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Mag Force: The zine show at the San Jose Museum of Art celebrates deviant behavior at its finest.

Zine Scene

The San Jose Museum of Art goes way outside the mainstream for exhibit of DIY mags

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I feel that suburbia, which is generally regarded as a place where not that much happens, is in fact more crucial in terms of social change than people realize. Changing lifestyles, changes in social consciousness—they are much more apparent in a place like this.
—J.G. Ballard, 'Publishers Weekly,' 1998

FOR THE fourth year in a row, the San Jose alternative gallery Anno Domini decided to collect and display zines from across the country in a gallery setting. But this time around, the San Jose Museum of Art jumped in and agreed to host the show. That's right, a mainstream arts venue is currently displaying these small-circulation, do-it-yourself publications.

Zines constitute productive deviant behavior at its finest and to see a pristine citadel like SJMA showcase original works of the disenfranchised and misbegotten is welcome news indeed. You can also take the zines off the wall and peruse them, as if in a library. In no other major city that I know of can one walk into a conventional art museum, snag a copy of Murder Can Be Fun and read about kids who wreck trains. Or a copy of Psycho Ex, where teenage girls deal with crazy ex-lovers.

Zines have gone from early-20th-century sci-fi cults to '60s radicalism to punk-rock straight to the San Jose Museum of Art. Who would have thunk it? Now, some hard-line zinesters will argue that any commodification or exploitation of zines—i.e., pinning them to the wall in an art gallery—signifies an alternative movement gobbled up by the very capitalist machine it opposes, but all the zines in the show were voluntarily submitted to Anno Domini Gallery, and no one is making any money off the endeavor.

As if that weren't enough, Anno Domini hosted a panel session at the museum titled "The Whys and Hows of the Zine Revolution" on Sept. 11. Panel members included V. Vale of San Francisco's RE/Search Publications and Atta Boy, artist and creator of I Hate Cartoons.

Vale, whose next book, J.G. Ballard: Quotes, provided the citation at the beginning of this article, lauded the museum's efforts to promote zines and productive deviant behavior in general. "Pretty much everything that is so-called mainstream today was once avant-garde," he mused afterward. "And I think it was a very intelligent decision by the San Jose Museum of Art to actually listen to some very avant-garde curators. ... In this instance, major cities will have to play catch-up to San Jose."

Nowadays, the homogenizing of worldwide mass media is fully a reality, and alternative forms of communication are even more important. Zines play a fundamental role in the quest for an eternal return back to true communication in an age of corporate-media pseudobabble. They are do-it-yourself communiqués with a rabid anti-corporate ethos.

The function of any zine, or any form of productive deviant behavior for that matter, is to participate in an adventure within a consumer-dominated society whose agenda is to thwart adventure. No matter how ridiculous some of them are, zines are important because they allow anybody to create his or her own radical culture.

You don't have to destroy society's control. You just have to temporarily circumvent it in the most self-satisfying way possible. The better zines represent what the Situationists referred to as a "constructed situation": a moment of life concretely and deliberately constructed by the collective organization of a unitary ambience and a game of events, composed of actions contained in a transitory décor.

If you think zines are essentially created by dorks who just don't have a life, you're right. They're proud of it. As Stephen Duncombe points out in Notes From Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture, zines are about "how to count as an individual, how to build a supportive community, how to have a meaningful life, how to create something that is yours."


Art of Zines 04 runs through Oct. 31 at the San Jose Museum of Art, 110 S. Market St., San Jose. Admission is free. (408. 294.2787)


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From the September 29-October 5, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.




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