Presentation space, bookstore and publisher-in-residence space, PrintRoom stresses artists’ books beyond their limits. In conversation with founder and director Karin de Jong
The opening of Printroom bookstore in Rotterdam
In 2010, Dutch artist Karin de Jong opened PrintRoom, a presentation space and shop dedicated to artists’ books in Rotterdam. Located in the city centre, the store has become a reference point for artists and creatives with its hundreds of publications. From magazines, fanzines and flyer-booklets to self-publishing projects as well as risograph printed matter.
PrintRoom has encouraged a discursive approach around artists’ books, collections and archives by working with an expanding community of artists, publishers, graphic designers and curators of international scope. «PrintRoom summarizes my vision on publishing. It is a hub of experimentation. It, in fact, promotes, distributes and sells artists’ publications while allowing people to connect, and join forces to develop ideas and future projects in publishing», de Jong explains.
Karin de Jong’s ROOM project
The precedents of PrintRoom are in a series of itinerant projects de Jong organized in Holland and abroad in the first decade of the 2000s. «Together with a group of artists, I was organizing art projects experimenting with alternative formulas of exhibiting art, outside the contemporary art market dictates. Our priority was to give artists the possibility of interacting with each other and with the public without the mediation of a gallery, museum or institution. It was something uncommon at the time. Or at least, we felt the need for this», de Jong continues.
They called the project ROOM, which they chose for its double meaning in two languages. The word refers to the space created for artists, while meaning cream in Dutch. «Cream is usually the good staff on top of the milk. We, therefore, used it as a metaphor for what, in my opinion, was on top of the creative world at the time».
ROOM the Shop
A pivotal moment for conceiving what would become PrintRoom was an itinerant project called ROOM the Shop. A traveling marketplace for exchanging ideas as well as objects. «We launched an open call for artists to send us work, which was somehow created next to the real art work. We did not expect to receive applications coming from the world over. It was the first time, in fact, I came across a number of publications, gaining awareness of the importance of printed matter as a medium in contemporary art practice. I also realized the facility to transport books».
Between 2001 and 2002, the Shop became the Traveling Shop. An itinerant project that moved from Austria to Norway, from Holland to South Italy. The travelling shops showcased all sorts of objects and works. These were transported from one city to the other and their number increased one location after the other. As de Jong explains «the aim of the project was to investigate ideas and formulas of being an artist. We organized workshops that we called sweatshops. The public was creating the work together with the artist, overturning the idea of the artist as a solitary genius. In this case, creation was a matter of collaboration».
PrintRoom first edition of bookshop
As de Jong came into contact with tons of artists’ books, in 2003 she organized a project, which she defines as a six-week printed matter paradise. «We launched an open call and received hundreds of applications from artists and publishers. These included Manuel Raeder, Ben Schot (Sea Urchin), Isabel Carvalho, Mark Pawson, Sally Allato’s Sara Ranchouse Publishing, Miek Zwamborn. I still collaborate with a number of them today. We organized bookshops and set up a reading room, which was the first edition of PrintRoom. It was the beginning of the book collection which is still the core of PrintRoom».
De Jong gathered eight-hundred publications. Then, she packed them and fled to Melbourne, Australia, where she did a residency at Gertrude Contemporary. She exhibited the collection in an artist space in the city. Later, she brought it across Europe, in places like Manchester, Newcastle and The Hague. At each stop, the collection increased.
«In the cities where we operated, we published Parazines (parasite+zines), short leaflets, zines as well as posters related to PrintRoom’s installations. I used to spread them across town, as inserts in books at local museums, bookstores and cultural centers. My aim was to reach out to an audience as broad as possible and raise awareness on self-publishing».
Printroom’s permanent space
By 2010, the self-publishing field was exploding. De Jong felt the need of a permanent space for the collection, where she could invite publishers and continue to make publications, as always in collaboration. She, therefore, left her studio in Rotterdam to rent an empty shop at Schietbaanstraat 17.
Then, she started buying books on a regular basis. De Jong collaborated with distributors, but still preferred to purchase straight from artists or at book fairs. These included NY Art Book Fair and Miss Read, Berlin. Soon enough, PrintRoom became a hub for independent publishers, where visitors could remain updated on the latest local and international releases, purchasing them while participating to talks, presentations, performances, exhibitions and book launches.
«Since the beginnings, I prioritized programming and collaborations with the actors of the publishing field. As one of our first projects, in fact, we invited Boekie Woekie, an Amsterdam artist-run bookstore for artists’ books made by artists, which had been a source of inspiration for me. I gave them a central table in our space. There, we displayed their publications to acknowledge their relevance in the field. Next to new actors in the field, like Mono Kultur from Berlin and Samira Ben Laloua/Club Donny from Rotterdam (who now runs Extra Extra)».
PrintRoom has also hosted books presentations by a wide variety of publishers/artists/designers/writers. To name a few, FUKT Magazine, Mark Pezinger Verlag /Thomas Geiger and Astrid Seme (AU), Maria Fusco (UK), Gato Negro (Mexico), K. Verlag, Other Forms, Batia Suter, Ruth van Beek, Anouk Kruithof, Czar Kristoff.
Underrepresented contemporary artists’ books
During her practice at PrintRoom, De Jong realized contemporary artists’ books were underrepresented, if not absent at all. From cultural institutions and museum collections, including that of the Stedelijk, the major modern and contemporary art museum in Holland. «I felt that PrintRoom could fill a gap that originated when, in the nineties, people stopped collecting artists’ books. I, therefore, started thinking about what it means to have such a collection and how it is possible to find an audience for it» de Jong points out.
In 2014, PrintRoom started selecting artists’ books for the collection of the Rotterdam Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. That same year, de Jong invited David Senior, at the time Bibliographer at the MoMA Library, who was in charge of selecting materials for the museum’s artists’ books collection.
In a conversation titled The Living Collection, Senior, independent curator Charlotte Cheetham and Arnaud Desjardin, author of The Book on Books on Artists’ Books, discussed how collecting can be seen as an activity that moves beyond the limits of creating an archive, and how collections and archives can be hubs of information and education for specialists as well as for the general public.
From there, the discourse shifted towards libraries and their role in contemporary society. Infinite Library, a joint initiative of de Jong and Amsterdam-based curator Sara Giannini, investigated libraries as living organisms, discovering their potential, narratives and status in a historical moment when information has moved and continues moving online.
Lampoon review: Riso-printing
At PrintRoom, one can find an old A4 (GR 1750) and two A3 (MZ 1070E and ME 9350) risograph machines. The machines are used for self publishing projects by artists and designers, as well as for workshops, led by «our own Riso-chef or other invited experts. Like the printers from Knust/Extrapool, Hato Press (London) and Topo Copy (Gent). Soonl, Bertus Gerssen from Stencilwerck will be in charge of one», de Jong explains.
«We encourage artists, graphic designers and authors to come to PrintRoom to print and bind their projects. Riso-printing is a fast and low-cost way of printing a variety of printed matter. Including flyers, zines, magazines, posters, artist’s prints, invites, catalogues and business cards. Making a book is a process that involves concept, making and distribution. Knowing how to physically make a book empowers artists. It allows them, in fact, to make choices when it comes to publishing and distributing their creations».
PrintRoom also fosters the development of self-publishing through residencies. «We hosted Clara Balaguer from publishing and graphic design house Hard Working Good Looking and Antoine Lefebvre, who, with Laura Morsch-Kihn, transformed the store into a copy shop. You could choose among works by sixty participant artists, reproduce them through a copying machine and bind the copies together in book form».
Temporary Services, a resident at PrintRoom in 2018, installed a selection from their Self-Reliance Library. A collection of books on creative approaches to living radically, along with books and booklets by the group and their publishing imprint Half Letter Press.
PrintRoom collaboration with X Marks
Over the years, PrintRoom has been operating as a self-publisher. In 2017, in collaboration with X Marks the Bökship, they launched a series of publications called NETbooks. These publications take self-publishing as a starting point for self-reliance projects that involve artists, curators, authors, writers as well as designers. Each NETbook dips into a particular field of knowledge. It also presents a selection of findings with an emphasis on process, sharing and collective experience.
Seaweed, the first release from the series, followed a trip to Neeltje Jans, an artificial island off the Dutch North Sea, organized to gather seaweed. It examines the range of applications of seaweed, from the past to the future, as a way of exploring the interactions between locations, commodities, and people. The second release Rainwater Autumn Ale, originated from a workshop on beer making at the SNV Volkstuin in Blijdorp, Rotterdam. Participants, in fact, had to create a local beer from rainwater and autumn leaves.
«NETbooks preserves skills and knowledge that risk getting lost or forgotten. We just finished an issue on making paper, which we are about to launch. Then, the next project will be dedicated to felting and weaving. In the future, I also plan to publish a NETbook on seeds, addressing how to preserve those species that are becoming extinct».
Schietbaanstraat 17, 3014 ZV Rotterdam, Netherlands
PrintRoom is a presentation space and shop dedicated to artists’ publications based in Rotterdam. Since 2012 PrintRoom runs a risography stencil workspace. Here, artists, designers and other interested individuals can take part in workshops or print their own projects.