Sick Love: The anti-mainstream art zine raging against vapid creative media

We meet Sick Love founder Izzy Gorman-Buckley to find out how her DIY project is shaking up the art community through underground movements and inspiring vital social conversations…

Sick Love: The anti-mainstream art zine raging against vapid creative media
Luke Morton
Raga Muñecas

If you want something to exist, sometimes you have to make it yourself. That’s what 24-year-old Izzy Gorman-Buckley realised in her first year at Central Saint Martins art college in London, where she found herself writing for a fashion magazine and it was “the driest thing ever”. Speaking to Kerrang! during a visit to London from her new home of Leipzig, Izzy has a vivid memory of writing a news story about a Craig Green shoe release and absolutely hating it.

“I really felt like there were so many important things to be said and interesting conversations that I was having with my friends – I felt like a lot of art-based media seemed quite vapid. ‘Here’s a new release’ or ‘Here’s what’s trending’. I wanted to have more political and social-oriented conversations within the arts and I wanted to write them myself.”

Describing herself as “a huge geek” at school, spending every day reading and writing, by her second year of uni, Izzy decided to start publishing online in a space she could call her own, away from outsider influence and free from the boring, conformist art media. The plan was simple: talk about subjects and talk to artists that are never recognised on more ‘mainstream’ platforms.

Her publication, Sick Love, soon started receiving attention, and Izzy was inundated with writers and artists wanting to get involved in the website. Before long, this digital haven of antiestablishment creativity broke out into the physical world, into printed zines and workshop events that are “trying to facilitate discussion in the art scene about underrepresentation in terms of queer artists”.

Sick Love’s latest zine series spotlights the queer creative communities that thrive outside of the usual cultural hubs of Europe. Travelling to Glasgow, Leipzig, Warsaw and Kyiv, Izzy and her team showcase the passion and talent that flourishes throughout the underground. “As a queer person myself it’s really important to offer space for people to show their work and connect with a community as well.”

We sat down with Izzy to dig deeper into the meaning behind Sick Love, the power of community and how she hopes to inspire others…

What is Sick Love doing that doesn't already exist?
“Nothing is new nowadays. It’s not like nobody ever tried to do something similar, but we’re trying to facilitate more open discussion around issues facing the arts – to offer people space online or in print or in a workshop to express their dissatisfaction and also their skills. There’s things like being a student and fees, and unpaid internships in the arts, and all these kinds of things that are barriers to participation. When I was at university it was expected that you’re supposed to work for free or on internships, where you have to take a year out but work for free. I didn’t do that, obviously. It’s a very inaccessible thing that’s also expected – that’s why it’s led to such a huge class divide in the arts. The initial foundation was to open up a space and to allow people to discuss this with their peers. A lot of the media ignores it and maybe favours different conversations. It's not that these conversations weren’t happening, but I wanted to help make more space for it.”

What was the initial reaction to Sick Love?
“I wanted to involve people but I didn’t know how that would go or how that would work, but there was a lot of reception early on which was nice. A lot of people wanting to get their work out there, wanting to write and talk about these kind of things, it was pretty easy. I wrote a lot of [the early] content myself, and said, ‘Here it is, I want other people.’ I put out an open call for people to talk to me, submit to me, whatever they wanted to do, and I had a really overwhelming response that I was really excited about. From there, we did a lot of online publishing and moved into print.”

On your website it says ‘print has always been a powerful political tool’. Do you see Sick Love Zine as a political statement?
“It’s completely political. I'm really inspired by DIY zine culture. I'm really inspired by the punk movement and riot grrrl in the ’90s and the messaging behind it. I was inspired by a group of very young people getting together and organising – not that I felt I was organising through print, but I’m very aware of the long history of what print has given to people, especially people excluded from the mainstream because they can’t access mainstream press.

"My prints always have a social message or a social point, like the series we just made looking at underground queer artists in different cities in Europe. A lot of that discussion is about the art, but also about their society and being queer in it; talking about their status as queer people in different countries, what this means, how it’s shown through their art-making and stuff like this. And keeping a lot of the focus on more social elements alongside the art.”

How did that zine project come about, and why did you choose those cities?
“You hear a lot about major cities and major artists navigating them, and I was intrigued to explore more outside of my comfort zone and discover creative communities and cultures that I had not yet experienced. I’d been a very London-centric person, I lived there most of my life, and focused a lot of my energy and thought-processes around that. I really wanted to explore more artistic communities and cultures and their social status in societies. I’m very interested in people and how they navigate their surroundings.

"I’d never been to any of these places so I was jumping in with no knowledge and that’s what I wanted – I wanted to learn from people and be able to hopefully show it in print. I picked a few places I’d heard about. Glasgow I know has a very strong creative scene. I was very interested in going to Poland because I wanted to learn about how queer communities navigate the government and the politics there, and if/how they can express themselves creatively in a country that is hostile toward queer people. I’m interested in talking to people living in these places past the surface stuff you see in the media.”

How was the Kyiv experience?
“I went before the war, it was in November last year. It was amazing, it was my favourite place I’ve ever been – I love Kyiv a lot and think it’s an amazing city with really lovely people. It was very different culturally to the UK, of course. Very different visually with amazing mismatched architecture. And really, really friendly people. One thing I took away from making this project is the importance of connecting with people. Zoom is very convenient and lovely, but going to each place was such an amazing experience. I was immersed with people and we would do a more formal interview but we would hang out, they’d show me their lives in the city and I really felt like I got to experience these places and that isn’t possible without that kind of connection.”

What did you take away from your travels around Europe?
“One of the nicest things about it was realising how much focus is put on these big cities. I was going to all these smaller cities – Leipzig is about the size of Brighton – and just seeing these places and how strong the work is there in these communities. Everyone is concerned with their own spaces and circles, everyone lives in their bubble and there are billions of bubbles across the planet, but it was very eye-opening to me how true that is. We often concern ourselves with ourselves or within the peripheral of whatever media we’re given, it’s all very tailored to us – what papers you read, what shows you watch, what platforms you follow on social media. It was very interesting to see just how closed-off we actually are.

"With the art, there’s not one linking thing, but a lot of it is very raw, a lot of it is experimental as well. A lot of artists are creating very free of commercialism, there’s a lot of play involved and different mediums being used at once. One of the artists in Ukraine did paintings all in an abandoned building and did an exhibition there, and one of her main points was how the galleries in Kyiv only take established artists and it was her middle finger up to the system by painting the walls so there’s no way she can profit off this art. It’s hard to make money or be successful in some kind of way as an artist, so they’re creating purely out of social or creative wants and needs, which is really inspiring and creates a lot of raw, energetic and political work.”

Sick Love's primary focus is on less well-known artists. What needs to change for these people to be more visible?
“There are so many structures that are so ingrained in our society that have such huge barriers for people. There’s so many amazing, wonderful people with amazing, wonderful practices that will never see the light of day in the media for so many different reasons – the barriers they face in their everyday life, the message they get across with their art, so many things that make them ‘unsavoury’ for the mainstream or don’t allow them access to certain resources like coming from a working class background or being a queer artist in a country that isn’t accepting. These things are huge barriers to what you can achieve in the mainstream or within social structures that are oppressive, it’s difficult for these marginalised people to become successful within the same structures.

"It’s nothing to do with their own drive or skillsets, and so much of success isn’t. Lots of the time, not all of the time, the artists who have made it into these powerful positions within societal structures have made it there through other factors as well as talent. Their own privileges have allowed them success. A lot of these artists are really, incredibly amazing, and some of them are successful. But, for example, an artist I worked with in Poland, Agata Slowak, is very renowned. Does she make much money? No. Is she internationally renowned as a very good painter? Yes. She had an exhibition in Sadie Coles in London but she lives with her partner in their parents’ house because she doesn’t have much money at all. Success isn’t skill-based.”

Community is a vital part of any zine. What does community mean to you?
"To me, community is support, community is uplifting and community is a unity of similar people. The word sometimes is misused when all that’s really there is a linking factor instead of support and unity, which are really important. Community is a space for growth and support and non-judgement and a healthy balance of people looking to support and similar people to themselves. I wanted to bring together the community when I started publishing, I was interested in starting workshops and group sessions to facilitate connection past an online format. Being with other people and learning from people is the most inspiring thing you can do."

If someone picks up Sick Love for the first time, what do you want them to take away from it?
“I want people to learn about different young creatives, about young people who aren’t normally in the media. I want people reading the zines to learn about artists and hopefully – through the discussion and discourse about wider social issues and situations – I would like people to become aware of active situations. What they do with that information is up to them, but I hope they can be inspired by people involved in the projects. The first print we ever made was all about active change, looking at creatives that are stepping away from social media and actually work in societies by volunteering and organising in communities that need their help. I would like them to be inspired. That’s what I am when I meet these people and why I pick them to be involved.”

Find out more about Sick Love on their official website.

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