Doing It Yourself... with Darin Klein & Friends!

You could say that I've completely abandoned the idea of DIY in the most literal sense of the term. There was a time in my early practice as a studio artist and small press publisher that I held dear to the constricts of actually doing everything by myself. I cut ties with my family after high school, published twenty-three handmade artist books, chapbooks, minicomix and 'zines of my own texts and images, framed all my own drawings and collages, and rejected academia in favor of autodidactism. However, as the small universe of my young life expanded, I began to examine what it meant to borrow a typewriter or computer or camera, to get discounts or freebies on art supplies or photocopies, and even to be inspired or encouraged or critiqued by others. Over time, I recognized that it took a constellation of parts to put any one of my projects together. My friend Jim became a fierce co-conspirator and taught me a lot about collaboration in my early twenties. We wanted nothing more than to hold a telescope up to the dots of light in the night sky of our creative processes and community for any interested party to peer through and see. So we mounted an exhibition of our artwork in an apartment that we were renovating, we made collaborative 'zines and artist books, and we built and ran our very own gallery. I gradually transitioned from visual artist to curator and arts programmer. The shift was organic and I never questioned that the ability to pull people together in an artistic endeavor for their talents, abilities and enthusiasm was, in itself, an artistic practice. Today, Darin Klein & Friends is equal parts variety show, roaming exhibition program, analog social network, springboard, think tank, community outreach project, and publishing concern. I added the "& Friends" part to my name because that is precisely who I like Doing It Yourself with. I hope that it is perceived by others as both earnest and a bit goofy in it's sincerity. Nothing I've done could have worked without a galaxy of collaborative musicians, writers, publishers, filmmakers, renegades, dancers, visual artists, organizers, gardeners, retailers, performers, DJs, choreographers, designers, gallerists, intellectuals, projectionists, intuitives, herbalists, chefs and more. All of us, doing the thing that we do, making up the mercurial definition of Doing It Yourself, together.

   - Darin Klein, Summer 2014

Read this piece and an accompanying interview in DIYinLAX. By Iris Porter. Los Angeles, 2014

Notes on a Life in Queer Zines

I have a huge appetite for discovery. I often type the words dyke, fag, faggot, gay, homo, lesbian, lez, queer, trans and transgender into my search engine alongside the word zine. These keywords lead me to terminologies, names, dates, historical facts, and publishers that help guide me on my path. Certain online distros and shops are fertile hunting grounds. At a median price that even I can afford, queer zines are generally a safe bet sight unseen. I visit my local brick and mortar retailers where I can experience zine shopping in real life, and seek out places where I might get lucky when travelling.

I acquire by the handful whenever and wherever I can. Whoever said don’t judge a book by its cover wasn’t taking into account that zinemakers concern themselves primarily with wearing their hearts on their sleeves. Since they maintain complete control over every aspect of their work, not relinquishing design duties to others, self-publishers can dive headfirst into the matter of self-representation. In the limited space that they have to do so, why would they squander the valuable realty? When shopping, I act on impulse.

My relentless search for zines--perfect-bound or loose-leaf love notes, commercially printed or photocopied smoke signals, stapled or sewn declarations of independence, laser- or inkjet-printed missives, handwritten or silk-screened messages in bottles--runs parallel to my search for clues to who I am and how I fit in the world. Who do I admire, respect, or find attractive? Who makes me laugh and cry, who repulses, angers or sexually excites me? Similarly, who might I effect in these ways when I create zines and put them into the world? I have formed bonds and initiated real dialogue with others whose practices, interests, ideals and goals are similar to mine.

I participate in festivals, fairs, workshops and release events featuring zines whenever possible. When the pickings are slim, I organize something myself. The trading, donating, buying and selling of zines is practiced liberally. The texts, images, paper stocks and binding techniques that I seek out, borrow, covet, emulate, circulate or challenge not only affect the very trajectory of queer zines, but tell a piece of the story of my life.

The question of what makes a zine queer should be left open, as should the question of what makes a zine a zine. It might be correct to consider the term queer zine to be redundant because to take matters into your own hands and produce a publication of any sort at all is to queer the very nature of mainstream publishing. Then again, I sometimes take the stance that in order to earn the descriptor queer zine, a publication must have a politically/sexually aggressive agenda. Admittedly, my own criteria remains mercurial.

Over the course of many years, I have amassed a collection comprising thousands of artists’ books, chapbooks, comics, mini comics, newspapers, zines and various types of pamphlets produced by me, by members of my community, and by myriad strangers. Some items in my collection reveal their queer nature at a glance. In other instances, queerness may be inherent but not expressed explicitly. The dominant signifier of the queer zine, whether roughly hewn or super slick, is the energy and raw passion with which it is conceived, executed and distributed. Lines between genres and types of publications can be delightfully blurred. I just let them all live harmoniously on my bookshelves. I pull them out often to re-read and to share with others.

 - Darin Klein, August, 2013

Read the companion to this piece, "Directives for a Life in Queer Zines," in Queer Zines, Vol. 2. By Philip Aarons and AA Bronson. New York, Rotterdam: Printed Matter Inc., Witte de With, 2014

Tilt-Shift LA: New Queer Perspectives on the Western Edge

The San Andreas Fault shifts and the Santa Ana winds blow hot. Infrequent rains erode parched soil and houses sink or slide down hillsides. Arson fires repeatedly devour thousands of acres of public and private land, leveling homes, parks, barns and businesses. Neighborhoods divide themselves into money and class, valley and hill, barren lot and lush yard while art and culture flourish alongside the entertainment industry. West Hollywood, arguably one of the nation’s most notable gay villages, was incorporated as a city of Los Angeles County in the mid-1980s. Yet, well into the first decade of this century, the passing of Proposition 8 prompted not much more than a few nights of protest on the main thoroughfare of Santa Monica Boulevard.

Who are we that persist in this divergent space designed as an oasis in the desert? As queer artists, we navigate a city that may have been built on illusion but is being held together by individualized histories. Our bodies and our intellects seek harmony with or rebel against the disparate confluences of our surroundings while gleaning information and inspiration. Our art proposes pragmatic solutions to, fantastic alternatives for, or straightforward documentation of the world as we experience it at the western edge of western civilization.

Testing the strength of the theory that westward movement in America originally signified a distancing from repressive European values, our twentieth century predecessors fought for equality and acceptance. They made space for us in cafés, nightclubs and parades on city streets. We began living our lives openly and creating work tied inextricably to our desires as they relate to our location and generation. Soon we were featured in magazines and on the silver screen. We searched glossy pages and flickering images at copious magazine stands and packed movie houses, hoping to find reflections of the way we see ourselves. Instead we found that invisible boundaries still divide us from the world, and sometimes even from each other.

Because the ground we stand on is unstable – literally and metaphorically – the fortification of our psychological landscape is of utmost importance. There is no singular viewpoint on important issues that are certain to affect entire communities where nature and man threaten to wipe out the bedrock of our collective and varied efforts and hopes. Piece by piece we work to ensure that each of our voices is heard, confident that our contributions must strengthen the foundation of a future historical dialogue as it will pertain to queer artists living and working in Los Angeles right now.

“Tilt-shift" refers to the use of camera movements typically employed in creating a simulated environment or miniature scene. The term in this context is well suited to Los Angeles-based queer artists who do not shy away from exploring and exploiting the visibility of a specific timeframe and geographic location, skewing and adjusting concepts of queerness to illuminate individual ideals.

                 - Darin Klein, 2012

Darin Klein & Friends Present:
Tilt-Shift LA: New Queer Perspectives on the Western Edge
A Pacific Standard Time Exhibition
On view at Luis De Jesus Los Angeles from January 28 through February 25, 2012


The only way that I can see
Is to hold you close to me
To love you for it's meant to be
I weaken your attack
                        -Bonny "Prince" Billy

Dear Louis,

As it turns out, the "nothing" in the title of your 'zine Move Along People Nothing to Feel Here is not "nothing" at all. In fact, it's quite something. Its blackness spreads, accumulates, and literally embraces. There's so much of it that it becomes a weighted mass, even if it doesn't always take recognizable shape. In the first issue of the photocopied and stapled black and white production, you articulated it alongside tiny scrawled aphorisms so bleak as to call into question the intention of irony or sarcasm. Inversions of common sense and positive thinking form the basis for your caption-like texts accompanying rough yet final ink drawings of the human figure, urban landscapes and occasional formalist gestures. There's plenty "nothing" to feel.

Throughout subsequent issues, shadows play a major role in getting your point across. These shadows are sometimes lovers, sometimes other selves, and often threatening (you made one reach out of a television screen, arms extended toward a person in front of it – who is that person?). By the fourth issue, your shadows have morphed into sometimes random blots interspersed with stabs at narrative structure: each drawing is a window looking into the domestic situations of people subsisting on the edge of total void space. Drawing each page must have been like making a window washer's descent down the façade of a tenement building for the damned. You saw reptiles coiled in corners, emerging from doorways, or sliding like bile from a man's mouth. The backdrop is banality, sprinkled with a minimum of furnishings and personal effects, occasionally obscured by closed or half-opened miniblinds.

Often in Move Along People Nothing to Feel Here, your washes of black ink replace or obscure heads or torsos. Still, you don't paint out sad genitals and breasts; they're left dangling. By the time of the sixth and final issue, your human figure has become negative space or even a mere outline on a field of dark. Lines and forms are shakier, flatter and more blunt than ever (interim issues display experiments in cross-hatching, ruled lines and even perspective). Between the time of the 'zine's inception and its final issue – you worked on it fairly steadily for 2 years – only subtle differences in subject matter are apparent. Is this indicative of your dedication to an anti-ideal, your acknowledgement of bleakness as a reality to many? You call the whole project a "critique" in the afterword to the second issue. But couldn't it also be seen as a relationship? A really heavy one between you and darkness, and nothingness, and shadows? And now that you've finished with the 'zine, now what?

Your friend, DK


Visit Louis M Schmidt:


         I get a kick out of the concept of permanence. A small tattoo – an arrow pointing up and an arrow pointing down, with an almost unnoticeable break between them – has faded from black to deep blue. It’s centered on my forehead, just above my eyes. People often ask if it’s permanent, and I say it’ll be here as long as I am. That answer bothers people, possibly because they want to think of life as everlasting, or maybe it’s because I just brought up death at a party or at work or on the bus.
          In Untitled (Sunkist machine beings 1), a photograph from 2008 by Gretchen Mercedes, rubber fishermen’s galoshes are lined up on the floor against the wall in the glow of a soda machine. The absence of the human form in any of the boots combined with a beckoning light source speaks of souls ascending to heaven. It’s a funny way to portray death, and a beautiful statement about impermanence.
          Untitled (Skins Mex Oceanic), also from 2008, communicates the idea of a husk of the human body more blatantly. In it, wetsuits hang from hooks on a fishing boat. The stillness of the image is at odds with the constant motion of rolling waters upon which the viewer must assume the vessel sits. Again, a light source illuminates the absence of the body, this time from above, echoing the symbolism of a ladder just visible behind the “skins.” Sure, it’s creepy, but I also think of cartoons where silly characters die and go to heaven, only to continue on in the next scene as though nothing happened, not even a hatch-marked trace of the fatal injury. These wetsuits will be donned again by human beings sometime before sunrise, their purpose and protective nature made manifest once again. They will be shed and hung to dry at workday’s end.
          It’s possible that humor is my own defense mechanism against melancholy. When I first visited the artist’s studio, I was overcome with a sense of loneliness that I sought to temper with irony. There was none to be found. She showed me large prints with poetic yet pragmatic titles: To smell you coming; Calm before the storm; Disappearing islands. There was water, horizon lines, and skies. Apart from the titles of the photographs, interspersed with clues in the form of geographic coordinates, there was no indicator for a landlubber such as myself as to where in this wide world they might have been made. I thought it was brave to travel to far off places photographing waves and water, and as she spoke of the work, “personalities” did seem to develop in each piece. Atmosphere and light particular to certain latitudes and longitudes emerged from the seeming anonymity of seascapes. Layers of historical and cultural references, all that the sea offers and all that it takes away, ebbed just below the surface (if you’ll pardon my pun).
         The images in the studio that allowed me to feel safe amongst the depictions of the open seas and de-peopled work-gear had a formal geometric quality to them, with hints of alternate worlds and layered planes glimpsed through windows and a door, just beyond the perceived surface of things. Odd angles and lines evoking cubism and even abstraction were revealed to be a trailer, or caravan, which Gretchen informed me serves as her sometime home perched on a cliff near the sea. These photographs bridge two worlds: one of motion and exploration, one of rest and stability. As it turns out, the tension between the two is an important aspect of her work. Living in flux, she inhabits both, and neither, simultaneously. After all, it’s hard for me to associate permanence with a “home” on wheels.
          In an interview with ABC South Australia, she references this trailer in the context of Blue, a short film she made in 2003. Describing the actions of the films solitary character Blue Girl, and the plot of the film itself, she says, “At the end of the evening she returns to her weathered caravan nestled amongst the sand dunes and falls asleep. There she finds herself having the same recurring dream once again.” 1. Blue doesn’t know whether death is a dream or reality. And maybe here, death is another way of saying home. When viewing the film on a subsequent studio visit, I was struck by the visuals of a particular scene where Blue Girl walks waist-deep in ocean waters. It reiterates wonderfully the idea of two metaphoric worlds – one above and one below the surface of the water. Simply put, life and death.
          Charcoal, graphite and printmaking artist Vija Celmins said of her own ocean drawings, executed from photographs she took standing on a pier in Venice, CA in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, “The image gets controlled, compressed and transformed.” 2. Whereas Celmins sought to control waves by focusing the viewers’ attentions toward their form along with her relationship to her chosen medium and her meticulous act of rendering (in one case even going as far as literally “crossing out” their aesthetics with a visible x across the surface of the image), Mercedes seems to be at peace with simply capturing a moment in the ever changing flow of the water and then letting it go - as she literally sails off to a new location.
          Gretchen’s travels thrill and excite me, but cause uneasiness as well. I want to know where she’ll end up or settle down. But I entertain ideas of freedom and movement in my own existence, and these can be embodied in short trips I make to other cities or countries and in an ongoing cycle of fresh and faded tattoos. When she arrives at the next site of investigation – say, a taxidermy studio, or a rodeo – there’s permanence, laughing at us for trying to pin it down, and Gretchen, already acquiescing to notions of the state of permanence akin to my own.

- Darin Klein, 2009

1. Emma Pedler. “Blue - dreaming, drowning and déjà vu.” ABC South Australia. Thursday, 11 December 2003.

2. Jonas Storsve. “Going from one place to another.” Vija Celmins Dessins/Drawings. Editions du Centre Pompidou. Paris, 2006.