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Did The Internet Kill Zines? Not At All

A MoMA exhibit highlights the surprising health of zine culture.

Did The Internet Kill Zines? Not At All

Chimurenga, Peep-Hole Sheet, and umool umool are three magazines with precisely one thing in common: You’ve never heard of any of them. They are zines of the millennium, which is to say that they’re zines at a time when no one reads zines.

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Surely you remember zines! Those quirky, homegrown, often deliberately difficult fonts of counterculture that each had an audience of 100, maybe 200 tops, but boy what a dedicated audience that was? Turns out, people are still making them! And it has fallen to MoMA to give them the institutional nod, with a small new exhibit.

The show is called Millennium Magazines, and it features rags on design, architecture, art, and photography that explore “the various ways in which contemporary artists and designers utilize the magazine format as an experimental space for the presentation of artworks and text,” the museum says. Each was published after 1999.

Creative people have been grinding out zines for ages. Throughout the 20th century, zines were a first stop on the path to full-blown artistic movements, a place where artists and designers could opine and theorize ad nauseam. That was a function of necessity. Message boards didn’t exist yet. Where else would they disseminate new, often unpopular, ideas?

Today, bless the Internet, we can mouth off about anything, anytime. And for free! Yet artists keep publishing on paper (not free). This is an aesthetic choice. Whether it’s a platform for political ideas by Africans about Africa, a Norwegian zine made up entirely of found images, or a shelter rag that goes beyond glossy photos and unctuous write-ups of celebrity homes, contemporary zines force their audience to wrestle with the material–to ask why the magazine looks the way it does, much in the way that shooting a film in black and white nowadays prompts questions that a color film does not. It’s an act of defiance. So maybe nobody reads zines anymore. But in a sense, they’re more zine-like than ever before.

[Images courtesy of MoMA]

About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D.

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