Arts & Entertainment

EXHIBITION: ROMA PUBLICATIONS 1998-2008

BY AMELIA GROOM

We all know that small, independent arts publishing ventures often suffocate soon after their first gasps of breath. The high costs of printing, the amount of labour required and the difficulties of distribution are among the many hurdles that need to be continually overcome in order for them to stay afloat.

But it’s not all bad news. Roma is one such editorial project that has managed to survive for over a decade, expanding in an informal and dynamic way as a platform for the production of autonomous publications – and today it’s going stronger than ever.

Founded in 1998 by Dutch graphic designer Roger Willems and artist Mark Manders (‘Roma’ coming from the first two letters in each of their names), the Amsterdam-based publishing house has a focus on close collaboration between artists, designers, curators, writers and poets ‘ many of them little-known, others more established.

Fusing art, design and curatorship, Manders and Willems have defined their own territory in the world of publishing. Each of the 112 issues they have put out to date has had it’s own rules of distribution and design, with editions ranging anywhere from 2 to 150,000.

Meticulous consideration is always given to the content, with the appearance and production conceived of accordingly. From black and white fold-outs on newspaper stock to exclusive hard-cover books, each issue showcases beautiful design that is inventive but unpretentious, and content that is open, diverse and original.

In a new exhibition, UTS Gallery is currently showcasing a large selection of books, newspapers, catalogues, posters, prints and postcards from Roma Publications, and a video work from Manders.

Exhibitions that display publications in cabinets disconnect viewers from them and overlook the importance of books and magazines as objects, designed to be held and flicked through. Refreshingly, however, this one invites tactile engagement and allows us to view the Roma books first hand, with a large reading table in the middle of the room.

Coinciding with the opening, there was a public forum on autonomous publishing and collaborations in art and print, called Books Make Friends. The participants – Yanni Florence from Pataphysics magazine; Jaki Middleton from Runway; Marcus Piper from Pol Oxygen and Mickie Quick from Big Fag Press – spoke about their own experiences working with independent art/design publications, and about emerging trends in publishing outside the mainstream.

To close the exhibition on August 29 there will be a free screening of Gary Hustwit’s documentary Helvetica – a film about typography, graphic design, global visual culture and the proliferation of the typeface Helvetica (which recently celebrated its 50th birthday). Meet at the UTS gallery at 6pm

Roma Publications 1998-2008
Until August 29
UTS Gallery
Level 4, 702 Harris St Ultimo
9514 1652 or www.utsgallery.uts.edu.au
Learn more about Roma Publications and order past issues at www.romapublications.org