Why is it that when over sixty “art self-publishers”outlandish radicals, fringe commentators, and makers of oddball multiplesget together, the atmosphere is still that of an English country fete? Maybe Britain’s revolutionaries are content these days, as the mood at last Sunday’s “Publish and Be Damned,” the third installment of the annual British fair, was certainly genteel. Classy caterers sold fine food to the crowd lounging on the lawn of East London’s Rochelle School, while a young designer entertained them with an accordion. If you ignored the fact that some of the stalls inside offered strong obscenities (“It’s banned,” one man boasted to me of his pilot issue), you could have been in the English shires.
Curators Emily Pethick (now of CASCO in Utrecht) and Kit Hammonds (of the South London Gallery) initiated “Publish and Be Damned,” but this year, curator Sarah McCrory told me, while waving a wineglass and a mobile phone, she has been “stupid enough” to take on the administrative hassles of this venture herself. McCrory explained that many magazines wanted to participate, but that the event was not for vanity publishers. Like any trade fair, publishers had the opportunity to swap notes and distribute their wares. One man was down from Scotland with an ample number of copies of the remarkably enduring paper, Variant. “Take one,” he said. “And another . . . and take this CD containing every single issue since 1984.” He explained that, these days, it is actually cheaper to give the thing away free than to find someone to sell it.
Was anyone doing serious business? Michal Wolinski was certainly attracting a lot of interest with Piktogram, a very fine art journal from Poland. But the model of entrepreneurial success was surely artist Stephen Willats, who was doing a roaring trade with old copies of Control Magazine. “The thing to do,” he confided, “is never to date them. Then they’re never obsolete.” But that didn’t stop him telling his customers that his '60s produce was rare nor from cleverly squirreling away extra copies under the desk.
One had to have a shtick, a gig, or a punch line. Artist Donald Urquhart, with his hair lathered up in elegant curls to attract punters to his poster-size drawings, looked like a camp Raymond Pettibon. The people in the With Love from Brussels stall drew me into the game, and I spent the rest of the afternoon sporting a badge that claimed “My Boss Is Flemish.” Artist Lali Chetwynd wore a see-through dress to market her CDsthough she also pointed emphatically to a plateful of peanuts and told me that this was the currency in which she was trading.
Of course, some people really were trying to stir things up. Richard West, from The Vacuum, has a date in court following the brouhaha his paper caused in Belfast when they put out simultaneous issues on “God” and “Satan.” Their cause was not helped by a subsequent series of “Sorry” events, which included “ritual feet washing.” Meanwhile, Iain Hetherington from Glasgow’s Radical Vans and Carriages (subtitled Ideological vehicles of expression) told me that one of the higher purposes of their sheet was antagonizing the Glasgow City Council. Indeed, Hetherington kindly passed along a book-size compendium of back issues and assured me that the book will also be “printed on chair legs in an attempt to liquidate a false bourgeois cultural inheritance.” I nodded dutifully at this revolutionary nonsense and made a mental note: Never doubt the commitment of a radical pamphleteer.