CODEX Mexico City: a personal chronicle

In mid-February 2012, Becky Fischbach and several colleagues from the Stanford Libraries visited Mexico City to attend CODEXMexico, a three-day event that included a book arts exhibition, book fair and symposium. This is Becky’s personal chronicle of the event…

My first sensory impression in an unfamiliar place is how it smells; the caress or assault of its atmosphere in my nostrils and against my skin—thin and dry, cold and sharp, gentle, humid, floral, or funky. Walking off the redeye, I sensed the chemical odor of an industrial city at work. At high elevation and surrounded by mountains on three sides, Mexico City is renowned for the air pollution that can be trapped in by an
inversion layer of cloud cover.

As we made our way through customs and outside to the taxi waiting area my eyes overtook my nose to take in the sight of a busy city waking up—perhaps not ever having slept—already populated, productive, and congested. The chemical bouquet of the airport gave way to fresh air cleansed by recent rains, not the oxygen poor, smog-choked air I’d expected. Mild, sunny, breezy weather would continue throughout our visit.

The night of our arrival we were guests for dinner at the home of Isaac Masri and Julie Sarfati, where we met many of the artists who would participate in the CODEXMexico programs of the next three days. Masri, a dentist, and Sarfati, a graphic designer, founded the Taller Intaglio print studio housed in the lower level of the vibrant Estación Indianilla cultural center, which Masri also directs.

Named for the beautifully restored former trolley car garage it occupies in Colonia Doctores, a gritty neighborhood still recovering from the 1985 earthquake, the six-year-old Estación was the location of the CODEXMexico events.

Readers of this website are familiar with the CODEX Foundation’s biennial—and by now
legendary—symposium and book fair in Berkeley, California. Its founders Peter Koch
and Susan Filter have worked hard to expand the international event’s pan-American
reach to include book artists, printers, fine-press publishers, and bibliophiles from Latin
America and from Mexico in particular. The idea for CODEXMexico germinated and grew
quickly—in less than a year—from a seed cast at the 2011 Codex Fair and nourished by
the desire for continued cross-cultural dialogue among artists, printers, printmakers, and
poets on both sides of the U.S-Mexico border.

The 2012 exhibition Codex México: Libros de Artista in Mexico City included works by five contemporary Californian fine press printers (on loan from the Stanford University Libraries) shown with an equal number of Mexican artists’ books—more than a hundred books in all, displayed in spacious black-metal-and-blond-wood table cases with tall vitrines designed by architect Fernando Ondarza and fabricated specifically for the show.

Massive gears that in times past drove the city’s trolley car system occupied one corner
of the expansive gallery, where wood-plank floors, a high ceiling with exposed metal
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