We discuss latest project ‘Sick Bag’ with British artist Angel Rose.
If there’s one cultural artefact that seemed destined to languish eternally in the 90s, it’s the zine. The DIY magazine format relied on cutting and sticking, on photocopying by hand, on personal distribution and print run sizes dependent on how much change you had to spend at the copy shop. With computerised production and mass distribution ushered in by the digital age, how could such a time-consuming, individualised medium survive?
And yet, survive it has. Flourish, one might go so far as to say, as demonstrated by the work of British artist Angel Rose, whose solo show ‘Sick Bag’ will open at The Residence Gallery tonight. The show comprises both an unbound artist’s zine, packaged within a customised paper bag, and a series of framed prints of the zine’s contents. The prints have been deliberately distressed to mimic the natural disintegration of the physical zine; as Rose explains, this creates “an effect that mimics the ephemera produced by punk subcultures as well as the material language of street art”.
‘Sick Bag’ is a slight departure for Rose, who has previously produced multimedia works dealing in live art and video. Former project ‘Serious Fun’, created in collaboration with drag artist Oozing Gloop, also contained a physical zine – the Serious Fun Funzine – that served to “examine the links between counter-culture, queer theory and hedonism”. Unlike ‘Sick Bag’, however, the project was extended to incorporate video, as well as a live act which was performed at the Sunday Times panel ‘Have Millennials Forgotten How To Have Fun?’
A Goldsmiths graduate, Angel Rose was raised in the US, in the midst of the Los Angeles punk scene. This scene inspires the ‘sick chick’ protagonist of ‘Sick Bag’, who appears on nine double-sided postcards that make up the zine. The project further comprises text-only pieces which foreground Rose’s trademark tongue-in-cheek sloganeering. One declares, in bold font, ‘EXCESSTENTIAL CRISIS’; another, ‘happiness is coming’.
‘Sick Bag’ will be displayed at The Residence Gallery from 29th April to 29th May 2016, with a private viewing on 28th April between 7pm and 9.30pm. Mid-preparation for the show’s launch, we questioned Rose about nostalgia, feminism and frivolity…
Zines were very much associated with 90s counter-culture – do you think their resurgence in the 2010s is just part of 90s nostalgia as a whole, or do you think they have a particular significance to present-day society?
While I do think there is an element of nostalgia, I don’t think this necessarily weakens the work I’m making or the current zine community, because either way it’s bringing people together. Actually, I prefer the term romantic rather than nostalgic. I see the proliferation of zine readers and makers in the past few years as a backlash against a world where almost everything is becoming mediated by technology. Wherever there are major changes to society that seem beyond our control, there will always be movements to counter them. Just as the Pre-Raphaelites and Romantics made art to protest the pace of the industrial revolution, the act of zine making today challenges the dominance of the digital age.
The nostalgic affections in my own work are ultimately a way of expressing a dissatisfaction with modern life. I hope this commentary comes through in the choice of materials I use to package my zines. For example, my first zine The Serious Fun Funzine came packaged in a recycled VHS cassette box, and Sick Bag is packaged in customised paper bags. By displaying both publications in containers that might otherwise be considered disposable or obsolete in the digital age, I hope to highlight the material necessity of zines, as well as elevate my zines into collectible objects that, unlike a feed of intangible online content, will stand the test of time.
By ripping and crumpling the prints in the exhibition, you emphasise their materiality – why is this of interest to you?
By distressing the work what I’m essentially doing is giving it a false history. Zines function initially as DIY publishing platforms but over time they can become these treasured subcultural artifacts, which are all the more precious for their weathered edges and torn pages. If the prints in the exhibition were to be assigned the same aesthetic and cultural values as my zines, then it made sense that they would have to look worn or partially destroyed. By distressing them I was effectively decreasing their value as pristine art objects, but perhaps increasing their subcultural capital because they look more ‘authentic’ to the era which they stylistically reference. It’s a strange logic but I hope it brings to mind some questions about what is held sacred by the ‘alternative’ cultures by which I am inspired.
What fascinates you about the interplay between the serious and the ironic?
Well, I’m British but I grew up in Los Angeles. I lived there till I was 14 so I picked up an American accent. I’m a very sincere person but because I sound like a sarcastic Californian valley girl, British people often say to me, “I can’t tell whether you’re being serious or not.” I find it really amusing that tone can alter the meaning of my spoken words, and I think typography can work in a similar way for the written word.
Something I like to keep in mind is the Susan Sontag quote, “One can be serious about the frivolous and frivolous about the serious.” I’ve explored in this more depth in my previous art project ‘Serious Fun’, which initially was a response to the commonly held presumption that art which is humorous or fun can’t be used to make a ‘serious’ critical comment.
Your protagonist is described as a “cartoon caricature of the female deviant”. How does she fit in with the traditionally feminist aspects of zine-making?
The Sick Bag zine was initially inspired by the word ‘sick’ and its double meaning. Commonly, ‘sick’ means something unhealthy or repulsive, but as a slang word it is used to describe something that is cool or attractive. I wanted the character to embody this double meaning in that she was disgusting and adorable at the same time. For example, my favourite image from the series is of her smiling prettily with a missing tooth. There’s a definite feminist undercurrent to this type of imagery because that juxtaposition works to trouble the male gaze. While this does sometimes amount to a sort of punk/riot girl style, images that juxtapose femininity with vulgarity have a long history before those movements. I see them and the images of the Sick Bag girl as belonging to the wider trajectory of ‘the female grotesque’ – which includes all variations of monster women, sewer goddesses, laughing crones, and of course ‘sick chicks.’