- Source: ZOLO PRESS
- Author: Corinna Koch
- Date: 2020
- Format: DIGITAL
ON ANARCHISM, ZINES, AND THE PERSONAL ARCHIVE. 09.01.2019—25.06.2020
Chelsea Culprit (Kentucky, USA) is a painter and sculptor. She lives and works in Mexico City.
Corinna Koch (for Zolo Press): What did you read when you were a kid?
Chelsea Culprit: I liked fantasy. I read Chronicles of Narnia and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland many times. Both were well illustrated. The Mists of Avalon was a favorite, too. I was briefly obsessed with the Baby-Sitter’s Club and Nancy Drew series. We also had a set of outdated encyclopedias that I spent a lot of time with; I shudder now thinking about the inaccuracy of its contents.
A friend and I recently discussed the psychological effects of the fantasy we consumed growing up in the eighties—and what of those narratives remains with us today. They were each such certain moral universes; things were black and white. Think about movies like Willow, The Secret of Nim, Heavy Metal, Return to Oz, The Dark Crystal…
Z: Or The Labyrinth. The late-eighties hesitated to embrace complexity and plurality as globalization was making the world ever more complex and plural.
CC: There are similarities to current times. If in the eighties we had to negotiate our identity amidst globalization, today a lot of art is about coping with one’s mediated identity within global digital networks. We are constantly mapping ourselves in constellations of proximity and distance to the positions of others.
I’m most curious about what will remain of privacy—not just legal privacy but those sentiments of privacy like the time, distance, and opacity that existed between one’s innermost experiences and the externalization of them. Sentiments and experiences once treasured as private and sacred are now understood as transactional content.
“SENTIMENTS AND EXPERIENCES ONCE TREASURED AS PRIVATE AND SACRED ARE NOW UNDERSTOOD AS TRANSACTIONAL CONTENT.”
Z: You became active in an anarchist group while studying at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). What led you there?
CC: Those were the Bush years! I was involved in an anti-war group at school, SAIC NO WAR IRAQ. We arranged free buses to protests in Washington D.C. Anyone in the city could ride, and so the buses were utilized by groups of different allegiances and beliefs. On those bus rides I encountered anarchists organizing in the greater Chicago area.
Midwest Unrest formed in protest of the Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement. There were a dozen of us at any given time. We organized direct actions from 2003 to 2006, the most successful of which was a city-wide fare strike against privatization of Chicago’s public transit system.
After Midwest Unrest disbanded, I aligned with some female and queer activists. We lived together for a few years in what resembled a lifestyle experiment more than an organization. I was always more inspired by that energy than what was happening at art school.
Z: Did art seem trivial to you back then?
CC: Absolutely trivial. And, according to activists I was involved with, only functioned to distinguish class. I took a break from school at that time. I wanted to figure out if I actually needed to make art and, if I did, how I could do so outside of institutional influence.
Z: Art is political, though. Sometimes a work’s political dimension takes time to manifest. In that sense it is almost like OxyCONTIN; it has a time release. It doses its content, keeps releasing new messages over the decades, and changing each time you revisit it.
CC: Yes, it’s like Leon Golub’s paintings of the Vietnam war. Each time I’m in front of them I discover something new. Although we are familiar with photographic and filmic images of that war—the first to be televised—Golub’s portrayals have an indelible emotional intensity. The way they are painted, the grotesque marks and fleshy palette, the scale and the spatial relationships between figures and emptiness.
Z: The dancers you paint also have a soldier-like aspect to them: their make-up, their outfits, their platform-boots, their armored implants, their poses.
CC: Well, dancing is work, and essentially your body becomes a classed one. Gender assignment is a tool for organizing the working and laboring class. If you are an average, able-bodied male without much opportunity, you are more likely cast as soldier-body. If you are an average functioning female body, you are in some way or another called to be a sex-worker. At least subtly, your success is contingent on your ability to perform your femaleness and to demonstrate your willingness to be subservient to men. The equivalent is asked of male-bodies.
In that way the position of the soldier and the sex-worker mirror one another.
“GENDER ASSIGNMENT IS A TOOL FOR ORGANIZING THE WORKING AND LABORING CLASS. […] IN THAT WAY THE POSITION OF THE SOLDIER AND THE SEX-WORKER MIRROR ONE ANOTHER.”
Z: To return to your activism, I remember that zines were important in the anarchist and counter-cultural communities.
CC: Yes, absolutely. Zines and pamphlets were fun, tactile, and engaging, but, more than that, they were the safest and quickest way to distribute information. Some zines shared online contact information to support digital network building and provided the general public with information and legal actions.
Others were anonymous, with no information on their author(s) or origins. Most anarchists organizing direct actions were protective of their identities and digital footprints. They did not want to be found. They did not photograph or record one another, nor carry phones while planning or carrying out actions. This was also collective consideration for the protection of activists with varied legal status and those more vulnerable to police brutality. Although social media networks were only in their infancy, there was a nascent understanding they were being developed as surveillance technology.
In the early 2000s, Chicago hosted several events to trade and sell zines, like the Midwest Anarchist Bookfair. The most reliable source was the A-Zone (The Autonomous Zone), an info-shop open from 1993 to 2003. The A-Zone was a community center for events and meetings; it offered free computer access, walls of radical literature, and a zine library from which one could borrow, buy, or Xerox.
At the A-Zone I encountered histories I’d had no previous knowledge of.
Z: Like what?
CC: There was a lot of material circulating from the Zapatista movement and the Earth Liberation Front. Those were the movements of the moment; they threatened the profitability of their/our exploiters with direct action and organized authority horizontally with rotating leadership. It was very inspiring. Beyond that there was ample material on historical movements, especially moments particular to Chicago; the Haymarket massacre and the Pullman strikes were heavily memorialized. There were facsimiles of documents issued by the Black Panther Party and the Weather Underground Organization, as well pamphlets celebrating radicals like Emma Goldman and Assata Shakur.
One zine sticks out in my mind. It had a badly drawn tampon on the cover, the string of which spelled the title, “Pull the plug on feminine hygiene!” It explored how the post-war chemical industry, Puritanism, and corporate advertising manufactured the perception of women’s vaginas as dirty and in need of sanitization. The zine linked these cultural forces to how we internalize body shame of natural processes instead of honoring them. It’s how I learned about free bleeding and became curious about menstruation rituals.
The A-Zone was a really important point of exchange for these physical materials. When it dissolved, some friends and I held on to what remained.
“THE A-ZONE WAS A COMMUNITY CENTER FOR EVENTS AND MEETINGS IT OFFERED FREE COMPUTER ACCESS WALLS OF RADICAL LITERATURE AND A ZINE LIBRARY FROM WHICH ONE COULD BORROW BUY OR XEROX.”
Z: There is something precious about remembering the things you’ve learned, where you learned them from, and the sensations you had in their company. What happened to those materials? To your books?
CC: I last organized my library in 2016, and it has been in storage since. The process was arduous— impossible even. I wasn’t able to put the volumes in boxes without looking inside every one. My personal materials from 2003 to 2008—zines, essays by friends, fliers from cabaret shows, sketchbooks—were most difficult to archive. When everything was finally packed away I was left with a hefty stack of papers of pages I had Xeroxed, which I then collaged into a reference document entitled Somebody, Some body, Sum Body.
In 2019, I worked with Antwan Horfee from Wrong Culture Editions to turn Somebody into a risograph. The colors are taken from the first palette of a painting series called the Chimeras. Those paintings use red, blue, and yellow to nod at the visual codes of corporations and nations that script social order. It felt appropriate to recycle that palette for the content of this book. We went through the images, together assigning color combinations. Then Antwan riffed on the blocking. Almost every page is two-color. We made a hundred copies and each kept half.
Making that publication was important to me. As an artist you make works that are one-of-a-kind. Each work is a vessel for so much information and meaning—emotional and intellectual. And the moment you start selling those works you no longer have access to all that is stored within them. There’s a void when they go. Somebody, Some body, Sum Body has filled that.
“EACH [WORK] IS A VESSEL FOR SO MUCH INFORMATION AND MEANING—EMOTIONAL AND INTELLECTUAL. AND THE MOMENT YOU START SELLING THOSE WORKS YOU NO LONGER HAVE ACCESS TO ALL THAT IS STORED WITHIN THEM.”
CHELSEA INVITES YOU TO READ:
Luna llena en las rocas, Xavier Velasco
When God Was a Woman, Merlin Stone
Assata: An Autobiography, Assata Shaku
“Moral Uncertainty and Contemporary Children’s Fantasy Fiction”, Anne Lochead (for more on fantasy and the moral imaginary)
CURRENT REQUIRED READINGS:
Cassandra Press via Patreon
Black Fly Zine
White Rasta Pasta at Colored Publishing
A Guide To White Allyship compiled by Black Lives Matters
IF YOU ARE ABLE TO MAKE $ DONATIONS PLEASE CONSIDER SUPPORTING THESE ORGS OR JUST VISIT THEIR SITES FOR LOTS OF INFO:
IN THE U.S.:
IN MEXICO AND BRASIL: