words James Pallister
image Sue Barr
A curator takes a trip around South America, discovers an interest and begins a collection. Back at home, the collection grows and, with it, a nascent exhibition. The collector’s interest is in architectural zines – “archizines”. Their subject is architecture; their medium, print. A blog dedicated to these items appears, heavy social networking follows and soon there is enough interest to warrant a physical exhibition of these curios. Now we can see these zines at Archizines, a show at the Architectural Association curated by Elias Redstone.
The difficulty with many exhibitions that look at printed matter is that you often cannot actually flick through the stuff. This show’s obvious antecedent Clip Stamp Fold, the 2010 travelling exhibition suffered in this way. But the archizines have yet to accrue the kind of value that would keep them under glass so, for once, you can actually get your grubby little paws on them.
The zines are laid out in three rows of two tables placed end-to-end. Each sits within a little sawtooth Perspex pocket, leaving them facing upwards, flush with the table. A steel rod that runs up each spine and moves up and down the slope of the sawtooth ensures they can not be easily pilfered: genteel versions of the bank’s biro on a string. As the trays sit below the table, you can sit and read them or ignore them – as several students are doing when I visit, sitting and drinking coffee instead.
There is great variety among the scope, layout and format of the zines, and each is a handsome specimen in itself. The discussion of what is and isn’t a zine is a hoary old one, best saved for another time, but it is worth noting that the bulk of these are not the photocopied affairs of zine lore.Form isn’t everything, though: In her survey “Fanzines”, academic Teal Triggs said that zines “serve super-niche interest groups”, an observation that holds pretty well here.
The global spread means we can benefit from the Netherlands’ generous publishing history (and state subsidies) through the intelligent and forward-looking journals OASE and Volume. From New York, Pin-Up provides slick, sharp humour – a sort of 032C for architecture. There is also photographic naturalism, courtesy of Preston is my Paris, which documents on colour newsprint paper the everyday life of Preston’s famous brutalist bus station. Berlin’s Monokultur bucks the trend by having a laser-like singularity of focus – each issue features a long-form Q&A interview with just one person.
The Swiss wacksters behind Foreign Architecture Switzerland and Camenzind blow away some of my parochial associations with Switzerland: critical regionalism, sensible modernism and attractively shuttered concrete. The Swiss can do trash aesthetic and collaged Messerschmitts too, it seems, and take on their country’s “brain-dead, incestuous architectural media”.
Zine-makers seem to be male thirty-somethings. The publications appear to fall into the long tradition of obsessive music cataloguing, mucking around in sheds and building model train sets – generally things women don’t do. Bearing in mind the costs of publishing, the age range isn’t too surprising either – or maybe it takes a few years in architecture to coax out the angry young man inside you.
The upper limit of distribution of the magazines (Pin-Up) is 25,000 – considerably higher than some UK trade journals – and many are physically big, too. This raises questions about the different funding models that zines use – whether they are vanity projects, state-funded, self-sufficient or hybrid models.
As Arjen Oosterman of Volume says in a video clip: “As a critical tool [the magazine] is under pressure.” His main pressure is funding withdrawal.
Are we at the stage when generously state-funded mags such as OASE and Volume occupy a space as obscure as any bedroom publisher did previously? Should he want to explore funding models and their impact on content further, curator Elias Redstone may have an interesting research project on his hands.