One of the standout qualities of iconic individuals in the post-industrial underground is their ability to be successful in a variety of mediums. The subject matter they explore—occultism, history, literature, magic, criminals, film, Grail studies, taboo topics, etc.—crops up in their songs, short films, books, poetry, art, photography, and a plethora of other outlets. Correlating such output is a daunting task. In the earlier days of the internet, musicians made webpages, fans made fan pages, and forums and webrings were the standard means to stay up to snuff. Today, one has to dive through Facebook and Twitter posts to get a handle on what these multifaceted musicians are all about. It’s refreshing when artists-turned-authors rely on the tried and true method of releasing a book to aggregate their philosophies, art, photography, and other personal anecdotes. Gerhard Hallstatt set a benchmark in the neofolk scene when he published Blutleuchte a few years ago, and a peppering of other artists seem to be following suit.
Zeena Schreck is a multi-media artist, writer, musician famous for Radio Werewolf, and Tantric Buddhist whose artistic output spans decades. Her newest literary offering is The Zaum of Zeena, a softcover that straddles the zine/book format that debuted at the tenth annual New York Art Book Fair at the MoMA PS2 this past September. The alliteration in the title is a re-appropriation of a term for a Russian art movement during World War I that encompassed many fields. In the case of The Zaum of Zeena, “zaum” is being used as an umbrella term for Schreck’s many endeavors that are showcased in the book.
The majority of art included in The Zaum of Zeena exhibits Schreck’s photography and illustrations rendered in pencils or inks. Viewing her artwork in this format creates a paradoxical experience for readers of The Zaum of Zeena. On one side, the black-and-white versions of the artwork takes on a unique meaning when realized in the zine medium. It imparts on the pieces a weight of angst, rebellion, or transgressive attitude, all stemming from either a punk or D.I.Y. ethos. Such attributes may not have been present in the artwork before, but they now carry it. In this case, the medium can either alter or enhance the message, and Schreck’s artwork is subversive enough that this multi-prong approach works.
On the flip-side, however, the zine format does not convey the artist’s original vision in the best facsimile. Colors become lost and shades become either muted or abrupt. There is an excerpt from an interview with Obsküre within the zine in which Schreck argues that listeners of digital versions of music are missing out on needed context that the original physical release provides. This attitude can also be applied to these versions of Schreck’s graphic work—that experiencing them in this fashion muddles the original meaning and context. While the zine format is satisfactory at giving an appetizer of Schreck’s art, it does demonstrate the need for a Taschen-esque book to give her work a presentation that is as close to the original as possible.
The real treat and highlights of The Zaum of Zeena are found in the many excerpts of interviews and personal writings of Schreck that comprise the majority of content in the book. The five interviews and two penned essays consolidated within provide a succinct overview of Schreck’s activities for the past twenty-five years along with glimpses and elaborations on her personal philosophies. For example, in the interview with the Italian art magazine WSF, Schreck elaborates on the artistic path she has walked: she describes her art as being both communication between realities and dichotomies, but also a reflection of experiences both personal and shared. The interview with the author Konstantinos turns the dialog to the spiritual and the magical. A particular highlight with this interview is that Schreck states that many folks say they are on a path to discover a truth, but she underscores that such a path calls for a certain amount of sacrifice to one’s personal comfort while challenging what they believe in their world; often, their statements are just veneer. In brutal and biting honesty, Schreck says, “look at the world around you and tell me that it appears to be filled with people genuinely in search of the truth!” It certainly calls for a pause of reflection, regardless of anyone’s personal affiliations.
The two personal stories, “A Tale of Two Birds and Tantric Meditation” and “Liberation Under the Snow Moon,” spotlight Schreck’s proficiency at storytelling while conveying deeper, personal philosophies without being heavy-handed. For example, in “Liberation Under the Snow Moon,” Schreck recounts her experience helping a group of eighty Mongolian wolves that were en route to a French wildlife preserve, saving them from a fate of being turned into coats. She peppers her story with references to the She-Wolf who birthed Rome’s founding siblings, Romulus and Remis, and to the wolf Fenrir of Norse tradition. This gives the account spiritual weight: a gentle reminder that our modern lives are without reverence to the natural world. The Zaum of Zeena was originally released in a limited run of fifty copies to be sold at the New York Art Book Fair with any remaining copies being offered by Schreck’s web store in late November. Upon this re-offering, the zines quickly sold out, and a second edition release was immediately put into production. The zine/book is fairly short, but its content is dense. Those unfamiliar with Schreck’s work will definitely have a better appreciation and understanding of her work after having read it.
Written by: Nicholas Diak
Publisher: Heinzfeller Nileisist
Editor: Frank Haines
Publication Date: September 18, 2015
File Under: Music / Music Biography / Art / Photography