Tag Archives: zines

Vandals or Vanguards?

Who decides what the future will look like is always a political issue. Will it big business, big government or a network of creative individuals on the street?

As part of the “Space Invaders” exhibition at RMIT gallery there was a street art seminar, moderated by Jaklyn Babington, Assistant Curator of International Prints, Drawings and Illustrated Books at the NGA (National Gallery of Australia). It was a panel discussion featuring Luke Sinclair from the Sticky Institute and artists: Nails, Civil and Jumbo.

The discussion looked both back at the exhibition and forward to the future of street art. And from this naturally lead onto the politics of the street and the politics of underground art. All of the speakers emphasised the importance of networking to the scene. Most importantly there is the power of networking through the internet but there is also the networks of collaborating street artists and the networks of zine distributions.

Some hardcore street artists and others might wonder at the inclusion of zines in the exhibition and Luke Sinclair from Sticky Institute on the panel. The NGA sees their collection of “street art as a paper based, alternative print making and drawing”, curator, Jaklyn Babington explained. And zines, like street art, are definitely an alternative tradition in print making and drawing. Zines are part of the same d.i.y. culture as street art. They are an urban sculptural object, a handmade art version of the common magazine that you pick up and hold in your hands.

The exhibition is a retrospective of look at the NGA’s street art collection and any examination of the history will naturally lead on to politics. Civil looked back at the exhibition as street art from the Howard-era when there were mass protests against the Iraq war and the World Economic Forum. Looking back Sydney artist, Jumbo spoke about how he began experimenting on the street beyond the formula of aerosol graffiti. Nails was interested in the legitimisation of street art through the communication between street and art gallery. And the concern expressed by some parts of street art community that something was being taken away through the legitimisation. Luke Sinclair also talked about the politics of underground work, the responses from both the mainstream and the underground to being exhibited or included in a zine book, as in the case of Fanzine, by Thames and Hudson. (For more information than anyone could want about this controversy see the website.)

Civil spoke about the politics of street art as the “broad conversation off different voices” on the streets, of “the handmade gesture in the city”, “markers” and “memorials” in the street. The title of the seminar, “Vandals or Vanguards?” contrasts the ‘vandals’, the way that street artists are portrayed in the mass media, or the ‘vanguard’, the leading front line position. Nails said that the vanguard is frustrated with how slow the mainstream responds, that he has become middle-aged waiting for it to catch up. But like the other speakers Nails is hopeful about the future of street art, comparing it to the punk scene “that died and then became even more interesting.”

Civil, "Freedom" 2010

Exhibitions This Week

I saw some of the galleries in Albert Street, East Richmond this week: Shifted, Anita Treverso and Karen Woodbury.

Why overlay images? Ian Bunn, who is exhibiting at Shifted thinks that overlaid images are essentially contemporary. His overlayed images have the intense colours of a cathode ray tube. See one of the videos on exhibition at this link. At Anita Treverso Gallery the exhibition by Tanmaya, uses overlaid images to suggest a person over time. This effect creates surreal images of pregnant children and trans-generational portraits. The amalgamation of images is finely rendered in colour pencil. At Karen Woodbury Gallery, Locust Jones doesn’t overlay images; they are brutally piled up until they fill the large sheet of paper in a deliberately crude but effective style. Locust Jones is creating images about some of the big ugly issues of our time: global warming and toxic debt.

Back to Shifted, where in the second gallery and the office Ede Horton is exhibiting “Perspective”. Glass hands and feet become creatures with glass eyes; the foot with toothy jaw and pointy ear is particularly menacing. Rows of kiln-cast black-glass small faces float in rows of meditation. Only one work, the “Gumnut Offering” was a little too sweet for my taste.

Later in the week I saw the “The Endless Garment” at RMIT gallery. On exhibition were endless machine knitted garments. Amongst the silly (anyone would look silly wearing these garments) or conceptual works in the exhibition there are some elegant knitted numbers. But it is a fun exhibition; even the two boys who came with their parents, while I was there, thought many of pieces were fun, even funny. Aside from being a bit of fun the exhibition did feel like a promotion for the “Wholegarment ®”.

Looking at Belgium designer Walter Van Beirendonck’s skinKing collection that featured knitted hood veils; both my wife and I thoughts turned to the French parliamentary commission recommending laws banning the burqa. Would the wearing of these endless knitted garments also contravene the proposed laws, because the face was covered? Even though there was both a male and female garments. And the craziness of the French passing fashion laws hits me like a wet Gaultier bustier. There are so many veils in this exhibition; but who is going to censor a fashion designer when the objective of the French laws is to attack Muslims. And what about the whole knitted body suits of UK designer Freddie Robins? From head to toes endless knits with no holes anywhere.

Finally at Platform and Sticky they were celebrating zines with “The Festival of the Photocopier”. “The Undiscovered Press” exhibition at Platform is curated by Melissa Reidy features a selection of zines from around Australia. The artwork and printing of zines are slicker than ever.

In Vitrine at Platform I also admired Jessica Herrington’s “A particular excess”, the thick layers of black paint solidified on an un-stretched canvas, the excess of paint dripping down and wrinkles as the skin dries. It is an excess of paint.

D.I.Y. culture

In trying to explain street art it is not enough simply to provide a history of graffiti. Graffiti and ‘street art’ are part of contemporary D.I.Y. (do it yourself) culture that includes zines, music bands, fashion, raves and art parties. A D.I.Y. culture is a culture that is not inherited by tradition, it is not imported and is not purchased off the shelf. It is a culture requires some assembly (often cut and paste culture) or modification and interactive participation. It is hardly really a culture, but a proto-culture, a mutant culture, a dynamic evolving culture.

D.I.Y. culture is in direct competition with traditional culture, with mass produced consumer culture. It is engaged in a political-cultural battle with the powers that support traditional culture. For this reason it is frequently demonized, criminalized and otherwise suppressed because of the threat that it represents to traditional culture.

In the past great art followed the great empires; art followed the money and served as a symbol of power. It was the Dadaists who made a break from creating culture to serve homicidal empires and creating a D.I.Y. culture complete with zines, collages, fashion and haircuts. The Nazi’s and World War II cut short Europe’s early D.I.Y. culture; Hitler’s identification of the Dadaists as a danger to German culture is the first of many concerted attempts to eliminate D.I.Y. culture. The post-war baby boomers rediscovered the Dadaists and D.I.Y. culture flourished again.

D.I.Y. culture is a democratic culture, in that it is from the people and by the people. D.I.Y. culture is not, necessarily popular, it may even be an unpopular and minority taste but that doesn’t make it undemocratic. The distinction is that D.I.Y. culture is democratic rather than popularist; it is individual freedom of expression and opportunity rather than the rule of majority to praise or censor.

Democracy may appear difficult to reconcile with art and good taste, as much popular taste is definitively bad. Contemporary fashion is a good example of the democratization without a loss of style or taste. For example, the distinction between the classes in fashion is not as apparent it was a century ago. Society is no longer so concerned with suits and ties.

In most countries that call themselves democratic freedom of speech is effectively silenced by media ownership. The Chinese ‘democracy wall’ is an experiment that has not been repeated until blogging. In this respect some graffiti is a rebellion, an attempt to covertly exercise free speech. Graffiti groups, like Buga-up’s anti-tobacco advertising vandalism in the 1970s were a direct attack against the power of corporate advertising.

D.I.Y. culture should be distinguished from pop culture, in that pop culture is manufactured and popularist. But there are many points of confusion as D.I.Y. culture references pop culture, for example in stencil art, in lyrics and collage material. And D.I.Y. culture may become pop culture, for example, hip-hop or punk.

Zines @ Platform

“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.

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