Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Update on Long Arm Stapler First Aid Exhibit and Zine

This post is relating to the Long Arm Stapler First Aid: Self-Care In Zines and Mini Comics Exhibition at the Spudnik Press Annex opening April 20th that I'm co-curating.

After selecting what pieces we were going to use in the exhibit the real motifs emerged; I joked that what we really should have called the exhibit was "Cats, Coffee and Grief," because those topics seemed so inadvertantly prevalent in the pieces selected. In spite of the fact that I didn't want this exhibit to be so cutesy, it was apparent that zinesters do love their cats and coffee.

Actually though, there are bigger themes in zines and comics too. I thought the exhibit was going to be about body maintenace and grooming, but somehow a whole lot of the exhibit moved out of the corporeal world and into the ethereal world of emotion and mental states. And that was how it came to be that we decided to hang the show; pieces with likeminded themes would be grouped together within one hand-drawn frame per categorey (designed and drawn by my co-curator Neil Brideau). Each of the pieces fell into one of seven different categories (no, not seven deadly sins, silly goose!). Serendipitously, I realized after the fact, that seven is also the same amount of major chakras in the human body, as suggested by components of eastern metaphysical tradition. Chakras are central points of life-force-y energy in the body. They start at the bottom of your spine (where you digest in the earthly realm of bodily processes) and the chakras go up your body, the top one being your spot of pure consciousness (what we mean when we talk about our "third eye."). The body elevates in spiritualness as you move up from the lowest to the highest chakras.

Although the categories we came up with weren't exact correspondances to the chakra forces, what was similar is that a narrative was created of the physical through the mental and beyond; we started with the physical earthy stuff in the beginning, and then as the narrative continues (just as chakra energy moves higher in the body), we move into more of an emotional and then mental and then spiritual capacity. The categories of the exhibit start at the beginning with food, then move onto the corporeal world, then loss, then recovery, then growth, on to fulfillment, and then finally to jubilation.

Although the categories don't match chakra forces exactly, I do love the inadvertent parallel of how the exhibit is in some way an illustration of the kundalini-like force of movement from the bottom earth-y physical chakra stuff up to fulfillment of female kundalini Shakti energy rising to unite with the male Shiva energy in such a way that samadhi (enlightenment) is attained.

Also totally inadvertant was that I included Danielle Chenette's amazing illustration from the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

At first we had no idea what order to put the categories in. Then once we looked at the categories, we realized that there could be (couldn't help but be) a very definite narrative of the categories in that order. Spudnik Press executive director Angee Lennard (the catalyst for this exhibit, and without whom this exhibit would never have happened) exclaimed something to the effect of, "It's hard to believe that we were so stumped on the order of these categories at first. Clearly this has to be the order."

Some people can't get beyond the physical world, and then there are others who spend too much time in their heads, neglecting our physical selves. Ever neglect eating (or healthy eating) because you're busy doing stuff? Get lost in your thoughts or doing stuff in front of a computer and then realize once you turn the device off that your legs are numb and then realize you've had to pee the whole time? Neglect exercising for staying in bed to avoid the world, lost in depression and anxiety? I have been guilty of all of these things at various points.

Although I don't always follow the advice, I love the heady process of enjoying art about suggested self-help activity rather than doing the actual self-help activity. That is to say, I love art about the ways we take care of ourselves, even though I might not actually listen to the wisdom shared. It's appropriate then, that I love eating and reading zines about food, but I hate cooking. I love zines about gardening and botanical illustrations, even going as far as getting tattoos of healthy green vines on my arms, but I've accidentally killed every plant that's ever come into my possession. It's rare that I ever actually use a first-aid kit, but I can certainly appreciate a line-drawing diagram of directions of how to build one. 

Some of us spend too much time in our heads and some of us spend too much time outside our heads, but one thing we all have in common is that in order to be a well-balanced person physically, emotionally and psychically, we have to practice various forms of self-care.

I feel like I have more to say about the stuff I didn't include. There are so many good zines with wonderful pieces about sexuality, gender issues, body image, trauma recovery, but at some point we had to just say "OK, this is the deadline, the pieces have been selected, no more!" Otherwise we'd just never finish curating, and it would just go on forever, not to mention that there is limited wall space. I am constantly coming across more great illustrations in zines and fabulous comics. After all, I work in a bookstore that sells many of these hand made items. And since self-care is a topic that interests me, I will always be tuned in to the matter, especially based on my own medical history (cancer survivor, family history of mental illness, weirdo potential diagnosis of fibromyalgia, allergies etceterfuckinga).

I love a good line drawing, one that communicates so much with so little. Beth Barnett's salt and pepper shakers with a heart, Liz Prince's heart being mawled by a cat, Raleigh Briggs' elegant anatomy of a first aid kit -- these are simple drawings, but they communicate perfectly. When I look at these images, I feel like there's a very definite "You've had the power in yourself this whole time" element to them, which is exactly what publishing zines and mini comics is all about: you most likely already have all the rersources you already need to publish your work: a pen, some paper, a long-arm stapler to bind the work, some opinions. Sometimes the illustrations arent even art you've made yourself but the mere inclusion of it (or appropriated use of it) is what makes it arty and compelling; Erick Lyle's use of royalty free Dover clip art of an ambulance (the very same illustration, that I've seen in tons of zines, everything from David Rees' My New Fighting Technique Is Unstoppable to an issue of Cul-de-sac a friend and I published in the late 90s. (Dover clip art is like the slut of the design world; it gets AROUND if you know what I'm saying...and I LOVE IT.)

I know I'm making referances to some of the art pieces in the show I've discussed above without the accompanying illustration. Guess you'll just have to come to the exhibit!!!

Something I didn't notice until after looking at the spreadsheet of artists is that a majority of the pieces we'd selected were by women. This was not intentional. But it did give me pause. I'm uncomfortable saying that it is unsurprsing that many of the pieces about self-care are by women because of the traditional role of women as caretakers and the stereotypical propensity to associate the feminine with the private sphere. But I certainly feel like women are significantly better than men at taking care of themselves. A-hem! Who lives longer? (And statisically, I have heard it said that when spouses pass away or divorce, men are more likely than women to look for someone to remarry, and I have also heard it said that it is because men are looking for someone to take care of them (or at least, men from a certain generation). Where is this stastic from? I don't remember. It's not my own personal theory, just one that I've heard. And certainly I do not begrudge anybody for wanting to find a companion in their life. Even Doctor Who, the world's (arguably) loneliest male time traveller is perpetually looking for companions. And yes, I realized what I haven't mentioned in this discussion of gender is gender queer or queer companion preference in the world outside of  the hetero continuum. I am aware of this.

Of course, I feel like there are certain things I'm taking for granted, that I feel like are unsaid about this exhibit, that are not my points to make but are implicit in their understanding of this show. I feel that these points are cheesy but worth mentioning:

*Zines and comics, they ARE ART!!
*We spend so much of every single day on self-care and maintenance, surely we can make art about it!
*Can't art be useful? Shouldn't directions for how to do things look arty and that makes them fun?!

Yeah yeah, I know, cheesy. 

There are a number of pieces I wanted to include but I was unsuccessful in getting a response from the publisher or the creator. There were also a number of pieces that I loved but they didn't lend themselves to a gallery setting. I am reminded of what Jessica Abel and Matt Madden wrote in one of the forwards of one of the years Best American Comics (what year? I have no idea-- and to make matters worse I don't even know the exact quote), and that is this: there are a lot of comics that are really great and deserve to be recognized, but that doesn't mean they have sound bite-able moments that can be separated out from the entire work (specifically I think they were referring to Dan Clowes' Mister Wonderful). Also, the fact that the pieces of the show are hung on the wall does necessistate this logistical consideration: the piece has to be visually striking. Too much text makes it more writing then visual art (the zine Dwelling Portably for example, which I love, but unfortunately it didn't make the cut). Now, that's not to say that text can't be art; the use of artful text is beautifully illustrated with selections from by Dina Kelberman's "Relax" that hangs in the show (and is pictured below, because it is the image we're using to promote the show), where she uses differnt types of hand drawn fonts mixed with illustration.

The zine I'm making to go with the show will have a few extra pieces that aren't in the show , maybe becuase the pieces unveiled themselves known to my world so late in the process or that got ruled out for logisitcal considerations regarding hanging. And there is so much good zine-writing that's mostly text that it would be nice to include (things akin to the aforementioned Dwelling Portably). Maybe I'll do an additional zine later? Or maybe devote an issue of Caboose to it? Of course, I don't want my zine to be a not-my-zine-but-an-anthology type of situation. I suppose I could feature people's work and then comment on it. After all, I do reviews of stuff and make plenty of refereances to other media in my own zine, but I don't actually reprint the entire book that I'm doing the review of, etc. I'll have to let this marinate! Maybe someone out there is interested in this? There's all sorts of websites devoted to radical (and zine-y) self-care, I know I'm not the first person to be interested in this.

On a semi-related note! Here's a picture of the Spudnik Annex with the previous show. This is the space where Long-Arm Stapler exhibit will be, which we worked on super late yesterday measuring and sanding and hanging and printing and what have you.

The Spudnik Press Annex hosts a gallery and classroom, independent studios, and shared work space for writers, bookmakers, artists, students, and others.

See you Saturday!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Long-Arm Stapler First Aid: Self-Care In Zines and Mini Comics

Come to the art show I'm curating!

Long-Arm Stapler First Aid: Self-Care In Zines and Mini Comics

Curated by Liz Mason and Neil Brideau
4/20/13 – 5/31/13

Opening Reception: April 20, 2013 6:00 – 9:00pm
The Annex @ Spudnik Press Cooperative,
1821 W Hubbard, Suite 303, Chicago, IL

Whether we’re soothing, grooming or creating major life changes, we’re always involved in some sort of self-care, no matter how big or trivial. Drinking coffee, petting animals, getting stuff off our chests, confronting personal and societal demons, we are perpetually creating a space for our own personal world to exist healthfully in the bigger world. Indeed, the personal is social.
Instead of relying on professional services, one can create change using a DIY mentality, often with the help of some sort of reference. At their core, the pieces in this group show suggest we must be our own proponents for health and well-being.

The exhibit "Long-Arm Stapler First Aid" features pieces by a variety of zinesters and comics artists. The pieces discuss and/or illustrate self-care topics that both help themselves and inspire the reader to be their own advocate in self-improvement. In honor of self-publishing as a means to foster well-being, Spudnik Press is proud to host this exhibition featuring dozens of zine makers from across the country, including Edie Fake, Rinko Endo, Kathleen McIntyre, Ramsey Beyer, Liz Prince, Dina Kelberman, Sara McHenry, Maris Wicks, Beth Barnett, Nate Beaty, Raleigh Briggs, Danielle Chenette, Emilja Frances, Turtel Onli, Trubble Club, Caroline Paquita, Sarah McNeil, Milo Miller, Corinne Mucha, Kitari Sporrong, Missy Kulik, Cathy Leamy, Erick Lyle and more.

Long Arm Stapler First Aid will also include a limited edition exhibition zine, compiled by Liz Mason, encompassing relevant self-care themes in zines and mini-comics such as: healing, grief, fitness, and medical issues. The exhibit will also feature a limited edition screenprint by Ramsey Beyer, published by Spudnik Press.

This show brings together an assortment of zines and comics that address health-related issues ranging from mental to physical, personal to societal, and preventative to regenerative, including such specifics as grooming, food preparation, self-defense, coping strategies, defense mechanisms, mental or spiritual development and even soul enrichment. These largely self-published works address, at times, incredibly personal experiences, usually with a large dose of wit.

Unlike a film or a painting, readers of zines and comics are able to engage with these works at their own pace, choosing when they are ready to confront the next page. Perhaps this is what allows authors to broach difficult, and often very personal, topics with great breadth of emotion, honesty, and clarity. Through the combination of words and images, artists are able to rely on multiple modes of communication to bring together the tangible and the cerebral.
Why the long-arm stapler? It’s the symbol of home-stapled periodicals, the best kind of stapler to use for getting to the center of the page that a normal stapler can’t reach. And the very act of making a zine and mini comic (and reading) is considered a therapeutic caring action.

Long live (and maintain, groom and sooth) the long-arm stapler!

About the curators:
Liz Mason is the manager of Quimby’s Bookstore, known for selling a variety of self-published works, as well as the editor and publisher for the zine Caboose.

Neil Brideau is comics artist and comics sommelier at Quimby’s Bookstore, as well as an organizer of CAKE, Chicago’s Alternative Comics Expo.

*Image Credit to Dina Kelbermann