From the very outset of our Space to Dream project the publication component was envisaged as being ambitious. It couldn’t have been anything less. To faithfully represent the purpose of the exhibition and the complexity of the exchanges that brought the project to fruition, our publication needed to speak confidently across different cultures and into new spaces. It needed to inform and act as an agent of sorts in the South–South conversation that co-curators Beatriz Bustos Oyanedel and Zara Stanhope were engaged in and wanting others to join.
It was obvious that the publication’s substantial contextual and curatorial essays needed to be bilingual – Spanish, South America’s predominant language – and English. There would have been no point publishing a book that conveyed ideas about a Global South conversation in English alone. So our first challenge was make that happen.
We needed a Spanish editor to join me, the Gallery’s editor, in managing the texts. Fortunately we found the perfect person. Marcela Fuentealba, a brilliant Chilean who is fluent not only in English but also in the art history of South America, came on board as Spanish language editor. Between us we managed the commissioning (with the co-curators), translation, editing and proofreading of the book’s six long bilingual essays and interviews, and the 42 artist-page texts and biographies.
Marcela’s publishing and distribution company Hueders agreed to distribute the book, so it is now available in South America, the US and Spain. Because there’s substantial bilingual component, the publication is able to travel to those Spanish-speaking countries and invite readers into an ever-expanding, ever-deepening South–South conversation. The book’s success in this regard rests firmly with Marcela and her team – and of course with the many writers, including luminaries of the art practices of South America and experts in the related critical discourse.
But a book isn’t just its words and an over-arching concept – though I must say in my experience the best books always start life there. You also need a medium for the message, and that’s where the book designers brought their expertise to the project.
We partnered with Akin. Designers Tana Mitchell and Emma Kaniuk ran with the brief, which was essentially composed of a print-out of Joaquín Torres García’s famous drawing América invertido (Inverted America), 1943 and some notes about how one aim of the project was to reorient notions of ‘centre’ and ‘periphery’ by drawing connections between countries and cultures of the ‘South’. These ideas of inversion and re-emphasis drove the design in subtle, powerful ways. The Spanish and the English of bilingual essays being one example. Instead of running the essays in one language first with a translation following, Akin composed a grid that positioned the Spanish at the top of half of the page, and the English at the bottom, thereby threading the languages together throughout the essays while also demonstrating a reversal of ordinary cultural power dynamics.
Along with the artist pages of short texts and images, we included a section called ‘Space to Dream’, which grouped illustrations of the artists’ works in relationships that visually pointed to the curatorial thinking behind the exhibition, and represented in abstract the exhibition experience itself. This also allowed us to multiply illustrate the artists’ practices and their contributions to the exhibition, so readers enjoy a greater visual experience, and one that provides a better understanding of what the co-curators intended exhibition visitors to experience.
The book is shortlisted for a Best award this year – New Zealand’s preeminent design awards – suggesting that it works just as well as an intelligent design object as it does as a tool for communication across cultural borders.
To varying extents all publications hide the often immense effort of their production. While it may not be visible to readers, I still feel the labour of the numerous people involved in producing Space to Dream: Recent Art from South America as something very live. This liveness of feeling is really, I think, an effect of the professional friendships forged in the course of the project – within our team at the Gallery; downtown in the studio of the designers; and across the expansive body of Pacific Ocean between Aotearoa New Zealand and South America to where our Chilean colleagues helped complete the foundation of an ongoing, fertile conversation.