London Zine Symposium

On Sunday I took a trip to the London Zine Symposium in the East End and filled up on a lot of zines, falafel and flapjack. Unfortunately due to other commitments I wasn’t able to spend the whole afternoon there but I was glad to get along to it and enjoyed a lot of what I saw.

The venue was pretty good, a slightly musty workshop-style space that was slightly overcrowded and under-ventilated but with a nice open courtyard and space for a wide variety of stalls. The organisation was also excellent with a lovely programme, a series of talks and a zine in a day effort. I always enjoy having an active, creative element to an event like this and the talks were really welcome as a way of having a bit more depth than just buying zines.

Personally I was looking for what has been happening in the zine scene as I haven’t really been that involved for a couple of years (I have been looking more towards the internet, of which more later) but I was also looking for relatively heavyweight zines that focussed on prose as I have enough poetry, sketchbooks, comics and collage books to last a life time. One thing that immediately struck me is that there is a wave of graphic design sweeping through and in particular screen printing seems to have taken off and people are really good at it.

In terms of content though I was disappointed, I haven’t gone through all my purchases carefully enough but there was very little that I was immediately excited about. The revolution still hasn’t come, grrrls and queers are still upset, girly kitsch is timeless and all the DIY guides still come from America. There was a sense that the topics are the same and in fact the forms are being recycled by a new generation to experience something for themselves. That’s a shame because actually when revitalising and reinventing something like DIY (as an aesthetic) or zines then everything should be up for grabs. It actually felt that a lot of the technology stuff I’ve been doing in the last year (unconferences, Social Innovation Camp) actually feel a lot more radical because they are pushing the boundaries of everything to do with their organisation, running and communication.

Of course things like zines are very broad church or at least should be. The old tensions are still there between the politics, the aesthetics, the purism but there also felt like there was now this tension between the artists and those people capable of organising very high production values and the older lo-fi crowd. It is all nonsense as usual and is probably a good sign as factionalism only occurs in large groups. The marginal tend to have to stick together out of necessity.

One thing that was clear though was that the Internet was often dismissed out of hand. That might seem natural at an event dedicated to physical works but I was disappointed as the next logical transition is to combine on and offline works in a continuum. I am a huge DIY zine fan and I have espoused the importance of the physical zine for a while. I have also been looking at the idea of Constructivism and the mass produced artefact. The photocopied booklet seems to me the logical extension of a lot of those ideas.

However as Internet access becomes more pervasive and the ability to create and host content online becomes less and less mediated it seems against the goals of the culture not to embrace it. The photocopy seems democratic but the truth is that by itself the handmade limited edition is more elitist or ghettoised than the webpage. Valuing the physicality of something is fine, valuing it over the ability to connect to an audience is an ideological limitation. The internet has done more to achieve the creation of communities and the connectedness of individuals than the physical zine has ever managed. We cannot pretend it is the 70s anymore.

For me the event itself showed a good example of how to combine the power of the web to organise and co-ordinate the event with physical tokens of attendance in the form of the programme. I will also be following the reaction to the event online via people’s blogs rather than through the zines. However in six months time the things I have seen and read will go on to form some kind of zine because it is something I still love and a format I feel is still enjoyable.

So what would have excited me? Well having a look at the pages people were creating for the on day zine I think that there is an undue emphasis on the personal or single creator zine currently. I found only one anthology zine (although there may have been two punk collectives who seemed to be creating single collective titles but collections of reviews, gig reports and interviews don’t really have the cohesive editorial content I was looking for) I would have liked a few more. I also would have liked more words, something really text heavy with an emphasis not on impressionist feeling but actually essays and arguments. Things that appeared to engage outside the personal, domestic world.

Things I did like were zines made up of digital camera photos and text messages, I enjoyed the way they reflected both changing creative possibilities but also the way our world is changing. I liked stalls that had a synopsis of the zines they were selling. I liked the artist’s books, but only so far as their cost made it feel difficult to buy something that might have good and bad moments. I liked the collectives who mixed the books with prints, cards and more conventional black and white photocopies.

I also really liked people who were selling their own food and cakes. What an obvious gap in most shows I’ve been to, don’t just sell the recipe booklets! The Symposium t-shirts were pretty cool too. It was a good afternoon and I would have liked a little more time but hopefully there will be another one next year.