Before starting, before describing the structure of this beautiful, brand-new and yet nostalgically classic journal recently launched in both Berlin and London by Alun Rowlands and Matt Williams, before all of that I have a question buzzing in my mind: do we believe in the existence of a direct relationship between a socio-political situation and cultural development? In other words, to closely approach the central issue: do we believe in the existence of a direct link between our current unstable economic climate and our fast-changing, production-saturated cultural development? If so, how does it relate to the recent proliferation of printed matters, journals, fanzines, pamphlets and small magazines, which focus on the practice of writing?
Writing on artistic practice, writing on writing practice and (subsequently and logically) writing as artistic practice; what is the reason, then, (if there is one and if it would be possible to talk about it) under our constant and urgent necessity to engage with different writing techniques, from poetic to analytic, from narrative to experimental? Why does writing seem to be the realm of cultural development that we trust the most?
I’m questioning this myself, not having any direct answer but starting to suspect the necessity to see, if not to understand, the artistic field as intrinsically hinged to the human being in its broader sense as a political being.
I’m not thinking of an actualisation of any sort of Calvinist unconditional election, where aspects of our current artistic production would be linked to an all-comprehensive, fast-digesting and overimposed political structure, represented by our economic stagnant situation or our brutal social crisis. I’m thinking of a mutual dependency that should be faced and critically engaged.
Obviously nothing comes as a complete surprise. Independently, Alun Rowlands bases his practice on a creative research of archival materials and forgotten memories of long-gone political outbursts. This research then visually translates into aesthetically allegorical booklets and pamphlets. Together with Matt Williams, he curated a series of shows encompassing a similar preoccupation with the development of human knowledge, the potentialities of polysemic narratives and the influence of aesthetic messages on human judgements.
Novel situates itself into this vast and intriguing research. As a journal-like publication, it seems to foresee similar preoccupations, concentrating on writing as the last horizon of our cultural development still able to encompass any ‘obligation to communication’. And, at the same time, it is a highly rhetorical object that, through its design, is able to suggest both unity of intention and freedom of interpretation. This is physically communicated by its unbound pages, a formal gesture towards the pamphlet.
Not having any real unifying theme, save its own recognisable body, Novel is a perfectly balanced collection of pieces of writing covering a vast range of narrative styles: from lectures to poems, and from critical writing to free-form linguistic experimentation. This is exactly Rowlands and Williams’s take on writing, defined as ‘an apparatus for knowledge capture’.
From science fiction writer Mark von Schlegell’s critical and wordily enveloping analysis of HP Lovecraft’s literary legacy, to Michael Krebber’s rhapsodic recollection of the origin of his Alien Hybrid Creatures (which takes the form of a slide-show transmuted into a book), the journal alternates in density with rarefied suspensions, such as Hannah Sawtell’s free-form ‘Untitled Text’, Marc Camille Chaimowicz’s delicate writing from Café du Rêve (entitled ‘Partial Eclipse fifth and sixth section from Café du Rêve’) or RH Quaytman’s fluid ‘The Call of the Wind’.
It moves from the complex narrative and intensively typeset Josef Strau’s ‘Bad Conscience’, to an in-depth interview with Canadian artist Louis Jacob by Anna- Catharina Gebbers. From the small allegorical visual intervention by Edwind Burdis and Steven Claydon, to Barry MacGregor Johnson’s more linear poem ‘In Word Shadows’, Novel presents diverse shifts in register.
Personal favourites include a narrative piece on the nature of lectures by Scott Lyall (‘Lecture Meant to Accompany the Consumption of a Multiple’), a reprint, graphically underlined, of two of Jan Verwoert and Michael Stevenson’s ‘Fables’, and Henry Flynt’s extensive and critically powerful dip into the meaning of romantic affection.
To complete the issue, Alastair MacKinven’s ‘I/no man’ cover design and Ei Arakawa’s wide-ranging (and absolutely unintelligible) interview, seem to set the tone of the journal on the importance of amalgamating fluid cultural scenarios, whose multiplicity could be obtained just through a free relationship with written words and their narratives.
Revisiting my initial questions through the editorial point of view of Novel, the dualism between socio-political stagnation and cultural development rightly seems to be taken seriously here. It openly points toward writing as the only means of production of subjectivities, and consciously exploits a recognisable aesthetic to convey this message.
Francesco Pedraglio is co-curator of Form Content and editor of The Mock and other superstitions
Featured as ARCHIVE SPOTLIGHT #2 as part of Suzanne van der Lingen & Claire Walsh’s Footnoting the Archive project, 2016