Book Material
Complicating Care (9/9)

Book Material

The solidarity and affection of independent publishing networks

As a child, I remember desperately wanting a journal with a magnetic seal like my friends had at the time. Our family’s disposable income was very small, and we couldn’t afford one, so, determined, I sat at the table with an old fridge magnet, some cardboard and a glue stick and stubbornly worked on the project until I had what I wanted—bound pages with a card cover, a holding place for words.

The first time I learned to bind books at Publication Studio Guelph (PS Guelph), I watched Dan make a tick mark in exactly the right place to mark the thickness of a book block against its cover.  I marveled at the commitment to scoring and folding file folders to make covers—folding one line back, forth, back, forth, flattening the seam with a bone folder and protecting the card stock from getting glossy from the friction with a piece of paper. At my next session, Steph perfectly clamped a book block, flipping it over and running a hot glue roller against the spine in one fluid, seemingly impossible, movement—the method of perfect binding.  To make a book for the first time is like landing a magic trick. With trembling hands, you wonder if you’re doing each thing quite right and if a rabbit will, really, come out of your hat. There’s a kind of alchemy inherent in the production of physical books.

Books themselves, the material objects, hold clout. One of the “bring and bind” sessions at PS Guelph, I decided to rebind a copy of the Joy of Cooking, which my husband’s late mother had gifted him. The white hard cover was coming off and was stained; pages had been falling out. Too wide for the binder, we decided to bind it in four parts, interspersed with his mother’s recipe cards.   When my husband opened the Christmas gift, his face fell. I knew I had done the wrong thing—the spell hadn’t worked. The materiality of the book before I rebound it held meaning, and its new iteration meant something else.

In the spring of 2022, I visited a sister studio of ours in Paris, France, along with a colleague who also runs a studio in Montevideo, Uruguay. Together, we geeked out on the steps each person took to complete a book—me envious of the spine folding machine, Théo from Paris curious how I managed to get the back cover to stick slightly to the last page. Without a colour printer, Theo printed the cover to Simon(e) van Saarloos’ Take Em Down on red card stock. How can the variance be so thrilling? Simon(e) themself loved the more acid-wash looking cover stock of a mock-up I had brought from PS Guelph. Later in Montreal, I met someone who proudly told me that they had bought one of the red copies in Paris. The non-uniformity of handmade books is magic. But why? I don’t think it is because they are rare commodities or one-of-a-kind; I think it has more to do with the uniqueness of this type of copy reminding and re-exposing us to the bookmaking process.

And the community that congregates around these books is equally mystifying. Erin, a bookseller from Hopscotch Books in Berlin explained to me that during the pandemic, bookstores in Berlin were one of the only storefronts allowed to remain open, dubbed geistige tankstellen, or intellectual/spiritual filling station. Customers used the space as a space of connection, or as Publication Studios co-dreamer-upper Matthew Stadler would have it, a polity.

In the articles that follow, independent bookmakers reflect on the process of bookmaking and its place in their worlds. From the polarized election context of Brazil to the studio table in Guelph, bookmaking, publishing, and the community that forms around the written word are held up to the light for us to see what refracts.


Laura Daviña is a brazilian graphic designer, who works with publishing and public activities. She coordinates Publication Studio São Paulo, making books, organizing workshops and community-based activities.

Opening spaces and cracks in publishing practices 

Publishing networks, cultural resistance, and political change in São Paulo

The prospect of a new dictatorship and the fear of censorship were strong in October, 2018, in the weeks leading up to Brazil’s presidential election. We felt democracy was at risk with the possible victory of Jair Bolsonaro,[1] a far-right candidate already known for sexist, racist, and homophobic statements and for defending the military dictatorship that had dominated the country between 1964 and 1985.[2] In Brazil, 2018 was a year of radical political and social change resulting from the rise of far-right conservatism. President Dilma Roussef, the popular Workers’ Party leader, had been impeached in 2016, after 14 years of the Workers’ Party  government. One of her tormentors was Bolsonaro, a candidate who defended and praised torturers, evoking the ghosts of dictatorships, like the one that had forced my father into exile from Argentina[3] in 1977.

It was difficult to assimilate the fears and insecurity raised by the unfolding elections and yet to keep on moving. I and some colleagues who were then sharing the space of Publication Studio São Paulo (PSSP) decided to act with urgency using whatever resources we had at our disposal. What kept me sane and motivated then was working as a publisher in an intentional space of cultural resistance (Casa do Povo[4]) where, however minor our effect, we could make a contribution to political change every day. And what gave me confidence, and also hope, to stay strong and work steady was the fact that we were connected to a network of publishers beyond our borders, the Publication Studio network.[5]

The word for network in Portuguese, rede, is also used to refer to “hammock,” the fabric support that welcomes dreams when we sleep suspended above the ground. To know that we were part of a network publishing our work throughout the world, so that we could disseminate our reality beyond our local networks and audience, brought a sense of hope at a moment when we feared censorship and persecution.

The physical space of Publication Studio São Paulo is used by many different people and collectives. Sometimes it’s a meeting room for Casa do Povo’s staff. Our books spill from the shelves and our posters decorate the walls, often provoking debate and stirring up discussions. And the tools we use—a printer, a perfect binder, and a guillotine cutter—take up minimal space on the side. That night in October, 2018, before the decisive presidential election, Ana Druwe, Laura Viana and Marília Loureiro (all of whom work at Casa do Povo), Tião (from the art collective Ocupeacidade, with whom we share the studio space) and I, activated the PSSP printer to produce a large poster that we wheat-pasted onto Casa do Povo’s facade.

The basic resources of our Publication Studio (the printer, perfect binder and guillotine cutter) are sufficient tools for making publics who can read reality together and, we believe, promote change through diversity and debate.

With the phrase Ainda dá tempo [There is Still Time] in big bold letters (and other phrases in smaller type identifying what we value and hope to ensure in society), the posters reminded our neighbours and passers-by that there was still time to decide which world we wanted to build. In addition to the propositions, we included blank lines for others to fill in, inviting people to add what they wanted to safeguard or felt was essential to defend as a society. A few days later the entire facade was filled with writing, debating diverging opinions and making claims.

At a time when the country’s growing social and political polarization made dialogue seem impossible (some people actually cast votes by pressing voting levers with their gun barrels), our mural was a sort of crack—an opening for public debate; a lively and participatory form of publication. It led me to think of publication in an expanded sense, beyond books and reading as isolated things or acts. From that moment on, I started to understand that part of our work was an experimental, investigative practice: how can we build publics that engage in collective readings of a shared reality—one we are all implicated in—with the purpose of transforming it?

Bolsanaro won. But even with this negative result we never got to the point of being censored by the government.[6] My imagination of the abyss knew no limits. Despite no direct government censorship, all our actions had to navigate a government that disrespected its people, its laws and institutions, and flirted with authoritarianism on a daily basis. The Bolsonaro government actively dismantles institutions that are essential for the state’s functioning. In this context, resistance includes political-institutional struggles and activism on the streets; but, above all, we search for transformative spaces and alternative practices. PSSP is one of them. The basic resources of our Publication Studio (the printer, perfect binder and guillotine cutter) are sufficient tools for making publics who can read reality together and, we believe, promote change through diversity and debate.

I believe that the way we choose to work in our studio—which stems from the Publication Studio network’s precepts, such as transparency, autonomy, and self-sufficiency in publishing—has a contagion effect. We circulate the power of social transformation, via our example, as much as we circulate the books or their contents.

We published Fábio Zuker’s book, The Life and Death of a Minke Whale in the Amazon[7] in 2019, as a way to bring attention to the denunciation of cases related to systemic violence against indigenous peoples, which is occurring in the Amazon region. The book also helps readers recognize that worlds are being destroyed, and that we need to rebuild using a different logic. With so many disasters unfolding in Brazil, it was difficult to publish a book about yet another disaster. Difficult, but necessary; indigenous genocide is a hidden reality in our country. Because we work in a network of sibling studios in other parts of the world we were also able to make contact with other publishers to translate the book into English and circulate it globally. That fuelled our hopes of multiplying the voices contained in the book and raised awareness to mobilize publics everywhere about the situation in the Amazon region.

We publish stories that narrate processes of destruction, slow violence,[8] and the struggles of many populations to escape the structures that oppress them. I myself am within those structures, and so our work makes me ask what is my role in all of this? How can I assimilate this destruction and acknowledge my part in it, without paralyzing feelings of guilt? How can I contribute with my practice as a publisher without reproducing systemic oppression or giving in to it?

I believe that the way we choose to work in our studio—which stems from the Publication Studio network’s precepts, such as transparency, autonomy, and self-sufficiency in publishing—has a contagion effect. We circulate the power of social transformation, via our example, as much as we circulate the books or their contents. We pay attention and care about resources, making decisions together about the ways of producing and sustaining the project. Our relationships to the people involved are primary. These priorities inform our editorial and (re)production work,[9] so that we do not operate a supply-chain of commodities. We share our values with the reader in every detail of our work. We often involve the so-called audience, invite them in to work with us so that we’re all producers, in close contact, sharing purposes and motivations for working in this way. The way we work changes the way people read the books and receive these ideas.

Although the Publication Studio network transcends borders, we still face some cultural obstacles and difficulties with translation. Promoting the circulation of the Brazilian writers we publish is already difficult; but international titles, in English, pose even greater challenges. We usually take a few English titles from the other Publication Studios to the book fairs we attend. Laying them out on our table next to PSSP’s Brazilian books leads to questions. I like to talk to people and explain the books (and the PS network) to see their reactions as they understand all the connections and interests at play. The case of Playing Monogamy, by Simon(e) van Saarloos, an English translation of a Dutch book, published by Publication Studio Rotterdam, was very significant. In conversation at a book fair, after my explanation of the book’s ideas (about the relevance of questioning monogamy and its origins in colonial social organization), a Brazilian asked me why they should read a Dutch publication about a subject for which Brazilian experience in various indigenous cultures is already so rich? If monogamy is a colonial problem, why not seek out the wisdom of indigenous groups that live without the notions of property or possessions? An interesting debate about the importance of valuing local knowledge as a path toward the decolonization of knowledge emerged. That space opened up because I brought with me voices and thoughts from different places, from the other Publication Studios.

It is precisely in these encounters, when space cracks open for discussions, that I witness the potential for publication to become a politics. There the plurality of ideas and readings can make interesting reflections ferment, fostering creativity and articulating transformations. Despite not having sold the book, I left that fair full of ideas, and with an even greater desire to publish a translated edition of Playing Monogamy, a local version to bring the debate into an anti- and de-colonial context. Curiously, I seek the same free, non-proprietary, interdependent, way of living in community that this book discusses. By bringing conflicting views into public, in the form of books, posters, zines, or actions, we participate in social transformation and the emergence of new ideas. Staying with the problem,[10] accepting the knot of which we are a part, and welcoming conflicts and frictions[11] to generate movement using the compost of our shit as energy.[12] This is how I orient myself, nourished by the text Co-sensing with Radical Tenderness, by Dani d’Emilia, Vanessa Andreotti and Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures collective, that we published in English and Portuguese in 2020. In fact, our contact with the work of Dani d’Emília came about because of the Publication Studio network—we met via the project “Queer City”, an initiative of Lanchonete and Musagetes, which runs the Publication Studio in Guelph, Ontario.

From that moment on, I started to understand that part of our work was an experimental, investigative practice: how can we build publics that engage in collective readings of a shared reality—one we are all implicated in—with the purpose of transforming it?

Co-sensing with Radical Tenderness advocates “listen[ing] to unuttered wisdom, nurturing intrinsic, rather than productive value,”[13] a suggestion that has guided us through the pandemic year. At Casa do Povo, this year, a book donation was organized to support the community.[14] We received hundreds of interesting books from major publishing houses and renowned authors. However, when making them available for distribution we discovered that not everyone who sought our support was interested in the books or could read them. We began asking the neighbourhood community what they would want to read. At PSSP, Ana Terra, Tiago Salgado and I began to produce a colouring fanzine (called ViZine[15]) for the neighbourhood kids. ViZine grew into a broader project in which we solicit community resources (skills, information, tools that can be shared among neighbours), by asking people what they’d like to find in a small, local publication. In a first encounter, we put tables on the sidewalk inviting people to chat with us and with each other. In a collective and endogenous experiment, we aim to create conditions for mutual aid using the exchange of resources and demands raised in these encounters.

All of this made me realize that publishing is not just bringing books into public, but opening up a space of exchange between people. There is power in collective imagining and thinking in a shared time and space, a power beyond the circulation of the book as a commodity or the individual act of reading it. Our practice has become a way to create gaps, or find cracks,[16] as potential spaces not yet mediated by capitalist logic, and thereby find the potential for change.

Working in the context of an oppressive, homogenizing system, we publish as a way to create new political spaces. I understand the studio as a place of expansion (since it conceives and brings new production to the world) where we experience other ways of living together in community. The studio is a form of interstice, a territory to be experienced, a space to welcome friction. And, with my publisher friend Andrea Ancira, we’ve begun to imagine our network of autonomous publishing initiatives, including the Publication Studios, as a kind of connected underground Mycorrhiza—those roots of fungi, mycelium, that can communicate and distribute nutrients to the trees—that invisibly feed or orchestrate newly blossoming conditions.

Much of my work now is making networks, which in Portuguese can be named using the verb tramar (in English “to plot” or “scheme”). We make action plans to engender the same conditions that we’ve enjoyed in the PS network, but with other potential publishers. We open connections that allow for new exchanges. With Latin American publishers, we’ve begun to share strategies and experiment together, to enliven social systems other than the prevailing competitive, punitive, and oppressive systems that dominate our lives. I think that our “mycelial” world of autonomous artist-publishers will contribute to the care of future communities, both with the books we publish and with the strategies we’re learning in practice constructing horizontal, sustainable forms of organization. By creating new connections and networks, we grow fractally in many directions; in our dreamed imagination, we are plotting a global social transformation.


Endnotes

[1] Before the second round of presidential election in Brazil, Bolsonaro as a candidate had almost 45% vote intention, defending the government approximation of military power, as well as civilian facilitated access to guns. He also attacked the media and journalists, and didn’t participate in any public debate with other candidates, revealing a dictatorial posture.

[2] In Brazil, there was a coup in 1964 that put the military in power until 1985, enacting a new, restrictive Constitution, and stifling freedom of speech and political opposition. There were also persecutions, torture, assassinations, “disappearances,” and people were forced to go into exile.

[3] As in Brazil but with more numbers, the dictatorship in Argentina (1976-1983) produced thousands of disappearances, murders, torture, rapes, kidnapping, and forced exiles which has been judicially classified as genocide. It also had the support or tolerance of the main private media, the Catholic Church, and most of the democratic countries of the world.

[4] Casa do Povo is a cultural centre in the neighbourhood of Bom Retiro, São Paulo, Brazil, that revisits and reinvents notions of culture, community and memory. It is inhabited by a dozen different groups, movements and collectives, some for decades, others arriving more recently. Its interdisciplinary, process-based programming and socially-engaged activities see art as a critical tool in an ongoing process of social transformation.

[5] Founded in 2009 in Portland, Oregon, Publication Studio (publicationstudio.biz) is a network of 11 studios spanning four continents that share responsibility for the production and distribution of an online book catalogue. Each studio is a publisher of original books distributing through the global network, a printer and binder able to make books one-at-a-time and a social gathering place for those interested in publication or in publishing their own work.

[6] However, there have been several cases of artistic production’s censorship created with bureaucratic tools by the state apparatus. It was the case of the movie Marighella, scheduled to launch in November 2019, when ANCINE (the governamental national cinema agency) did not allow it to be played in Brazil. Filmmakers and artists defend that it has not yet premiered in the country for political reasons.

[7] The book features articles, stories and personal notes from writer and anthropologist Fábio Zuker, who has been travelling in the past years reporting for different news agencies in Brazil and has dedicated his time to a writing “from up close” with the people whose territories are being destroyed and their forms of resistance. It is illustrated by Wapichana indigenous artist Gustavo Caboco. https://publicationstudio.biz/books/outras-historias-da-amazonia

[8]  Slow violence is a concept that Rob Nixon develops in the book Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, Harvard University Press, 2011, and that author Fábio Zuker uses to explain some of the social and political context of the Amazon region.

[9]  A reflection about the editorial reproductive path was realized in partnership with publisher Andrea Ancira, from Tumbalacasa ediciones, Mexico, in the study group project “Formas de la idea” (idealized by Tijuana, Paraguay and Microutopias book fairs) and it was presented in the online publication ¿Cómo cuidar un mundo común? at: http://lapubli.online/formasdelaidea/getPages.php.

[10] Donna Haraway’s concept in her book Staying with the Trouble, that I saw echoes of some concerns and ways of dealing with them, that I have in my publishing practice.

[11] Metaphor brought by Anna Lowenhaput Tsing in her book Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection that helps us to reflect on the act of publishing responsibly.

[12] In Co-sensing with Radical Tenderness p. 35, Dani d’Emilia, Vanessa Andretti and the GTDF Collective write: “Mourn your illusions, compost your shit, ferment yourself.”

[13] Dani d’Emilia, Vanessa Andretti and the GTDF Collective in Co-sensing with Radical Tenderness p. 49

[14] Casa do Povo has been promoting, since May 2020, an action to distribute food baskets, masks, soap, and books to vulnerable people in the central region of São Paulo.

[15] The title ViZine came from the combination of the word “vizinho” that means neighbour in Portuguese, with “zine”. It was bilingual, with some phrases in Portuguese and Spanish (and a little Korean) to communicate with the immigrant community (mostly Bolivians and Paraguayans, but also Koreans).

[16] In Un mundo común (“A common world”) philosopher Marina Garcés reflects that there are no blank pages to start writing new theories, but densely saturated pages and that it is in those spaces that the battle of thought is fought today. The target is then reached by opening cracks. The “breach” method is the crisis method: we try to understand the wall, not by its solidity, but by its cracks. To understand capitalism not just as domination, but from the perspective of its contradictions, its weaknesses, we want to understand how we are these contradictions ourselves. http://lapubli.online/formasdelaidea/getPages.php (p.21)


Steph Yates is a writer and artist in several media: poetry, bookmaking and design, song, video, installation, and more. Alongside independent and collaborative artistic projects, she performs and records music under the moniker “Cots,” and designs and produces books for Publication Studio Guelph.

The idea of a book

Working in a geographically dispersed horizontal network of local publishers

In the process of bringing a book to life there is a first moment, the making of a mock-up, when we see the way the theoretical design translates to the physical object. Here my concerns can be very small—in some cases smaller even than 1mm. The adjustments can then begin. The changes to the design might be drastic, or a block of text might be nudged this way or that in order to broaden or shrink a blank space by a few picas.

Over my 10 years or so working with Publication Studio Guelph I have become a book designer. I approached the practice of designing books first as a bookmaker, wherein I learned how to assemble a book based on its design. 

Working with my hands and eyes I became familiar with the imperfections of the materials; the shortcomings of our hot glue binding method (perfect-binding); how the spine may crack; the quirks of our particular equipment; the gentle bowing of the blade and how it dulls over time. In striving for exactitude as a bookmaker—using human hands and well-worn, inexpensive equipment—I tend to land somewhere in a space of satisfying inexactitude. Bookmaking can feel very good. After a tall pile of books has been made, my hands are bone dry for how the paper leeches out the oil from the skin, and I feel I’ve earned my beer. This is how it is: our books are unique, imperfect, handmade. I like that, and I can envision a reader who does too.

In 2013, Patricia No, who co-founded Publication Studio in Portland, Oregon with Matthew Stadler, came to Guelph to teach workshops on the PS publishing model, how its international network of studios functions, and how to perfect-bind with a hot-glue machine using file folders as cover stock. I was lured to the project by my love of books and a knack for the manual process, and invited in by my friend, one of the PS Guelph founders, Peter Bradley. The directness and immediacy of the PS model—how books were made as the desire for them arose—resonated with my experience in a DIY music community. 

I liked the story of how Matthew and Patricia had been inspired to publish works by their friends, works that had been rejected by mainstream publishers but that they believed deserved an audience. The spirit seemed to me akin to the studio-label Little Room Labs in Guelph, Ontario, that my friends and I had initiated, how we made things happen ourselves because no one else was going to do it for us and how we made things in small batches with our own hands. While the bands in our collective were local to Guelph, not geographically dispersed as the PS studios are, as each group toured and their public organically grew, our alignment with a common entity allowed curious listeners to discover our friends’ bands without each of us having to make the same trip. 

In striving for exactitude as a bookmaker—using human hands and well-worn, inexpensive equipment—I tend to land somewhere in a space of satisfying inexactitude.

One aspect of how the PS network agrees to work together is in international distribution. A set of studios with the working capacity and desire to do so manage book orders from the shared catalogue within their designated local geographic space. The formality of our network benefits us here, both in its ability to make titles more accessible across vast distances, as well as the passive work of the collective entity: how the symbol of “Publication Studio” stamped on a physical object can lead the locally formed publics of each studio to the others. 

In 2015 I travelled to São Paulo, Brazil where a new studio was being initiated by the group of artists and curators who ran the Ponto Aurora collective. The studio was in República, a neighbourhood in the centre of the city, a short walk from where I was staying. It was late August and the îpe-roxo (a purple-flowered tree) was in bloom and the sight of it in the street never ceased to amaze me.

In gathering the necessary supplies for the workshops I was to lead, I was keen to see what colours of file folders they had in Brazil, but most of what I found at the papelerías was plasticized and unsuitable for our method of binding. What I found to use were beautifully mottled brown card-stock file folders, extra-long, with a circular cut-out in the front. 

These made very attractive covers for notebooks, and many were made in the workshops, but before departing on some solo travel I wanted to bind myself a copy of Two Augusts In A Row In A Row by Shelley Marlowe, and I did so in one of these file folders. The result was a “peep-hole” version of Shelley’s book that gave the eyes a glimpse of the title page through the front cover. This was not the book’s original design, so I felt a bit naughty and was relieved to receive a delighted response from Shelley on Instagram. Some authors do not like to see deviance from the design of their book that they have come to expect, understandably. However, the same materials are not available everywhere, so we do our best to improvise an approximation. To me, there is something very special about these variations that occur from studio to studio. There is a certain charm to the nonuniformity that makes a book’s birthplace identifiable.

Some authors do not like to see deviance from the design of their book that they have come to expect, understandably. However, the same materials are not available everywhere, so we do our best to improvise an approximation. To me, there is something very special about these variations that occur from studio to studio.

PS Guelph has a far-reaching cross-section of local and international editorial focus that makes up our contribution to the greater catalogue. Musagetes brings in thinkers and doers from afar, such as Nikolay Oleynikov, whose work Sex of the Oppressed was published in English with us in 2016, or Taqralik Partidge, the spoken word poet and artist from Nunavik Québec / Norway, whose debut book of poems curved against the hull of a peterhead we published in 2019. We also publish works by individuals nearby, within Guelph’s creative community, or our nearby neighbours in Toronto. 

Along with our work binding our own titles, all Canadian orders placed on publicationstudio.biz are directed to the Guelph studio. I get a special feeling from binding books that originated from our sister-studios. One reason is because I admire the design work of my colleagues: Radical Tenderness (designed by Laura Daviña) from PS São Paulo, Playing Monogamy (designed by Yin Yin Wong) from PS Rotterdam, pamphlets from the On The Blackness of Blacknuss series (designed by Ines Basille) from PS Hudson in collaboration with Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, as a few examples. 

An Invitation to Radical Tenderness by Dani d’Emilia and Vanessa Andreotti is a very small book bound without a cover, so the pattern of hardened glue is exposed along the spine. The text sits large on the small pages, offering one thought per page, and in the initial design of the book it was to be printed on recycled material discarded from other projects. The surprise, then, of how one of the book’s textual thoughts might be illustrated by happenstance—a child’s doodle or a misprinted photo, say—was built into the design itself. I love that.

In 2018 I travelled to Lethbridge, Alberta to set up a temporary studio at the Southern Alberta Art Gallery (SAAG), where Kristy Trinier of PS Edmonton was curator, and to teach workshops and bind a new publication, Observer Data from Block 135 to 145 and 160 Rye Crescent, by my dear friend, the writer and artist Rosa Aiello. 

Kristy’s equipment was familiar but the machines were not exact replicas of what we use in Guelph. Her paper cutter was manual, unlike ours. I found it novel and enjoyable to apply my own weight to the lever to cut a book down to size instead of just pressing two buttons at the same time, as we do in Guelph. I learned about “the buddy system” from Kristy, wherein an off-cut from one book is set beneath the clamp of the paper cutter so that the spine of the next book being chopped is not crushed by the clamp. I had previously been using “the pillow,” which was just some scrap card-stock rolled up to serve the same purpose, but slightly less effectively. 

When I take on a design project for our studio, I tend to work closely with the author or artist; I see my role as supportive to their work. It entails getting to know the author’s vision and helping to turn the idea of a book into a blueprint for manifesting a tangible object in physical reality.

This idea of a book encompasses its content (often that is text), design (which includes material specifications), and sometimes other production notes, and culminates in one or more PDFs that are uploaded to a shared database that all of the Publication Studios can access, but we don’t all reproduce identical objects. The nonuniformity built into our horizontal network—that we use slightly different equipment, approach bookmaking differently, and have access to different materials—makes space for unexpectedly beautiful deviant manifestations and the chance for one-of-a-kind realizations of our books.

When I take on a design project for our studio, I tend to work closely with the author or artist; I see my role as supportive to their work. It entails getting to know the author’s vision and helping to turn the idea of a book into a blueprint for manifesting a tangible object in physical reality.

Binding the books of the other studios in Guelph means the network model is working in assisting each other in international physical distribution. While making a book order, I might be focused on the distances contained within a ruler stick, but my work in actuality involves the great distances between Guelph and any of these other studios. 

And just as the formality of our structure benefits us, that is, how we have agreed to work together horizontally (and more to the point, how we do work together) from geographically dispersed locations, I feel that the informality of our structure is also a benefit. The studios vary greatly in their curatorial flavour, how active or inactive they are, how they engage with their community, and each studio truly operates autonomously in these ways. In place of policy there is dialogue and compromise. If a studio is not able to fulfill an expectation or request from another, a different solution is sought.

In April of 2019 members from several studios gathered in person for the first time. Counterparts from Rotterdam, Vancouver, Minneapolis, Hudson, São Paulo, Glasgow, Pearl River Delta, and Lethbridge appeared in Guelph and sat around a common table in physical space. Some of us had met before, but this was a first time for so many of us to be in the same place. I got a taste then for just how differently everyone approached their work. The individualism of each studio sets the PS network apart from any corporation where uniformity is prized. This is a more human operation. 

Over five days in Guelph we talked around a long wooden table, shared rounds of drinks at Two Faces (a favourite local watering hole), tabled the Kazoo! Fest Print Expo, a local independent book fair, and took part in workshops together, including bookmaking with PS Portable—the suitcase-sized brainchild of PS Rotterdam and PS Pearl River Delta. On our final night together we ended up at Sip Club Karaoke. This is where my PS Guelph co-worker Curtis Walker showed his true talent and impressed our fellow publishers with a performance of Outkast’s “Hey Ya!” that set the entire bar on fire.

I can’t remember who at this gathering referred to the PS network as a “network of affection,” but I think of that often. With friendship comes a deeper desire to help one another professionally, and otherwise.

I believe the shape of our horizontal network is imperfect. There are inconsistencies, hiccups, misplaced orders that take time to sort out, things done in strange ways, things done in human ways. There is space carved out within this model of ours for autonomy and friendship, dialogue and compromise, improvisation and surprise. I love that our sister-studios both operate independently and choose to work together.


Filed Under: Articles & Essays

Introduction by

Anna Bowen is a Guelph-based writer, poet, and editor. She works at Arts Everywhere, Musagetes, and Publication Studio Guelph. She is former news editor at This Magazine and has an MA in Sociology and Equity Studies (now Social Justice Education) from OISE/University of Toronto.

Illustrations by

Abby Nowakowski (she/they) is a queer interdisciplinary artist whose work includes storytelling and collaborative workshops, performances and events that centre around creating safe-brave spaces and exploring shame and confidence while advocating for consent.

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