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The Vacuum - Issue 17 - Fashion spacer The Vacuum - Issue 17 - Fashion
C'Zines
by Brandy Bush
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Catalyst Arts is without doubt settling into its relatively new space and since its opening last September on College Court has put on a series of successful exhibitions, several good parties, talks, screenings, a couple of punk nights and a robbery fundraiser (for themselves) - they've essentially been pretty busy. 
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The latest offering which opened as advertised, 'anarchically' on 11 June plunders the world of zines and is entitled c-zine.
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To research the form which since its apparent birth in and around 1930 with 'The Comet' - the first science fiction fanzine - hence 'zine' - must have been an interesting but frightening task. Frightening, of course because zines are underground, hard to find and in and out of print. Running in parallel with the alternative press, zines have come to be known as 'the invisible press' and are kept alive by dedicated individual editors or group enthusiasts working in a way that is uncommercial, non-professional and with markedly small distribution networks.  Being produced by anyone and anywhere and on any topic means zines almost resist cataloguing but despite these factors (and certainly with a nod to Factsheet Five editor, Mike Gunderloy) Catalyst has produced a substantial library of material and turned the gallery into a massive reading room of alternative literature from alternative voices.  
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Art, the enviroment, film, poetry, music, fantasy, anarchy, consumerism, sexuality, gender and social consciousness are all there.  As topics, they are addressed with matched diversity.  Zine style including personal rants, articles, reviews, lists, poetry, letters, illustrations and comic strips all produced in various shapes and sizes.  Some are handwritten or typed complete with typos, drawn or collages of articles, doodles and photos glued in, almost always photocopied until images begin to disappear into darkness while others owe their professionalism to changing techno/yulogy and the glitzy world of desk top publishing. 
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Catalyst has not tried to force the zines into categories but instead shelves, tables and bookstands snake around the gallery taking us onan alphabetical tour.  Sectioned reading rooms, table lamps, chairs and beanbags encourage us to stay and enjoy each mini art work.  On the walls, three large-scale illustrations are reproduced in homage to the zine, the most recognisable being a scary wanted poster of Thatcher from Polemic Graphics '89.  That face looming down reminds you why zines are so important.  One reminds us, 'nothing aggravates the willingly subjugated more than non-conformity'.  Since The Comet, zines became more politicised in the decades that followed and act as spaces to give voice to movements that do/did not seem to have space - civil rights and welfare issues, punk and anarchy, feminism, anti-consumerism, anti-war, green issues and so on. 
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Catalyst has captured all of these issues with zines from around the world - not forgetting Belfast's own - Giros on social and squatting issues, Muff Monsters, Alternative Ulster and even the Vacuum is in there rightly or wrongly.  There are serious zines about natural disasters, multi-national corporations and the Vietnam War and humourous zines about bicycle love and a zine about crushes - 'my heart beats only for you and a few dozen other people'. C-zine is about truly living publications that are vital in ever expanding times of gloss, consumption driven media and lifestyle publications.  They will endure because people are not homogenous but mixed up with different thoughts and ideas, existing in different times and zines perfectly accommodate the needs people have to express the diversity of opinions.  And should the exhibition so inspire you, there's a zine about doing a zine and photocopier to get you started. 
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