Blowing in the Books

Written by Prof. Jan Baetens

Visitors of the « Galerie Bortier » near the Central Station in Brussels (a must see for all those interested in 19th Century arcade culture) will have noticed the Crypte Tonique, a modern antiquarian bookshop specialized in popular culture (please notice the allusion to Superman in the name of the company, which means something like “tonic vault”) and managed by Philippe Capart, equally active as publisher, historian, critic and curator.

Brussels: entrance of the Galerie Bortier
La Crypte Tonique: Manager Philippe Capart

One of his recent initiative is the “blowbook”, a new type of small-sized visual narrative books that “reinvent” a special type of books launched by Dutch cartoonist Alfred Mazure during the Second World War, at a moment of great paper shortage. Yet blowbooks (and there are currently already four of them) are much more than just “little books”.

Blowbooks: the current collection

The format is part of a larger policy trying to remediate two problems of current comics publishing: first the neglect of all formats that not fit into the binary model of either the album or the magazine; second, the often dissuasive price of recent publications, which make them no longer available to their intended audience.

Blowbooks are an answer to these problems, more specifically an answer in print (it is well known that graphic narrative is a field that does not easily move from print to screen) as well an answer that relies on the combination of all criteria that play a role in the making, distributing, selling, and reading of this kind of works:

  • Size: 7,5 x 11,5 cm (the size of a packet of cigarettes or a standard 52 cards deck) and more than 200 pages
  • Layout: one panel per page
  • Material quality of the object: first class printing and binding and particular focus on the work’s cover and opening and ending pages (generally just “filled” with technical information)
  • A new marketing tool: the books are not sold in bookshops or newsstands but in vending machines in the public space (like the first Penguins, by the way).
  • A special prize: five euros.
  • An attractive mix of reissues of classic small format books and new, often highly experimental works.
Vending machine in the Galerie Bortier
Penguin’s original “book-o-mat”

Blowbooks are just great. Buy them. Read them. Share them. Swap them. Keep them (if you manage to get them back from your friends of course).

The ART of REIMAGINING – Special Online Issue of the University Network of European Capitals of Culture

Written by Anna Puhr, alumna Cultural Studies 2019-2020

The European Capital of Culture (ECOC) initiative sheds an impressive light on the relevance of cities and their culture for the development of Europe. Every year two cities succeed with their candidacy and receive the title of being ECOC aiming at shaping an extraordinary year of the respective cultural capital as sustainable and ambitious as possible.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 counts definitely as one of the most – or even the most – challenging year for the ECOC presidency which was awarded jointly to Galway in the West of Ireland and to Rijeka in Croatia. While the actual program for both cities has not been totally cancelled, their offer has been much reduced by the nature and impact of the global pandemic. Universities often play a major role in the ECOC of their city either in forging research focused on the arts throughout Europe, in working with city councils in evaluating the bid or in defining new cultural and educational initiatives within their local communities.

In Ireland, NUI Galway was due to host the University Network of European Capitals of Culture (UNeECC); an academic network that comprises almost 50 member universities from 20 countries located in cities which have been, are or will be European Capitals of Culture. As the annual conference had to be postponed in view of the current situation, NUI Galway instead invited interdisciplinary contributions to an online Special Issue of the University Network of European Capitals of Culture. This Special Issue provides an opportunity to learn more about how both cities, Ireland and Croatia, have adapted their programmes and to understand better the pan-European responses to the impact on artists, cultural workers, local communities and universities.

As Leuven announced its ambition to candidate as ECOC 2030, a KU Leuven research team of Cultural Studies initiated a project to examine how needs and changing cultural preferences of international residents can be more included, as reported earlier: https://culturalstudiesleuven.net/2020/03/18/research-project-leuven-as-european-capital-of-culture-2030/.

The final results have been virtually presented to the city hall’s Arts Advisory Board Meeting in March 2020. In order to reach a wider audience and increase understanding of the potential to include a city’s international audience in cultural activities foreseen with regards to an ECOC year and beyond, the project was submitted and successfully chosen for the Special Issue of the University Network of European Capitals of Culture “The ART of REIMAGINING” which will be published this November (see the call for contributions: “ https://mooreinstitute.ie/2020/07/06/european-capitals-of-culture-the-art-of-reimagining-call-for-contributions/).

Zoom Seminar: Instagram and the Politics of Streetstyle in Iran; An Overview of the Social Media Strategy Used by Fashion Designers

Written by Leili Nekounazar, PhD researcher, Cultural Studies

An upcoming Zoom seminar organized by TechnAct, the research cluster on gender, sexualities, emergent communities and technocultural assemblages at the University of Gothenburg.

In this pop-up seminar I will present a chapter of my PhD thesis on “Fashion and Aesthetics Politics in Post- Revolutionary Iran”. The seminar will focus on the rising female fashion designers in Iran and the way they take advantage of social media platforms, in particular Instagram, to push back the existing restrictions on the underground fashion activities in Iran, in order to advance their business plans by introducing their designs to a large audience, marketing, and acquiring artistic inspirations, while at the same time contributing -not always intentionally- to the anti- compulsory hijab campaigns. 

An Iranian model on Instagram

Like any other Cultural Studies researcher, I am fascinated with the political dynamics of everyday life practices. I found the evolution of the Iranian women’s urban attire, over which, the Iranian upper- middle class groups of women struggle with the state for almost more than four decades, a platform of studying and observing such undercurrents. Indeed, how the Iranian women are challenging the compulsory hijab in Iran, and their subtle way of manipulating the Islamic dress codes in order to invent and create their own version of dress, comes about as a perfect case study of how ordinary people construct and participate in the everyday life practices. 

Women’s outfit in the early years of the Islamic revolution

Since the Islamic revolution in 1979, all Iranian women over the age of 9 are obliged to observe the Islamic hijab in public spaces. In the course of the past 41 years, the regime in Iran has implemented many moral projects and enforced various strict policies to impose a certain set of dress codes on women. However, according to the state’s officials’ statements, long after the victory of the Islamic revolution, the regime in Iran has not yet made an impressive progress in unifying the Iranian modern women’s urban attire. Ironically, as the results of 41 years push and pull, along with implementing many hijab- related state’s maneuvers that also involve harsh threats, violence and prison, the very pale, loose- fitting and lengthy garment that was imposed on the modern women in the early years of the Islamic revolution, has transformed to a stylish, sexy and beautified version of hijab, which looks way different from what is officially and politically accepted. 

In the past few years, the outfit of the Iranian modern women has radically changed

In the past few years, with the advent of social media platforms, a new generation of female fashion designers has emerged. These young women, of whom many are the art schools and universities’ graduates, deploy social media platforms to manifest their creativity in design and their ability to tactfully create a more stylish dress by displacing and manipulating the existing dress codes, thus pushing the current limits and boundaries. In my seminar on 19th of October, 2020, I will address how this generation of fashion designers, who regard fashion as their livelihood and their way of becoming financially empowered and independent, use Instagram in a hide and seek, on and off manner with the state, for the purpose of outreach and advertisement. In this way, they reclaim the right of choosing the desired attire, paving the way towards reclaiming the female body and dress. My conclusions are based on the analysis of 7-8 hours Skype interviews with a few models, fashion bloggers and fashion designers based in Iran, which will be presented during the seminar that takes place on Zoom.

Please register by sending an email to mia.liinason [at] gu.se. You will receive a zoom link upon registration.

The seminar will take place on October 19, 13.15-15.00 (CET).