May 18, 2011  |  Collection & Exhibitions
Looking at Zines

Kathleen Hanna, Billy Karren, Tobi Vail, Kathi Wilcox. Bikini Kill: A Color and Activity Book, no. 1. 1991. Photocopy; cover by Hanna.

During the world premiere of  Who Took the Bomp? Le Tigre on Tour, which we screened in April in conjunction with Looking at Music: 3.0, we got a great response to the riot grrrl fan zines in the exhibition. These include photocopies of several zines from the outstanding Riot Grrrl Collection at NYU’s Fales Library. Flipping through them allows you to see one of the most important cultural movements of the last few decades from the gritty personal perspective of its most distinguished icons.

Johanna Fateman. Artaud-Mania. 1996.

These zines were made by rocker/artists like Johanna Fateman and their avid fans, to be distributed at concerts among like-minded DIY feminists. While fan zines included tributes to the post-punk girl bands they were created around, in fact their larger purpose was to voice radical opinions that even major feminist magazines at the time censored. The idea was to share stories, foment activism, and promote the riot grrrl ethos. Indeed, when riot grrrl bands like Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, and Heavens to Betsy went on tour, they took zines with them to distribute at venues across the country. The information disseminated in these cheaply produced, self-published manuscripts became a major tool in the riot grrrl movement and prefigured the way blogs and social media would transform the way information is shared today.


I LOVE ZINES! It is so incredibly amazing to see zines at a museum. Also, it is quite ironic since zines are intended for radical or subculture audiences.

For me as a teenager, riot grrrl music and zines were like secret transmissions from the rebel base. There wasn’t a punk culture where I lived. There wasn’t a feminist culture or a queer culture. I am so grateful for the zines that I got my hands on, from a comic book store an hour bus ride away, or passed from friend to friend friend. They changed the way I have lived, and I have no doubt that they made real changes in the world as well. But as the art world turns its attention to this particular sub-culture of the past, I can’t help but wonder where radical political speech and production is happening today. I’d like to see more exploration of the idea that zines “prefigured the way that blogs and social media would transform the way information is shared today.” When I think about the connection I felt as a teenager to a movement that was happening at considerable distance from me, I can make some parallels to the ways that identity can be actively constructed online. . .but I haven’t seen anything online that compares to the uncompromising energized feminist politics of the riot grrrl movement, and I have to wonder if the relationship of online space to consumer space affects the uses it is put to–connection, but without politics. Not to say that politics aren’t happening online–I’d just appreciate the lines between riot grrrl zines and current movements to be more directly drawn, as I may be too old now to affectively navigate sub-cultural space.

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