THAD HIGA ON PROMOTING READING, TINY ZINES AND TINY FREE LIBRARIES
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Who is Thad Higa?
I’m someone. I wake up everyday and don’t know how combs work. 3rd generation Korean American, 4th generation Okinawan American. Ex-religious. Born in San Jose. Went to elementary and high school in Honolulu. Moved to Seattle, moved to New York. Been back in Hawaii for two years. I can do ten push ups in two weeks. Art makes me pale. I like jeans and am looking for overalls.
What did you do in the past and what are you currently doing?
I was pursuing life solely as a writer of experimental fiction and poetry. I got sidetracked making zines with a group of artists and musician friends when I lived in Seattle, and didn’t stop. Now I’m going to take it to the Guggenheim this summer.
I got into bookmaking after I finished writing this novella and was impatient with finding a publisher so I started printing, binding and selling it out myself. I smuggled it into bookstores and took it to bars to sell for drinks. It wasn’t the best story but it got me excited about bookmaking.
I’m working on designing a zine with a band Sontag Shogun, a zine that will be released as a counterpart to their album. I’m also working on a HIZAB Library collaboration with CONTACT—the contemporary Hawaii arts exhibition—coming up in April. I’m building shelves for the artist books, curating a selection of HIZAB books for perusal and display, doing a Walkabout event with Adele from 88 Block Walks, where we’re attempting to remap the mission house area through psychogeography, and trying to finish my own artist book to submit.
How did your art come about? How would you describe your work?
I like to make things. It started by making special little art objects for people I liked. Then I started keeping things for myself. I’m an amateur. I just experiment and use the stuff around me to make things. I have ideas that make me laugh, or complicated feelings that I want to take apart, then I make work from it.
I would call it something like speculative book-making. Ultracollagin’. Special curatives for curators. Counterpart-therapy through frustrating and non-therapeutic means. Stealin’n’Sewing. Word Problems. I’m figuring it out. I’m trying to bring words to life. Physically. Giving actual weight to words. I’m definitely not a pioneer in the field, but I’m trying to find my own way to both new writing and new books.
Why do you do the work that you do? How is it different from everything else?
Everyone has their own lens through which they experience the world. These projects are mine. I want to find a deeper communication to people and place through these endeavors. Or in the least, engage my time in a way that interests me. I like what I do, so I do it. If you’re true to yourself through the work you do, I believe (maybe naively) it will resonate with others.
What is Tiny Zine Hawaii?
Tiny Zines. In Hawaii. I set up a little archive library for the zines to exist at Mori in South Shore Market. People can create their own tiny zines to live in the library permanently, or have some set up to give away for free.
I wrote in my first (and maybe last) Tiny Zine email list message, “It’s an exercise of creation, and a meditation on salience, portability, intimacy, coincidences and impermanence. It will be whatever the community makes of it and whatever failures/successes I cause by poor sense of place and social interaction, and will last for a long time or a not so long time. I don’t present hallmark invitations to create with Tiny Zine. I am one direction in an open field. I present myself and my moment here today. Tiny Zine is next to nothing. This near-nothingness is the signified and the signifier. Tiny Zine is the notion of the unopened door we walk past on the sidewalk daily. It is the free access to create/pass on/find not just beauty but wisdom in this quick world. It is the practice of exposure and a permanent quest for strangeness (realness), friends, heavy entertainment and alternative routes of communication.”
How did you come up with the concept of Tiny Zine Hawaii? How did it all start?
I’ve always been into miniature things. They make me laugh, especially if they’re represented dryly, objects unaware of their own tinyness. It provides me perspective on how absurd our concerns are to some giant entity looking down on Earth. I also went small because it’s economic. You don’t need a lot of material to create 1 tiny zine.
I don’t remember the exact impetus behind Tiny Zine Hawaii. But it was definitely inspired by Little Free Libraries and The Sketchbook Project. Little Free Libraries are those birdhouses for book-people, where someone builds bookshelves on the sidewalks, outside their houses or shops, and people take and leave books. Sketchbook Project is a space in NYC where artists all over can purchase a notebook to fill up with whatever they wanted, drawings, writings, paintings, prints…and when they’re finished they leave it in the Sketchbook library for others to look at. Tiny Zine Hawaii is supposed to be a mix of those two, but it’s hard to keep up with it. People take a lot more than they put back.
What is HIZAB Library?
It stands for Hawaii Zine and Book Library. It’s a work in progress at the moment, in the Chinatown Artist Lofts (until I have to relocate at the end of April). The full idea is to create a speakeasy type lounge for books rather than drinks, some which can be borrowed, and other rare or collectible items for in-library-use only. The curation is unique to Hawaii. It houses local and non-locally made zines, as well as artists books, poetry (much of it experimental), graphic novels, design-heavy books, as well as a mix of interesting fiction and non-fiction books. I’m also gathering local curators, book lovers, librarians, artists, writers, publishers, to curate special collections that are exhibited for a limited time, much like paintings in a gallery. Anyone can come in, pick up a book and hang out for as long as they want (or until it closes).
Why is it important to have HIZAB Library? Why does the community need to know about it?
There aren’t any well curated public spaces in Hawaii devoted to books. HIZAB proposes a comfortable, warm lit, lounge-inevitable space designed for books and book culture to thrive. You always hear people saying that books are dying and no one reads anymore, but its not wholly true. It’s rather that the book culture is changing, and bookstores/spaces/libraries often don’t make accommodations for it. The concept of what a book is, looks like, and can do is shifting with the global shift from written language to visual language. HIZAB wants to live in that critical juncture, and I think if its done correctly Hawaii will respond to it.
What is your goal and purpose for creating this library? How is it relevant today?
I want spaces that cultivate book culture, slowness, artful thinking, and curated coincidences. I didn’t see it happening on any one else’s watch, so I’m seeing if I can make it happen. Books are an access point to anything, any topic. It’s the internet, but focused, a forced deep dive on one issue or story. People want to read. Most of us just aren’t in the habit of reading. HIZAB promotes that. It also rethinks what a community space can be. We CAN have free spaces like this. We CAN cultivate the right questions, and the right actions by communing over quality, rare, esoteric, alternative, challenging and enriching free-access materials.
What made you want to apply to the Artists in Residence program? What are you hoping to get out of it?
I want to be obliged to push my art as far as I can. Working on a 6-month residency for a show helps towards that end. I’m honing a skill of commitment—learning to take myself more seriously as an artist, while not getting locked into expectations of myself as such.
I befriended a couple of artists last year who just worked at their art all the time. They had day jobs, but filled almost all of their down time with making art. I would hang out in their studio just to be a part of that energy. It was creative energy for sure, but mostly dedication to hard work. I’m trying to emulate that work force and put pressure on myself to evolve into a better version of me.
How does it feel creating your art in a co-working space and does it affect your workflow versus working in a traditional work environment? What are the benefits?
I like the energy. It’s easier to get work done when I know other people around me are working as well. Also, it’s easy to get stuck in your own head when you’re the only person working in your own studio, so it does dissolve those mental blocks.
What do you aspire to do in the future?
I aspire for a stable location for HIZAB to operate. I aspire for grants to fund reading events and shenanigans and acquisitions of incredible artist books and curated book and zine collections from all over the world, so that they may be made accessible to anyone who walks in the door of the library. I aspire for strange books that cross media boundaries, break their own forms in sublime and impossible ways. I aspire for new forms of old stories and for raising consciousness of language, thereby raising awareness of culture, diversity of story and thought, and furthermore empathy for all humans in the absurd universe. I aspire to meet someone who to take over my social media and marketing presence so I don’t have to think about it ever again. I aspire to eclipse Irma Boom and Dieter Roth.