Sunday, 17 February 2013

Collaboration and UnBox Festival’s Zine Press


Every so often an opportunity comes along which encourages you to think differently about your worldview. In my case, this was an invitation from the organizers of the UnBox Festival 2013 (7-10 February, New Delhi, India) and the British Council to mentor a small invited group of designers, writers and illustrators based in India. Our task was simple: to produce a fanzine during the four-day Festival with a view that it should be off press in time for the participants to take a copy home with them at the end of the event.

Whilst this in and of itself was an intriguing proposition, what I wasn’t so keen to do was merely produce a publication which was a document of the event. Rather, there was a more fundamental question to ask: what might the fanzine format provide as an active space for making? And, in particular, in what ways might the fanzine format facilitate a deeper understanding of the Festival’s remit of exploring ‘action at the intersections’?

So, as we approached this task, we found ourselves asking what ‘Indian design’ might mean. The seven participants soon made me aware that India is a huge country and the diversity of its design perspectives meant that there was not one single identifiable approach or definition to ‘design’. This was reflected in the work, which suggested that diversity was a strength and not a problem. The fanzine became a focus through which our conversations took place. These ranged from the legacy of textile archives and the noticeable absence of a history of design in India to the increasing importance of the role of designers and social design practices.

In a series of accompanying ‘writing for design’ workshops, participants found their own voices, contributing personal perspectives on what it means to be a designer in India today.  Zine Press contains some of these writings. For example, Rohan Patankar, a final year architecture student from SPA, Delhi, reflected on the importance of scale in urban spaces in his piece on ‘Smallness’. Gauri Sanghi, an art and design practitioner, provides insights into the Festival’s notion of interdisciplinarity and the relationship between individual practice and its relevance to different contexts. Ali Maiorano, currently working in Bangalore, comments on the way in which ‘society is transitioning from the age of communication to a time of action’. She expressed her ideas visually, laser cutting the quote ‘I’m not a dream, I’m real’ into the cover of the UnBox Festival Handbook.

As each member of the team brought back to the Zine Press room photographs, illustrations and tales of overheard conversations gathered from around the Festival grounds, the zine became visually richer as new layers of the experience were added to its pages. Zine Press became more than a document of the Festival: it was a vehicle through which a shared, collaborative experience took place; both amongst the Zine Press team but also with the Festival’s workshop participants. Zine Press became one of many ‘actions at the intersections’ during the four days of UnBox, a way of ‘showing’ through making.  Our zine came off the printing press just in time to hand out copies to participants as the Festival came to a close.

With warm thanks to the Zine Press team: Mayank Mansingh Kaul, Sameeer Kulavor, Ruchita Madhok, Kriti Monga, Deshna Mehta, and Abhijith KR. With special thanks to UnBox Festival organizers: Babitha George, Mohor Ray; and British Council: Aanchal Sodhani, Ellie Smith; and, Pete Collard for starting the conversation over a year ago.

The story continues to unfold here

Now in its third year, the UnBox Festival 2013 emerged out of a desire on the part of organizers to ‘celebrate interdisciplinary thought and work through a series of workshops, performances, exhibitions and talks.’ Held in the grounds of New Delhi’s entertainment facility, Zorba, UnBox adopted a do-it-yourself approach to making.

Thursday, 31 January 2013

No Longer Anonymous

Zines are coming in all shapes and sizes these days. Some are analogue and some are digital, and some are both. And usually, they are ephemeral. As digital technologies become increasingly ubiquitous, it isn't surprising that that the zine format is likely to morph into something new. Possibly exciting - most certainly different!

It is with this in mind, that I recently got in touch with Karolis Kosas - a Lithuania-born designer, whose   master's thesis in visual communication (in the US), began to explore ideas concerning 'autonomous systems' specifically in relationship to DIY publishing. What emerged out of his research was Anonymous Press - an online random generator taking themed information off of the Internet and producing the more familiar fanzine form virtually. Α–Π not only about the design process, but also about the removal of the designer from the process itself. And, here's the really good bit - you can download each random 'designer-less' creation which has been deposited in an online archive. Karolis' work questions the role of the physical in this new world of the digital whilst at the same time getting us to think differently about zines. With zine titles such as: Fake Los Angeles, SKEUMORPHISM, Ex-Girlfriend and Whitewash...what's not to like?

An interview with Karolis Kosas:

1. Tell me a little something about yourself and what brought you to developing 'Anonymous-Press'? 
I was born and raised in Lithuania. Few years ago I came to USA to study for master's degree in visual communication. Pretty much all life I was somehow involved in graphic design. The project started as a part of my thesis investigation on autonomous systems. In the very beginning I was interested to see, how design process would change, if the expert (the designer) were to be replaced by the crowd.

2. How do you square the idea of 'anonymous' in relationship to a desire fanzine producers often intend in the content creation of their zines; e.g. to share something about their personal interests and passions with others?  Do you still feel that this still achieved with A-N;  why or why not?
I believe that Anonymous-Press is fundamentally different to the traditional forms of DIY publishing. The subjective factor of the user (or the publisher) is framed in the 40 characters of  the input box. A user no control over the form and does not take any part in the process of production. The publisher requests and is delivered an end result in a matter of seconds, whereas in traditional publishing the process takes time and consideration. Still, I think that Α–Π is a relevant representation of how culture is perceived in the contemporary society. I feel that the Input Box has become a main medium between us and our desires. 

3. Some critics predict a future where we will increasingly be interacting with objects in new and different ways. Where do you see the book/fanzine as 'physical object' in this scenario?  What might this mean for future readers, and importantly, the role of writers and designers in this?
I don't think that such future requires that we throw out all our physical stuff. I really like how Kenneth Goldsmith puts it: 'The twenty-first century is invisible. So we need to live with our books and our old furniture.'

4. Whilst I appreciate you are using A-N as an experimental platform, the implications are interesting enough to consider for the future role of the digital archive. Who are the archivists now? And, what does this mean for documenting popular culture in the future? Any thoughts?
The search enquiry, still a relatively new phenomenon, has become an almost ubiquitous mode of getting to what we need. Anonymous Press might become a valuable source of anthropological data, as it portrays both the enquiry and the feedback, a slice of the Internet representing our interest at a particular moment. For me, even more exciting is to observe this archive emerge independently without a plan or a coordinator of any kind. 

Saturday, 26 January 2013

From Zines to Design and Self-publishing

Admittedly it has been a while since my last interview and entry on this blog. I've been working on a few new things around self-publishing, digital technologies and indie magazines. Fanzines are still very much on my radar, but I've noticed a trend toward the take-up of this unique form by the graphic design community. Zines are morphing into new kinds of communication, with different audiences and intentions. I'm interested in exploring what this means for the role of fanzines. So, with the next few entries at least, I am shifting into new territory and attempting to critically engage with the zine as a new design form.