How did you become involved in artist’s books?
Haphazardly, really. We – that’s Leire Barrera Medrano and Dan Eltringham – did a letterpress workshop in London with the marvellous Pixel Press, and caught the slow-speed bug there. We bought our letterpress, trays of type, rollers, black, green and yellow ink, paper and brightly coloured card, and started learning how to use them. Our background is in literature not visual art, so the curve has been steep and we’re still fairly amateur compared to letterpress experts. Hopefully that is part of the charm of our little pamphlets. We made our first two pamphlets in our London kitchen at the time – we couldn’t cook for a week with the pages drying across every available surface – and got our friends to help sew them, just in time for the launch in Madrid. That was in 2014, and we’ve averaged one book a year since then, fitted in around the edges of other things––it really is slow publishing!
What is the focus of your practice?
We’re interested in hand-made poetics, community arts and experimental translation (thus far, between Spanish and English, as those are the languages we speak and translate between). Our work with Girasol Press sits between the world of poetry-pamphlet publishing, which is often fast & ephemeral, and the slow-paced ethos of the artist-book. The aesthetic is bright, bold colours, paired or contrasted for sunflower-like visual vibes. It’s not particularly subtle, and that’s how we like it. Our most recent pamphlet, SEAMS/COSTURAS, by Cristina Rivera Garza and Jessica Sequeira (whose texts are in turn translated reversions of a text in Juana Adcock’s Manca), has black card covers with text in silvery-white ink, and white inners. It’s pretty goth and we think it’s our most handsome book yet. The cover art and illustrations inside are abstract linocut responses to the text by the artist Ángela Lavilla Cañedo. This gives a sense of our collaborative ethos and the way we try to work between design and text. Our five pamphlets to date – involving Mexican, Spanish and Scottish authors and translators among others – are printed using an Adana 8×5 traditional hand-press, in limited runs, on fully recycled paper and card. We’ve also worked with linocut artists for our covers and within the books, and hope to collaborate more in this way in the future.
In the last couple of years we’ve also started what we’re calling Girasol Local, in order for us to pursue other projects that don’t fit the ‘expanded translation’ remit of Girasol. We’re keen to use the platform as a meeting-place for community-arts publishing projects that stress tactile creativity, print technologies and book-design. Under this rubric over the last two years we’ve co-published two issues of Route 57, The University of Sheffield’s creative writing journal: Issue 14, Loco-Motion (with the National Railway Museum, York) and Issue 15, Environs: Modern Natures (with The Hepworth Wakefield). These anthologies of creative work by staff, students and alumni are wonderfully designed throughout by the book artist Abi Goodman and printed on risograph in collaboration with local risograph printers, La Biblioteka’s Choriso Press (Sheffield) and Footprint Workers’ Co-op (Leeds), respectively. Abi conceived each volume as a cohesive conceptual response to the theme and to the manuscript, and her attention to detail on every page of these books really plays the words’ meanings off against her visual intellect. The authors were delighted to have their words set in such a beautiful and original way. It is also slightly mad that we did the whole books using risograph printing, a medium usually reserved for posters and cards, or zines at a push. Ask Alex at La Biblioteka / Choriso Press about whether he ever wants to do 150 pages again!
With both projects we’ve also made plenty of print ephemera – posters, bookmarks, cards, postcards – as a way of recycling off-cuttings, trying out colour and card combinations, and generally messing around. We’ll be selling these at the Artist Book Fair separately for around £1 and giving them away with any book purchase (except the posters, which are £6 each). Which is a bargain, by the way: they are gorgeously artist-designed settings of three of the strongest poems from Route 57 Issue 14, again interpreted by Abi Goodman and printed on riso in limited runs. Some are signed by Abi and by the poet.
What are you working on at the moment?
Our next book is going to be a departure in several ways, as it won’t be fully letterpressed: we want to do something longer, and letterpress really limits you to 10 pages max. So we’ll letterpress the covers, inner titles and illustrations, but print the body text conventionally. We’re really excited about this one – I think we can say this – it’s going to be Sheffield-based poet Alex Marsh’s translations of Michelangelo’s sonnets, but with a catch: each sonnet is translated three times, getting progressively queerer in the process. Alex is interested in the ‘trans’ in translation, in Michelangelo’s androgynous sculpture, and of course in the queering of language itself. Stay tuned!