Alternative Highlights at the NYABF

My regrettably short visit to the 2012 New York Art Book Fair (NYABF) was spent focusing on smaller presses, zines, and emerging artists’ publications. Though the selection of works at the event on the whole speak to a wide range of formats and purposes for artists’ books, it was encouraging to find compelling alternative approaches and departures from monographs, gallery produced critical texts and precious limited editions. Such alternatives are nothing new, but I found an increasing number of publications that represent a rising tide in the reinvestigation and restructuring of intimacy, queerness, and community.

Beginning in the outdoor tent, aka The Schoolyard, full of emerging and independent publishers and zinesters, I found a series of mini-zines by Eloisa Aquino titled The Life and Times of Butch Dykes. These quarter sized zines use illustration and short quotes to recreate works and highlight cultural contributions by such artists as Claude Cahun, Gertrude Stein or JD Samson. Another lighthearted and queer themed artist zine was the latest in the Homocats series by J Morrison titled Lollipop Considers a Trans-Feline Change! The half-letter sized zine pairs collaged images of his cat with the narration of a physical transformation, along with speech bubbles exclaiming things like “I am a transgressive woman of the future!” or “Don’t give up!”. Morrison’s ability to address the politicized and gendered body through photo-collages of cats (of all things) and just enough humor is unsuspecting and admirable. 

My last purchase in the Schoolyard were two issues of the mini-zine "Sad Sex" by artist, Heather BenjaminHer black and white illustrations of awkward, bloody, hairy and sometimes disturbing portrayals of sex exude the vulnerability, desire, and sometimes darker side of the current discourse surrounding sex-positivity. As messy, gestural and shock provoking as these zines may seem, the larger question becomes how comfortable the viewer really is with such details of sexual pleasure. Benjamin’s execution of these themes, especially in a format that can fit in your pocket, disseminates an honest investigation of sexual power and desire.

Once inside PS1 itself, I picked up an issue of Shifter Magazine, co-edited by Parsons faculty member Sreshta Rit Premnath, appropriately titled “Intimate”.  The issue departs from intimacy within the confines of sexual relationships, and focuses on those of “kindship, friendship and neighborliness” through critical texts, visual artworks and interviews. The issue’s content suggests the capability of art to impact the remapping of intimacy beyond private life and into a more social and neighborly sphere. 

The examination of alternative forms of intimacy within community, identities, and neighbors, connects to my final purchases from the magazine Girls Like Us. Based in the Netherlands, the publication highlights a community of women contemporary artists, writers, filmmakers and more. Their contributors are cultural producers and subversives, connected through collaborative, creative and social networks that are certainly intimate and embrace a primarily lesbian readership. Queerness is not the deciding factor for inclusion in the magazine, though there is an specific emphasis on the strength and impact of such women (and a larger queer community) on contemporary art. Contributors in the most recent issue include such artists as Emily Roysdon, Katherine Hubbard, and Collier Schorr, among others. To tie in the true community aspect of the group, an interview with noted hairstylist Holli Smith confirms suspicions that yes, a large swath of those “transformative lesbian haircuts” are, in fact, created by the same person. To top it all off, as an addendum to the recent issue, Girls Like Us was slinging a limited edition T-shirt featuring a stark black and white text excerpt from Monique Wittig’s “The Lesbian Body.” Sold!

Despite the true range of artists’ publication at the NYABF, the objects I was most drawn to were not merely accessible forms an artist’s work, but those that spread theories on restructuring and queering that is increasingly present in contemporary art, especially among the DIY and self-publishing set. Certainly zines like Life and Times of Butch Dykes showcase Aquino’s artistic skills and interests, but the series also works to connect historical queer artists and musicians with their contemporary counterparts. Other publications like Sad Sex, Shifter, and Girls Like Us, though varying in form, are an asset to the engagement of art with social theory, philosophy, and transformative social change. This type of dialogue between publications and artists has made events like the NYABF a vital part of social practice, political expression and a sustainable, collaborative venue for artists of many disciplines.

-Lauren Denitzio

(Writing as Studio Practice)