-Madeleine Dahl, RA Intern
Because of tonight’s opening of BRAIN WAVES’ zine and print collection at Recession Art (more info/RSVP here), I thought it would be interesting and insightful to interview the collection’s curator Kate Wadkins. I fell in love with zines when I was a teenager and first encountered them at a local punk house in my home of Athens, GA. I loved them because they were personal, political, and allowed for an open arena of creativity not found in high school textbooks or reading lists. I began fervently seeking them out through friends, independent publishing groups, and local shows (art and music). When I was informed of BRAIN WAVES’ arrival at Recession Art, I was excited to see an interesting and extensive collection being featured in a gallery as unique as Recession Art, as print media such as zines rarely has the chance to be so coherently spotlit. I contacted Kate Wadkins, curator of BRAIN WAVES, to gather more perspective on the collection, her own motivations for curating it, and her philosophy on zines and print media.
MD: I became really appreciative of zines in high school because of their potential for artistic innovation and ability to go circumvent some of the norms of other print media: newspapers, books, magazines, etc. When did you first get involved with zines and what has sustained your interest in them?
KW: I also encountered zines in high school, through my local punk scene. Accessing zines through punk showed me pretty quickly that zines could be whatever you wanted them to be: personal, political, artistic, satirical, and anything in between. It’s this flexibility and accessibility that makes zines timeless for me. As mobile, affordable objects, they make art accessible to people. Personal and political zines have made sharing information and experiences a more participatory and democratic process. And, importantly, they give voice to communities of people who may not have access to other means of publishing.
MD: How did BRAIN WAVES come to fruition? How do you find artists/contributors to the collection? What do you hope will happen with the collection in the future?
KW: For two years I was gallery manager of STOREFRONT in Bushwick, cofounded by curator and archivist Jason Andrew and artist Deborah Brown. I was lucky to work with such open-minded people. They gave me the opportunity to found and curate a permanent zine and print collection in the gallery – it lived there from January 2011 until STOREFRONT re-opened under the moniker Storefront Bushwick in January of this year.
Being involved in zine and print culture, I meet new zinesters constantly. I collect and create zines in my own right as well, so in many cases I already own a zine and I want to see it get more exposure. With BRAIN WAVES, I aim to put zines in an artistic context. It was established as a collection of “zines, prints, and other ephemera,” so even at STOREFRONT the collection exhibited zines alongside print works, drawings and other editioned pieces. Exhibiting local and emerging artists is definitely a priority, which is a mission that fit well with STOREFRONT and the same goes for Recession Art. I am always seeking new artists whether it be through the print community or blindly checking out a gallery show. Regular visits to places like Desert Island (Brooklyn) and Printed Matter (NYC) don’t hurt either.
MD: What do you most enjoy about being the curator of BRAIN WAVES? What are you excited about in regard to BRAIN WAVES’ arrival at Recession Art?
KW: I most enjoy discovering fresh, new work – either by new artists or those I already know – and bringing it to a larger audience. I have especially been excited about exhibiting zines in art spaces and alongside other art works. This connection is important to me – for zines to be regarded as art objects. Part of why I am so happy to move the collection to RAC is that this connection I mention was nurtured at the onset. We always planned to exhibit the zines and give them a proper opening aside from selling them in the store. As well, we had enough space to welcome even more, larger print works to the collection. When I walked in to begin installing the show the other day, I could feel that RAC was going to be the perfect home for BRAIN WAVES.
MD: I noticed a zine you edit called “International Girl Gang Underground” which is described as “a compilation zine that picks up where Riot Grrrl left off.” My love for zines such as “Support” by Cindy Crabb and the “Let it Be Known” series comes from their ability to give intellectual and artistic space to a variety of feminist, artistic, and activist communities and individuals that might otherwise be unnoticed or unvoiced. Though there are so many kinds of zines with individual intentions, do you see zines as contributors and actors to larger political, social, and artistic discourses? Why do feel this is important? KW: Thank you for asking this. I absolutely see zines as facilitators of conversation and social change. As I mentioned earlier, zines, by their physical (small, portable) and economical (cheap!) nature make information and art accessible, and allow for voices that may traditionally be omitted from the cultural/political/social dialogue more visible. I think art has the potential to do this as well, but zines are grassroots by nature. With International Girl Gang Underground (IGGU) zine, we wanted to capture a moment. Zines are an act of documentation and this can be inherently political when there are political and social actions happening that go unnoticed. IGGU wanted to pull away from the recent riot grrrl nostalgia and into a more timely conversation about what feminist/queer cultural producers are doing now, and what inspires us. I am also part of a feminist collective here in New York called For the Birds, and we distribute zines through our “distro.” These intersections of activism, documentation, and political discussion through zines are extremely important to our feminist praxis.
MD: You have just met someone that has never seen or read a zine before in their life but they are very curious and eager to dive in. What 3-5 zines do you insist they take a look at?
KW: Obviously this is a tough one! I’m glad you mentioned Cindy Crabb — her zine Doris introduced me to the ways that you can make a zine very personal, while still extrapolating that experience to have a more political meaning-one that resounds with other people. So, Doris is one. Mimi Nguyen’s Evolution of a Race Riot and Race Riot 2 changed my life, and her continual articles on subjects related to punk, race, gender, and sexuality have had a serious impact on how I practice cultural activism (whether that be by writing, curating, organizing politically, or otherwise). Osa Atoe’s Shotgun Seamstress is my favorite zine currently in production (though Atoe recently stated she will no longer be writing Shotgun and the zines will soon be published together as a book). I would probably hand over some copies of Bikini Kill zine too, and then direct them to the For the Birds distro, or to BRAIN WAVES for that matter!
As mentioned previously, the opening of BRAIN WAVES runs from 7-9pm tonight at Recession Art (9 Clinton Street, New York, NY). Please stop by and open some zines to give your eyes and mind an extra treat to kickoff the weekend! More info and RSVP here.
Featured Artists include: Abe’s Penny (Anna & Tess Knoebel) / Jon Bocksel / Lauren Denitzio / Nina Hartmann / Aimee Lusty / Kathleen McIntyre / Jess Poplawski / Jason Roy / Cynthia Schemmer / Mike Taylor / Leah Wishnia / Audra Wolowiec & Christine Shan Shan Hou / Caroline Paquita / Pegacorn Press.