Monday, July 16, 2012


#2, editor: Ko de Jonge, Netherlands, 1978
#10, editor: Paulo Bruscky, Brasil, 1977

#11, editor: Tommy Mew, USA, 1978

#12, editor: Robin Crozier, UK, 1979

#23, editor: Vittore Baroni, Italy, 1979

#25, editor: Jane Gilmore, IA, 1980

#36, editor: Gunther Ruch, Switzerland, 1980

#37, editor: Mario Lara, San Diego, 1980

#51, editor: Artpool, Hungary, 1983


Hugo Ball in a diary entry of April 18th, 1916 writes about the Dadaists’ plans to start a periodical and he outlined a rather original editorial strategy for the magazine, “My proposal to call it Dada is accepted. We could take it in turns to edit; a common editorial board which would entrust the task of selection and arrangement to one of its members for each issue.” (1) As it turned out the first issue of Dada was published a year later in 1917 with Tristan Tzara firmly entrenched as editor ”...simply because no one but Tzara had so much energy, passion and talent for the job.” (2) To my knowledge it would not be until 60 years later with the establishment of Commonpress (1977-1990) that this unique collective editorial strategy would be fully realized. 

Commonpress was the brainchild of the Polish mail artist Pawel Petasz (1951-2019), and his innovation was to circulate the editorship of the periodical amongst the members of the international mail art network.  By December 1977 when the first issue was published, this alternative network had already established itself as a self-sustaining community quite capable of shouldering the responsibilities required in maintaing a publication schedule.

In Petasz’s original statement about the periodical he outlines its editorial model and its built-in process for its continuation:

COMMonPress is a conception of the periodical edit by common effort. Possible realization of this conception would let to overcome such difficulties as print and distribution expens, nothing to say about the danger of commercilization. Apart from providing materials for the particular edition (according to definite technical criteria), each of the participants would be obliged to at least ONCE to collect materials, to edit and print as well as to distribute the edition among the other artists taking part in his edition at ones own charge. (3)

Future editors could choose the theme and format of their issue, but were required to contact Petasz who remained the coordinator of issue numbers.  Contributors were requested to submit works on the theme and in the correct page size. Commonpress’s editors had an open editorial policy, and would only edit submissions if they were the incorrect size or to choose one work from a multi-work submission. Editors often listed in their issues the themes & deadlines for future issues.

Petasz edited the first issue with no particular theme but the sub-title announced it as the “Arriere-Garde Edition,” and it was published in an A5 format with 17 contributors (future issues would have more contributors with #23 including the work of over 250 artists).  During its 13 years of existence 48 issues were published with approximately 13 planned but the final editing was never completed.  The formats of individual issues varied a great deal with some issues bound, others stapled, and some spiral bound, to name just a few of the different techniques.  Sizes varied also, with A4, A5 & A6 being some of the more popular sizes, but there were others including one issue in a portfolio edition and another that was in the form of a microfiche.  The majority of editors reproduced the submitted works by photocopy machine, and the bulk of the published editions fall between the years 1977-1985, with 3 published between 1986-1990. 

Some issues of Commonpress varied from the earlier ones in that contributors were requested to submit a particular number of original pages and these submissions were not subjected to editorial selection. This type of editorial model had been developed some years earlier and these periodicals came to be known as “assembling” magazines.  In different ways both Commonpress’ and assembling magazines’ editorial models challenged traditional ideas about the role of the editor, with the editors of assemblings being relegated to the role of assemblers/compilers of the pages for each issue.

In 1982 Petasz relinquished control of Commonpress because the imposition of martial law in Poland led to censorship of the mail by the military.  Petasz handed over coordination of the periodical to the Canadian artist Gerald X. Jupitter-Larsen, who occupied this position for an undetermined number of years.  Jupitter-Larsen had this to say about Commonpress;

Commonpress isn’t just an alternative magazine of art, but a kind of ongoing international performance.  A performance in which each participant is encouraged to edit & publish an edition of the magazine with his own theme in his own format.  It is a collective performance; created, produced, & shared by its many contributors. (4)

During the years Jupitter-Larsen was coordinator 18 issues were published, and while Petasz coordinated the publication 30 issues came out in 5 years.   Throughout its history Commonpress was published by editors in 13 different countries.  On the demise of Commonpress John Held Jr., a historian of mail art, theorized it was attributable to Jupitter-Larsen’s practice of doing ‘non-performances’ and that he eventually “...turned Commonpress into a ‘non-publication’...” (5)

Stephen Perkins, 2008

1.  Richter, Hans.  Dada Art And Anti-Art, New York: Thames and Hudson, 
     1965, p. 31.

2.  Ibid., p. 33

3.  Petasz, Pawel.  Commonpress Information sheet.  Circa. 1977.  Note:
     spelling & grammar as per Petasz. [Petasz lists the deadline for the 1st issue
     as Dec. 15, 1977]

4.  Jupitter-Larsen, Gerald X. in: Guy Bleus (ed).  Commonpress, #56, Belgium,
    1984, p. 115.

5.  Held, Jr., John, “Commonpress,” in: Stephen Perkins (ed). Assembling
     Magazines: International Networking Collaborations, (exhibition catalogue), 
     Iowa City: Plagiarist Press, 1997, p. 19.