There are some parts of Melbourne that remain untouched by the tyranny of cool. High Street, Thornbury, with its mix of kebab outlets, tyre shops and non-ironic bikie bars, is one of these places. Sure, the odd café and vintage store nods at what might come, but the area still feels like it sits on an edge. It would be safe to assume that Perimeter Books, a new venture by independent publishers Dan Rule and Justine Ellis, is inspired by the idea of periphery. This is, after all, a city that welcomes entrepreneurial endevours with the kind of enthusiasm reserved for late night whiskies or long summer days.
“I’m a bit weird, being a writer and coming from a background, technically of poetry, I’ve always been hung up on the phonetics of particular words. Perimeter just kept coming back into my head and I really liked its connotations. When we were coming up with a name for the store, I said ‘What about perimeter?’ and we had a bit of a chuckle because I hate place-space names, but at the same time we thought, it’s in Thornbury, it’s on the perimeter. I love the word periphery, but it felt a bit too exclusive,” laughs Rule.
Perimeter Books does seem like an oddly mathematical name for a space dedicated to small press and art, architecture, design and photography books. But the name evokes the finiteness of a perimeter precisely, the potential to keep books safe in a world of laptops and iPads.
The pair first came across the idea for Perimeter Books while visiting friends in Brooklyn. “There was a little store called By and By. I think it’s shut down since. It was about half the size of this space, and it was just a guy, a few books he really liked, and a few magazines, some T-shirts his friends had made and a gallery space. It was really simple, really small and manageable – it wasn’t trying to be a general bookstore or anything. Justine and I just walked in and we were in heaven. We thought it was amazing and said ‘Imagine doing something like this in Melbourne’,” Rule says.
Rule and Ellis returned to Melbourne and put the dream on the back burner, until earlier this year when art book distributor Modern Journal leased out the front of its Thornbury premises. The duo then proceeded with the store fit-out, inspired by elements of overseas bookstores and art spaces. “Justine and I had spent a lot of time in Japan. I don’t want to overstate the Japanese thing but we were influences by a kind of minimalism that’s still warm.” Minimalism and warmth may seem directly opposed, but Perimeter Books somehow manages both. The white walls and hardwood floors are punctuated by the odd plant, pieces from recent exhibitions and the books themselves – limited run and imaginatively jacketed. The store features modular, triangle-leg tables, in keeping with the geometry of its name.
The store stocks international small press and art titles from publishers such as Switzerland’s Nieves, London’s NoBrow Press and Post Editions, from Rotterdam. Citing Post Editions as a favourite imprint, Rule picks up Shelter, a hardback volume of photography by Henk Wildschut. Featuring different sized pages and a cover doubling as a poster, Shelter is the type of audacious publishing project completely at odds with a world drunk on Amazon. Rule lists Berlin magazine Mono Kultur among his most-loved publications. “It’s a big inspiration – it’s what I call gutsy publishing. Just the idea of a 32 page interview with one artist…”
On the front, Perimeter sells back catalogue and upcoming releases from ERM Books, the indie publishing company Rule started along with Ellis and illustrator Marc Martin. Known for championing Melbourne talent, ERM has produced artist’s books by Kat McLeod and photographers Louis Porter and Warwick Baker with a project by Beci Orpin in the works.
“We made a little rule that in our first year we wouldn’t be buying anything for any commercial imperative. Maybe down the track we might have to do that, but now we’re here to show books in a particular way. People often come in and say they haven’t seen this particular book before. Another bookstore might have a copy but its probably buried under a hundred tattered books,” he continues.
“In many ways, the subject and topic that a book covers is really important, but the publishing values are really important as well. We won’t really stock books that are poorly produced. We want to stock books that are beautiful and interesting.”
Commercial gain might not be a priority at Perimeter Books, but highlighting their tactility is high on the agenda. French-folded pages, heavy stitching and exposed glue ask to be picked up and touched, an urge we have yet to shrug off, according to Rule. “We haven’t quite got our head around hard drive crashes. So it’s crazy to me that people are giving away their entire record collections,” he ponders.
Instead of showing art books and small press as a relic of the past, Perimeter is engaged in “bringing them out of the art ghetto and into a vernacular people can understand.” The bookstore also doubles as an exhibition space for artists interested in the printed form – upcoming shows will feature New York photographer Josh Gurrie and Sydney typographer Mark Gowing.
Rule also wants to offer support to younger independent publishers such as Parts & Crafts, a risograph studio and printing press operating out of an old mechanics studio in North Carlton.
“It just comes back to issues with small press publishing and us knowing how hard it is to get distribution and representation in bookstores out here. But there’s quite a vibrant little community of people, especially younger kids, in the last six months to a year. We’re 31, 32 and while we don’t think of ourselves as senior citizens, we can support ourselves. So we thought we’d try and do something that could help nurture the scene and the stuff we like – not just the stuff we like, but the stuff that’s well published.”