small night zine


DURING the giant snowmen and scorched grass of 2018, I had an idea—screen printed zines. I applied for Arts Council funding and was big-time fortunate. I spent months collecting advice on YouTube, some bad, some project-saving. As my home garage studio began to fill with unopened screen printing materials and equipment I continued to perfect screen printing, in theory. In practice, I'd never screen printed before. It was a big risk; I was afraid. What if I hated it? The process? The patience? Turns out I didn't.

As an art writer and lapsed painter, screen printing is the first time I've come close to collapsing the two passions into one: how when pulling that dollop of fat ink across the screen the paper beneath buckles with the weight and drag of my body in one heave-ho; how sometimes ink smothers the stems and arches of the typeface; how after using Blu-Tac to stick acetate to the screen for exposure I'm left with what I call "ink gremlins"; how when the photo emulsion begins to break down after repeated trial and error and the text and paper becomes flooded with ink. I now feel for the first time I am making text sculptural, into something real, that might catch the ridged whorls of the reader's fingertips. It is everything that laser, inkjet, commercial printing or the internet is not. Screen printed text has physical presence.

So for three months I fucked up. The mistakes scar my studio's plywood floor, and like all scars on the body, they are tats to dumb pain and dumber honour. Some days the mistakes I thought resolved return to haunt the paper, the floor, my clothes and hands; again and again and again I fuck up. I'm still fucking up. Some of the fuck ups I get rid of; others I keep, like the ink gremlins thumbed in the corners of the first zine's pages.

A name: What would I call this endeavour? A history of resistance has brought me to this windowless garage studio, and of all mediums I might hate, print. Over the course of the snowmen and dead grass, 2018 was also a year of retreat from the art scene in terms of disseminating my reviews and essays online. It was a traumatic split, something that I had built for a decade and burnt on a whim. I had begun to question, as everyone involved in the art scene was, the value of their presence as image online, and in my case, writings on art, and how Instagram et al were conditioning something not so wholesale positive.

So I have retreated to an ideology that was once familiar, the subculture of skateboarding, and all that position afforded me in the past as a teenager in its retreat from the mainstream via DIY videos and zines—it doesn't get more subcultural in a windowless garage in Waterford City dabbling in screen printing and spoken word art criticism with snapped skateboards screwed to the studio wall.

Still, a name? It was while reading John Updike's collection of "Olinger" short stories that I came up with a name: small night zine. Midway through the Updike collection and the short story 'Pigeon Feathers', there is this wonderful sentence: “A barn, in day, is a small night." This one sentence ejected me out of what is a brilliant and absorbing narrative. 'Pigeon Feathers' tells the fate of a boy who ends up in a barn shooting pigeons after losing faith in religion after his critical questions to a pastor go unanswered. It is from this boundless metaphor—“A barn, in day, is a small night"—that small night zine reacts to the individualistic, competitive and professionalised art scene by initiating collaborative processes with artists. 'Amateur' in terms of play, experimentation and a retreat from the gallery and art administration, these collaborative processes are initiated by invitation, submission or word of mouth. Artists ask if something is possible in paper and ink; small night zine tries to make it happen, resulting in passionate experiments that test the notion (not nature) of art production as an individual enterprise to one that is collaborative, subcultural, experimental, embarrassing and fun.

James Merrigan, June 2019


*In the buildup to the exhibition of print and pulp at Pallas Projects Dublin in November of 2019, I have decided to put all my energies into publishing my reviews, critical essays, and interviews offline in the form of zines. See ARRANGEMENTS for more details.