Interpreting Research Creatively: Making a Zine

How can research be expansive? What can research produce? I have been considering these questions this summer while working with Public Space One to investigate their newly acquired historic homes. As I was collecting and curating a selection of texts and images related to the properties (the Close house, 225 N. Gilbert, and 229 N. Gilbert), the final product of this work remained elusive. Would I write a historical report for their website? PS1 values experimentation and creativity – I wanted to incorporate their ethos into the product of my inquiries, and this idea would not make the cut.

My supervisor at PS1, Kalmia Strong, suggested I create a zine. Zines are DIY published materials that are circulated on a small scale. Though varying in complexity, the format’s most accessible versions can be made with printer paper and photocopied (you can find countless tutorials with a quick Google search!).

Fortunately, I decided to use this medium to interpret and communicate the information I gathered. Collaging together my written narratives and various images and maps, I created a twelve-page booklet. The process was straightforward: 1) Create an outline of what each page would look like (the total number of pages must be a multiple of four). 2) Stack three pieces of paper and fold “hamburger style” to create the booklet. 3) Cut out the appropriate text and images and glue them to each page. 4) Copy the front and back of each page, print, and assemble. There are many, many ways to make a zine, but I found this method to be the most appropriate for this project. 

Cut-out paper, post-notes, and a glue stick arranged on a table

While the process was not complicated from a technical perspective, I greatly appreciated its creative facets. Selecting and arranging images, quotes, and fragments of my own writing to create a narrative proved a fascinating challenge. It was much more artistic than my usual academic approaches to interpreting research – I reveled in the opportunity to do something tactile and tangible.

This experience connects to my background in ways I did not expect. While studying the collages of Dada and Devětsil artists in my past academic endeavors, I encountered the critical possibilities of the medium as a looker, not a maker. My own experiment with collage contextualizes this kind of work. When I look at a collage now, I can think of my efforts to tell a story through relationships of images and imagine how an artist might have approached their own particular composition.

My zine-making experiment, I’ve found, does not just apply to collage, but to research more generally. If I frame finding sources, reading, annotating, synthesizing, and writing as fundamentally creative, how would my scholarly work change? Would I find greater satisfaction in my art historical studies if I considered myself not as a looker, but as a maker? In the arts, research, of course, is already a creative act – the critical engagement of finding, selecting, and interpreting information is a significant part of artistic practice today. If research can be found in the work of countless artists, why can’t art be found in research?