February 12, 2014

Zine: Pearrls #7

 Pearrls: A new kind of women's magazine.

Have you ever wished there was a magazine out there, something that didn't pigeonhole you, didn't make you feel inadequate, didn't talk down to you – a magazine that didn't feel the need to conform to gender stereotypes in order to appear young and current? A magazine that is both staggeringly intelligent and indulgently pop culture? Well, I have. I've been looking for those kinds of magazines all my life. Enter Pearrls, the zine for the non-utopian girl.

Within this non-utopia, there are offerings on a plethora of different subjects, not just the usual glossy fare. There's talk of sisterhood, of a global female community. From the conceptual calisthenics of dancer Natalie Abbott (who talks to Pearrls about her latest project involving a male bodybuilder) to the performance poetry of Belinda Zhawi, the underlying vibe you get from Pearrls is one of innovation. They focus on everything that is new, experimental; whether it's female-created graphic novels or an inventive cocktail recipe from food blogger Gemma Wardle.

I spoke to Sophie Coombs and Katie Hare, the co-founders and editors of Pearrls, about their site and everything that goes into it. Both originally from London, and bored of the widespread saturation of misogynist media content, the two friends decided to launch an online magazine that would utilize their artistic backgrounds and experience, as well as keep them in regular contact when they moved to different cities (Melbourne and Seoul). Combining their different strengths, with Sophie sourcing their first content and Katie bringing her technological know-how to the table, they started "calling in favors from talented friends and acquaintances," and an inter-continental platform was born.

"With Pearrls, we wanted to create an online space that was supportive of female creative practice and female cultures from around the world, providing some mud-needed relief from the oppressive focus on body image and relationships within much of the female-facing mainstream media," Coombs said. "We wanted a nice balance, a bit of escapism that doesn't make you feel guilty or inferior. Something informative, but also fun."
Every piece is a delight to read. It's like indulging in the most underground, free-thinkign and eclectic girl's mag you'll ever find. A highlight of the issue was, for me, an essay by the owner of an online sex-toy shop about the ride in online retail sales, and how this is interwoven with Internet anonymity, bitcoin and British culture. There's also a fascinating interview with sculptor Annie Strachan, about the relationship between concepts and aesthetics. Her highly abstract work is at once gently and austere; a dynamic, figurative display of beautiful textual and stylistic contrasts. I asked what they look for in the artists they feature, what draws them to such diverse individuals. Do they have anything in common?

"A lot of people we work with we've known for years. We've watched them start projects and have seen them develop. All of these women share a real passion for their craft. The artists we usually choose, we love because they push everything to the extremes," Coombs says. Hare also explained they "look for people whose work excited us, and that we feel is fresh. Some of the work might not always be to our personal tastes, but we can always recognize the value, innovation or dedication." It's this kind of acceptance and inclusion that makes Pearrls so stimulating, so relevant.

Their art exhibition, A Non Utopian Kind of Girl, was held in London in December, which Coombs describes as being "the biggest challenge this year," considering they were curating it from halfway across the world, in their respective cities. So what comes next for Pearrls? What else will the limitless reach of the Internet enable them to do, now that they have an audience? "The Internet is both scary and wonderful. It allows you to have such flexibility as you flow and connect ideas and cool stuff. Yet it can be incredibly detached and lonely also." A physical zine may well be in the cards, they tell me, with both of them being such big fans of tangible, DIY publishing. Before I let them go and get back to revolutionizing our media landscape, Coombs only has one thing to say on the subject of their future: "We'll keep doing Pearrls until it stops being fun, and personally, I can't see that happening any time soon."

Check out the full issue of Pearrls here.

Holly Cassell, an artist and blogger that loves to travel and has a longstanding love affair with hotels. Her floor is always covered in glitter. She writes about her world here.