16.10.09

Preview Press Conference - Argentina 2010

And so on to a packed out preview press conference in Hall 4.0 for the 2010 Guest of Honour Argentina. A short video, reminding us of the history and culture of Argentina, starts of the proceedings. An impressive line-up of speakers awaits, including the Deputy Foreign Minister, International Trade and Worship, Victorio Taccetti.
Juergen Boos, in his welcoming speech, reminds us that what we see at first isn’t necessarily the whole picture. There is often more to see behind the first impression, just like in Antonioni’s cult film ‘Blow Up’ when a photographer realises he’s unwittingly captured the scene of a murder when innocently taking a picture of a couple in the park. And so it is the case with Argentina. At first glance Argentina may appear to be all about what’s on the surface - but there’s more to it once you start to dig a little deeper.
For those of you who may have forgotten, the literature of Latin America was first Guest of Honour in 1976, and indeed Mexico was honoured in 1992 and Brazil in 1994 - so the ground has been well prepared for Argentina in a way. Violence, reminiscences and myths, as well as humour, are the themes offered by Argentina in 2009, breaking ground for its appearance in 2010. With over 300 publising houses and around 22,000 new publications every year, there will be many opportunities in the Argentinian book market.
2010 marks the bicentenary of Argentina’s independence, Victorio Taccetti reminds us. What i hadn’t realised was that by the middle of the 20th century, as a result of education becoming a real focus in the country, Argentina boasted the largest publishing industry in the Spanish-speaking world. Another impressive statistic is that the production of books has risen from 50 million copies in 1990 to over 82 million in 2008. Average growth in the publishing sector has also risen to 8.5% since 2003. It has to be said, not many other countries around the world can boast these figures nowadays. In addition, if you add in imports and take away exports, Argentina is today a market that consumes 147 million books. So that’s a huge market to tap into if you are not already doing business in that area.
Next to the stage is Magdalena Faillace, President of the Orgnaizing Committee for Argentina’s appearance in 2010. She starts by asking the question: how much does Argentina belong to Latin America? It’s not all about geopolitical aspects of course - they also have a shared history. One of Argentina’s aims, she explains, is to open up to the world and to be a place where education and culture can be accessed by the masses, not just by the priviledged few. Their aim, as Guest of Honour, is to show off the diversity of their country - not only the traditional side but the lesser-known one as well. She also points out that the country is keen to show that they are not all about Borges, Maradonna, and tango! There is so much more to offer now - the modern Argentina is also a producer of food and technology, and a place where a wide range of literature can be found. It’s not about the past now - it’s about the future too. Already in the build up to the Guest of Honour appearance, many bridges are already being built between Argentina and Germany. And not just on the subject of immigration - there’s also the influence of German Expressionism which we already see in the tareas of theatre and art. She finishes by announcing that Martin Fierro will be the cornerstone in next year’s exhibition and that the books and authors in the pavilion will be presided over by Jorge Louis Borges and Julio Cortazar, two of the most internationally well-known authors. There follows a history of the Argentinian publishing industry and what they represent by Gloria Lopez Llovet de Rodrigue, representing the Argentine Chamber of Publications. In the early 20th century publishing houses such as Abeledo Perrot, El Ateneo, Tor and Claridad were established. There were also representatives from Spanish publishers too. But it was during the Spanish Civil War that the greatest change took place when the offices established in Argentina went from being mere distributors to actual publishing houses because, due to the war taking place - and it should be noted as a result of heavy censorship - their parent companies found themselves unable to publish in Spain itself. As a direct consequence many intellectuals made their way to Argentina and many ended up founding publishing houses themselves. Nowadays there are many independent publishing houses, of all different sizes, in Argentina as well as a strong representation of the main Spanish, Mexican and Colombian firms which have now become well-established.
Author Mempo Giardinelli then gives us his views on Argentinian literature. Romanticism is something that he talks about a lot, as is the importance of Buenos Aires as a city. He also points out that topics such as history, immigration, politics, military rule, violence and exile are all things that bind Argentina’s literature together. He then highlights some of the characteristics of Argentinian literature today: the predominant role of women; the country’s national history; immigration flows; how Argentina managed to shun the Magic Realism of the 60s and the so-called Boom; human rights and military rule; literature coming from areas in Argentina other than Buenos Aires; the powerful tradition of the short story; poetry; the essay; and finally, the bizarrely ‘exclusive’ list of authors currently being promoted by the literary establishment.
Last to address the conference is Daniel Divinsky, who has been an independent publisher since 1967 at the publishing house Ediciones, and who is today representating the Argentina Chamber of Books. He begins by telling the gathered press attendees that in 1977 he and his wife were sent to prison for four months as a result of publishing a children’s book, the copyright to which they had bought at the Frankfurt Book Fair. He went on to explain that at the time it seems thousands of books were being burned by order of the government and people were getting rid of any titles that might be found to be compromising. The story had a happy ending because the Frankfurt Book Fair came to their rescue. Not only did they send a message of solidarity and support (thus protecting them from any further serious consequences) but they also extended a special invitaiton to the couple inviting them to that year’s Fair, including as they did so the vital air tickets which enabled them to get out of the country on their release! A presentation of Argentina’s Guest of Honour logo wraps up the conference, followed by a musical interlude outside provided by a rather good Argentinian trio on piano, double-bass and accordian.

(del blog de la Feria)