TOM SACHS ON ZINES
Tom Sachs has a conversation about how zines keep him connected with his community.
“It's called Guardsmen, and I felt that the painting was beautiful, but I thought it was a little too much like one of those smart art. Art things where the art was about too much of an idea rather than the making or. So I made a zine about all the ideas about why I made it, and that was kind of a breakthrough zine for me.”
“And it was sort of my way of like doing social commentary, political cartoons, or whatever. It was called duct tape man, and it was my alter-ego.”
“It's a Jamaican word dollarcut is an unauthorized or illegal final pressing that's maybe not one dollar or maybe in Jamaica it is one dollar?”
“We sew everything here on the sewing machine, this one's kinda cool. We duct tape it and then sew through it.”
“I would say, if any of you are out there making zines, just be afraid and do it anyway.”
00:00:04 Tom Sachs: My name is Tom Sachs, and I’m here with Antoine Lefebvre and we are talking about zines today.
00:00:15 Antoine Lefebvre: Yes, so we’re here in your studio at 245 Centre street and why do you make zines?
00:00:26 Tom Sachs: I make zines for Phil Aarons, and I mean that kind of seriously because zines are made for community, and over the years, I’ve made many, many zines, and there’ve been times when I’ve sorta been on the fence. Am I going to make a zine or not about this project? All of my zines are about projects. I make them about every art show, every art project. Sometimes an individual painting will have a zine about it. It’s just a way of deepening the experience for me and sharing information, and zines are meant to be given and traded. It’s not really about commerce. We sell the zines on the website because it’s our way of giving them away to people we don’t know. Can’t give things away for free to people you don’t know; it doesn’t really work. But although we have done self-addressed, stamped envelopes, that’s a way of giving them away saying it’s free, but then people have to invest a stamp and write their name. And that’s also, that’s a legitimate distribution method, which I like a lot. But I say Phil because, Phil’s so enthusiastic, and I’ve always thought to myself more than one, even if no one cares about this, at least Phil will care.
00:02:01 Antoine Lefebvre: Yeah, you know, one very passionate individual that will always be enthusiastic about.
00:02:08 Tom Sachs: Yeah. And sometimes that’s all it takes, and of course, there are many others too. But that kind of, that kind of enthusiasm means a lot, and it’s also a way of me enhancing my own enthusiasm for a given art project. I once made a painting called ‘Guardsmen,’ ‘Guardian?’. Guardsmen, it’s called Guardsmen, and I felt that the painting was beautiful, but I thought it was a little too much like one of those smart art. Art things where the art was about too much of an idea rather than the making or. So I made a zine about all the ideas about why I made it, and that was kind of a breakthrough zine for me.
00:02:53 Antoine Lefebvre: And when, when did you start making zines?
00:02:56 Tom Sachs: Well, I think I started sort of in my mature career as making started making zines in 1998, I made a zine for a show. A gallery show.
00:03:11 Antoine Lefebvre: Does that mean you zines before that?
00:03:14 Tom Sachs: I did but probably a decade before in high school, I had made zines, but they weren’t even zines that were. I guess they were zines, but it was like a before I started making sculpture, I did drawings. And I had a, it was of a comic book called duct tape man. And I made a few series, episodes of duct tape man. They might have just even been folded in half, but it was worked, it was a self-published thing, I used my Dad’s photocopier in his office, and I’d go after work, and I’d enlarge and reduce and manipulate my drawings using the photocopier as a tool and then reproduce them and pin them up or give them away at school. And it was sort of my way of like doing social commentary, political cartoons, or whatever. It was called duct tape man, and it was my alter-ego. So I made a few issues of that in high school and then didn’t, and then I think that was influenced a little bit by punk and hardcore zines that I’d seen. I’d been exposed and involved in that community in Connecticut, there was a club that was called The Anthrax, where all the bands would play on their way from Boston to New York. I saw other shows in New Haven and Providence, and North Hampton Mass, and New York City. But The Anthrax was pretty close to where I lived so it was easy to get to and zines were traded in that community. I think that’s where I was exposed to sort of do-it-yourself art experience.
00:04:59 Antoine Lefebvre: And that was reminded you somehow when you started making exhibitions, then for your. In 98? You made a first art zines?
00:05:10 Tom Sachs: Yeah, I think I first started in 98 because I did an exhibition, and it was clear that I wasn’t that there wasn’t going to be a publication for the event, and I was very proud of this exhibition. So I just made my own, and I remember getting into a huge fight with the gallery owner who didn’t want to do a publication so I made seventy-two copies and I didn’t even give her one. Because I was so frustrated with her unwillingness to participate and it was a great zine. I think I. Since then I’ve done a zine for every exhibition or a proper catalog, but usually, it’s more of a home-made one.
00:05:56 Antoine Lefebvre: And why, why would you make zines rather than the proper catalog as you say?
00:06:02 Tom Sachs: I think speed. My main goal in life is making sculptures and making a proper catalog takes a tremendous amount of energy and money and time. It’s kind of heartbreaking and it feels thankless, whereas a zine has kind of casual feel and it can happen very quickly and be very cheap. I mean you could, you don’t have to spend a lot of money you can. It can be free, you can steal access to a photocopier, you can steal the paper. There are plenty of offices that it’s. To me it’s always been an important part of it is that freedom zines, don’t cost anything and even if they do cost, it’s not a lot compared to a catalog. And always have those resources, but that shouldn’t stop you, and also some of the zines I’ve made are better than the most expensive books that I’ve made. In fact, the most expensive book that I made, I didn’t even make it, someone made about me is embarrassing and it’s terrible, I disavow it. But it’s the biggest most comprehensive book about me, but it lacks soul and I had very little to do with it versus some scrappy little zine that I made about one painting means everything.
00:07:22 Antoine Lefebvre: And is it a control issue? Zines rather than a catalog? Because if you make the zine you can control every aspect and make it your own? Where as in a catalog you have to delegate some parts to the editor to the designer or this kind of thing?
00:07:40 Tom Sachs: You know I never thought about that but absolutely. Of course. And I think when you have a big project, it’s impossible to do it all yourself. And that’s how you are able to achieve more. But there is a control issue, one hundred percent. Although I’m really impressed with the way you are able to achieve this incredible blackness, this saturation, did you just get lucky on that? or?
00:08:07 Antoine Lefebvre: I guess so? Because I
00:08:09 Tom Sachs: That’s unusual. I mean this is the kind of thing, you know. It’s very, very good. This is a photocopy?
00:08:17 Antoine Lefebvre: Yeah. Yeah.
00:08:18 Tom Sachs: I’d say you got lucky. I would have never expected that level of saturation. Look at that, it’s like that new nano black stuff.
00:08:28 Antoine Lefebvre: And so do you produce them in-house?
00:08:32 Tom Sachs: We have a couple of different ways. Yeah we do produce them in-house but have this place called Soho reprographics and
00:08:38 Antoine Lefebvre: But they don’t have that kind of black?
00:08:40 Tom Sachs: I don’t think, I don’t think so. Or this place Best Type. And Best Type is just below Canal street, Tribeca, and we use them more. But also times have changed are you bringing these out so I can present because we don’t do black and white photocopy, we don’t do black and white anymore because we don’t need to. We do sort of dollar cut versions for example I can give you a dollar cut because when I take this to Best Type copying say this one cost maybe seven dollars in color or something like that? Per copy to produce? The black and white one is five.
00:09:16 Antoine Lefebvre: Really? Wow.
00:09:18 Tom Sachs: Which isn’t that much less, so we do color because color is better. But then something like this motor trip I think works just as well in black and white because it’s really about data. I think in a way it’s better in black and white but since you’re such a maven and honored guest we give you the good ones.
00:09:46 Tom Sachs: But then this is kind of interesting and also by the way these are all sewn here on a sewing machine, bye Maria. Thank you. We sew everything here on the sewing machine, this one’s kinda cool. We duct tape it and then sew through it. And that’s, that’s special.
00:10:05 Antoine Lefebvre: And dollar cuts series, so those are the half-letter ones in black and white? Right?
00:10:13 Tom Sachs: Yeah so it’s just a dollar cut just means that it’s like a cheap copy. It’s a Jamaican word dollarcut is an unauthorized or illegal final pressing that’s maybe not one dollar or maybe in Jamaica it is one dollar? But it’s not twenty dollars or seven dollars. It’s less.
00:10:30 Antoine Lefebvre: And this series that you made, you reprint, you reprint them? When its?
00:10:37 Tom Sachs: Yeah when we run low, it’s kind of unlimited, I don’t have a. It’s a. We probably do some other dollarcuts of like for example, Chris Burdens b-car. I love that zine but it’s five hundred dollars, so maybe we do a dollarcut of that. Because it’s the information inside that’s meant to be shared.
00:11:03 Antoine Lefebvre: Yeah Pat McCarthy just told me in the other interview that people also can see ArtZines that you were telling one who taught him about Chris Burden and Brâncuși and how important are those artists for you?
00:11:23 Tom Sachs: Well, there important. I love Brâncuși and Burden but there not as important as James Brown or Fela Kuti because these are the artists that really move my spirit. You know when I think about someone like Brâncuși I can’t, as much as I love his sculpture I can’t help but also admire the cult of his personality and the public image that he created and I can’t sort of ignore that. Especially as I represent myself in the digital world with do-it-yourself advertising culture. The power of the internet is, it’s you know, it’s endless. And I’ve been able to communicate with millions of people just through, just through my art in a way that a generation ago wouldn’t have been able to.
00:12:16 Antoine Lefebvre: Through the videos? For example?
00:12:18 Tom Sachs: Yeah, I think that the films, the movies that we make are ways of communicating and they work very much like a zine. I think especially YouTube video has made zines obsolete. I think there coming back as a kind of backlash against that, but a dozen years ago when the Internet started, like zines dropped off because everyone had their own website and a website is a better way of getting this done. But I think the rise of zine culture has come because people are kind of fed up with that and lack personality and it’s. Here we are these people that handmake stuff and a website, although is handmade doesn’t have any indication that it’s handmade. In fact the better it is, the less it seems handmade and there’s something very beautiful about the exchange you just had with Maddy where you traded two depressing zines back and forth. It was very sweet and that kind of connection is human and that will never go away. And yeah, the Internet is also great because it helps get our zines out there in the world and we have a huge global community. Or a very small community that’s all around the world and that’s also why we do the dollarcuts so that people from all over can just have access to it. We always make sure always that the things look good in black and white reproduction. So your not, you get the gist of it. I don’t like zines that are ugly and messy and not well produced.
00:14:00 Antoine Lefebvre: Yeah. Yeah. Even if they are handwritten they always are very neatly.
00:14:06 Tom Sachs: Legible.
00:14:07 Antoine Lefebvre: Yeah. That’s sort of a very big problem sometime. People want to write by hand but their handwritting is terrible to read.
00:14:18 Tom Sachs: Pat McCarthy’s one of those people. Wished his handwritting was better cause he is such a great writer.
00:14:23 Antoine Lefebvre: Yeah. Yeah, I was trying to read one and just when I was coming here and sometimes pretty hard. Yeah I’d like to go back to the videos, because they have this thing that’s one reason really made me want to do my own videos because they are so very well produced, but yet they look so, but they look no everyone could make a video like that. You know what I mean? Is that something that was important to you?
00:14:56 Tom Sachs: Yeah. I think it’s true, anyone can do it, I mean I would discourage them because it’s torture. But also it’s very important to me that I don’t waste your time as a viewer. I have a very short attention span and when somethings badly made I don’t pay attention so I make a huge effort to make it, the edits happen on my time and not your time and to make sure that every sentence is, omit unesscary words and that the videos are as short as they can possibly be. But no shorter than they need to be.
00:15:36 Antoine Lefebvre: And how are they made, did you have an inspiration for them?
00:15:40 Tom Sachs: Well I think the first one started as videos like Ten Bullets or even before that Nutsy’s World where part. Where I wanted to demonstrate the aspects of the sculpture that existed in time, an interactive feature or whatever. And then with Ten Bullets it was more of an expression of, I was sick of telling the same old stories over and over again. And started to feel senile, so I decided to put a little energy and make a movie so that anyone meeting me would or coming to the studio would be a pre-requisite that you watched the movie. I know that you’ve seen ten bullets, obviously.
00:16:19 Antoine Lefebvre: Yeah. Yeah. I know everything about the place before I came, I was like mm-hmm I know this thing. I know this thing.
00:16:25 Tom Sachs: But it also makes for a better visit for you because you have the pre-requisite. I mean although, although it maybe seem a little fetishistic or a paraody or a joke or whatever, at least you’ve kind of broken down the initial shock of coming into a new space and then you can go and see deeper and see how things have changed and how things are much worse than they were five years ago or better or whatever. And we can go farther in that time because we’ve already gone through the first level. And I get a little sick of the superficiality and I’d prefer to connect on the next tier.
00:16:57 Antoine Lefebvre: Yeah and is it as fetishistic as in the videos.
00:17:04 Tom Sachs: I wish. I wish. There’s fighting entropy is endless and we fight it until we die. Until it takes over and we have a lot of work to do. I have a very high standard of zines and of the sculptures so it does take a lot of work to even produce one of these. So I don’t know I think it sort of depends who you ask, I would encourage you to ask around. I do not have the best perspective on this. But we have a lot of work to do and we get a lot of work done.
00:17:44 Antoine Lefebvre: And yeah, the most important thing for me in your work, the thing you can see everywhere is that bricolage aspect and can you tell us why you do things this way? And isn’t a bit paradoxical to do a things that precise? But to keep this bricolage aspect?
00:18:13 Tom Sachs: Yeah. Well no matter how hard I try I could never make an iPhone and Apple could never make anything as shitty as what I do. So I think that by. My. I build things as well as I can up until the point where the evidence of the craft is removed. You know, if you sand and sand and sand it becomes perfectly smooth there is no evidence that human being was ever there. But if you make a pencil mark and cut next to it and you leave the mark and you show it and you sand a little bit so that it’s safe. But the evidence that a human being was there then this object, whatever it is, whether it’s a zine where the strings held left on. Starts to communicate better than for example this is done by a machine and this is done here in the studio and this is a staple machine and this is a fine edge to look like it’s perfect bound but really it’s just a staple, it’s kinda a cheat which is cool. But here you have these strings, you can see that it was sewn and here it was sewn through duct tape. I’m not sure if this is showing up but, that’s. I call that added value. And it communicates information about what it is but it also shares that, it doesn’t. It would take me more work to trim these off and make it perfect. But I’d be losing something.
00:19:39 Antoine Lefebvre: And sometimes do you go to far and it’s too neat?
00:19:44 Tom Sachs: Of course. Yeah.
00:19:45 Antoine Lefebvre: That you don’t like it anymore?
00:19:46 Tom Sachs: Yes. Yeah. That’s a terrible thing, we talk about that all the time because Chris Beeston who’s walking around here is very precise. And I’m always frustrated with him because he does things much better than I could do them. So I’m always asking him to go faster to increase his or to decrease his precision, so that there’s more flaws and error and when we’re successful he makes mistakes and they get to show and it has a humanity. Although he’s so good that it’s always perfect anyway but I’m always trying to challenge, challenge him a little bit.
00:20:26 Antoine Lefebvre: Is there one last thing you would say to people who will watch this?
00:20:30 Tom Sachs: Well where are they watching this? On YouTube? Or?
00:20:32 Antoine Lefebvre: Yeah. Vimeo.
00:20:33 Tom Sachs: On Vimeo. Well I’m sorry if my hair is a mess, I didn’t even check it in the mirror. I would say, if any of you are out there making zines, just be afraid and do it anyway.
00:20:51 Antoine Lefebvre: Cool. Thank you.