Tag Archives: transfield

MCA Zine Fair 2014

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.

Considerably diminished:
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.



Other Worlds Zine Fair 2014

Sun 25 March 2014, 11am-4pm
Central shopping centre
Broadway, Chippendale NSW
Other worlds on facebook


This event was designed and organised by local zinemakers as a political alternative to the annual Museum of Contemporary Art zinefair, part of the Sydney Writers Festival. The MCA have a corporate partnership with Transfield Holdings, which has become politically sensitive in the last six months. Transfield Holdings are a major shareholder of Transfield Services, an entity that run the government’s outsourced detention centres for refugees.

This event was held the same time and day as MCA’s on the other side of the city. See also: MCA Zine Fair 2014

Weirdest and most unlikely choice: The venue. I have never attended a zine fair on the third level of a shopping centre and I don’t expect to, ever again. The complex, just on the recently gentrified outskirts of the CBD, is a newly redeveloped site and so everything there is unscuffed, immaculate, tumbleweed-ish, and void of naturally occurring human traffic. While the lower levels of the shopping centre were trading, the third level was almost like some kind of developer epic fail: commercially untenanted. It was a floor (half sealed up) dedicated to art spaces.

Suspicious: What kind of weird contract clause did the local council negotiate for this freak of commerce and community, for the third level of a shopping centre to be allocated to art groups? Everything about the configuration of the floor felt transient, like it will only take 18 months or so before commercial leases will take over, and the natural order of retail will triumph. The open-plan space that the zine fair was held in has a destiny of sub divisions and change rooms, of racks and jeans and jackets and handbags.

Win-win: Meanwhile, this was a space that had been offered at no charge to the organisers. So, weirdest zinefair venue coup ever. And the day was a success: there was a crowd. Sure people didn’t happen across the fair by chance like the mums with prams or the teens who were at Central to drink asian bubble cups and try on sunglasses, but just one escalator higher on the third floor a scruffier section of society were weaving their way amongst their peers in the pursuit of zines.

The best part about being in a shopping centre: Awesome lift access for those with suitcases or in wheelchairs. Awesome lighting. Awesome controlled climate. Decent coffee and food court choices one escalator down. And hey you can buy some other stuff while you’re there.

Cat attack: At one point gathering at one of the tables there was a girl with leopard print leggings standing nearby a girl with a leopard print back-pack. Who in turn was standing nearby to another girl in another leopard-print back-pack, slightly smaller. If they had all stood in the right kind of configuration, they could have created a perfect leopard-print cat formation.

Benign: What the wrath of zinemakers looks like. This was a kind of boycott protest action against MCA, remember. What was the impact? Probably, only the organisers were the ones who noticed a distinct a lack of around 50 or so bookings from their traditional base, and they simply adapted accordingly with new applicants and table arrangements on the day.

Maybe the absences didn’t even register at all – the organisers are not zinemakers and probably change in staffing from year to year so they may not have known any differently. I think the Other Worlds zine fair was more a celebration of the spirit of independence. Albeit in a shopping centre. Which was probably built in part by Transfield Services.

Highlight: Heaps of people were inspired to make new zines for this event, so there was a lot of exchanging going on. I was presented with a random zine about interviewing with the headline “Calling from a Brisbane Payphone”. I scored Plunder #3 about working in the community housing sector, a beautiful new issue of Lumpen 12, a thick new issue of I Am A Camera 17 and an australian zine ‘Slam Tilt‘ dedicated entirely to pinball playing (inspired by Drop Target). I haven’t read any of these yet, and there’s more still in the suitcase. The best thing about the fair was that it was zines, zines zines. No second-hand art books, no pom-poms, no craft. Pure zineage.

Most awkward moment: The girl who came up to me asking to trade. I agreed and then she mumbled something and she started rummaging through a brown paper bag and it all got a bit weird. It turned out she had a bunch of old zines from her apartment she was trying to get rid of and was swapping for. Not her own zines. A bunch of zines she just didn’t want anymore. I had to stop her and qualify I was only interested in doing swaps with zines that the person had made themselves. I mean, I could have done a trade and scored a cool old zine, but believe me when I say I have boxes of cool old zines in my own apartment.

Positive: As a political statement, the Other Worlds Zine fair was very low key. Which in some ways was kind of a relief. It could have been a super militant political statement full of shrillness and hysteria and moral judgement. It could have served to further fragment an already scattered zine community in an extreme and bitter fashion. Fortunately that was not the case, although, those who did table at MCA may already feel on the outer.

Negative: The problem with any boycott – militant or benign – is that you immediately create an either/or atmosphere. In this instance, it did create a group of the alleged ‘Cool Kids’ and then those that chose to remain loyal to the MCA.

Political Impact: It’s probably safe to say the Other Worlds Zine Fair event had a minimal impact on the MCA zine fair, but the whole course of events has absolutely undermined MCA’s ‘zine’ credibility (which, to be fair, was always tenuous).

It’s absolutely safe to say the event had no impact on Transfield Services, or federal politics, or off shore detainees, or even local refugees. There was a joint statement published by the organisers on the day in a booklet, but no effort to get people to sign a letter to a minister or even collect donations to assist a local charity actively helping refugees. Zinemakers were charged $10 to have a table. I’m sure they would have been happy paying $11 knowing the extra was going to have some kind of positive, tangible legacy from the day.

Sure, it was a day for zinemakers to realise they could bust a gut and organise their own event, and that’s something. It was good that Sydney zinemakers finally organised a fair for their own – the first time in at least a decade. I hope it inspires more people to become resourceful and independent. Just don’t kid yourself that attending this fair did make you one of the Cool Kids, or that you are some kind of freedom fighter. The whole thing was …posing. Which is a valid political act – it’s SOMETHING. I’m sure it made people feel good about themselves on the day. But that’s pretty much all it did.

Now that I’ve written all this: I’ve made a donation to the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre in my own state. If the organisers had collected one dollar from each tabler, they would have been able to donate at least $50 to a local organisation. Forgive me, but I thought that was what the boycott was all about: protesting our national treatment of refugees. ASRC does genuinely great work and is holding its winter appeal. I donated from the site online.

Thanks to: The organisers for making the day happen. It made people think. I wish you did more.