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"Enter the '90s" Curator Denise Delgado on Library's Zine Exhibit

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Before the Internet was such a big thing, if you were a creative kid with passion to burn and a knack for stealing photocopies from Office Depot (um, or not), you turned to publishing a zine. These totally do-it-yourself publications were unapologetically tactile.

And Subjects spanned anything from handwritten tortured poetry to

cleanly typeset tomes that mimicked newsstand fare. The beauty of it all

was that there were no rules, and getting a zine usually involved some

kind of personal contact, whether by writing a letter or participating

in a real-life swap.

It's this spirit that fuels "Enter the Nineties," a new exhibit opening tonight from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the main branch of the Miami-Dade Public Library System. For its annual summer art show, the library created an original zine called Poetry and Power, and invited cultural producers from throughout the city to make their own and swap.

The resulting, and ever-growing, results of the swaps will be on display and available for reading, along with old classics donated to the library's collection. Check it out and get inspired to create your own -- with vinyl records and other older, warmer media enjoying a resurgence, why not zines, too?

Cultist reached out to Denise M. Delgado, curator of art services and exhibitions for the Miami-Dade Public Library system. A former zinester herself, she had a lot to say about the exhibition. Here's the Q&A.

Cultist: Where did the initial idea for the exhibit come from? And what came first, the idea for the show, or the idea to archive local zines?

Denise M. Delgado: Well, this year all of the Miami-Dade Public Library System's programs and exhibitions have been planned to celebrate its 40th anniversary. The library came into being as a system in November 1971. Each quarter we're celebrating a different decade. 

So we tried to think, how could we develop an exhibition around the '90s? At first we thought of just exhibiting the Library's permanent art collection work from that time. Barbara Young, who was Art Services Supervisor until 2005, used to organize these summer shows inviting lots of artists to engage with objects and themes like boats, shoes, library cards, and the alphabet. Some of that work would be donated to the Library's permanent art collection afterwards. Many of those shows took place in the '90s and I've had artists tell me how much they loved participating in them.

Gendry Bossano, assistant library curator,  and I brainstormed over ways to use those shows as a model. Between 1993 and 1996 I made a zine called Doll and a couple of other zine projects. I really loved the whole process of using zines as an informal place to work out ideas, trade through the mail for other zines, tapes, and records, and have conversations with people outside the little town where I grew up. 

The artist and zinemaker Emily Larned talks about zine culture of the '90s as an analog social network and that's really what it was. Zine culture has been around a lot longer than that, of course, but because of our own associations with it in the '90s, we thought, let's ask people to make zines! 

The idea to archive the zines afterwards was a natural extension of that. The library already has the Vasari Project, which archives the visual arts in Miami since the '40s.

The centerpiece of the exhibition seems to be an original zine created for it. Who wrote for it, and what's the general theme if there is one?

I wouldn't call it the centerpiece. It was more of a motor or prompt for bringing zines into the show. The library's art services department -- Gendry Bossano, Oscar Fuentes, and I --made it in about three days and just had fun with it. 

Most zines I see these days are artists' zines and ours was more self-consciously made to be like the scrappy personal/info/culture zines I remember from the '90s. There are collages, goofy library references, a collective memoir piece, poems, an altered transcript from a 1997 Daniel Joseph Martinez lecture, and reprints of '90s interviews with the Billy Tipton Memorial Saxophone Quartet and the drummer from the Mexican punk band Regeneración. People can pick up a free copy [of Poetry and Power] in the second floor exhibition space of Main Library -- while supplies last!

Can you explain the swap portion of the show?

We wanted to organize the show through zine culture models of trade, exchange, and distribution rather than traditional curation. We talked to and sent out an invitation e-mail to an initial group of about 40 people who we knew made zines or artists' publications or who we thought would want to participate. 

Participants could collaborate with anyone they wanted and forward the invitation to other people. The only prerequisite for participating was that they send us their mailing address and then give us two zines or artists' publications in exchange for ours. It was an opportunity for us to break all of our usual rules and let the show grow organically and democratically.

In the exhibition there's a reading lounge set up around what I think of as a bionic, d.i.y. coffee table -- a very long red board set up on milk crates. That table will hold reading copies of many of the zines so people can hang out in the library and look at them.

The show also incorporates archival collections of Miami zines donated by a couple of participants. Are there any in there that are particularly noteworthy that people should check out?

There is lots of good stuff from the collections of artist Kevin Arrow, radio producer Trina Sargalski, artist/musician Oly Vargas, and film curator/artist Barron Sherer. They are actually beloved personal collections on loan to us, not archival ones, brought to the library in crates and plastic bags and Rubbermaid containers. 

Kevin's collection includes a full run of former Miamian Mike McGonigal's well-known Chemical Imbalance zine. Trina has a master copy of a funny list called "The Miami 50," made for a zine around 1998 but never published, and Barron's collection includes some great film zines. 

We have zine-like publications from artists Miralda and Marilyn Gottlieb-Roberts for wonderful projects like Santa Comida and the Miami Waves Experimental Media Festival. And of course, the Miami-Dade Public Library System's own permanent art collection includes some amazing zines and artists' publications.

A lot of zines were photocopied, silkscreened and hand-printed, or otherwise reproduced in relatively delicate ways. Do you have to do anything physically to archive and/or display them to the public?

The display copies, the personal collections, the library collections, and the ones we only have one copy of are shown inside locked glass and plexi cases. The "reading copies" have what's called "tattle tape" -- it sets off an alarm upon exiting the library -- affixed to them just to prevent them from walking, but otherwise people are free to handle them. Zines that get archived will be stored in archival, acid-free boxes and folders.

Even with the advent of blogging, do you think zine culture is due for a renaissance? 

Those models of trade and distribution are different, I think, but zine culture seems to be alive and thriving among contemporary artists. Artists make zines as extensions of projects in other media, as a way to collaborate, or as cheap and easily distributed art objects. They can be a sort of tactile currency. 

The social aspect of getting together with people to make and then physically assemble a zine can be satisfying and important. And since so much of our exchange and consumption of information happens online, some people are really getting nostalgic for paper.

"Enter the Nineties" opens tonight with a reception at 7 p.m. at the Main Library (101 W. Flagler St., Miami) and will be up until September 13. The library is open Monday through Saturday at 9 a.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m. Call 305-375-5048 or visit mdpls.org.

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