Viniita Moran, Owl Cave Books (San Francisco)
by Ryan Ming
Artist and bookseller Viniita “Neet” Moran is the founder of Owl Cave Books, a bookshop and travelling library devoted to selling a curated selection of international contemporary art, cultural theory, artists’ ephemera and vintage books—a selection of which will be on view at the 2014 Vancouver Art/Book Fair. Taking its name from a location in the David Lynch TV series Twin Peaks, Owl Cave began in London in 2008 and is now based in San Francisco.
Project Space: How did Owl Cave Books get started back in London, UK, in 2008 and what are you doing now?
Viniita Moran: In 2008 I was invited by my friend Marvin Gaye Chetwynd (then known as Spartacus Chetwynd) to participate in her exhibition at GSK Contemporary at the Royal Academy of Arts. During this time I was also the Bookshop Manager at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, so my working life was complete immersion in contemporary art and theory books. I decided to do a feminist book swap and performance based on The Stepford Wives. Over the course of the three events, so many people came up to me excited about my selection of books and wanting to know what other book-related events I was organizing, and it really grew out of that. It was my way to explore book- and publishing-related ideas that I didn’t see happening other places.
Owl Cave is a travelling bookshop and library, focusing on event-specific and collaborative incarnations. We have never had a permanent retail space; instead, we work with artists, exhibitions and spaces for specific collaborations and then move on to the next project. These can include temporary shops, pop-up libraries, publications and events. We also have an online store and blog, which acts as a kind of archive of the publications we have sold.
In 2010 we relocated to San Francisco, where we have had a number of exciting collaborations with Bay Area artists and spaces, including a residency at artist-run space 667 Shotwell, and a year-long storefront collaboration with Little Paper Planes, which was our longest retail space to date. We’re currently organizing our next collaboration and focusing on building the feminist library. And of course getting ready for the Vancouver Art/Book Fair!
PS: Can you tell us more about your travelling library?
VM: We have a collection of books related to feminism and gender politics that grew out of our book swaps and is in constant flux as we accumulate and exchange more books. These books are not for sale; we either keep them as a permanent piece of the library or we exchange them or give them away, in the hopes that the ideas and concepts of the authors and the library keep getting shared freely.
Business cards and stationery made for Owl Cave Books by X-Ray Book Co.
PS: What about the guerilla pop-ups that you’ve done?
VM: Owl Cave grew out of a series of performances and exhibitions we did with Marvin Gaye Chetwynd. After participating with her RAC exhibition, which was the start of Owl Cave, we continued to be a part of her performance group, travelling with her around the world doing performances. We would always bring a selection of titles on the road and make a point of setting up a table or organizing a klatsch to share the latest titles we were excited about. They have ranged from taking over part of a food court when we were performing at Frieze in London to an extremely jet-lagged discussion on beanbags at Kunsthal Charlottenborg on the state of self-publishing in the UK.
Owl Cave vintage paperbacks for sale at Little Paper Planes, San Francisco
PS: How do you curate your inventory? I saw on your online store that you have stuff from all over (for example, Toiletpaper from Italy, Vancouver-based Myfanwy MacLeod’s Whole Lotta Love and all kinds of neat used books).
VM: I’ve been working in the book trade for over 10 years, from large retail stores to one-off publishing projects and of course my own shop. This accumulated knowledge, combined with my interest in art movements, theory and activism, informs all the choices we make when buying books and working with people. When we were based in London we mostly worked with UK and EU based publishers and artists, but once we moved to the States we expanded to include Bay Area and US publishing projects. Our goal has always been to be a place where people can catch up on contemporary art and theory from all over the world, and as we’ve met more people and had more people contact us that has gotten easier. We mostly just look for anything we find critically or visually exciting.
Bookshop cat Poppy with the inflatable biosphere footrest in the Owl Cave apartment shop
PS: I noticed there’s a resident store cat? Have you considered a cat cafe/bookshop?
VM: We now have two bookshop cats! As we work so much from home between each space we occupy, our cats have worked their way into the daily life of Owl Cave. I’m excited to visit a cat cafe when one opens in the Bay Area in a few months—I love the collaboration between getting to hang out with cats and supporting local animal shelters. Both our cats are rescue cats, one from London and one from Oakland.
Owl Cave Books in its shared storefront at 855 Valencia St., May 2013 to April 2014
VM: Luminous Books’ founder, Louisa Bailey, and I used to work together at the ICA, and she started Luminous Books right around the same time I started Owl Cave. We always wanted to work on a project together, and when Louisa was living in Vancouver and we were in SF, it seemed like the perfect time. For the exhibition, we contributed a mixture of contemporary Bay Area publications and a selection of our feminist library. We also started an ongoing online resource, Alternative Organs, as a way to document, archive and inform publishing projects around the world.
Owl Cave’s monthly “Let’s Talk About Theory” meeting
PS: What is the scene like in San Francisco/the Bay Area for independent arts publishing ?
VM: The Bay Area has a really diverse publishing scene, lots of artists and spaces are interested in publishing and books as artworks. When we fist moved here we helped to organize Art Publishing Now, Bay Area at Southern Exposure, which highlighted how many alternative publishing projects are going on here. There’s some great artist-run presses like Colpa Press, Land and Sea, and our former partner Little Paper Planes has been active in publishing as well. Publication Studio also has a studio in the East Bay. We’re also lucky to have totally unique archive projects like the Prelinger Library and Internet Archive, and great bookstores like Adobe Books, City Lights and Green Apple Books. And for online publishing, we love Art Practical and the San Francisco Arts Quarterly (which has a free print version too).
PS: What do you have in store for us here when you come to VABF?
VM: We’re really excited to be able to bring some of our favorite new Bay Area and European publications to share at the fair, and will also have a selection of our vintage theory books for sale. See you there!
Images: Courtesy of Owl Cave Books