Let’s experiment for a moment. Open your phone and look at your camera roll. Scroll through the myriad of content saved on that flimsy device. How much footage was taken on an ordinary day? Why do you want to remember that train ride, the plate of spaghetti, or keep a blurry pic captured in a drunken haze?
The human urge to archive our every moment, including the seemingly mundane, is the thesis behind Jim Shedden’s latest exhibit, I AM HERE: HOME MOVIES AND EVERYDAY MASTERPIECES at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). With an emphasis on home videos, the exhibit is packed with zines, family photo albums, shopping lists, protest footage,, wallet junk, food, and all ephemera in between. An ode to the beauty within the ordinary. Shedden’s collection explores shared human experiences through personal records, a cross examination of how the methods of documentation evolved with the cultural climate. From cave paintings to social media, proof of existence through the visual language is vital to our survival.
“A lot of the things in the collection, they’re orphans,” says Shedden. “We don’t know who made most of those photo albums, the polaroids, the other photos on the wall. We don’t know who made most of the home movies. They didn’t get destroyed, but they ended up in flea markets and eventually online or in libraries.”
A creator and collector of zines, Shedden reflects on his humbled fanzine beginnings. “Who knew that our juvenilia back then really stand as documents.” Shedden appoints zine culture as an important form of historical preservation. It was the cultural phenomenons happening around him, ignored by mainstream media, that urged Shedden to produce zines. “We did it because we weren’t going to get published. You had to do it. If you were interested in music from a scene, that was the only way it was going to get discussed. That was the only way you were going to make connections out in the world with other people that might be interested in that topic.”
Why do creating – and protecting – zines continue to matter in the digital age? Zines are a physical marker of our cultural evolution, regionally and globally. “In zine culture, we are capturing and sharing in a way that is just not going to happen” Sheddon explains. “I mean, did anyone review The Snipers besides us? The Car Sickness show at the Rivoli in 1982, only we captured it, or maybe another zine… It’s an important way of pulling things out of the noise and connecting with a smaller, easier culture.”
The AGO exhibition closes with a quote from writer William Gibson, fully encapsulating the experience of being human:
“Time moves in one direction, memory in another. We are the strange species that constructs artifacts intended to counter the natural flow of forgetting.”
I AM HERE: HOME MOVIES AND EVERYDAY MASTERPIECES is running at the AGO until August 14th, 2022.
See an extended preview of this exhibit in Issue #96 of Broken Pencil.