Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Vile

Vile, #2/3, 1976 
Vile, Vol. 3, #2, 1977 
About Vile, 1983

 Vile
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Vile magazine was published between 1974 and 1983 by the mail artists Anna Banana and Bill Gaglione. The first seven issues were published in San Francisco, and the final one was published by Banana after she returned to her native Canada in 1981.1 Credit for the editorship of individual issues is divided with Banana editing five issues, and Gaglione the remaining three.

Gaglione had moved to San Francisco from New York in 1967, while Banana had moved from Victoria, British Columbia in 1973 and together, both artistically & romantically, they were a formidable couple within San Francisco’s alternative arts scene. Before Banana’s move to San Francisco she had already begun publishing her periodical/newsletter The Banana Rag, a publication that was dedicated to all things bananas and she continued its publication during her eight years in San Francisco. Likewise Gaglione had been publishing his periodical Dadazine from the early 1970’s until later in the decade. With her relocation to San Francisco Banana joined Gaglione and his cohorts, in the loose grouping of artists known as the Bay Area Dadaists.

The immediate reason that Banana started publishing Vile was linked to the Canadian artists’ periodical File (1972-1989), which was being published in Toronto by the artist’s group General Idea (AA Bronson, Felix Partz & Jorge Zontal).  File magazine was started as a parody of Life magazine and the editors plagiarized Life’s distinctive cover design. About the contents of the magazine General Idea stated:

We began File magazine in 1972 as a networking publication. It functioned as an in-house organ for an art network of the early seventies, blurring the line between contributors and readership and authenticating fringe art activity as something really happening.2

During its first two years File published material generated from within the quickly expanding international mail art network, but by 1974 General Idea had begun disengaging itself from this network and was concentrating more on publishing their own projects. It was at this point that Anna Banana stepped in to fill this void with Vile, and mimicking File’s plagiarizing of Life’s cover design she “...visualized a magazine that would look like Life, but on close examination, would reveal its true nature; subtle put-downs of mass media culture with nasty, dada ‘up-yours’-type messages.” 3 Thus, Vile was dedicated to being a platform for documenting and chronicling the activities of international mail artists, as well as being an active participant in this alternative communications network.

With the exception of issues #6 & #7, Vile was published in an A4 letter size format. Issue #6, the popular “Fe-Mail-Art” issue was published in a reduced A4 size, and featured art works & correspondence by over 100 women in the network. The seventh issue was a rubber stamp assembling magazine compiled from original artists’ pages submitted by 93 artists that incorporated at least one rubber stamp in the art work, and was produced in an edition of 300. 

One striking feature of Vile was the magazine’s covers, and in a typical dadaesque spirit they ran the gamut from a hanged man sporting an erection, the Italian artist Cavellini writing on a naked man to a photo of Gaglione with his chest hair shaved into the word ‘Dada’, and a photograph of a man’s face speared through with a pitchfork. The inside contents featured a wide array of art works from mail artists in different countries, texts & manifestoes, letters, performance documentation, articles on individual artists & their projects, and detourned mass media advertisements. Each issue was also prefaced by an introduction by Banana in which she would summarize the issue’s contents and usually comment on contemporaneous developments in the mail art network. 

In her introduction to issue number #4, edited by Gaglione, Banana makes explicit Vile’s debt to historical Dada, and the importance to both, of artists’ periodicals as agents in creating an “international consciousness” 4 when she writes:

Publications such as Cabaret Voltaire, edited by Hugo Ball, Litterature edited by Breton, Blind Man and New York Dada edited by Duchamp, Maintenant by Arthur Craven, etc., are the early  forerunners of such contemporary “Zines” as QUOZ?, 491, LaHonduras, CAYC Bulletin, OVUM, Focke Editions, Perdura, Modern Correspondence, Weekly Breeder, Dadazine, Banana Rag, Nitrous Oxide, FILE and VILE...5,6

Even today, over two decades later, Vile serves as an important historical touchstone to the events and concerns of these early years in mail art’s history.7


Stephen Perkins, 2008


Footnotes

1. This last issue titled “About Vile” is a history of Vile including a summary of Banana’s activities in San Francisco, and a detailed account of her & Gaglione’s 1978 Futurist Sound European performance art tour.

2. General Idea: 1968-1984, (exhibition catalogue), Kunsthalle, Basel, 1984, p. 38.

3. Banana, Anna.  About Vile, #8, 1983, p. 2.

4. Banana, Anna.  Vile, #2 & 3, 1976, p. IV.

5. Banana, Anna.  Vile, #2 & 3, 1976, p. IV

6. Another periodical that should be mentioned here, and one that forms a trinity with FILE & VILE, is the dadazine BILE published by Bradley Lastname in Chicago from the late 1970’s onwards in an unknown number of issues.

7. Vile was featured in the book below along with reproductions of all of the magazine's 8 covers: In Numbers: Serial Publications by Artists Since 1955
, edited by Philip E. Aaron and Andrew Roth, with contributions by Gil Blank, Victor Brand, Clive Philpot, Nancy Princethal, Neville Wakefield, William S. Wilson.
 Published by jrp-ringier and PPP Editions, New York (2009)