Neil McQuillian enters the murky world of the fanzine, as a new exhibition opens in Salford
In the full bloom of the digital era, as newspaper and magazine closures occur with alarming regularity, it’d be tempting to think print was dead; to bemoan the demise of newsprint and typesetting. But a new exhibition at Salford’s Islington Mill sticks two inky fingers up to the naysayers of print and instead celebrates the best (and sometimes most obscure) fanzines, artists’ publications and mix tapes.
The show in question, Stomach Pump, has been put together by Salford Zine Library, an organisation founded in January by Craig Barr and Matthew Walkerdine with the aim of creating an archive of self-published works – to date they’ve amassed almost 800 items. Word of the project spread quickly – way faster than the snail-mail fanzine speed of the 1970s and 1980s – thanks in part to an article in AN magazine, a poster campaign, and not least (and somewhat ironically) to the influence of blogging, a form that has much in common with the tradition that fanzines represent. That tradition, the dissemination of self-published works by individuals with something to say, goes all the way back to pamphleteering. Fitting, then, that a city with a history of radical politics should lay claim to such a library.
Stomach Pump is the first opportunity to see the collection in the flesh. The gallery walls are strung floor to ceiling, bunting-like, with clothes-pegged ‘zines. The glass cabinet displaying a number of specially selected examples is a nod to the supposed difficulty of exhibiting book-based works in a gallery setting. Although Matthew and Craig refuse to curate the library in any way – they will accept and archive any contributions without reservation – the show has doubtless been put together with great care.
The fanzines themselves range from the first ever to come out of Peru to contributions from those whose reputations extend beyond the fanzine world, amongst them Jeffrey Brown, Johnny Ryan and Mike Perry (the latter’s clients include Nike and The New York Times). Much of the library is made up of a private collection that dates back nearly 40 years. It was on loan until the night of the launch, when the owner announced that Matthew and Craig could consider it a donation. This spirit of generosity is evident elsewhere – in the invitation to visitors to photocopy ‘zines or, as on the night of the launch, help themselves to a collection of creations from Museums packaged up in a pizza box.
It is the intensely personal nature of the work on display that hits home: the individual voices of each fanzine, the painstakingly put together typewritten text. You almost flinch when you see a typo. On the front page of one decades-old example the writer wonders where is fanzine ‘should be heading, if anywhere’. Just seeing the creator’s correspondence address feels strangely intimate. If you think your lovingly crafted blog is missing something, it probably is – staples.
Stomach Pump: Salford Zine Library, Islington Mill, Until 12 May 2010 (Midday-5pm daily). Free entry. Images: courtesy Craig Barr. Neil McQuillian writes on food, travel and culture. His short story Old Man In A Tracky appeared in Comma Press’ Brace: A New Generation in Short Fiction.