Familiar though his name may be to us, the storyteller in his living immediacy is by no means a present force… It is as if something that seemed inalienable to us, the securest among our possessions, were taken from us: the ability to exchange experiences.
–Walter Benjamin, “The Storyteller,” 1936
On two Thursday evenings in May of this year, I led a free Zine-Making Workshop at the Walker Art Center as part of the museum’s ongoing free Thursday night programs. The production of a zine — a small, low-tech, and low-cost magazine usually produced by an individual or a collective as an alternative media outlet — introduced participants to simple techniques and key concepts of printmaking as a method and praxis. I hoped to serve two main audiences with this workshop. First, museum-goers that visited the Walker’s concurrent exhibit, Paper Trail: A Decade of Acquisitions, could learn some of the techniques used in the works on view. Secondly, local organizers and creative individuals who wished to divulgate their own events or ideas learned simple and affordable techniques for small-scale publicity.
It was important for me not to promote a particular political agenda, but rather to provide a methodology of art-making that encouraged students to reflect on the relationship of news, ideology, and history to the mainstream media as an industrial complex. The pedagogy of zine-making promoted an organic development of alternative stories and truths through the production of alternative and sponsor-free media. On one occasion, as I helped an elderly woman with the Xerox machine, I made the mistake of asking her if she was making a card for a friend. Somewhat insulted, she replied: “I am making a political statement, because I am political.” This mishap provided the opportunity for her to vent her frustration with the current state of political affairs. Although I regretted underestimating her political drive, I was happy to find out that the workshop had been a cathartic experience.
The narrative nature of the project encouraged participants to bounce ideas off of each other, and engage in collective discussions. These interchanges revealed unexpected commonalities, and fostered politically sophisticated conversations. To my delight, I saw freshly acquainted strangers exchange phone numbers for future collaborations or meetings. In the most fruitful instances, the project transformed what was a public space of strangers into a public forum of community building and intellectual exchange.