Check Out An Art Publication You Don't Need To Be Scared Of
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In 2016, zines remain as popular as they were in the pre-digital age. They’re still a DIY, populist way of getting a message out, but with the added and distinctly luxurious bonus of being able to feel and hold an actual document. Zines, along with big independent magazines that are sort of art objects in and of themselves, remain eternally cool in the art world. It’s the area in between, however, that’s less prevalent: something a little bit more substantial than a zine and a little bit less unwieldy and expensive than a biannual publication. Which is why, in late 2012, recent college graduates Chris Nosenzo, Nicole Reber, and Christine Zhu founded Packet Bi-Weekly.
Born out of Nosenzo, Reber, and former editor Anthony Cudahy’s critique group at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, Packet is a biweekly publication (which means twice a month, not twice a week, which I had to check) featuring entirely original art works, photography, illustrations, and all different kinds of prose, from poetry to essays to nonfiction articles on politics and current events. “It allows us to stay relevant,” said Zhu. “[Unlike] the biannual issues [with] like 10,000-words articles or whatever, we can really stay on top of what’s going on with politics and art.” For instance, in addition to more highbrow current events, all of the Packet founders keep up with the Kardashians in a really delightful way; while we sat at Brooklyn bar Doris for our interview, Zhu very kindly let me try on her Kylie Jenner Lip Kit, a precious jewel that I wasn’t even quite sure existed in real life.
Issues of Packet are 30 pages long, exactly, with a clean design by Nosenzo. It’s printed and bound on a Risograph RZ390U, a machine that I had to Google–it’s a high quality printing press–and despite the fact that Packet is entirely handmade, it’s far more affordable than other art publications, at $24 for six issues. All of three of the founders are pretty passionate about keeping Packet a print publication, with a few excerpts going online (their website is beautifully designed, and Reber also pushed for a Facebook and Instagram). “With online, you don’t have to make choices about what goes up, because there’s enough room for everything, since it doesn’t have to be printed out on the page. And with print you’re forced to make decisions,” Nosenzo told me.
“We have struggled a lot in the past with trying to get people to engage with Packet as a print publication and not just on Tumblr, and I think we’ve been able to solve that with subscriptions,” said Zhu, who changed Packet’s initial design from a stapled zine to a fully bound publication. “We’ve increasingly seen our numbers grow. And it’s not just about the likes that we get or whatever. People are now getting Packet subscriptions delivered to their apartments.”
Nosenzo, Reber, and Zhu constantly work on Packet on top of their day jobs (Nosenzo is a graphic designer for weekly magazines, Reber is a working artist, and Zhu works at fashion and beauty agency The Wall Group.) “It just becomes a part of your day,” said Reber. “Like going to the gym. Except I don’t go to the gym.”
Inspired by course packets from college, in which copies of various readings and works of art are smashed together for class material and then simply bound, Packet‘s content has a ton of range, all informed by its founders’ various sensibilities (past editorial members also include Bridget Collins and Ian Lewandowski). Zhu put together a special issue on fashion, and Reber is inclined towards art and poetry. “I like when stuff is dumb and weird,” said Nosenzo. “We say ‘par-baked’ in our mission statement, and so I personally like things that are kind of off and irreverent.”
Packet accepts all types of submissions, ranging from established creatives to people who have never been published before. It all just has to somehow work for the publication. “Authenticity is something that some people have a temperature for,” said Reber. “I think you can just tell when someone’s true to their voice, and when they have a personal vision. And I think you can tell when somebody’s pandering to the trends.”
While Packet is, by its handmade nature, slightly small in circulation, it’s gaining increasingly more recognition. Nosenzo, Reber, and Zhu are set to lead an event at New York’s massive NADA Art Fair in May, and they recently lead zine-making workshops for teens along with the Bruce High Quality Foundation at MOMA. Zhu in particular loved it. “Their works dealt with race in a very poignant way,” she said. “It was interesting to see them and talk to them–all the kids there were minorities.” Most of the kids had never made a book before, and they ended up with a tangible, printed zine.
The latest issue launches today, on 4/20. Appropriately (and hilariously!) titled Packet Hi-Weekly, it was supervised and designed by the founders, yet organized by artists and writers Allie Wuest and Vanessa Castro. “It’s a tongue-in-cheek thing,” said Castro. “We would be lying if we didn’t say that the concept was initially about weed, but we didn’t want to make it just a stoner zine.” Instead, the issue plays around with the word “high.”
“We used the word ‘high’ as this umbrella term for getting high, highbrow versus lowbrow, high-end versus low-end,” said Wuest. It’s simultaneously funny–the idea came from a Google Doc shared between Castro and Wuest that they filled with pictures of Rihanna smoking weed–and deep, with essays that delve into addiction and stories of marijuana-laced love lives.
Castro and Wuest contribute to Packet because it’s simultaneously beautiful and accessible, like the Jennifer Lawrence of the publishing world. “Packet is really inclusive and not elitist,” said Castro. Wuest continued, “It’s about getting people’s work out there, rather than making a precious art object.”
“The takeaway from Packet is that you don’t have to be afraid to experiment in publishing,” said Reber. It’s a highly democratic deal.
Order Packet Bi-Weekly here.
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Stay tuned to Milk, but this is the last of our 4/20 coverage for the day.