PRINT! Tearing It Up

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Getting into print with Paul Gorman

Paul Gorman is a journalist, author and commentator on visual culture. He has written a number of books including The Look: Adventures in Rock & Pop Fashion, Reasons to be Cheerful: The Life & Work of Barney Bubbles and Derek Boshier: Rethink/Re-entry. He has staged a number of exhibitions in the UK and France, and is a contributor to such magazines as apartamento, Garage, GQ and Mushpit.

His latest venture is PRINT! Tearing It Up, an exhibition celebrating the history of British independent magazines and charting how they helped change the world, right up to the current diverse industry of innovative independent magazines. We caught up with him for a few words about the exhibition.

You’ve curated several exhibitions before this one – for instance Let It Rock: Malcolm McLaren at Art In Pop and Barney Bubbles: The Past, The Present & The Possible. How does this one compare? 

Hopefully, in terms of the scope and scale. Both of those shows covered long and productive careers across all types of media and disciplines. While the focus of Print! is on the now and contemporary independent publishing, we also look at the current scene’s roots in the past, such as the two issues of art and literature modernist manifesto Blast on the cusp of the First World War,  Graham Greene’s “British New Yorker” Night And Day in the 30s, Private Eye – which started in 1961– and the underground and lifestyle press from such titles as Oz and IT in the 60s, Sniffin’ Glue and Anarchy In The UK in the 70s, The Face, i-D, Dazed and Sleazenation in the 80s and 90s, and Shoreditch Twat and Super Super in the 00s.

How long have you been planning this exhibition?

Co-curator Claire Catterall and I started talking about it two years ago. I had recently completed my book about The Face magazine and was aware that the contemporary scene was very healthy; my wife Caz Facey, who is an architecture and design expert, had turned me on to so many of the new magazines because her cultural antennae are so acute, buying magazines such as apartamento and The Gentlewoman from their very first issues. Rather than putting together a backward-looking show – The Face closed in 2004 – Claire and I decided that we would look to the present day but incorporate a historical element so visitors could join the dots.

How did you decide which pieces to include?

Principally they had to be game-changers – say, Time Out, founded in 1968 and still going strong, or Spare Rib, which altered the way in which women consumed and were portrayed by media in the 70s and 80s.

We also wanted to include little-known or underrated titles such as Night And Day or Rave, which was really a proto-lifestyle magazine, in that it not only covered the music made by, say, The Monkees and Jimi Hendrix in the 1960s, but was also interested in youth fashions, the apartments where pop stars lived, the boutiques they shopped at, and the clubs they hung out in.

Are you including any of your own magazine collection in this exhibition?

Yes – I’d say about 60% of the magazines in the show are from my archive, from the 30s to the present day. We also accessed the countercultural archive of the writer John May, who worked for the underground press and later ran his own animal rights magazine The Beast, and also the publications division of Greenpeace. He has kept a lot of now-precious material including flyers, stickers, badges and party invites.

What is the most rewarding part of all this for you?

To show those who had consigned print to the dustbin that there are a lot of very good contemporary magazines and that they bear comparison with the greats of the past. The response from visitors young and old has been one of wonder; the old-timers are enthused by the likes of Mushpit, Sabat and British Values while younger people find the graphic designs and provocative texts of the underground and lifestyle press very stimulating.

Is there an area/theme you would say the current independent magazines are lacking, that was perhaps covered by their forebears?

I wouldn’t say so – I think the contemporary scene is as rich and engaged, particularly politically. In fact, I think current magazines have the edge in that women, trans and non-binary people as well as those of other minorities have a voice which was traditionally denied to them before. 

Can you tell us anything about the other events/activities accompanying this exhibition?

There is a host of activity including a line-up of female practitioners and provocateurs talking about their experiences on Monday June 25, a weekend festival celebrating independent media called Process on July 21 and 22, and a weekly tour around the show by such figures as John May throughout August.

Have you discovered any new underground press, say in the last month, that you are excited about?

Yes: I came late to Kieran Yates’ British Values, which she published in 2015 and 2016. We got it into the show and it’s receiving a great response. I’m hoping she will be spurred into producing another issue.

Today’s indie mags address issues such as diversity, gender, sexuality, tolerance and media manipulation. Do you think they are reaching enough people worldwide, as it can be difficult to find these magazines out of the major cities/museums?

We live in niche times so size of circulation isn’t as important as it once was. In the digital age we have all been forced to find, occupy and claim a space of our own. By the same token contemporary magazine makers are using the online environment to bang the gong for their titles and so reaching an international audience in ways which would have been unimaginable before.

When is the best time of day/week for you to sit down with an independent magazine?

Late morning every other Tuesday after I have picked up the latest issue of Private Eye, which is more generally available outside central London the next day. I can be at home, on the tube on the way to a meeting, or sitting in a cafe. Wherever, it is a pleasurable 30 mins of reading and skimming before I have to crack on.  

PRINT! Tearing It Up runs from 8 June  to 22 August 2018 in the Terrace Rooms at Somerset House.