voices from the zine wall
Chinatown Soup does not follow a simple recipe. Founded in 2014 by New York City native Michelle Marie Esteva, 27, with the belief that everyone has something to contribute—to throw in the pot, if you will—its storefront at 16B Orchard Street in Downtown Manhattan serves the ever-expanding needs of a burgeoning creative community. Chinatown Soup is a gallery, a home for artists-in-residence, a venue, and as of this month, a shop selling zines on behalf of young self-publishers. Its Zine Wall features over 25 works, and is evidence of perhaps the most significant role Soup plays an increasingly lived-online age: physical space.
“Zines live digitally so often, and it's difficult for people who publish on Instagram and just have a link to their website or however they're selling and distributing to really reach beyond their digital community,” says Esteva. “Bridging that gap between what's on an app versus what's in real life is a challenge our generation is grappling with. It's not negative at all—it's multi-dimensional and that makes it really cool—but this is a platform to address it."
The Zine Wall has no foreseeable end date (“until entropy in the universe says it's gotta come down,” says Esteva), and will rotate publications as additional artists participate. Esteva plans to open a café at Soup in the near future, currently hosts seven artists-in-residence, puts on a new exhibition nearly every two weeks, and leaves a disco ball hanging from the ceiling for late nights and good measure.
Newest York recently caught up with the three curators of Soup’s Zine Wall: Lilian Finckel and Pooja Desai, the co-founders of Femme Mâché, a self-described “docu-zine collection and collective by womxn and femme artists” that hosts zine-making workshops (currently as residents of Brooklyn’s New Women Space); and Julia Shao, an NYU student, artist, and volunteer at Soup who threw a zine fair at the space in March 2017. They taught us about the zine as a medium: how it engenders a sense of community and can bring you closer to yourself.
Pooja Desai, 23
MULTIPLE PERSPECTIVES: I wanted the Zine Wall to be representative of different people who are in the self-publishing and zine space, so everything from the deeply political and personal to hilarious and fun-loving—not that those categories are mutually exclusive, but just trying to fit a solid range on a wall. Everything from someone putting together their own zine that they photocopied, all the way to someone who's taken time to collect work from and pay contributors and create a beautifully-bound book that they self-published. Femme Mâché is super about putting femme-identifying voices forward and at the front, and amplifying those, so we’re definitely trying to bring that in too.
FIRST STEPS: The first zine that I full-on made was the first Femme Mâché zine. I had collaged a lot before and cut things up and written poetry, but it wasn't really until Lili, who had made zines before, came in and was like, “It's not that difficult. Literally this is what we do and this is what we put together.” Obviously it can be a launching point, and you can do so many different things with it, but it's as simple as taking one piece of paper, making a slit, and folding it. Making that first one, which we released in February, was incredible for several reasons, because it was the first one we did as Femme Mâché, but for me personally it was a testament to how empowering self-publishing can be. You’re putting anything into this that you want to say to the world, to have it printed and distributed however you want it to be distributed, and so for me, making that personal breakthrough of “I can do things, and I can make things, and I can actually put them out there” was super empowering and has definitely been something I've carried through everything else we've done with Femme Mâché, the Zine Wall, and beyond.
FACE-TO-FACE: The community that I would hope that we can create in each of these spaces is one that feels creative and empowered and playful, and able to reflect on the fact that this is a group of people that is making things and making things happen. I have a friend who's writing her own series of poetry and has been really, really nervous about sharing it with the world. She finally is going to do it, and it’s going to be in the form of a zine, and she reached out to other Femme Mâché community members being like, “I'm writing this if anybody wants to give me feedback, but also I'm looking for an artist to help me illustrate things,” and now she has people who are helping her and making it happen. That's an example of what I would love to see happen in all of the community spaces that we build, a sense of collaborative creativity that encourages people not just to think about their own projects in different ways, but also to think of, “What can we do with this person? What can we do with that person?” That's definitely the spirit from which this collaboration with Chinatown Soup has come from. It was a matter of: “We love this space. What can we do? How can we help?”
Julia Shao, 21
ZINE FAIR TO ZINE WALL: I threw the first zine fair at Soup, called Chinatown Zine Fair, and that was very successful. I always had in mind a second zine fair—I wanted it to be biannual. That never really worked out, but Michelle was going to build a café in the back along with merch and other artists' work on sale, and had suggested me and another group called Femme Mâché—which is Lili and Pooja—curate a zine collection which then turned into the Zine Wall.
For the zine fair, I wanted to focus on artists of color. It was mostly my friends, people that I knew directly, or first-degree, second-degree knew. That was my primary focus then, but I was open to pretty much anything and everything. I wanted it to be more local artists, smaller artists, because I feel like a lot of zine fairs I've had problems with previously. Bigger zine fairs are really selective with the zines that they accept, which I thought was a little unfair. People primarily want big artists, especially in New York, to attract readers—which I do understand—but I was trying to include people that weren't so well-known in the art community.
THE WORK: I made a zine—it was my freshman year of college, and it was a zine about all of my adolescent, primarily high school, years. It was a photobook essentially, with all the disposable cameras that I took when I was in high school, and they were really tacky, me and my friends doing really stupid shit. That was my first zine. And that's right when I learned InDesign, so I printed maybe 10 copies at school.
For the zine that I made for the zine fair back in March, [A Diary, currently available at Soup’s Zine Wall,] I included nudes, and I feel like that was such a weird thing for me to do. Because I'm like, “Okay, even if my parents were to read this—oh my god they'd kill me, me literally printing my nudes.” But I feel like me doing that, physically printing them out, was a huge step in my self-confidence, because these people, however many people, are going to buy this zine of me naked. So I do think that me making zines, and the physicality of zines, does make it more personal, more emotional, essentially.
REALLY SEE IT: Just the physicality of having something printed—even zines online feel different than zines that you feel in person. Physicality makes things feel more special, I feel. Digital art, you can consume it, and then you exit, and you don't really see it, and you'll never really bring it back up into your screen. But having things physically with you reminds you constantly. It doesn't work like that digitally, because you always have that option to remove it, delete it.
Lilian Finckel, 23
BACK TO BASICS: Zines started when the photocopier was invented, because it was a way for people to massively reproduce cheaply, and in that sense allowed for self-publishing to exist. It started really in the early 1930s, and then again in the 1970s and '80s and '90s with riot grrrl and punk culture and third-wave feminism, as a way to express the goals and the aims of the movements themselves and also to subvert mainstream media production and cheaply get the message out, essentially. I think that's really important to what zines do, understanding the history of them, and also understanding how they are able to reach many different people and be produced by many different people, and really take an identity and make it tangible.
COMING TO THE TABLE: We started talking about Femme Mâché in June 2016, and then we really began forming it in winter of last year. We had our first event and workshop in February. It was something we wanted to do and became especially important to us post-the election. I think we were both in a place where we were feeling like we needed to do something more, and we weren't sure how to do that, but starting a collective and forming a space where we felt we could speak freely and interrogate these issues is really important to us. Then we decided to start this workshop series; it's very research-based, and it's also very focused on zine making, and zines and self-publishing as a form of resistance and a subversion of publishing in general but also of mainstream media. I think most importantly we're committed to inclusivity and intersectionality, and femme identity as something that permeates many forms of identity.
FEMME MÂCHÉ’S “DOCU-ZINE” COLLECTION: Every workshop has a theme to what we're discussing, and Pooja and I curate resources along the theme and also try to facilitate discussion through prompts. Each session and each workshop is different, but we are so honored and grateful that people really open up in them and give a piece of their hearts and their artwork, which I think are kind of inseparable, to every workshop. We like to think of these zines as documentations of each workshop, so they have an archival purpose. The work isn't meant to stand-alone—it’s meant to reflect the space that we've facilitated and the conversation and be a documentation of that moment in time.
A PARTNERSHIP: The mission of Soup is really integral to what we want to be doing: their dedication to the community, to confronting issues of gentrification on Orchard Street, to helping young artists and supporting young artists, and making showing work accessible in a world where it's often a huge financial burden to get your first show. Then also being able to produce and curate your own shows outside of an institution but within a community of artists—I think that's really incredible.