Most students in my Fall 2010 Urban Media Archaeology class found that half of what they gathered in the archives wasn’t going to make its way into their final projects. We talked a bit about the pain of “letting go” — and about the likelihood that the material that didn’t make its way into this project will likely find a home in a future project. That’s been my experience, at least.

I’m currently struggling to heed my own advice, as I try to cut 12,000 words from a 20,000-word article. This is what happens when an administrative job means you have to squeeze a year’s worth of research into July and August; when that cycle repeats for four years, during which time you amass a crazy amount of material; and when, once you finally finish said administrative job and find time to sit down and sort through everything, you feel compelled to honor your years’ worth of hard labor and ultimately decide to stuff every last bit of source material into the final report. The inevitable result is an essay that’s over-stuffed, insanely long, and in desperate need of a “cleanse.” Letting go of the superfluous bits is hard; what I can snip away in 30 seconds’ time most likely took 30 hours to put there in the first place. But it does help to know that all those trimmings can have a life elsewhere — i.e., here. And that they very well might make their way into another project in the future.

Following up on my first outtake — a section on the literal and metaphorical architectures of early-20th-century little magazines — is another section in which I review the reviews of the traveling Clip/Stamp/Fold exhibition:

CSF @ Storefront; my husband to the right

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THE “IMPROVISATORY, ANTI-SMOOTH, FUNNY-FORMAT” OF THE 60S AND 70S

…Storefront is itself a “kit” of a gallery, with its flexible façade designed by Vito Acconci and Stephen Holl. And the exhibition itself “clipped” together a “kit” of artifacts, print and audiovisual media, and live performances [1]. On the north wall was a timeline of arced panels chronicling the lives of various publications, and the south wall was wallpapered with eight hundred covers of some of these magazines. In the middle of the narrow room were Plexiglas bubbles balanced atop spindly legs (which were perhaps accidentally historically contextual in their likeness to Sputnik) holding original copies of a few publications; some were opened to reveal the magazines’ interior layout and content (in one case, an Archigram cut-out architectural model), and some were closed to display innovative cover designs [2]. At the east end of the gallery viewers could leaf through facsimiles of a few publications. Audio interviews with some of the key players in the scene were broadcast in the room, and some of those voices could be heard live on a few evenings throughout the exhibition run, as part of the Little Magazines/Small Talks series [3]. The intellectual space of the Storefront exhibition even broke out of the gallery: the timeline from the north wall was displayed and distributed in segments in a variety of international publications: PIN-UP: Magazine for Architectural Entertainment, Metropolis, 306090, Princeton’s Pidgin, Grey Room, Domus, Volume, Cabinet, Anyone Corporation’s Log, The Architect’s Newspaper, and Swedish magazine Arkitektur. And some of the exhibition content, as well as excerpted transcripts of interviews with the scene’s key players, were clipped, stamped, and folded into a tabloid gallery guide that visitors could take with them [4].

Each component of this exhibition kit played a particular rhetorical function. The timeline, for instance, outlined the evolution of the international zine scene and the transformation of the magazines’ contents, which over the exhibition timeframe shifted in focus from politics and popular culture to high theory. Some blurbs situated those publication changes within their social contexts by noting important historical events. The cover wallpaper displayed the publications’ graphic innovation (which, when presented within a quilt of loud graphics and bright colors, however, began to seem somewhat less innovative), while the archival samples showed the publications as inventive three-dimensional artifacts, and in some cases as architectural objects in their own right. A visitor can appreciate the “plasticized metallic-fleck cover” of Internationale Situationiste, and copies of other publications covered in sandpaper or fur [5]. This presentation conveyed what Nicolai Ouroussoff called the works’ “crude immediacy,” their materiality, their constructedness.

The facsimiles allowed visitors to appreciate reading in context—a nuanced appreciation that Churchill advocates for the study of little magazines. We see, for instance, that Archigram had adopted a comic book format for its fourth issue, and that, in many of these publications, “most conventions of magazine design—the grid, the column, legible typography—were either discarded altogether or bent to unfamiliar purposes” [6]. Archigram and similar publications, Scott Brown describes, “reproduce their material as is: cut-out photographic collages with home typing in the interstices; Xerox copies of magazine print; mimeo sheets, computer type face”; the literal cut-and-paste, rather than the digital version of this analog function, is most likely better appreciated in original hard copies of these publications, where the “seams” are more evident [7].

Architect Kevin Pratt’s reaction to a close examination of an issue of Street Farmer reveals the richness of a contextualized reading:

Even after one turned its pages, which are covered with stylized monochrome illustrations of British hippies leaning against roadside trees, what this object actually was remained indistinct: Was it art? Was it even about architecture? Was it an artifact intended to produce pure affect without recourse to decodable representation at all…? Oddly beautiful, all green ink, youthful anomie, and amateur draftsmanship, the publication exemplifies, I think, the basic goal of these little magazines, which was, paradoxically enough, fundamentally architectural: the creation of space. Not architectonic space—modernism had that down well enough—but intellectual space, an opportunity for misreading, a caesura in a discourse that had become trapped in a closed loop of self-examination and doctrinaire infighting [8].

Like many of their early 20th-century literary counterparts, Street Farmer and its contemporaries created a textual architecture that required spatial reading strategies bridging montaged and collaged images, texts, and registers of discourse. Pratt would not have had an opportunity to practice such an embodied reading if these texts were not presented in whole, material form.

The curators had promised to “tak[e] stock of different magazine forms and how they were put together,” yet some critics found that the show, like many publication exhibitions that came before it, focused heavily on the iconic surface image [9]. Architecture critic Kester Rattenbury calls the show, “frankly, coverist. It’s 99% covers” [10]. Architect Sam Jacob also seems perplexed that at the Architectural Association exhibition “you can’t read any of the content”:

It’s as though you’re in a particularly officious newsagent’s (it’s not a library, you know!) where you can only stare at the covers. Or perhaps it’s as tantalizing and frustrating as a display of menus describing the most delicious and appetizing dishes you’ll never taste [11].

In this newsagent’s, furthermore, we can’t choose between a mainstream and an alternative title—because everything here is supposedly alternative. We don’t see the dominant publication forms against which these little magazines were defining themselves. Through the cover wallpaper and wall texts we can retrace the evolution of publications as they responded to one another, but we are left with the impression that the discourse circulates chiefly within a small circle of students, avant-garde architects, and theoreticians. It is unfortunate, Pratt says, “that the curators did not include examples of conventional architectural publications from the period. The radical outpouring of text and image… is difficult to situate without an appreciation of the modernist orthodoxy that dominated architecture in the early 60s” [12]. This is in part why Pratt, despite having an opportunity for a contextualized, embodied reading of Street Farmer, underestimates the “basic goals” of the publications on display. He fails to appreciate the little magazines’ place within, or response to, the dominant architectural context because, as many critics have noted, little of that cultural context is present in the exhibition. If it were—if Pratt could contrast Street Farmer with a cotemporaneous mainstream title, like Architectural Forum—he would see that Street Farmer did more than create “intellectual space.” It offered a street-agrarian alternative to modernism’s glass and steel corporate boxes and their analogue in the modern page’s grids and columns. Modernism did not have architectonic space “down well enough”—which is why these publications were created to remake it [13].

X

[1] Other institutions and publications, translating the page into architecture, transformed single magazines into concrete exhibitions or installations. The New Museum’s 2009 “Urban China” exhibit, for instance, extended the “visionary language of display from the pages of the magazines into the three-dimensional space of the gallery” New Museum, “Urban China: Informal Cities” New Museum, n.d. The exhibition included a retrospective of past issues, wall graphics, visitor-accessible computers featuring image databases, objects, and a series of related events. In fall 2008, Megawords, a non-commercial Philadelphia-based arts magazine, “[lept] off the page and into a month-long storefront exhibition” on the corner of Cherry and 11th Streets in Philadelphia. Megawords Magazine, Megawords Extends Beyond Its Pages With Month-long Storefront Project and Exhibition, press release, July 25, 2008.

[2] Clip/Stamp/Fold 2, in Montreal, took advantage of the CCA’s archives to add page mock-ups, including the original maquette for the first (1973) Volume of Oppositions, correspondence, prototypes, publication inserts, etc., “that reveal the processes used in constructing these publications” Clip/Stamp/Fold 2. For further discussion on how the exhibition made use of each exhibition site’s unique collections, see Kester Rattenbury, “A Great Little Cover-up” Building Design (November 30, 2007): 22.

[3] Several earlier publications created live, event-based extensions of the debates taking place on the printed page. Consider Art Net, a “workshop/chatshop,” or gallery and event venue, founded in Covent Garden in London in 1973 by Archigram’s Peter Cook to extend the publication’s function into physical space and live conversation. The 90s brought the Anyone Corporation, with their tabloid-format magazines, book series, and conferences. And with Volume came RSVP Events, which are often advertised in the magazine. The live, face-to-face discussions, which NY Arts’ James Westcott describes as “roving architectural mystery tours,” take place in cities around the world, where participants discuss topics ranging from the politics of shrinking development to illegal settlement in Kosovo. James Westcott, “Volume: Architecture Is Dying! So It Must Take Over the World (In Disguise!)” NY Arts, n.d.

[4] “Next up is a book and a film. This isn’t just a research project, it’s a research-dissemination phenomenon.” Rattenbury, 22.

[5] Kevin Pratt, “Space Exploration” Artforum, May 2007, 113.

[6] Pratt, 113. We can appreciate Archigram’s influence in the presentational strategies of BIG—Bjarke Ingels Group, on display in “Yes is More” at the Danish Architecture Center between February and May 2009.

[7] Denise Scott Brown, “Little Magazines in Architecture and Urbanism” Journal of the American Planning Association 34:4 (1968): 228.’

[8] Pratt, 113. Humor and irony, notably absent from most modernist publications, created in these little magazines many opportunities for reading across the grain and between discourses: “By creating a space between apprehension and contextualization, irony allows one to derive multiple meanings from binary ontologies; in this context, freedom becomes the opportunity to operate in the gaps of signification, in the place between the received and the potentially implied that allows for creative misinterpretation.”

[9] “Clip, Stamp, Fold: The Radical…”

[10] Rattenbury 22.

[11] Sam Jacob, post on “Architectural Magazines: Paraonoid Beliefs, Public Autotherapy – More on Clip/Stamp/Fold” StrangeHarvest, December 4, 2007, http://www.strangeharvest.com

[12] Kubo acknowledges that the little magazines of the 60s and 70s “emerged in some sense at a moment of crisis/instability in which they could naturally present themselves as alternatives.” Kubo, “Verb: Featured DiscussionArchinect (June 27, 2007-July 28, 2007). It was a crisis of  “the Modernist project itself…. So it was about identifying a crisis within the very project that formed their shared context as architects.”

[13] The Billiard Encounters, a group of architects from Milan who in the mid- to late 1960s revolved around Casabella-Continuità, were, according to editor-in-chief Francesco Tentori, united in their desire to call into question “the entire ‘doctrine’ of the modern movement.” In so doing, they used “the written page not as occasional, detached activity, but as an expression fully consistent and commensurable with the planned work, almost the extension of a single cognitive process.” Quoted in Massimo Scolari, “The New Architecture and the Avant-Garde” Architettura Razionale, XV Triennale, International Session of Architecture (Milan: Franco Angeli, 1973); trans. Stephen Sartarelli and reprinted in K. Michael Hays, Ed., Architecture Theory Since 1968 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002), 137.

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