‘Dense,’ seeks to build a community of creators through a unique NJ design magazine and festival

“We thought it was time to bring something to New Jersey. I think some people worry that calling themselves Jersey-based comes with some kind of liability.” 

Dense is a design magazine about New Jersey, but it’s not what you think. In its pages, you won’t find glossy photo spreads of ritzy mansion interiors or roundups of things to buy. In fact, the first issue centered on something you likely consider the antithesis of glamor: the Turnpike. 

The only thing Dense wants to sell you is the idea that New Jersey, as America’s most densely populated state, can teach the rest of the world how design has shaped our past and how it can shape our future.

The magazine, which was founded by Lune Ames and Petia Morozov and whose editors include Andrew Harrison and Gretchen Von Koenig, launched last year via Kickstarter.

Now, Dense is ready to expand its vision and is looking toward a new venture: bringing a fair celebrating zines and art books to New Jersey. Dense has partnered with the Monira Foundation and Mana Contemporary to present the first annual Jersey Art Book Fair in Jersey City on Jan.28 and 29, 2023. The two-day event will host exhibitors, workshops, parties, and more. 

“When Dense was first conceived, we always thought of ourselves as a zine,” says Morozov.

Art books and zines can sometimes be the same thing, but generally zines are a bit scrappy, often made from regular copy paper and stapled, and art books are constructed to more closely resemble books you might find in a store. Any type of writing or artwork can make a good zine, and traditionally the format has been particularly appealing for members of marginalized communities who have been shut out of some more traditional publishing opportunities.

“We’re really hoping we can build a community of book artists, zine makers, small presses and independent publishers here in New Jersey,” says Morozov. 

The Jersey Art Book Fair plans to host over 50 bookmaker exhibitors, including artists, photographers, writers, designers, publishers, small presses and printers whose work will include zines, broadsides, graphic novels and more. Other mediums may include bookbinding, screen printing, pop-up books, letterpress and paper making. Exhibitors are still being finalized and will be announced on the JAB website in December.

Though exhibitors may come from anywhere, there will definitely be an emphasis on highlighting artists with New Jersey ties. “We thought it was time to bring something to New Jersey,” Morozov says, in part because, “I think some people worry that calling themselves Jersey-based comes with some kind of liability.” 

While attending the biggest book fair in the United States, she wore a Dense shirt that reads “The City of New Jersey,” hoping it would start conversations that would connect her to artists from the state. Sure enough, though she only met one artist at the event who was listed as a New Jersey artist, several more artists commented on the shirt and revealed they were from the state, but had since moved.

Morozov says the art book fair will be “a perfect opportunity to circle back to our origins and be in fellowship with and in celebration of print.” 

The event will be held at the Monira Foundation’s space within Mana Contemporary in Jersey City, “not just because they have a great space,” says Morozov, but because, “they happen to also have an incredible monthly series of book artists who are featured in their exhibit space,” so it’s a very natural fit.

Mana Contemporary is one of New Jersey’s largest art centers, with over 2 million square feet of exhibition and studio spaces.

In preparation for the Jersey Art Book Fair, Morozov and other members of Dense attended other art book fairs both virtually and in person, including the NY Art Book Fair in October. Attending these fairs and exhibiting at them gave them insight into what works and what doesn’t when it comes to successful events.

“In some cases the exhibitors will roll out new material for an event and put an immense amount of work to make it ready,” Morozov says. “We’re wanting to be mindful that they’re not vendors, they are looking to these events to be the one moment in which it makes sense for them to release something.”

For exhibitors, some benefits of participating in the art book fair include getting their work in front of new audiences, making connections, making sales and getting inspiration from seeing the work of others. The event will be especially friendly towards creators who are new to fairs.

“It was really important for us to feel like folks who have never been on any of those circuits and want to break out for the first time and have really compelling work can find a home at Jersey Art Book Fair,” says Morozov.

Thought was put into how the event will feel for attendees, too. Morozov says the fair will be “a really immersive experience.” Unlike ordering online or browsing a bookstore, shopping at an art book fair puts readers and collectors in direct contact with the artists/publishers. 

“It’s such a welcoming space for folks who want to support the art but aren’t necessarily comfortable or confident about picking artwork to hang on their walls, but feel really comfortable having it in their hands and on their table. The work is super accessible from a price perspective,” Morozov says.

“There really is something for everyone. Once you’re hooked that’s it—you become a collector.”

While Dense’s second issue, which will center on the Paterson Silk Strike of 1913, won’t be available in time for the fair, copies of their first issue and other merch will be. And there’s always next year—“We would like this to be a recurring event,” Morozov says, adding that they are already thinking about how to “sustain this as a program that can return year after year.”

“We’re interested in it being a positive experience for everybody.”

The Jersey Art Book Fair will be held on Jan. 28-29, 2023 at Mana Contemporary at 888 Newark Ave., Jersey City.