“What is an art zine? How does it differ from an editorial art magazine or a blog? And why do more and more artists internationally seem to be interested in this particular publishing format?”
In 2010 Regine Ehleiter curated the wonderfull ‘Thanks For Sharing’ (TFS) exhibtion and symposium at the D21 Kunstraum. Therefore she invited zinsters, artists, collectors, distributors and curators to submit their publications and to discuss the “rising interest in zines, their popularity among contemporary artists, the revival of DIY-culture with its appealingly easy implementation of ideas and potential for stylistic experimentation”. More than 300 zines from all over the world were shown in a specially designed exhibition architecture, developed by students of the Academy of Visual Arts Leipzig (Class for System Design).
In January 2011 the catalogue published in occasion of the exhibition was launched at the mzin store in Leipzig and i thought it’s high time to interview Regine Ehleiter…
What was your main interest to organize an art zine exhibition?
It’s much to do with places I went to and people I met in 2008/09. My flatmate in London at that time started to make these weekly diary-like zines — beautiful, handmade compilations of drawings and photographs with fancy inserts, ten or fifteen unique copies. Many times, when I went to openings, I now noticed the zines that were on display. That’s something I hadn’t really been aware of in a gallery context before. So then, I started to particularly look out for these small publications. Back in Leipzig, my former flatmate continued sending me her zines. And I just felt, this was something I would like others to know and be part of, possibly through an exhibition. And D21 Kunstraum, a non-profit art space I co-founded back in 2006, seemed liked the perfect venue for this kind of show.
You started an open call for the TFS exhibition. Did you curate a selection of all zines you received?
Yes and No. The open call contained several criteria that submissions ought to meet in order to be accepted for the show. Firstly, I said, we are looking for „periodicals“ — published works that appear in a new edition on a regular schedule — as opposed to once-only published art books, catalogues or, e.g. zines, made one the occasion of one particular exhibition. Secondly, the zines had to be published in 2009 or 2010, as I wanted to focus on what kind of publications were out there at that time. Thirdly, I narrowed it down to „zines produced by artists“, artist collectives or other collaborative projects.
At the same time, there was no selection made by me or a jury. I am very reluctant to the idea of a jury selection. In my opinion, it contradicts the spirit and DIY enthusiasm of the zine community to ask a number of experts of the local art scene — say a graphic design professor, a gallerist, an established artist and the curator of the local kunstverein — to make a selection according to their particular tastes.
The way you exhibit the zines, was it important for you?
Yes, the display was very important. At almost all zine or book fairs, you usually find these simple books-on-table arrangements. That’s fine, if you just want to have a look and in case you like a certain zine, you can buy and read it at home. At THANKS FOR SHARING! no zines were for sale, so I really wanted to create a more reading-friendly atmosphere, where visitors can sit down and take their time to read and browse.
So I asked students of the Academy of Visual Arts in Leipzig (Class for System Design) to join in and develop the architecture and the visual concept of the exhibition. Sandy Hofmann, Ina Kwon, Franziska Leiste and Henrik Rossbander designed a flexible, modular system of display units, which could easily be reorganised for different exhibition-related events. It consisted of wooden tables, benches and stools of compatible sizes, which either had trays attached to them on the sides or a number or slots for inserting the publications. Flexibility was crucial, as the submissions we received for the exhibition (over 300) greatly differed in size and format.
All zines could be moved around freely in the exhibition and circulated from one place to another. Therefore, the appearance of the show changed slightly every day. I remember, how visitors often sat next to each other, reading or talking about a publication, giving recommendations to others and passing on the zines they liked.
Inside the TFS catalogue you printed some drawings of the furniture the students developed. How exactly did the architecture and the visual concept of the exhibition work?
The vector drawings that Henrik Rossbander made for the catalogue play with this familiar look of IKEA catalogue designs, where every piece of furniture is stripped down to its basic parts and you get an idea, how to combine the individual components. I liked that for the exhibition architecture the designers decided to work with used materials only: ply wood but for example also parts of a kids closet that was covered with lots of vintage stickers. This really gives it a special charme and corresponds well, I think, to the radical subjectivity and DIY aesthetics of zines. (More info about this series of modules called THINGS FOR SHARING! is available here). Apart from the furniture, the students from the Academy also designed all printed matter.
What happened with the art zines after the exhibition?
It was important to me that they are further accessible in Leipzig, so I donated the collection to the arts library of Halle 14, a non-profit arts centre, situated in the area of the former Leipziger Cotton Spinning Mill, Leipzig’s main gallery district that attracts a lot of visitors. D21 Kunstraumm works closely together with Halle 14 and our aim is that the collection will grow further. I am currently working on a follow-up zine project of THANKS FOR SHARING!, scheduled to start this summer, that will allow for our collection to travel to different cities and expand. First stop will be somewhere in the Frankfurt area, probably at Atelier Zukunft in Mainz. I’ll keep you posted.
Why did you organize a symposium with the exhibition?
Several reasons. Partly, I just wanted to know more about the publishing practice of some of the guests, like Urs Lehni and Stefan Marx. But the symposium was also an attempt to bring together a number of people to discuss their understanding and definition of terms as well as recent developments in self-publishing. I mean, even many of the people who submitted an art zine for our exhibition described their practice to us as making small „books“, „fanzines“ or „magazines“ — few actually used the term „art zine“.
The speakers I invited for the symposium each looked at zine making from a different point of view. It started with a talk on the history of fanzines (how the term emerged from the US-American science fiction scene, the later rock music fanzines and the whole Do-It-Yourself approach of punk). We looked at distribution, a Swiss curator elaborated on the zine collection of his museum, and so on. All of the talks are also available online.
In January you published a catalogue of the TFS exhibition. Can you tell us a bit more about it?
It basically consists of two parts: A small booklet with texts (German/English) and an A3-folded insert with pictures. Both are printed on a risograph. While the insert is more of a documentation of the exhibition and all related events (workshop, symposium, performance, zine-release etc.), it is different with the booklet, where we tried to go beyond documentation a little. The texts that you’ll find in the booklet are not mere transcripts of the talks held at the symposium, but I shortened and transformed them into interviews.
Every interview starts with ten words in large green letters that cover the whole page. These are the words that appear most often in the interview, so you immediately get an impression what the text is about.
Alongside to it, you’ll find images, some of which are illustrative of the text but for the most part they are free associations – thoughts and connections that the design students from the Academy had and made while they were reading the interviews. To give an example: One of these pictures is a Beach Boys album cover that came to mind for them, when Urs Lehni talks about the exhibition „Wouldn’t it be nice“ and on-site publishing. Another of these associative images is a video still from a Simpsons episode, in which Lisa uses an old hand press after Mr. Burns took control of all media in Springfield.
How do you think the self-publishing phenomenon will develop in the future?
I don’t know. There’s a plethora of exhibitions that focus on books and printed matter at the moment. The sheer number of new zine fairs and collections, new publishers and bookshops is really impressive. I remember, how Jan Wenzel from Spector Books compared this boom in self-publishing in his talk at our symposium to some kind of „super nova“ — the extreme expansion of a sun shortly before its end. He recalled how people in the 1990s, at the very beginning of digitalisation and the rise of the Internet, predicted that this would be the end of print. Of course, print didn’t die and I think it won’t.
It seems to me that what the Internet affected most is distribution: It has become so much easier to catch up on the work or latest issue of your favourite zine maker by following their facebook posts, through their websites, online shops or, say, the fancy new iPhone app that Nieves introduced lately. So, as for the „super nova effect“: I believe the boom in self-publishing will continue as long as people become more and more connected and it is getting easier to find precisely those ten or fifteen potential buyers somewhere on the other side of the world, who are interested in your zine, your particular style or wicked sense of humour.
Can you please give us a view information about you and your work at D21 Kunstraum?
I studied Cultural Studies, Journalism and History of Art in Leipzig. This is also where we started D21 Kunstraum back in 2006. It was at a time when the „New Leipzig School of Painting“ was omnipresent and whenever I mentioned that I live in Leipig to somebody on my travels, a short conversation about Neo Rauch and the art market hype in painting from Leipzig was almost inevitable. With D21 Kunstraum, however, we set out to make international themed group shows with contemporary artists who work in a variety of media. D21 Kunstraum is not a gallery but a non-profit project room, run by a collective of about ten people with very different interests, mostly students, writers, curators and some artists. Alongside the exhibition program, there are many events, especially our experimental film series (organized by Sarah Schipschack and Leif Magne Tangen).
Thank you for this interview!