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.

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