Transcribed Waveforms

an interview about the Mosaic

Sean Dunphy interviews Angelica Orlova about the innerworkings of The Mosaic

Q: Today I am going to be interviewing one of the creators of the zine. So, the very first question that I need to ask is, who are you?

A: I am Angelica Orlova, I’m a graduate student in the inorganic chemistry track in the Reinhart lab. I am the co-founder and editor of The Mosaic.

Q: So, the next question that I have for you is what even is The Mosaic?

A: The Mosaic is a zine, and zine is short for magazine. [Zines] are small publications – always self-published – and they are often an outlet for underrepresented or lesser heard voices in a particular community. And that’s what The Mosaic is! But The Mosaic is specific to our department, so this is a small publication, self-published by the chemistry and biochemistry department for all members of our community and we hope that it serves as an outlet for lesser heard voices.

Q: So then, if this is representative of zine culture, when did you first become aware of zine culture?

A: I think it was probably in early high school. I was really into punk and punk culture, and zines play a big role in that subculture. Especially in the 70’s and 90’s. Obviously that era was quite a while ago, so I mostly read about specific zines through books.

Q: Was reading about zines and zine culture through books the idea that sparked The Mosaic? Or was it something else entirely?

A: No, this was entirely Emily’s brainchild. She came to me after starting a zine project that she did – I think it was in CHEM 250 – and all of the students essentially contributed to making a zine at the end of the class. It seemed to be really successful. They published some of the booklets, everybody got to keep one, and I think she wanted to continue to do this but on a larger scale. And so, she came to me with this idea being like “Hey is this crazy?” And I said “No this isn’t crazy, let’s do this!” But it was entirely her brainchild from that regard. I think I just stepped in as the editor, the artistic director and then the stubborn one in terms of negotiations. Once we talked about this, we really wanted this to be an outlet for our departmental community. We wanted this to be a space of expression for people, where people can step out of the role of being chemists or scientists and step into a completely different role. And we wanted it to be a means of expression, especially to voices in the department that might not otherwise be heard [because] we have a component of anonymity to the submissions.

Q: Was there a large gap of time between CHEM 250, the conceptualization of The Mosaic, and the execution of the idea?

A: I think Emily approached me at the end of that class. I remember asking her to show me the finished product. I wanted to see what she was talking about. She actually gave me a copy of the zine they made in [CHEM] 250. I think after that, there was only about a month or two before we actually got started on the project. It was just more about talking about the idea, bringing it all together. Once we had the concept of what we actually wanted to do, we looked for funding from the department because we needed printing costs [covered].

Q: I guess that means there is a prequel or predecessor to The Mosaic floating around. I wonder if we will ever get to see that?

A: There definitely is. You can ask Emily about it.

Q: This sounds like [The Mosaic] was done on a much larger scale than something like the [CHEM] 250 project. Walk me through, what does it look like from start to finish, especially on a bigger project like The Mosaic?

A: First, it’s always brainstorming the theme because each version of The Mosaic does have a theme. It’s always a loose theme. But we do want to have a theme just so that people have some direction or source of inspiration if they’re looking for it. So, we come together, we brainstorm the theme, meditate on some ideas, and then usually pick one that’s relevant either to the times or the events that have recently occurred. Or just one that feels right to us. It’s really important that it’s general enough, because we want everyone to be able to use it as their source of inspiration. But again, it’s optional. At this point, we usually reach out to some folks in the department who might be interested in designing the cover. So, one of the things that was personally important to me was that it’s a collaborative project. With that being said, we wanted each cover to be designed by a different artist in our community. Then comes the advertising portion. I create the flyers and the promotional content for the upcoming volume, and we distribute this among the department. Then we collect submissions by doing zine crafting events, putting up flyers, or just requesting submissions in person. We even have QR codes to the new submission forms on the backs of the prior volumes of the zines. So, if we are distributing the zines, we tend to mention that to people if they are interested in submitting to upcoming volumes. Then, once we are past the deadline for the submissions, then comes the compiling and editing portion. Emily usually scans the physical submissions we got, then I look through all the submissions [and] I organize them. I organize them in a number of regards. First, I visually look at them. Some things just stand out to me and I think “Oh these could look interesting side by side.” I look at landscape vs. portrait style submissions because that’s another factor in terms of actual printing booklets that you need to take into consideration. And then I compile the pages together, I like to have some more alternating submissions between drawings, art, and written word. One thing that I do as the editor is check for scan quality, adjust color saturation, things like that for printing. I always check for the appropriate credit. Some people want to be credited for their work; some people want their work to be anonymous. In both regards it is important to check. Once it gets compiled and becomes a final form, it goes to Emily initially for approval. [She] looks it over and gives me feedback. Afterwards we send it to Nate, Stacey, and our department chair for final approval before printing. That is something that has to be done because the department name is on the zine.

Q: So, the “making of” seems very involved. Now that the zine is completed conceptually, how do you get it into the hands of everyone in the department?

A: Once it’s essentially completed and approved by all parties then we can actually go to print. We work with our local UCSD imprints shop. We always make a proof, check it, make another proof, check it again. We keep doing that until it’s essentially up to standard. Once the proof is approved, then we print in bulk and distribute.

Q: For those not familiar with the print process (like me), what is a “proof”?

A: A “proof” is essentially the first version of the printed document. On the very first printing you have to look and make sure that it’s up to par: that its stapled correctly, printed correctly, nothing is smeared or cut off, and nothing is messed up.

Q: Do you find that you have to go through several proofs before its actually put together correctly?

A: Yes, usually two or three. The first [zine] we had at least four or five [proofs].

Q: Once you have a proof that you are happy with, and its finally printed, how do you make sure its spread across the department?

A: We try to distribute the zine and have it printed in time for departmental events. So, like the end of the year holiday party, or the mid-year department celebration. In those times, we want to distribute to as many people as possible. Outside of that, we have just left copies around buildings, we have given copies to those who have made submissions, and anyone who is generally interested in the department. We have also left some copies in the LGBTQ+ Resource Center, we have left some copies in the libraries, anywhere where there is foot traffic of interested people. We even had copies at the coffee cart at one point. Also, we have an archive of the zine available digitally on our website.

Q: It’s interesting that you mention there is a digital archive of The Mosaic. In zine and zine culture, one of the defining parts of zine culture is in the fact that it is physical print. A professor at the College of Charleston, Allison Piepmeier, cited the “materiality” of the zine as the main way to make a connection between the zine maker and the zine reader. In your opinion, if we have this digital copy, how important is having the physical print towards the success of The Mosaic? Do you think we would have the same level of engagement if it was just a digital archive?

A: Absolutely not. I don’t think we would have the same engagement if it was just a digital publication. If it was entirely digital, it would just be another deleted email. There’s a physical object that you can actually hold and handle. I take a little bit of pride in how I’ve organized and made this object come to life. I want people to interact with it, I want people to hold it, turn it around, flip it around, flip it side to side. One thing I’ll say off the top of my head, the very first volume of The Mosaic, I put all of the landscape pieces in opposite directions. Emily said I shouldn’t do that [laughs]. But I thought it would be fun because people could actually interact with the book and flip it around. I think it’s really important to have a physical object that people can handle. And it’s a compilation of people’s voices and you can literally hold it in your hands. So that materiality makes it an interactive art piece. It’s been really amazing to see people interact with it, look through it, see what pages they stop at, see what catches their attention. People will stop to take pictures and share things, there are QR codes to playlists and other links. I don’t think that level of interaction happens if the zine is just virtual.

I also think that there’s a really big component of zine culture that’s about having less-heard voices be amplified. Creating a publication that’s printed and actually distributed physically throughout the community and that is being read, that is an amplification of those voices. Having that be just digitally archived somewhere makes it easier to close your eyes to [those voices].

Q: Changing the orientation of the different landscape submissions is a funny way to get people to interact with The Mosaic. Obviously, the compilation of all the submissions and how that comes together requires a lot of design choices. What considerations did you have when making The Mosaic?

A: It was really important to have The Mosaic be true to zine culture. That means that it needs to be  a physically printed item, a little bit rebellious, anonymous, uncensored, and most importantly an outlet for a community. In terms of the aesthetics, it had to be eye-catching. I wanted it to be colorful. Something people would notice if they were just walking by and say “Oooh what is that?” [I also wanted it] to be representative of the works within it. I also wanted it to be representative of the community that it comes from - those are the people that are making this thing happen. For example, “The Mosaic”, the name itself, is an homage to how we all fit together but also to the concept of crystallographic mosaicity. The logo is also an homage to that too, which hopefully you can see if you can look closely. When designing the materials for The Mosaic, I play a lot with the concept of mosaicity, the concept of repeating patterns, and things like that. You can see that in the little editorial elements sprinkled throughout the book. I also like to juxtapose those really repetitive, more mathematical patterns with really abstract paintings. Those are the backgrounds for all the volumes of The Mosaic that I have done. And that’s really just to showcase that we do have this scientific aspect to ourselves, but then we also have artistic and creative facets of ourselves that need to come together. Each cover is also designed by a different member of our community, and that is another element of how our community comes together to make The Mosaic.

Q: It seems that the collaborative nature of The Mosaic has led to all this variation. It seems that it is also blurring the line between the reader and the author, since the department is both the submitter and the reader. However, this does require you and Emily to act as “curators” for The Mosaic. What considerations do you make to minimize your voice as the curator and instead highlight the voice of the submitter?

A: We definitely want to be as true as possible to every person who’s providing a submission to us. In terms of the editing portion, I just try to do as minimal editing as possible of the submissions. So really the only editing that I do is to make sure that the submission fills up the space of the page. I also check for things like saturation of color, making sure that it’s something that will be still accessible once we print the work. It’s very minor editorial things we do because we want it to be true to the submission itself.

Q: So, what can future submitters of the zine do to help minimize any corrective edits that need to be made?

A: I think that’s something that we tried to do with the second and third volumes of The Mosaic. In our submission form, we very clearly stated that “this is the size we have available for you, so please make your submissions in this size.” If they are outside of that size, you are giving consent to us as editors to make some changes to your submission.

Q: So clearly The Mosaic does fit under the zine culture umbrella, being an artistic expression for a rather small community. While it is great to be under that established zine culture and fit into that space, what do you think makes it unique from other zines?

A: The first thing that comes to mind is how it’s printed. It’s in full color. That is something that Emily and I talked about for a while. Printing in full color is more costly. And I think a lot of the zines that I’m more familiar with are printed in black and white. Sometimes it’s a sheet of colored paper with black ink to have some color. But fundamentally it’s black and white. In order to be true to all the submissions that we collected, we wanted this to be a full color compilation. Another thing that makes this a little bit unique is that we print with “bleed”. We print all the way to the edge of the paper so that the entire piece of paper has color to it. This almost makes it more “magazine-like” at least in terms of printing. I think this makes [The Mosaic] unique to other zines I know.

Q: Since we are talking more about design right now, what kind of limitations are there in terms of the number of submissions that The Mosaic can accept in a given volume?

A: I’ve been asked this by a couple of people now. There’s not really a limit. We haven’t hit “too many” submissions yet. For me the important thing is that we get something that is in multiples of four. And that just has to do with the way that it’s printed. We end up printing four submissions on one sheet of paper. Two on one side and two on the other. To make the book come together, we just need to have it in multiples of four. From that point on, once I figure out how many submissions we have, the amount of copies we print ends up being the amount of money we have divided by the number of submissions.

Q: So, what happens if you have a non-multiple of four submissions? Does someone get left out?

A: No! We would never leave anyone out! If anything, we would just add another set amount of submissions we need by asking others kindly or just making more submissions ourselves.

Q: If it’s based on some budgetary constraints, as well as the number of submissions you get, how many copies of the first two volumes are in existence?

A: For volume 2, we printed 158 copies exactly. And yes, that’s a weird number. But again, that’s just taking the amount of money we have and using it all for printing costs.

Q: Do you think that 158 copies has been enough to effectively distribute The Mosaic? Or do you wish you had more copies?

A: I think for now this seems like a reasonable number. We’ve distributed a number of copies. We keep some on hand for future events. I think so far, we are doing ok.

Q: Going back to the ideas behind the zine, when Emily came to you with the idea of making The Mosaic and you worked together to do this, what kind of submissions were you expecting or hoping to foster when you made The Mosaic open for submissions?

A: I didn’t hope or expect any specific type of submission. I wanted to see how people would express their identities outside of being a scientist. Fundamentally, I wanted to see people use this space as an anonymous form of expression, feeling, and even catharsis. I was thinking that it would be something that’s zine culture analogous, which would usually include art and poetry. But I can’t say I was expecting something specific.

Q: While you didn’t necessarily expect a type of submission, but did you expect the number of submissions that you got?

A: No, not really. I don’t think I expected a lot of submissions. Definitely not for our first round. It was a pleasant surprise. A lot of them were through word of mouth. I was talking to friends and was like “hey, you make art, submit some art.” So yeah, no expectations.

Q: Throughout this large amount of community participation, have there been any submissions that have surprised you?

A: I haven’t been surprised by anything yet. But I have been surprised by what becomes the most discussed submission or what seems to catch people’s eye the most.

Q: Any specific submissions that you want to shout out from the last two volumes then?

A: Volume 2, stealth pooper.

Q: What has been the most challenging aspect of making The Mosaic?

A: I think the difficulty has been two-fold. I think the first component was the learning curve. Learning how to essentially publish something. Working with a print shop. Working with organizing submissions. I’ve never done something like this before. I think the second component was learning to balance this massive project while still doing science as a graduate student. But I do think that’s part of The Mosaic vision. It’s asking the question of who you are outside of being a scientist, and how you give those facets time to play.

Q: Now that you’ve had this learning curve and we are heading into the third volume, what do you think could be better about The Mosaic?

A: Honestly, I would love to see more submissions from more varied people in the department. So, we’ve gotten some submissions from faculty, we’ve gotten a lot of submissions from graduate students. But what do other faculty have to say? What are our incoming brand-new students feeling right now? This is just another avenue of communication with our community. And it can also be an anonymous avenue of communication with our community. It would be wonderful if more people in our community participated in that.

Q: Do you think that involvement from these groups is something that comes down to better advertising? Or do you think this is something that will improve with additional volumes?

A: There has been an increase in engagement. We didn’t get any submissions from faculty in the first volume. We did get some in the second volume. So that in itself is speaking for that. I think as the project is growing, people are getting an idea of what it is. I think that was the biggest question for volume 1. People were asking: “What is a zine? What are you accepting? I don’t know how to contribute to this?” Now they have two books that they can look at and kind of get an idea of what it looks like and what we are expecting. I think that has helped grow the community that knows about it.

Q: The growth and participation of The Mosaic has shown that the project is successful. Do you think this is the most successful aspect of the project, or is it something else?

A: I think that’s been a really huge success. We do have a pretty substantial level of interaction with this project in terms of people submitting to it but also in terms of people reading it. But another thing that has really been feeling like a success is that it stayed true to our original vision and how that’s come to fruition now.

Q: As graduate students at UCSD, your time here is somewhat limited. Do you think that The Mosaic will have sustained success after you and Emily leave UCSD?

A: I certainly hope so. But I also look at it from the perspective of any large-scale collaborative project. It’s always a work in progress and it’s always an evolution. Hopefully we find people to take over these roles. If there’s anyone interested feel free to reach out to us. But even if it’s in the hands of somebody else, I would hope that it’s still true to the communal collaborative vision. But it could be a completely different thing from somebody else’s perspective, and I think that’s ok as well.

Q: One last question. What would you say to someone who hasn’t submitted to The Mosaic yet? Maybe they are worried they aren’t creative enough or they just don’t know what to do to make a submission for The Mosaic?

A: I would remind them that the concept of creativity is very abstract and personal to each individual. But also, that it’s not that important to the submission of The Mosaic. The concept of this [zine] is to take us (scientists) out of that parameter space and put us in a different one. A space that is massaging a different part of your brain, one that’s making you think a little differently. And if you’re worried you don’t know what to submit, I would say look through other works. Look through our other volumes. Look for inspiration. Look to the theme and see where your mind goes. Maybe you have something you want to say to our department or our community anonymously. Take some time to make some doodles. Just let your brain be active but in a different way than it usually is. That’s the whole idea of this zine.