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Nathan Jones, Print Ready (Vancouver): Representing Zines

by Melanie Trojkovic

As a newcomer to Vancouver, I have slowly been exploring the distinctive art and publishing scenes that this colourful city has on offer. With the opportunity to interview Nathan Jones, a curator, artist, and current principal coordinator of Dynamo Arts Association, I feel I have come that much closer to a clear understanding. In his discussion of Print Ready, an ongoing project aimed to exhibit zines and printed works, and the synchronicity of fellow independent publishers in Canada and beyond, Jones articulates the city’s creative climate at present. With his participation in the upcoming Vancouver Art/Book Fair as both an exhibitor and the curator of the exhibition Latent Aesthetic Dialogue, Nathan demonstrates his understanding of and commitment to the delights and contradictions of this city’s independent arts scene and alluring creative spirit.

PS: What are the ambitions of Print Ready? How did it come about?

Nathan Jones: Print Ready’s purpose is to provide an exhibition venue for the people making art zines and small editions of printed books in Vancouver, the lower mainland and the coast. At the time that we conceptualized Print Ready, both Michael Lachman and myself felt like there was a void for artists making art zines to present their work in this city. Several years ago I travelled to New York, Montreal and Toronto, and I saw all the great work happening in independent publishing. I felt that this medium was really underrepresented here. When I met and talked with Mike at Canzine, it really confirmed that there was a lot happening in this city that was still underrepresented in the way of self-publishing. He exposed me to a lot of artists doing really interesting work, and we suddenly realized we could put together a fairly sizeable show, using both our contacts, fairly easily.

PS: What local work should we expect to see on display at the Print Ready table at VA/BF in October?

NJ: I’m really pushing for artists to give me new stuff. I know Stephanie McDonell and Phaedra Harder will have something cool. For their last work they laser cut all the covers themselves, and used duct tape for the binding. Michael Lachman has a few slick zines kicking around. Cole James Pauls might bring us some of the books he’s been working on over the summer in the Yukon. He’s been teaching himself bookbinding. Doug Wideen is debuting his first solo zine. Kuh Del Rosario has a book that she’s been conceptualizing for a while that exploits some really interesting aspects of her sculpture. Tylor Macmillan does great work that I find really inspirational and I said I’d table whatever he’s got.

PS: You are curating an exhibition at VA/BF featuring the work of Sebastian Borckenhagen (Cape Town, South Africa) and Justin Gradin (Vancouver); how was the connection between these artists made?

NJ: Mostly just synchronicity, and out of necessity. I see something that someone else isn’t doing and I feel it needs to happen. That’s been the basis of my curatorial practice. I try to dissect meaning along the way. Both these guys have very different aesthetics, but there’s a commonality in how their practices hold a foundation in cartooning, specifically a relationship with independent or self-made comics. My father was an independent comic artist and my friend John Metzger’s father George Metzger was as well. George’s comic collection was influential on the development of my own practice and interest in print. This is still something I’m investigating. Also, Justin and Sebastian’s processes as artists are intrinsically linked to their relationships with music. I don’t think I can accurately represent this in any way, but I have another idea for an exhibition that explores this idea.

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PS: What do you find to be important in these intercontinental relationships? Have you had any transcultural issues or opportunities come to light?

NJ: Both Justin Gradin and I have shown work in Tokyo (separately), and I think both of us found that a really rewarding experience. I haven’t talked with Sebastian about this, but I’d assume he feels the same way. He and I both mentioned, in our correspondence, some ideas about collaborating, but we’re both really busy with other projects so we need to focus on what is at hand first. My friend Gabe Dearman that used to run Gaff Gallery and Galerie Rye in Montreal is now living  in Qatar. He mentioned he might like to work on some curatorial project again at some point. It’s a pipe dream, but that would be cool.

PS: What relationship exists between the gallery and studio spaces Dynamo Arts Association and Print Ready? 

NJ: Dynamo Arts Association donates its space for Print Ready events. Mike and I both have studios, and organize events there. Dynamo was founded back in the mid-nineties, but due to “Renoviction” had to relocate to its new Mount Pleasant location about two years ago. I was one of the artists to get a studio in the new space. I’m really hoping we can keep this location for a few years, because we’ve put a lot of sweat and blood into setting it up. As someone who’s been involved in the whole rebuild process, I’ve fallen into the position of being one of the coordinators for the space. The other artists at Dynamo are all really supportive of self-published print as a medium. Mike Bourscheid just published a limited-edition vinyl record with a lino-print cover. Doug Wideen has been working on a comic series with our mutual friend Justin Gradin called Isn’t that Pip. Warren McLachlan has been involved with some really nice small-run catalogues. Ben Fry and Jeff Lee both  do some really killer drawings, have self-published and have had their work published all over the place.

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PS: What does the future hold for Print Ready? Any possibility of a Print Ready zine or print collaboration?

NJ: Yes, I really want to make a Print Ready zine or catalogue. I’ve been trying to for a while, but with my own art practice and all the curatorial work and coordination I’ve been doing, it’s been hard to get there. Also, it seems like I work three or four jobs or something—I don’t even know anymore! They sort of overlap. My studio at Dynamo is more of my office, or where I go to hide and eat pizza at the moment. I’m giving up on coordinating a lot of other projects so I can spend more time painting again. We have a lot of ideas for where Print Ready could go. Michael might move back to the States at some point, so maybe it could branch apart. He could operate as a satellite curator and we could pass artists back and forth. Maybe I’ll move to Toronto and assimilate it into something else going on there. I’ve been threatening to move there for fifteen years or so, but I hear it gets cold in the winter.

PS: What words would you use to characterize Vancouver’s arts/art publishing scene? And what aspects of this environment made Print Ready plausible?

NJ: Diverse, segregated, yet maybe growing…possibly even exclusive…I’ve heard that said, and I’m not sure I disagree. The landscape of this city has a lot to do with that. I think the art made in this city is derivative of it. How can it not be, right? Vancouver has a lot of neighborhoods, and it’s easy to get stuck in your own. I’m looking forward to talking with Ryan Smith of Brick Press again. Michael Lachman and I had his work in Print Ready, but that was a while ago, and I haven’t run into him since. This city can be weird like that. Vancouver is also damn expensive and trendy. I think that supports a growing counterculture, and a certain reactionary rebellious element that has always been prevalent in zine culture.

PS: How is this unique to other cities?

NJ: Vancouver has taken a long time to embrace the diversity of zine culture. There’s so much segregation and superficial style here that maybe it’s just taken this long for the city to reach a capacity that can support it. Something has to balance out that Lululemon and Whole Foods lifestyle. Horse Records just opened up and they are carrying zines and I heard Snack City is too. It’s too bad that Spartacus Books had to close down.

PS: Are there any artists or publishers that you currently find yourself drawn to and inspired by?

NJ: I think I mentioned most of them. Luke Ramsey and Ryan Thompson [of Anteism and OuterSpace Gallery] are really great, hard-working guys too. I’ve gone to visit Ryan on the island a couple of times and I love the stuff he does. I really admire Marc Bell’s work too. He mailed me a zine and I’d really like to mail him a pig’s ear or something back. I’m not sure if Canada Post still accepts pigs’ ears though.

PS: Are there any upcoming Print Ready events you would like to plug?

NJ: Come talk to Michael and I at the Vancouver Art/Book Fair. I’ll have some postcards with event dates. Also check the fair’s website and Artists’ Books Week page… as well as this Project Space website. They seem to be really up on everything going on in this city.

Images: Print Ready show during installation, artwork by Sebastian Borckenhagen, zine interior by Justin Gradin