'Hello zinesters, and welcome to the MCA Zine Fair for 2018!' A message from Bastian Fox Phelan

Photo Credit: Jacquie Manning

MCA Zine Fair is an annual festival featuring a stellar line-up of zinesters, distros, independent presses, and artists. Showcasing zines, small press, prints and comics from across the country, the fair celebrates the alternative, experimental and emerging.

The Lifted Brow is sharing the introduction to the MCA Zine Fair program written by Bastian Fox Phelan, MCA Zine Fair 2018 Advisor and Creative Collaborator. Here's Bastian's previous piece on the MCA Zine Fair, 'Instituting Change: The MCA Zine Fair and DIY Zine Culture', published as part of Capital Week.

Hello zinesters, and welcome to the MCA Zine Fair for 2018!

You might notice that things are a little different this year. For the first time, zine makers are working with the MCA to guide the Zine Fair. As Zine Fair Advisor and Creative Collaborator, I’ve been supported by the organisers to establish new events: the MCA Zine Fair Symposium, a Zine Making Night and a Zine Launch. That means more opportunities and support for you to share your zines and the ideas contained within them. I’ve also been advising the coordinators on how to make changes to processes – for example, this year zine makers contributed to the selection panel. Through our involvement, the MCA Zine Fair can be led by the unique DIY culture of zines.

Photo Credit: Jacquie Manning

Zine fairs are unique events where people can sell and trade zines, make friends and form projects, share skills and talk about issues that aren’t represented in mainstream media. Zine fairs have always been organised by zine makers – they present crucial opportunities for us to circulate our lo-fi, small run print publications, often in opposition to the world of glossy, mass-produced products designed to be consumed quickly and disposed of just as fast. Zines aren’t disposable. This is part of their mysterious pull. We need to protect what makes zines special – the communities that gather around zine making, and the ways we gather, is important.

Some zines are political, others are not, but to me there is something deeply political about the act of making and sharing a zine. They are seed packets of independent thought, opened by hands and minds eager for something different. We send out our zines and see what grows. In an increasingly controlled, censored, filtered and monitored world, they are one way to feel a sense of freedom. There’s no need to seek approval from the authorities before printing, no compromises on content because of advertising demands, nobody to counsel you against making a zine because it won’t make a profit. We make zines because we love zines. Creativity for the sake of creativity is almost unheard of, and creativity is a form of power.

I have a long and personal history of engagement (and disengagement) with this zine fair. In 2007 I proposed holding a zine fair at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. The event was small but successful. The following year, the MCA teamed up with SWF to hold the zine fair at the MCA. Unfortunately, I wasn’t consulted by the MCA about this shift in management. The zine fair was no longer being organised by a zine maker. I continued to table at the zine fair, but my DIY ethos told me something wasn’t right. I felt that what made zine fairs special had been lost.

In 2014, I started attending the Other Worlds Zine Fair, boycotting the MCA along with the artists of the Biennale of Sydney due to the connection to Transfield. We were protesting against profiting from the inhumane treatment of refugees in Australia’s offshore detention centres. The Biennale cut its ties to that funding, but for me, the boycott revealed how unethical practices can be deeply embedded in cultural institutions. It also showed me how important it is to keep speaking up, to raise your voice until the institution hears you, or to create organisations of your own that are founded on ethical practices.

Working with an institution on a zine fair presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities. I worried about being co-opted. There’s a danger in working with institutions – that the individual or community will be swallowed up. But the process of working with Yael and Alice (MCA Public Programs team) has been wonderful. I feel that my knowledge and experience is respected, and that we can work together with shared values. This is the kind of mutually beneficial relationship that should have been established in the first year. Now, in the tenth year of the Zine Fair, I’m glad to be working towards change. In 2016 I wrote an article criticising the past decisions of the MCA Zine Fair. I wanted to see power transferred back into the hands of those who made zines and built zine fairs. I didn’t imagine this would be heard by the MCA, but here I am.

Photo Credit: Jacquie Manning

The Biennale boycott did not put an end to mandatory detention, but people continue to call for change. At this year’s Biennale, internationally acclaimed artist and activist Ai Weiwei is displaying his artwork Law of the Journey and his film Human Flow, both of which reveal the extent of suffering involved in fleeing one’s country, and the cruel indifference of nations that build fences, drive people away, and put human beings who need safe refuge in detention centres instead. What I took from this was the importance of working together and letting people into your heart. We need to care about refugees. We need to care about each other, wherever we come from, or we risk losing our humanity.

By getting involved in the MCA Zine Fair again, my aim has been to bring back a sense of community, sharing, and mutual empowerment through ‘do-it-yourself’ – and perhaps more importantly, by doing things together. Over the fourteen years I’ve been making zines, I have been supported and nurtured by zine organisations like Sticky Institute, and the many wonderful zine fairs around Australia – at This Is Not Art, Format Festival, The Festival of the Photocopier, Other Worlds, and more. They gave me the opportunity to share my voice, my vision, and my values. I hope that the new additions I’ve made this year give you those same opportunities. I hope that this zine fair can be exactly what it needs to be for you – if it isn’t, I hope that you get together with others and create something new.

Your friend,

Bastian Fox Phelan

MCA Zine Fair 2018 is on this Sunday 6 May, 10:30am - 4:30pm. See the Zine Fair Symposium, 10.30am - 4pm. Curated by Bastian Fox Phelan, the Symposium includes panels, workshop and talks.

For more information, visit the MCA Australia website.

Bastian Fox Phelan is a writer, musician and zinemaker living in Newcastle, Australia. They have been making zines since 2004, including cult classic Ladybeard and the How To Be Alone series. Bastian initiated the first Sydney Writers’ Festival Zine Fair in 2007, which became the MCA Zine Fair the following year. Bastian is currently writing a literary memoir about female facial hair. Their writing has been published in The Lifted Brow and Tincture Journal. Bastian is part of dream pop duo Moonsign. http://bastianfoxphelan.com/