Cover of customized zine by Carl Baker (Peterborough, Canada, USA)
Notable mail art received from Carl Baker this past autumn includes this amazing, customized zine. The issue is a skillful blending of a retro copy art aesthetic with current approaches to zine composition. In fact, at first I thought Carl had sent me a choice artifact from his archives exemplifying the Golden Age of Zines that contributed to the Eternal Network renaissance of the 1980s and into the 90s. But the piece also has a contemporary and self-aware quality that immediately negates the possibility that it is from an earlier era.
An email exchange with Carl Baker solved the mystery. He is working on a large series of these zines. I believe I am very fortunate to have received one. They contain an assortment of original and/or borrowed (appropriated) images. Pre-internet zines were more utilitarian in purpose and were often published in editions numbering in the hundreds if not thousands (micro zines with runs of maybe a dozen did exist, however). They mirrored (even if humble) a model of mass, industrial production; contemporary zines mirror the postindustrial milieu.
Contemporary zines, like artists books, are far more limited in scale, individualized and aesthetically preoccupied, especially in that they explore the aesthetics of hard copy works and the technology (including the glitches) that made them possible. (Actually that is a very useful concept that Carl interjected: The trajectory of the contemporary zine (a thriving genre) is similar to the evolution of the artists book). What has not survived, possibly, is the collaborative nature of the original zines. Carl Baker says each zine in his series is unique. So this blog provides a close look at one such production.
Mail art by Carl Baker (Peterborough, Canada, USA)
I know Carl Baker was involved with at least one of the classic products of the Age of Zines (Industrial Sabotage). Given his longterm network involvement as well, I would guess he has a near-encyclopedic knowledge of important mail art zines. This puts him in an ideal position to “quote” from zines and make work that is self-reflective in a meaningful way. The zine documented here is filled with zine references, use of popcult and network icons from different eras and page construction techniques.
The two scans above show a classic zine device: First, you have a copy art composition, I consider it asemic-vispo, that makes maximum use of effects that were achieved with copy machines, initially errors. This contrasts with “filler” appropriated cartoon copy. Many zines are structured using (often) shocking or at least seemingly incoherent juxtapositions.
Many thanks for Carl Baker for sending this wonderful zine!