THE ZINE AS A MEANS // Alexander Mouton

01 Dec 2016 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

The jumping off point for this post comes from two previous posts. The first from Richard Minsky’s comments to Susan Viguers’s “The Artist Book and the Sailor Suit,” in which he wrote that in the 1970s the term ”artists’ books” generally referred to inexpensive books produced offset, photocopy, etc., often labeled “democratic multiples,” also called “visual literature.” The second, from Tate Shaw’s “Seeking Pluralism in Books-As-Art,” in which he writes about the importance of creating work out of an authentic, personal experience as opposed to using secondary sources (even when these secondary sources are used out of a desire to empathize).

For me, these two seemingly disparate thought lines come together around a questioning of the “precious” in artists' book activities. Specifically, I wonder if it is possible that the tendency towards the highly aesthetic in artists’ book production might interfere with or inhibit the creation of work based in authentic, personal experience?

I am not interested in denouncing highly aesthetic artists’ books; rather, I am wondering about how we as artists’ book makers interact with our own materials, how the value we place on the materials of production might influence what we are willing to communicate through them. My teenage daughter has repeatedly implored me not to buy her beautifully bound blank books in which to write or draw in because their “specialness” puts her under pressure to create work of like quality, thus interrupting her natural creative expression. Might fine art materials, printing, binding, etc. be more appropriate for certain kinds of expression than others?

I believe unequivocally that works incorporating secondary source texts are important and that they should continue to be used because they can reveal deeply important aspects of human experience. I also think that each of us has the opportunity to speak directly to our own personal experience and make work which is relevant and deeply moving, but that often it is not made for one reason or another. Certainly, it takes courage to create autobiographical work. And it requires respecting one’s own voice in a most personal way. Is there a specific time for autobiographic work in an artists’ creative arc (e.g., when one is “young”) which comes to an end (e.g., when one is “mature”)? Or is speaking out of authentic, personal experience less valued than more formal, “objective” (read: secondary sources) strategies?

Bringing together the threads of these conceptual and formal questions, I look to the zine as a means with a low overhead in terms of preciousness. I believe in the form for its democratic potential (one only needs to use a xerox machine, cut, fold, and staple/sew), but also for the incredible potential to harness the creative power of the book (extended meaning through sequence, time, intimacy, interactivity, portability, etc.). It is almost like a book without the book. And the historical link with Fluxus and in general the European conceptual book work, not to mention the punk rock fanzine, is certainly to be embraced. Let us not be seduced by aesthetics (exclusively). Also, let this fall not into narrowly prescriptive identity politics, but instead open up possibilities for all. 


  • 04 Dec 2016 6:42 PM | Levi Sherman
    It's also interesting to consider how preciousness is revalued over the life of a book and/or among different readers, creators, collectors, etc.. A zine that today is not precious because its materials are cheap and accessible could perhaps become coveted by future collectors because it will be scarce, whereas the value of a deluxe book made from archival materials and kept safe in a climate-controlled library vault might not appreciate (until the artist dies, perhaps).
    Relating to these issues of materiality and longevity, I wonder if anyone has predictions about "digital preciousness" - are books precious (beyond individual sentimental value) without scarcity or material cost?
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  • 23 Feb 2017 10:13 AM | Soomin Kim
    My thoughts similarly resonate with your words. I have also always viewed books as keepers of art and placed their value in whatever they held. I recently hand-sewed my own book for the very first time and, like your daughter, felt the need to fill it with quality work so not to "tarnish" it. But shouldn't I feel more encouraged and enthused to personalize my construction with my ideas, words, and works? If I placed a book's value in what it contains, then why did I find more worth in a blank book?
    I never saw a book's potential to become art themselves, a part of what they host, until my WRIT 115 class (which I am currently taking). This article reminded me how exposing myself to the world of book arts has brought much growth in me as an artist. One that understands and shares your desire to, as you wrote, not be seduced by aesthetics (exclusively) and not let this fall into narrowly prescriptive identity politics, but instead open up possibilities for all.
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