Tropic Bound Celebrates the Art of Books

Tropic Bound directors Ingrid Schindall (left), Cristina Favretto, and Sarah Michelle Rupert
Tropic Bound directors Ingrid Schindall (left), Cristina Favretto, and Sarah Michelle Rupert Photo by Johnny Zhang
As our world becomes more digital and our digits become tools mainly used for clicking, double tapping, and doom scrolling, the act of reading a book — or simply holding a book in your hands — is a radical act. When it's a handcrafted artists' book you're cradling, the experience becomes an intentional act of communion between bookmaker and reader. South Florida audiences may be surprised by the artistic and storytelling prowess that makers from around the globe infuse into artists' books when they stop by Tropic Bound, Miami's first celebration of the art form.

Tropic Bound, which consists of a fair and a series of community events, will be held at Paradise Plaza in the Miami Design District on February 16-19. Cristina Favretto, head of special collections at the University of Miami Libraries, serves as one of three directors for this inaugural biennial event. She says visitors to the fair will find that their definition of a book expands with each booth they visit.

"You'll see books that you can enter visually, like a tunnel. You'll see tiny books. You'll see very elaborate books. Some will be made of materials other than paper, while in others, the paper will be part of the story. Some artists' books could even be edible," says Favretto, who's working alongside Sarah Michelle Rupert, director of collections at Fort Lauderdale alternative art space Girls' Club, and Ingrid Schindall, founder of Miami book arts studio and public access printmaking studio IS Projects. "It's very hard to explain and describe — you literally have to be there."

Schindall says by design, artists' books invite their makers to experiment with how stories are told and shared.

"Due to the ubiquity of books in our everyday life, book artists have the opportunity to subvert viewers' expectations of what a book can do while luring viewers in through the familiarity of the form," she says. "As a book artist myself, I enjoy the way that artists' books allow me to play with narrative sequence. Pages turn, and each image or block of text plays off of the spread before it and introduces the following spread. Sometimes, this transition can be abrupt or jarring, and sometimes, the sequence comes together like a smooth melody with ideas and images waxing and waning throughout the narrative."

More than 60 artists, galleries, universities, institutions, and publishers from across the U.S., Mexico, the Caribbean, South America, Europe, and the Middle East will exhibit their work during the fair. Visitors will have the chance to learn more about the unique techniques of the art form, like letterpress printing, book binding, paper making, and paper marbling. Exhibiting makers include Maddy Rosenberg, who partners with scientists to create artists' books on topics like astrology and ecology; Russell Maret, a printer whose works sit in museums and collections around the globe; and the Women's Studio Workshop (WSW), a Kingston, New York-based artist incubator that has published nearly 250 artists' books.
click to enlarge
Emily Martin’s 2012 work, Out There in Here, is an edition of 25.
Emily Martin/Tropic Bound photo
WSW artistic director Erin Zona says her studio offers artists a residency program and financial and technical support as they work on their creative projects with staff members. At Tropic Bound, the studio will showcase new projects, some rare books, and a curated catalogue collection that exemplifies the art form's diversity.

"The artists' book genre is always changing, growing, and incorporating new and old technologies in very exciting ways," Zona says. "The art form is exciting because of the wide spectrum from which artists can exist. Print multiples (a series of identical art objects) exist in a wide range of materials, motives, and prices. Self-publishing artists and independent imprints have full voice and ownership of the work, creating ways toward economic and artistic autonomy for the individual."

Tropic Bound kicks off Thursday, February 16, with a pair of shuttle tours to some of South Florida's literary points of interest. One shuttle heads to the University of Miami's Special Collections for a tour led by Favretto before stopping by Coral Gables' longstanding independent bookseller Books & Books. Another tour stops by Little Haiti and Little River landmarks like Emerson Dorsch Gallery, letterpress studio Extra Virgin Press, and independent publisher Dale Zine. Tickets for the shuttles cost $50.

The welcome events continue on Thursday evening, with a symposium featuring keynote speaker Tia Blassingame, a book artist and printmaker whose works conjure up memories of a racially charged history with aims of sparking discussion around race and racism. The panel "Beyond Florida Man: the Surprising Depth of Miami's Literary Arts Landscape" is bookended by a series of breakaway sessions on the Paradise Plaza's garden terrace with talks from a half-dozen artists and publishers. The evening ends with a sunset toast and a party. Admission to the symposium is $10 and free with any student ID.

Rupert says the festival's events showcase the depth of Miami's rich literary history and the thriving community that exists today.

"This being the first edition of Tropic Bound, we wanted to make sure Miami was well-represented. We want folks coming down for the event to see that Miami isn't only beaches and sun, Art Basel, and South Beach," she says. "Miami has all these spaces, collections, and artists that are doing incredible work with artists' books."
click to enlarge
IBe’ Bulinda Crawley created 11033 during a residency at Women’s Studio Workshop.
Women's Studio Workshop photo
Schindall says Tropic Bound aims to present a diverse, inclusive range of artists' books at its fair that will appeal to visitors of all backgrounds, income levels, and artistic abilities.

"I hope visitors leave with a newly started artists' book collection or a new jewel for their existing collection's crown. I also hope that lots of visitors leave the fair with a fantastic idea for their own artists' book," she adds. "It's a medium with so many entry points that anyone can engage with it."

Rupert and Favretto agree that artists' books grant us access to connect with art in a unique way that no other medium can offer.

"With most artworks, no matter how beautiful or thought-provoking they are, you just look at them, and it stops there," Rupert explains. "Artists' books make for such an intimate and personal viewing experience, more than any other art form. You can touch them, smell them, feel the texture of the paper, rub your fingers along the bindings."

"In some ways, artists' books are more accessible," Favretto says. "In the magical and instinctual act of turning pages, you are interacting very directly with the art piece in a way that you simply can't with something hanging on a wall or a sculpture."

Tropic Bound. Thursday, February 16, through Sunday, February 19, at Paradise Plaza, 151 NE 41st St., Miami; Ticket prices vary.
KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Tyler Francischine is a writer, event planner, and audiophile with dual passions for creating community engagement and telling stories that sing in a reader’s mind. Her work has been featured in American Way, Melted Magazine, and the Huffington Post.

Latest Stories