A collection of conversations with a diverse range of local and regional creatives
Library Conversations for SGABF2020
We examined the systems that support art book making and independent art book publishing in Singapore and the region.
A Closer Look for SGABF2019
We gathered perspectives on our zine and art book culture, and discuss the possibilities of self-publishing today.
21 Creatives for SGABF2018
We sat down with 21 creatives of various disciplines to learn about their practice and asked each of them to fill up a blank page in a notebook.
The beginnings of the zine is commonly associated with the 1920s. Then, artistic and philosophical movements like Surrealism published small runs of print material – most typically characterised by collage and bricolage as forms of expression. It is believed that zines became a distinct form in the 1930s when science fiction fans began to publish and exchange stories (‘fanzines’). In the 1970s, punk zines came to the forefront as a way to publicise underground shows that were being sidelined by established music press outlets.
Common associations with the zine include the 90s Riot Grrrl movement, which encouraged a new wave of personal and activist content. Likewise in Singapore today, intersectional feminist collective, The Local Rebel, creates zines that address gender equality for youths. Through open calls, the collective gathers contributors who handle visual and written content for each issue.
Image Credit: Courtesy of The Local Rebel
In the past, young artists used zines as a way to break out of the gallery exhibition white cube format. Similarly today, local collective no ceiling paper wall, adopted the format of a zine in their process of reimagining alternative spaces and ways of presenting artworks in 2018. “A huge challenge was piecing together the video projections and translating the experience from a physical space to the pages of a zine. The format was ultimately chosen because we wanted to reach out to a wider demographic instead of keeping the works contained within a section space. For us, it was also about breaking out of terminologies too.”
Image Credit: SGABF
How a society shapes socio-political consciousness can be examined alongside the resurgence of zines in each particular generation. Each time, makers are encouraged to look towards more options to explore zines created based on the perspectives of various cultural backgrounds, lifestyles and myriad of influences. A street library along Little India filled with controversial zines, the Zine Library by local collective Squelch Zines and Singapore’s first Queer Zinefest (QZF) started in 2018 are part of a new wave of zines local audiences have experienced.
Image Credit: Queer Zinefest
In the early stages of QZF, Gabbi Wenyi Ayane pooled resources from experienced makers and organisers in Singapore. She first brought the idea to poet and comedian Stephanie Dogfoot who introduced Malaysian zine distributors that expanded the initiative in the region. She also roped in fellow artist and illustrator Joy Ho, who designed the event visuals and assisted with the running of the festival. To ensure that QZF responds to audiences effectively, Gabbi brought in arts manager Akansha Aether into the team. This mix of backgrounds within the organising committee has made the first edition of the festival and its year-round workshops more diverse and free.
The culture of zines looks beyond the product. Instead, we are taught to explore ways to create safe spaces for makers to express and share their ideas. As Akansha described, “We wanted everyone to have a good time, not just look at the zines. We wanted them to stay, have good food, learn about the community through other workshops, and bring people together with music.”
Image Credit: Queer Zinefest
In the age of capitalism, economic numbers are often the only measure of value and success, especially when long term sustainability is the goal. This leaves little room to exploration for small groups, usually with little to no organisational support, such as QZF. What Gabbi and her team had to consider was the number of community members. “In comparison to other events, we had a much smaller volume of zine makers which forced us to think of other things that people can do. Ultimately, it’s still a community that we are growing here,” she explained.
As we develop the local zine culture, it is important to understand the past challenges faced by predecessors. The first idea of local zines sparked from a lack of uncensored publications in Singapore. You couldn’t turn to state-owned magazines and expect full disclosure on concerns such as the realities of middle class families, people who were coming to terms with their identity and inter-racial experiences. Even consumption of music, books and films could be too sterile if one depended too much on the ratings and listings on mainstream and family-friendly channels. One solution was pop culture magazine BigO, arguably one of the most prized possessions of the Singapore landscape.
As Jasmine Ng, Associate Producer of Shirkers and filmmaker puts it, “you could say that [BigO] was Singapore’s first ever alternative indie-culture zine. It started in that photostated glory days where everything was kind of cut and paste. These were the pre-internet days so things were a lot harder to search out. But the thing about the culture of zines was that you could trade or order. They came to you easily enough.”
Imagine this scenario – meeting Phillip Cheah, one of the most important figures in the Singapore film scene as a young filmmaker. Having created Before I Get Old (BigO) with his brothers and friends, after a line from a Patti Smith cover of ‘My Generation’ which said, hope I die before I get old.
“We were there as 14-year-olds and wanted to be part of it. All these people had in-depth access to comic books and music that I have never heard of. It was a treasure cove. I was also introduced to all kinds of music and movies articulated from a local perspective. Yet, it was very much this boy’s gang and we didn’t know how to fit in,” Jasmine recounted.
Image Credit: Courtesy of TODAY
In the backdrop of political unrest in the 60s and 70s, the 80s and 90s saw the introduction of several stringent regulations to curb noise. This made the zine an even more powerful and democratic medium. “Anybody could do anything and make anything their subject, from a guy making a comic zine about working in the old folks home to a particular obsession with a music genre. That was very eye-opening, especially coming from a place like Singapore,” Jasmine explained.
The counterculture spirit of zines has certainly evolved with shifts in media governance, public perceptions and approaches to socio-political issues. As Joy (QZF) pointed out, “I think a large part of the reason why we can say zines look ‘less political’ now is because we can openly express our beliefs today. How much access zines give and its transformations are a reflection of how we react to culture.”
Photo Credit: SGABF /Deszinenation: Ground Zero (Exhibition)
For an object as politically weighted as the zine, how telling is its resurgence across generations? Members of collective, Squelch Zines, seem to resonate with the zine experience with our current climate. “Zines are a reflection of the mindset of society, particularly in the perspective of the artists who create them. The objective of a zine has never changed – it has always been and will continue to be a medium for communication. That is its core purpose,” they explained.
That said, it can be argued that the idea of liberation today is no longer associated with the politicalness of subjects. Moving beyond the political themes of zine making, then, could be seen as a more open approach to sharing ideas. This argument in itself is highly debatable, like how zine culture has progressed. What could be considered as ‘under the radar’ in the 80s and 90s might be vastly different in the present context. What does it say about our zine culture when we reference productions like BigO while encouraging more makers to ‘return’ to the advent of cost-effective publishing with photocopy machines?
Image Credit: SGABF /Collection of Squelch Zines
The openness of the zine brings about greater cultural participation. A medium for youths to claim their place in society, especially those who find themselves on the margins of power. It reaffirms the strength of communication. As no ceiling paper wall mentioned, “anyone can make a zine, which is really flexible. The zine culture pushes a form of unified and harmonious activity. Things like stepping into a bookshop and discovering where to get the best pizza in town from a zine or getting an anarchist to write an essay. You can read a zine anywhere, too. Formalities and structure can be intimidating, and the fluidity of zines help people get over that.”
To fully understand the underbelly of Singaporean culture through zines, we should look towards unobserved communities that would undoubtedly piece a more comprehensive and inclusive explication of the belief systems present in our society.