On Thursday, the first day of the book fair, we started off with a seminar where the Norwegian artists and publishers presented themselves, as well as a selection of the Chinese artists. As the Chinese artists were talking in Chinese, I unfortunately cannot tell you much about their presentations. Anyway I will try to present some of them through their book works later on.
The Norwegians that presented themselves were Svein Størksen, Kay-Arne Kirkebø, Gunvor Rasmussen, Åshild Kanstad Johnsen, Imi Maufe, Jessica Williams and Fredrik Rysjedal. Ben Wenhou from Northing was hosting the Norwegian part of the seminar, and he also presented some of Northing's work. It was interesting to hear how they all presented themselves - even though I know many of them quite well from before, I discovered some new background stories and projects. I will try to sum up (in short) what they themselves highlighted in their talks.
Northing is run by Ben Wenhou and Yilei Wang. Ben is an architect and Yilei is a visual designer. They are Chinese but live and work in Norway. Together they promote Norwegian culture in China, focusing on publications, design and cultural events. The fair China meets Norway in a Bookshelf is an example of this work. As mentioned before they are the initiators of this project, and one of three organizations managing it. Together with Bergen Zines they brought the selection of Norwegian artists to Beijing, and they have been arranging meetings between them and Chinese artists and culture (like the studio visit on Wednesday). They also hope to do their work the other way around in the future - to promote Chinese culture in Norway.
Svein Størksen is an illustrator and a publisher. In his presentation he underlined how coincidences has shaped his career - the fact that he is a publisher today, was not a part of a grand plan. Looking back, he can see that his starting point has been a constant interest in drawing. Being a good drawer became an important part of his identity from early on. He created his one-man publishing house Magikon, because he felt there was not enough publishers that actually prioritized the visual parts of a book. There he works with different illustrators and writers - he even sometimes do the illustration work himself.
Gunvor Rasmussen is another illustrator, that runs her own shop in addition to making her own books and illustrating for others. Above her shop at the idyllic Bryggen in Bergen she has her small studio. Currently she works with a project that is not a book work: Unicorns against stupidity. In the area where Gunvor lives, there is a white supremacy group claiming different areas as their own by tagging statements in public spaces. Unicorns agains stupidity is a demonstration against that. Gunvor pastes posters of unicorns over all of their public statements, as an attempt to prevent them from recruiting more people, and to make their statements less visible.
Åshild Kanstad Johnsen is an illustrator making books for children - and sometimes for adults. She works a lot with textures and nature, specially forests. She is also fascinated by the way people collect and organize the things around them. She often draws as a way to get to know shapes, and understand different universes - how things work. What she is mostly known for is her books about the wooden character Kubbe. She is a writer herself, but she also illustrates for others.
Imi Maufe is originally British but has lived in Bergen, Norway for a long time. She works as an artist. Many of the books that she makes are a result of journeys she has made, both long and shorter ones. Once she spent 5 weeks on a sailboat. There her studio space consisted of her bed onboard the boat. During the trip she amongst other things threw 43 wooden postcards into the sea. 8 of them were found and sent back to her. Books, prints and a film were made in the time after the trip. She is involved in bookwork in different ways: In addition to making books herself, she also holds workshops and runs projects that involves several artists working with the book format.
Jessica Williams is an American artist that moved to Norway in 2011. As Imi, she presents her work in a fine arts setting. Jessica started to work with books at teenager, and having a popular website she came to have her first exhibition in a gallery already as a 15 year old. For many years Jessica ran NSEW, publishing independent books and zines for other artists. Today she focuses on her own work. She photographs, particularly focusing on objects. Text has also been important in her work, perhaps especially now since she has been learning a new language (Norwegian). For Jessica it is also important that her art is friendly towards the environment. She prints with a risograph, using soy ink that is more friendly to the enviroment than regular ink. She has also been exhibiting by showing images on phones, to avoid chemical printing damaging to nature.
Fredrik Rysjedal is educated as a graphic designer and illustrator, but is working in-between illustration and fine arts. He is drawing a lot, using marker pen to draw simple and a bit rough line drawings. He has also been working a lot with developing digital comics. Right now he is working on a project about the story of Gilgamesh, which is said to be the oldest story in the world. It is a story about a man that refuses to die. The gods decided to make him a terrifying and strong friend, because he was fighting and killing so much. His friend dies, and Gilgamesh gets really afraid to die himself. Therefor he travels to the underworld to try to reclaim his friend. But he does not succeed - he almost gets the key to eternal life, but looses it. Gilgamesh's solution is to write down his story, so that he can live forever that way. Storytelling has always been very important to Fredrik, and therefore he has been working a lot with comics.
As you perhaps already know, you can read more about some of these artists on the Bergen Zines website. If you are even more curious about their work, you can see it today (Saturday) at the fair at Meridian. Or if you are not in Beijing you will find publications from many of them at this years Bergen Art Book Fair in October!