A Manifesto for a Zine

Image: Envelope invitation mail-out for To Catch a Cloud, 1996. The envelope was empty inside, itself said to contain a cloud. Folds out into a poster. Courtesy of Yee I-Lann.

This manifesto for a zine was written by Yee I-Lann, Nani Kahar and their collaborators between November 1996 and October 1997. The manifesto was bookended by two projects. The former was a multimedia theatre event, “To Catch A Cloud,” held at Planetarium Negara in 1996, which also hosted the exhibition. It tells the story of a “young boy whose dream is to catch a cloud of his own.”  This bildungsroman was told against the setting of capitalist yearning of the 1990s Klang Valley, informed equally by the fervent energy of the financial market and the urban disjunction of those left behind. DNA Studio (later labDNA), founded by Nani Kahar and Yee I-Lann, published cloud watching, a zine-like booklet, in conjunction with the exhibition. Collaging photographs, children’s drawings, corporate sponsors, words and other ephemera, the communal, playful and amateur spirit of cloud watching would set the tone for a future project of 60 zines. The text below was intended as a call for contributors for the first of these 60 booklets.

project issue

What is the project?

A post media experiment unrestrained by existing formulated blueprints; exploring communication beyond newspapers, magazines, books, pamphlets, posters, web-sites, email, tv, film, radio, etc, in recognition of all the above but not controlled by the format. It is about the other possibilities.

The target audience are ourselves.

The curators are Nani Kahar, Yee I-Lann, Susan Ng and Joe Kidd.

Contributors will be invited. The exercise has content and no content. It is about everything and nothing.

The project is global in outlook with contributors from around the world. Issue#1 will be a limited number edition of 2000 copies of approximately 200 pages and will initially be distributed in KL and NYC. Retail price has not been established. Contributors are requested to appreciate the spirit of the production and to participate without payment for the premiere issue. All project and production costs will be absorbed by labDNA. No advertisements.

#1/60 exploring the urban landscape

The format will be an A5 scrapbook; disparate approaches reflecting disparate minds exploring the urban landscape within the temperament of the approaching millennium where hybrids exist ad infinitum yet the individual has no clear/infinite directions and can only be armed with ferocious osmotic powers. Schizophrenic jarring pages.

The content will be loosely directed to explore the urban landscape. Following are some catalysts:

When is a landscape urban? When is an experience urban? What is its space-time experience? What is its identity? Are all cities similar? What are your expectations in a city? What does ‘going shopping’ mean? What’s a cool car to drive? Why? Says who? How do you see the city differently from your parents? Do they live in the city? Do you live in the city? What brings you pleasure? Do you commute? Are you an urban animal? A party animal? A political animal? What are civic values? Do you feel passionate about the city? Does the city begin and end? Do you believe in black and white? Do you dream in color? Does your opinion count? Are you perceptive? Are you attentive? What is perception? What is relative-ness? What is half an hour to a CEO, a taxi driver, a schoolgirl, a waiter in a restaurant with 2 or 200 customers, an investment banker, a surgeon? What does it mean to be stuck in a traffic jam for these people? Stuck in traffic with no mobile phone? Do you use a mobile? Can you live without one? What’s the difference between daytime, nighttime, peak hour, not peak hour, work day, weekend, holiday, not holiday, war, peace? How does it affect your time and space? Does the city have rules/laws? How is this enforced? Is it done well? Do you trust your policeman? Do you trust your teacher? Do you trust your TV? Does a city have a personality, a vibe, an aura, a mood? What does your city say to you? What does the city’s music sound like? What do you hear? What makes a friend? Does the temperament of the city affect your temperament? What happens? Do you have a routine within the urban landscape? Do you have a relationship – you and the city? Do you respect each other? Are you in love? Is it fun? What happens when there is an accident? Do you go to nightclubs? What happens there? Who goes? Why? Why is the sexiest girl on the dance floor the sexiest girl on the dance floor? Who is she with? Are you jealous? Are stilettos or pump sneakers cooler? Do you dress for yourself or others? Do you need an identity? Where do you get one? Is it expensive? What does suburbia mean? Who lives there? How do you get there? What do you do there? What does it look like? What does the word ‘alien’ mean? Are there Aliens? What does ‘other’ mean? What does individual mean? What does collectivism mean? What do people mean when they ask, “how are you”? Does the city have sacred zones? Does the city have forbidden zones? Does this have anything to do with identity, time, space, continuity, discontinuity? Is the city ugly? Why? What sucks? Is the city dark? Is it mean? Does it destroy people? Does it absorb energy? Does it give energy? How do you travel? Do you use a map? What map do you use? Is it easy? Is it fun? Do you use drugs? Do you need drugs to dance? What is hardcore drug use? Do you contribute to the city? Do you care? Are you religious? Who is religious? Does religion affect an urban fabric? How? Do you travel to other cities? What do you bring back? Do you travel elsewhere: seaside, jungle, kampung? Why? What does winning mean? What do you need to win? Do you need to win? Why? What is the art of war? The art of peace? Do people in the city know the meanings? Do they know the meaning of the art of defense? What is ambition? What is privacy? What do you think of security cameras? Are you online? How about the 99% of humanity that are not online? Is cyberspace a social space? Do men affect the environment differently from women? How can you not say that? What is culture? What is popular culture? What is subculture? How does this affect the urban landscape? What are your thoughts? What are your memories? What are you about?

The medium of communications transfer can be anything that can be printed. HAVE FUN!

Alas, the project never materialised. In October 1997, labDNA held a party-cum-happening at the now soon-to-be-demolished colonial prison Pudu Prison. Put together in nine days, Blue Skies invited its collaborators to each occupy a cell: the student activist Hishamuddin Rais, who was politically incarcerated, spoke about the various jails he had occupied; the musician Joe Kidd used his booth to tell youths what their legal rights were when detained; architects created installations; musicians took turns at the turntable. However, Blue Skies polarised the English-speaking art world over the question of who would be allowed to take narrate charged spaces, with one of its detractors telling I-Lann, “You are not qualified to address Pudu.”

After Blue Skies, I-Lann’s practice took a radical turn. This abandoned manifesto for a zine survives as an artefact of the heady mid-1990s, before the Asian Financial Crisis and Reformasi reared their ghostly heads.

Further Reading

Simon Soon. 2018. “/Cloud/Watching or Portrait of a Young Artist in 1990s Kuala Lumpur.” Afterall: pp 101-107.

Yee I-Lann and Nani Kahar, cloud watching, Kuala Lumpur: DNA Studio, 1996.