Peeking out over an inescapable mask, I see once more, Women draped over ornate couches, Done with the world and its confinement, And its clothes. I see once more, Disembodied faces meeting unhinged shapes, Unsure, they attempt to devour one another. I see once more, Unlikely creatures emerging, As if willed by the vacuum of imagination. I see once more, Ambiguous structures, Soaring while more solid words explain little, Of what, perhaps, Should not be explained. I see once more, The collective embrace merge, With joint resistance, Forever twinned in a fleeting, nonchalant glance. Feeling nill, I wonder if I am measuring effort wrongly.
The zine concept was popularised in the 1930s by science fiction fandoms. The name was taken from fanzine, which is short for fan magazine. Making and distributing zines allowed people to create networks, collaborating on writing and artworks around similar passions. Since then, zines have spread to cover nearly every topic, and remain a form of alternative, underground publishing.
Originally a passion project, it makes perfect sense that the zine would expand to cover topics related to activism and social change. Engaging those eager about changing the world, zines can materialise voices and hopes.
What makes zines so exciting is their endless potential. They are not limited by form, texture, style, or method. A zine can be a collection of music notes, revolutionary recipes, or photos of the mundane.
A zine tends to be different from other publications like magazines or newspapers, as they are not widely circulated. Zines are often not for profit or sold as limited. This means that they frequently cover a very specific or current theme, which fits into their emphasis on drawing attention to a problem that creators hope can be solved.
For example, Refugium is a zine documenting the different experiences of immigrants living in the USA. Self-published by Brazilian filmmaker and designer Ares Maia, she spoke to five people about their experiences, after asking people to share their stories on Instagram. Maia hoped to bring attention to attitudes that need to change, such as judging immigrants based on names, issues of low pay, and discrimination based on background. Rather than being voyeuristic and speaking for others’ experiences, the zine gave pen and paper to the individuals themselves.
Zines emphasise a DIY culture of making and distributing as a community experience. Zine-making is a great way to deconstruct what is accepted as normal, turning newspaper words or left-over magazine images into messages about discrimination towards LGBTQ+ groups or racist policies. This can help activism become a creative process. For example, craftivism (using practices of craft as activism) has become very popular and allows people with different interests and talents to participate in social movements.
Of course, there is always a risk of romanticising the ‘true potential’ of a zine, to glamorise the idea of something made by hand. In fact, zines that have blossomed digitally like Polyester zine interrogate the problems as well as the benefits attached to online space. The zine aims to “bridge the gap of URL cyberfeminism with the IRL world”. Publications like this can give opportunities to creatives who do a lot of their work online, such as graphic designers, photographers, and writers.
The practice of zine-making creates a supportive space, where critical discussion and subversive ideas can thrive. Ioana Simion, the founder of Artizine, hosts collaborative, non-hierarchical zine-making workshops which have continued online over lockdown. “I believe zines can showcase unheard voices and narratives which are in desperate need of attention but most of all care and nurture.” In her zine-making workshops, Ioana says that “we always explore and link our work to sustainability and the effort to reduce or repurpose materials.”
Ioana explains, “Zines are also incredibly accessible which makes them the perfect tool in activism – if anyone can make a zine then anyone can take part in changing and educating other people.” So, zines may be compact and infrequent, but their scope for social change is endless and far-reaching.
Have you seen our latest Assemblage zine? We worked collaboratively to produce a multidisciplinary zine on the theme of reconnection…You can check it out here:
With a background in biosciences and currently studying an MA in Art and Science at the University of Arts London, Himarni is part of the Assemblage Collective writing group and active in creative projects. Her personal work spans weaving, acrylic painting, photography and collage poetry.
We worked together on the first issue of the Assemblage Collective zine, where she had the great idea of collaborating by circulating a set of images and text to each project member in turn, to ensure everyone had their input.
Loosely based around a Q&A, we discussed her projects in representing science, how she’s been keeping busy and what she’s looking forward to in the coming months – both within the Collective and in her free time.
Her current work:
At the moment, Himarni is developing a ‘cellular architectures’ project which arose partly in response to an interdisciplinary science workshop development project she participated in with London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to make research into the Shigella bacteria more accessible. It is a water-borne bacteria responsible for ‘travellers diarrhea’ but can be fatal in children under 5 living in parts of Africa and Asia.Cases have also been detected in Flint, Michigan.
The theory is relatively new and still uncertain around one particular way that the immune system detects and battles this bacteria, but current ideas based on microscopy suggests that a sparse web of nanometre scale septin filaments (part of the cell’s ‘skeleton’ and can be imagined as short protein threads) surrounds the bacteria – caging and sequestering them, preventing them moving around within or between cells to cause further harm.
To fulfil this role, these filaments are believed to somehow detect the shapes in their environment such as the characteristic physical features of this dangerous bacteria.
When representing its form, she wanted to think outside of the box – while others also represented septin filaments with thread, she wanted to consider the subsequent steps by which these features can sense shape, by thinking of how it intersects the bacterial form and exploring what can be deduced from these tangents. She modelled this using a variety of simple shapes intersecting an observation tool made of a string net representation of a ‘septin cage’.
One of the symbols was of a classical pillar which, due to its symmetry, is a fairly ‘predictable’ shape compared to the helical shapes common to proteins which make up the biological architecture.
This response was part of a board game making workshop her group designed for children to make a Shigella using materials found in the household, and she used string and a tissue box, which she said pushed her to think more creatively in how to represent science.
Art as engagement:
During the Zoom workshop with the children those of younger ages were able to understand the basics of an immune response to the bacteria, and children developed maze-like games modelling the gut environment, or catapult games where the immune system takes aim at its adversaries. She said that the game format is a good way of modelling a biological environment, which is ‘like a multiplayer game’ with bacteria and various other types of cell.
Whereas microscope images and film of cells are more predetermined because they take place over a certain time frame, a game introduces chance and various circumstances, a bit like the Game of Life which models cell survival in different environments.
The lab scientists they interviewed discussed Shigella ‘sociology’ and how different strains of the bacteria interact, as they don’t seem to recognise that they are ‘the same’: ‘they’ll avoid each other and try to kill each other if they can’.
The research aims to make understanding of immunology accessible to secondary school aged children through interactivity.
How do you feel that art intersects with science in research like this?
Commenting on how her degree topic spans both disciplines, Himarni said that the choice of Masters programme was a ‘bridging’ subject, since she wouldn’t have been able to study an MA In Fine Art immediately after a biosciences degree, but ‘why not find your own niche’.
She also mentioned that art and science used to be far more closely linked, for instance in the Vedic scriptures, ancient Hindu texts, science (physics, medicine, and architecture among others) and spirituality were intertwined.
The ‘fragmentation’ of the two subjects was due to a ‘Western colonial way of categorising thought’.
How do you find working at home digitally is affecting your creativity and the way you work?
She described the ‘moment of realisation’ that the ‘transition to peach-coloured Golden Hour’ inspired creativity and energy, and the links between getting Vitamin D and motivation, especially as someone of colour.
For two or three years she had struggled with working digitally and using social media, instead sourcing opportunities and exhibitions through her university, but noted that she felt she was missing out on ‘resources that are networked within communities’.
She mentioned Nearest Neighbour theory, which I hadn’t heard of before, which is the basis of an algorithm such as Spotify making predictions based on proximity of ‘taste’ – i.e. suggesting the music that people with the most similar music preferences to you are listening to even if they are on the other side of the world.
No longer having to commute, she has regained many hours and is channeling them into creative projects. She has also benefited from having more time to absorb the learning from her degree, and created an Instagram account during the first lockdown. She has found that following her community is a more ‘cohesive’ way of understanding information – by interest rather than motivated by the commercial projects at university.
Do you feel that your work has changed over lockdown?
She noted the importance of the working environment on her creativity and the link to aesthetics. Being from Sri Lanka, time spent there would feel very close to the climate, birds, trees and provided a well of inspiration. However, during lockdown, being away from London and gentrified public space designed from within capitalist and patriarchal hierarchy, and within the ‘feminine’ domestic space where she can select her influences and environment, has allowed her to be much more focussed on her true interests and priorities, away from loud distractions and directives.
What kind of work do you hope to make over the next few months, and into the summer? Do you have any particular plans or projects?
Himarni’s interest in architecture extends from cells to the city – and she mentions that she has recently become more interested in the social role of architects.
When thinking about potentially returning to an office environment, she reflects that many buildings she has worked in have been badly designed – basements with no natural light, and that post-pandemic, workers will have to be ‘seduced’ back into a workplace (quoting Michele Ogundehin, who presents our shared guilty pleasure TV show, Interior Design Masters).
It may be that we start to see what Himarni calls ‘diverse microenvironments’ – sections within a shared space for example with seating pods, which can assist those who desire more privacy in a communal space.
Her research proposal for her dissertation will centre around how architecture can draw upon cell biology – from structure and specialised functions of cells to the circulatory systems they provide the structure for.
How do you feel about spring, does it inspire you?
Living in suburban Epsom, Himarni has been influenced by nature from growing up close to green spaces which is ‘part of [her] style’.
Her local area is closely associated with the Pre-Raphaelites who emphasized the importance of working in nature to capture hyper-detailed realist imagery. On her way to school she would pass Hogsmill River, where John Everett Millais’ Ophelia (1851-2) was painted – though the exact section which appears in the painting is near Tolworth, so slightly further away.
We can see from her work that nature during Spring and Summer is an inspiration:
In this collage for an Assemblage collaboration with Anita and Tascha, she was inspired by the contrast between the suburbs and the city – where life is more ‘mediated’, meaning more impacted by the role of the media.
Having attended a lecture from MST Futurism, an Indigenous group of three tribes (Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish Nation) currently living on land occupied by Vancouver, they have used traditional craft methods for activism to protest the city being settled and the increased pollution.
They use a ‘blanketing’ approach to set the stage for discussion, by spreading woven blankets across the floor to gather upon as a process of establishing a safe, sacred community space, and highlighting the traditional role of scientific and cultural practices in weaving.
The group also ‘wallpapered’ over buildings (in a way that reflects the values of the blanketing tradition) in the city as an intervention to protect sacred and cultural space.
In Himarni’s work, she also draws upon tradition such as in this appliqué using her grandmother’s fabric, and in loom weaving.
Some of last year’s work include acrylic painting from her home and garden, when she thought of people alone with houseplants: ‘the only living being you see is a houseplant’.
This collage of photos from Sri Lanka is inspired by the book Brixton Beach, by Roma Tearne. The author is Singhalese and Tamil and grew up in the UK. Himarni recognised some of the settings from a beach on the West coast of Sri Lanka familiar to both the author and her, and wanted to replicate some of the ideas from Roma’s other work, as a fine artist.
Centering around semi-autobiographical themes of being from a diaspora community, Himarni described the process of the novel’s character Alice collecting washed up items from a beach and using the driftwood to make a box. Inside the box she housed a shell, but the box could not be opened – as an expression of a part of herself that she cannot access after migrating.
And finally, how has being in a collective impacted on your work? What are you most looking forward to working on next?
Having really enjoyed working on the zines for their collaborative nature, and with Tascha andAnitafor the poetry pieces she feels excited to continue working on the upcoming projects.
She particularly admires Charlotte’swork, which is ‘embedded in nature’, but is grateful to Taschafor founding the collective as a safe space, valuing her inclusive attitude and adding that she’s a ‘good energy person’.
Further, the opportunity to learn about herself and explore new ideas has been good for her creatively, such as the dreams project for the Reconnection zinewhere her group explores the politics of dreams and how some dreams can be an intense emotional experience.
She doesn’t get a lot of opportunity to do group work on her course, because for academic study people have often been working on and researching themes for years, so areas of interest don’t always cross over.
We look forward to working on the exhibition together, and perhaps incorporating some more nature-based practice and workshops to the Collective’s projects!
Annie French (1872-1965), was a Scottish artist and designer, and one of the many women contributing to the Glasgow School at the end of the nineteenth century. Some of the better known members of this group, such as Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his wife, Margaret MacDonald Mackintosh, are widely recognised as major contributors to the wider Art Nouveau movement at the turn of the century. The Glasgow School made a unique contribution to the history of art, combining many of the decorative elements of the Arts and Crafts Movement and Symbolism with a resurgence in Scottish culture in the Celtic Revival. Annie French is one of the so-called ‘Glasgow Girls’, which was not an official group, but coined as a counterpart to the Glasgow Boys, working during the 1880s and 1890s, and who studied at the Glasgow School of Art during this period.
French was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites in her representation of figures who, often in side-profile, display their long necks and full lips. There is little individuality in French’s women, and a sense that her figures are not specific, but rather just beautiful types. Comparisons have also been drawn between her work at that of Aubrey Beardsley, but Beardsley’s illustrations, often undercut with a sense of the macabre and the unnerving, are very different from French’s delicate visions.
French’s illustrations, many of which were published in The Studio magazine to showcase ‘New Art’, are overflowing with spring-like abundance. Many of her women sit amongst sprawling clouds of floral growth, hands holding lush bouquets, so much so that you are unclear what is woman, and what is nature. Their dresses and backgrounds are a matrix of elaborate patterns of flowers and vegetation.
In Return from a Rose Garden the floral decoration on the women’s dresses seem to echo the roses they carry, with each woman emerging as a flower herself, their bouffant skirts bulging as if about to bloom.
Although best known for her black and white line illustrations, French’s delicate use of colour in her watercolours creates soft, pastel visions; where dress, nature and flesh blur into one, such as in the translucent purples of The Lilac Veil.
In Friendship Blossoms Best Beside the Wishing Well, the beige undertones that are distinctive of much of French’s work are disrupted by brilliant bursts of red, blue and green, as if the flowers are literally blossoming out of the surface of the work.
French created a set of illustrations for each of the seasons, all depicting a woman in a central vignette, surrounded by seasonal growth. Her composition for Spring emphasises the senses, as the freshness of the white, green and blue colours in the central illustration are evoked by the woman deeply inhaling the scents of a spring flower.
French’s work has rather condescendingly been called ‘sentimental’ and ‘quaint’, and is perhaps not taken as seriously as some of her Glasgow Style contemporaries, possibly for it’s more decorative, quality and female subject matter. For me, however, French’s illustrations, with their over-spillings of floral growth, and exquisite use of colour, epitomise the beauty and renewal of Spring.
For further reading on Annie French and the female members of the Glasgow School see: Jude Burkhauser (ed), ‘Glasgow Girls’: Women in Art and Design 1880-1920.
Ivanka Wu is a creative multi-specialist, including fashion stylist, art director, designer and collage artist based in Jakarta, Indonesia and has a strong background in fashion.
We were delighted to have Ivanka speak to us about her work. During the talk, she shared many of her projects with us and its importance to her career.
‘The Art of Contradiction’ was a project that refined her style and direction within the industry. I personally found her creative process really interesting; how she initially takes much of her inspiration from visual references, constantly referring back to this to avoid becoming lost. However, through trial and error, the outcome becomes strengthened, due to experimenting with materials and processes, with spontaneous things happening along the way. To add to this, an unplanned crack in fabric within this project resulted in a closer connection to her concept. So even through organising and creating mood boards to clarify ideas, the out come is always something spontaneous.
Even with a contrast of planned and spontaneous approach in the creating stages, the concepts are usually contrasting as well, so the creative process becomes consolidated. Within ‘The Art of Contradiction,’ beauty and ugliness are mixed together in a very elegant, subtle, perfectly executed way, redefining what beauty is. The idea of beauty has been studied throughout the Renaissance period and early art, and still dominates as a significant topic in contemporary society today.
I was fascinated by the techniques Ivanka adopts, with draping being of great importance to her practice. This meets her intentions of flowing beauty and elegance, but also becomes highly relevant to all art practices. For example, the running of paint and the flow in a poem.
Another series, titled ‘Little Black Dress for Cartier’ created for Icon Magazine references Ren Hang, a Chinese photographer and poet, using the concept of twinning. It is visually strong and powerful, using the harsher properties of flash photography. It is clear to see that Ivanka uses very close attention to detail, creating clean shots. Not only this, but Ivanka explained how especially in the styling, a material’s position can greatly alter the feel of the work.
Within the styling and art direction, I love the careful placement and arrangement of images and then how the viewer interprets this. To expand upon this, Ivanka compares nature to the human body, perhaps comparing the beauty of the two, exclaiming that beauty is natural and can come within different forms. In the image above, the chin was represented as the vase and the eye as the flower.
Furthermore, I found Ivanka’s styling for brands useful in understanding the role between the creative and the brand, as well as maintaining the balance between adding your personal style whilst meeting the clients needs. Within her work for ‘Sanne studio’ (above) a minimal approach was used with pastel colours. This idea of simplicity of only a few objects and a minimal colour palette is certainly seen across many of her works.
Another way that Ivanka inspired me is again in the process stage: documenting creative ideas in a journal to strengthen personal branding and development, because ideas can happen anywhere at anytime.
Additionally, Ivanka also spoke to us about her collage work. Like her other works, she uses trial and error, with knowledge of composition and balance to meet the concept and appear aesthetically strong. I love the many materials and textures she uses, that are perfectly attuned and balanced within the collage.
Having reflected upon Ivanka’s work, it is important to note that although Ivanka grew up in a small town during her childhood with limited resources, she now sees this as an opportunity to become more creative as it forces you to use what you have in more open-minded, experimental ways. I think that this is relevant to many now in the current situation, such as photographers using FaceTime shoots to connect with models due to distancing.