Artist Series: Juan Pablo Fajardo, la silueta ediciones (Bogotá)
by Asia Harvey
Juan Pablo Fajardo and Andres Fresneda are the founders and directors of la silueta ediciones, an independent publishing studio based in Bogotá, Colombia. With a focus on art, design and photography books, as well as graphic novels, la silueta’s publications are notable for their insistence on featuring Latin American cultural history and for the attention to detail visible in their binding and design.
Fresneda will be presenting on la silueta’s catalogue this October at the Vancouver Art/Book Fair. They will discuss the trajectory of their publishing practice, with a focus on the process and outcome of selected la silueta publications and will also talk about current and upcoming projects, including a collaboration with Colombian artists Gabriel Sierra and Bernardo Ortiz.
Project Space: You and your business partner, Andres Fresneda, have backgrounds in art. How did you go from there to founding an independent publishing studio?
Juan Pablo Fajardo: We began doing design for art catalogues in our school days. This was a way for us to participate in the graphic design of such projects (as we were not formally trained in this respect) and to contribute to them as artists. Over time, this double participation led us to careers as designers who specialized in the worlds of art and culture. We were making a living, but we wanted to find a way consolidate art, curating and design with editing and publishing. We decided to invest in this venture through la silueta, not only to do work for clients, but to make the books that no one was making that we believed should exist as well.
PS: As la silueta, you publish books for and about artists, but you also do design work for larger cultural institutions. How do you manage these two separate streams of activity and why did you choose this model?
JPF: It’s a difficult task, as the pressure from clients, schedules and commissioned projects is always stronger than that from our own projects. We operate under the assumption that in order to be good in one field, one must be knowledgeable about what goes on in others as well. It allows you to produce things with a different logic—that is to say, by experimenting, taking some risks and believing in other ways of publishing.
As a model, unifying these two separate streams of activity means that we have some economic stability, so we can work on our own projects too. Sometimes the commercial studio helps the publishing house, and in return the experimental projects of the publishing house can bring more visibility to and attract more interest in our way of doing things for commercial clients.
PS: How did your inaugural publication, Excusado (a monograph about the Colombian graffiti collective Excusado, published in 2007), set the tone for subsequent works la silueta has produced?
JPF: That book is really a kind of manifesto. It was produced using small presses and we managed to present graffiti and stencil in a manner that was not typical of existing books about street art at that time. Special care was put into choosing materials, inks, binding, etc.
In terms of production, Excusado was conceived as if the graffiti and stencil were printed over the paper—the images are based on photographs but are not reproduced as such. We did colour separation to print the images in spot colors, and the resulting image looks as if the stencil were printed on the book pages. The layers of superimposed ink produce the effect of transparencies, and colours mix in ways we did not predict. We used about 20 or more special inks in the overall process, not on a single image, but mixing and changing as the printing process occurred.
We printed the book on a system that is now falling out of use, one that uses paper plates rather than metal ones. These plates are processed in laser printers using a special sensitive paper. The print shops that employed this system were typically located in downtown Bogotá, in an area that no longer exists, as major demolition and transformations are taking place there now. This sector was formerly known as “la olla” of print shops (the term refers to a cooking pan or pot, and is often used to refer to a drug trafficking spot). The shop staff from la olla who worked on the Excusado project with us allowed us to use as many inks as we wanted, which would have been almost impossible for us to do in a larger print facility, due to cost.
The paper we used is of a medium-low quality stock, like the kind we used in school as children. It’s kind of a rough, not satin or coated paper. For the finishing and binding we contacted a small workshop to emboss or stamp figures over the hardbound cloth cover. The result is a book that is at once a catalogue of the Excusado collective’s work, as well as being an art piece in the form of a printed project, not merely a visual representation or a recollection of stencils.
In terms of how the Excusado book set the tone for our subsequent publications, we think of it as kind of a statement of our studio’s mission. Excusado was the first organized and active graffiti crew in Bogotá; there were interventions by them all over the city back then. They established the language and imagery of stencil and graffiti that we see in Bogotá today. As la silueta we want to work with people like that, people who have a fresh view of art or who are doing interesting things at the moment. Ideally, we want to publish books that memorialize art, movements and culture that—as interventions in the daily happenings of the city—often have a short lifespan. We see our publications as capturing specific moments in the cultural and artistic processes of the city.
PS: In addition to publishing and graphic design, la silueta also organizes curatorial projects like the recent Nereo López exhibit for PHotoEspaña. How does this work fit into your overall vision for la silueta?
JPF: Sometimes the work of an editor resembles that of a curator. This is kind of how we approach thinking about our practice. For example, in our publishing roles we conduct a lot of research into the art world, whether it be looking to the past or to emerging contemporary artists. In this sense, aspects of our publishing practice share some commonalities with aspects of assembling an exhibit. The thing that differs most between these is that in publishing we are using a book or printed matter, not physical space but rather an object to “exhibit” art in.
PS: Can you tell me a bit about the artist publishing scene in Colombia?
JPF: At the moment there is a special interest in this sector—we could say there is a little boom. A small cultural scene has emerged around artist publishing in Colombia, though there are not as many libraries or bookshops as one could wish for. There is a new generation of people who are interested in publishing: artists, young writers, editors and small publishers doing really interesting things.
PS: What kinds of obstacles have you encountered as independent publishers in Latin America?
JPF: There are many… For instance, there are serious obstacles to getting our projects outside of Colombia and costs of shipment or carrier are enormous. Issues like trying to develop our studio into a more serious publishing business or growing our catalogue are complicated, especially when it comes to distribution. And as we have grown we have begun to realize the importance of seeking legal advice, of understanding rights to works, and so on.
PS: Who are your favourite independent art publishers in Colombia and Latin America?
JPF: We really love the work of RM, a Mexican publishing house that’s not that experimental. It produces great work that showcases Mexico’s cultural history, which we admire. We also like Brazilian publisher CosacNaify, which is similar to RM in terms of its focus on publications relating to art and photography. In Colombia we really like the work of Jardin.