To get to the OC Great Park’s Zine Library and Reading Room, stroll along a paved path through Southern California pastoral. Neon flocks of soccer teams caw across the fields as you walk towards the rising orange balloon. Veer left over the stone white pavilion. You’ve gone too far if you hit the merry-go-round, but riding it may turn you back around. Across from the carousel, cowed by towering trees, the industrial Palm Court Arts Complex houses a curious collection of papers. Curated by L.A. Zine Fest in collaboration with festivals in Brooklyn, Houston, Scranton, and San Francisco, the Zine Library and Reading Room displays over 200 zines from across the country.
Inside the complex, zines line stout white bookshelves just high enough to lean on. Their covers tilt towards you at a friendly angle. Go ahead-— pick one up! Don’t hunch in the corner like I did before the kind attendant led me to the Reading Room, a clever space painted to look like a living room with ample couches and coffee tables. The vibe is Rifle Paper Company meets coffee shop art installation. Every Sunday until August 2015, the Great Park hosts fireside chats here; next up is a music video director for The Black Keys. On one blank wall, plein air projection Tom Brown teaches you how to paint the Great Park. His paintings hang in the neighboring room, a navel-gazing exhibit that’s overshadowed by the den next door.
The Reading Room is a nesting doll of a gallery experience. The curators chose 200 zines; then you choose a stack and create your own narrative. Here’s mine, starting with first-person stories about building community from DIY We or Don’t We. Essays like “My Eight Members Cambodian Society” and “Feminist Community Building in Bellingham, WA” explored finding fellowship in the unlikeliest places. There’s even a recipe for Timefighter’s Soup, shared by “a group of friends in Olympia who love to collaborate on community media projects,” but find that it “sure can take a lot of energy to fight time.” Peaches and Bats is an experimental journal tinted with Southern Gothic. The Greatest is a group portrait of the nursing home where artist Kelly Froh volunteered.
Through zine after zine, I jotted down notes about gardening and poetry and awful eighties movies like Return to Oz. I searched for more in-depth curatorial notes, which only exist as brief summaries taped on the shelf beneath each zine. What was the vision behind the exhibit? Who wrote what I’m holding? I Googled, but guiltily, resenting iPhone intrusion into this analog space. Tell me how a shortwave missive from Maine (with an origami radio pop-out) ended up next to a beginning guide for gardeners from Washington. Tell me how they ended their flights nestled in a fake living room deep inside the Orange County Great Park.
The Orange County Great Park is as controversial as a park can be. It’s fielded criticism on a prescriptive design, bloated budget, and misuse of public funds, prompting investigative press and an audit. Beyond the fiscal fiasco, the park is designed along the worn-out utopian scheme that shaped UC Irvine and much of its namesake city. Architect William Peirera designed the university during the space race. His blueprints are echoed in Popular Mechanics and Time Magazine sketches of cities that loom with Brutalist architecture around pockets of nature.
In his design manifesto called Architecture, Nature and the City, Pereira called the architect “a reformer, interpreter of new needs, a critic of yesterday’s misconceptions:” one who built social frameworks. In a balanced community, there would be scientists, artists, and technicians who would work and picnic separately. Le Corbusier’s contemporary city influenced Pereira’s “urban forest” ideal. His blueprint was fiction: it not only constructed a world but also populated it with archetypes. Each space has a purpose: there are no ambiguities in Peirera’s design.
So the OC Great Park isn’t a philosophical match for anarchopunk zines, which are photocopied to fill that liminal space where traditional texts break cleanly at the margin. But it does assign artists a room, even if it’s an industrial one, and that’s valuable.
As children, parks are where we make our first friends and build our first social codes. We break bread at picnic tables and we vote to make the slide a tag safe zone, oblivious to the real politics of public space. The Zine Library & Reading Room taps into this sense of ownership with its make-believe living room, where you curate the exhibit by choosing what you read and who you share it with. While zines might rhyme better with an indie art gallery, the OC Great Park pulls off a haptic and immersive experience that invites you to sit next to strangers in shared suspension of disbelief. In doing so, the exhibit refutes the strict design of the park itself by creating a place for undefined and imagined experiences.
If you’re craving something more concrete after lingering there, the OC Great Park farmers market bustles with local vendors just around the corner. There’s a makeshift alley just for nonprofits– including a free health clinic. Right at the intersection, the Irvine Parks department hands out round stickers, asking passersby to vote on how they use their parks and changes they’d like to see. I would put my sticker in the field marked “more grassroots arts experiences.”
- You can buy DIY We or Don’t We? and many of the zines in this collection through this website. Support artists!
- This exhibit was curated by the LA Zine Fest. Did you know Orange County has its own?
- Do Zines Belong in OC Public Libraries?
“In library college, I wanted to be an archivist and work with special collections, which is like working with zines in a way,” says Zehdar, “because zines are very unique and they’re not mass produced and that’s how special collections are: rare materials that are not mass produced, which to me is very interesting.” From OC Weekly.
Have you ever created or read a zine? There are lots of tutorials online.