Books in Berlin

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Ian Sternthal is an artist, writer, curator, and founder of Sternthal Books, an art book publishing company and art group devoted to spreading ideas through visual culture. We believe that art provides all people with the power to express themselves, transform thier surroundings, and make the world a better place. Our mission is both to help artists conceive, produce, and distribute publications to audiences around the world, as well as to initiate a series of our own political picture books where philosophical issues are broached with images.

Sternthal Books was really excited to be able to participate at this year's Berlin Art Book Fair, "Friends With Books." It was a privilege to participate, and share our growing publishing program with a variety of new artists, publishers, distributors, and designers. The fair was complemented by a fascinating array of interventions, performances, and projects—including an installation by the renowned architectural journal "Fulcrum," a presentation of artist interventions by Louise Guerra and Claudia de la Torre presented by the "The Liberated Page," and many more.

The fair was held at an incredible building called Cafe Moscau in East Berlin—a building rich in history and thoroughly elegant. The Cafe was one of seven international restaurants to be built, based on Josef Strauss' designs as part of a town planning competition. The building was to symbolize the fraternal relations between East Germany and the Soviet Union, and "provide insights into Russia's culinary and cultural customs."

We used the occasion to premiere in Europe two of our newest publications, Galia Gur Zeev's "Toda Vida" and Boris Kralj's "My Belgrade." "My Belgrade" emerges at a time when very few contemporary photographic representations of Belgrade exist. The project uses photography to capture fragments of Belgrade—its residents, communist architecture, street fashion, and old record albums. The work expresses a wave of Yugo-Nostalgia that has emerged in response to the failure of independence to bring forth the future many dreamt of. The project is in many ways a protest against the poison of nationalism and the horrors of war which splintered his family amongst the various national factions that emerged from post-war Yugoslavia. The book expresses a longing for multiculturalism and reconciliation that seeks unity without idealizing Yugoslavia’s communist past. The book presents a powerful protest against the reductionism and xenophobia that tend to define nationalist movements that claim to fight for protection, while they continue to destroy "other" cultures. "My Belgrade" presents a powerful voice of protest that uses images to negate sectarian modes of identification that unnecessarily divide.

Gur Zeev's book similarly uses photography—combined with media—to reflect on issues of time, belonging, and identity. The photographs waver between images of her parents' apartment as she emptied it following their passing, interspersed with images from Brazilian magazines she found in her house, keepsakes from "a period of three years in the early 1960s (1962–1965) which Gur Zeev and her parents spent in Brazil as emissaries, living in Rio de Janeiro".

The fair was a great opportunity to share our work, and learn more about trends and issues in European art book making. Being in Berlin is also a special moment for me. One of my ancestors, a Berliner, who bore my last name and the name of my company (which means Valley of Stars in German)—was awarded a special prize by the Kaiser of Germany for his work in helping to integrate the newly emancipated Jews of the Prussian Provinces. My family may have left Germany a long time ago, but it is meaningful to me to continually build a presence there.