Behind the scenes: Elephant magazine

by Steve Watson in July 2015
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Art & design

The latest issue of Elephant magazine is dedicated to the question, “What is post-internet art?” A host of artists, critics and commentators line up to lend their opinions, and the result is a fascinating print magazine placing itself at the heart of contemporary arts culture.

But did they answer their own question? I caught up with editor-in-chief Marc Valli to hear his verdict, and to find out what a print magazine can bring to a post-internet phenomenon.

Elephant magazine

Your cover carries a really strong, striking question: “What is post-internet art?” Did you come up with an answer?
I suppose yes, we did. Most people seem to assume that post-internet art is digital art, or internet art, but we didn’t just want to talk about medium. We realised while we were doing the issue that post-internet art is really far more to do with a shift in aesthetics, which seems to have occurred in this new generation of young artists who were born after 1989, who have grown up with the internet and digital media all around them.

It seems the old parameters have changed; of what it beautiful and what is not beautiful, or what is acceptable as art and what is not acceptable. So I think a big conceptual shift has occurred in the last few years, and it has happened all across our culture, but there is a reflection of that shift within contemporary art, and I suppose that’s what we call post-internet art.

Elephant magazine

It’s a contentious term, and several people featured in the magazine criticise ‘post-internet’ because it has become a bit of a buzzword, or an easy way to label art.
To be honest, for most of the people who argue against it, I didn’t find their arguments very compelling. I felt that mostly it was people saying, ‘This is old hat, I want to move on’. Or, ‘I don’t want to be labelled’. But artists have never wanted labels attached to them. Impressionism, fauvism… all those labels actually started as insults, and most of those artists didn’t want to be branded as such, but then little by little, the term stuck, and in the end people embraced it.

Maybe that will happen with post-internet, maybe it won’t. I don’t think anybody knows, but I don’t think it should be dismissed. I find it quite handy – for me it is just art after the internet.

Elephant magazine

I’m interested in the way you physically put the magazine together, because you have the two ‘paper galleries’, and if you try flicking through you can’t help but land on them. Is that a deliberate ploy on your part?
Yes it is, actually. When you’re writing a book, you know that most people will start at the beginning and finish at the end. But with a magazine it’s a free-for-all. Most people actually start flicking from the back, and they’ll read some bits and skip other bits, so it’s quite tempting to engage with that flicking, that chaotic thing people do with magazines.

In our case, we put those two wells of different paper and different trim size in the middle of the magazine, and we know readers are going to stop at those points. And so we know the feature that comes immediately after should be a good one, because people will probably look at it!

There are six to seven parts in each issue and of course we try to arrange them in a coherent manner, but you’re limited by chunks of 16 pages, so it can be hard to decide where to put the wells. A lot of time is spent playing around with content to make that experience more or less make sense.

Elephant magazine

That control is one of the real strengths of print, because it means you’re better able to mediate the reader’s experience. Whereas when you’re posting something online, it’s almost impossible to control the way somebody will arrive at an article.
Absolutely – that’s completely true. It has a beginning and an end, and if you’re working to a deadline you need to make things cohere by a certain point. By contrast a website never feels like a finished object.

With this issue we felt like we tackled the subject, we did the best we could, and here it is. It feels like you’re achieving something because the actual thing has a shape in itself, whereas on the internet, things don’t have a shape.

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