My research and writing

on grrrl zines

 


The Global Grrrl Zine Network:
A DIY Feminist Revolution for Social Change

A dissertation by Elke Zobl (written in English)

INSTITUT FÜR WISSENSCHAFTEN UND TECHNOLOGIEN IN
DER KUNST,
AKADEMIE DER BILDENDEN KÜNSTE WIEN, Austria
submitted September 2003

Supervisors: Prof. Ute Meta Bauer, Akademie der Bildenden Künste Wien
und Prof. Dr. Marie-Luise Angerer, Universität Köln

Abstract

In self-made, unfiltered zines a growing number of young women, queer and transgender youth from around the world find an empowering outlet to express themselves and their criticisms against society. Through reading, making and distributing zines with grrrl-positive and political critical messages, they actively participate in and create a global resistant grrrl zine community. Together with other networks of feminist cultural and political resistance, they form the social movement of DIY feminism. In their zines, these grrrls document in dynamic, diverse and complex ways the process of forming a feminist consciousness and identity, and their involvement in feminist activism and politics. Therefore, zines are rich and significant archival primary source documents for feminist social and political analyses.

In an ethnographic cross-cultural study of this actual and virtual community connected via zines, I suggest that grrrl zinesters read, make and distribute zines to resist the societal pressures of conforming to conventional femininity and rigid gender roles, and carve out a libertory space of their own in creating their own media and communication networks. Drawing from my online archive Grrrl Zine Network and interviews with zinesters from around the world, I found that grrrls turn to zines for a variety of reasons: as an outlet for personal expression and creativity, out of solation and in search of supportive friends and community, and as a form of creative cultural and political resistance. Making zines and engaging in this community of shared interest, many grrrl zinesters not only experience personal fulfillment, empowerment, and happiness but also a sense of politicization. I suggest that grrrl zines develop new ideas, engage in cultural resistance and have an impact on social change over long term as well as in the immediate moment.

Bibliography



Do-It-Yourself: Feministische künstlerische Praxis am Beispiel von Zines und Magazinen

(Do-It-Yourself: Feminist Artistic Practice in Zines and Magazines)

A thesis by Elke Zobl
(written in German)

INSTITUT FÜR BILDNERISCHE ERZIEHUNG UND KUNSTWISSENSCHAFT, AKADEMIE DER BILDENDEN KÜNSTE WIEN, Austria

Submitten June 1999

A summary (sorry for the flaky translation...)

Zines - noncommercial, nonprofessional, small-circulation magazines – have been utilized by many artists in pursuit of a venue other than galleries or museums for presenting their works. From the 1990s onwards, increasingly young feminist artists worked with zines to create their own space, alternative distribution canals and to reach a audience of their own. In my MA thesis I studied feminist artistic practice employed in zines and magazines in the German-speaking area. Central to my analyses is an understanding of art not as a removed object , but as a social and cultural praxis. I analyzed two art (maga-)zines and three comic zines from contemporary German and Austrian artists and compared them in their conception, production and distribution. On the one hand I have been interested in the relation of these zines to art and in the transformation of the concept of art, and on the other hand in the discussion and artistic expression of feminist issues in those art and comic zines. Finally, I introduced an exhibition at the Lousiana Museum of Modern Art at Copenhagen (curator: Ute Meta Bauer) where women artists were asked to produce a zine for the exhibition. My study is based on interviews with the editors of the zines as well as on the content analysis of their cultural products.

In general, these
independent little magazines are produced, published and distributed by people through all ages, interests, political viewpoints and social levels privileging the ethic of Do-It-Yourself. Most zines are highly specialized and - as Factsheet Five's editor Mike Gunderloy points out - done for love of expression, sharing and communication as well as out of rage in protest against culture and society. A central ethic of all zines is the emphasis on the personal, following the motto of "the personal is political", a notion best and most frequently articulated by the feminist movement. Additionally, they share the emphasis on the authentic act over the result: What counts is authenticity shown by the highly personal act of expression in making a zine. Zine writers construct who they are and what they do in opposition to the rest of society experimenting with new personalities, ideas and politics. Zines are a medium of communication, written to be shared with others underground. The network of zines, embedded within a larger underground culture, creates a forum through which individuals may become able to construct their identity, formulate their ideals of an authentic life, and build a community of support, without having to identify themselves with mainstream society.

Zines are an important medium because people experiment in the publishing process with ideas, articulate problems and experiences otherwise suppressed by larger society. In learning to express these issues young people develop a sense of political thinking and acting, ultimately. Zines have always been carriers of new, progressive, albeit often obscure and contradictory ideas, but zinesters expressed problems at the heart of society. In the last decade especially young women made their experiences public, stories not told in that way by mainstream women’s magazines. Considering the well researched decline in self-esteem, body image, and academic performances of adolescent girls, zines are especially significant for young women in providing a space of identity construction, empowerment and community building. Grrrl zines – little magazines produced by and for young women - offer a space where girls can resist the socializing forces of adolescence, consequently reclaiming their voice and a feminist identity for themselves.

At the beginning of the 20th century especially artists and writers used the medium of self-publication to make their agendas heard. This phenomenon can be observed in Dadaist, Surrealist and Situationist (maga)-zines. The first art movement which has been based - apart from their performances - on independent publications has been Dadaism. Dadaist manifests, little magazines, journals and leaflets are often cited as the first zines, in the sense that they were published purely out of fun and provocation. Then, Surrealist and Situationist artists explored the medium for their purposes. In the meantime, this History of Art has been influential in directing zine writers output and shaping their public statement. The content of many zines shows a clear indebtedness to Dadaism and employs sloganeering and détournement practices used by Situationists. Especially interesting are the parallels one can draw from punk and Riot grrrl zines to Dadaist, Surrealist and Situationist (maga-)zines employing artistic techniques such as taking texts from mass culture and endowing them with new and subversive meaning or using collages of cut-up word and images.

Two types of zines can be assigned to visual art, namely art- and comic-zines. Art zines containing print media, collages, photographs, drawings and mail art create a network of artists and a floating virtual gallery. Characteristic features of art zines are the emphasis on international artists and circulation as well as the specific style of artistic presentation. Jens Neumann describes them as a play area for a multicultural youth culture as they affect feelings and the cultural mind of people from different cultures. Often they claim a political demand. Comic zines show a wide range of expression. They offer the possibility to experiment with form and content. In the 1970s young comic-drawers published their work independently in protest against the established comic-stars. With their experimental and unusual comics the comic-scene livened up. Nowadays, the comic-publications are dominated by former drawers from the zine-community.
Since several years increasingly young women artists employ zines to create their own space independently from the traditional art market. Zines provide an outlet for women artists in which they can combine their artistic work with their feminist commitment. This becomes clear in the art zines “Neid” by Ina Wudtke and “Regina” by Regina Moeller as well as in the comic zines by Linda Bilda, Ilse Kilic and Heike Anacker, young, contemporary female artists from Austria and Germany. In their works, one can draw a direct connection from their agendas to the issues of the women's movement. However, zines have always played an important role in the feminist movement.

In the artists hybrid biographies and different fields of activities a new understanding of art and being an artist can be seen. The artists work in multiple professions, for example Ina Wudtke as a DJ, artist and editor of “Neid”, Regina Moeller as a producer, model, layout designer, artist and Ilse Kilic as a writer, filmmaker, band member and much more. This means, that there is no longer the autonomic artist working on her own in her singular profession, but that she is committed to cultural production in different fields. This becomes also clear in the artists dedication to team work. Furthermore, what counts, is not any more a certain context to be identified immediately, but the cultural field one belongs to. This can be seen in the art zine “Neid” where, on the first glance, one cannot classify right away the context. One asks confused: Is it a fashion magazine? A subcultural magazine?

Interestingly, many mass media magazines – especially fashion photography -have been incorporating the subcultural aesthetic of these independent art zines. The adoption of their subcultural style occurred fast, partly through people from the art context who moved into the fashion world. Whereas fashion photos by Claudia Reinhardt in the early 1990s in “Neid” could be clearly seen as part of a subculture, this aesthetic found nowadays its entrance into the mainstream fashion world.

Above all, the emancipatory aspect from passive consumption to active production holds a great potential for social change. In the editorial and artistic work an active thinking process involves where cognitive tools and an independent opinion are developed. This aspect of “active thinking” becomes increasingly important in our flourishing consumer culture, especially for the youth. The step from consumption to independent activity – Do-It-Yourself – is one towards autonomy and self-determination. In that sense, zines are a call for getting active. The immense growth of young feminist women and artists publishing zines - on the Internet and in print - in the last decade holds a promising future for feminist cultural production and creates an independent space where anger, critique and fun can be freely expressed. To listen to young women and artists voices is crucial for an understanding of female struggle, empowerment and resistance.

 


Other stuff I have written:

"Let’s Smash Patriarchy! Zine Grrrls and Ladies at Work." Off our backs. The feminist newsjournal. Washington, DC. XXXIII (3-4) March/April 2003. 60-61.

"Sparking Revolutions in Minds and Hearts.In Conversation
with Grrrl Zine Editors from around the World.”
Women in Action: “Young Women.” Isis International-Manila, Phillippines (2) 2003.

“To do a magazine is one of our ways - to get what we want! Feministische Comic- und Artcore-(Maga-)Zines.” Fanzines 2: Noch wissenschaftlichere Betrachtungen zum Medium der Subkulturen. Jens Neumann, ed. Mainz: Ventil-Verlag, 1999b. 29-64.

“Grrrl Zines: No Beauty Tips and Guilt Trips.” Short Guide for FIRST STORY - WOMEN BUILDING/NEW NARRATIVES FOR THE 21st CENTURY. Cologne: Walter Koenig, 2001.

“Grrrl Zines: No Beauty Tips and Guilt Trips.” Mil Folhas/Público. Porto, Portugal. November 3, 2001.

“Eine Reise um den Globus mit Grrrl und Lady Zines.” Regina: Stillleben. Regina Moeller, ed. Essen: Kokerei Zollverein, Zeitgenössische Kunst und Kritik. (6) September 2002. 94-99.

“Grrrl Zines: No Beauty Tips and Guilt Trips.” case 2:
FIRST STORY - WOMEN BUILDING/NEW NARRATIVES FOR THE 21st CENTURY. Catalog to the exhibit. Cologne: Walter Koenig, 2002.

Grrrl Zine Serie. “Sprachrohre des Untergrunds” (8.8.2002); “Aus reiner Liebe zur Sache” (22.8.2002); “Girls Need Modems!” (5.9.2002); “Zines im Protest” (19.9.2002); “Zines auf Reisen” (3.10.2002). dieStandard, Vienna. Online Web site. Available: http://www.diestandard.at (Accessed July 5, 2003).

“Do It Yourself. Lebendig, subversiv und vielfaeltig sind sie, die Anti Musen, Grrrl Rebels und Pink Punkies. Durch den Blaetterwald der Grrrl Zines rauscht Elke Zobl.” an.schlaege. Das feministische Magazin. Vienna, Austria. 5 (3) May 2003: 22-23.