LOS ANGELES — The LA Art Book Fair is for those who cannot afford to buy art. That includes everyone from recent MFAs to working artists, writers and curators, and collectors who like objects that take up space on the coffee table — not the wall. Miranda July and actors from Girls cruised by this weekend and they, too, became one with the art. The sprawling first floor is filled with exhibitors from around the world, and the corner of the second floor is devoted to the Queer Zines Exhibition curated by Philip Aarons and AA Bronson, an artist known for his dealings with queer spirits and magick. It offers a comprehensive array of over 200 queer-themed zines spanning from the 1970s to the present day, showing the breadth of how this mode of creative self-expression has changed and evolved over the years.
Here the queer zine is defined as a “self-published, serial publication with a ‘queer spirit,’ where the hand of the artist/maker is clearly visible in the final product.” This disqualifies one-time only activist-oriented publications, posters or advertisements for political action groups, or LGBTQ political publications that are not made by artists. As such, one would not expect to see anything from the Leather Museum & Archives, the Trans Oral History Project or more bookish queer publications. Limiting publications to print-only artist-made zines also excludes contemporary online magazines that exist primarily on Tumblr. This is a print-only zone for the zine lover.
The entranceway to the Queer Zines Exhibitions offers a variety of hanging ‘zines that visitors can touch and flip through; aside from the usual to-be-expected, rather common gay male publications such as BUTT and SLUTS Magazine, I was pleasantly surprised to discover Translady Fanzine, a glossy magazine that pays homage to historical trans publications such as Transsexual Illusion (circa 1990) and features photographs by Amos Mac, a trans man, of their friend Zackary, a trans woman. Both elegant and fashionable, Mac captures their friend in poses that are common in mainstream fashion magazines as well as more intimate poses with family members. Another magazine hanging by a thread was Poser 1 out of Vancouver with artwork by Ho Tam, who photographs young Asian men on the streets of Bangkok, all of whom happen to be wearing orange monk-like outfits. What makes this queer is not the overt sexual content or nude ripped male bodies, but its focus on multiples as a way to discuss an avenue of queerness that isn’t necessarily sexual.
As is the case with most exhibitions titled “queer,” however, often times it seems like the aggressive qualities of “queer” just come off as louder than the oft-times softer, yet not soft-spoken, feminine but not necessarily feminist conversations; for example, why am I still thinking about a publication called Homoture that appropriates the Pepsi logo with its characteristic blue and red — replacing “Pepsi” with “Sperm” — rather than dreaming about the cutesy girlish publication Girlfriend #1 that features a sweet poem about an up-and-coming girl band? Perhaps it is because of the former’s branding, which is very much a part of commercial capitalist culture that we live in — is it radical to appropriate capitalist consumer culture brands and queer them? Then two more clearly branded publications caught my eye, including Girls Like Us, which offers smart branding, and the playful political publication Randy which seems as queer, if not more so, than Sperm. But I quickly forgot about these monosyllabic titles when Farm appeared under the glass in front of me — its cover featuring three classic 1950s-esque renderings of Midwestern farmer boys’ heads that could have been plucked from vintage magazine advertisements; scattered across a white cover, they hover in a ghostly queered state of existence that is not nostalgic. The publication appealed to me because it felt understated and reminiscent of a rural queerness that seems Midwestern in nature.
For the gorgeous arrangement of magazines in archival-style see-through tables, this exhibition could have carved out subsections for specifically themed queer zines by people of color, or feminist queer zines, or gay male-centric queer zines. On the other hand, doing so would have leant this exhibition to a sort of hyper categorization, which often times reads as a further “ghettoization” or splintering of queer community, which is a regular topic of feminist conversations about the nature of queer community. The real issue is not the zines or the wall text which provides lists of where in the world all the zines came from — it is that six nude portraits of white, bearish queer men are the first images that viewers see before beginning to peruse the main zine room; having these as bodily markers reinforce the gay male-dominated aspect of queerness as it is so often popularly defined. It must be possible for us all to come together now without tokenizing anyone, yet still creating an exhibition that is both memorable and smartly branded.
The Queer Zines exhibition at the LA Art Book Fair took place from January 30 until February 2 at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA (152 North Central Ave, Little Tokyo, Los Angeles).