|Journal for Northeast Issues 5-6|
Living Magazine: Models of making
by Monika Wucher
This publication sprang from projektgruppe's considerations of the present necessities and possibilities of social art. Its implications, the group's working process of recent years, are various transcultural meetings, artists' conferences, and exhibitions. A great many of the articles and pieces in this double issue are rooted in two major projects of conceptual significance to this work: The Urban Contact Zone and the Living Magazine.
The former is related to an idea from New York linguist Mary Louise Pratt about social spaces as "contact zones" where cultures meet and deal with each other. Such spaces can mirror highly asymmetrical power relations and clashes, but they can also be places of mutual understanding and learning. Pratt describes the "arts of the contact zones" in terms of heterogeneity and seeming incoherence. She identifies the preferred artistic methods of transculturation, critique, collaboration, mediation, parody, imaginary dialogue and others.1 Her concept has gone on to exert wide interdisciplinary influence and has been applied when critically studying institutions of cultural history and art.2 The Urban Contact Zone project in Hamburg related the concept to problems of urban spaces: The current restructuring of public spaces and present-day urban development and competition. In a series of talks, performances, actions and exhibitions, the project brought together a wide range of artistic research and attitudes from a variety of European metropolises.3 Many of the contributions appear in print in this issue of the Journal.
With the other major project, the making of the Journal for Northeast Issues' Living Magazine, projektgruppe - as the editorial team of the Journal – took up an invitation by the Kunstverein in Hamburg to curate an exhibition in the "Insert" series for a period of two months in 2007.4 What is of interest when dealing with a "living magazine" today, and why do it in this context? A great deal of the answer lies in the historical achievements of this format.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia describes the emergence of a kind of theater movement, zhivye gazety (living newspapers), founded by students of the Institute for Journalism in Moscow in the early 1920s. Their activities are described in a markedly dry manner: "The performances […] addressed actual international or internal affairs and took up manners of a staged, 'living' newspaper; they also dealt with themes that were of a certain importance for the organization the company was based at, for example, deficiencies in work and so on. The programs included speeches, literary collages, compositions, satirical scenes, small plays of various types, songs, hop dance [chastushki], choirs, dancing, raree shows [raek] and others. The performances were characterized by a laconic stage setting, a quick change of acts, tense rhythm."5
In the early Soviet Union - besides the more spectacular practices such as the covering of buildings and public space, or the decoration of agitprop trains and other vehicles - living newspapers became one of the new, more usual artistic methods for communication developed by somewhat notorious groups in various cities.6 Recent studies explain their form as "a generic hybrid that combined the public reading of the daily news with factual and ideological elucidations. Oftentimes (much to the dismay of the more orthodox party officials), these 'performances' more closely resembled variety shows than agitational sessions. But the basic principle was […] to disseminate information and interpretations of recent events through a medium readily accessible […]".7
Regarding the media that were apt to be a constitutive part of this "generic hybrid" and their aim to inform and interpret, they were far from being limited to articulation via language. Visual media such as slides and film clips were of great interest, even factual print media belonged to the productions of some living newspapers. For example, the Blue Blouse group published its eponymous journal from 1924 to 1928.8 All elements in these collective works were easily adapted to match local conditions and relevant events.
An important component of the productions was that they were meant to generate lively discussions. Contemporary reviews also claimed that people really got involved in the topics and problems living newspapers dealt with. When, for instance, from one of these issues somebody learned about the British politician "Curzon, or some other important political figure, he is very interested in this guy who has played such a funny role […], even if he hasn't understood everything, he begins to look around to find out more."9 Commentary and complaints about drawbacks at the workplace, club or institution could be included in a special section for "letters to the editor," for example. Overall, living newspapers in the early Soviet Union managed "a difficult balancing act. They tried to merge political information of national and local relevance, presenting it in a witty and engaging style."10
Regarding their formation and arrangements, "living newspapers" or "living magazines" could look very different over the course of time and with the change of place. In the Hungarian People's Republic of the 1970s and 80s, élô folyóiratok ("living magazines") flourished as an explicitly cultural underground medium. Initially created and maintained by writers and literary circles in Budapest, they basically took the form of readings. However, visual artists such as Miklós Erdély (just to mention one well-known figure) also contributed to the issues. The actual choice of the site - a certain pub, hotel lobby, university or artists' club, house of culture, or even a pleasure boat on the Danube - created the socio-cultural relations and was therefore a big part of the events' meaning. The first criterion was, above all, accessibility without political, economic, or bureaucratic restraint: "We were looking for a place for which we didn't need any kind of permission and where we could say and read what we wanted."11 As an example, documented as once having happened on the Danube, indicates, settings and objects were equally important in the actions. The reading began with a manifesto named "On no man's waters" and continued for several hours; participants were asked to bring flags, preferably self-made ones, to hoist them on the boat.12
Of decisive importance regarding the development towards a distinct medium of living magazines in Hungary were contemporary action art influences that appeared "so lively and situationist that it was impossible to think of getting back to traditional reading events."13 Furthermore, the fact that various small-scale, experimental publishing projects met problems and even bans from cultural authorities and censorship led to the idea of the "living magazine as strongly media-political and acoustic, poetic forum."14
Only recently, the Hungarian group activities that sprang from this point of departure came to the attention of research - including the circles of Lélegzet, Fölöspéldány, Szétfolyóirat, and others. Attempts to classify living magazines by type were made to outline the medium's basic esthetic principles. Thus common features were "randomness" (as opposed to routines and control), "openness" (as corresponding with continuation, communication and experimental space) as well as the adoption of multimedia and performance or action.15 All this supported a political understanding of the presentations in the context of countercultural discourse: "The appearance, functioning and impact of living magazines have pluralized the monolithic character of the official culture […]. They draw the attention to the opinion that the usual institutions and classification of artistic genres weren't inevitable, but that alternatives exist. They continuously broadened the codes and means of art - frequently with forms, genres, and symbols that weren't accepted, or just forbidden by the official art system. They suggested dealing with traditions in a new way and to restructure the canon […]. Through their own work of editing and publishing, they provided resources for outfoxing the official forums […]. They aided the integration of culture and provided a forum for protagonists from the underground scene, where autonomous activities could take form, where there was a new framework for communication amongst the members of the scene as well as between the scene and a broader public."16
Yet, on a transcultural scale, no overview exists over the historic, social, economic and other circumstances that brought and bring forth "living newspapers" and "living magazines". However, the random information we have unsystematically compiled but systematically highlighted here may give some hints. This isn't the place to go into the sometimes disturbing details concerning the timeliness of the spatial and topical relations in this very issue of the Journal. This happened in the Living Magazine and might be continued in one of its City Meetings (see the Call for Contributions on this page). However, the experienced need for critical action made us join the decision: "For now, let's make our paper as a living magazine."17
1 See Pratt, Mary Louise: Arts of the Contact Zone, in: Ways of Reading (edited by David Bartholomae and Anthony Petroksky). New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 1999 (5th edition).
2 See the chapter "Museums as Contact Zones", in: Clifford, James: Routes. Travel and translation in the late twentieth century. Cambridge/Mass. and London: Harvard University Press, 1997, pp. 188-219, and the symposium reader edited by artist Renée Green: Negotiations in the Contact Zone/Negociações na zona de contacto. Lisboa: Assírio & Alvim, 2003.
3 See the entire program of the project on www.projektgruppe.org, for reviews see Mihulet, Anca: Urban Contact Zone. Sharing Areas – Using Places, in: The Thing Hamburg, 2007 May 13, www.thing-hamburg.de/index.php?id=503, and Matthies, Robert: Autoethnographie des Raums, in: Die Tageszeitung, taz nord, 2006 August 17, p. 22.
5 Sinyaya Bluza [Blue Blouse], in: Bol'shaya Sovetskaya Enciklopedia, 39, 2nd edition 1956, p. 138 (translated from Russian by Alexandra Köhring).
6 See for example the contemporary review of Moscow and Leningrad groups: Zhivye gazety [Living newspapers], in: Zhizn' iskusstva, 2, 1925.
7 Gorham, Michael S.: Speaking in Soviet tongues. Language culture and the politics of voice in revolutionary Russia. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2003, p. 11.
8 See Mally, Lynn: Revolutionary acts. Amateur theater and the Soviet state, 1917-1938. Ithaca, London: Cornell University Press, 2000, p. 66.
9 Zhivye gazety v klube [Living newspapers in the club], in: Prizyo, 6, 1924; quoted after the English translation in: Mally 2000, p. 68 [ref. 8].
10 Mally 2000, p. 73 [ref. 8].
11 Tábor, Ádám: Az Örley kör [The Örley circle], in: Beszélô, 1999 May 17 [translated from Hungarian, MW].
13 Tábor, Ádám: Állam és irodalom [State and literature], in: Beszélô, 1998 December 16 [translated from Hungarian, MW].
15 See Havasréti, József: Alternatív regiszterek. A kulturális ellenállás formai a Magyar neoavantgárdban [Alternativ registers. The forms of cultural resistance in the Hungarian neo-avantgarde]. Budapest 2006, pp. 285-286. See also Havasréti, József: Punk/Rock kultúra és az avantgárd élô folyóiratok [Punk/Rock culture and the avant-garde living magazines], in: NÉ/MA? Tanulmányok a Magyar neoavantgárd körébôl (edited by Pál Deréky and András Müllner). Budapest: Ráció kiadó, 2004.
16 Havasréti 2006 [ref. 15], pp. 283-284 [translated from Hungarian, MW].
17 Tábor 1998 [ref. 13]. Thanks to Péter Rácz, Budapest, for his first-hand information on Hungarian living magazines.