Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Editorial Strategies: Three Examples

Vision, #5, 1982

Titled “Artists’ Photographs,” this final issue of Vision (1975-82) brought to a close an important artists’ periodical that was edited by the San Francisco-based conceptual artist Tom Marioni. Committed to presenting the work of conceptual artists, Vision was conceived as being one part of the programming in Marioni’s larger conceptual art project—the Museum of Conceptual Art (MOCA, 1975-84).

The format of this issue is an 8”x10” box containing 62 photographic reproductions printed individually on unbound pages. Marioni provides an introductory essay on his rationale for asking these conceptual artists “to send me a photograph not of an artwork but as an artwork,” as well as brief biographical information on these now, well-known artists. This last Vision serves a number of interesting roles, and illustrates how editors of this period sought to expand the parameters of the traditional magazine format by experimenting with new editorial models. Firstly, this issue serves as a catalogue for an exhibition of conceptual artists’ photographs that Marioni curated for the Crown Point Press Gallery in 1981. Secondly, in presenting a periodical as a box of unbound pages, he was referencing not only Duchamp, but also a number of other experimental artists’ periodicals from the previous two decades (Aspen, Fluxus, SMS). And finally, the periodical functions as a potential exhibition, indeed, it was exhibited in a number of university art galleries during this period. Back issues are still available for $50.

zingmagazine, #20, Winter, 2005

Weighing in at 2.5 lbs., 254 pages, and 3 inserts; a poster, CD and postcard, this latest issue of zingmagazine offers up an eclectic smorgasbord of artworks, projects, photographs and texts. Founded in New York in 1995 by Devon Dikeou, zingmagazine was created in order to serve as a link between the creative efforts of different individuals & groups working in a variety of media & disciplines. zingmagazine was envisaged as a site, or crossing point, through which collaborative exchanges could take place that would counter the isolation so often found between disciplines. In order to create a structure for this concept Dikeou adopted a curatorial model for the periodical, and each issue is built around the projects submitted by a rotating group of invited ‘curators,’ in what the magazine’s masthead calls “a curatorial crossing.” This issue contains works gathered by 14 curators, as well as an additional section that includes a mix of reviews, texts and interviews. The ‘zing’ in zingmagazine springs directly from its adoption of a publishing model from outside of the world of magazines.

Permanent Food, #14, 2006

A radically different approach to artists’ periodicals is represented by Permanent Food. Initiated in 1995 by the Italian neo-conceptual artist Maurizio Cattelan in collaboration with Dominique Gonzales-Foerster, Permanent Food’s editorial model turns all the traditional approaches on their heads. Permanent Food is dependent on submissions of visual images, from a wide variety of contributors in the form of previously published magazine pages pilfered from a plethora of different contexts. About the periodical, Cattelan states, “from the very beginning we wanted Permanent Food to be a second generation magazine, something that grows by taking what’s already there. And I also wanted to have a magazine without personality. So the more personalities were involved, the less the magazine would have looked like the product of a single person.” The results of this appropriationist recycling model can be seen in this 194 page issue, and it’s a hilarious, weird, jarring, oddball and ultimately wonderful cornucopia of images culled from our collective image bank—all reshuffled together in this printed matter mosh pit.

Note: These texts were originally published in the College Art Association (CAA) News in a column titled The Bookshelf, November, 2006.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Boxed Up:
Time Capsules, Archives and High Performance

A recent story from Tulsa, Oklahoma, reported on a “ruined” time capsule built in 1957. The capsule was opened this year during Oklahoma’s Centennial celebrations, but it had leaked and the 1957 Plymouth Belvedere inside had been pickled for the past 50 years in four feet of standing water. While the Tulsa capsule was undone by the ravages of time—precisely what it was constructed to keep out—there is one interesting footnote to this spectacular failure. Interred in the capsule were the results of a competition to see who could get the closest to guessing the town’s new population when the capsule was to be opened in 2007. No winner has yet been announced but they (or their descendents”) win the car and a savings account worth $1,000, which all goes to show that the past is always present and it can come back anytime to bite you.

From time capsules to archives is an easy transition—both contain a body of records/documents “pertaining to an organization or institution.”1 One important difference between the time capsule and the archive is that the time capsule attempts to, “store for posterity a selection of objects thought to be representative of life at a particular time.”2 Archives are less picky, and it is well understood that their real significance might not be fully appreciated until some time in the future.

Archive appears to be a flexible term, one that can be used to describe the physical place or locale of the collected material, as well as a conceptual frame that sifts artifacts and intellectual information. Indeed, the archive, time capsule, and magazine are not that different. All sift and sort information, arrange it into a predetermined format, and all have a complicated relationship to the present. The magazine records the now for immediate consumption, the time capsule preserves the now of then for the then of now, and the archive preserves everything for later. All are united in their capacity to store things, to bring stuff together from different pasts and for different futures, and all converge at the collection point of the archive.

Patricia Kelly, a contemporary art historian at DePaul University in Chicago, in an abstract for a chapter in a book about artists’ periodicals, writes about Phyllis Johnson’s Aspen magazine (which published ten issues between 1965 and 1971) and how each issue of the periodical with its mixed media contributions gathered inside a box served as “as a veritable time capsule, providing insight into a fraught historical period.…”3 Indeed, there are two issues of Aspen that do have unique combinations of objects that have come to be viewed as representative of specific cultural and historical moments: the “Pop Art Issue” designed by Andy Warhol and David Dalton (#3, 1966) and “The Minimal Issue” edited by Brian O’Doherty (#5/6, 1967). Here we have a magazine that illustrates one aspect of its etymological definition as a “storehouse”4 while simultaneously functioning as a unique time capsule. Additionally, from the historian’s point of view, the opening of the time capsule offers a tantalizingly ephemeral whiff of the past.

High Performance, Vol. 2, #4, Winter 1979-80
Warhol, as it would later turn out, had a much deeper and long-lasting association with archives. In the middle 1970s, ten years after Aspen’sPop Art Issue,” he began to keep a cardboard box next to his desk into which he would regularly sweep a Wunderkammer of printed matter. At the time of his death in 1987, six hundred and twelve of these dated and sealed boxes were discovered in storage. Warhol was evidently ambivalent about these “time capsules,” as he called them, saying, “I want to throw things right out the window as they’re handed to me, but instead I say thank you and drop them into the box-of-the-month. But my other outlook is that I really do want to save things so that they can be used again.”5

In a 1978 diary entry, Warhol considered another strategy: “I really ought to auction off my time capsule boxes … but I would try to make every box a little interesting. I’d throw in one of my dresses, an old shirt, a pair of underwear—something great in each one.”6 Here, Warhol sets in opposition two different ideas about the archive: that somehow they are neutral and that their accumulation of material happens organically versus an archive whose significance and value has been artificially enhanced. Either way, the traditionally coy image of the archive is sexed up by a contemporary gesture.

The archive and the time capsule come together in a unique convergence in an artists’ periodical dedicated to documenting the history of performance art. Appropriately titled High Performance, it was launched by Linda Frye Burnham in 1978 and continued publishing quarterly until 1997. High Performance’s mission was to document and publicize the emerging history of this ephemeral and time-based art, with Burnham insisting that the magazine would be “nothing more than a chronicle of events,” and it would function like a “white box” for the publication of performance documentation: “…a kind of frame for each piece … [as if it were] … hanging in a gallery.”7

High Performance’s documentary publishing model found its fullest expression during its first couple of years in a section called “Artist’s Chronicle” that featured photographic documentation and texts submitted by artists of their performances. Each issue also sought submissions of performance documentation of works performed within a specific time period for consideration for the next issue. The magazine was filled out by this key documentary function and each new “Artist’s Chronicle” now reads like a performance art time capsule.

High Performance, Vol. 1, #3, September 1978
In 1980, two years after High Performance started publishing, Burnham wrote an editorial that proposed discontinuing the “Artist’s Chronicle” section. She claimed that this feature had outlived its usefulness, that taking up 50% of each of the first eleven issues, the format was getting repetitious and that people were even creating performances just to get in the magazine. 8  In the next issue, she acknowledged the uproar this proposal provoked from both readers and performance artists and the “Artist’s Chronicle” was re-instated as an annual feature, freeing up the remaining three issues to experiment with new formats and coverage. As performance art matured, as it crossed disciplinary boundaries, and as a critical and theoretical dialogue was established, High Performance developed a more nuanced approach to what it documented and reported of this newly emerging multidisciplinary art form.

Despite these changes, there is one feature that did not change throughout High Performance’s life, and that was the importance & power of photography to document the beginnings of a new medium. Unlike the Tulsa time capsule, High Performance’s past has not come back to bite it, indeed the magazine's role has only expanded over time, and the results of its documentary mission have been transformed during the intervening years into a primary historical record of a late 20th century ephemeral art form.

High Performance succinctly illustrates the other side of photography's documentary function, and that is the archival role that photographs perform. In recognition of this the Getty Museum in 2005, accepted the donation of the High Performance archives into its institution.9  Thus, this archive, turned time capsule for the years 1978-1997, now sits boxed up in a climate controlled environment deep in the heart of an institution devoted to the acquisition & preservation of works of historical value. The larger & symbolic trajectory contained within this 27 year time-period is the movement of this avant-garde artform from the periphery of the art world to its embrace by one of the country's key cultural & research institutions.10

Stephen Perkins 2007

1. The American Heritage Dictionary (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2nd edition, 1985).
2. From “What is a Time Capsule?” The International Time Capsule Society: www.oglethorpe,edu/about_us.
3. Patricia Kelly, “Aspen Magazine, Outside of the Box” (abstract), 2007.
4. The American Heritage Dictionary (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2nd edition, 1985).
5. The Andy Warhol Museum, Andy Warhol’s Time Capsule 21 (Cologne, Germany: DuMont, 2003), 14. I would argue that despite Warhol’s description of these boxes as “time capsules” these heterogeneous and indiscriminate collections of printed matter fall more properly within a definition of “archive” than “time capsule.” A time capsule indicates a much more rigorous procedure for selecting objects to be contained within the capsule. My understanding of Warhol’s criteria for inclusion in a box was that there wasn’t one.
6. Ibid., 8.
7. High Performance, No. 3 (1978), Editorial, 1
8. High Performance, No. 11/12 (1980), Editorial, 166.
9. Phone conversation with Lynda Frye Burnham, July 26, 2007.
10. This text originally appeared in Afterimage, Vol. 35, No. 3, 2007, under the title "Boxed Up: Time Capsules, Archives, and Magazines." This special issue was guest edited by David Brittain around the theme of "Photography and the Archive."