The Dumb Ox
This interview with Jim Hugunin, one of the editors of the Los Angeles-based Dumb Ox (1976-80) took place at his home in Chicago on July 13, 2012.
|Volume One, Number One, Summer 1976|
Stephen Perkins: Despite the rather self-depreciating title of the periodical and its connection to Thomas Aquinas' nickname, it's quite a smart magazine, even a little cocky I would say!
Jim Hugunin: We really did think of the title and the logo very specifically over a long period of time before we arrived at that. What it symbolized was of course the 'dumb ox' which was Thomas Aquinas' nickname because when he was in university, he was a lumbering large person, they would chide him with that. But Albertus Magnus made a statement one day saying "You call him the dumb ox but he will revolutionize philosophy."
The logo of the little prancing ox that's on the cover is actually from a series of Zen drawings relating to the idea about man maintaining his bestial nature. Since my co-editor, Theron Kelley, was coming from a largely eastern position in his thinking and I was coming from a more western rationalist position we thought that the combination of the two would represent our divergent points of view on issues. But I thought that what made the Dumb Ox strong was in fact that aspect, we were constantly in dialogue over issues philosophically, and often those issues then worked themselves out in those early issues.
The first 3 issues were tabloid format and that was when Terry (Theron Kelley) was the most influential.
SP: Why tabloid, why that choice?
JH: Well, it was inexpensive to do; you could produce it on rotary presses that could run those things off very inexpensively. Later I met Barry Singer who had recently graduated from Cal Arts and had started up his own little press business Graphics Artists Press. Now at the time I was working at Litton Industries in their print operation doing all the graphic arts camera work with a very large in-the-wall process camera, so I was able to do all the stats, halftones, line negs and everything for my publication and then I would schlep them over to Barry's business which was only about 3 blocks away from where I was working at Litton at the time and he would produce it. That's when we started to do the book format, and that became affordable because we could do all of the work—half tones, line negs—and then I would help him out over at the press, burning plates and cleaning his press, so the production costs actually came down even below what we were paying for the tabloid format.
SP: What were the production runs for the tabloids versus the book format?
JH: If I remember correctly in both instances we were running 1500 copies.
SP: That's a fairly substantial run, presumably you still didn't make any money, or did you?
JH: Well, let's say that by the time we were 4 or 5 issues in we began to get increasing subscriptions, which helped out. We were surprised we would get subscriptions from not only the States but also Europe. What was interesting was that we got more subscriptions from out of state than from in state, more subscriptions in California from Northern California than from Southern California, we were pretty much ignored in Southern California by the art powers that were in charge there.
SP: And yet the subject matter of many of the issues, as far as I can see, really focused on Los Angeles and that area, so it's kind of ironic that you have more interest out of state. Were you threatening to the hierarchy at that time, or were you seen as an 'other' or an alternative.
JH: Yes, I think so and also the fact that we were situated in the San Fernando Valley. There's this kind of prejudice, well if you're really serious you supposed to be down here in the area near Japantown where all the studios were, which was eventually where the Temporary Contemporary went up before the full museum was built. So, yes there was a kind of 'place-ism' along with ageism and sexism that was at work in the art world.
SP: Interesting that your little logo is very much situated within a religious context, and obviously once you know who the 'dumb ox' is it's like this is totally Christian stuff, it's kind of interesting to put your chips down on something almost as specific as that; now I don't think one would want to have any kind of association with religion. I understand the Zen thing, but the Christian element...
JH: Well, more through the rational, because of course what Aquinas did was to formulate what became the 'schoolmen,' the rational approach to something esoteric. In a way that sort of mimics art; art is this sort of mysterious thing and you are trying to rationalize and create a critical discourse about it in the same way that he's taking this amorphous thing called God or whatever, and trying rationalize and provide proof. So in my mind there was an analogy going on there.
SP: But it definitely fits in with your scientific background and your scientific approach to art making and research.
JH: Well, I was brought up in a very strict Catholic home, which I vehemently rebelled against. By age 12 I realized I did not fit there, but my father was very authoritarian and used religion as a further stick to beat me every day, so to speak.
SP: So the Dumb Ox was pay back?
JH: Yes, in a way it was pay back and I'm still kind of involved in that. If you look at things from a psychoanalytic perspective that's a strong element in all of what I've been doing.
SP: Did you play with other names for the magazine?
JH: Well, I think one that came up was 'prolepsis,' which was my toss-in which of course my co-editor groaned at, it was a little bit too...
SP: ...I don't know the association.
JH: It means like 'looking forward.' So like in a novel for instance when something happens that's a proleptic moment, you later understand because then you realize it was like a clue.
SP: The masthead of the Dumb Ox states that it's a quarterly art journal. An 'art journal' suggests something for a small professional group, was that a considered use of a term or it was just what people were calling their publications at that time, as preferred to 'artists' magazine' or 'artists' periodical'?
JH: That's interesting, I don't know. I've always liked the word journal for some reason.
SP: There's some authority to it.
JH: And it also suggests something that you are keeping, like I keep a journal of this or that, so in a way it was also a trace of my thinking in many ways. So there was definitely a kind of autobiographical element that runs through this thing, like for instance, at this time Robert Cumming was teaching at Cal Arts and I think he was doing a course at UCLA once in a while too, anyway this was when he was doing his photographic work, working with a large 8" x 10" view camera and producing his artists' books. I just flipped over his work and I gave him a document that said that "from here on in I would relinquish doing art and allow him to his art," because it was exactly what I would do, and then my role would be to write about it. It was a bit tongue in cheek.
SP: And he agreed to that?
JH: Yes, and he signed it. Somewhere in my archives that thing must be around.
SP: Oh, that's priceless...
JH: Yes, it was funny and I reviewed almost every one of his books, which I thought were dynamite. So there's a sense in which the Dumb Ox was something like that, I was able to realize certain ideas and visions that I had and see them in other people's work and bring them together under one title. It was a way of extending myself and my ideas with other people's and there was a kind of resonance.
SP: Yes, it's a very eclectic selection of reviews, documentation, pages as page art, and then writings, and it's got quite a broad spread. So when you developed the idea with Theron Kelley for the publication, were you specific about what you wanted to cover, what you didn't want to cover or was it just let's see what comes in?
JH: In the first couple of issues I was very interested in looking at this issue of conceptual photography. At the time Baldessari's work was very influential on me and I noticed that Los Angeles was pretty much ignoring his work. He was very hot in Europe at the time and within the photographic community, which at this time there was a very marked separation between conceptual artist-based use of photography versus the fine arts, which I totally rebelled against. I tried the mainstream photographic community no end over this issue, which did not endear them to me.
SP: And presumably you didn't get much support from that community?
JH: Not much at all, no.
SP: It was too radical?
JH: They were just "Oh, you're dealing with language here and these dumb snapshots and that's not photography," and there would be reviewers who would write things, and this is not just the hard-core conceptualists, but somebody that might just simply use language in their photographs in some way and they would say "Oh, it's art but is it photography?" That was commonplace, now today it seems silly and when I approach my students and tell them about this they scratch their heads, they can't see how that's possible. But I try to give them a sense of that very rigid mindset of that time. So we were very much rebelling against that idea. So my idea was to promote people's work that was being ignored in this regard.
SP: For me one of the things that distinguish Dumb Ox from the other artists' periodicals of that period is this concentration on conceptual photography, it seems like a very early West Coast publication that really takes a look at that. And then of course you've got Lew Thomas up in San Francisco, but he wasn't doing periodicals aside from contributing to them but he was doing those books...
JH: Yes, the wonderful books by Not For Sale Press & Camerawork Press. [Photography and Language (1976) Camerawork Press, Eros and Photography (1977) Camerawork/NFS Press, and Structural(ism) and Photography (1978), NFS Press]
SP: That's an incredible series...
JH: That first book Photography and Language, was connected to a show up there at La Mamelle, I was in the show and I contributed an introductory essay to that issue. He and I were very simpatico in our thinking and again that's why I made more contacts up in that area through him.
SP: Are you still in contact with him?
JH: Yes, I kind of lost touch with him for a while, he was in Houston and then he went to New Orleans, and he was running a gallery or something there for somebody and now I think he's back in the Bay Area. He is probably one of the most unrecognized, underappreciated individuals in terms of his issues in photography. Photo-histories don't mention the guy, I mean he's just been written out of it and I think he got pissed off about all that, but I think is a really remarkable figure and somebody should really give him more due in terms of his historical importance.
SP: Have people really looked at conceptual photography from that period? I can't think of any particular books.
JH: Again the more traditional books like Jonathan Green's book American Photography: A Critical History 1945 to Present, (1984), really ignores some of that, and it hasn't been well covered. You know another area by the way, just as a sideline, that has been largely ignored by art historians is the whole photo-sculpture movement, Jonathan Green just sort of writes all of that experimentalism off as a lot of hooey, and nobody has really followed it up and it's a rich area; Heinecken and all those people. There should be a monograph out there by some historian.
SP: So Dumb Ox comes just after you finish your MFA?
JH: Yes, I got my MFA in 1975.
SP: What was your concentration?
JH: It was photography. It was a 3-year program but I was doing an enormous amount of work because the job that I made my living at was at night and it was in a photo lab and I was all alone, so I would get all the required work done in about 4 hours and I would spend the rest of the time using all these fabulous facilities to do my own work.
Anyway, I was cranking out dozens and dozens of stuff, plus doing early video. The school offered me a proposition and said "we are getting overwrought here with students and we'll let you go in 2 years if you complete these courses." So I got out in 2 years with my MFA. I did a written thesis, not required, and it was a study from the point of view of knowledge theory of minimal, post-minimal, and conceptual art. By the way I just today I rediscovered it, I had kind of forgotten about it and I was looking at it again, and it really surprised me at how well it was done for the time period and there's a lot of interesting material there. I have a very strong philosophical background in knowledge theory; I took a really marvelous course when I was at Cal State North with a guy who was big in his field in logical positivism. And so I've always been able to draw on this as a strong interest. All of my work, if you really want the key, the Rosetta stone that unlocks it is simply this; how does S (the subject) know that P (proposition)? And that's essentially what the logical positivists set forth and that's what you're trying answer with these various theories of knowledge. So epistemology has been the thing that's been an overarching concern of mine, in my work and writing whatever.
SP: Do you think that philosophical slant was something that turned people off from Dumb Ox?
JH: It might have, you know LA was the la-la land sun and surf type of thing. There was always a kind of negative response to theory there. For instance while I was there I tried to teach a night course at UCLA, and they would be happy to put it on and it would be a theory course and every time it was offered there was only one person signing up for it, and I suspect that it was the same person. When I came to Chicago in 1985, what I found was this incredible interest in theory. And my reputation involved with the Dumb Ox preceded me, Buzz Spector was here who was very familiar with me, the school gave me an exhibition of all the Dumb Ox's when I came here. You know the old adage 'you're never a hero in your hometown,' kind of thing.
SP: I can understand that it would be more appreciated on the East coast and Europe and certainly England was into theory at that time.
JH: We were well distributed in New York so there was a lot of interest there. Howardena Pindell wrote articles mentioning the Dumb Ox.
SP: In her history of artists' periodicals?
SP: I just mentioned earlier the number of publications appearing in LA in that decade, I wonder if you felt you were part of a community of publications?
JH: Yes, the way that we were stimulated to do Dumb Ox was because there was a publication put out by a friend of my co-editor Terry called Straight Turkey (1974).
SP: I've never come across that, it starts in 1974 and runs for just one year.
JH: I have one issue; I think the first issue. My sister actually had a really interesting literary piece published in there. And from that we got excited and said, "Hey, we should do something" and that's how things got going. There was a sense that there was all this energy going on and of course now we look back and use the term postmodern, but at that point we didn't have that term. We just knew that we were interested in doing something different and breaking away from the way things were.
SP: Why a periodical rather than say a gallery?
JH: Well, finances for one thing. Also I just liked the idea of something going out there. You never knew who was, what's the old adage something about "for every issue three or four people get to look at it." It gets passed on. So it's always sort of interesting that we created this; well today we would use the term a rhizome, in which these things were out there being passed from hand to hand and stuff like that, and god knows where they would end up. It was sort of like putting a note in a bottle and tossing it in the ocean.
SP: I think that's a really interesting analogy.
JH: We had in fact, surprisingly enough, got a letter from some obscure place in mid-continent India and this guy in this really wonderful language wrote. "Please sir, I would love to have a subscription, somebody from Britain came through and showed me but your subscription price [which was $10] would feed my family for two weeks, could I get a free subscription?" We of course sent him one. We were involved in that organization called PEN for prisoners, and we'd give free subscriptions to prisoners and that sort of thing as well. So there was also a kind of political element to this, because I felt that artists' book publications could subvert the whole commodity structure. I firmly believed in the dematerialization of the artwork as a means of thumbing your nose at the art market.
SP: What do you think about that now?
JH: Well, it's naive! But you know we believed in it, and I didn't charge more than $5 for my artists' books, stuff like this; art for anybody's sake.
SP: Well, Printed Matter is still going. And there's still a lot of very reasonably priced stuff, whether that idea failed or not.
JH: It's out there as an alternative. But just the idea that you could hold it in your hand, it could be anywhere with you, that seems important.
SP: Did you ever get together with other editors, were there any kind of meetings?
JH: At this time there were a lot of conferences of art publishers, I think there was something in San Jose or San Francisco ("Art Publishers' Convention, Book Fair, and Exhibition," Union Gallery, San Jose State University, October 8-9, 1977) and Terry and I went up and we presented a lecture on the Dumb Ox. It was very exciting because there were all these people involved in this activity and we felt this tremendous energy coursing through it, it had a lot of idealism.
SP: How would you characterize the function of this periodical and here I'm talking about it as a site of discourse, but it's also a site of documentation, it's also a site of reviews and then there's these artists' pages, and the pages become a primary site for artwork. Do you have any thoughts about how the publication functioned in that larger role as a platform, as a site?
JH: I was very heavily behind the idea of supporting emerging artists, so we wanted to give them a venue in which they could present their original work. By the way that was one of the reasons we originally wanted to go as well with the larger tabloid format, because with the full page center spread we could always put a very large piece in there and then people if they wished to could take out. So that was important that it become both a kind of gallery space in print form as well as a place where work could be reviewed, as well as a space for interesting articles to appear.
SP: And there's at least one issue I have where you have actually inserted real art.
JH: Yes, in the 6/7th issue...(Fall 1997/Spring 1978)
SP: And there was a kind of cut out that was folded into the middle. Was that the only one where you had real objects?
JH: Yes, that was an incredible issue, because when we put all that stuff in we had volunteers who came over. We provided them with pizza and everything else and they helped assemble it and put things in and stuff like that.
SP: Did this come already cut out or...
JH: My printer had that sent out to a place that die cut and that was put in during the collation process. So it was very exciting to be able to do that, this particular issue #6/7 with the die cut cut out in it all focused on LA artists. Gary Lloyd, a very interesting artist and at that particular time there was a great deal of interest in his work. He eventually moved to New Mexico, but he and his wife at the time were also making a living by doing what they called 'sky art,' it was an organization where they made these huge paintings of sky that were used as backdrops for the movie industry and that's how they made their livelihood. He had a studio down near the 1st Street bridge in Los Angeles in the loft area.
SP: So this was a collaboration with Gary Lloyd, and he does the drawing and...
JH: This is all based upon a project; he actually had a car where he carried all this stuff in the back, there was a thing that fit in the back which then all came out and all the materials could be set up for an exhibit based on the idea of using car exhaust to turn this thing; it was kind of like an ecological statement in the piece.
SP: Talking of cars I came across somewhere on either your site or one of the publications that you had a gallery in your garage?
JH: The Garage Gallery was literally a garage where over a period of years artists would live there and they would be given reduced rent but they had to do something to modify the space. It was a performance space for early feminist performances. When I moved in there it had a hardwood floor, it had lead glass art windows, and the ceiling had been completely removed and replaced by Plexiglas so you could look up in it. There was a spiral staircase leading to the second story, there was a leaded glass door leading on to a small little patio with a running waterfall and a little pull-up table, and underneath that table was wine cooler storage. Then up to the 2nd floor you climbed up a ladder and went through a hatch and on that level was a deck and it was surrounded by mountains and foliage so that you could sunbathe up there nude in total privacy. What I added to it was an area over a little loft space for my bed so I could lie in bed and literally touch the Plexiglas ceiling and look at the stars at night.
Anyway we were given very cheap rent to produce the magazine there. The guy who owned the property, he lived above me on the hill and he had built into the side of the mountain; literally the back wall was the mountain rock. It was heated by a fireplace, and it was built by a sculptor out of the hood of a 1957 Chevy. The landlord was a black guy who had a connection to HUD (US Department of Housing and Urban Development) and he was getting federal funds to run various organizations, and part of this thing was that he was getting funded to allow this space to be used by artists, so we would pay very little because it was covered through that, so it was a great thing. The money that I saved on that I could pour back into the magazine.
SP: So it was a studio rather than a gallery.
JH: No, not at all, I was living in there and I just had everything set up like big tables to produce the magazine. We called it the Garage Gallery because originally it had been an exhibition space. There's a copy of High Performance magazine of a picture taken in there, it was a famous performance by these women, and they're sitting on this ledge nude and there's this goat that's hanging there dripping blood and the bloodstains were still there when I moved in on the floor.
SP: When High Performance starts up in 1978 it covers some of the things you were covering, was that an issue or the more the better or...
JH: It was really that last issue where we covered performance (#10/11, 1980) and that was guest-edited by Allan Kaprow, so there wasn't really much overlap between us, I really enjoyed the publication. No, I didn't feel at all that we were competitors, co-conspirators more like! I don't know how other people felt, but I never saw anything as competitors as saw us as all joining into this enormous dialogue that needed to happen to break the ice of the establishment.
SP: And that's one of the threads when I look at the issues is that issue of dialogue, and it is very much about dialogue in all its expanded and multi-faceted terms, and it really feels like the publication is a dialogue/discourse publication.
JH: I didn't know about Mikhail Bakhtin when I was doing this but later I could look back and say that this sort of Bakhtinian dialogism was fully operative, we were trying to break through that monologue of the established art community and stir things up.
SP: I really get the sense of two young studs out of MFA programs wanting to really stir things up and the periodical served as vehicle for a whole number of things as well as situating your presence within that community, so I see it as an interesting statement on a lot of different levels.
JH: I made a decision at a certain point that I was going to focus on criticism because the type of work I had been doing also had a critical element within it. So, I'm a passionate obsessive autodidact. When I was in the Air Force for instance I cleaned up the library, I went through all the literature, art history, philosophy books and when I was discharged you have to get signed off at the library that your books had been returned, anyway I went into that and as I was walking out the library the staff were lined up in two rows of people and they clapped because I had finished all the books; in fact they had to hoard books for me. So, anyway I was very steeped in theory and philosophy and when I decided to become a critic what I realized, unlike with a Ph.D. where you tend to focus more down to a narrow topic, but as a critic I wanted to educate myself across linked disciplines and that I found very exciting.
On one hand you're reading and gaining all that theoretical knowledge but you also need to have that practical knowledge of what's going on out there. The magazine gave me an open door to artists that normally would just say "shove off," or whatever, but now I'm the editor of this publication and I'm going to come in and see your work and I'm going to talk about it. So, it was like having a crash course in what was going on in Californian art at the time. I learned so much from doing that, and that was the biggest benefit to me.
SP: Writing criticism really forces you to understand what's happening around you in a very profound way.
JH: The writing was a way of taking all that stuff, focusing it, it was the way I learned. And I can only thank all the artists that were so generous with their time for me.
SP: When you look at the issues, it's obvious it's a critical/discourse site with all these things getting worked out.
JH: That's also why we felt it very important that we could offer the space to people as guest-editors. So it wasn't just always our ideas, in order to encourage other things too.
SP: There are about three that were guest-edited, was that easy to give up?
JH: No, not at all, I was really excited about that.
SP: I think it's a very smart strategy, because it opens it up to all sorts of stuff…
JH: You increase your audience, and you increase your subscriptions to people who would be interested in them, and I just found the material that they brought into it was great.
SP: How did you come across Ken Friedman (Dumb Ox, guest editor of #8, 1979)?
JH: I can't remember who I met him through, but he was very interested in meeting me and someone introduced me to him and we hit it right off.
SP: Because he was probably running his Fluxus West, because he came from LA.
JH: There was so much happening at that time, it's kind of blurry in my memory now. All I remember is a tremendous amount of energy and interesting people. And then Terry Theron was renting space from a guy who owned a huge ranch house with a gigantic pool, and had a huge room with a pool table and everything out in the San Fernando Valley in Tarzana, where we would hold Dumb Ox meetings and we could take a dip in the pool and come back and chat. Well, when every issue came out we would have a huge party and invite the whole LA art community. And we particularly sent invitations to the people who were subscribers. At one point we had a huge party with a thing delivered on a plank–it was a gigantic 50 foot long submarine sandwich, and we had a huge pool party and all these strange people showed up and it just went on for hours and it was great. And you got to meet a lot of interesting people, so it also functioned as an incredible social deal because people were saying, "who are these weirdoes reading Dumb Ox?"
SP: But you're also creating a network, a community and all the good things that happen with that.
JH: Yes, because people could meet people and that sort of thing. But the funny thing too is that I'm bringing it up in the San Fernando Valley, see that's part of it too.
SP: So it all becomes a whole kind of trip, a joke.
SP: When you were looking to start your periodical were there any historic periodicals that were influential. Obviously the LA one would be Semina, were you aware of that? Were there any periodical models that you were influenced by?
JH: I know Straight Turkey was the first thing that...
SP: ...And then Aspen...
JH: Yeah, and issue #8 of Aspen (1970) that I got, really expanded the sense of what was possible as an artist.
SP: How did you come across that issue?
JH: Well, I was in the service at the time, I was a year away from being discharged and this girlfriend I had at this time gave me a copy for my birthday, and it blew my mind. And at that time I had thought that I was going to go on to become a commercial architectural photographer or products, and this made me realize that I wanted to be an artist. When I graduated I went to Art Center College, it's sort of like Marine basic training for photography, so I got a very thorough technical background. But I soon got disillusioned with it, I thought it was going to be more like the Bauhaus but it wasn't, so I left in the middle of the semester. By the way they still talk about this guy who cleaned out his locker and walked out mid-semester. Then I went to California State University, Northridge, which at the time I was lucky enough to have an incredible range of faculty, which today they recognize was the golden age of that university— Carol Caroompas and a whole bunch of people who were innovative and cutting edge artists of the time. I didn't understand that so much at the time because it's like a fish in water and you are just swimming around in it. Later I realized how gifted a faculty they had there, because it later got wrecked by a new chairman, and totally destroyed the department.
SP: What was so profound about your experience of that Aspen issue?
JH: Well, it was my first experience with conceptual photography, and conceptual art. I've always had a marked interest in sound art and there was a little vinyl record by La Monte Young and it was just a sign wave and you would turn the speed on your turntable and you could change it and you could create your own music. So this idea of participation interested me, which spilled over to some of my early work, which I called Participations, in which I would set up a scenario and people could participate in it. Again, I really liked dialogue, so that had always been a strong element in my thinking and I've always liked books of course, I've always had a book in my hand. So it just seemed a natural thing to love that. But I think what was very important was my experience with doing artists' books, which I did when I was at UCLA. I remember when I first got there Robert Heinecken and the graduate students were sitting around and he was kind of giving us an introduction and he came to me and he said "Well, now we're doing serious art here you know and these sorts of books and pamphlets and stuff that you are doing, you know you might really want to think about doing some more serious artwork," and I just let into him. I said "You've reviewed my portfolio, you let me in here knowing what I'm doing," and I said "I'll be damned if I'm going totally change my approach to art simply because you say I should do this," and the other students were shocked that I was saying this to the god of photography! Well, Heinecken loved it and he was one of my best champions for years because of that I think.
SP: So when did you do your first artist's book?
JH: In 1973.
SP: So this was while you were still at school?
JH: Yes, so this was my first year at graduate school and I began doing the books. Again it was a means of putting out so much production, it was a way of taking all that and giving it some kind of intelligibility. Now, also it was acting against traditional photography, the original images of course were analogue, gelatin silver prints and they then would be scanned. In addition to the books I would make a print off of that artwork, because it would be a half tone strip of line neg for the text. And that to me was the 'original' and I would put the master artwork away in a drawer that would never be seen, so the integrated line neg image of these prints is the piece of work. Now, I had a longstanding argument with Victor Landweber, a photographer now living in the Bay Area over this. He wanted to trade prints, I love some of his work, but he wanted the 'original' original. I said that for me, the screened thing, so that you could tell it was screened, is the original piece. He said "No, no, I want the one that..." For years we argued and finally I broke down because I wanted his piece so much that I gave him the original piece, but I said you know what, "It's not really the original, in a sense, it's not true to what I wanted, everything that I wanted up on the wall has been screened," like Lichtenstein, who was a very early influence on me.
SP: So really the whole field of printed matter is your place, and the very different aspects of that, from the original print to writing, to language and photography and structuralism.
JH: And the fact that for 5 years I worked at a place where it's all I did for 8 hours a day, was work with screens, copy stats and line negs and things like that.
SP: Can you situate the place of Lew Thomas within the periodical and your scene at that particular time, why was he influential?
JH: We were already doing Dumb Ox when he sort of discovered us, I think through some issues we sent up there, and then I think it was through Carl Loeffler that we connected. Like I said it was like an immediate 'zing' we connected just totally, it was a sharing of minds and ideas that was just perfect.
SP: In Carl Loeffler's Art Contemporary magazine (Vol. 2, #2/3, 1977) there's a rather critical review of the first issue of Dumb Ox by Hal Fischer.
JH: I don't remember that, but it's probably true!
SP: He felt that there was lots of potential but, he’s a critic.
JH: I wrote a great review of his Gay Semiotics (1977) it was one of my favorite books.
SP: And then he did Castro St. x 24 (1978). Those are two really key photobooks, we had him in to talk when I was at S.F. State University, he was a smart guy.
JH: We'd met and we were very cordial…
SP: The La Mamelle, Inc./Art Com archive went to Stanford maybe about 5 or 6 years ago. I imagine that's it's just huge, ‘cause Carl Loeffler died in 2001.
JH: He was a wonderful guy. And there was that publication Art Com that came out of the Bay Area a little later.
SP: That was his. He started with La Mamelle Magazine in 1975, which then changed name to Art Contemporary and then finally to Art Com Magazine and it ceased publication in 1984 at which point it became an e-journal. Loeffler was always publishing something and then he moved more into video.
When I look at the contributors to the three issues that I have of Dumb Ox it's very restricted to LA and maybe a bit of the rest of the country. In terms of international contributors; aside from only one or two and one important guy that I want to mention, was that a conscious decision?
JH: Yes, we wanted it to be kind of identified as an LA/California sort of publication, and just the fact of the limitations in terms of traveling and seeing work and stuff like that. Wherever I could I would try to make a studio visit to look at the work and talk to the person. Again it's a part of that education thing. It allowed me to you get into places to talk to people that normally you wouldn't, this was my access point to pick other people's brains.
SP: Did you get some international submissions?
JH: Yes, we did, particularly out of Czechoslovakia, people who would send stuff. People who were marginalized in the international art market at the time would send stuff our way.
SP: In one issue of Dumb Ox (#4, 1977) you have a contribution by Jaroslaw Kozlowski a Pole who with another compatriot, Andrzej Kostolowski, in 1972 wrote a manifesto for the creation of an international exchange network. It's a really profound document that reflects the ideas of the internet, free access and connects definitely with the international correspondence network at the time. He's a very interesting artist to have in there. I can't quite remember what his work was like, mostly conceptually based though.
JH: Yes, there was a guy Miroslav Klivar from Czechoslovakia and we put one of his pieces in. Later of course when the internet came along, I kind of wish we had had all this digital technology and the internet back then, I just took to that like a duck to water when it became available.
SP: Tom Marioni did an Eastern European edition of Vision (#2, 1976) and he went out there and visited all those people, it's a really interesting summary.
JH: We were in contact with Ulysses Carrion in Amsterdam, he was a great supporter of us. In fact I was just doing some searching on the internet and there's a bookseller in Amsterdam who has the complete issue of Dumb Ox for a thousand euro. Even I'm missing one issue.
SP: Talking about the editorial model, one of the aspects of some of the publications at that time and certainly in the next decade in the '80s is an examination of the internal structure of the periodical. A lot of artists' work at the time was about democratization and here we have with Dumb Ox a fairly traditional hierarchical arrangement, aside from the fact that with a number of issues you have guest-editors, was that ever a feature of your thinking and was that a conscious decision to work in that top-down way?
JH: I don't think so. When we started this thing up we were flying by the seat of our pants. I didn't have a lot of experience in the area or anything like that. When things became more conscious was when the publication eventually went south, we had a 2-year break and then we started up something else with a different set of editorial staff called U-Turn. There we became a little more conscious, we hired a woman who was already a graphic designer to design it, we changed the format we went smaller and at that point we were more polished. When I was doing the Dumb Ox it was just like lets see what happens and we wanted to provide a service particularly for younger artists. I thought there were a lot of people out there that the established community and galleries were ignoring, and I wanted to give them an opportunity to have their works out there.
SP: Why did Dumb Ox come to an end?
JH: Well, the last issue was guest edited by Alan Kaprow and Paul McCarthy and we gave them carte blanche to do what they wanted…
SP: Because they were well respected people?
JH: Well respected people and in our discussions with them they said they wanted to have complete control over what was in there and what we do with the design and everything.
SP: And that was OK with you giving them complete control?
JH: Sure, because basically we trusted them, we were familiar with their work, we didn't blink a minute about it, we were thrilled to have them involved with it. Paul was put in charge of going out and periodically watching it as it was being produced and then of course signing off on all of this stuff. And then when the issue finally came out and it was supposed to be out in time for a major performance art gathering and colloquium in Los Angeles, we had actually printed extra copies cause we knew we were going to be able to sell quite a bit there. We got a very irate phone call from Kaprow saying that he really disliked the production values and he didn't want to be associated with that and he said that if we tried to sell it and leave it out there that he would ruin our careers–what little careers we had! Of course we respected him and we didn't like to piss anybody off, we certainly wanted to respect people's sensibilities. But he was particularly nasty with Barry Singer, who was our printer and Barry says look and he pulls out all the artwork that they had sent us and the stuff was really bad quality that they got from the people and he says "You are always going to lose a little in the translation from the original artwork in the printing process to some extent but the stuff was basically shit in and shit out." If I was putting an issue together that's not how I would submit the work, and if I got work like that from people I would tell them to send me something else. So, we weren't able to sell it and we lost all this revenue that we thought was coming in and we had this big bill we had to pay off, and at that point basically we had to cease publishing, we couldn't afford to do anything else.
SP: So in other words you had all the copies printed and you couldn't do anything?
JH: Yes we had printed 2000, and an extra 500 copies we had anticipated to sell at the conference...
SP: So what did you do with them?
JH: Well, we just sat on them because he said–If I see these things out there I'm going to raise holy hell. And eventually over a period of time I was able to get some things out and around, but I have still have tons of these things left because of that. I tend to give them out as gifts to people because I'm sitting on so many of them.
SP: So you're still carrying them around after all these years?
JH: But later of course he apologized he said he was in the middle of his divorce at the time he was really blah blah…
SP: This is worth a fortune it's the 'repressed issue,' and of course he's dead anyway!
JH: I did forgive him. You know when you go through a divorce you are pushed to your emotional limits and you tend to over react to things but it did kill us.
SP: You ought to see if Printed Matter would take them.
JH: Well, I'm going around and finding places that had copies of the magazine and sending an email saying that I have extra copies of this issue if you don't have it in your collection and to let me know and I'd be happy give you an issue.
SP: With Paul McCarthy it's a very sexy issue, it's a very cool issue and it's a real time piece.
In terms of historic periodicals were there any from the last century that were influential for you, that stood out somehow, these could be little reviews or artists' magazines?
JH: In my studies of photography of course so much stuff is being coined as artists' books, photo books, things from the WPA period. In terms of literature the Unmuzzled Ox (1971) which by the way was part of the stimulus for the Dumb Ox's title, someone said "Have your heard of the Unmuzzled Ox?," and someone sent us a copy. Gwen Allen mentions it in her book (Artists' Magazines, MIT Press, 2011). I can't remember precisely if we got turned onto that story after we named it or somebody brought it to our attention, or whether I saw it before. It's really kind of interesting I have a little dyslexic problem with anything in opposition–I get a little unsure of the priorities of things. By the way it's the reason I couldn't pursue my career in science. Because I flunked qualitative analysis and I went back over my notebooks and was flipping numbers all over the place.
SP: So that steered you towards the art career?
SP: I think that's pretty much about it.
JH: One possible thing that might interest you. We published a special issue Dumb Ox #9 (Summer 1979), as a way to honor our subscribers we had this printed as a kind of joke issue.
SP: The Wet issue?
JH: It was a parody of the Los Angeles publication Wet (1976-81) and it was a very sexy design–surfacey, Rachel Youdelman and her boy friend did it. So we put that out as a special issue just for our subscribers.
SP: Then you had one issue which was just with artists who were working in educational institutions in the LA area.
JH: That was #6/7 (1977/78) and it was mainly people who were teaching at UCLA or at other universities.
SP: It's a very interesting theme, a very complete little project. Did that endear you to the art gang at that time?
JH: By then we had established a kind of reputation and there were people who were positively disposed to us, so they were excited and eager to get into the publication. It had opened doors for us by that point. An issue that preceded it (#4, 1977) was the issue on artists' books and people really liked that. And then we did the photography and ideology issue (#5, 1977) that was guest-edited by Lew Thomas. That one went over quite well and of course changing to the book format, with slicker paper and everything, so when we came around to do this (#6/7, 1977/1978) people were eager to get into it.
SP: The artists' book issue, that wasn’t associated with an exhibit or anything?
SP: Is there anything that I've missed that was a key element in terms of the publication?
JH: I just remember the enormous amount of fun we would have in our editorial meetings, hashing things out and we later brought onto the editorial board Kenon Breazeale who had been an art history professor at Cal State Northridge, a young professor. And she was a lesbian, she was a woman and she was able to bring a different perspective that we thought was valuable, because it was just us guys, to take it away from that guy’s thing. And then she had some interesting contacts as well that she brought in to write for us. To this day she's always said "I thought that by doing this and getting all these things published that it would help my career," but then she realized what the publication people wanted was things in the academic journals rather than something like this. Of course now it's ironic because now this is getting recognized. She was great, and we had some really interesting discussions. In the last issue that was edited by Kaprow there was a Carolee Schneemann piece, it was very interesting and it was listed by Kristine Stiles in her book Correspondence Course: An Epistolary History of Carolee Schneemann and Her Circle, Duke University Press (2010). Schneemann talks about the aspect about women's bodies and she was really pissed about how all performance artists who were showing off their bodies that were good and sexy, but the irony of all this that in this piece, in the original artwork she did, you could see that she'd penciled and done things on the photographs and cut off inches off her belly and other things. The reproduction wouldn't show it, but it showed on the artwork she had sent us and then in her statement she's like taking a position against this kind crap. My co-editor got very upset about this and we had some really heated discussions over whether we were going to accept this piece or not, but it eventually got in. Yes, it was a rather fascinating issue and an aspect of which there was a little bit of disingenuousness on the part of Schneemann over this.