Julia Galef reports back from a New York exhibition that celebrates late 1990’s architectural fanzines.
‘A Few Zines: Dispatches from the Edge of Architectural Production ,’ Jan 8-Feb 28 at Studio X, NYC
In today’s blog-saturated world, it’s easy to forget that just a decade ago, photocopying and mailing ‘zines’ was a fast, cheap mode of distribution.
But that was the state of things in 1996, when Mimi Zeiger founded architecture zine loud paper as a ‘slambamgetitoutthere’ alternative to the mainstream architectural discourses. Now, an exhibit curated by Ms. Zeiger at Studio X in Manhattan’s East Village – ‘A Few Zines: Dispatches from the Edge of Architectural Production,’ on display from January 8 to February 28 — looks back at the trail blazed by loud paper and its cousins.
The exhibit opened last Thursday to a crowd of 50-60 architects, journalists, students and other zine enthusiasts who gathered for a panel discussion by the editors of several of the zines on display.
‘It was really heartening to see so much interest in the topic,’ said Gavin Browning, the Studio X organizer. He emphasized that the show was meant to be a snapshot of the world of architecture zines, not an exhaustive retrospective: ‘We intentionally didn’t want to try to be comprehensive—that’s why we titled it ‘A Few Zines.’’
But the exhibit’s scope is still broad enough to include a heady mix of different zines, from Infiltration’s Xeroxed travelogues of forbidden tunnels and buildings, to Sumoscraper’s wholesale rejection of design in cities, to Junk Jet’s haunting and cryptic images.
Like loud paper, however, they all share a commitment to bridging gaps: between the academic and the popular, between ‘high’ and ‘low’ cultures, and between various media, with architecture being discussed (often by non-architects) alongside music, art and politics.
The connection to the music world stands out, particularly in loud paper, which features music reviews and ads for indie music labels. ‘Most of the architects I know are big music fans, and you’re plugged in all the time when you’re working on design,’ Ms. Zeiger said, ‘so a goal [with loud paper] was to reflect what’s already in architecture culture that doesn’t get the kind of attention that it deserves.’
All zines are included in their full runs, encouraging contemplation of how their context has changed over time: the internet has lowered the barriers to new voices joining the fray, the architect’s role has expanded, mainstream publications have become more accessible, and the line between zine and mainstream has been blurred. Pin-Up, for example, is strongly rooted in zine culture but plays a role more akin to a mainstream glossy. Its editor, Felix Burrichter, discussed at the exhibition’s opening how including high-end advertisers from the fashion world made his magazine more approachable and appealing to general readers, who now compose about half its audience.
Loud paper has changed with the times as well, shifting formats over the years and finally making the leap to blog-form recently. And there are more gaps to bridge in future. ‘I’ve always been a fan of crossing between the art, architecture and music worlds,’ Ms. Zeiger said, ‘and I think bringing in literature would be the fourth leg.’ Nor is the show itself a static creation. Ms. Zeiger said she was adding new publications to the line-up right up until the show’s opening, and expects to continue that process as the show continues on to Boston and other cities: ‘I’m a collector,’ she concluded.