The Hong Kong Zine and Print Fest 2017 was presented between November 25 and December 6 2017 by the Open Printshop at JCCAC in Shep Kip Mei. The Open Printshop also has extensive production facilities on the top floor of the building, an edifice that was converted from a housing estate (for low income citizens) into exhibition spaces, shops, and artist studios by that ever-present, always flush financial benefactor, The Jockey Club, Hong Kong’s only legal gambling agency.
Zines never went away, but perhaps took a brief hiatus via the internet, when the weblog (or blog) usurped their DIY and niche directions. But like the post-digital forecasts concerning the obsolescence of vinyl records and books, zines have remained, if not flourished. Additionally, zines distinguish themselves by their relatively cheapness and ability to distribute information while by-passing internet surveillance.
Cheapness, in terms of both cost and execution, is part of the charm of zines, but it also presents a quandary for the curator of any survey who is bond to be bogged down by the sheer quantity of material. The Hong Kong Zine exhibition, in its presentation and installation, gives the appearance of an historical survey, with older Hong Kong productions presented in vitrines (and as facsimiles that could be handled), but it lacked a full fledged didactic approach. There was very little explanation except for the (maga)zines themselves.
Perhaps the chaotic nature of zines is enough of an organizing principle; the exhibition was neat but voluminous and, when I visited, was being thoroughly perused by the audience. In this way, The Open Printshop acknowledged that the thing must be handled.
There were also workshops (Experimental Screenprint and Postcard Workshop) and lectures (A Brief History of Zines), which I unfortunately missed. I’m sure those helped fill in the blanks, but the ground floor exhibition was the main drop-in point. Without much explanation, the display, while attractive, veered towards a store rather than an archive. The curation, putting aside the vitrines, provided a range of artists/producers selected by the Open Printshop, including artists from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Japan, Mainland China and Spain.
Putting the zine emphasis on niche communities and the subversion of established media, the exhibition thankfully included material with that curious Hong Kong legal stricture that puts off the potential innocent even before the thing is opened: a pink band wrapped around the offending item with a rote bi-lingual warning.
Continuing on this line, I was happy to be introduced to Toxic Weeds out of Taiwan, whose very aesthetic indicated its adherence to the zine / punk rock culture of the late 1970s.
Even though I might bemoan the exhibition’s lack of wall tags or similar didactic material, one of its historical finds sent me on a websearch of the 70s group of Kong Kong. Amazingly, I was able to find a somewhat disparaging article about the group by Ken Knabb, who runs The Bureau of Public Secrets, which has translated and reprinted a lot of Situationist material. The 70s group was politically oriented, and significantly, given Hong Kong’s milieu at that time, both anti-capitalist and anti-Maoist. They were also influenced by the era’s counter-cultural trends.
Whatever Ken Knabb says, this was a fascinating find, and while the magazine itself was an upgrade from today’s average zine in terms of production, with its Life Magazine type format, its niche and counter-cultural qualities provides a ready role model for today’s zinesters.