Automatic Sound Drawings —Caroline Partamian

Published at Endless Edtions 2019
︎ See Artist’s Website 

Interview by Hannah Coleman
with Caroline Partamian
December of 2019

H: Automatic Sound Drawings was your first collaboration with the publisher Endless Editions, but you’ve been working with zines for quite some time now, and have your own series called “Weird Babes”. What drew you to the zine format and what have your experiences been like with zines?

C: I think that I was always sort of attracted to zines. When I went to bookstores I was attracted to zines because they’re very easy, lightweight, and palatable. Whereas, if you pick up a book you can’t really gage it from just picking it up, or you read the description on the back that tells you what to think about it — but a zine carries a world of weight within it that more easily feels like it belongs to the reader.

H: When did you first come across zines, what were these wonderful bookstores that helped you discover them?

C: Well I lived in Oakland for a long time and there was definitely a really strong print culture there, I would say, more than a zine culture. Though zine culture has sprung up a lot more now, in the last few years since I haven't been living there. But what I remember as making the biggest impression on me is when I was working as an archivist at the Fales library at NYU and through working there I got a gig working for the Kathleen Hanna (the woman from Bikini Kill) Documentary on the post production archival shoot. Fales had tons and tons of zines from the Riot Grrrl era in particular. One of the senior archivists there, whose name is Lisa Darms, who is just an incredible archivist and very interesting person, was roommates with Kathleen Hanna in college. So she just had this whole crew of riot girls that she had made friends with over the years and she invited all of these women to submit their zine archives to Fales archive, so it’s all in one place now. I think via just touching all of those papers, and sometimes they weren't even full zines, just single page flyers that some people made — it was obvious that this ephemera held a lot of power  to circulate information, and effectively. It was the first time I feel like I had really seen [zine culture] in the most effective way- in particular how it brought people together to create and cultivate, styles and ideas that were ‘cut and paste’ culminating in a more complete message. I started learning more about zine fairs when I moved to Brooklyn almost a decade ago, and a friend of mine would have a zine get together once a month at their house. He and his friend would amass a zine library, so at the end of these sessions everyone would exchange zines and you’d go home with one that wasn’t your own. It just seemed like it was a really good way of getting people together, and disseminating information about people and their interests that you may not otherwise have known from striking up a quick conversation. This community element was the most attractive element to me, and that’s why I started making my own zines.

H: Yes, of course. The community element seems so important to the zines you’ve made, since Weird Babes is really about getting people in your circle to show their work. Can you talk a little about the Weird Babes series?

C: One of my main impetus in wanting to move from the bay area to New York was because I had all these amazing friends, incredible people, very talented artists but I seemed to kind of get stuck in this flow of a routine, where everyone was talking about really great ideas but not actually committing to executing their ideas. And it was a big reason why I moved to New York because I needed to kind of put a fire under my ass and switch things up a bit. I remember my first bus ride I was taking from New York to DC to visit my sister who was living there at the time, and I found myself drawing a little logo, and that ended up being the genesis of the Weird babes logo. It was before I even started the zine, but I knew I wanted to do something with publishing as a way to disseminate information that previously only existed in a verbal version or on social media accounts. After a few years of spending time in New York, it became clear to me I wanted to do something more tangible with these ideas circulating in my circles. Something I kept coming back to - because dance was also in my past - one of my favorite elements about dancing was the culture of works-in-progress showings...this ability to have comfort with showing an unfinished piece of work to get feedback and constructive criticism on it. So I began to think about, how can we utilize this kind of ideology in dance with other mediums - this comfort with the work in progress. So for a few years (2013-2016) I curated exhibitions including artists who practiced more tangible (than dance) mediums - like painters, photographers, textile artists, etc... that asked artists outside of the scope of dance to focus on kinetic memory and the process, rather than the end product of their artwork...then i started making zines in 2017. I committed to highlighting various mediums in each zine - issues alternating between featuring solo, and multiple artists - so i have a couple that are digest versions of what will be a larger photography book, one for illustration, one that’s on textiles, one on tattoo flash, one that’s on dance, one upcoming on music notation, etc. It was a way for myself and my friends, who had told me about their great ideas, to release thoughts in a printed format. Rather than just talking about it or posting about it on Facebook or Instagram. Actually committing to a physical printed space, where our ideas could hover and exist. Trying to be comfortable with the space of printing something that’s not necessarily finished like an idea that you’re working on and using that as a way to open communication to furthering an idea, to further completing an idea.

H: Absolutely. And the for Automatic Sound Drawings, your forthcoming zine. Can you talk a bit about it’s genesis and what went into making this zine?

C: Of course. I printed the Automatic Sound Drawings zine as part of the Endless Editions copyshop residency. I learned a lot during that residency, not only about the printing process, but also because of the wonderful staff at Endless Editions, and also the fantastic group of volunteers who are there. In my first day of the residency, we had exactly the type of conversation I’d hoped would spark from the creation of the Weird Babes 7:06 Digest Zines — to have a forum in which to talk about ideas in a more clear way and to open up these ideas to an audience who may otherwise not have come in touch with this kind of work - in this case my sound drawings. The automatic sound drawings series started out a couple years ago when I was still living in New York — when I started riding the train more often than I ever had. I used to commute on a bike or walk to work previously, but when I started working full time in the city I was taking the train every day. It definitely did something to my mentality - it was very grating, hearing so many sounds that I wasn’t used to. Since my time in New York, I’d already compartmentalized and compressed a lot of sounds - perhaps subliminally - just to be able to handle living in the city. The subway was a different oddball every single day. So as a way to meditate on the sounds, I started doing some drawings. I would wake up early and do a sound drawing in the morning of what I was hearing, whether that was at home, or in the park, or on the subway, or whatever. It was a way of notating a sonic script of what I was hearing. The automatic element of it comes from not thinking about what I was doing, but just drawing what I was hearing on the paper. There’s no fixed alphabet to it, it’s just whatever my brain is telling my hand to do emerges onto the paper. Just having a sheet of paper, whether that was a 5 by 7, or 4 by 6, whatever I had in front of me, or my sketchbook, that was the only space that I allowed myself to commit to drawing for that period of time.  The ability to isolate the sounds I found myself focusing on during that time was a very liberating practice for me, to let go of all my internal thoughts and just draw what I heard.

H: I love the description of it as a liberatory practice. What I think is so cool about this zine is that it can become a kind of invitation. I feel like it’s really clear in what that practice is and what form it can take, and I think it could be a really invitation for readers to use that in their own sound settings. A part of my project is to find zines or artist books that I come into contact with, and think about how, maybe they weren’t initially made for children, but could be interacted with by children. I really feel like yours is such a strong candidate for that. I was really curious to ask: you’re obviously a very interdisciplinary artist, have you ever had children interact with your work before? Could you imagine children interacting with this piece specifically?

C: That’s an audience I would love to extend my practice to. It’s something that, before this year, I never put much thought into, specifically because the sound drawings started as such a meditative and solo practice, but from tabling more zine fairs with Weird Babes - for instance I did the Basilica Hudson WGXC Wave Farm Record and Zine Fair last year where I talked to a dad and his kid who was 7 or 8. She went to school in Hudson, or Troy, or Catskill, one of those towns, and they were the most fascinated with the zines at the fair from anyone, because this girl who I was talking to had a zine-making class as part of her curricula. She was really into them, and it was the first time I had heard of people actively having a zine class in elementary school.

Or tabling the 8 Ball Zine Fair and talking to people who were in their 40s or 50s and had moved away from New York for ten or twenty years and then came back, and were so excited that zine fairs were still vibrant and had more of a culture than they were expecting. That’s part of what Weird Babes is about - generating ideas for utilizing practices in newfound, renewed, and clear ways through conversation. When I was in Marfa, TX this past summer, one of the owners of this bar sets up a flea market once a month during big event times for Marfa, so that local artists can get exposure from people visiting the town. I was talking to a woman who came up to me, and she bought my Weird Babes flash tattoo Digest Zines issue that three other artists are featured in. She was a tattoo artist, and when we started talking about the sound drawings, she really responded to them. She had never practiced like that before, but said she may want to tattoo some of my sound drawings onto people. So there’s this beautiful cross of mediums that people can interact with, even if they’re not theirs.

H: Do you have any other projects, publishers, or art generally that you would recommend especially for kids?

C: There’s a practice that I do, - I have a group of Armenian artists that I meet up with when I’m in New York that I formed with my friend Katie Gritlian [SP??} . She is an incredible person, and worked at Pioneer Works, and is currently at the SIAC graduate school program for, I forget, it’s on like creative writing. She’s a publisher and she works with photography a lot, and one of the exercises that she posed once in our Armenian artist group was to draw a huddle. And in that group, huddle meant something very different to me than I would have imagined it to mean in a subway car in the middle of Times Square. It was a really cool practice to get to see everyone else’s huddles that they drew after the practice. She has a bunch of prompts that she does for different education programs, and she has a very social practice of drawing related to photo archives specifically. I always think about her. She’s definitely inspirational to me in the way to communicate information in group practices.

One more person I thought of, Diana Mangaser. She runs the Newburg Community Landbank artist vacancy program, and she teaches a class at Dia: Beacon for teens that has to do with architecture and found objects. She’s a really fantastic artist too.

H: Well, this has been great- thank you so much!

© All Copyrights to the artist, Caroline Partamian

16 page
Staple Bound
Risograph Printed
United States 
ISBN: 978-1-63429-029-6

5 x 7 inches