Category Archives: other little magazines

Other Little Magazines # 22 – Rainbow of Archizines

When Disegno arrived at my doorstep around the last days of December, I browsed through its tactile, lushious pages and decided that this was it.

With so many new things* piling up, I absolutely had to do a round up of some of the inaugural issues of ‘little’ magazines that, while lying in my office floor, also took part in the recent and continued revival of the archizine.

Intriguingly so, Dissegno itself spoke of how design magazines have been consciously pushing the borders of the architectural, not only into ever-new interdisciplinary connectivities or wide web platforms, but also ending up in territories that no longer pertain exclusively to architecture.

There was a time around the beginning of the 20th century in which design, in its acception of object creation, was still the bastard offspring of architectural mastery. Now, as it somewhat scandalously seems, it is architecture that more often than not is seen under the wide and prolific umbrella of design culture.

Thus, what once was for me the quintessential compel of an event such as ExperimentaDesign – the notion that activities as far apart as graphic design and urban planning are unified under the broad cultural inheritance of the progetto – is now also the implicit drive for the editorial mission of previous Icon editor and Disegno founder Johanna Agerman Ross.

This being said, I had the intention of reviewing in this post more or less every genre represented in my small but proud collection of number one editions, from the student zine lookalike full of star contributions, such as the 2010 Block, architecture etc., back to the academic-journal-refusing-to-be-academic also full of star contributions, such as the 2003 Log.

 

London’s Block, architecture etc. and…                 New York-based Log.

But alas, moving to another continent has a way of being hard on your luggage selection, and so I’ve decided to focus this update on two geographically bounded magazines that appeared during last summer, one in the unlikely – or not so – outskirts of Porto, the other in no longer so classical Rome.

The first of those, Peachvelvet International, or PI.MAG, belongs to a not unpredictable trend of publications catering locally to all the resilient lovers of an enduring, softly hued architectural minimalism.

This is all about the well-respected late modern tendeza that is still creating bridges and bonds for lone, misunderstood architects in disparate locations like the Iberian peninsula and relevant sections of the islands of Japan, United Kingdom or Switzerland.

PI.MAG’s opening manifesto is naturally and wikipedically about the color “white,” which as we know nowadays comes in manifold gradations right down to pitch black. Grey is thus welcome into the mag’s velvety, impeccable pages.

And while overall blinding white is still the domain of dodgy radicals – and being that the editors are “not obsessed with white or white buildings” – the delicate, tactile palette of this zine also welcomes the faint tinges of birch or even the manly rusty orange of Corten steel.

So as to complete its eulogy of descriptive, tint neutrality, PI.MAG rounds off with a piece of criticism – yes! amazing! – that dedicates yet another diatribe of fine ironical analysis to the color “green” and its many sustainable shades.

At this point we are finally allowed to uncover that “green” is not only the new black. “Green” has also become an ideological tool that conceals the lack of architectural quality of all the buildings that refuse to be simply and naturally… white. It really makes you wonder.

Boundaries speaks of entirely dissimilar colors. And that is suddenly warmingly welcome. As you flip through the magazine, you cannot avoid the color of dirt, and the color of people, and the color of naïve attempts at happiness. And this is good, and it feels right in a time in which a politics of radical aesthetics has to substitute again for the faint aestheticizations of the nice and cute.

As stated in its inaugural editorial, the borders in this magazine are not intended to be that of “the political frontier.” However, there is a bold desire to push some edges, namely in regards to what the stances of the architectural profession have been within a “new economy.”

As a peer-reviewed magazine that gets architects, researchers, urban planners, historians and geographers together, Boundaries is precisely about not being neutral, about joining forces, about enrichening the dialogue with differing positions. It does not acritically want to just caress the well established. And that is as promising as dedicating its first issue to Africa.

Opening up to Africa’s many realities, the project reviews in Boundaries reach from cooperation to tourist operations. In either case, they recall what to me emerges as still an essential problem: how to sustain the innovative qualities of architectural research when cultural and material resources are scarce.

And this question somehow relates to a worrisome impression which has often overcome me along the last couple of years. This is the possibility that, rather than the emergent economies we’re currently looking at, Africa might indeed be the future. For the better and the worse.

In that sense, it is only logical that we start paying some serious attention to this large, often forgotten continent.

Other Little Magazines #22 – The Unclassifiable

As I’ve briefly mentioned in my last Other Little Magazines post, there’s an enormous amount of extraordinary magazines piling in my desk that certainly deserve an urgent reference. Harvesting through them all, I now decided to pick on the unclassifiable ones.

As those who have actually once read books will remember, Jorge Luis Borges unsettled the notion of taxonomy in an eccentric tale called “The Analytical Language of John Wilkins.” The magazines that I hold here would precisely deserve something like the absurd categories Borges made up in his biblio-zoological incursion.

Toilet Paper, for a start, is quite an odd one. An artist’s project published by Maurizion Cattelan and Pier Paolo Ferrari since June 2010, it is already on its 8th issue in two years, which is something remarkable given its surrealistic contents.

Entirerly composed by a juxtaposition of highly narrative, vaguely retro-looking images Toilet Paper is intellectual porn at its provocative best. Self-proclaimed a “new generation magazine”, it is not clear if it should be filed under “ post-Warholian sick glam,” “anthropological studies” or simply “visual culture.”

A more orthodox, but similarly almost random collection of artist visuals appeared on the first issue of Toronto-based Hunter and Cook back in 2008.

And even if this magnificently named mag falls more typically under the category of the “art magazine”, the stuff in it is still untypical enough for you to be temporarily unsure if you’re flipping through a trash metal fanzine, a photo souvenir album or an alternative comic revue.

As for the equally Canadian Victor, even if it originated from a bunch of graphic design students, its omnivorous nature also makes it pretty undefineable.

Victor is part of a publication triumvirate that is centered in fictional characters, including issues dedicated to Bruno and Nadia. Following the wanderings and psychological landscape of such characters it goes into pretty anything, from weird everyday stories to favorite records, from conversations and messaging with friends and strangers to, above all, great illustration work.

Staying within the category of “magazines with person’s names” let me also introduce you to handsome Sebastian. Its cover says it all: just a first name – a supposed alter ego – and a slightly distorted, disturbing male figure.

Sebastian appeared in London in 2011 and while it promised to show up twice a year to talk about style and culture, it hasn’t yet produced any descendancy.

Meanwhile, its graceful and varied tour debut includes a very personal visit to a tainted  New York Architecture and interviews with remarkable figures like gallerist Maureen Paley, “artisan purist” Geoffrey B Small and delicious “expressionist cooks” Lily Vanilli and Margot Henderson.

Another beautiful tiny magazine full with amazing characters and personas is the smartly called Afterzine. Sonic Thurston Moore, pop* guru Peter Saville and classic Henry David Thoreau were my few previous acquaintances, which means Afterzine became for me another feast of the unfamiliar.

Here, the variety goes from essays and fictions to photography and graphics, and from light waves and roundographs to book spines and –free food, all however connected by the notion of “negative space” and the affectionate curatorial direction of Vanity Fair editor Hamish Robertson.

The fact that more and more magazines are now curated by… – just remember the pioneer A Magazine Curated By… – naturally brings very individual idiosyncrasies into this particular media, making zines prone to quite subjective ravings and juxtapositions.

In the case of Science Poems, the articulation of science and art, i.e. the lasting dichotomy of C. P. Snow on the two cultures, but also the ghostly presence of science fiction as role model, leads to a most unsual publication, especially considering  it is curated by a collective with a design background.

Is it a mag? Is it a numbered book? Is it a catalogue? No, it’s Science Poems!…

The content packed in this 144 pages by OK Do‘s Anni Puolakka and Jenna Sutella, include anything from interviews with philosophers of science, curators, artists and designers to tales on heavenly bodies, brain visions, DNA junk, life-breeding meteorites, volcanic eruptions or big-bang machines, always with the bold intent to “avoid traditional categories or disciplinary boundaries.”

In the end, not only the format of the magazine has become elastic enough to accommodate the most extreme variations – from serial bookazines to artist experiences, from one-off objects to virtual catalogues – but this is also a media that allows for the unclassifiableness and wild diversity of the world to come at the reach of one’s hands in compact form.

This is, alas, part of the diffuse, abbondant phenomena that may today be preparing us for a dramatic post-oil scenario. The current media wealth, of which magazines are only a small example, ultimately allows anyone to gather relevant information and worldviews without necessarily having to be physically present in what used to be the traditional centres of knowledge and culture diffusion.

For the good part of an expanding Western Modern culture, being outside the centre would seem like a condemnation to locality and provincialism. Now sometimes feels as if the assumed centres of cultural production are those blind to the profusion of what’s going on.* (Even if the centre is always recruiting.)

One of the uncertain advantages of our networked, media societies lies precisely in the fact that connectivity makes it quite indifferent where you may presently be rooted. Rather, it’s all about where and how your senses are really pluggin’ in.

Other Little Magazines #21 – From Blog to Print

The launch of the Portuguese edition of The Printed Blog inspired me to review the growing fad of blogs that want to become magazines. This being said, the pile of new magazines awaiting a reference in my desk was also about to crumble as spectacularly as the tower of Babel and I had to trim it down in anyway I could.

It is not that the new franchise of the apparently sucessful The Printed Blog deserves too much consideration. Being launched in the silly season,* this seems to have convinced its editors to look for ultra-lite, fast-consuming, totally unconsequential “literature” found in the Portuguese internet.

Perhaps they hoped that this would reflect a general local attitude of postponing the need for serious thinking on the current state-of-affairs of this small Atlantic backyard. Or on anything else, for that matter. Like the t-shirt I saw the other day, this edition tells me “I smile because I have no idea of what’s going on.”

As such, the only memorable fragment of writing I found in this entire, shallow publication was a curious, self-aware quote by my Facebook friend Marta Lança – who incidentally I’ve never met in real life – who rightly hints that in the blogosphere “only a few follow Deleuze’s advice: to resist the social forces which compel us to talk when we have nothing to say.”


Unfortunately, this compilation of original pieces by supposedly “important” Portuguese blogguers – who to appear in print apparently need the moral support from some television figures and a vaguely erotic wrapping – tends to confirm a rather depressing truth.

Indeed, if it’s penible enough to sometimes have certain thoughts perpetuated in personal weblogs, it’s downright thick to go through the trouble of selecting, editing and assembling those into a glossy, resource-wasting paper product…

At least, however, the new publication has induced me to look at better examples of blogs that resist embracing the potential forgetfulness of an internet which is becoming the giant graveyard of our fleeting beliefs and opinions.

These are the blogs that, tending to be specialized rather than general, and normally being based on the sharing of relevant information and commentary, obviously felt that there was enough substance in them to justify the move into the realm of the presumed eternity of print.

As suggested by Chris Pearson we are indeed at the forefront of a petit paradigm shift. Firstly there was the time in which the well-known, Goliath magazines went on to grab a good chunk of the internet’s growing share of attention. Now it’s time for those who kickstarted and consolidated their audience in the web to try and convince it that they should pay for the correspondent physical versions.

Within this scenario, some people are simultaneously more and less ambitious and they go directly from their ultra-popular blogs into the book format. In the field of architecture, we have our very own Jeoff Manaugh as a good example.  Books are hopefully more timeless than mags and they require considerably less effort if one has already abundant material for a one shot enterprise.

Magazines, on the other hand, being to lasting literature what tweets are to blogs, are more akin to some blog’s idiosyncrasies. Magazines too, at least the niche ones, normally rely on presenting new trends, new authors, new products as part of their essential presence in the middlebrow mediasphere.

Following on the pioneering spirit of Its’ Nice That – with its faithful reproduction of the blog’s shorthand logic of one image and a few words onto the printed page, out since April 2009 and now at its 6th issue – let me then introduce you to two recent examples of this revealing trend.

M|I|S|C is published from Toronto since the Spring of 2011 and it’s true to another important characteristic of blogs: it is totally and exclusively written, published, edited and directed by Idris Mootee. Idris also provide us with most pictures courtesy of his Leica and travels. Way to go, Idris!

Being a little too obsessively focused on branding, i.e. marketing, the collection of posts from one year of Idris’ Innovation Playground has the peculiar quality of being more didactical than usual – which, together with its portfolio presentations, explains why adverts come mostly from design institutions.

The mag’s first edition is indeed almost entirely dedicated to issues connected with its motto title Movement|Innovation|Structure|Complexity, thus extensively coaching us through jargon concepts like “design thinking,” “wild card scenarios,” “creativity,” “crowdsourcing,” or “corporate imagination.”

This is like as if magazines are being induced to become ever more specific by the very specialization of blogs. Which also suggests that our education manuals may about to go through severe changes so as to become sexier and cooler – so as to actually again have some lonely soul reading them.

Circus, on the other hand, first (and lastly) presented itself as another bookazine compiling “the best of the web”(as The Printed Blog also claims), so becoming another result of “the ultimate clash between online and print.”

Loyal to the high level specialization of blogs, Circus’ premiére issue was totally dedicated to fashion, asserting right at its first pages that the internet has definitely altered the very perception and functioning of such creative fields.

As such, Circus goes beyond your usual fashion magazine and it too is a pedagogical journey through unexpected fetishes of the fashion blogscape, basically relating fashion to everything, including architecture.

In this densely packed bundle you may go from the life of models and the perils of the profession’s journalists, to the more obscure aspects of the “woolie scene,” the “fashion disabled,” “fleckologie” and other such personal slot preferences.

While most effectively illustrating the notion of “bloggers gone wild”, as others “blogger’s magazines” will certainly do in the near future, Circus is finally and ultimately self-reflexive on the very nature of the different media it bridges. Be it when blogging, fashion, or blogs turning to mags are echoed, reflexivity arises as the stronger trait of this new territory of communication’s precursors.

In this sense, these publications also subtly disclose that people are starting to acknowledge a renewed phenomenon. In a world riddled with information overload we more than ever seem to long for those figures or media that will digest, reference and point us to relevant content.

And this is ultimately why, despite the cultural or publishing financial crisis, the editorial, curatorial and consultant professions are on the rise and give place to entirely new forms of stardom. As Bruce Sterling recently put it, it’s all about “the trained pig and the rare truffle.”

Flooded by “intelligent noise” – a notion urban strategist Arun Jain suggested at the recent “Another Urban Future” think tank  – many people increasingly cherish those who can somehow reassure them that they are investing their precious time in the piece of information or opinion that best suits their needs.

And yet, even with a little help from my guru – and as philosopher Modjtaba Sadria reminded us in the same discussion of future cities  – there is still a crucial difference between information and knowledge. You have to first know what to do with the former, so that the latter may eventually become an integral part of what you are or want to be.

Other Little Magazines #20 – Ego Trips

As this weblog has been gently qualified as self-serving – which it totally is, but then aren’t they all by the very definition of the medium? – I finally got the nerve to dedicate this section to those little magazines whose première issues featured contributions by this abnegated servant of his very small audience.

I had already referred to Chicote – which brought to quickly consuming glory my first, but apparently not last opinion editorial – and this is finally the occasion to complete the triumvirate of publications that incorporated your humble me, myself and I* in their very first apparitions.

If it wasn’t for my own embarrassment, the first of these mags was long due a more complete reference. DOMA came out already one year ago in Macedonia, edited by Antoino Petrov and Sofija Grandakovska.

While introducing us to a plethora of Eastern European writers and architects, DOMA includes an impressive list of international contributors that ranges from Ben Nicholson or Marina Abramovic, to Michael Meredith, Alison Currie and Srdjan Jovanovic Weiss.

Its contents provide us with an unusual debate on the “(im)material meanings” of doma/home as a “meta-fantastical question.” Thus, its many appealing stories and essays “unfold the confluence of agglomerated meanings and objects that influence the cultural geography of our cities, and hence the production and creation of new terms of DOMA.”

My own contribution – a fictional scenario that was eventually republished online through the CCA’s Infinite Index – dwells precisely on how the aspiration to a European identity, with its territorial equivalence to a fortressed domicile, could be subject to dramatic shifts in the course of coming climate changes.

The other magazine I want to mention here is called Lazlo. It came out a couple of months ago in Berlin and it is edited, art directed and designed by none other than… Lazlo Moulton himself.

As it self-presents itself on Facebook, Lazlo is “a half-yearly independent magazine drawing inspiration and content from (and aiming to reach) the academic chair and the club dance floor, the artist’s atelier and the scientist’s laboratory, the catwalk and the sidewalk.”

This is the kind of other little magazine I enjoy digging out for my readership: transversal, witty, eclectic, personal, ironic, elegant, generous, political, self-conscious, playful, avant-garde, literary, modest, critical. A magazine on everything, which may well feed you through the all of Summer.

Curiously, its issue nº 0 is also “On Dwelling” – as once reflected by Heidegger, but not only. Avoiding excessive intellectualization of the theme, it just welcomes its reader into a self-defining journey through which one can possibly “go home again.” Thus emerges a subjective take on culture as a potential comfort zone for rebuilding the self in an age of fragmented, shattered dreams.

My contribution here is one of a few interviews I’ve given recently to different international media – another was to French magazine D’Architecture, and yet another one appeared on the 2nd online issue of Zurich/ETH-based Architectural Papers. For Lazlo, the conversation was exclusively dedicated to Beyond, Short Stories on the Post-Contemporary.

Dwelling on Beyond is surely convenient, if indeed the series is to survive the current adverse economical condition and the end of print as we know it. While the first issues of Beyond are out and about since 2009 – and seem to have become stuck at the cult status of the “super-small-niche” – perhaps I haven’t been self-serving enough so as to constantly bombard you with news on it.

The truth is that, even if a curator or editor is firstly researching and conveying the production of others, when it comes to commercial matters it is quite hard and uncomfortable for some of us to also assume the role of the marketer.

Nonetheless, other people seem to be gradually picking up on this particular little magazine, with it being included in recent reviews in ICON #94 and Abitare #513. Hopefully, the word of mouth will slowly get across, at least to those who may be potentially interested in it.

The fact is that, although we are speaking of “the rise and rise of independent magazines” one should not forget that these are mostly the result of luxurious ego trips of a handful of people that still believe that generating and sharing content is a fulfilling mission. Unfortunately, and particularly in these tough times, there will always be limits to such unabashed generosity and passion.

Other Little Magazines #19 Views from Academia…

Murphy was a bilingual journal of “architectural history and theory,” one of the few that ever came out in Portugal. It was published from 2006 to 2008 at the University of Coimbra Press, the project of architectural historian Paulo Varela Gomes – whose critical writings around the 90s were quite referential for me.

Denoting a chronic local yearning for external recognition, the name of the publication stems from the architectural traveler who, around the end of the 18th century, first reported on Portuguese architecture to its European counterparts.

Murphy’s first editorial aimed high at contradicting a local ad hoc academic situation, which, when it comes to theory, is portrayed here with straightforward accuracy as a kind of anything goes, while the essayistic nature of most writing in the field would only disguise its lack of scientific rigor.

Welcoming its desire to overcome “the obstacles that have caused academic work in Portugal to fall behind” – while I doubted its subservient willingness to emulate the most traditional Anglo-Saxon journals – I immediately asked myself if two fifty-something page essays on regional medieval matters were the best way to start catering for a new readership and create global impact…

This would be the case, if such essays presented overwhelming new methodologies or radical ways of thinking that would profoundly affect the way we understand our building and urban matters today. Unfortunately, these were writings that preached rather exclusively, conventionally and conveniently to the ultra-niche and the already converted.

In Murphy’s opening edition even the more contemporary “approaches” seemed to suggest a middlebrow view of academic production. They might sporadically experiment with a sexier language, or even provide the occasional insight for the analysis of the present, but they also basically procrastinated on how to maintain things as they are.

At the risk of flogging a dead horse I would say that, ultimately, most of Murphy’s first contributions risked being integral to the feeble, but dominant arena in which to be “scientific” is to quote correctly and put together the right references in a permanent, protracted historiographical reconstruction – rather than displaying the capability to introduce the subtlest of paradigm shifts in current knowledge or practice.

Le Journal Spéciale’Z, which I’ve discovered because of my recent visits to ESA, is altogether keener to dwell on those other territories of intellectual exploration where connaissance is faster erected with the intense, unpretentious delight of simultaneous recollection and discovery.

Here – and in the parallel blog –  you may truly discern new interesting voices beyond the usual suspects of contemporary architectural theory – although you might also find an interview with the ever-intense Antoine Picon amidst the well-assorted bunch that rédacteur en chef Sony Devabhaktuni puts together.

Hence, in the inaugural issue of the Spéciale’Z you are bound to hit upon several gems of unexpected reflective sway – either if you want to know more about urban “audio topographies” (Shannon Werle) or you are otherwise interested in how neuroaesthetics is soon bound to enhance your perceptions of public space (Ruzica Bozovic-Stamenovic).

What else would you want of a little scholarly magazine? :-)

Contrary to an obedient reverence of all things past – which may inform, but sometimes also immobilizes the historically-prone practitioner – Le Journal Spéciale’Z is more inclined to joyfully accept that “every generation” declares “the language of the precedent generation to be useless.”

As such, the authors of this particularly liminar suggestion – Johannes Binotto and Andri Gerber – also recall in their excellent Narration/Non-Ville/Description that, “to understand the world, we have first to understand our understanding.”(A great line from German ethnologist Hans-Jürgen Heinrichs.)

At the risk of seeming too obvious (or paradoxical), one would state that the re-foundation of any theory – or historical research – has to operatively gaze at the present moment, rather than only stare at the recognized recognitions of past souls, as bright as they may still shine in the firmament of the undead.

And while we are perfectly able to acknowledge that our understanding is constantly built upon the shoulders of others, we are also allowed – and advised – to use that tiny extra height to look further into new, previously invisible landscapes of possibility. Expectedly, on a clear day you may then see forever.

With the newly acquired insights stemming from both present and past we can certainly again and again defrost the realities that lie apparently petrified behind us. But we should even more preferably not loose sight of the bizarre, unlikely obstacles that lay copiously ahead.

Other Little Magazines # 18 Whatever happened to…

Back in the Spring of 2001, LAB first came out in London with a plain opening statement: “Let’s do a magazine. Ok.” This emerged as a reply to another simple question, quite typical of people just starting their professional lives: “Shit, what are we going to do now?”

The magnificent editorial entrepreneurship of youth – and other like-minded people faced with such an eternal question – has always led to the idyllic development of magazines that, although beautifully done, didn’t make it past a couple of issues. This post is the first dedicated to a few of those.

LAB itself was the baby of Pavlova Design, and art directors Astrid Stravo and Joana Ramos-Pinto. Under the theme of Arrivals, its first issue was a catalogue of young creative talent with a tasty presentation that was soon to die on the footsteps of ongoing commercial indie mags like Spanish Neo2.

And even if color is already evaporating from its pages and fashion photo shoots, LAB was avant-garde enough to feature much graphic design that still feels fresh, articles that one can still enjoy, and interviews with people that are still pretty much around – from soundtrackable Finlay Quaye to ever-likeable FAT.

A couple of years later, whilst LAB sadly soon faded into oblivion, on the other side of the world and the specter, Influence was a promising New York mag that, despite its high ambitions and its cool backgrounds, also left only a few traces behind after its brief publication during 2003.

Its somewhat pedagogical, unexpected contents ranged from stories about Ralph Eugene Meatyard and Gilliam Wearing, to artist essays about photography, cinema, and the postapocalyptic ruin (Walead Beshty) or the distinction between the sacred and the profane (Daniel Mirer).

Influence was intended as an art magazine about “the ever-changing forms of artistic ideas.” However, the fact that it was published by fashion gurus such as Jan-Willem Dikkers and previous American Vogue creative director Raul Martinez perhaps explains the short-lived experience of the publication. There are worlds that, despite appearances, don’t really blend together.

The last lost magazine I dug out of my archives for today’s post is somehow symmetrical to Influence. Although edited by an outcast art critic, it tried to cross over onto the world of commercial publications with a fashion twist

Chicote premièred last October in Lisbon, but I’ve just had news that its second issue – though ready to go to print – will never make it to paper. Which is absolutely no surprise when the IMF (aka the International Mother Fuckers in Icelandic) is precisely today landing in Portugal.

While Chicote is now another weblog cum facebook page, its first issue promised to whip up the sensibilities of a too dormant country. And this was an intention that, of course, was not totally welcome by the advertising wolf pack.

Being that this mag promised kinky provocations and counterculture warfare – from legal drugs to techno-utopia – I happily contributed to the project with my shrapnelesque views on how we should return to a more virulent criticism, much alike our 19th century literary predecessors.

In memoriam, here is the article I published in Chicote’s first issue, in what was to be the sister column of this very blog – Smithereens. Suddenly this text somehow felt as a vaguely adequate prequel to some minor polemics currently assaulting the Portuguese architectural blogsphere.

(And since I’m at it, I  also released here and  there my second, unpublished article for the mag – which I prepared last October in the wake of the biennale, the triennale, and other likely annales, but, again, may still present some durable assertions when all things critic are currently considered around here.)

There are always innumerable obscure reasons for some magazines to make it and others not. But it’s memorable that these wild flowers may briefly blossom in the midst of today’s mainstream manure – even if for one season only.

Other Little Magazines # 17 – One Short History

While in Montreal, I had the opportunity to browse through some of the classics that made the notion of the “little magazine” so dear to us all. And so, from the exquisite CCA library I picked a few challenging inaugural issues on which to expand in this unending section of Shrapnel C. (Soundtrack here.)

Utopie, subtitled Sociologie de l’urbain, is probably most referential nowadays because in its editorial board was a bright sociological mind – one who became a reference for architects and other cultural producers: Jean Baudrillard.

As today one flips through this little French revue’s número un – brought out in May 1967 – one again realizes how some important architecture futures first crystallize in settings that are distant from architecture’s specialized media. Indeed, it is sometimes in other media that the first attempts to synthesize a particular moment in architecture comes about.

As such, along the “critical thinking” on urbanism, or timely notes on “marxisme et esthétique” and the consumption of objects, it is also in this outsider’s publication that one suddenly discovers early discussions on the ephemeral in architecture – with topics ranging from the boutiques and the emergency habitats to Cedric Price or Archigram. How more up-to-date can you be?

And while Utopies dwelled on the imagination of the villes de papier – with unexpectedly early insights of the role of graphic novels in the visualization of urban futures – on the other side of the channel or the ocean, architects themselves were still clipping photocopies in the fashion of Corbusier, or desperately clinging to classicize modernism in the fashion of Mies.

About the same time as Utopie was coming out in revolutionary Paris, in swinging London the conceptual grandfather of Clip, Stamp, Fold and other contemporary adventures, a small black-and-white assemblage of photocopies by the name of clip-kit again got together Cedric Price, Mike Webb, and Reyner Banham, with all of them trying to pin down their references outside architecture – from cars and industrial caravans to gas tanks and the machine logic.

While trying to legitimize new languages in the realm of popular production, and even if self-proclaiming their own revolutionary promise or the concern “with progressive architectural ideas,” architects somehow seemed unaware of the true impact of their images and concepts in other cultural realms of their time.

On the other hand, half a dozen years later in New York, such “progressive” images were being subsumed to the archive by an enduring intellectual attempt to institutionalize modernism as the true and only rule of the architectural field.

Oppositions 1, brought out in September 1973 as a “Journal for Ideas and Criticism in Architecture” by the guiding hands of Peter Eisenman, Keneth Frampton and Mario Gandelsonas, was to dictate where the tectonic avant-garde really lied – from Colin Rowe’s reading of neoclassicism in Modern Architecture, down to Anthony Vidler’s analysis of utopia or Diana Agrest and Mario Gandelsonas’ “Semiotics and Architecture: Ideological Consumption or Theoretical Work”.

From then on, one could succinctly and polemically say that it took three decades for architectural media to again try and go “beyond architecture” – and its self-referential academic theories –as it happened with my last pick from the CCA’s collection: Volume #01, out in 2005 as a radical transformation of previous Archis magazine lead by Ole Bouman.

In this instance, blending AMO, the C-Lab and mysterious graphic insertions such as the Rive Gauche’s “Total Intellectual Freedom”, Volume was again to reset the coordinates of where the post-critical avant-garde should be – by fiercely committing to strong statements, visual liveliness and the notion of architecture as an expanded cultural field.

As Ole Bouman optimistically stated at this instance, architecture was again “a universal access code”, “a powerful kind of strategic intelligence”, “a medium for developing cultural concepts.” And yet, Beatriz Colomina funnily added elsewhere in the mag that as “our dentists suddenly think that architecture is important,” maybe it was about time “we should embrace its irrelevance.”

As architecture was strongly mediatized through other cultural media – from Time magazine to Wallpaper, you name it – so its theory and its specialized media had to move into the realm of communication, to again ground architecture’s relationship to a fast-moving society.

And in this respect – as in the respect of the stuff that makes magazines historically relevant – it is pretty amazing for me to realize as half a dozen years ago, in Volume’s pages one could already discern some of the questions that we are still currently enjoying to debate – from “unsolicited architecture” to “fiction,” and from “experimental writing” to all of today’s cherished “beyonds.”

Other Little Magazines #16 – Back to the Classics

 

As soon as I’ve grabbed the latest issue of DAMnº – where my micro-narratives on Luanda have just come out – I felt like going back to my cherished magazine collection and grab DAMnº’s first issue from seven years ago, along with another two classy and classic, memorable, yet defunct mags.

DAMn first came out in November 2004 and already in its inaugural issue it revealed a penchant to ally the production of informal culture to the latest design novelty, a feature which is still its trademark – now perhaps more in tune with current times than ever before.

The opening issue of the Belgian magazine conflated no less than three alternative covers: one on the illegal beach constructions in the south of Lisbon, one on Rem Koolhaas’ Casa da Música cast against its pseudo-rural surroundings, and another one on Belgian design no longer being a bore…

Curiously, features in both the first and latest issue of DAMnº confirm a strong, global pulse that comes right from the auspicious beginnings of this cross-cultural magazine.  While, for instance, DAMnº 0 went to Khinshasa via Venice Biennale, its 27th edition goes to Casablanca, Luanda via Lisbon Architecture Triennale, and Africa in general via NY’s MAD museum.

While issue one goes to Lille 2004 European Cultural Capital, the other visits Turku and Tallin to assess the current status of this yearly European event. And while seven years ago the interview went to James Irvine, in early 2011 it goes to the DeLucchi brothers, thus continuing its task to give voice to the most important contemporary product designers today.

Combining design, art, architecture and popular culture at its broadest, DAMnº seems today unrivalled in the European periodical scene, prompting writing that escapes the unbearable lightness of lifestyle mags and yet is truly and widely informative of the current status of alternative culture production.

Ultimately, its appealing approach derives from the fact that, as stated in its opening editorial, 12 of the 15 good reasons to start the magazine were… people. And this also maybe true of both other cult magazines I bring here today.

Amelia’s Magazine was published between 2004 and 2009, before it turned onto a website that totally lacks the print version’s sensuous appeal. While it lasted – for 10 issues – this was probably one of the most absurdly delightful magazines around the UK covering pop music, fashion, fun, illustration, photo-stories… and other everyday stuff.

Here, the personal touch undoubtedly came from the fact that, along with its name, the magazine was almost single-handedly made by its initiator Amelia Gregory. Together with the collectible artist giveaways – like Pete Doherty’s single in issue #01! – the personal touch was certainly what made this mag gullible and beautiful.

Another magazine that had the magic stroke of a strong personality behind it, was, of course, NEST, A Magazine of Interiors, the crucial camp journal that in its opening cover paid tribute to 80’s TV idol Farrah Fawcett through the reproduction of a crazy teenager’s dream bedroom.

NEST’s premier issue kicked off in 1997 with the ambitious question of  “What is human?”, swiftly responding that “however illusive the answer, part of it is always found in our houses.” Thus started Joseph Holtzman’s celebration of “self-invention at home,” until the end of the lavish magazine in 2004.

Unlike the over-styled, glacial approach to interiors seen in most interiors magazines – originating at their best the hilarious sort of micro-fictions that Unhappy Hipsters offers – NEST excelled in stories and visuals that added yet another subjective filter to a choice of incredibly unusual domestic landscapes.

In true eclectic manner, its first issue could thus both pay tribute to Joep van Lieshout mobile homes, Bob Knox’s 50’s decoration inspired paintings, Gilbert & George’s domestic settings or Keith Haring’s toilette interventions, all lavishly portrayed and graphically echoed throughout the publication.

Ever verging on the explorations of kitsch and the furtive admiration of dandy eccentricity, NEST had the quality to shake up conventions of what is it that makes us modern. Like if inheriting the spirit of Oscar Wilde, it challenged the status quo with irony and elegance. And that was in itself a unique quality.

Other Little Magazines #15 – Newspapers

To start a new year – 365 whole new days ready to be wiped out, like a dear friend used to say – there’s nothing like a rebirth. So, as I have accumulated newspapers’ première issues for quite a while, this seems to be a pretty decent moment to go into this apparently resurgent medium.

It’s not that newspapers are here to stay, at least as we know them, but during this year the specialist newspaper kind of re-emerged for its own brief, highly expert swan’s song. As such, celebrations like the one Mimi Zeiger of Loud Paper reported a couple of weeks ago are also fit for this particular zeitgeist.

Going one year back into an old newspaper can be painful. I can assure you – I dug into 15 years of the Portuguese daily Público to write the book I’m soon launching and I can assure you the whole experience can be a weird trip.

There are funny things, of course. The way style is so unflattering after only one season, for instance. But mostly you just feel the passing of time like the excruciating flattening out of whatever seemed important at certain instants onto an indistinct, mishmash passé.

These were my unbecoming thoughts as I was quickly going along Panorama, a Spanish architecture newspaper that published its second year first issue (and possibly its last) in January-February 2010. The sensation of microwaved dejá vu was unsurpassable.

Panorama takes the concept of a quick news section, like adopted in Pasages or Mark, onto an unexpected level of emptiness. What I initially thought was only its starting section – Zoom – spread cancerously to fill the whole paper. A sort of bloggy superficiality entirely made of press releases, but without the hyper links and the unexpected connections.

Given the respectable weight of their subjects, the interviews at least promised some juice. After the lighter than light caressing of Toyo Ito and Valerio Olgiati’s egos, however, I only became enlightened on how to turn high profile content into surface scrap. At some point, I even became suspicious that Mr. Olgiati was a superficial chap after all. Which would seem unjust.

However, there was something in which this shallow Panorama was still truly revealing. It was able to boast the amazing average quality and high level of experimentation in recent Spanish architecture, at least while the boom lasted. Then the bubble burst and these vistas became instantly archeological.

Auspiciously, in these years of print crisis architects didn’t return to newspapers only for the cheap paper. The New City Reader, launched October 6th 2010 by Joseph Grima and Kazys Varnelis, and London’s MAP – Manual of Architecture Possibilities, set in 2009 by David A. Garcia, are more strategic on their retakes of the newspaper – or newsletter – format.

The New City Reader out of the box… Image via manystuff

The NCR’s first issue was a most graphic statement opened and closed by Kazys’ succinct and yet historically succulent editorials. With its contents driven by Kazy’s doppelganger lab at Columbia, its theme is a cautionary one-off story, a specific happenstance in the life of New York and all the stuff that surrounded it. It is an historian’s take on the medium, full with deemed reflexivity.

And just like similarly monothematic MAP opens into an A1 poster, the NYCR is also fully spreadable: it can be spread onto a carefully designed wall assembly; and it actually was spread over a season by launching its separate thematic sections along last Fall and until next week…

Image via Archleague.org

Unlike the NYCR insightful return to its own city’s past so as to produce a fresh take on the megalopolis’ present, MAP’s initial issue took flight from the present-day urban mess into the cold, welcoming steppes of tomorrow, visiting this period’s ever-fashionable Antarctica.

And the fieldtrip is exciting, as it should. After a savory endorsement by Peter Cook, we learn about the geography, and the climate, and the extreme life conditions of the new “out there” for the architectural field…

And after the research data comes the “encyclopedia of the future,” and also the barely fictional projects for the new colonization, courtesy of Garcia’s studio. It’s a practitioner’s take on the medium, full with deemed reflexivity.

The last of new newspapers I managed to grab lately is Pie. Out of distant New Zealand, Pie, just like MAP and the NYCR, is quite a conceptual object.

Pie‘s Repetition cover… Images via The Fox is Black

While responding to the motto of Repetition, Pie’s issue #01 sequence is so amazingly curated that you may start playing with the word ‘sequence’ in your mind, turn the page and… find a small ironic article on Fibbonaci.

Being an art newspaper that is also artistic, Pie favors a medley of stories over the traditional information mosaic. After an article on Kyr Royale’s human copy machine performance, you’re also naturally bound to bump into the amazing images of North-Korean mass choreographies. An authentic page-turner.

Pie alters your aesthetic and graphic notion of what a newspaper is supposed to be, and that is already something else. But it also offers you the notion that ‘news’ themselves are claiming for a much-needed resumption. The stories are short, but unlike in Panorama they are masterly crafted into maximum, spin-wheeling content. More like a 1000-character Twitter with its own permalinks.

As I have started to heavily suspect, beyond politics, economics and our somewhat stale social world, maybe indeed the (fortunately expanded) field of art is the only one that is still able to produce interesting ‘news’ – new ideas, new concepts, ever new ways of holding up reality to take a good look into it.

Which also means that, as it always should have been the case, even the ‘news’ are to be a permanent subject of critical self-enquiry. Whether we are talking video-art or architecture. Like one reads in Leonard Emmerling’s review of a classic performance by Jim Allen:

Jim Allen’s piece NEWS reflects the dilemma in which we are stuck. To be caught in the web of opinions with no other value than to keep the communication alive, and the want for a truth that would cut through that web, the need to live in the human web and the desire to go beyond. There is no conclusion to be drawn out of Jim Allen’s piece. The only thing we can do is to take seriously what we observe: a certain kind of anger and melancholy, desire and despair, hope and sadness.

As you will perfectly understand, finally it is Pie that is happily going up onto my classroom wall…

 

Other little magazines #14 – Cultural Medleys

 

What do we talk about when we talk about contemporary culture? Especially if considering culture as represented in the dazzling quick medium of magazines, where do we locate our definition of cultural production today?

While musing languidly about these useless questions – and not really wanting to embrace an academic rant on them – I picked up three magazines of recent crop to try and understand if anything had really changed in this realm during the schizophrenic, freakonomic year of 2010.

And the first sign that something had changed was that, while I was going through the typical new London magazine about “fashion, design, music, film, art, culture, travel and lifestyle” – this one dubbed The Hub –, I suddenly noticed that the publication was strangely dense.

One article after the other suggested a real thick volume of content, which is awkward for a magazine that seemed to fit in that long tradition of slight and slick superficiality that comes all the way from Dazed and Confused onto Wallpaper and all their other simulacra.

And what was the explanation for this apparent outburst of well-designed substance? There was simply no advertising. No intermission. No visual branding intervals. Nada. I run for the next magazine in my desk – the Italian Pizza – to check if this was a trend, and again… niente.

In Pizza’s case, in fact, there was instead an even run of “fake campaigns art works” by Peppe Tortora, that somewhat perversely cared to remind us that we are indeed sweetly addicted to those oases of brand emptiness in-between every two other pieces of information overload.

If, as I will do in a moment, I was already talking about Brooklyn and Toronto based Assembly, and this being a more alternative assemblage of powerful cultural stuff, such absence of the commercial would be just normal. But when looking at these other magazines this was plainly unexpected.

This mysterious absence of publicity is ever more weird when Pizza, for example, looks at culture from the monocular point of view of fashion.

When, despite you being based in Milan, you don’t have the fashion industry behind you and yet you insist in promoting the cultural actors that somehow revolve around such world – the photographers, the writers, the designers, the artists etc. –, then you may only be deemed extremely generous.

Or perhaps Pizza is driven by that other noble purpose of boosting a certain cultural identity through a hip medium. Indeed, Italianess comes up as a subject in each single interview in this rivista. Would this be a show of anxiety because of the position that Italy now occupies in the new European geo-economic domino?

As its name proudly forwards, Pizza is all about the wonderful mix that Italians invented and exported to the world, only now metamorphed from fast-food onto a big, beautiful cultural mishmash. With its optimistic view on the return of a wonderful, glamorous Ur reality The Hub plays the same game, but for the London scene and its proud local goodies.

As such, both mags are late representatives of an already nostalgic view of European culture as a grand assemblage of pleasurable activities that once had an energetic economy booming behind them. With ads gone as a symptom of a new lifestyle, and with consumers consistently fleeing onto a paradise of free internet content, let’s see how this culture will fare without the money behind it.

As for Assembly, this journal is an amazing example of a rather different cultural ambition. Here, content is indeed independent from the finantial context. It talks to us of a production of culture that will always happen, independently of big economic groups or whatever fashionable trends are booming or sinking.

Assembly‘s thematic diversity is truly cosmopolitan, reminding us that it is not only theory or current thinking, but also contemporary urban life itself that is eminently interdisciplinary and wide-ranging in its deeper interests. Texts range from appealing short fictions to mind-boggling medical or musical essays. And its interviews range from shrewd to unabashedly important.

As such, the first issue of Assembly smartly blends together visual essays on suburban Toronto and insightful reflections on the South African informal city. Or the confessions of a stalker, and the political report of an Iranian émigré, intersected by Mathew Craven’s vintage American imagery inspired collages.

This is a global journal for a cultural niche, but this niche is the one that, across the world, will probably remain faithful to intelligent content, now matter how everything else is receding into the delightful savagery of ultra-liberal economics.

Other little magazines #13 – Other city visions

Architects gaze at the urban landscape in a rather specialized way – often forgetting that there are other ways of looking at the city. Three magazines recently added to my still inexplicably growing collection of new periodicals suggest three peculiar ways to engage with the contemporary urbe.

As the name suggests, Grey looks at the urban as grey matter. Not the brainy stuff, but the concrete one. And even if one short story in the first issue of the little free mag is called The Brutalist, concrete isn’t here because of a particular infatuation with the modernist building material with which politicians, contractors and most architects would love to dress up every bit of our cities.

Grey is grey because this is the colour of the roadway. And the urban pavement is the terrain in which skaters dwell. Which means that Grey comes out for the love of skateboarding through the metropolis. It shows us a city in which the essential psycho-geography is defined by “spots,” “obstacles,” “ledges,” and “road gaps.”

Boneshaker mag, on the other foot, looks at the city through its “bumps” and “jolts”, its “rides” and “routes”, its “flows” and “lanes.” In this case the protagonist is the bicycle, and the new pro-sustainable, politicized leisure culture, and all other cycling trivialities that surround this old smooth operator.

Boneshaker is a quarterly coming from Bristol, and its first issue certainly aimed at producing enlightenment on every aspect of bicycology – from the story of your local repair workshop to rallies in L.A., from H.G. Wells or Conan Doyle two-wheeled quotes to a touching story on how to take your turns in an aggressive urban environment such as Guatemala City.

As for Car Park, you would by now expect that it too would be dedicated to all-democratically celebrate car culture and the way we look at cities from behind the wheel rather than on top of them. But nope.

Here, finally, the title is misleading and we are rather looking at a more traditional publication that carries the sort of black-and-white photos of gritty-looking cityscapes that have always made the joys of so many filmmakers.

Suddenly and weirdly, however, it’s the nice, grainy, and sharp avant-garde gaze that comes across as old-fashioned and slightly out of place in regards to the prosaic metropolitan reality of today’s new city cultures.

 

Other Little Magazines #12 – On Photography

As the rain pours and the winter of our discontent sets in, it is time to go back to winter pleasures such as idly flipping through magazines at the sound of new pop stuff. (There it is: a reasonable soundtrack for this seasonal post).

As work kicked in and the rentrée came to a height, so too little new magazines piled around my messy desk table. And some were indeed so small that they could have drowned in the midst of everything else.

Scopio, for example, measures 12x16cm. This might be strange for a photography magazine but it turns out to be a cozy format, if not for the fact that you will look like a far-sighted old lady while trying to decipher its images.

Just out in Porto, but proudly self-dubbed an international photography magazine, Scopio is indeed big when it comes to some of the names lined up for its contents: from Filip Dujardin and Helene Binet to Eszter Steierhoffer.

Its particular interest for me lies, however, in the fields it brings together: photography and architecture. Originating in a conference that took place at the Faculty of Architecture of Porto last Spring, it brings forward the recurrent approaches of its editor, Pedro Leão Neto, to the contemporary tools that involve urban representation and its images.

Thus, besides several visual and theoretical essays – that twice reach to specific notions related to curating architecture, but may also focus on local production – this first issue on Aboveground Architecture also provides in its Addendum the surprisingly good results of student seminars in which photography provided the instrument to analyze specific urban contexts.

The second small publication I bring here today is EFE 24, a “Cuaderno de Fotografía” first published in Madrid in the long-gone Summer of 2009. Although a more standard alternative photography mag – if one may use the oxymoron – EFE 24 also dedicated its opening issue to pictures of urban settlements, and in this particular case the barrios, the quartiers.

In EFE 24, after a few introductory essays – on the everyday, the periphery, or on how Mr. Greeenberg would like his photography – one dives fully and exclusively into photography, one after the other, all filtered by the same layout, all by different authors.

© Justin James Reed,  via Booooooom.

This is the moment when EFE 24’s project becomes clear and unique. From Xavier Ribas to Kevin Cooley, just to mention two arbitrary picks, the succession of 24 images by 24 photographers leaves us with no interpretation clues. Each image operates almost randomly, as only a sort of index that opens up to possible universes represented by the gaze of each different author.

Being a typical post-web magazine, EFE 24 weirdly reminded me of something that happened just today. Something that is revealing of how the internet nowadays not only offers a kaleidoscope of visual culture, but also represents a permanent lottery of how images may be seen and received.

Via StyleTrove, reblogged from DesignisMyMuse, via ArchitectureInspiration

EFE 24 reminded me precisely of how an image by Daniel Malhão – that William Menking used in his Architect’s Newspaper review of my Interiores exhibition – suddenly jerked into an unpredictable tumbling across the web in which it immediately lost all referents and became one image in-between many others in new bizarre visual universes.