How our zines evolved into art books

‘I THINK YOU should sew them.’

‘Why? They’re fine.’

‘No, no. If you sew them, it’ll be more, what’s the word… Substantial.’

‘Substantial zines?’

‘Come on. These are more than just zines. You know that. The world of zines is full of stuff that looks like most of the stuff that’s also in the rest of the world of zines. What you’re making is different. It’s new. It’s kind of refreshing, actually. What is it, though?’

‘Are you asking me to talk about it? Like, put words on it?’

‘Yes.’

‘That is so!’

‘You have to. You have to be able to speak about your work intelligently.’

‘You sound like some art critic who would buy some bollix that someone typed up at the artist statement generator site 500letters.org. Which, by the way, is ridiculously funny. I tried to get in touch by email with the creator of that, to do a Q&A with us here in S P A C E, but nothing came back. Maybe too much fan mail comes in about that. It’s so on the nose, you know? It just points it out so clearly and with that really amazing tool that lets you click around and then it spits out your artist statement, since, of course, artists don’t write they do art, and whatever. Man. The whole art world is so stuck up its own ass.’

Art world? When did you start caring about the art world?’

‘Ever since people came over and talked to me about what I’m doing here at this artist residency thing. And asked me what my art is about. And what art I like. And stuff.’

‘You do, though. Like art. And make it, too.’

‘I know! But the last time I felt this way was in New York. Also surrounded by art makers, and people who appreciate art. Or say they do. My opinion then was that they just need something to be all snooty about, and so, you know, they start in on art, and turn into the Art World bollix that gets in the way.’

‘Of?’

‘Of actually seeing! Of seeing the beauty! And artists want to frame the beauty!’

‘You know, not all artists—‘

‘Okay! Fine! Not all artists. But I’m not talking about hobbyists or people who are just trying to have a creative outlet, or people who are making art because they think it’s going to land them in front of some famous pot of people and they’ll be all validated and stuff. Because that’s not what art is!’

‘You think you know, then, what art is?’

‘I know what it is to me!’

‘What?’

‘That’s not a thing to share in public! Because if you start sharing around about the things that most matter to you, those things get… sloppier. I don’t know. They get… messed up. They lose the spark of that thing I love the most: freshness, surprise. The unexpected.”

‘Waffly. You have to show your work sometime!’

I do.’

‘That’s not what I mean. Show the process.’

‘Why? So you can feel like it’s cool and you’re getting a piece of the story? So that I make lifestyle blog pictures? No. I tried that and I don’t like the way that felt. I prefer just making the pieces. And then, sharing those. Even if it’s just like, my mom who downloads them.’

‘I think more people than your mom download your books and stuff, DK.’

‘Well, a few more.’

‘But you want… to be more… known.’

*exasperated* ‘You don’t understand. Art gets better… oh, no. I’m going to talk about art? Okay, fine, well, you got me started. Here it is. Art gets better when you share it in parts, and you see how people respond to it, and it is not user testing that I am talking about, it’s sharing the experience of watching a thing coming into the world. Like standing by when a baby’s being born, maybe, a little bit like that, and witnessing something cool happening. Seeds germinating. Remember in science classes when you put seeds into the wet paper and they started sprouting, just like that? Wasn’t that like, the coolest thing, ever? I thought so. Potentiality is often depicted as a seed, but there’s way more to the seed than the thing itself. The feelings, the people, the environment, the arrangements of things, the music that’s playing when you’re making stuff, there’s so, so much. I’m playing jazz. I always play jazz when I’m in the throes of it. I’m in a good spot, today. Making photographs, for ‘Slow Moment.’ Today four came into crisp shape. You have to spend some time with a place to get to know it before you can take pictures of it. I’ve been here three weeks and the pictures finally look great. You know why? You have to get to know your subject, first, you have to… fall in love with it.’

‘…’

‘You do!’

‘I always talk about this and people who know, know. Photographers. Artists. All right, fine, not all artists are bullshitting. Some of them are really amazing. The reason is because they care. And they want their work to be better, and they’re working to improve the quality of the pieces and not getting carried away doing these silly things for the sake of resume-building. Am I making my point, clearly?’

‘Yes. But can we get back to the story, DK?’

‘What was the question, again?’

‘Do you want to be more… known?’

‘I don’t know. It’s not like people buy these things. Even if they do, are they my people? I like it when I can share my works with people directly because, then, you know, we’re having a conversation, and that’s the part I love. You get to see how people play with the magazines, the mini-books, that are like, more developed now than just the plain ol’ books or writings, that I used to do. I mean, typesetting them beautifully and printing them up and sharing them is nice, and all, but it’s really neat to see how people play with them, the secret pockets and hideaway stuff, and so on, and interactivity, which I love, and it’s neat to see them engage with these little books so that I can tweak them a little. Design, after all. I did that for so long I can’t help but want to continue it along in the new stuff, too. Making things better. A little less confusing. I guess writing and communicating are part of that journey. And all that. Watching, learning, changing, growing… evolving. Working with newspapers, in the newsroom, then designing things for people, layout, typography, paper. I love all this stuff. Playing with it. Rearrangements, bricolage. And shaping things in new ways based on how the environment and the people in places I go respond. Which is how, well, okay. You know, I think you might be right.’

‘Of course. I’m always right.’ *laughs*. ‘About what, though?’

‘Sewing them.’

On International Zine Day (21 July), DK are posting by mail a limited edition of hand-sewn zines from our hyperlocal creative nonfiction series, S P A C E. The A4 photozine is called ‘Slow Moment.’ A very limited edition piece, this one. Learn more here.

 

Exploring for the S P A C E || UK story

TAKING NOTES, visually, walking the cities was curious about.

Is how a thing got researched.

A thing that led to a draft, which was downloaded on a laptop, which got stolen, which there was no backup of, which was a kind of freedom, which led to forgetting the whole thing, which led to starting anew. But only when the right set of circumstances landed in front of me. Coming into shape, setting the new stage. Clearer, simpler.

More focused.

Next up, from the S P A C E collection, is S P A C E || Sheffield. Which leads with ‘Briefly in Sheffield,’ and dips to London for a chat with a very old book by Johannes Kepler, pictured. Special thanks to Sokol Books.

‘Briefly in Sheffield’

S P A C E || Sheffield

Order here.

Set in England, November 1998 and May 2016. Creative nonfiction based on real life encounters, S P A C E tells stories in third-person narrative. ‘Briefly in Sheffield’ is part of the larger series, S P A C E, a set of interwoven stories spanning the past, present and near future.

‘Briefly’ is one of DK’s first zine releases, and to help us all understand more about it, I recently interviewed the author, Karin Malhotra.

AS: You’ve been working on this a while, right?

KM: Twenty years. Jeez. That is a long time.

AS: And you’re finished? Why now?

KM: Timing. Chance. Discovering the thread in a moment that felt just right, and that tied up the loose ends into a work that is cohesive, to me, aesthetically. Also it was finished over Khmer New Year, and I was in Phnom Penh, pretty much not able to do anything else but write, since not a lot was open, people were away, and the atmosphere was quiet enough to focus and work. Not on the thing I imagined I would write (an assignment) with the time I had, but this just sort of flowed. I am glad about it. It has been meaning to be written, but I just… couldn’t… figure out the form… and other stories got made in the meantime, based on recency, interviewing people, wrapping quickly.

AS: Any examples?

KM: Sure. We collaborated to make S P A C E || Penang, which leads with ‘4/4 Measure,’ or S P A C E || Cameron, ‘Highlands.’ Fast is Design Kompany’s usual style; one of our team was at a daily, in 2004-5, so the tempo is real fast. Got used to quick wraps, now with the early zine prototyping at DK in 2016, practicing for this series. Ironic that ‘Briefly’ took two decades.

AS: Did you not just participate in Atelier S P A C E in Phnom Penh?

KM: Well…  yes. But we couldn’t get inspired, not yet, to make a zine for Phnom Penh. I guess it is too soon. We did get the cover shot, though. A window, a wall.

AS: So we will see it in 2038?

KM: *laughs* Um.

Sheffield. ‘Everyone always asks… Why?’
Peak District side tour

AS: So what about Sheffield?

KM: I went there in 2016.

AS: Because of Z.

KM: Inspired by. Not because of. Different. I remember writing a version of the first scene of this in like, 1999. But it was too soon. Plus I knew I really needed to get there, to Sheffield, I mean, if I wanted to get the story right. With proper details. I’ve always really wanted to write about my favorite people and places… Z. is based on someone I had met very briefly, but who challenged me to articulate ideas I couldn’t find words for, not yet, not then. It took ages years to get there, both the city and the necklace of the storyline, but when I did, I could finally respond to some of the big questions we had tussled with.

AS: Such as?

KM: Usual ones, for kids like us.

About life, work, and duty.

About culture, family, and social responsibility.

AS: ‘Kids like us?’ What do you mean?

KM: Oh. Being second-generation. Non-white, in countries like America and England.

Mugen Tea House, Sheffield
City Centre

AS: I know that this is an important subject for you, and I would like to hear more about it. Can you elaborate?

KM: Honestly, I’d rather not intellectualize this. If you want to really understand the feelings, the feelings are written into the story. I think art’s job is to get us to see things for ourselves, right? Too many times, I feel, authors and publicity people want to put words into nice, tight paragraphs that sound good, and goad you into buying stuff. That’s just not what matters to me. What matters to me is telling the story, telling it well, and showing the personality of Z., whom this is about, really. The earnest, soft, kind youth of a world apart from mine; our parents lineages’ clash, you see, India, Pakistan… that about sums it, right? But yeah. Second-generation. He was so different from me, and yet… awake and curious to learning the how and why of a new angle on life, and philosophy, even at that young age that we both were, at the time. Long story but I’ve put it down in a short form… Zines are handy, that way.

AS: A zine. What is that?

KM: A zine is a short, DIY-published piece, usually photocopied in limited edition and distributed by hand. But in this case, it’s a soft copy. An eZine.

AS: Okay. Let me understand this. It took you 20 years to write this. And it’s a work of creative nonfiction. The story, ‘Briefly in Sheffield,’ is set in England in 1998 and 2016. Why publish it now? Why Sheffield? 

KM: Fair questions. Okay, so, the zine, S P A C E || Sheffield, is part of a larger collection, S P A C E, that interweaves people and place, and hits square on underasked questions about: origin, cultural identity, and self. Isn’t now a good time to bring up these topics, given the world situation? I thought so. That’s why.

AS: Where can I get it?

KM: Scroll down.

AS: But okay. Twenty years??

KM: Working out the ideas and getting to a stance on things… that took a while! But I’m glad I waited. I’m glad I let things percolate, so that when I wrote the last chapter of this, it would mean something. It would have come from a place of substantial rumination, of query and argument, discussion, revisiting, reboots and regenerations. So much is packed in this.

AS: What happened when you finally got to Sheffield?

KM: You’ll have to read the story!… Many thanks to Golden Harvest and Mugen Tea House in Sheffield for the excellent conversations. And ZM, for whom this zine is written. *Chuffed*

 

How to order ‘Briefly in Sheffield’…

Order here.