Text and Interview: Alec Coiro
Images Courtesy of Flora Gill and Alex Adams
We were thrilled to see yet another fantastic zine by Heinz Feller Nileisist, the same people who published Alissa Bennett’s Dead is Better. This time it’s Range by Alexa Adams and Flora Gill, the duo behind the women’s wear line, Ohne Title.
Range, which was shown at the NY Art Book Fair, lays out a perspective on mountain climbing designed to challenge both male heroic mythology and the commodification of nature and leisure. The design of the zine beautiful pairs geometric shapes with the mountainous topography in a way that, perhaps echos, Ohne Titles mixture of the architectural with drapery.
Both women have a connection with zines, going all the way back to the foundational days of the ‘90s. And they’re both mountaineers themselves, so a great deal of expertise went into the crafting of Range, which will become clear if you on.
Are you climbers yourselves?
Alexa:Yes, my own experience first got me interested in the some of the aesthetics and history of climbing.
Flora: I love that it is a mental sport as much as a physical sport. You have to find solutions while holding on for your life.
I love the mix of natural topography and geometry of the black rectangles. How do you see the shape of the ropes fitting in with these contrasting elements? And what is generally the role of rope in the zine?
Alexa: We were interested in how nature was commoditized and turned into symbols. Mountains become branded triangles and also are used in express masculine imagery and ideals. The history of mountaineering is intertwined with the myth of the conquering male adventurer who overcomes nature in his quest to literally top it. Mountains represent a double masculinity of protruding form and stark edges, strength and height. In contrast female imagery of crags, clefts and interiors of stone and nature reference a time before history, the mysterious, hidden, and unconscious. Historically female saints have “disappeared” inside the clefts of rock as a miracle, their own erasure acting as ultimate symbol of their power. We used ropes to symbolize utility and bondage. These mythologies continue to be reflected in contemporary sport imagery, both for storytelling and as commercial product. By reimagining these myths, we want to disrupt this imagery, to reimagine hidden power and symbols.
Flora: Ropes provide safety and extra strength. Maybe because they are so important and so basic, they haven’t really been branded and commodified like many other types of sports equipment. It is an example of something we take for granted till you need it.
How would you fit Range into the popular discourse on mountaineering, which seems to span everything from that Sylvester Stallone movie to Eastern Mountain Sports to Frodo’s ascent of Mt. Doom?
Alexa: That mythology of the climber perfectly describes the hero’s journey. Everything from books, movies, writing, brands, sports, and philosophies have been based on this story. We wanted to reimagine the hero’s journey by looking at gender and representation in archetypes- the adventurer, the hermit, the saint, the conqueror, and the hidden actor.
Flora: Climbing itself is remarkably egalitarian, as everyone has their own set of challenges that they can manipulate into advantages. The climbers are all women, conquering in often hidden and invisible ways.
You use your black-and-white pallet to magnificent effect. How did you arrive at the concept for the design of the book?
Flora: Bold black and white makes the negative space as noticeable as the positive space. You can see some objects only because of it’s shadow. Sometimes the sky is white, sometimes the sky is black. Both are equally plausible and visually accurate in context.
Alexa: My first experience with zines was as a teenager in the 90’s reading Riot Grrrl zine. I loved the focus on recasting commercial images of femininity into rebellion. Riot Grrl was one the the first true post post-modern creative expressions- using the critique of culture to create something totally new and liberated. I liked keeping some of that immediacy in THE RANGE while being more frankly visual.
Do you see the zine as a break from your work in fashion or in a kind of continuity with it?
Flora: Fashion for us has always been a give and take with society and culture. In an outfit you can express so many feelings, thoughts, and interests without words – often they are things that almost cannot be verbalized, the feeling is it’s truest expression. A zine that is primarily visual content creates this same immersion. We could play with ideas through juxtaposition and taking them out of context.
Alexa: Working in this medium gives us a chance to take some of the issues between sport, fashion, nature/technology, and gender and be more direct. We wanted to create an aesthetic message that was independent of selling a product.