Going Digital

Montreal’s Print Counter Culture Enters the Digital Age

Image courtesy Archive Montreal

Expozine is coming back to Montreal for yet another edition of this unique and small press fair, which showcases a plethora of alternative publications from art books and ‘zines to underground comics.

For 13 consecutive years, Expozine has been at the forefront of Montreal’s small-press DIY culture, offering a venue to support and promote ephemeral art and independent literature.

Presenting a selection of more than 270 participants, it is Canada’s largest zine fair and attracts around 15,000 visitors every year.

This year, Louis Rastelli—one of the original co-founders of Archive Montreal, which has a hand in hosting Expozine—said he is very excited to present special guests from Germany to the Montreal crowd.

The Swedish-French artist duo Anna Hellsgård and Christian “Meeloo” Gfeller will be presenting some of the works done in their print studio Re:Surgo!, located in the countercultural, avant-garde hubs of Berlin and Stockholm.

Now internationally renowned for their silk screening, the duo’s origins, like many of the other younger artists at the fair, are humble. At first, the pair were making punk zines, Gfeller in particular—his were under the name Bongoût.

In collaboration with the Goethe Institute, the German cultural center in Montreal, Expozine and Re:Surgo! will also be hosting a zine-making workshop on the eve of the fair where you can learn how to make your own zine while exploring different media.

As Rastelli emphasized, the art exchanges with the German print scene will not stop there, spreading beyond the Expozine fair. Scattered in venues across the city are the Distroboto art-vending machines, re-purposed vintage cigarette vending machines, a side project of ArcMtl. While they are currently stocked with local zines, these machines will soon contain prints from German countparts.

In exchange, Montreal’s Distroboto art will be distributed in Germany’s own art-vending machine network.

“In recent years we’ve had other visitors from Europe. It’s partly what makes Expozine and Montreal different from most of the other cities and the other fairs. Certainly Montreal has a lot of the European flavour,” Rastelli said. “There is a lot of talent, it’s very competitive here. We see it at Expozine, people push themselves really hard because there’s a lot of good art in Montreal.”

These ties with European countries used to play an important role in the tradition of Expozine during its formative years, but Rastelli explained that the severe budget cuts in the cultural sector under the Harper government slowed them down quite a bit.

Rastelli said he hopes to see more international partnerships and connections flourish under the new federal Liberal government.

“Last year, a whole crew of print artists from France were present at Expozine. We’ve been there too, in 2010, to present Expozine at the Paris fanzinothèque,” he added.

Among other special events this year, Expozine will be hosting a presentation on digital publications led by ‘local guru’ Hugh McGuire, founder of PressBooks, an online book publishing platform built on WordPress.

Covering the creation of e-books, the event aims to introduce authors and small publishers to the world of digital publishing.

While the main appeal of zines and paper works presented at this fair still rests with the physical nature—the satisfaction of turning the page—the alternative press could immensely benefit from circulating e-books, reaching larger crowds and ultimately making a little bit more money.

“There’s a feeling that things are changing. Some publishers say they sell more books on Amazon than in local bookstores. It’s kind of like the music business, it’s adaptation to the new technology. Ultimately people need to make money wherever they can,” Rastelli said.

Thankfully, selling at fairs such as Expozine still counts for an important part of these small publishers’ sales. Not only do they save money by getting rid of the middleman, it is also a great way to be in touch with the community, because much of the spirit surrounding alternative press relies on DIY ethics and communal practice.

“There’s always a bit of political material too. You know, it’s an alternative media fair. Sometimes people don’t get in, because what they do is too commercial. It has to be small press,” Rastelli said. “We’re trying to be a place for people who don’t have another book or zine fair.

“Sadly the society is still a bit screwed up and we need an underground culture. The mainstream culture doesn’t really do it for a lot of people.”

Looking back at the ‘80s and ‘90s, people used to have to subscribe to magazines or get on different mailing lists and catalogues. The digital age has made it easier for artists to promote and share their work, and has also made the practice more accessible in many ways. The new forms of technology available expand the possibilities in art-making from digital photography to print-making. Despite all of this, Rastelli still believes in the power of the old fashioned.

“It hasn’t stopped being popular. People spend so much time on their phones, computers or Netflix. There is still a real pleasure in picking up a zine,” he finished.