Small sounds can still be heard: a conversation with zinemaker Beatrix Pang

Beatrix Pang and her risograph printer at Small Tune Press. Michael CW Chiu, Still / Loud
How zines create communities.

It was in the now-closed Tower Records in Causeway Bay that Beatrix Pang discovered the medium that would change the course of her life. After school, she would pore through their racks of zines, fingers turning the freshly printed pages, and asking herself, “What am I looking at?”

It is easy to imagine because I’ve been there. I still do that. And so does she.

Beatrix is now the founder, editor and book designer of Small Tune Press, an independent publishing platform that produces artist’s books and zines. She is the one-woman publisher behind a myriad of creative projects, from the exhibition booklet for Chris Evans, Pak Sheung Chuen: Two Exhibitions at Para Site to Sweaty & Cramped’s latest gig poster. Throughout the day, poets, photographers and writers come in and out of STP’s cozy sunlit studio in Wong Chuk Hang to discuss their ongoing projects with Beatrix.

Things have not always been this way. When Beatrix first moved back to Hong Kong after studying in Norway, she wondered: Where are the Hong Kong artists? Why are there all sorts of institutions, but no place to gather? What are they working on?

Seeking answers, she turned to the art form she was most familiar with: zines.

Zine making materials and Beatrix. Michael CW Chiu, Still / Loud

Back in the early 2000s, Beatrix recalls, local record stores were the main distributors for zines. These handmade booklets enticed illustrators, cartoonists and writers to compile their works. They were one of many streams of paper pop culture ephemera that circulated amongst friends. The collective nature of making and sharing zines instigated dialogue and built communities.

Eager to recover this sense of collectivity, she founded Small Tune Press in 2011. In the seven years since, STP has worked with countless writers, artists, curators and researchers: each book is often linked to an exhibition or a talk, as some ideas embedded in the text are the result of many hours in shared space and conviviality. Beatrix says that this process can be an antidote to the broader systemic barriers that creative workers face: local artists must compete for a limited pool of resources and spaces, and zine-making is a way of circumventing notions of scarcity.

“In building Small Tune Press,” she says, “I consider forming alliances to be one of the most vital outcomes of this endeavour.”

Small Tune Press. Michael CW Chiu, Still / Loud

In 2017, Beatrix took this one step further: she and a group of fellow zinemakers founded Zine Coop, a knowledge sharing collective that hosts workshops and puts out open calls for creators to share their work. Beatrix says many of her fellow zinesters sought to make work in communal spaces, rather than their bedrooms: at Zine Coop, each gathering is a chance for everyone to pitch in tips and tricks.

For Beatrix, a love for zines goes beyond an obsession over paper and tangibility—they also represent a thirst for human intimacy. “The allure of printed matter has to do with a yearning for physical contact. There are people who care a great deal about printed matter and face-to-face encounters, and this community is alive and well.”  

Recent developments bolster her argument: Hong Kong hosted its first Zine and Print Fair last year, and purpose-built spaces for zines and artist’s books, such as Odd One Out and Book B, are thriving. The constellation of people working within and around independent publishing here is small yet powerful.

The name “Small Tune Press” stems from a quote in Werner Herzog’s film, Cave of Forgotten Dreams. “I like the way ‘small tune’ sounds humble. Small sounds can still be clear and be heard. Small sounds are as expansive as big sounds, but they require you to engage with care,” Beatrix says.

Beatrix and her handmade acrylic bookstand. Michael CW Chiu, Still / Loud

Zines are a testament to the possibilities of collaboration—one that challenges the notion of the artist operating as an individual. Consider If You Want to Quit, Let’s Do It Tomorrow: a book of photographs and text by Leung Yiu Hong, designed and edited by Beatrix. The cover is a sandy, warm gray, that is slightly coarse to the touch. The title of the book is printed in clear ink that catches the light when held at an angle. The way it has been printed gives the impression that the title is being whispered secretly, like a promise between friends. Leung’s images are quiet and focused revelations of the everyday: of rain dripping from a roof, or a bite out of a slice of toast. Paging through the book gives the sensation of being held by the hand and led somewhere. When one finally arrives at the colophon, and sees the list of collaborators behind the work, it feels like a miracle that multiple people could produce something so intimate.

I plan to stay an hour, but end up perusing Beatrix’s projects for most of the afternoon. Her face lights up when talking about her upcoming projects, which include an exhibition catalogue. She emphasizes how “starting to make artist’s books is one of [her] ways to learn about other artists’ practices, to appreciate what they are doing.”

I tell her the reason why she makes books with people is the same reason why I interview people. The pleasure of gathering in space, making something together, and leaving it for someone to find.

Editing by Still/Loud’s Karen Cheung.