Sunday 25 March 2014, 11am-4pm
Museum of Contemporary Art
140 George Street
The Rocks, Sydney
The MCA zine fair is, alongside the Sticky zine fair, one of the biggest zinefairs held in Australia. Hosted by the Museum of Contemporary Art as a part of the Sydney Writers’ Festival, it began in 2008 and has been widely popular ever since. However, some zine creators have found it too institutional to serve zine culture, and many boycotted it this year due to the MCA’s corporate relationship with Transfield Holdings, in turn associated with Transfield Services.
See also: Other Worlds Zine Fair
Much to the dismay of all my zine artist friends: I decided to attend the MCA zine fair this year, as I have every year since its inception. I decided not to participate in the boycott represented by the Other Worlds Zine Fair which was held on the same day for a number of reasons:
Despite the complaints I’ve heard about it every year, I’ve found the MCA zine fair very valuable and a great opportunity to engage directly with a wider audience.
I make a lot more money at the MCA zine fair than I ever have at other zine fairs.
I already feel that the zine community can be somewhat self-contained whereas I am personally more interested in having my work seen by people outside the subculture.
I felt that the harm caused by the boycott would mainly be incurred by the zine community – i.e. by the loss of income for artists and of what I see as a valuable relationship with the MCA.
Somewhat Tenuous: The link between the MCA and Transfield as the subject for a boycott. It’s almost impossible to avoid becoming complicit in all sorts of unpleasant and immoral activities on a daily basis – every time I buy a bottle of water or a t-shirt, I’m faced with a moral conundrum, one in which, unfortunately, convenience usually takes precedent over principles. Most of the daily choices I make are far worse than the one I faced in deciding which zine fair to attend.
Valid and Laudable: The protest and voices of the Other Worlds zine fair. I don’t wish to deride them, plus I like all the zinemakers personally. I would have loved to attend Other Worlds if it was on a different day and I have respect for the work of all involved. The fact is, I chose not to participate in the boycott, and all I can do is hope that people don’t judge me too harshly because of it.
With that out of the way, the question is:
Was the quality of the MCA zine fair diminished because of the boycott?
In some ways, yes.
The social aspect of the zine fair. For me, a big part of the value of these events is seeing my friends and networking with people. This has led to some fruitful collaborations which extended past the zine world and allowed me to work on other, exciting projects. I did get to meet some lovely people this year, such as the folks behind Cupco and Gang Atelier, but a lot of my friends were at the other zine fair.
A happy development: It seemed like there were a lot less tables at the MCA than in previous years. Anyone who has attended before would acknowledge the cramped conditions of previous fairs. Did this mean that zine creators were missing out on tables? Maybe, or maybe the MCA just had less bookings due to the boycott.
Why the MCA zine fair is valuable: Part of what I enjoy about the MCA fair every year is that it’s patronised not just by hardcore zinesters, but by the art lovers who frequent the MCA, the lovers of reading who are there because of the Sydney Writers’ Festival, and all the tourists and others who flow through there. So I get to sell a lot of books and art, and also have rewarding discussions with people. I spoke to a potential distributor for my next comics anthology, a lady from Penrith Regional Gallery (where I had a zine show some years back), a group of tourists who wanted me to draw a picture of them, and a host of other people who were just interested in what I was doing and how I put my little publications together. It’s a very validating experience for someone who can be tempted to think their work is without value to have a direct dialogue with a supportive public.
Noticeable: My haul of zines from this year’s festival was smaller than in previous years. This was partially because I’ve been culling my collection in recent times and am hesitant to pick up new stuff unless I’m sure I’ll want to keep it down the track, and partially because there weren’t as many people around I knew and could ask to mind my table. In past years I’ve been able to roam around a bit and do some trades, but I was pretty much stuck where I was for most of the day this time. I didn’t even interact much with those on either side of me due to the continuous stream of customers. To my left was the Sweets Workshop, a gallery/design/print shop based in Summer Hill, and to my right was Phillip Dearest, who was from Queensland and had a group zine entitled Sewer Side Cult.
Didn’t happen: After the zine fair, the plan was that I would try and catch the tail end of Other Worlds and acquire whatever was left of ‘the good stuff’, but that unfortunately didn’t transpire. I had customers grabbing my last few zines right up until the end, and when I left the fair I had to battle through the crowds making their way to Circular Quay for the Vivid festival. By the time I’d escaped from there, I was too tired to go join all my friends who were drinking beers in Victoria Park. So I went home and went to bed, enriched by the day’s labour but possibly impoverished ethically.
Thanks to: Kym Lenoble, the organiser of this year’s fair. He did a good job of bringing it all together, including getting the word out to media outlets and keeping all the artists abreast of developments as they occurred. The MCA staff were as usual very competent, friendly and helpful, and some of them even bought my zines.