supplement” for graphic design. Borrowing the vernacular of pirated examination papers that parents typically buy for their children to practice with, the head of advertising and design agency Kinetic offers his model answers to popular questions about design that students have asked him over the last decade. If nothing else, Lim called it the perfect excuse to use typefaces such as Hobo, Arnold Böcklin, and Brush Script.
A Party of Four issue #0
Typical of the art book fair crowd are young artists and designers seeking an outlet for creative expression. This is the story of A Party of Four, a quartet of recent graduates from the Glasgow School of Arts in Singapore who came together after their full-time jobs to publish a collection of four zines. Responding to the theme of “Yesterday’s Today,” designers Edwin Lau, Christine F. Lim, Wilson Tan, and Leonard Koh each self-printed and handmade their own visually intriguing interpretation of what time meant to them.
Moved by the impending demolition of Rochor Centre, one of Singapore’s oldest public housing estates in the city center, design studio Fable invited photographers and writers to reflect on the rate of change in the city-state for their latest issue of VIRUS magazine. This zip-locked package consists of a publication made up of various paper sizes that comes wrapped up in aluminum foil (an homage to the malleability of memory, says creative director Jiahui Tan) and a used piece of cardboard plastered with a minister’s controversial comments on elderly cardboard collectors in the neighborhood.
Besides Singapore publishers, the fair also featured booths from Vietnam, Indonesia, and Thailand as well as this South Korean magazine, PRISMOf. Like the geometric figure of the prism, this Seoul mag showcases multi-dimensional interpretations of a single film in every issue. The inaugural publication on The Grand Budapest Hotel sees Korean artists and designers create alternative covers, costumes, and even an illustrated travel map through Zwbrowka, the fictitious country where director Wes Anderson’s film is based in.