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Report from Chicago

by Pedro Vélez
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When was the last time the world saw Ronald Reagan invite Mikhail Gorbachev to join him and his dear wife Nancy in a threesome? It probably was 1987 and it surely happened in the photocopied pages of some dirty Punk fanzine. Back then, amateur editors spared us from political correctness, and the DIY esthetics of the day was spit-in-the-face-of-the-system. We could definitely use some of that naïve edge today.

We need to brazen the frigidity of an “art world” in which freedom of expression is sanitized by austerity measures triggered by a few douches in Congress. Even museums are cutting public access to culture by charging suburbanites an arm and a leg to see Renoir and Monet.

Good thing that the underground is like chewing gum underneath your shoe -- always sticky. A perfect example is the Chicago-based organization Public Collectors, whose mission involves collecting the most ephemeral uncollectibles -- everything from old chain letters to illustrations for cuticle cures -- and making them available to other collectors and the public.

So last weekend I spent four hours browsing an infinity of stapled, collaged, collated and photocopied pages of dot-matrix smudge at a Public Collectors event titled “UNDERGROUND MUSIC FANZINES from the late 1980s-early '90s,” held at the Storefront at 2606 N. California Avenue in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago.

It felt good to have my hands caress not a computer keyboard but this print world of manifestos, attacks on religion, protest signs and interviews with cult figures like legendary singer of the Trash band M.O.D. Back then editorials printed in all capital letters. Opinion was handy, unapologetic and politically progressive. Kids raged against Reagan’s trickle-down economics, the Iran-Contra scandal, Bush’s denial of AIDS, and censorship provoked by the implementation of warning labels on records by the PMRC (Parental Music Research Center). Do people even remember that was Tipper Gore’s pet project?

Nothing was sacred. The cover of Total Trash #10 (1987) sported an awesome drawing of Ayatollah Khomeini wasting a couple of big-headed children. It was signed by Joe Minardi -- I wonder if he still makes art. At least I know Tony Rettman, the distinguished publisher of I4NI zine, wrote a book recently about the Detroit scene aptly titled Why Be Something That You’re Not-Detroit Hardcore 1979-1985.

Stapled inside of one zine I found a small, strange flip book of poetry titled White Boy. It’s signed by Paul Weinman and in it the artist establishes parallels between race, gender and the National Endowment for the Arts, which apparently denied his application for a grant. One of the pages reads:

“1. Mapplethorpe was gay. 2. Serrano is Hispanic. 3. 2-Live Crew is Black. White Boy TRIES PUBL. PAPER EXPOSING RACISM HOMOPHOBIA - BUT IS REJECTED BY NEA SINCE WB PEN WAS DIPPED IN PISS”

I found out that Weinman is alive through his daughter’s blog “White Girl Black Face.” Paul has Alzheimer’s and happens to be married to the Bravo Work of Art television show contestant Judith Ann Braun.

The world is such a small place and, even though technology changes constantly, the way in which we distribute information and create social networks doesn’t. Ideology has no age and rage springs eternal. All it takes is a sign of protest and a little DYI.

PEDRO VÉLEZ is an art critic and writer hibernating in Chicago.