Thanks to our international distributor, Central Books, Brick is now showing up in exciting, new-to-us bookstores around the world. And thanks to some dedicated readers, every so often we get a glimpse into these travels. A photograph of Brick 90 on display in Glasgow’s Aye-Aye Books, shared by one such reader, prompted us to get in touch and find out more. Co-owner Martin Vincent kindly took the time to answer a few questions over email about the store and its history.
Brick: Could you tell us a bit about the store to start off?
Martin Vincent: Aye-Aye Books is an independent bookshop based within the Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA) on Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street, run by me and Sapna Agarwal. It’s an art bookshop, and that encompasses as many things as contemporary art practice engages with in these times. We prefer short-run and self-published artist’s books and zines to glossy monographs. We also carry experimental fiction, critical theory, radical books, books about music, some records, a bit of poetry, anarchist pamphlets, and of course lots of magazines and journals from around the world. It’s a very small space and if the term wasn’t so misused and abused I’d say our selection was curated.
CCA used to be called the Third Eye Centre. It was founded by Glaswegian poet and playwright Tom McGrath in 1974. McGrath was at the centre of London’s counterculture in the 1960s, participating in the legendary International Poetry Olympics at the Royal Albert Hall with Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso, among others, and becoming the founding editor of theInternational Times in 1966. Returning to Scotland, he set up the venue that quickly became the heart of Glasgow’s avant-garde.
That was all long ago. Since then, the arts have thrived in Glasgow, so any one hub is no longer essential. CCA continued through triumphs and crises—its once-renowned bookshop closed by the time I arrived in Glasgow in 2006. Aye-Aye Books opened up here in 2008 as a temporary arrangement for the Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art. We ended up staying—though we still don’t have a formal agreement with the Centre! I think the history of the place continues to inform what we do, and I believe that’s part of the reason the folk that run it like to have us here.
Brick: What made you want to open a bookstore?
Vincent: I’m an artist and was previously involved in artist-run galleries and curatorial projects in Manchester, where we also published artists’ books. I came to Glasgow, drawn by its remarkable reputation in the visual arts. I like to make myself useful, and while there was a pretty comprehensive infrastructure for contemporary art, there seemed to be a bookshop-shaped hole. My partner, Sapna, is also an artist, and had been involved in publishing and library projects, so we decided to open a bookshop. It was the beginning of a recession, our target demographic was artists and students—how could we fail?
Brick: Why Aye-Aye?
Vincent: It’s a long story, again going back to Manchester. Like almost everyone else in that city, I was in a band back in the 1980s, and we played, as they all did, at a venue named the International. A larger place, the International II, opened up, and we performed there too. They were both long gone in 2000 when other artists and I were looking for a name for our new gallery space. I suggested the International 3. Manchester would have its third International. We published books with the imprint i3 Publications. Here in Glasgow, I wanted to retain a link with that, or at least an echo, and after toying with “Four-Eyes” settled on “Aye-Aye”—a popular Scottish greeting as well as an endangered Madagascan lemur.
Brick: Can you tell us a bit about your patrons? Who comes in to visit?
Vincent: Pop stars, comedians, drunken would-be poets, international museum curators, academics, people who are lost, sober radical poets, communists. A lot of artists and students visit, as often because they’ve published something they’d like us to stock as to buy something. We have a handful of regular customers who always make a purchase, but our turnover is really ridiculously small. I shouldn’t say that, it’s bad business, you’re supposed to big yourself up. But Aye-Aye Books is not about retail, it’s about practice and content, it is totally an art project.
Brick: Why are booksellers necessary?
Vincent: Poet and academic Fred Moten was recently in town to discuss the relationships between radicalism and the arts. He was asked if art could ever really change the world. His response was that he knew for sure that without art, without music, without writing and poetry, you would never change anything.
People like to be in a physical space with writing, thought, and ideas. There are many ways of distributing these things, but this model still seems to be a useful one.
Brick: What’s your favourite thing in the store?
Vincent: I’m just amazed that it exists at all. What pleases me is how many books we have that if you found just one of them in one of the big bookshop chains, it would make your day.
Brick: We’re delighted that Aye-Aye has started selling Brick. What do you think of the magazine?
Vincent: I like the paper stock, the way it falls open easily with the weight and pliability. You could read part of it in a book or magazine shop and return it to the shelf uncreased. You might imagine in my position I wouldn’t approve of this quality, but this in-store reading’s going to happen anyway, so it’s better that the semi-pawed magazines remain in saleable condition. It also means that I can have a sneaky read myself.
I like the strapline, A Literary Journal, which requires no further explanation or justification but creates a frame in which to continually define and redefine what a literary journal is or might be.
I particularly like that one of your readers photographed a copy in our shop and sent it to you.