Monday, April 11, 2011

Book Review: Clip, Stamp, Fold

Clip, Stamp, Fold: The Radical Architecture of Little Magazines 196X - 197X edited by Beatriz Colomina and Craig Buckley
Actar, 2010
Hardcover, 672 pages

Clip/Stamp/Fold squeezed seventy "little magazines" and supporting documentation into the Storefront for Art and Architecture in 2007. The successful exhibition -- it later traveled to the CCA in Montreal, Documenta 12 in Kassel, the AA in london, Norsk Form in Oslo, and the Contemporary Art Gallery in Vancouver -- was supplemented by "small talks" with important figures in the alternative architectural publishing of the 1960s and 70s, including Bernard Tschumi, Stefano Boeri, Peter Eisenman, Kenneth Frampton, Mario Gandelsonas, Anthony Vidler, Hal Foster, and Rosalind Krauss. Transcriptions of these talks and the descriptions of the magazines from the exhibition are collected in this well produced big book, accompanied by facsimiles of eleven of the magazines and interviews with many more of the editors, writers, and other people involved in the zines.

So why look at the Sixties and Seventies now? In their introduction the editors assert that as "contemporary e-zines, twitter feeds, and blogs challenge us to reconsider the relationship between forms of publication and forms of interactivity," the exhibition's "unique view of a key period of architectural innovation ... challenges today's architects to provide a similar intensity." The interviews also indicate that there is some unfinished business from that period. The experimentation that arose from the counterculture, the environmentalism responding to various crises, the alternative routes taken at a time of slim commissions; these all ring true today, as if the intermittent decades did little to advance the possibilities that still seem fresh to people today. I think the appeal of looking back at the little magazines also stems from an uncertainty with technology, where it is going, what we should do with it. The tangibility of the DIY publications -- be they encased in plastic bubbles in the exhibition or here reproduced on a faux scratchy background that wants to lend the zines a tactile quality -- is comforting now, even though they were challenging conventions when they were originally released.

The subject of architectural zines from the 1960s and 70s could inform numerous ways of exhibiting and discussing them. In the hands of the editors the result is a fairly academic approach rooted in Ivy League architectural schools; Colomina teaches at Princeton and Buckley is the publications editor at Columbia GSAPP. While this may lend some gravitas to the historical presentation of the zines (most came from Colomina's own collection), the result is hardly esoteric, since the majority of the text is culled from interviews, where even theory-speak is conversational. What does result is a lot of copy devoted to Oppositions, the theory-based publication started by Peter Eisenman and others, and other New York journals. Outside of this city the interviews and zines themselves focus on London and Italy, pointing to the influence of the Architectural Association in the former and the mainstream architectural publications (Domus, Casabella) in the latter. Whatever the reasons, there is a certain "small worldness" that is evident in the pages, as if every zine creator knew the others, and they were all linked by the various schools and other networks on the sides of the Atlantic.

Today's culture of zines shows the means of architectural production to be a strong one, if overshadowed by blogs and mainstream architectural media. Certainly the best collection is Archi-Zines, an online catalog of what is being printed today in the United States, Europe, South America, and Asia. The DIY nature of the publications is certainly different, since desktop publishing and on-demand printing have supplanted physical copy/paste, typesetting, and newsprint. If the collection at Archi-Zines could be considered an extension of the zines collected in Clip, Stamp, Fold is debatable, but they are straddling the old and the new, in terms of the "relationship between forms of publication and forms of interactivity" mentioned above. Neither Archi-Zines nor Clip, Stamp, Fold gives us clear answers on what that ideal fit would be, but the latter does make it apparent that publication and practice are strongly linked. So publication today, if it follows from example of the 1960s and 70s, should respond to what practice must deal with, be it the social, the political, the environmental. People may lament blogs and their shallow takes on architecture, but a quick browse at Archi-Zines reveals that a strong current of discussing architecture through publication is underway. I'm optimistic.