A Printed Space for Creative Work Produced During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Quaranzine, issue #71, is dedicated to George Floyd, a Black man murdered at the hands of police in Minneapolis. On the front of the Riso-printed zine, Marc Fischer—the artist who administers this Public Collectors project, which began under quarantine in March 2020—writes: “On the other side of this sheet of paper, you can see extensive documentation of all the times in American history that white police officers have taken to the streets in protest, because one of their fellow officers murdered a Black person.” Flip the paper over, and one sees a stark, blank page.
This heart-rending issue follows seventy printings of Quaranzine, a daily one-page zine that Public Collectors has published on a Risograph printer in Marc Fischer’s basement here in Chicago during the worldwide pandemic. It’s a substantial labor of love and commitment to community. It is marked by a persistent desire to connect people and to provide a space for art and writing.
In addition to administering Public Collectors, Fischer is known for his collaborative work with the group Temporary Services and its publishing imprint Half Letter Press. Quaranzine pulls together all of his skills in writing, interviewing, printing, publishing, archiving, and distribution. His generosity drives the project, and it has indeed opened up a space for work by international and local artists, as well as kids and students. Fischer’s process entails a quick turn-around, which keeps the content fresh, of the moment. There’s an open invitation to collaborate, and from the description on Facebook, where every issue appears every day, anyone can submit an idea, a bit of writing, an image, and Fischer works with them to nail down the content and design. In an email, Fischer expressed his thoughts on the project:
The collaborations have been the most moving and meaningful part of this for me…Each collaboration has been a way of spending a little time with another person, making creative choices and editing together. At the end of the day we get to celebrate having created something that other people get to see. Getting to do that nearly every day for over 70 days so far has been beautiful and I think that spirit comes through in the work.
Public Collectors also posts issues around Fischer’s neighborhood, on electrical poles, recycling bins, and derelict furniture in the alleyways. The run of the project to date is archived on Tumblr, and Quaranzine 12-packs are available for purchase through Half Letter Press’s website.
Reading Quaranzine has been part of my daily routine under quarantine. The project marks time, its passing and its relentlessness. Every day another issue connects me to collective and individual experiences and responses to the pandemic, or provides a momentary respite from the harrowing toll the disease has had—the US just surpassed 100,000 deaths. Quaranzine, too, like the dead, piles up. It’s not the daily news, but something altogether poetic and moving. It reminds me of William Carlos Williams’s poem “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower,” written in a moment of personal and national crisis: “It is difficult/ to get the news from poems/ yet men die miserably every day/ for lack/of what is found there.” Quaranzine, produced daily alongside the news of the mounting deaths from COVID-19, provides news of different sort that we would be miserable without, a much-needed space during the pandemic for creative work, and for life. Fischer mused recently that Public Collectors plans to stop the project at 100 issues, but the initial plan didn’t count on the actual number that would end up being printed. It’s turned into a durational work, and seems to have taken on a life of its own. Artists, curators, and art institutions everywhere have been grappling with what to do in this protracted moment when exhibitions are postponed or canceled, galleries and museums closed. Quaranzine fits in with other extended projects like Hans-Ulrich Obrist’s resurrection of his “Do It” (now “Do It [Home]”) series, Zoë Ryan’s daily “Chicago Selects” where designers and artists write about an artifact from the Art Institute of Chicago’s collection, the New Museum’s “Bed Time Stories” initiated by Maurizio Cattelan, or Kelli Connell’s poignant daily photographs of Lake Michigan documenting the moody expanse of that horizon.
Like these projects launched during the pandemic, Public Collectors’ Quaranzine graphs the concerns, the anxieties, the desire for a daily routine under quarantine, during this time we’ve been staying at home or working in dangerous essential jobs. One thing that is different about Quaranzine is the level of collaboration in the making of each issue. And the range of work is stunning: There are interviews, poetry, drawings, lino-cuts, musings about death and disease, shopping for groceries, home schooling, excerpts from Camus’s novel The Plague (1947), instructions for making a cat castle, maps of evening strolls. Issue #68 features the surreal drawings of Persian artist Ava Makenali, one of Fischer’s graduate students stuck here in Chicago. In issue #61, Liz Mason, the manager of Quimby’s Bookstore, an important destination in Chicago for anyone interested in zines, compiles diverting notes customers have included in their quarantine zine orders. For issue #12, Baltimore-based artist, writer, and musician Terence Hannum contributes dark images of deadly plants printed on arsenic-green paper. And the day after issue #71, dedicated to George Floyd, issue #72 carries on, featuring Los Angeles artist Ken Ehrlich’s thoughts about his local neighborhood and all the people whose deaths might not be “mourned in a grand way.”
Quaranzine documents a collective experience of the novel coronavirus. It models in its mode of production a politics of care and connection. Fischer notes,
It feels important to me to figure out how to come together and hold each other up right now. Using printing to amplify other people’s voices and art has felt especially urgent. Not everyone has spent their entire creative life trying to cultivate community in the arts the way that I have with Public Collectors, and for even longer as part of the group Temporary Services. Now is a time to see what these communities can do together and in smaller collaborations.1
In its urgent and sometimes solemn responses to the experience of social distancing, to the shutdown of Chicago and other cities, Quaranzine does the daily work of keeping us all connected and carrying on.
- Quoted from email correspondence with the author.