Monday, 11 April 2011

Amy Pennington – A Whistlestop Tour of Letterpress

Artist Amy Pennington is based at the From Space workshop on Chapel Street, Salford. Her work encompasses drawings, installations, film and print exploring “everyday life and subject matters and often things that I find interesting in Manchester”. This includes an ongoing project about Belle Vue, which has involved undertaking research in the North West Film Archive, leading up to animations and 3D work. She enthused: “I just find it absolutely mad that there used to be a grand Victorian theme park in Manchester. I'm fascinated by how it developed, what it became and how it shut down – I think there's something really interesting in there, that something so grand and memorable is reduced to nothing now really – a greyhound track and a housing estate."

Since January, Amy's work has taken on a new dimension as she has spent one day a week as a printer's devil – the industry name for apprentice – at Incline Press in Oldham. The apprenticeship came about as Amy applied to become a community researcher with the Library Theatre's Craftworks project, for which artists explored the part traditional crafts and Manchester's industrial heritage play in the modern city. The project culminated in two evenings of performances at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation last month, for which Amy produced a beautiful artists' book about the letterpress and traditional printing methods and allowed visitors to press their own band for the cover.

She explained: “Letterpress has always interested me. It's got a lovely quality to it. I like the way it embosses onto the paper sometimes. Inkjet just isn't as nice as having that ink right there in front of you. A lot of people pay to get their wedding invitations letterpress printed as it's the most important day of their lives and letterpress gives such a nice feel and finish.”

She continued: “Nowadays technology is enabling letterpress to carry on. Type is becoming really rare and not the best quality – antiques dealers and people on ebay sell it for an absolute fortune.”

The Craftworks project enabled Amy to meet different people working with traditional printing methods all over Greater Manchester. She explained: “I put the proposal in to Craftworks as it's a great opportunity to dedicate yourself to something, to have a purpose. I met so many amazing people and was so inspired by what they do and that they have managed to keep themselves going as letterpress practitioners. It's about people sharing their knowledge of it all. There's so much to know! It's really added something to my work. What I've got out of it is ongoing. I've made links and formed friendships.”

She added: “It's really nice to learn an actual craft – to learn the terminology and a great opportunity for me to make something. At Incline I set up the polymer plate and do type setting and dissing (putting away) type. When I've been there I feel like I've done a proper day's work!”

Amy will be demonstrating the letterpress at the Victoria Baths Fanzine Convention on Saturday May 14 and allowing visitors to have a go, as well as selling copies of A Whistlestop Tour of Letterpress.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Email Q & A with Joe Biel — director, $100 & A T-Shirt: A Documentary About Zines in the Northwest US

$100 & A T-Shirt: A Documentary About Zines in the Northwest US will be shown as part of the Victoria Baths fanzine convention on May 14, offering a concise, watchable overview of what fanzines are and who makes them through a look at the zine scene in Portland, Oregon around 2003/2004. Producing the film was a real labour of love, as The Shrieking Violet found out during an email interview with director Joe Biel from Microcosm Publishing.

SV: Tell us about yourself — who you are and what you do, and what Microcosm publishing is.

JB: I've been reading, making, and self-publishing zines for about 18 years. More recently I've taken to editing and writing books and directing documentaries. I co-authored a book called Make a Zine! and have a new one called Beyond Resistance and Community about people who took the ethics and aesthetics of punk beyond music. I'm currently finishing a new documentary feature film called Aftermass about the history of bicycle activism in Portland, where I live.

Microcosm Publishing is a distribution and publishing outfit based around the zine movement. We work hard to give these writers' voices more reach and a wider audience. The thing that people don't talk about much in publishing — especially in the digital age — is that it's easy to publish but it's harder to build an audience. Microcosm fills that gap.

SV: Can you explain your involvement with zines and what interests you about them?

JB: Beyond the fantasy books, when I was in high school I thought reading was simply very boring. Aside from the Dr. Bronner's label, I stopped reading completely. Then in 1993 I went to a punk show at the Euclid Tavern and Jake Kelly sold me a copy of his zine Summer for $1 and I was hooked. It was engaging and funny, spoke in a familiar tone and didn't pull any punches. I wrote to all of the other zines listed in it and haven't much looked back. I started publishing my own zine almost immediately and within a few years I founded Microcosm to do essentially what it does today.

After a shaky few years, Jake and I reconnected recently after he read an interview where I mentioned this incident. He replaced all of my back issues of Summer — which somehow hold up to the test of time 18 years later. He's a poster artist now and make new things regularly.

Ken Blaze recently produced a book recently about that era of Cleveland — Escaped To The Future — that I feel captures the scene perfectly that we were growing up in around the punk and performance club Speak in Tongues.

SV: Could you tell us a bit about the zine scene in Portland at the time of $100 Dollars and A T-Shirt, and the zine symposium?

JB: When we were shooting $100 in 2003 it felt like the zine scene couldn't get any bigger in Portland. Any it would seem we were right. That might have been the biggest zine boom I've seen here. So in that sense our timing was perfect but that wasn't the reasoning — it felt like an exciting time. People were successfully expressive and not necessarily looking for something bigger or better. There's an awkward relationship with self-publishing certainly and there are certain people who would say they wanted bigger things, but I think if I was to generalize I would say that everyone in the film had something to say and that was ultimately what motivated them.

Nicole Georges, Eleanor Whitney, and I started the Zine Symposium in 2001 out of similar motivations — we wanted to showcase the emerging scene and attract people from across the country to Portland. By 2005 none of us were involved anymore and while there are some longtime organizers that still come and go, it's largely organized by a new group of people each year. And while the scene hasn't continued to grow steadily across ten years, the event and the scene still exist and people still come from across the country for it. And it's a difficult thing not to be nostalgic about and embrace the change that is largely inevitable.

SV: Why did you decide to make the film?

JB: The simplest reason is that I was teaching gifted and talented high school students and later classes at Univ. of Oregon about zines and it really felt like a video would be the best educational tool for classroom use. I looked and looked for a functional video and came up dry over and over. So eventually I tried to organize other people to put together such a thing. I guess I didn't realize how big of a project a feature length documentary was because people kept asking to see my outlines, financial planning, and the standard presentation that you would use to solicit someone with your film.

The films I had been involved with had been no-budget, DIY, very collaborative, and still completed in a matter of a few months. I assumed this would be the same. But it was hard to keep people involved when there was a lot of work involved and most of it wasn't fun. Then the editor had a baby. A year later I was directing and editing and most of the other people had dropped off. By the end only one other person had been involved during the whole duration of production — Phil Sano. He had also been nice enough to provide all of the equipment, tapes, instructions, and ideas. On top of that I suspect he put in another hundred hours of free editing while I slept next to him.

University of Oregon stopped inviting me back and starting using the video instead. Did I win or fail?

SV: How did you decide who to interview and how to make the film?

JB: I was working as an idealist and literally tried to interview everyone who was making or had made zines in Portland. At one point Basil Shadid was doing the same thing in Seattle but those tapes were never sent to the editing studio. We couldn't get everyone to agree to be interviewed — Jim Goad in particular I spent a lot of time trying to convince to talk to me but despite being at the center of the national media as a zine maker he felt no connection to any "zine community".

Basil was very interested in writing the documentary and so we had some pre-production meetings and hammered that out together. But he had to quit shortly after. It was helpful because even with over a hundred hours of footage that part seemed confusing and formidable — and after watching Exit Through The Gift Shop it was comforting to see that's not a unique problem to have.

SV: What sort of obstacles did you come across making the film – I understand that it was quite a time-consuming process?

JB: Our production timeline wasn't unusual for a documentary film — especially considering that everyone involved had full time jobs on top of doing the work. And we produced everything with no grants, financial loans, or funding. But we did have a lot of problems that were unique. I had an abcess on my foot through much of the interviewing process and was on antibiotics that prevented me from sleeping — and later turned out to be destroying my colon. We broke a lot of equipment — including the main camera and tripod. We didn't have any cars so we rode our bikes with all of the equipment to each shoot. I tried to schedule four interviews per week — two per day each on Tuesday and Thursday. I would work my normal job the other five days and then later on after the editor had to step down I spent 4 days per week in the editing studio — which was rented at $10/day — a price that I couldn't appreciate enough at the time. Then the biggest obstacle was that I didn't have any experience editing anything near this size or an understanding of how to tell a clear story.

SV: Who was $100 Dollars aimed at? It's quite a comprehensive overview of zines that anyone could watch even if they didn't really have any prior knowledge on the subject.

JB: We operated on a somewhat utopian ideal — we knew people into zines would watch the movie so we tried to sink the hooks into a general audience. Did we succeed? I don't know. It seems so inherently nichey to me but as soon as it came out Library Journal reviewed it positively and that seemed to drive sales for a few years to libraries and schools. It's fallen off in the last three or four years but it's also getting older and perhaps everyone already owns it.

SV: The film has stood the test of time — it’s structured in a way that is still relevant now, broken down into clear sections like ‘Who makes zines’ and ‘Why do people make zines’. If you remade the film now, would anything be different?

JB: Perhaps it's my age, but the interviews are only eight years old and so the world hasn't changed too drastically in that time.

However, in eight years, I have learned a lot about filmmaking. Dozens of people have said the documentary hooked them on zines. Well, it hooked me on filmmaking. I devour books on film and still watch at least a few documentaries each week — and that process started when I was doing research for $100.

The biggest changes I would make are for watchability's sake. It would have been very different structurally. I would selectively do a closer focus on five of the better spoken characters and follow them around a bit more with some verite footage and a more revealing look at their lives. I would look at the biggest picture in ways other than interviewing and trying to include clips from everyone remotely involved. I would try to tell a story more intentionally through my research rather than following what clips I had and what people said articulately and with good-quality footage.

Other than that, I would use closer shots on the interviews and I would have shot a lot more b-roll so we weren't always looking at talking heads. I also have much better equipment of my own now. The technology shift has been very fast with cameras and mics and I feel like I could produce a feature documentary for $1,000 that ostensibly looks and sounds like a documentary with a $20,000 budget. I couldn't have done that eight years ago and maybe, as every review says, "it's fitting for the subject matter”.

SV: Would you add a section on digital technology — webzines etc?

JB: I don't think so because I don't think that connects to the same social scene that the documentary looks at. I feel like that warrants its own documentary...that I have no interest in making.

SV: Do you think zines have become even more popular now, or have undergone a resurgence in the last few years?

JB: I don't think you can look at zines with the same booms and busts that you would look at a financial progress or something linear. I think there's a major shift that has been slowly evolving where the people attracted to the medium stick with it and those who simply want an audience, springboard, or have something to say will employ other methods that have the potential for mass-markets or elevation.

I think for those reasons it is harder and harder to find zines but I don't think there are less being produced. Microcosm publishes a journal about zines Xerography Debt that writes reviews of new zines. Shortly after we started publishing it there was concern about not enough zines being produced. Part of the motivation was to encourage more zines to be made and made-available for readers. The focus of Microcosm has long been to build a social movement. And one success we've had is to be able to show where and how zines are booming worldwide — but maybe not in the most obvious places that you would look.

SV: Do you think there is a future for zines and, if so, what do you think it will look like?

JB: I think zines will continue to move in the direction of hand-sewn bindings, screenprinted or blockprinted covers, and personal/textual things that couldn't be replicated in any other medium. I think zines are largely still recovering from an awkward flirtation with mainstream success in the 90s.

$100 Dollars and a T-Shirt will be screened at 12pm on Saturday May 14 during the Victoria Baths Fanzine Convention. Find out more information about what's going on the day and how to get involved here.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Victoria Baths Fanzine Convention May 14 — stalls, speakers, film screening, tours, food, workshops

The first ever fanzine convention to be held in the beautiful setting of Victoria Baths will explore the past, present and future of self-publishing through stalls featuring self-published books and zines to browse, talks, a film showing and workshops.

Manchester's opulent Edwardian water palace, which opened to the public in 1906 and closed in 1993, will be packed with events as part of the Future Everything festival.

To have a stall on the day, either as an individual zine or group of friends, costs £10. Apply by emailing Facebook event here.

All events in the building are free to enter, although donations are welcomed. Read more about the building at Tours of the building will be on offer.

Poster by Kate Prior.

What's on

A screening of $100 Dollars and a T-Shirt, a documentary about fanzines in Portland, USA and the famous Portland Zine Symposium, will introduce what zines are and who makes them.

DJ and writer Dave Haslam will explore the legacy of post-punk fanzines, including his own publication Debris (1983-1989) which ran to 19 issues and was called the "the best fanzine in the world" by the NME. Debris featured everything from interviews with Sonic Youth and the Fall to authors Raymond Carver, Tony Harrison and Hubert Selby Jr to a 70 year old barber and the woman who ran the local launderette.

Alex Zamora of London-based Fever Zine, and contemporary Manchester zine makers Vapid Kitten, who produce an edition for Kindle, will explain how zines are adapting for the digital age, and consider what lies in store for the medium in the future.

Visitors will be invited to create their own response to the building and its stories on the day by making their own zines drawn from what’s going on in the building during Future Everything as well as using material reproduced from the archive at Victoria Baths. This includes hundreds of memories donated by people who used the building before it closed, from reminiscences by children from nearby schools who were so keen to swim they rushed there in their lunch hours to vivid recollections of scary swimming teachers and post-swim Bovril to old ladies nostalgic about meeting their husbands at the dances that were held at the Baths when the gala pool was covered over in the winter. Artefacts also include swimming shields and certificates, as well as material relating to the Channel Swimmer Sunny Lowry who trained at Victoria Baths.

  • Linocut your own versions of the Pilkingtons tiles that adorn Victoria Baths with Lauren Velvick!
  • Letterpress with artist Amy Pennington!
  • Embroider with Threads & Letters fanzine! Stitch your own Angel of Purity inspired by the colours of the spectacular Victoria Baths stained glass window. Materials will be provided along with angel templates.
  • Manchester-based book artist Christa Harris will be happy to answer any questions about book arts, bookmaking and small/self publishing and will be disseminating information on a variety of related topics including basic bookbinding, advice for small publishers, how to get an isbn etc. Hardback bind your Victoria Baths fanzine for a nominal cost!
In advance of the Fanzine Convention, on Sunday 1 May, Tess Lomas and Alison Kershaw of Pool Arts will revisit the 2003 classic but rare fanzine "The Vicky" for one more issue. Become an instant "The Vicky" Journalist and file your report on the day's happenings. No experience required just willingness to get stuck in! The new issue will be available at the Fanzine Convention on 14th May!

Listen to the Shrieking Violet discussing the event on All FM's Under the Pavement radio show, and picking some tracks related to self-publishing, swimming and Riot Grrrl, here:

Elsewhere in the building

Also in the building will be a HANDMADE event and two artists in residence: Antony Hall from the Owl Project and Yu-Chen Wang from the Chinese Arts Centre, who will make an installation and performance.

Physical Oscillators at VB arts

Sunday 1 May 12-4, Saturday 14 and Sunday 15 May 10am-4pm

Artist and local resident Antony Hall will make use of the magnificent and newly refurbished Gala Poolto develop a new work on a grand scale, involving local young people and students in its construction.

He will be creating an installation continuing his research into physical oscillators to generate sound and visible patterns in a new kinetic artwork, created within the space of a now empty swimming pool. The project will use pendulums and the gyroscopic action of motors and fans to create a sensory walk-through environment reflecting the behavior of small swimming or flying insects.

The residency culminates in a demonstration and exhibit at Future Everything Handmade event.

Antony first explored VB arts (Victoria Baths) as an MA student and has gone on to develop a practice that examines the boundaries of art and science.

A multidisciplinary artist who investigates biological and physical phenomenon; the behaviour of liquid or animals, and the physicality of sound, he is interested in how we interface with science & technology; visually, physically and ideologically; and how these interactions effect us creatively and socially.

He is a founding member of the 'Owl Project' who with north east based producer and musician Ed Carter have been selected as the north east winner of a £500,000 commission for Artists Taking the Lead, one of the major projects for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad.

Handmade: Digital | DIY | CraftVB arts (Victoria Baths) will co-host a day of contemporary craft, digital hacking, interactivities and DIY culture. A new maker community is emerging, connecting the culture of traditional skills and materials with modern-day digital production, distribution and interaction techniques.

Future Everything will invite makers to create objects, installations and performances that explore the cross-fertilisation of new and traditional media and materials.

Taking a conference strand from discussion forum to practical exploration, Handmade will bring the dialogue around the intersection of craft and digital culture to life in one of Manchester's prime heritage locations.

The festival will create an all new forum for Crafters, Hackers and Digital Innovators to share ideas and practice, led by some of the UKs leading digital crafters.

The UK's only FabLab will be moving the lab to Handmade for the day, inviting the public to play with their digital manufacturing equipment and create something they can take away with them.
Established Digital Ceramisist Michael Eden will be contributing to Handmade by delivering a short presentation on the relationship between the handmade and the digital in the evolution of his work. This will be followed by a Q&A session.

MzTEK and SPACE Studios and Dundee University will both be present to host a range of digital crafting workshops while Manchester Craft and Design represent the more traditional world of craft and design.