Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Zines + Craft

Here is installment number three of a series of work I wrote for the latest Toronto Zine Library resource zine. This time no interview...just a short piece on the co-relation between zines and craft. Enjoy.

And happy c-day, by the way.

I think it was in about 1999 or 2000 when I noticed the big shift. Suddenly it seemed like there was way more STUFF at zine fairs-I remember tables full of wearable bits and pieces, loads of t-shirts, pouches and patches. Later buttons became insanely popular, as well as hand printed posters and artist’s books, magnets, and hand-crafted one-of-a-kinds. Soon enough the few zines left at such fairs were drowning in a sea of knick-knacks and bric-a-brac. I remember grumbling about this at the time, concerned for the future of
MY MEDIUM, which was without a doubt the noble zine of the olde-fashioned cut’n’paste variety. My mantra was FUCK CRAFT. I was truly afraid that the people around me were forgetting their roots- opting for commodity over community, style over communication.

Well, I was wrong. It took several years and my delving deeper into my own life as an artist and compulsive maker to see the many connections zine and craft-based work share. Among these shared connections are:

The Power of Intimacy- Both zines and crafts are intimate in nature. Zine-makers make zines for the love of it, for little profit, and for a small (sometimes SUPER small) audience. Makers of craft objects are in the same boat- the limitations of the hand and one person making small runs of carefully crafted objects ensures that only a few people will be the recipients of such objects, making the power of the object to it’s owner all the more. Also, because both zines and craft objects are made by hand, evidence of the creator remains attached to the zine/craft- whether it be hand cuts, hand-drawn elements or handwriting, to crocheted embellishments or off-register hand-printing, the evidence of the creators hand makes for a more visceral experience for the keeper of the object.

Intellectual Accessibility- You don’t need to go to school to learn how to make a zine. Zine-makers make their own rules, write about whatever they want, and work intuitively. Craft-based artists make work with materials that are familiar to all walks of life (string, wool, fabric, and other natural/organic materials). Everyone has natural associations to such materials, which makes the general public infinitely more likely to engage in craft-based work than a lot of contemporary art that employs remote concepts (that are the product or 4-6 years of study within an institution) and materials. Not to mention many craft traditions are handed down from generation to generation- a way of learning and making loaded with significance and history.

Material Accessibility- Making a zine requires little more than paper, a pen, a glue stick, a pair of scissors, patience and motivation. Photocopying is a cheap and accessible method of self-publishing. Craft materials are also cheap, and are often plentiful and involve simple techniques and processes unlike more conventional sculpture techniques such as casting, ceramics, metal/woodworking, and other methods of making which employ the use of special tools, machinery, and sometimes harmful and hazardous processes and chemicals.

Creation as Democracy- One of my favorite aspects of zine-making is that anyone can make one. I made my first zine at 13. I knew a family growing up who made zines together- the mother and her two sons, who were about 12 and 8 when they started, we equal partners in the creation of what ended up being a long-running and widely-known Toronto zine. Zine
makers come in all ages, races and backgrounds. Zines empower and engage all different types of people, regardless of social position, education, and personal wealth. The same could be said for craft- all parts of the world have their own indigenous crafts and folk arts. Much of these ways of making are handed down, and involve sustainable materials and
and the use of natural national resourses.

The Power to Heal- For more than a few people I’ve known over the years, their zine was the ear they had when no one else was there to listen. On the other hand, craft techniques often involve a meditative, slow production which soothes the mind and bears psychic rewards not often found in other contemporary ways of working.


Monday, December 17, 2007

Interview- Shannon Gerard

Do you remember your first encounter with a zine or the "zine world?" How and when were you first introduced to zines?

I don' t remember the exact circumstances that led to zine appreciation or making-- I have always loved books and multiples and DIY. I do remember the first eureka moments of figuring out that I could be an artist and a writer at the same time-- that the two loves of drawing and writing could coexist as a practice for me and that there was this whole other community of people out there making similar work. After going to Canzine and CutNPaste and other smaller fairs for years, I finally started booking tables and throwing my own stuff into the mix about 5 years ago.

Do you think your early involvement with zine culture helped inform your practice as an artist/printmaker? Please explain...

Yeah, my books are really connected to printmaking in that they are both things I do in multiple. I totally love making more than one of the same thing-- when I see them all stacked up, or all hung up together I get all thrilly and excited. That kind of repetition is so compelling for me, and so satisfying. There is also a really strong connection between zines and printmaking in that screenprinting and letterpress, before they were taken up by the art world, started as ways to produce stuff cheaply and distribute it widely. So, maybe part of the appeal of working in multiple is that I can communicate the work to more than one person. Lots of people can read my stories. I find that I don't make so many traditional prints anyway-- mostly of the printing I do is part of book projects.

Much of your work involves the use of modest materials and techniques rooted in craft and lo-tech methods of making (silkscreen, letterpress, handmade multiples). What attracts you to this way of working?

I love the idea of not needing a lot of expensive equipment or fancy materials to make art or tell stories. So much of my work is autobiographical and intimate-- so it makes sense (hopefully!) to use materials and processes that feel familiar to people. I am just telling pretty simple stories from my life-- anyone can do that. And I am using materials and methods that a lot of people can understand and recognize. Also the stories are personal, so I want the books to have definite evidence of the hand of the artist all over them.

What sorts of things influence your art/writing/comics? (People who are influences, concepts, places, etc.)

Boys. It's kind of funny to boil it down to that-- but most of my books so far have been about all of the love and fear and losses and hope and fragility of relationships either beginning, ending or never totally materializing. But I think my focus is shifting too-- like my recent Boobs and Dinks project is connected also to questions about fear and fragility but in a broader more universal sense. I guess I am trying to tap into fear in a different, softer way with that project. And I also think and write a lot about faith-- trying to make sense of the Christian upbringing I had and then kind of fell away from. I feel like a lot of my childhood beliefs are in ruins, so lately I have been trying to search through that rubble too.

Zine/Bookmaking are quietly subversive forms of expression/creating. What are your thoughts on this, especially in light of your recent brush with censorship? (York U Bookstore)

It is really so important to make work that is subversive. When people react by censoring your work, I guess you know you're onto a good and provocative idea. The Boobs and Dinks project tries to get at people's fears and human underbellies through this ultra feminized, "soft" form of crochet. In a way the censorship of that project completely serves the conversation I am trying to start about fear. Some people were freaked out about a crocheted penis on display-- but that started a whole bunch of other conversations about being freaked out about our real bodies. It's so awesome.

Do you have an all-time favourite zine? A current (recent) favourite?

Big Questions by Anders Nilsen is amazing. Lickety Split Smut Zine out of Montreal rocks. stef lenk's silent graphic novel chapters are beautiful. Anything by Lilli Carre (Tales of Woodsman Pete is probably her best known series) is so sweet and inspiring.

Zinemaking/self-publishing is an intuitive medium that is most often self-taught. You teach a nano-publishing course at the university level- zines sometimes pop up in the curriculum of post-secondary art classes. What are your thoughts on TEACHING zinemaking? Is zinemaking something that can be taught? Have you experienced anything specific as an educator that has helped shaped this opinion?

I think it is important to expose people to zine making, bookbinding, multiples, etc... at any level and in any context. A place like OCAD is a natural place for courses about indie publishing to spring up, since people at art school tend to be searching for and forming little micro communities and zines and DIY are so tied to community. Art school students are also so eager to take courses that have a real world connection-- that mean something beyond the marks you get and the techniques you learn-- and courses in DIY are all about that. It is also really fun to use all the resources of the school (like the presses and typefaces and foil stampers and all the print toys we have at OCAD) to make experimental bookworks and to milk the access to that equipment while you have it as a student or faculty member. The courses I teach in indie publishing are more like open concept experimental arenas than really directed classes-- but then I also try to offer tonnes of practical advice about taking your work way beyond school into the broader indie community in the city. For a lot of people that course could be a point of entry into an otherwise overwhelming space, so I am really glad to get to teach for that reason.

Is it important to preserve zines as an alternative form of communication? What can we do as zinemakers/zine readers/indie publishers to facilitate this?

I think the impulse to catalogue and preserve ephemeral objects and ideas is so great. It is so amazing for me to be able to bring my class from OCAD for example to a place like TZL because it helps to fulfill my aim of taking the course out of the institution and into the world. I can show off all this amazing stuff that other people have made. It is inspiring. And to have dedicated spaces in the city where materials like zines and multiples are available helps solidify the importance of those otherwise invisible (or hard to find) modes of production, venues for expression and ways of communicating. So yeah, space-- space dedicated to housing zines and workshops and classes--is so vital.

Shannon is a book/comic artist, multiple maker and educator based out of Toronto. For examples of her work, check out her website: http://www.shannongerard.org

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Open Studio, December 13-15

My studio will be open to the public from December 13-15 this month. The open studio will coincide with the Toronto School of Art's winter open house, which will be taking place on those days as well. The reception will take place on Thursday, December 13th, from 7-11pm, and I'll be there for the reception's entirety, as well as all day on Friday. All are welcome...please try to make it out for some refreshments and a holiday drink!

Open Studio (Tara Bursey, Julie Himel, Brette Gabel and Andree Tardif)
In conjunction with the Toronto School of Art's Winter Open House
410 Adelaide Street, 3rd Floor (West of Spadina)
December 13-15, 2007
Reception: Thursday, December 13th, 7-11

Monday, December 03, 2007

Interview: Michael Comeau

The following is an interview I conducted a couple of weeks ago with local screenprinter and artist Michael Comeau for the Toronto Zine Library Resource Zine. Michael is an insanely brilliant guy, with a really amazing organic approach to making work. He is a member of the Punchclock Collective, a musician, and a long-time zine maker...

Do you remember your first encounter with a zine, or the "zine world"? How and when were you first introduced to them?

The first zine I ever saw was "Something Smells" which was published by this Barrie hardcore band Phallocracy. It was the secret communique from the world of the older punks who worked at a lettuce packing warehouse. It had an interview with Bad Religion. I think it was '88 or something.

Do you think your early involvement with zine culture helped inform your practice as an artist/printmaker? Please explain.
Sure zines help inform my art practice. It first taught me about engaging with an audience. It all seems like the same practice. The same ideas translated through different media. The public digests information differently. When it is between the pages of a book held intimately within arms length, an experience for the individual. Or a painting on the wall ,a t-shirt for everyone else to see as well. It appears like people can tolerate more content (words, pictures, ideas in general) in book format than they can in something that hangs on their wall or their person. It also gave me as sense of a pragmatic cultural economy. I seem to have an idea of what that labour is worth and am constantly surprised by those who either feel entitled to get things for free or art patrons that only want something for a high price merely because it has a high price.

Zine/book/printmaking involves the use of modest materials and lo-tech methods of making. (silk screening, letterpress, etc.) The same could be said for handmade multiples. What attracts you to this way of working?
I like to conceptualize projects both "idea to production" and "production to idea". When I keep means of production under my own control i know better what to expect. Many times I will start with a material or a technique to use and create content to embody that idea. Or I can tailor an idea to what means i have available. I enjoy that the production shows my decisions as well as the design. You can tell if i print something because i am less concerned if it is messy and the public seems to like that novelty because of the sterility and uniformity of mass production.

What sorts of things influence your work? (People who are influences, concepts, things, etc.)
The Power of imagination, faith, hope, i think of these things alot. Imagination can change our lives and our world. If it can be imagined it can be accomplished. I am interested how people invest their faith both actively (organized religion etc.) or passively (believe what they see on tv). I don't think alot of people see that they have a choice in the matter anymore. It appears like viewpoints and perspectives are narrowing. From what you invest your faith in you get your own sense of hope. You can't get out of bed in the morning without hope. It invigorates you to persevere through the mundane and oppressive. I believe all these things can be diciplined like exercising a muscle and it is important not to let atrophy in individuals or communities.
I like to think of culture in terms of evolution and magic. It seems like a very natural for individuals or communities with an active interior life to want to express this somehow when their views are not mirrored in the society they are apart of. If you think of cultural objects as being infused with power like spells you can see how these spells are cast and how they affect us.
For example the image of the skinny white girl has been foisted on the world repeatedly by misogynist fashion industry until finally women are starving themselves to embody this image. The spell has conjured a reality. It is a matter of spiritual health to reflect what your true values are and it is not an absolute thing it is an ongoing practice of affirmation and reaffirmation like love or life itself.
Formally I am fascinated with the touch of the artist mediated through techincal means. Like using a photocopier in an intuitive way and the manual manipulation of ink through a screen. Each step of the mediation can contain the pressence of the individual.

Zine/book/multiples are a quietly subversive form of expression/creating. What are your thoughts on this, particularly pertaining to the multiple format?
The intimate nature of the format can lead to quiet contemplation that may burn in the imagination for longer, though i fear the discipline for a longer attention span is dwindling. Singular art pieces seem elitist I much prefer a more democratic multiple format it can be much more accesible. For example you don't have to be able to afford a computer to crack open a book.

Do you have an all-time favourite zine? A current (recent) favourite?
The zine that had the most impact on me was Cometbus. Aaron Cometbus was the drummer in Crimpshine and had a great perspective about being a poor punk from Berkeley travelling and rejiocing over simple things like free coffee and fascinating people. He also did amazing artwork using a photocopier. Other favourites are the psychadooolic minis by great canadian doodlers like Mark Connery, Marc Bell and Pete Thompson they where a big influence on how i view huge ideas in a modest format (check them out in the anthology Nog a Dod). Paper Rodeo was amazing as well. It was great to see wierdos from Providence do crazy comics presented in a free newspaper format with great handdrawn ads to fund it. Great surreal fantasy comics that present anarchist, community minded ideals by the likes of Mat Brinkman, Brian Chippendale, c.f., Lief Goldberg and many others.

Working collectively figures in both the worlds of zines (zine making, zine libraries) and printmaking (collectively-run studios, co-ops). You are a part of the Punchclock Collective in Toronto. Do you prefer working collectively/collaboratively? Why is it important to you?
Working collectively is important because doing art as a strictly solitary practice can lead to a loss of perspective and insanity (for me, anyways). I like to think of myself as involved in a conversation, a back and forth with my peers and audience. I wouldn't see much point in making art for my own benefit. It helps to find a purpose and reduce creative anxiety when others are involved with the process like sharing a co-operative print shop or the final product like publishing others. When i publish others it takes the responsibility of my own work to captivate the audience. Some have accused me of having a martyr like disposition as i am uncomfortable putting myself and my work first. I like to be embedded in a cultural fabric as much as I can like doing posters for an event that has a band playing. Different layers of connection and meaning.

Do you think it is important to preserve zines as an alternative form of communication? Why? What can zine-makers/zine readers/indie publishers do to facilitate this?
Any alternative to the deafening chorous of the consumerist monolith is important to our mental, spiritual and physical health. Active resistence is valuable in any form. It may seem overwhelming but really it is for the benefit of yourself and those in the trenches beside you. It is a way to seek out any kind of dignity in sick society that wants to kill itself.
People require an affirmation of the value of their own efforts. This is something cultural imperialism trys to disuade. Cultural institutions promote their own idea of value and history and what artist are cannonized. Picasso wasn't the "best artist" of the 20th century he was just promoted that way. Humans are incapable of defining what is absoulute especially when it comes to culture. We see it reflected in unnatural attitudes to agriculture and a need to reign in attitudes of entitlement to the "biggest and best". It is important to get more involved in local culture in a more organic way. To see the natural rhythms rather than market demands.
Zine fairs are great and i am encouraged to see the diversity of work presented there (books, zines, comics, t-shirts, crafts). I would like to see the format escape the indie ghetto more without the stigma of "low culture" and for more people to see the potential of having zines as a supplement to their regular practices.