A selection of the 90 publications which will feature in Distro.

Opening artists’ books to Cavan

As part of next week’s Cavan Arts Festival in Con Smith Park, curator CHLOE MAGUIRE will showcase the amazing world of independent magazines and artists’ books. The exhibition Entitled Distro, will display 90 independent publications.

Anglo-Celt: Tell us about your Distro exhibition.

Chloe Maguire: Distro is a slang term for an independent distributor of alternative books, such as zines. I thought the term fitted quite well with the idea that I’m creating a new space to showcase or distribute self-published artists’ books and zines. The main idea of the exhibition is to introduce the practice of artist publishing and zine culture in rural Ireland. Artists’ books have been around since the ‘60s and they’re recognised for being their own artform, rather than a book about sculpture or painting etc. In Ireland, artists’ books are popular in larger areas such as Cork, they have the Cork Zine Festival, or Galway have Cúirt International Festival of Literature, and Dublin have the Dublin Art Book Fair and more. So I wanted to highlight this work in smaller rural areas.

Throughout the process of curating this exhibition, I spoke to people about zines and artists’ books in Cavan and a lot of them didn’t really know what a zine was, which really drove me to get as many publications as possible so Cavan can appreciate these works.

So I’m delighted and grateful to have the opportunity with Cavan Arts Festival to showcase my first curatorial work and artist publishing in rural areas.

AC: How did you get interested in this work?

CM: I became interested in artist publishing through the MA Art in the Contemporary Word (ACW) at NCAD where I studied for a year in 2022. Our class produced a publication titled TENDER, which was designed, printed and distributed by MA ACW, in response to the National Gallery’s contract with Aramark and their involvement in Direct Provision.

This project was a sincere and measured inquiry into issues such as institutional ethics, public procurement law, and Direct Provision, explored through the medium of postcards. I also work for PhotoIreland, an organisation supporting contemporary visual culture practices in Ireland, and they run The Library Project which is Ireland’s only art book shop, and also have a private collection of photobooks and artists’ books under The Photo Ireland Collection. So really it was through both of these experiences that I learned about the practice of artist publishing and became infatuated by it.

AC: How did you source the art books that make up the collection?

CM: So I put out an open call online for zine makers and artists who produce self-published books of any subject or style. Since this is my curatorial debut, I really wasn’t expecting a lot of responses but works by over 40 artists will be exhibited at Distro.

AC: Is there any that you find particularly special for you?

CM: One photozine titled ‘Motherhood’ by artist Maria Babikova looks at the artist’s experience of motherhood and postnatal depression through her photographic practice. I find this one to be special as I am developing a curatorial project titled Mothering Spaces which aims to contextualise perspectives of motherhood in contemporary art practices through research and exhibition making. It is so important that there are authentic representations of what mothers go through, from fertility issues to breastfeeding, each mother has a different experience and they are all just as important as the other. Conversations around motherhood can still be considered quite taboo in the art world so I want to do my part in supporting the artists that are adding to the conversation.

AC: Without the filter of a professional editor or professional publisher, are the vast majority of a poor quality?

CM: I would say no, as these are made by artists so there’s a lot of attention to detail. The only difference about not having a professional editor is that you are getting the pure version of the artist’s vision. Some books are made in a simpler fashion but a lot of the artists have studied design, or are members of print studios and artist studios so they have taken the time to carefully construct these books into something meaningful and aesthetically appealing.

AC: Presumably such publications are more commonplace in urban settings where there is an arts college - do you think Cavan artists would do this.

CM: Considering that I didn’t know much, if anything about artists’ books or zines until I went to art college in Dublin, I definitely think Cavan artists would benefit from a college solely focused on the arts.

In relation to the artists’ books, they’re typically an affordable way of sharing your art and the message you want to convey through your art, so I’m hoping that Distro will be a big push to get more artists’ publications from artists in Cavan.

AC: What’s the benefit for the artist in doing this? Is it usually a loss maker for them?

CM: I guess with a lot of artists, especially emerging artists, they are taking risks by putting their time and money into works that people may not like or understand, or want to buy. So it’s similar for artists’ books, they tend to be smaller and cheaper but they are definitely worth the time. A lot of them are usually not made for a profit, but to add an unheard voice into the discussion.