BOUND Together: moCa’s Art Book and ‘Zine Fair Survives COVID
While virtual gallery tours, carry-out activities, and even drive-in performances all have had their magnificent places through the COVID pandemic, one of the most fitting responses was very old-school, and it resonated beautifully with the event it replaced: moCa Cleveland’s annual BOUND artist book and ‘zine fair, which had annually drawn art book and zine publishers curated by TR Ericsson to an in-person, weekend-long event (complete with a loading dock music series) was cancelled in 2020, but evolved to become BOUND BY MAIL, a printed catalog of works by BOUND participants.
In-the-works since 2020, BOUND BY MAIL finally appeared in Fall 2021: a handsome, red, perfect-bound book with dozens of book art and zine publishers, and images and descriptions of their work. (Full disclosure: Yours Truly, CAN Journal editor and publisher Michael Gill, and CAN Journal itself are past participants in BOUND, and included in BOUND BY MAIL.)
It was worth the wait.
There’s poetic justice in an art book and ‘zine fair responding to COVID not with a virtual fair, or only a series of Zoom panel discussions, but with a printed book. It resonates too, with moCa’s recent exhibition, Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano LA, which significantly showed the community-building power of ‘zines and old school mail as artistic pursuits.
Sure, the glory of an in-person fair of any kind is that you get to connect and converse with real people. But if you can’t have that, the beauty of printed matter as a solution is that if you get your hands on a copy, you are part of something special. And in that sense, BOUND BY MAIL is very much like the objects and culture the event celebrated in the first place.
If someone sends you a snail mail postcard or letter, your hands touch the object they made complete by smearing ink on it in their unique hand, or perhaps by pounding words into physical form on a typewriter. That was some of the beauty and strength of the Axis Mundo exhibit. And if you get your hands on a ‘zine, you are part of a small community, almost certainly sharing some specific interest, whether it be stitching together DIY clothes, or finding support if you think you have an STD. Printed matter has this intimate, community building power. It’s physical evidence.
Perhaps it took the digital age to show that. BOUND BY MAIL harkens back to a relic of the Small Press literary renaissance of the latter half of the twentieth century—a fat book known as the International Directory of Little Magazines and Small Presses, published by Len Fulton (1934-2011) and his company Dustbooks. This was the way poets and poetry publishers used to find each other. Another Dustbooks publication, the Small Press Review, did what it sounds like: It provided readers’ perspectives on the multitude of poetry chapbooks and other “slim volumes.” It put you in touch with peers.
BOUND BY MAIL is not that extensive or comprehensive, and I am sure I am not alone in hoping the printed version not be a permanent replacement for the annual fair. The in-person BOUND festival is another kind of great community builder, and curator Ericsson and staff at moCa are in conversations about the prospect of the event’s in-person, glorious return. However, the printed version captures a moment, and builds on the groundwork of community moCa and Ericsson laid in the fair’s in-person iterations. It includes an essay addressing the appeal of ‘zines and ‘zine fairs, and their community building power, cut-up in one-page sections you’ll find while turning pages of the catalog. An annual catalog like this would be a great addition to the in-person fair.
The book includes 45 small press / art book publishers, and book artists. Among them are many familiar to Cleveland audiences, but also some from New York, Boston, Pittsburgh, Missouri, Chicago, Detroit, and elsewhere. You’ll find Jacob Koestler’s photo books documenting regional landscapes. You’ll find Crisis Chronicles, Jerry Birchfield, and Scott Kraynak. Emily Poor’s Red Lentil Press offers useful guidance in a book of moon calendars, a compost information kit, and a ‘zine called What To Compost. Angela Oster’s digitally printed, saddle-stitched books offer, in her words, “morbid whimsy.”
Of course there is poetry and other purely literary pursuits. ‘Zines are also a place where you can find just about any kind of revolution. Flower Press, for example, self-describes as “an equitable publishing practice centering womxn, femme, queer, and trans artists and practitioners who have been historically marginalized.” Brooklyn-based Homocats “is a visual art project connecting the modern popularity of the feline with social politics, … [aming to] fight phobias, propose equal rights, combat cultural stereotypes question social norms, and resist the Trump administration.”
That last bit is a little reminder that this project took a long time to come to fruition.
Their media are exceedingly varied. There’s a lot of Risograph printing, but also offset, some letterpress, and other media represented. One publishing collective, Spectacle Box, offers a work on cassette tape. The publisher Izen offers a prayer wheel—a wooden rolling pin turned on a lathe and laser-etched.
BOUND BY MAIL addresses the sales aspect of the book fair by including a postcard with ordering information. You can fill it out, send it in, and get what you order by mail. Most of the books and zines cost $10 to $15, but there is a sizable chunk in the $20 to $50 range, and some outliers in the hundreds of dollars. Each book also includes a little insert acknowledging the many bands that performed in the LOADED concert series.
BOUND BY MAIL was printed in an edition of 1000. According to moCa, books are still being sent to artists and people who have requested them by mail. They stocked Mac’s Backs Paperbacks, but those are all gone—a sign of readers’ interest in getting their own copies. They plan to re-stock Mac’s Backs in February. Meanwhile, visit moCa in University Circle to pick one up there. Watch for news about the event’s in-person return in Summer, 2022—assuming that COVID does not once again intervene. Here’s hoping.