YOU in the spotlight

IMG_0419An Interview with YOU…“You” is a free weekly paper zine. A copy has been published every week since November 2001.  “You” zine usually appears as an anonymous hand written letter sealed with staples in a paper bag. For me the experience of “you” is strangely intimate and uplifting.

 What was the triggering point for the conception of YOU?
There were a few different influences on how YOU developed.  YOU came into life in the weeks afters the terrorist attacks on September 11th 2001.  The news was full of mysterious parcels appearing around the world which may or may not have contained anthrax.  The idea of mysterious parcels sparked something in my imagination.  I had been making zines since 1994 but at the time was making more wall based installation type visual art work using found objects.  I had been enjoying working with found photographs but felt uncomfortable with the idea of using other people’s stories without their permission.  I came to the idea of creating my own found photos by printing my own photos and throwing them on the floor for other people to find, this seemed impractical as they would probably just end up in the bin, so the idea morphed into a zine that could be given away for free and left in places safe to leave free things… The zine needed to be small as it would need to be made every week so the idea of a letter worked as it could be true to the size of a letter and not just feel like a tiny zine.  The first issue of YOU came out at the start of November 2001 and I was worried that it might be mistaken as a ‘threat’ and possible anthrax parcel and might get me in hot water, but there was no issue the first week so I followed it up with another zine the next week and by then I was hooked.  Interestingly YOU was interpreted as a threat at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga NSW in 2009 – many years after I thought that would be an issue.

YOU has been around for a nearly a decade now – what have been some of the highs and lows? – Or what have you found to be pivotal? Is there a type of evolution you can trace?
One of the first big developments was asking other people other than me to write for YOU.  It came about because my partner’s sister’s partner is French and I thought maybe putting out an issue of YOU in French would be fun.  So I wrote a letter and was just about to ask him to translate it to French for me when it struck me that it would be easier to just get him to write his own letter in French.  From then on I started asking interesting people I met if they would write a letter for the project.  I found that asking someone to write a letter is not too daunting for them, compared to asking them if they would write a poem or a short story, it is a format they are comfortable participating with.


Tell me more about YOU in different languages?
Issues of YOU have come out in English, French, Norwegian, Hungarian, Japanese, Mandarin, Braille, Arabic, Spanish and some kind of weird English computer translation by someone in Croatia.  I think of the project as a visual art project rather than a writing project so it is not essential for me that the language can actually be read by the person who picks up the zine, although they can always seek out someone who can tell them what it says.  I made an issue last year that I was especially proud of and that was a shredded issue where I wrote the letter and then put it through the shredder at my work.  I thought it would be impossible to put the letter back together but I saw five or six letters that had been meticulously stuck back together with sticky tape by hardcore YOU fans.

What are the different responses YOU have had over the years?
YOU is anonymous so there is no way of leaving formal feed-back.  It surprises me still how people who I would have thought know who makes it still do not know, and that adds to the excitement of the zine for me.  I have put out a whole stack of ridiculous rumours over the years about who makes the zine.  If anyone asked me if I made it I always used to deny it and say that a very tall and thin guy with a mohawk made the zine, and that I always see him around Fitzroy with his goth girlfriend and that he has a studio on Victoria Street in Fitzroy where he makes all the zines.  I was once told that the guy who makes YOU is the brother of the man who killed the cricket player David Hooks; I did not make this rumour up and find it all quite bizarre.

Have you ever come across YOU in a random context that was unexpected?
I once saw a picture of an issue of YOU on the internet that someone had picked up in Portland Oregon in the USA and taken to New Zealand where they made it into part of a collage and photographed it.  I had a friend who picked up a copy in San Francisco who thought it was a Melbourne only project and couldn’t quite get her head around it.  Currently YOU is distributed every week in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Perth, Toowoomba, Wagga Wagga, Bendigo, Chicago, San Francisco, Portland Oregon, Bloomington IL and Glasgow (UK) as well as through Sticky, Bird In The Hand, Take Care Zine Distro, Format, Microcosm Publishing (USA) and  Smells Like Zines.

Can you tell us more about your zine bagging workshops?
The workshops I have been doing recently are open to anyone.  People come along and write a Dear You letter and the letter appears the next week as the issue of the zine.  I have done the workshops at Sticky as part of The Festival of the Photocopier, Federation Square, The Australian Centre For The Moving Image, The National Young Writers Festival in Newcastle NSW  and the most recent one I did was at the Toronto Zine Library in Toronto Canada.

What do you like and dislike about zines in general? And what do you think about them as a medium?
I love zines and have been making pretty much constantly since 1994.  With YOU it has become the development of the zine which I find most enjoyable, trying to make the zine better than the last weeks issue and trying to reveal something in the week’s issue that takes the project to a slightly new place.  Once the zine began it just sort of snow-balled with each week riffing on the other issues.  I’m putting out issue number 500 this year which allows for a lot of history and prior information to riff off.

Various copies of YOU are available in the zine collection now!