Marc Valli, owner of the Magma design bookshops, is to launch a new visual arts and culture magazine called Elephant. Why?
CR As the owner of Magma, you better than anyone know it’s a pretty tough time for magazines right now, so why launch a new one?
MV Yes, times are difficult. Sales of books, expensive showcase books in particular, have been hit by the credit crunch. Yet from where I’m standing (and that’s often behind a shop counter) the magazine market looks more alive than ever. The drop in advertising revenues is hurting a lot of people, I know, but again, maybe that will encourage some renewal. Hopefully some of the fat old magazine clichés will die out and some fresh new ideas will emerge. In fact, if I curse the credit crunch on a daily basis (every evening when I get the sales figures from our shops), I cannot help but think it’s a healthy and necessary process. At the same time, it’s very scary…
CR What’s the idea behind Elephant?
MV The visual art world seems to be sadly divided between, on one side, the world of contemporary art, with museums and galleries and collectors and, on the other, the applied arts, or commercial art. I feel these divisions do not reflect the reality, and the richness, and the complexity of the current visual arts scene. More seriously, I think this division has meant that some of the most interesting work went right under the radar. I want Elephant to sit squarely in the middle. I believe that by looking at different art forms from that position, you can create a whole new kind of discourse. I had this dream of doing the kind of magazine a group of beat friends would have done in the 50s, before the art world became the art world, and the creative industries took over, a time when artists didn’t measure the worth of their work according to auction prices, but by the opinion of their peers. I think the credit crunch may have taught us a few lessons… Maybe this is a time for less cynicism.
CR Who is the audience?
MV Difficult question. Some magazines have a very narrow target audience. I don’t think that’s really the case with us. We would like to reach as wide a market as possible. It’s a risk. I suppose in my mind, I see the audience as being made up of people who are enthusiastic and curious (I was going to say ‘young’, but you don’t need to be young to be that), not snobbish, but very ambitious about the quality of the art they look at, use, collect, think about, and produce.
CR How will it be structured? Will it be the same each time?
MV Yes, the basic structure will remain the same. I think that creating a structure that makes sense of a diverse range of material is the second most difficult thing when starting a magazine – the first being coming up with a name…
We divided Elephant in 5 parts:
Part 1 is called Meetings and consists of long interviews with people that I see as visual thinkers, people who have ‘thought up’ or changed our time up through the medium of visual arts.
Part 2 consists of a series of Research Subjects. We pick a few themes and explore those. For example, in issue one we looked at how artists and illustrators have started to use collage again. We also tried to revisit the idea of art in the internet. Visual artists seem to have fallen in and out of love with it rather quickly… We also looked at people who use text as the main subject of their artwork, and at the work Scandinavian fashion designers, and even bike polo and the culture of customisation that revolves around it!
Part 3 is called Studios. We visit the studios of a number of artists and showcase their work.
Part 4 (Economies) looks at how artists are taking matters into their hands and starting businesses based on their own creative output. How are things made?
Finally, in part 5, we take a city and write a creative guide to that city, showcasing the work of artists from that place and asking them about their relationship to that city: how they feel about it, why they moved there, where they hang out, shop, eat, etc.
CR Do you have anyone backing Elephant or is it your own venture?
MV Originally, the magazine was backed by BIS publishers in the Netherlands. But BIS is a relatively small book publisher and we have now transferred the magazine to Frame, who already publish Frame and Mark magazines. They are a very dynamic magazine publisher and we should benefit from their network and experience.
CR Where will it be distributed?
MV Worldwide, both in newsagents and shops.
CR Are you still publishing Graphic?
MV Elephant replaces Graphic. Graphic never found its feet as a magazine proper, and ended up as more of a book series, with every issue looking at one theme in particular. Making a whole magazine on just one theme can be tricky. Sometimes a theme works, and the issue sells, sometimes it doesn’t, and then…