Knight Arts Challenge winner EXILE Books thrives on community collaboration

Photo courtesy EXILE Books.

At one point, as Amanda Keeley retraces her steps the past few months and her list goes on and on and on, the classic image of a dozen clowns stepping out of a Volkswagen Beetle comes to mind. She pauses and chuckles almost apologetically. “Well, yes, I’ve been busy.” RELATED LINKS

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A visual artist, writer and curator, Keeley is the mastermind behind itinerant artists’ bookstore EXILE Books.  A 2014 Knight Arts Challenge winner, the project has had a remarkably active life, rolling from art galleries to fairs and morphing from art/practical installation to books-and-fruit cart. In March, EXILE Books takes up temporary residence at the De La Cruz Collection, in Miami’s Design District.

“It will include a small component of EXILE Books and, basically, a temporary screen printing studio in the space,” she explains. “EXILE Books is about dedicating a space to print culture, celebrating print culture and raising awareness about artists’ publications and how artists utilize publishing.”

EXILE Books launched in September at Locust Projects, in Miami’s Design District, when it was still just an Arts Challenge finalist. It then moved to Books & Books, in Coral Gables, where it became a store-within-a-store. “It felt like an occupation,” muses Keeley about the setting. That stay also included talks and panel discussions with visiting speakers.

That stop was followed by a pop-up Artist’s Book Lounge at Miami Book Fair International, an appearance at Los Angeles’ Art Book Fair and being part of the exhibit “Books Fuel Ideas” featuring artists Lizzi Bougatsos, Eve Fowler and Sam Gordon at Bas Fisher Invitational, curated by Keeley and Katerina Llanes. The show was “about artists that experiment with archives and with ephemeral materials,” and it also included both public art (on various bus shelters) and music (a sound composition by Bougatsos and a closing event featuring  DJ Le Spam and DJ Waterbed Kev).

“And then, just because I didn’t have enough going on, I decided to do an ice sculpture,” deadpans Keeley. “I’m also an artist and I look at EXILE Books as an extension of my practice and a vehicle for communication. So I decided I wanted to do an ice sculpture based on an idea I had when I was over at [the New York bookstore] Printed Matter and they explained to me that during Hurricane Sandy they had lost an enormous amount of inventory due to water damage. They were actually able to preserve some of the material by sending it to a company that would freeze it and then air dry it .” She asked the artists in the Bas Fisher show to provide her with books and other materials and set them on an ice bookcase.

“It was frozen solid. It was 1,500 pounds and it looked like a freestanding bookcase,” she says. “It took 24 hours to melt.” The resulting art piece remained at the gallery’s entrance, the books and other printed material suggesting marooned survivors of a shipwreck.

By design, literally and figuratively, Keeley sets up a dialogue between EXILE Books and its potential audience/customers—something that took a different tone when the pop-up store became a rolling books-and-fruit cart at the Untitled fair in Miami Beach, also in December, during Miami Art Week.

Photo courtesy EXILE Books.

“People were enthusiastic and supportive,” Keeley says about the response. “It was an eye-catcher and the fair gave me free range. I had a poetry reading, I had a performance artist from New York …. It was fun and I think it was a nice departure for the audience. It was something light and fun and with a good message and a chance to talk about books — and talk about fruit,” she says with a laugh.

“It was an opportunity to reach a totally different audience,” she says. “I’m really pushing to be at more unconventional places. Each space feels different. Watching to see what resonates and what doesn’t and what appeals to which audience has been an interesting process.”

Knight Arts Challenge South Florida is open for entries through Feb. 23. Apply at

Fernando González is a Miami-based arts and culture writer.