Thursday, July 19, 2012


Assembling #4, 1973 
Assembling #4, 1973
Assembling #4, 1973
Assembling #5, 1974 
Assembling #5, 1974
Assembling #5, 1974
Assembling #5, 1974
Assembling #7, 1977
Assembling #7, 1977
Assembling #10, 1980
Assembling #10, 1980
Assembling #12, 1986

Assembling #12, 1986


This interview with Richard Kostelanetz, one of Assembling's editors, took place in 1996 in New York City. Assembling published 13 issues between 1970-1987. For further information about Kostelanetz and his activities see:

This text originally appeared in "Assembling Magazines," exhibition catalogue, editor, Stephen Perkins, Iowa City: Plagiarist Press, 1997.
Stephen Perkins: I understand that your first exposure to an assembling publication was when Dick Higgins (1938-1998) showed you Tomas Niggl's Omnibus News (1969). I wonder if you can recall your first impressions upon encountering this publication?

Richard Kostelanetz: What a wonderful way to publish! I think another fact though would be the Cage "Notations" (1969) book. The non-uniform book. Does Niggl do alphabetical?...because Cage did alphabetical. Actually I always wondered about that, because that became a sort of convention that we've kept throughout but of course it's an unnecessary convention. It interested me because as I have written, in the conventional magazine, the editors think they are putting the good stuff up front and the weaker stuff at the back and I wanted to get away from that kind of thing. So we hit upon the alphabet as a structure but in retrospect I think there are other ways to do it. I would probably do reverse alphabet sometimes and out of the middle of the alphabet some other times. [ed. note: Kostelanetz is referring here to the alphabetical sequencing of the contributions in Assembling]

SP: I wonder why you even decided to bind it because that sets up a narrative.....

RK: Because I make books. I make books.

SP: So, Assembling was a book?

RK: Yes, sure.

SP: When people review it some people call it a book, some people call it a magazine.

RK: But I come out of the tradition of books, as you can see from looking around this house. I wanted something with a spine, although we didn't mark the first spine, but then we marked later spines. I think of my life as being mostly making books...look at Dana Atchley (1941-2000), was that a book?

SP: So it doesn't upset you that some people call it a magazine?

RK: No, we actually called it a magazine, an annual magazine and we listed ourselves in periodical indices and things like that. I wanted to make a pseudo-book, something that looked like a book. Omnibus News looked like a book, Cage's "Notations" looked like a book.

SP: Looking at the first couple of issues it clearly arises from a literary tradition but very quickly it becomes as much visual as well as literary. Was that something that surprised you or was that inevitable?

RK: I consider myself both visual and literary and certainly did at that time and it didn't surprise me. I may not even have noticed it. I think it also became the nature of the thing. Karl Young in his wonderful essay pointed out that there was no cachet in publishing Assembling for literary people, who wanted to keep dossiers, because everything was accepted and so turned off a lot of people...I think that's a really important principle.1

SP: The interesting thing about that strategy is that is puts the onus on the contributors who become the editors and you have a whole different dynamic.

RK: And also it's how much respect you have for yourself. I'm not going to bestow any respect on you, you've either got it or you don't, that's it.

SP: Were you aware of any other publications that were playing with or turning upside down publishing conventions in that manner?

RK: No, other than similar, Cage's "Notations."

SP: What about Fluxus?

RK: I never thought of their publications as books. You're getting me, catching me! Yeah, I never thought of them as books.

SP: Although you talk about the editorial process being open, new contributors were invited to send a sample of their work, did that happen?

RK: Yes.

SP: So in that sense it wasn't totally open...

RK: You had to be invited. But I must say we used to joke at the time that thank god we don't have any painful editorial meetings of whether or not X or Y should be invited or dis-invited. We never had editorial meetings, if it looked freaky invite them! I'm sure nobody was dis-invited. People might have been discouraged or encouraged to dis-invite themselves but I don't think anyone was ever dis-invited. It's not my character to do that

SP: How did you decide upon the 1000 copies that people had to submit?

RK: That seemed excessive, you know I still have a lot of storage costs that I don't know what to do about. 1000 is probably a book convention as well.

SP: It seems to be that at one level, such a large number of copies in an edition was one of the reasons that Assembling spread out so far, it must have touched a lot of people.

RK: Maybe, it became a bigger problem maybe we should have done 500. It became a problem that I still have to live with it costs me $50 a month to keep those things which I hope somebody will eventually buy. In fact it probably even costs me more than that, now I think about it.

SP: It strikes me that one could describe Assembling in terms of its material, but I also see it as operating within communities, it becomes a collaboration, it involved a lot of chance elements in it...

RK: It had a changing clientele, it's not a clique, there's no continuity of contributors from beginning to end. Very much a changing clientele. Why that is you'd have to ask them but it was also set up so it didn't matter if someone didn't show up next year, it didn't really matter within the whole.

SP: So did you see it as a kind of 'event' each time?

RK: The event, to the degree there was an event, was taking the boxes to the collator wherever that happened to be. That became the event. I remember being with Henry Korn in his parent's big Cadillac and we had this all filled with boxes going up to Providence to taken them somewhere. The second event was mailing them out.

SP: So all three editors would get together for the mailing, or would you have other helpers?

RK: No, it was too big. Although I think Mike Metz once hired a fireman and his family maybe for Assembling #3. But no we never did it ourselves at least I'm pretty sure we never did it ourselves. I'd be surprised if we did it ourselves. The other part of course was the staple, we never had that kind of staple, which I think was an industrial staple of some kind or other. You're really making me think, I always wanted to make a book dammit, I wonder what that's about. Is that just about me? I guess so. I always wanted to make a book with a tight spine and a staple and pages bound together. I think symbolically that made the community but I guess the envelopes did also.

SP: But it's a different experience looking through an envelope, you can shuffle the work...

RK: Of course, no question about that. Was anybody else so devoted to the notion of a book as I was? Maybe Jerry Bowles' No Commercial Value, I guess that was his way of doing the book. I don't remember any criticism at the time of our binding, I might be wrong about that, but I don't remember it. Certainly the instructions to the contributors always I'm sure said leave a margin because we bind.

I think the bigness of Assembling put off some people, that it could be so big. I know it put off the guys who gave out literary grant monies, " mean you get all these guys to give you the paper free and you make a book that big..." and we said yeah and they scratched their heads, they couldn't figure it out!

SP: At one level one could describe it as an anti-periodical or anti-book in the sense that it doesn't place a great emphasis on the thematic progression.

RK: No question about that, or alternative kind of book.

SP: So it's no surprise that funders were reluctant...

RK: Oh yeah and " guys don't choose, select..."

SP: Surely that didn't surprise you, that would be inevitable with the strategy that's inherent to Assembling.

RK: Well the lack of funding certainly offended me at the time, I'll tell you that. It upset me. I forget where we ran out of money, maybe it was #5, that was the one that was done down in Baltimore, when we had no money and somebody else picked it up. And of course after I was dis-involved, once I went to Berlin in the early 80s, it never got any funds again.

SP: Wasn't there an issue #13? I remember sending some work in for that and never getting a copy.

RK: Well at that time Charlie Doria was in charge, and Charlie Doria was not as good as he should have been about keeping promises. The thing I have always emphasized is that as long as I was in charge all promises were kept and I think that's why people sent so much stuff and I think that's real important in this area because you and I can think of guys who don't keep their promises.

SP: And they soon get struck off lists, you don't participate after a while; I mean it's so much built on trust.

RK: It has to be, and that I think is also Cagean, incidentally if I may digress for a second. I have this whole theory of Cage, which is that his performance practice is not about chance, but it's about trust. I will give you a score and trust you not to violate it. I'm not leaving things to chance I trusting you not to violate it. You might do something I can't expect. I think that what we did is very Cage an.

1.  I'm assuming Kostelanetz is referring to Karl Young's forward to Assembling #12, 1986. Read it here: