Zine Library

Unit B Gallery, San Antonio

Through March 5
by Wendy Atwell

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      Zine Library (Installation view)
      2011
      Collection of 50 zines from Austin, San Antonio, New Orleans and Mexico City
      Courtesy of Unit B and Emily Morrison/Trouser House, New Orleans

      View Gallery

      National magazines and zines are as different as Twinkies and raw food bars: flipping through Vogue, it’s hard to find anything of substance within the glossy photos and airbrushed ads, while zines contain nothing but. Curated by Emily Morrison, the Zine Library at Unit B contains over fifty contemporary zines from New Orleans, Austin and Mexico City. Two hours provided only enough time to skim the surface of the flurry of zines exhibited. They are folded over white wire hangers, like pairs of pants, and hung at eye level throughout the gallery’s two rooms.

      Zine material ranges from shocking and awkward to poetic and funny, but there’s nothing predictable, watered-down or politically correct within their varied pages of cartoons, essays, drawings, prints and photographs. Self-published, handmade and often community-based, zines come in a variety of sizes and formats, from photocopied paper double-sided and folded four ways, to the meticulously screen printed or origami folded.

      Morrison is Executive Director at Trouser House, a non-profit contemporary art and urban farming initiative in New Orleans. In her curatorial statement, she mentions anarchists and pseudo-anarchists, how she had been living out of her car, punk rockers, lesbians and freeganism. The content within several of the zines reflects these fringes of mainstream American life; they’re not represented in InStyle, and only in W if appropriated by fashion. Mass media’s continued promotion of stereotypes stirred the Riot Grrrls, a generation of feminists who emerged in the 1990s and fought against these images. Like other ‘90s subcultures, they used zines to express their punk aesthetic and alternative female identities.

      The title of Enola D’s zine of personal essays and observations, No Gods No Mattress, plays on No Gods No Masters, an anthology of anarchism by the French political and gay activist Daniel Guérin (1904-1988). In one essay, she describes getting out of her sleeping bag on a particularly cold morning and going to a coffee shop for a cup of hot water to put her teabag into. On her way she finds a cell phone in the streets of New Orleans, and is accused of stealing it when she tries to return it to the tourist who owns it. Their suspicion that she stole the phone in order to get a reward exposes an ugly side of class differences, between the people she calls yuppies and “entitled tourists” and her own vagabond life. Like many zine producers, Enola D’s resistance to mainstream modes of consumption extends to her the way her zines are distributed: they circulate only physically, not virtually.

      Haley McMichael folds a long strip of screen-printed paper into beautiful three-by-five-inch books titled Observations and Daily Life. Funny and poignant observations accompany her illustrations, such as “Today I saw a vulture. Vultures don’t hurt anyone, but nobody likes them, maybe because they smell.”

      There are multiple print issues of Pazmaker, a zine published by Perros Negros, “a production office of artistic projects” in Mexico City. Pazmaker #7, an audiozine, plays in the background. The forty-two tracks range from Joan Jonas reading The Anchor Stone (1988) to Marcel Broodthaers’ Interview with a Cat (1970).

      This anthology of voices and sounds aurally illustrates the cacophony of voices speaking out in its printed counterparts. Because of their DIY ethics and self-distribution, zines are inherently political, though many possess particular sociopolitical agendas. The seductively illustrated a red rimmed star, published anonymously, tells a nightmarish and gory tale about a fated hunter who meets the hunting goddess.

      While the printed word may fall flat on the pages of mainstream magazines, with their blanket generalizations catering to high circulation and demographic targets, the text in zines tends to pop out at the reader in three dimensions. Zines allow access and affordability, and many utilize every blank space and face of the paper, creating a kind of Cubist deconstruction of mass media that allows empowerment and individualized representation. Morrison’s Zine Library provides a fascinating peek into these uncensored channels that illustrate highly subjective perspectives, as well as poetry and art. Many zines reflect on how the mainstream version of the American dream may be a nightmare for some; as agents for transformation, zines illustrate how this dark side dawns into a dream.

      Wendy Atwell received her M.A. in Art History and Criticism from The University of Texas at San Antonio.

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