To see zoomable versions of the images in this post, please click on them.
The East Coast art collective Paper Rad existed for less than a decade, from very roughly 2001 to 2008, but in that short amount of time it created a massive body of work that spanned traditions and disciplines. For this year’s New York Art Book Fair, which opens Thursday night at MoMA PS1, Paul Bright and Sonja Radovancevic will debut “PPP: The Zines of Paper Rad,” a 200-page book that focuses on the publishing side of the multidisciplinary group, bringing together a trove of material from the collective’s prolific zine output. (PPP stands for “Paul’s Pile of Papers” and is the debut offering from Bright and Radovancevic’s new imprint Delema. It includes an introduction from Bright and a forward from the artist Andrew Jeffrey Wright. Included throughout this piece is is an exclusive look into the book.)
Bright—who owns the art, antique, and home store Bright Lyons in Downtown Brooklyn—has been an avid collector of all things Paper Rad (and related, like the work of the Providence collective Fort Thunder) for years now, but started seriously thinking about making a book when he received what he called a “mysterious text message” from Paper Rad member Ben Jones, notifying Bright that his mother was moving, leaving the fate of his zine archive unclear. “Basically, it was like a rescue mission,” Bright told me from the studio he shares with the painter Nicole Eisenman just a block away from his store.
Paper Rad was perhaps best known for their ecstatic color palate and decidedly spiritual appropriation of 1980s and ’90s youth and pop culture, balanced out by original references and narratives native to the group. Their varied output connected them to a number of disparate communities including the worlds of comics, underground music, video, and internet art. Paper Rad did New York gallery shows and played with noise bands in basements. Members of the group collaborated on videos with Beck, others made abstract DJ mixtapes. Their hyper-color website alone is an influential piece of net art. Although Bright and Radovancevic’s book focuses on the zines of the collective, you could just as easily do 200 pages on the group’s videos, installations, performances, or internet work.
At its core, Paper Rad was a three-person collective (Jacob Ciocci, Jessica Ciocci, and Ben Jones), but their membership was always somewhat fluid, especially at the advent of the group, which grew out of a zine Jones made with the comics artist C.F. called Paper Radio (the fact that some Providence artists started a publication called Paper Rodeo just complicates things further). “There were zines here that, like, even with the input of Ben and Jacob and Jessica, we still weren’t sure whether it was Paper Rad,” Bright told me. “There’s some really fucking, like, mysterious shit.” (People who could’ve been counted as Paper Rad at various points in time include members of the collective Dearraindrop, the composer David Wightman and Canadian artist Beau Labute.)
After picking up “five big plastic bins of all Ben’s stuff” Bright said that between the newfound archive and his personal collection, “I felt confident that we had pretty much the entire spectrum of everything Paper Rad did.” He worked directly with members of the collective to attempt to date and title the works. Then reps from Chelsea nonprofit bookstore Printed Matter (which founded the book fair), in Bright’s words, “really put a foot in our ass” to do something for this year’s edition. “Printed Matter said we will give you the space at PS1 to show everything and it was just, like, How could you not do it?” Bright said. “They didn’t say like, ‘You have to do this,’ but they pretty much said, ‘You guys have to be idiots not to do this.’ “
From there, Bright’s involvement “really faded to the background,” and Radovancevic undertook the weighty project of documentation and design. The book includes varied work from the three core members in different configurations as well as sections for collaborations, poetry, post-Paper Rad work, and, of course, some wildcards. “We included these,” Bright said, pointing to two handmade books that looked like they were legitimately made by children. “These were created in the late ’80s. They look like they could be Paper Rad zines, everything about them is very Paper Rad-esque,” Bright said. “These were on the Paper Rad website as zines that were a part of their history.”
Before he got into Paper Rad and related projects, Bright went to hardcore shows and collected Dadaist zines, when he could afford them. Upon his discovery of Paper Rad, he saw a spirit similar to the Dadaists but one that synthesized with something more contemporary. “They had a merch table,” Bright recalled. An ex-hardcore kid (he was wearing a Black Flag shirt the day we spoke), he said that “the idea of a merch table or a distro table was something that was just part of my DNA already. So when I went to an art show and saw Paper Rad with their merch table it was just like, ‘Yeah, that sounds about right.'”
“Contemporary art can suck,” Bright continued. “It can be a really unpleasant, negative world to be a part of sometimes, and Paper Rad was an incredible tonic to that.”
ALL IMAGES: COURTESY DELEMA BOOKS