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Zine review: Alone, Together In Conversation And Thought

November 5, 2011

Alone, Together: In Conversation And ThoughtVarious, edited by Alanna Lorenzon & Edward Gould, Free! http://www.alonetogetherinconversationandthought.com

 

I know you’ve read that this is billed as a zine review – hi! – but please indulge me a moment in talking a bit about visual art. Because on my trips to Sticky I pass by Platform, the gallery space that consists of the glass cabinets situated along Degraves Subway, so it’s a place I associate with the zine mothership. And, although I think Platform is a great space, and deeply admire how Melbourne can have contemporary art in a subway that doesn’t immediately get smashed up and pissed on by delinquents every month, it has unfortunately recently showcased some of the worst public art I have ever seen. Although I think the argument “a three-year-old could do that” when applied to painting is flimsy and ignorant, the recent ‘naïve art’ installation by Merryn Lloyd and Renee Cosgrave mostly looked less like an attempt at regaining child-like brushstrokes, and more like an excuse to do sod all work. Likewise, September’s main piece by Kristin McIver was a piss-poor text art installation that likely nabbed all its ideas from Heide’s recent retrospective of Melbourne-based concrete poetry. While it undoubtedly looked slick and professional, it also had its wit and warmth surgically removed in the process.

The reason I mention this is that one of the better pieces exhibited in recent months also had a free zine to go with it. ‘Alone, Together: In Conversation And Thought’ was a kind of social experiment that invited people to sit in the vitrine of Degraves Subway and – without it becoming a therapy session – discuss loneliness with the artists. While the sight of people talking behind glass, in a piece that crossed relational aesthetics with market research, invoked a number of issues – such as voyeurism, artificial social constructs and whether it would be possible to squeeze a café in there – the zine deals exclusively with the topic on hand: is the rise of online connectivity making us lonelier?

Perhaps oddly for a zine wanting to explore the desperation of the isolated individual, it’s somehow more affecting when it’s discussed with a degree of academic objectivity. The pieces by Edward Gould (explaining studies suggesting Facebook makes everyone except you look contented), Alanna Lorenzon (on the lack of correlation between company and solitude) and Lucy Bergland (on the “particular sharpness or softness we feel at the edge of ourselves and the beginning of our surroundings”) are never dry or needlessly jargon-filled and work best at provoking thought on the subject. And while it’s great that the zine has varied content – from essays to photography to poetry to fiction – it’s largely the creative writing that unfortunately makes this whole project look like an indulgent exercise in navel-gazing.

Don’t get me wrong, some of it is good – Kirsty Hulm’s short story about two friends is sweet, for instance – and I detest the instant cries of ‘emo’ from some readers of perzines, as if exposing any sort of negative downbeat emotion is a weakness that needs a stick to beat it with. But like anything there is good writing about isolation, depression and disconnection, and then there’s…not. For instance, if you look at ‘Adventures In Depression’ by Hyperbole & A Half, it is at turns funny, heartbreaking, desperate and redemptive. But this zine’s piece by Erin Kelly about being a teenager sat in your room listening to Coldplay and feeling sorry for yourself seems a bit too obvious and self-pitying. I couldn’t help but think: “yes, I know. I’ve been fifteen too. You don’t need to tell me what it’s like.” Also, Katherine Riley’s piece on ghosts is an attempt to describe certain feelings of spiritual interference that comes out too wishy-washy to either take seriously or enjoy much.

Whether the outcome will sway more towards the analytical or the sentimental will transpire when the artwork’s results are displayed in Platform during May 2012. Before then, my main conclusion is: more zines with your artwork please, Platformers.

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