In Numbers – a review

In Numbers: Serial Publications By Artists Since 1955
ICA 25/01 – 25/03

It is often hard to tell whether the curators at the ICA have a sense of humour. I like to think that this exhibition illustrates that they do have a little laugh at themselves every once in a while. Or at least I hope that they at least see the irony that they have inadvertently created.

In Numbers is, at its heart, a broad look at zine culture in the art world and one of the themes that runs through every publication on show is a shunning of the mainstream and the institution. Funny then that the ICA chooses to display the work, grungy and vibrant, in sterile white vitrines, ordered like a set of monoliths to the ‘white cube’. The two sit uneasily within each other, jostling for the dominant aesthetic.

Once you get over that however, the exhibition is highly engaging and at times real fun. It shows how various artists have used print; a medium, a platform, a vehicle, a media tool. The immediacy of self-publishing a serial publication seems to make the zine a comfortable crossover point for artists of all different disciplines. Among the artists displayed several are better known for different work. For example the Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki is featured. Though he is known as a prolific bookmaker, seeing his early works, printed entirely on Xerox photocopiers, serves to form interesting links to his current, more high-production, work.

One problem with the selection of publications chosen is that there aren’t really any examples of current zine culture. The most contemporary works on show are the photographic magazines of Daido Morayama, who says himself that the publication is a personal project used to ‘immediately reflect any idea whenever I have one… without troubling anyone else’ and the art magazine Living and Loving which has only had three irregularly published issues since 2002. The party line seems to be that without existing within the art and art writing world for at least a decade, a self-published serial publication lacks enough cultural relevance to be worth displaying.

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In Numbers is on at the ICA until March 25th

On March 17th the ICA will host a self-publishing fair presented by Publish and be Damned.

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