The Loon
MULCH: SFC and Alternative Networks 1988-1993

I first encountered Sensoria From Censorium a couple years ago in a used book store on Bloor street. As a collage artist, I look for full-page printing evident along the book block as I skim the titles for anything that catches my eye. I probably pulled SFC out because there is no information printed on the spine.

The book was perfect-bound 8.5×11 with a vibrant color collage of the Tower of Babel with of Ivory Soap logos pasted over top. Upon opening it I found the interior to be chaotic and lofi – a collection of xeroxed pages, but the arrangement and design was so maximalist that it took some time to discern the title and structure of the issue. As I flipped through the ambitious 100+ page book/zine I saw xerox art, po-mo musings, vivid poetry, messy performance documentation and small-press tape reviews. Jackpot. This would join a pile of ephemera and anthologies, chopped into hybridized histories of subculture and textures of a time before I was born.

I had some questions that kept the knife away from it: Who assembled this? How did such a substantial publication of fringe material like this get published? Probably the biggest carrot of all was that an internet search yielded nothing about the publishers or editors in any meaningful way. Flipping to the last few pages of this book I was greeted with column after column of information – full names, addresses and phone numbers. I saw contributors from Canada, Japan, South America, England and the U.S. amongst others.

Eventually I tracked down one of the attributed editors and to my surprise, they were still in Toronto. A few email chains later and I was able to meet up with SFC, editor-in-chief. We sat and had coffee and watched some people play tennis. It took some time for the editor to believe anyone found the publication, let alone cared enough to want to present it in some way.  We stayed in touch sporadically, and this year met up a few more times to talk about Sensoria From Censorium, Mail Art, Underground Networks, and Toronto Art in the early 90s.

SFC furnished me with a few shoeboxes: original works submitted to him, adjacent zines, mail art, photographs and stamps. Giddy with excitement we carefully pored over the material, wondering about how to present it all and what kind of input the editor would want to have in the exhibition. To my surprise he asked to be as hands off as possible. This was no longer the world he was a part of for those five years. The publisher ran out of money, the contributors lost touch, life carried on. He was more interested in what I got out of all of this. Why I thought any of it was worth bringing up again.

Truthfully, it was hard to put into words what I loved most about this collection of weird and insightful material, but I invited him to The Loon for an opening that evening. As we sat chatting over a beer and taking in the work, I realized this thing that Aleks started and Oliver and Caleb and I have kept the lights on for nearly four years was about as close to an explanation as I was likely to have. I felt in Sensoria From Censorium that same excitement of possibility, the dizzying and contradictory range of artists and art, the community, the informality, and maybe a bit of fatalism. Nothing lasts forever.

Sensoria From Censorium began in 1988 as a mostly-handmade zine exploring xerography and cassette culture. Assembled between office hours by Zooie Noboody AKA SFC, the publication managed to assemble poetry, drawings, comics, calls for submissions, tape reviews and art critique from as far as Vancouver, San Francisco and Ohio.

The 1990 issue of Sensoria From Censorium, subtitled Other Ground Works, swelled to 180 pages of local and international contributions from Italy, Sweden, United States, USSR, England, France and Japan. Xerography, collage, comix, drawing and poetry remained a constant in Other Ground Works, but the greater reach of the publication encouraged a more rigorous examination of the means and meaning of distributing the content. As a result, SFC Issue 2 is a far more radical and confrontational work. They invite contributions proposing Art Strikes, interview fellow network and zine makers, discuss mail-art in the USSR and Latin America, and advocate for plagiarism. Crucially, the editors interrogate popular and critical readings of the Alternative Networks available in 1990:

“If we are to appreciate and understand this particular network that this book celebrates, to see it for its strengths and flaws, we must consider the social relations that are entrenched in dominant culture, in social structure, and consider how this Network goes beyond the models of Mass Culture, as well as how it unconsciously recreates certain patterns of perception and expression. To avoid a deceptive insularity, as found in High Art, hard questions must be asked: Which cultural groups dominate this network? What is to be found in the spectrum of networks that find us here, in the so-called Sub-Culture? What is the culture that dwells above?”

The final issue, subtitled Low Culture / High Culture / No Culture, continues to tackle the questions posed in Other Ground Works, nearly doubling in size and scope to well over 300 pages. Submissions skewing towards issues surrounding the body and sexuality in art and politics alike ensured the confrontational publication would begin to skew towards ideas of censorship and transgression in Canadian art and culture in 1993.  SFC Issue 3 also avowedly rejects the then-current trend of cyberpunk as the next place for underground rebellion, citing the cost, accessibility and lack of tactility as antithetical to its ethics.

There is a strange prescience in this rejection of the early days of the web. By now many of us cannot remember a time without the internet in our lives, but we can remember a time when it felt like a revolutionizing tool for connecting us to information, cultures and each other. In 2019, the internet is no more transgressive or liberating than any of the other state and corporate controlled means of communication. SFC had no illusions about this, and its desire to stay tactile has both granted it immunity from dissemination along these compromised channels and relegated it to a semi-forgotten place of Toronto Art and publishing history.

In their examination of the relationship between circulation and American Art history, Francois Brunet reminds us of the inverse:

“For every object that circulates, how many don’t? For every picture that appears, how many disappear? For every archive that is digitized, how many are destroyed? Ultimately, if, as we suggest, circulation has been a shaping factor of American art, to what extent have noncirculations, absences, invisibilities, negations, and destructions also been determining factors in its history?”

I would like to think a visit to The Loon on a particularly fun night helped articulate the kinship I felt with not only Sensoria From Censorium, but with all the scenes and moments in art and music and culture we get to glimpse in passing, shared by friends or read in books as we live in our own moment. I think it made sense to SFC, who threw their hands up on the way out and chuckled, “I’m just the mulch! You guys go ahead and do what you want with it.”

-Liam Crockard