Thursday, 18 April 2019

Oh my zine

Oh My Zine exhibition opens today at The Bowery in Leeds and if all you want from an exhibition of zines is overly earnest queer Springsteen obsessions then buckle up.

The exhibition celebrates zines and diy publications and features zines by 105 Women Press, Ben Cooney, Bobbi Rae Gastall, Chella Quint, Lauren Pascal, Okocha Obasi, Patrick Wray.

You can find extracts from my zine Me and Bruce: Queers on the Edge of Town displayed as part of the exhibition. Here's a little trailer of me making the zine from last year

In the zine I talk about small town teenage loneliness as the ultimate queer experience in Springsteen songs, I imagine Bruce as the hot queer butch girl of my dreams, and I massively appropriate lyrics from songs to be about my doomed queer teen romance. Who doesn't love turning lyrics about unrequited love and intense co-dependent friendships into a sad queer love story?

In the exhibition you can find panels from my comic interpretation of Backstreets, a Springsteen song about overly complicated friendships and hiding feelings and keeping things on the downlow and then everything feeling like total shit.

And you can also find prints of Springsteen illustrations which didn't make it into the zine but did become postcards instead:

Prints and zines are available to buy in the shop. The exhibition is on from 18th - 21st June.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Asia Art Archive residency

This year marks my 20th year of making zines. I started making zines in 1999 as a way to connect with people. Quite simply I had no friends. I was a lonely teenage queer in a small town and in lieu of what the internet would later become, zines were a physical and tangible presence which arrived through my letter box. They were a dispatch from out there which said 'you're going to be ok, there are more people like you, you aren't alone.' I'm not being dramatic when I say zines very much saved and changed my life.
'Theres something happening somewhere...' taken from Me and Bruce #4: Queers on the Edge of Town zine.
Cut to now and I've just returned from a week long residency in Hong Kong with Asia Art Archive. I was there along with the wonderful Nicola Cook and Loesja Vigour repping the UK and Ireland Zine Libraries group as well as the libraries we both work at as part of our day jobs which include zine collections.

Asia Art Archive

When I started making zines 20 years ago I could have never predicted the ways zines would continue to change my life and the communities they would connect me with.

Loesja, Nicola and I with just some of the artists, activists, and librarians we met.
Nicola, Loesja, and I were invited on this residency to share ideas, resources, and knowledge around zine libraries and to connect with the Hong Kong diy zine scene. Nicola and Loesja established the zine collection at Wellcome Library, and I co-founded the zine collection at Iniva's Stuart Hall Library with Sonia Hope. I also established the zine collection at Tate Library as well as co-founding the UK and Ireland Zine Libraries group with fellow zine librarian Leila Kassir. Despite all that plus 20 years of making zines, imposter syndrome was high.

Discussing the accessibility of zines as part of the public talk at Asia Art Archive
A full report of the residency will be coming on the UK and Ireland Zine libraries blog, and of course there will be a zine to follow (there's always a zine). But for now I want to just make a note of my immediate take aways from this whole experience.

Meeting with Beatrix from Small Tune Press and Zine Coop, and visiting the current home of Queer Reads Library.

My main take away is what a total privilege it is to be able to sit and think and chat about zine libraries and diy culture for a whole week. In the institutions where we work, the zine collections are low on the list of priorities. Zines make up just 0.1% of the overall library where I work so they aren't prioritised, and as staff and resources are limited, it's easy for other aspects of the collection to steal focus. But to have a week where zines are the main focus, where we take the time to consider ethical practices around collections and cataloguing is honestly such a dream.

Zine fair programme published by Hong Kong Open Printshop
It made me think about the responsibilities of institutional libraries and organisations. As both a zinester and a zine librarian, my thoughts can be quite contradictory. I'm often cynical of large galleries, museums, and universities engaging with zine culture. Is it a quick and cheap way to tick a diversity box? Is it a quick attempt to reach a youth demographic? Is it a style and aesthetic which can be used then thrown away? And I mean quite literally thrown away - I mentioned in a previous blog post that after one particularly inspiring and creative zine making workshop I hosted for a large UK art organisation last year I saw the results of that workshop collected and thrown in the bin  by a curator, despite attendees being told that their zines would be collected and added to the collections. What is the legacy of these events? Zines may be low cost and ephemeral but their content and reason for existing matters. Art organisations, museums, and universities have a responsibility when collecting zines. Zinesters shouldn't feel privileged that their zines are collected by museums and galleries, in fact those institutions should recognise what a total privilege it is for those zines to be used or collected in their organisations in the first place.

Page from a zine published during the 2014 Umbrella Movement. This zine maps the spaces occupied by activists.

During my residency I met so many artists, activists, zine makers, and librarians, all genuinely connecting with each other. 'Authenticity' became the watchword. Do organisations working with zines interact and engage with diy culture in an authentic way? Are institutions making efforts to develop and nurture zinesters and zine culture? Similarly do art organisations know when to back off and let diy culture evolve on its own? What do zine artists get out of this deal other than the privilege of an organisation putting a spotlight on their work? Do organisations put their money where their mouth is? Do they not only pay zine artists but do they promote zine distros, zine fairs, and spaces for the public to purchase zines?

Do organisations treat zines as art objects? Are they used in displays and exhibitions to showcase a particular style or aesthetic, or is the value of their content truly appreciated? Other than when art organisations have asked me to for the sake of their press release, I really don't call myself a zine artist, I call myself a zinester or a zine maker. I do this because my zines aren't art objects. Sometimes there is a visual element to them, sometimes they are illustrated, sometimes they feature collage, but sometimes they just contain nothing but plain text and that's just as valid as the zines which Look Nice.

Panel discussion on zines at Asia Art Archive

What struck me from my residency was that these conversations are already in full swing and that activists and artists in Hong Kong connect with each other and forge ways for their materials to be shared and collected. That's not to say these conversations aren't happening in the UK and Ireland as well because they are, and as zine librarians we need to do better at joining in these conversations with zine makers. Although admittedly it's difficult, and a common theme from the week's residency is sharing with each other how stretched our time, staff, resources are, and how burnout in the library sector is real.

Zine collection at Asia Art Archive
It was thought provoking and inspiring to see the ways that Asia Art Archive work with zine communities and nurture diy culture, and provide a place for authentic activism to be documented and preserved while also taking an active role in connecting diy artists and activists with each other.

There is honestly just SO MUCH to say after this week and an in-depth report is coming soon. We'll be posting a full report over on the UIZL blog, we have a zine in the works, and we'll be sharing our findings at the next UIZL meetup this summer. But for now my head and heart is full of zines, and I'm just very thankful to everyone at Asia Art Archive and all the artists, activists, and librarians who were incredibly kind and gracious with their time. Especially AAA Collection Manager Elaine Lin who made this whole dream possible.

It also made me realise that I talk about zine libraries a LOT but honestly I haven't made a zine in a hot minute and I kind of want to do that now.

Monday, 1 April 2019

Glasgow zine cataloguing workshop

I'm also hosting a zine cataloguing workshop on the Sunday as part of the zine fest. I'll be repping the UK and Ireland Zine Libraries group (UIZL) as part of a bigger project.

At our last UIZL meeting we discussed the idea of creating an accessible and collaborative toolkit for anyone working with zine collections either in institutional libraries or diy community run spaces to share advice on how to collect and catalogue material. Over the last few months I've been involved in hosting zine cataloguing workshops aimed at librarians, but this is a workshop aimed at zine makers and zine readers.

The idea of the workshop is to talk about some of the ethical implications of libraries and archives collecting zines, and prioritising the concerns of the diy zine community. All zinesters and zine readers are welcome. I'm hoping to share some ideas about cataloguing and ask the zine community to reflect on how they might feel about having their work collected in libraries, and think about ways zinesters can impact on the ways libraries and archives catalogue their work. Zine librarianship has to be diy led rather than library led, and this workshop will be a good opportunity to gaugue feedback from zinesters and to hopefully provide ways for zinesters to become involved.

Attendees will have the opportunity to collaborate on a zine during the workshop which will then be presented to the UK and Ireland Zine Libraries group to inform their cataloguing work later this summer.

Tickets are on a sliding scale and can be booked here: