“Secrets of the Photocopier” in the Degraves Subway is a combined exhibition of Sticky and Platform, “exposing Australia’s Underground Zine Culture”. It is a very good exhibition doing exactly what it says it intends. It is exposing Melbourne’s commuters to an attractively displayed and curated exhibition of contemporary zines. The curators deserve to be congratulated. The exhibition is also noteworthy because of the sponsorship of the City of Melbourne and the Australia Council for the Arts indicates that zines are clearly being recognized as art.
Classically a ‘zine’ is a small run photocopy magazine but it can also include any self-published material. I have been part of and observing the zine scene for decades. It started when I was at Bendigo Senior High School. My old friend, Paul Leech produced a lot of zines. He always had good access to photocopiers in the student union or the defence department. Zines are often the art of the office worker, and unknowingly funded by the photocopy budget of many an office. Without the secret use of photocopiers zines are uneconomical.
I now have several magazine boxes of zines; the ones that I have contributed to, the anarchist publications, and the rest. One of my favourites has a green cardboard cover with a toy American flag and the title “NAM”. It looks like the scribbled notes of a crazed Vietnam vet but juxtapositions of statements, the obsession with Vietnam war movies and the inclusion of quotes from Euripedes makes it a strange work of post-modern literature.
Zines emerged as part of the do-it-yourself (d.i.y.) punk attitudes in the 1970s. There have always been small publications but the punk attitude of don’t worry about the quality opened it up to everyone. This attitude, combined with the underground mail art scene of the 1970s that had grown out of Fluxus and the art history basics of Dadaist publications, to create a form that straddles art, publishing and media. I am surprised that zines have survived the growth of the internet, but there is still an appeal to tangible rather than the virtual. And many zines have built on this tangible appeal with their handmade, even handwritten, construction.
If you want to find out more, I recommend reading, Zines v.1 ed. V. Vale (V/Search, 1996, San Francisco) is an excellent read for anyone interested in the diversity of US zines and finding out more about their creators.