Zines explore the personal and poetics at the Owens

Zine reading unexpectedly turns into last event of the season

Last Wednesday evening, the Owens Art Gallery hosted a zine reading where four local artists were invited to speak and read some of their work. The reading was part of a new series of zine programming held at the Owens that is focused around their Teeny Tiny Zine Library.

Zines are short magazines or comics, independently published and often handmade or printed, that combine poetry, art and stories.

Laura Watson, Shoshanna Wingate, Madeleine Hansen and Patrick Allaby, all local artists, shared their work with the small crowd. Their work offered very distinct takes on the zine format, with very different topics featured in their work. While some focused on political issues, others took a more personal tone.

“Zines can be made by anyone, and can cover a wide variety of subjects,” said Rachel Thornton, curator of digital engagement at the Owens. “They tend to be non-commercial, reproduced by photocopying and made to add new voices to the mic of publications out in the world.”

Watson, a Sackville-based artist who graduated with a BFA from Mount Allison in 2015, read first. Her work typically consists of drawings, prints, embroidery and creative writing. For the reading, she presented a range of her work, starting with an older piece called Some Old Forgotten Things before sharing a more recent one titled Little Pencils.

Next, Watson read from a poetry collection that she’s been working on for the past couple years, where each piece is written as a letter. Rather than publish the work as a whole, Watson has been releasing each chapter as a zine as she finishes them.

She also shared some other work that she wrote at recent art residencies. “These ones are less so poetry and more just incoherent ramblings with illustrations,” she explained with a laugh.

“Every generation believes they are facing the apocalypse,” she read from one of her pieces. “Is this plain egomania? At least one of them will be right. And hasn’t there also often been cause for apprehension? Haven’t countless worlds big and small already ended?”

If you’re looking to explore more of Watson’s work, she shares much of it through her international Mail Exchange project. In return for sending her something, she returns the favour with original work.

Wingate spoke next, but she was missing one major thing: the zine itself.

“My talk is going to be a little unconventional because I have no actual example of my zine to show you,” said Wingate. “It was lost a long time ago in many many moves.”

Wingate is a poet and memorist who has read her work across Canada. She is a founding editor of Newfoundland-based arts and culture journal Riddle Fence and currently runs the Sackville Art Hive, a free community art studio. In 2019, she was named poet laureate of Sackville, and she created her singular zine, Tia and Coffee, in the spring of 1992.

“I was heavily influenced by punk themes,” said Wingate. “Zines were part of a leftist subculture for my generation, Gen X. They were ideological, witness records, calls to action. We didn’t have internet back then. We used zines to communicate our ideas, report on local issues or political actions or express ourselves.”

Wingate, who was living in San Francisco at the time, travelled to Buffalo, N.Y., when she heard that Operation Rescue, an anti-abortion group, was mobilizing a large-scale two week attack on abortion clinics there.

“Their tactics were violent and increasingly they began to advocate murdering abortion doctors,” said Wingate as she explained how Operation Rescue members were encouraged to harass, intimidate and scare women entering clinics, as well as doing anything they could to block them from entering, including chaining themselves to the door. “Clinic defenders were asked to come to Buffalo to protest. The call was put out across the country.

“Hundreds of protestors and counter-protesters traveled to Buffalo, N.Y., for the largest standoff the US had ever seen in the abortion debate,” she continued. “As one learns, what happens on the ground is not necessarily what shows up in the papers. The media portrayed Operation Rescue as fanatics, yes, but fanatics with a cause. The media skipped the violence they inflicted on women.”

After the protest Wingate and her friend Scott decided to make a zine.

“We thought it important to share what we saw in those 14 days. We wanted to pass on details of Operation Rescue’s tactics to other clinic defenders so they would know what to expect. We wanted our peers to know what we had witnessed, as it disturbed and scared us,” said Wingate. “And as the mainstream media wasn’t reporting the grittier details, we knew we wanted to get the info out and into the world […] so people knew just what Operation Rescue was about.”

Although Wingate may have been missing a physical copy, her zine embodied the political power this medium can convey to its readers.

Hansen is a queer cartoonist and illustrator who is currently a student in the fine arts program at Mt. A. “Thank you to my beautiful partner for letting me exploit our relationship,” said Hansen before reading. Her work is mostly autobiographical, with a focus on intimacy and the small moments of daily life. She read from several of her comics that were based on interactions between herself and her partner.

Lastly, was Allaby who performed one of his comic slideshows. Allaby graduated from Mt. A’s BFA program before pursuing his MFA from the University of Waterloo. He is currently based in Sackville where he continues to work on his hand-drawn slideshows, graphic novels and zines.

“This work is loosely autofictional, so it stars myself but it’s not really based on anything that really happened, just a general time in my life in which I worked at a call centre,” said Allaby. “I say that because I feel like the protagonist is an asshole and I don’t like people thinking I’m as much an asshole as I depict myself being.”

Allaby’s work explores the cycle of abuse and labour in the workplace. “I was sort of exploring this in this call centre dynamic where you get yelled at all day on the phone by strangers and [then] pass that on into your personal life.”

Mount Allison’s Teeny Tiny Zine Library features work that focuses on the zine community in Sackville – or the “zine scene” as Thornton humorously referred to it. Work by students, local artists and community members are included. The collection is still being added to, so make sure to check it out in the Owens’ lobby when you have a chance.

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