Delving into the special collections of a library like the NLA, you can discover fascinating remnants from other times and places. To give you just a peek, you may discover the earliest piece of surviving Australian printed material, old photographs, or items of ephemera like postcards, political pamphlets, an 1897 dinner menu (Library conferences looked a little more elegant back then!), a dance card from the 1923 Canberra Bachelor’s Ball, a travel poster from 1936 – or even a circa 1914 advertising poster for a Schweppes orange drink! As the term ‘ephemera’ suggests, the beauty of these items is that many were never intended to be kept – yet over the years, many have found their way to collecting institutions such as the National Library where they now serve as a visual, tactile and endlessly captivating insight into our social and political history.
But it seems that serving as historical snippets is not to be the only fate for an ephemera item! A few days ago I was lucky enough to encounter some zines by Gracia Haby, who often collaborates with Louise Jennison to create all sorts of things on paper; the 3 zines on my desk just happen to incorporate one of the most varied and personal forms of ephemera – the travel postcard – into a zine!
Gracia Haby has created a series of zines based on several of her exhibitions at Imp Gallery (Melbourne) featuring quirky postcard collages exploring the types of fantastical, imaginary worlds you dreamt of in childhood. Haby collects old travel postcards from around the world and through collage turns them into surreal, unpredictable and nostalgic creations. The pages of her zines are replete with curious turtles, proud Emperor Penguins, mice, exotic birds, intrepid seals and the odd aardvark or adventurous meerkat peregrinating around the world – and more often than not they find themselves in the most perplexing of locations!
Created in limited editions of 60, these zines are charming, dreamy and fanciful, and both zine and individual images are paired with wonderfully wordy, beguiling titles such as But for the moon nobody could see us, A trapdoor in every room and If we stand very still, no one will notice.
Postcards from… A trapdoor in every room (2007) is a 14 x 9 cm black and white laser-copy zine secured at the top by a gold paper fastener, allowing the reader to open and view the pages in a fan-like formation, or flip through them in the hand as you would a pile of old photographs or postcards. Expect to encounter a penguin peering through a second-story window in the streets of Milan, or a yellow mud turtle on a pilgrimage to Tellskapelle, Switzerland (where William Tell famously escaped the boat of his captors).
Postcards from… If we stand very still, no one will notice (2007, 14 x 9 cm) is created in the same format. Haby’s paper animals explore new landscapes glittering with jewels, whilst seeming to ponder the themes of displacement, transition and their place in the environs.
Postcards from… But for the moon, nobody could see us (2008, 10.5 x 15 cm) is bound in a traditional book format and features both colour and black and white reproductions of Haby’s postcard collage. I loved this zine, as our gallant animal travellers appear to experience all that we feel when we travel far from home – the joy of discovery, the frustration (yet possibility!) of being lost in unknown places, the epiphanies and revelations, and even the alienation and loneliness you can feel in foreign lands.
The National Library has a range of artists’ books and zines made by Haby, which you can check out in our catalogue. You can also view their world by dropping by their website for a peek at colour images of their artists’ books and zines. Or perhaps you would rather rummage through the National Library’s ephemera collections yourself? Explore, and see what you can find!