SMILE zine - Commodity Issue - by Karen Eliot (1988) (cover)
February 4, 2014 - Borderline Grafix sent me a most amazing and thoughtful gift: An issue of Stewart Homes' SMILE zine from 1988. The issue is attributed to Karen Eliot, a multiple user identity still assumed by mail-artists today. This issue of SMILE was produced when Neoism was still a vital force in the network and beyond.
Issues of SMILE (Britain) appeared between 1984-89, ending about the time of the notorious Glasgow Festival of Plagiarism. Indeed, this issue is concurrent with Neoism's plagiarist phase, echoed in the concluding paragraph:
""We must plagiarize, freely using what is available as our own, not as sole ownership, but available to everyone. We must break down the barriers of false uniqueness by re-inventing our own images, symbols, and means of communication. Plagiarize, for the world is yours."
(SMILE - 2)
SMILE had a large international audience relative to the numerous zines of the era, although actual numbers are impossible to calculate. Production and distribution had characteristics of the add-and-pass. Recipients in some cases dis-assembled and re-assembled issues into editions that contained varying content; readers, in essence, could become editors and distributors. The open nature of the publication with its denial of copyright encouraged this. This issue is likely one such variant - a part of the totality of all SMILE editions created - given the North Carolina, USA mailing address. The zine network was very large at that time and exceedingly complex to track.
This issue of SMILE is very different from most Neoist zines of the era. Karen Eliot has penned an almost academic article about capitalism, consumer culture, alienation, and feminism. Ultimately, it is a Marxist derived justification for plagiarism by artists and writers as a revolutionary tool. Again, while this Karen Eliot essay is not the norm, complex political, philosophical, economic and aesthetic essays circulated far more frequently in the network at that time than they do today.
This SMILE essay has many similarities to academic writing of that era. The French philosopher Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007) expressed many of these ideas, for instance. So it is possible this work is plagiarized from one or a number of cources. On the other hand, Stewart Home is exceedingly knowledgeable in this area - Situationism for instance - and the text is better written and more lucid than what most academics can produce. Likely Stewart Home - under the Karen Eliot byline - wrote this.
The graphic elements of this SMILE issue are characteristic of the zines of that era, although perhaps a little more polished than the average. It was not uncommon for kids in the 14-year-old-category to produce their own photocopied zines that might include alternative music reviews alongside diatribes such as Karen Eliot's and adorned with images received through the mail-art: Such were the zines and the era that produced SMILE.
Deepest thanks to Borderline Grafix for this treasure!