“Magazine Library is a travelling series of events and exhibitions that celebrates print culture in all its forms, and it returns this spring for a 10th edition! For Magazine Library 10 – held for the first time at Hillside Terrace in Daikanyama – the basic premise of introducing innovative and hard-to-find international titles to Japanese audiences will continue, but this time accompanied by a series of workshops, installations, markets, and various live events.”
As I mentioned a while back, ARCHIZINES – an archive of independent architecture zines, journals and magazines from around the world, curated by Elias Redstone – recently embarked on a world touring exhibition. Last week we were invited to submit a publication from City As Material, to be shown at the New York and Berlin venues participating, alongside other spots yet to be confirmed. We chose City As Material: An Overview, an account of the first series, so as to share our documentation of the experience, and to give a sense of what to expect from future events.
Although reactions to the Professor during the first half hour of the day were restrained, with students and scholars rushing around us on the pavements or zipping by on bikes with only cursory glances, the route to the high street soon swelled with tourists clutching raised cameras and smart phones, the source of their amusement filtered through tiny digital screens. The more permanent residents of the city seemed to think a theatrical troupe had come to town, or that some odd collegial stunt was at hand. A group of contractors cleaning stonework engaged in light banter, despite clearly being busy, their voices strained over the hum of mechanical equipment.
We entered the Oxford botanical gardens to the patter of drizzling rain, and were greeted by several inquisitive ducks who had wandered from the water, obviously charmed by one of their avian brethren. Minutes later, the Professor was spotted by a gang of children on a school trip and was soon answering frantic questions, handing out cards to tiny delighted interviewees. After chatting to gardeners toiling on muddy patches and being targeted by a potential bird spotter with a huge camera lens, he departed, ambling down quiet side-streets and eventually into the Museum of Natural History.
There were some great scenes here as the Professor was accosted by visitors, prodding at his suit whilst he shared his knowledge of the Dodo and other feathered creatures. We witnessed a high school student gawping at all the taxidermy specimens, loudly asking if they were real, whilst others pressed their noses to the glass cases and shrieked at the preserved contents. It’s likely many people there believed he was associated with the Museum, who despite our initial concerns, were happy to let him wander around.
Giles and I looked around the Museum of the History of Science, containing beautiful early microscopes made from gleaming brass, and intricate astrolabes with mysterious shifting layers. I found a case dedicated to the origins of the Ashmolean Museum with a sketch of its founding collection, crammed from floor to ceiling – very different from the carefully curated space of today. One statement in particular interested me: “Not everyone liked the early Asmolean Museum. Some visitors were shocked that access was not restricted to scholars and gentleman”. Prior to our outing we had talked about the migration of knowledge, namely what routes and structures it travels through in a city of prestigious institutions, and who in society has access to it, especially in earlier times. The Ashmolean’s open door policy from the outset felt like an open challenge to a belief that certain information was the preserve of the academic elite and the upper classes.
Professor Starling’s next destination was the river, where we saw the college rowing teams in the midst of practice, whole boat-fulls staring in unison towards the bank and momentarily easing their grip on the oars. A river steward told him that she thought Starlings were likely to gather in nearby areas, but he had arranged to meet everyone else back in the market where we had started the day. Dodging a hectic stream of bicycles along the narrow path, we walked back into town and browsed the stalls.
Here, the Professor met a character with facial tattoos and a piratical grin whose name was allegedly ‘Raven Hawk’, and discussed Starling sightings with a knowledgeable trader. It’s great that the market, our final area for the day, yielded quite a few people who were eager to engage. On top of this, Josie and Leila said they had been shown around the amazing Pitt Rivers Museum earlier by an associate, telling of numerous priceless artifacts half-hidden in the niches.
Whiling away the time until shops started to shut and evening crept in, we took refuge in the Turf Tavern for food, beer, and to share the highlights of our Thetford–London–Oxford expedition.
Outside the British Museum was first, where we received hails of giggles from startled tourists and smirks from Londoners passing by. It was surprising that Professor Starling got so many reactions in London, where there’s plenty of street performers and PR stunts, compared to low-key Thetford. People that did engage with us seemed to be more concerned with the spectacle of the costume than talking about the awareness of Starlings and other birds. This was especially the case when we got to Trafalgar square, after checking out the second-hand book and print shops on Cecil Court, the Professor briefly mourning some of his stuffed kin in the window of an antiques shop.
A descent of the steps leading down to the Mall was next. They were curiously empty, lending a very regal air to the Professor as he grandly strode on, cane in hand, towards St Jame’s Park. Circling the lake amongst the many species of waterfowl, eagerly scrabbling at morsels of tossed bread through the fence, we overheard questionable tales of Starling murmurations in fantastical formations, and laments for the decreasing number of small birds in the parks and other public spaces.
Shedding his feathers and back in human form, Andrew and the rest of the team accompanied us to Gaby’s Deli on Charing Cross Road for lunch. It’s currently being threatened with closure by the landlords, after more than 50 years of service behind it – here’s hoping it doesn’t migrate elsewhere.
Tomorrow we’ll be in Oxford, the final spot of the series.
Last Thursday we travelled to Thetford, Norfolk, the first destination ofCity As Material 2, centered on the theme of ‘Migrations’. Joining us were Andrew Hunter and Lisa Hirmer from Dodolab, Josie Mills from the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery, and Leila Armstrong. Oh, and the “itinerant avian scholar” (in his own squawks), Professor William Starling – Andrew’s alter ego, who is investigating the decline of Starlings and other species in the UK.
After a heinous early start and a couple of train changes, Giles and I were picked up by Andrew in Bury St Edmunds, a short drive from Thetford. He filled us in on what they’d been up to so far, and we started to discuss a loose route for the day. We arrived and worked our way into the town, along its contours of winding roads and down the High Street, where people drifted past in the slow, content manner of those living in a quiet market town on a warm Winter’s morning, then met the others in a Portuguese cafe. The 2001 UK census suggested that almost 30 % percent of the population in Thetford were Portuguese, drawn by work in the farms, fields and factories.
Andrew showed us an aging tome entitled ‘In Breckland Wilds’, which Professor Starling had been studying to get a sense of the area in past times. I immediately turned to the alluring chapter called ‘Traditions, Customs and Ghost Tales’, and learnt about the spectre of the “flaming-eyed rabbit” and other dubious local lore. Smirking aside, there was a genuine interest in Thetford’s folklore – tales that can allude to the real fears and anxieties of people in the area at the time. On that note we departed and headed for the ruins of Thetford Priory, which in the 13th century had drawn pilgrims to Thetford, after the discovery of a number of saints’ relics in a statue of the Virgin Mary.
Along the way, Andrew transformed into Professor Starling, donning grand attire and a giant bird’s head (crowned by a top hat) and spotted one of his namesake in a tree. Unfortunately it would be the only one we spotted that day. He chatted with passing locals who weren’t fazed in the slightest, cheerfully greeting our unusual ensemble.
I was expecting the ruins to be scattered rubble, but the crumbled perimeter walls were still visible, laid out in thick lines of fist-sized flint, two feet tall. It almost looked as if it was in the process of being built; the stonemasons away on an eternal break. I made some rubbings with tracing paper and a graphite block, gleaning traces of the past, and noticed covered grill pits, sadly filled with rubbish – traces of the now. Saying that, despite being a marvel for us, these ruins must seem very commonplace for the local youth.
We split up after returning to the city centre. Professor Starling and Lisa went to talk to more people on the high street, Josie and Leila set off for Ancient House Museum, and Giles and I took a scenic detour around the town edges, observing lovely flint cottages and houses overtaken by vivid green vines, then slowly passing along the river. We noticed statues of Captain Mainwaring from Dad’s Army, which was filmed extensively around the area, and by contrast, one of Maharajah Duleep Singh, who settled in the nearby Elveden Hall, on the opposite bank. There’s also an odd statue of Thomas Paine, born in Thetford, on King Street, poised with quill as if playing darts and gripping an upside down copy of his book ‘The Rights of Man’. A diverse trio indeed.
Reuniting with Josie and Leila briefly at the Museum, we saw a Narwhal tusk, taxidermy birds, and replicas of the Thetford Hoard, unearthed in 1979, and now housed in the British Museum. The circumstances surrounding the discovery are shady and it is thought the treasure is incomplete. We started to think about what might be missing, and what the treasures of Thetford today might be.
Over lunch, everyone together again, Andrew recounted some of the opinions he had gathered as Professor Starling. His favourite, in response to his question about why the numbers of Starlings had fallen in Thetford was “Cats!”. Following chuckles, we left for Castle Hill, one of the tallest Norman mottes in England, although nothing remains of the castle which once sat atop it. There seems to be many rumours about buried treasure and hidden tunnels, though our only surprise was how tricky it was to safely walk back down.
Lastly, we drove out to the remains of the Thetford Warren Lodge, surrounded by wonderfully spongy ground that felt like it was absorbing you into the land, and paths sprinkled with knapped flint. Peering through the bars which protected it gave a sense of the original fortitude and seclusion of the structure, standing firm amongst thickets of trees.
Tranquil as it was, we had another agenda: to drive back to town, and retire to the Bell Inn. Pints up!
City as Material recently became part of ARCHIZINES, an archive of independent architecture zines, journals and magazines from around the world, curated by Elias Redstone. I was lucky enough to be able to talk about City as Material and self-publishing at Archizines Live, part of November’s Friday Late at the V&A. Now the collection is touring the world, starting with an exhibition at Spazio FMG in Milan which runs until the 23rd of Feburary. Next up: Paris, Berlin and New York, with details to be announced soon. The photographs of the launch night in Milan look great – best of luck with the other stops!
On December 15th we are launching a new series of eBook commissions called Material Conditions. This series asks professional creative practitioners to reflect on what the material conditions for their own practice are, especially now in relation to the climate of change and uncertainty brought about by the recession and public sector cuts.
The first set of 8 contributions will be published as eBooks made with bookleteer and available as downloadable PDFs for handmade books, online via bookreader versions and in a limited edition (50) of professionally printed and bound copies which will be available for sale (at £16 per set plus P&P). You can pre-order a set via paypal:
We’ll be releasing one eBook every day on Diffusion until the print launch on December 15th in our Clerkenwell studio, where copies of the full limited edition printed set of 8 books will be available.
(Material Conditions is part of Proboscis’ Public Goods programme – seeking to create a library of responses to these urgent questions that can inspire others in the process of developing their own everyday practices of creativity; that can guide those seeking meaning for their choices; that can set out positions for action around which people can rally.)
From Friday 2nd December we’ll be running a free monthly meet up event for people wanting to find out more about using bookleteer or to get together with others and share tips and tricks for getting the most out of it. Donations will be welcome for refreshments and, most particularly, anyone choosing to sign up for the Alpha Club to help support the ongoing costs of maintaining and hosting the platform.
Thanks to Archizines curator Elias Redstone, tomorrow night, as part of Friday Late at the Victorian & Albert Museum, and to coincide with the transfer of the collection to the National Art Library hosted there, I’ll be talking about City As Material as part of a conversation about the role independent publishing can play in celebrating overlooked and underappreciated spaces in our cities.
Coincidentally, this morning we’ve been developing our proposal for a digital “sketching tool” for collaborative book production, using content gathered from events such as City As Material. This will allow participants to aggregate and curate content from different sources, annotate and tag via themes, then automatically produce draft eBooks for shared discourse and the exchange of ideas, fostering interesting discoveries which will inform later publications.
Archizines Live starts at 8pm in the tunnel entrance, but is just one of many features of the night, this month focusing on “contemporary graphics, typography and illustration through the lens of independent publishing”. Come along!
Archi Zines, due to open from the 5th of November at the Architectural Association, is an exhibition of international alternative and independent architectural publishing, curated by Elias Redstone. There’s an online catalog, where every publication featured is available to view online, along with specifications. The entire collection is also going to be permanently housed in the National Library at the V&A.
Aside from the obvious wealth of interesting content, particularly relevant to City As Material, I think this could act as a valuable resource of inspiration and how-to knowledge for those wanting to create their own publications, thanks to the level of detail attributed to each exhibit – I can only hope more archives like this are compiled in the future.