Zines can mean different things, depending on where you first encountered them. The first zines I encountered were largely centered around music: you’d have interviews with a couple of bands, maybe some personal writings; probably a couple of photos from local shows, and — if you were feeling ambitious — a scene report. Then I started encountering personal zines, usually half-sized; not long after that, I became even more aware of what could be done with a zine — which is to say, that there weren’t many topics that couldn’t be covered in that way.
I’m still a little thrown when I hear zines discussed in the art-world sense of the term. Possibly because it seems at once familiar and not: the limited-edition quality of some of them could be seen as at odds to the ethos under which so many zines have been made — i.e., to quote Desperate Bicycles, “it was easy, it was cheap — go and do it!” On the flip side of that, though, the counterargument could be made that, from a fine-art perspective, this is egalitarian — that someone wanting to own an artist’s work can much more easily purchase a zine for $10 or $20 or $30 than they could acquire a print or sketch of painting for ten, twenty, or fifty times that amount.
On a recent trip to Bushwick, I stopped by Blonde Art Books in the hopes of upping my knowledge of art zines. I ended up picking up two zines by NOWORK: Prestige Stools and PABT. The former consists of a series of street scenes and structures whose dimensions and proportions evoke a certain strain of ancient art. The latter abounds with images of Manhattan’s Port Authority Bus Terminal, from sections suggesting large sterile expanses to the faces of workers and travelers; it’s a quick document of the inside and outside of the building in question.
I picked up the first issue of We Don’t Owe You a Thing along with a one-page edition when I covered the exhibit of the same name in March. The exhibit’s curator, Carl Gunhouse, has a background in both the art and hardcore worlds, and the zine blends the two: the structure is familiar to anyone reading punk zines in the 90s — i.e. interviews and reviews, though the interviews are with people with a background in both hardcore and art and the reviews are just as likely to be of a gallery show as they are of a group of hardcore bands playing the Court Tavern. The second issue combines a few of the one-page editions with ruminations on the project as a whole — it’s a more personal take on the concept of an exhibit catalogue. In here, you’re just as likely to see thoughts on a Francis Alys show as you are see quotes from the Bridge 9 messageboard.
When I was at the show last month, I also picked up a tiny zine called The Button-Down, which comes from Jacob Rhodes‘s Candy Skin project. That, as far as I understand it, consists of a series of pieces about a fictional group of skinheads. The Button-Down is posited as the work of one M. Hawk, and is offered as a guide to novices — “Freshwraps” — seeking guidance in style. (Specifically, how best to wear the titular shirt.) There are calls to arms — declarations of when it’s most appropriate to shout “Oi!,” for instance — but also a note to “Join Your Local Sewing Circle!” The zine itself is stitched up, aesthetic mirroring its subject, and the whole thing serves as both a document of a hierarchical scene (and an echo of an actual one). It’s a fictional world I’m hoping to learn more about.