Somewhere in my attic there is a box filled with tattered and torn old zines. I’ve held on to these photocopied and unevenly stapled collections of anarchist poems, punk album reviews, crude drawings, and suburban-nihilist thought for over twenty years. But zines have moved beyond my limited, largely 1990’s perception, and are starting to get their “fair dues” as an art form. MOCA Cleveland recently hosted “BOUND”, an Artist-Made Book and Zine Fair, recognizing the significant role that such experimental endeavors can play in contemporary art. But Cleveland is also home to a far more DIY zine collective known as Cozy Up!, a loosely collected group of makers that hold pop-up shows around town. Earlier this month I had the pleasure of seeing their work first-hand at the fabulous Canopy Collective in Ohio City, and spoke with one of the group’s co-founders, Phoebe Thomas.
Phoebe Thomas (left) and Amber Esner, co-founders of Cozy Up!
CAN: Can you tell me a bit about Cozy Up and how it came together? previous shows? etc.
Phoebe Thomas: “Amber & I have known each other since our freshman year of college (in 2009?), we both started at the Cleveland Institute of Art, so we’ve been friends for awhile! Ever since I’ve known Amber I’ve admired her work and felt that we had a pretty similar artistic ideas. I moved to Baltimore for a few years but in 2014 we found ourselves back together again working for the CLE Clothing Company’s small boutique store, Native Cleveland, on Waterloo. Spending each day together as the only two employees there gave us a lot of time to talk about our dreams & goals. Most of our conversations revolved around art and how we felt there was a lack of “accessible” art in Cleveland at the time. The gallery scene can be pretty saturated with work from established artists who live in the city. While local artist should absolutely be celebrated, we wanted to be part of a creative community that was open & inviting for all of our friends & acquaintances that make killer art, without the restriction of a “locals only” vibe. I think one of our biggest priorities was to let people know that Cleveland can be a destination to see fresh new art with a lot of integrity from both in & outside the city. Cleveland has a LOT of local talent, but we wanted to bring work in from outside to put the DIY/creative scene of Cleveland on the map. A group series seemed like the best way to bring everyone together to begin to build a sustainable DIY community, and we knew that in order for the collective to grow people had to have a reason to be into it. What better way than to extend the promise of art friendship to those near and far? For me collaborating with Amber to make it happen felt natural, our personalities really balance well for what it takes to organize these shows.”
Shots of their 2nd Annual Group Show at Canopy in Ohio City
CAN: How would you guys define a ‘zine’ today? And how do you think zine culture has changed over the years?
Thomas: “I think a zine today is any group of images and/or text displayed in a small & tangible 2D collection, wether it be expertly bound or rubber cemented together. We get all kinds of submissions for the zine show & my definition of what can be considered a zine keeps growing with every one we have. When we send the invitation out for the zine show we leave the restrictions wide open. We get zines that are one page, entire books, photocopied, sewn, professionally bound, text only, photo only, etc. Most of them are a very personal look into someone’s brain. It’s turned into a really open subculture for people to easily distribute their thoughts in a handheld format. Nancy Szilagyi made an incredible Ziñata for the show, which is definitely not handheld but like you said, the nature of a zine is punk rock. The beauty of the culture is that no one has final authority on what it can and can’t be.”
Here’s an example from the Canopy show, made by Cleveland artist Ashley Ribblett. A prolific illustrator and comic artist, Ribblett also co-runs the Cleveland branch of Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School, an alternative life drawing group organized in over 100 cities around the world.
“Swears”, a stapled 7-page zine, is filled with Ribblett’s tongue-in-cheek drawings – featuring bespectacled gals, cats, vodka, nudity, insecurities, vomit, and sex (not necessarily in that order). My favorite page depicts one poor woman passed out on the floor in a pile of her own sick, still grasping a bottle labelled “Candy Wine” – her computer emblazoned with the words “Hey Asshole”. Many of her drawings call to mind the pitfalls of modern romance, break-ups and regrets – all smattered with a tinge of millennial anxiety.
CAN: What does the collective hope to accomplish in the future? Any upcoming plans?
Thomas: “We would both love to have a little shop. I feel that has always been our end goal. A place where we can exhibit the work of people we admire, while being able to have the work shown for more than just a month at a time. Through Cozy Up! we have created a handful of new connections. Having a new platform for showing their work would benefit us greatly as well as introduced new fresh artists to the city.”
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