If one were taking the vital signs of a region’s cultural life, the vitality of the local zine scene, it seems to me, would be a key indicator. It’s part of the fabric of an area’s DIY culture that can include (but is hardly limited to) a broad range of artistic forms: bookmaking, paper arts, collage, comics, drawing, photography, poetry, prose and polemics.
Based on The Zine Show, an exhibition at the Bush Barn Art Center & Annex in Salem, I’d venture that the state’s zine scene is alive and well. The exhibition, which features zines from around Oregon, closes July 10, and a reception for the artists will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 5. Admission is free.
Bush Barn really packed the gallery for this one. More than 70 zines are displayed, and artwork by Miranda Abrams and Eilish Gormley adorns the walls. The gallery space is relatively small, but there’s a lot to look at. Visitors should plan on spending at least a half-hour to take it all in. There’s plenty to read; it’s like folding a leisurely bookstore visit into an art-gallery trip.
So many zines, and so little time, but one stood out, because it captured the very spirit of the project. Salem artist Cory Timmons’ Art Manifesto is a collection of brief ruminations on what art and artists are all about. You can read it all on her website.
The manifesto, she told me, started a few years back as a writing prompt. She revisited it recently and decided that a zine was the perfect format. A professional artist and designer who works in a variety of media, Timmons said she was happy to see the Salem Art Association, the nonprofit that operates Bush Barn, put out a call for zines.
“I love the idea of democratizing speech,” Timmons told me in an email. “Zines are a good way of doing that. Bypassing traditional publishing, artists and writers get the chance to create something that is outside the usual bounds of speech or the limitations of a ‘platform.’ Marginalized voices have a chance to be heard and broadcast through zines instead of being silenced by the institutional nature of other media.”
A selection of titles in the show speaks to the variety of topics: Ideas; Leaning Into It: An exploration of impermanence in Art & Life; How Compare Humans & Ants?; More Love? (A small collection of poems); My Drawings Preschool-1st Grade; Kiss of Death; To Change Everything: an anarchist appeal; Witnesses & Visionaries, and Suicide Risk: What’s On Your Mind?
Portland artist Christian Orellana Bauer came to the United States from Cuenca, Ecuador, when he was 4, has been drawing since childhood, and writing poetry since age 16. He dabbles in virtually everything — photography, painting, poetry, music, and film-making. He’s up to about 18 zines that he has in rotation, and the ones he has in Salem contain primarily his poetry.
I asked him about the appeal of zines.
“Zines were one of the first things I started making,” he said. “All I really needed was a pencil, paper, scissors, and a printer/scanner for what I wanted to make. The culture around them is very DIY, at least in Portland, which I appreciate. They can really be about anything. I’ve seen educational zines about various academic subjects as alternatives to classic textbooks, comic book-style zines, poetry zines, informational zines about organizations, fine-art zines, photography zines, etc. There isn’t a feeling of hierarchy in the community. It’s welcoming to all and really makes you feel like you belong, no matter what it is you are making.”
He learned about zines in elementary school, when his class created one as a group project. So I asked him about Portland’s zine culture.
“I think the scene has grown with time,” he said. “Powell’s didn’t used to carry them, but in the last few years they started doing so. The Multnomah County Library system also has a selection in rotation, as well as some academic institutions like PCC. Organizations like the Independent Publishing Resource Center, Microcosm Publishing, and zine festivals such as Intersect Fest, the Portland Zine Symposium, the Oregon City Public Library Zine Fest, and Bush Barn’s Zine Show, are a big part of what keeps the zine community alive and make it accessible for anyone.”
Bush Barn always has a couple of exhibitions going, and admission is free. You’ll find it near the north end of Bush Pasture Park, 600 Mission St. SE, which is pretty much in the center of the state’s capital. Later this month, you’ll find the 70th annual Salem Art Fair & Festival there.
ARTS JOURNAL: It wasn’t really my plan, but my wife and I binged the first season of the CBS web series Star Trek: Discovery. It’s gruesome and unpleasant at times, and the Klingons are unnecessarily over the top, but it’s an impressive display of sci-fi diversity. The main character is a black woman; the ship’s captain (initially, anyway) is Malaysian, and there is a gay male couple played by two openly gay actors, one of whom is of Puerto Rican ancestry. Also: Reading Jonathan Nossiter’s Cultural Insurrection: A Manifesto for the Arts, Agriculture and Natural Wine. Also spent some time poking around the website of Russian-American artist, photographer, and author Lena Herzog.