Welcome to Codex 2013: 30,000 sq. ft. of international artist books

Craneway Pavilion

[Alyson Kuhn] Sunday, February 10, is the opening day of Codex 2013 at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond, Calif. And this year will be the biggest Codex yet. If you love artist books, if you dream of buying an artist book, if you dream of making an artist book, or if you aren’t totally sure what an artist book is—Codex is the place to be. Since its debut in 2007, the biennial artist book fair has quickly become the largest event of its kind in the world. The level of inspiration is almost intoxicating.

Target and 2013 logotype by Lexi Visco, who volunteered to design as much ephemera as she could before setting off to study graphic design at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam

We reported on Codex 2011 right after the fact, mentioning a handful of exhibitors I had particularly enjoyed. This time, we’re writing in advance, to encourage everyone who can to experience the wonder for themselves.

Target audiences: Letterpress-printed admission tickets will be hole-punched at the door.

Before we go too far, let’s get on the same page about the term artist books. Some people call them artist’s books (apostrophe-s); others call them artists’ books (s-apostrophe). Susan Filter, who established The Codex Foundation in 2005 with her husband, letterpress printer Peter Rutledge Koch, favors artist books with no apostrophe, and I am adopting the “Filter filter” right now, because it makes perfect sense. The artist refers to the maker of the book itself, as an object. It’s different than an art book, which might be about an artist, but not necessarily made by an artist.

These beautiful books are about artist books, but they are not artist books.

Filter, an art conservator, and Koch are intent on documenting their brainchild (it’s already too successful to be called a grand experiment) in real time. Book Art Object is the record of the proceedings (essays and commentaries) and exhibitors—artists, designers, printers—attending Codex 2007; Book Art Object 2 similarly documents Codex 2009. Both volumes are highly illustrated (photography by Felt & Wire friend Douglas Sandberg).

The Codex Foundation has two new affiliates since Codex 2011, and members from both will be exhibiting. In fact, Mexico will have the highest number of international exhibitors. Poet Alan Loney of Electio Editions in Australia is exhibiting; he is the founding president of Codex Australia and a speaker at the Codex Symposium.

Back cover from Russell Maret’s essay for the CODE(X) + 1 monograph series. The series is designed by Peter Koch; this panel features wood type from his collection.

We’re looking forward to seeing Felt & Wire friends from near and far, the nearest being Lisa Rappoport, whose print shop is actually in Richmond. Tacoma, Wash., resident Chandler O’Leary of Anagram Press will be exhibiting again—and I’m hugely hoping they will have decks of Tacoma Artist Playing Cards in their booth. O’Leary illustrated the box as well as all four queens—you can see the Queen of Clubs, the “Defiance Point Pagoda,” on her blog. She’ll definitely have the newest Dead Feminist broadside, printed by Jessica Spring of Springtide Press (who also did the 10s in the Tacoma deck, combining vintage Tacoma photos and letterpress printing; read the whole deal here).

Bi-coaster? No, the commemorative coaster is letterpress printed on both sides. Cushy.

Three more paper-lady friends are pilgrimaging down from Seattle to bask in the biblio-glow: designer Jennifer Kennard, whose Letterology blog makes my heart sing; letterpress printer Jenny Wilkson, who also founded and continues to manage the letterpress studio at Seattle’s School of Visual Concepts; and letterpress printer, bindery wizard and book artist Bonnie Thompson Norman of The Windowpane Press—who permanently endeared herself to me 15 years ago when I bought a postcard she had designed and printed, of a Marie-Antoinettish lady declaring, in proximity to a California job-case: “I’d rather be typesetting.” (Wilkson, by the way, is the editor of record of the newly launched Letterpress Commons: Community Driven Letterpress.)

The cover of the directory (free with admission)

Just browsing the exhibitor list is a treasure hunt. At random, I click on The Whittington Press…whose homepage is so typographically beautiful I smile at my screen. If you read only the first long sentence beneath the verdant photo, you may catch my enthusiasm. I’m hoping to see the very new Posters from Whittington, 1996–2012. Monica LeMaster, Codex’s official Director of Program & Communications, tells me that this year’s exhibitors will include the first artist from China. Her name is Guo Leilei, and she is also a printmaker. She found Codex through the College Book Arts Association (CBAA) members’ e-mail newsletter. I hope she will have her altered book Honeycomb with her. And Fairyland, a tunnel book. LeMaster, who seems to have the über-spreadsheet in her head, adds that, after Mexico, the greatest contingent of international exhibitors comes from Germany, followed by the U.K., France and Canada. She confirms that, from the U.S., the most exhibitors are from California, followed by Oregon and New York.

The  ¡VIVA CODEX¡  is a rare non-letterpress-printed artifact, a thank-you card for donors. Beneath the red type is a testimonial, in blue, from exhibitor Didier Mutel after Codex 2011. Here is a taste: “If I would have to build a list that composes the perfect image of the spirit of CODEX, it is to meet each other and to share across borders our open-or-closed experiences—our victories, our defeats, mainly our passion and all the good that results from that passion…these creations are the fruit of difficulties, of doubts, and of tensions. To share this is not just self-justification, a therapy, it is a will, a tool, a reason.”

This poem by Robert Bringhurst appears at the bottom of a small letterpress-printed broadside. 

Yet more gourmet letterpress

Photos: 2, 3, 4, 6, 7 © 2013 StudioAlex; all others, courtesy The Codex Foundation

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Comments (2)

  1. Posted by Claire on 02.4.13 at 12:32 pm

    wonderful post!! i want to go :)
    love the quote at the end :)

  2. Posted by Julie Salestrom on 02.10.13 at 7:16 pm

    Nice! Looking forward to any follow-up after the event….

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