Alt press makes own headlines in exhibition

Paul Mayne//Western NewsArts and Visual Culture PhD student Ruth Skinner has curated Anti-profit: Independent Publishing in London, the latest exhibition at the McIntosh Gallery, running through Oct. 26. The exhibit explores the histories of independent arts and literary publishing in London.

Unless deeply involved in the London arts scene, the rich and vibrant history of Forest City independent publishing may be lost to you. One Western PhD student, however, hopes to change that with her latest curated show at the McIntosh Gallery.

Anti-profit: Independent Publishing in London, which runs through Oct. 26, explores the history of independent arts and literary publishing by considering how these small presses wrangled with perpetual uncertainty.

In the summer of 1969, the editors of 20 Cents Magazine, an independent art publication in London, used the term “anti-profit” to describe both their endeavour and the perpetual challenge of their work. That phrase became a familiar adjective within artist-run culture.

“Anti-profit is a trick word,” said Arts and Visual Culture PhD student Ruth Skinner, who also runs the independent art imprint Edna Press. “On its surface, it seems like, ‘Why would I continue to do something I’m not going to make money from?’ But there were other benefits from doing it.

“Being an independent publisher, or an artist who is publishing, was a way to get your work out there. There is profit from that. It’s low profit, but it speaks to the other kinds of benefits you get – the passion of doing it, the networking, the collaborative aspect.”

Through their publications, independent London publishers often discussed the challenges of their work – low funds, low enthusiasm, little time, differing opinions. But they also professed the importance of creating print spaces for Londoners to showcase their work.

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“They provided platforms for Londoners to connect with each other,” she said, noting such publications as Alphabet, Region, 20 Cents Magazine, Applegarth Follies, What Wave and Mind Theatre. “London’s independent publications created and affirmed communities – whether arts, literary, punk, feminist, queer or some combination of all of these. They were worthwhile – and then some.”

Many publications have roots in the London punk scene of the 1980s, when to being a punk in a conservative Ontario town gave you a social network before the Internet.

“You are building communities of like-minded people who can talk about the same things you’re worried about, interested in, what you love and what you hate, and politically, or even psychologically. That’s important to be able to make those contacts,” Skinner said.

The exhibition complements the international selection of similar material featured in Publishing Against the Grain, also on at the McIntosh Gallery through Oct. 26, that examines the current state of publishing and art criticism in small journals, experimental publications, websites and radio, as well as other forms.

“It’s definitely under-recognized, which is kind of the history of London artists anyway,” Skinner said. “I want to show this history of London publishing because a lot of people, general audiences, don’t really realize there is so much to independent publishing in the city. It’s still ongoing. I know a lot of people, myself included, still working in different areas from where this legacy began.”

While print continues to exist in independent publishing today, digital spaces allow more to publish in different ways. But no matter the format, the conversation is the same, Skinner said.

“There is a legacy and history with some overlap. But there is also some contemporary output that is still using publications to talk about gender, sexuality, mental health, safe injection sites,” she said. “Publishing is a space to put out whatever it is you want to do. This isn’t an historic read. There are some publications produced just for this show – so they are fresh off the press.”

The McIntosh Gallery Curatorial Study Centre acquired an array of new, independent publications produced by contemporary London artists, authors and publishers to add to the current exhibition and its archives.

Skinner hopes the exhibition creates questions, and considerations, as to the importance of independent publishing in London.

“Why would people put in the time to do something seemingly, on the surface, not financially lucrative? What were the benefits? How did it happen?,” she said. “But we get a lot of benefits. We get to work with artists and form some sort of cultural capital. You are building a network.”