Georgy Litichevsky Born in Dnepropetrovsk in 1956. Artist; art critic. “MAM” editorial board member. Currently lives in Moscow and Berlin.
1. The opinion of the author of this text may not correspond with the opinions of the editorial board of the “Moscow Art Magazine” (KhZ). The text is timed to coincide with the twentieth anniversary of the journal. It is widely known that the first issue of MAM came to existence in the fall of 1993. Anyone will agree with this. But paying tribute to modern tendencies to begin counting the beginning of life not from the date of birth (generatio), but from the moment of conception (conceptio), it can be presumed that opinions of different participants of the events about the date of MAM’s appearance will also be different. In addition to the prenatal period of “MAM’s” history, as many as 23, or 24 years of its existence could be enumerated, but that is not indisputable.
2. I remember a meeting in the studio of the artist Konstantin Zvezdochetov at the legendary squat in the Furmanniy Pereulok, perhaps around the fall of 1989. Viktor Misiano proposes to discuss the prospects of creating a journal on contemporary art. Glasnost triumphs in the country, freedom of speech is on the agenda, and contemporary art needs its own publication. Soviet journals existing at the time, “Isskustvo” [“Art”], “Tvorchestvo” [“Creative work”], “Dekorativnoe Isskustvo” [“Decorative arts,” hereafter, DI] dedicate many pages to it, and sometimes even entire special issues, but there is no journal entirely devoted to contemporary art in Russian. A journal with all the traits of a journal, as envisioned by Viktor, will become something “officious” according to Konstantin. He himself wants a journal-art-object. In 1992, he will release this kind of journal-comic, “Nochnaya Zhizn’” [“Night life”]. But this will be the first and last issue of the publication.
3. With all of “MAM’s” unprecedentedness, some sort of continuity and connection with the context of the time is evident. And this is embodied in the figure of Leonid Ilyich Nevler—the wordsmith of the journal “DI.” Some negotiations are even carried out in the editorial office of that journal. But collaboration between an established and an emerging structure does not add up. Negotiations move to Nevler’s personal studio, located in the same house on Tverskaya Street. Discussing the pace of creative work for the future publication, Nevler shares his professional experience and confesses that he wrote his best texts for “DI,” literally, on his lap and at the eleventh hour. At that time, many manuscripts were still written by hand on paper.
4. That is how, by hand, my first text for “MAM”—“Song about Moscow”—was written. This happened at the beginning of 1992, about a year and a half before the text was typeset and published in the first issue of the journal. It discussed the state of underground art “at the crossroads,” having been deprived of the familiar space of the USSR, and finding itself with uncertain prospects, which, possibly, it had to generate independently. In the absence of the Internet and e-mail, the text was read aloud in the old-fashioned way, in the kitchen of the future general editor. “But this is boring!”—exclaimed the artist Gosha Ostretsov, present in that kitchen. “And this will precisely be a boring journal,”—countered the critic and future editor of “MAM” Andrei Kovalev.
5. A wide array of people participated in those preliminary meetings. Among others, there was the art scholar Galina Kurierova; translator, film scholar as well as the participant in Prigov and Rubenstein’s performances, Aleksey Medvedev. One of the first potential designers was Vladimir Chayka. In the end, Elena Kitaeva created the first prototype of a barely legible tabloid. Difficult texts were exacerbated by an aggressively dysfunctional design. Truly, artistic thought is at the crossroads.
6. The outward appearance of the first six issues was almost more suggestive than the texts that comprised them. It was clear that the journal—which, furthermore, could not fit into a briefcase, or be placed on an ordinary bookshelf—could not remain this way for long. The Argo ship is often remembered as a way to illustrate the idea of structure as constant, or invariable. Over the course of the voyage, all the wooden planks from which the ship was made were replaced by new ones, but the ship remained the same as when it sailed out in search of the Golden Fleece. In this regard, “MAM” is the opposite of Argo, since in the course of its voyage, it constantly changed not only the “planks” of ideas and programs (as well as people), but also its “hull”—the format and the layout. This is not an example of structure, but of structuration (the term of the author of “The Absent Structure”). By the way, the first executive director of the “KhZ” publication was Dmitry Natrov—a native of the Leningrad underground scene, and a former sailor.
7. Materials written specifically for the first issues of “MAM” were very often reminiscent of art manifestos. But they took up no more than half the issue. Translated articles and book fragments comprised the other half, published, usually, without the knowledge of the authors, and technically, almost always counterfeit. For instance, a few pages from the book of the French philosopher Edgar Morin were translated, and all of a sudden, Morin arrives to Moscow to deliver a lecture. He is shown the translation done without his permission, and he leaves his autograph on the margins of the text—merci d’avoir traduit mon texte.
8. The first editorial offices of “MAM” were at the Centre for Contemporary Art at Yakimanka. In the mid-‘90s, the journal moves to Bolshoy Palashevskiy. A few of the editorial board members are traveling under the tarpaulin in the back of a large transport truck. Rays of sunlight seep through the slits in the tarp, projecting Moscow streets and houses onto the walls of the truck, only upside down. At that time, the journal is already undergoing its first internal changes and upheavals. In the future, changes to the editorial generations and conceptual principles will occur more than once. However, paradoxically, to an outside observer, the journal appears as something immutable and almost timeless. Things are not always clearer from the outside.
9. Outwardly, only the design and format will change. Igor Buriy, Aleksandr Gorshkov and finally, Igor Severtsev will provide an irreversible evolution from a disproportionate but spectacular tabloid-, to the more compact and practical, and in the end, almost notebook-like format. The transition to a non-tabloid format coincides with the introduction of thematized issues. This is followed by an answer in the form of a comic strip, which is replicated on a photocopier and distributed among the members of the editorial board. The comic proposes to combine thematized principles of assembly of materials for the issues, or a deductive methodology, method D, with an attitude for the spontaneous, or inductive, provided by the live creative process of filling up the content of the journal, method I. Thus, what is ideally envisioned is a complex DI method. “You don’t say,—remarks L.I. Nevler,—previously, there was the journal DI, and now the DI method.”
10. About a decade later, I am delivering a lecture on contemporary art journals. To the question, what methodology do the authors of “MAM” adhere to? an evasive answer is given. But that is how it is: attempts to discover a unified methodology amongst “MAM” authors will be unsuccessful even within a single issue, dedicated to any one particular topic. Are there methodological principles for the selection of content? Yes, of course, and moreover, with time, many of the proposed materials for the journal are eliminated, despite the fact that the journal does not pay its authors. However, to formulate the principles of selection owing to which a wide variety of discursive antipodes could coexist under the same cover does not prove possible.
11. Everyone read or heard about a journal that became popular at the beginning of the ‘90s, “Mitin Zhurnal” [“Dmitry’s Journal”]. “MAM” could be called, as some people already have done, “Vitin Zhurnal” [“Victor’s Journal”]. L.I. Nevler would say, “Do not annoy Viktor, or he may get bored and stop doing the journal.” By the way, cautious conversations between editorial staff did sometimes occur: what would happen if this occurs, who would head the journal, etc.
12. The collective sector is represented by the editorial board and editors. The change of generations of the editorial board does not correspond to the letter with the change of the layout, but, possibly, just as many generations have changed as the layout did. The figure of an editor does not radically alter the face of the journal, nevertheless, it is possible to speak about “KhZ” of the era of Vlad Safronov, or Vadim Rudnev, or Lisa Morozova, or Dmitry Potemkin.
13. In the mid-‘90s, the media context began to change swiftly. Pavel Pepperstein, in the text that may have been fittingly named “Four Journals,” counted “KhZ” amongst the most interesting phenomena in the information field. However, he did put it in fourth place after “Pastor Zondt,” “Mesto Pechati” [“Place of Print”] and the journal “Ptuch.” Needless to say, there is no contesting anyone’s right to an opinion.
14. In the “noughts,” the context was already very different. The pioneers-heroes of media innovations of the early post-Soviet epoch vanished without a trace or became almost invisible. Glossy and network media appeared and was disseminated in their stead, uncompromisingly offering “coherent” versions of the artistic and cultural process. Reproaches to “KhZ’s” unreadability and anachronism became more frequent. And thus, the relevance of the journal as an absolutely essential space for the more marginal types of thought and modes of expression manifested itself all the more.
15. While not being “sectarian,” “KhZ” nonetheless was never a journal “for everyone.” The fundamental indeterminacy was exacerbated by the language situation. Reluctantly received by the domestic audience, the journal would have been more likely read by colleagues abroad, but the language barrier impeded this. At one time, English summaries were written, two digests were issued in English, as well as one “East European” bilingual issue. And yet, inwardness is winning so far; inner life prevails over an external reaction.
16. But even within itself, that oasis, refuge, haven, encampment, or even “occupy” has yet to become a platform for a real discussion. The polyphony of statements does not lead to a collision of arguments, and their authors mainly hear their own voices… Zvezdochetov admitted that he wanted to submit a rebuttal to the text “Song about Moscow” to “KhZ,” but he never did write it. Attempts were made at theoretical objections to Boris Groys, a regular author of the journal. But Groys did not notice these “mosquito bites,” and made no response to them. Perhaps, the time has not yet come. However, the lack of theoretical discussions is partially compensated by all manner of roundtables, the results of which are published in almost every issue.
17. Internet reality also makes its own adjustments. All the more frequently, links to “KhZ’s” online version are posted on Facebook users’ walls. Owing to the Internet, the majority of the “KhZ” archive became public. It could be presumed that the journal is not only and not so much relevant as an organ of communication, but increasingly, as a descriptive resource (to use Tarski/Popper’s terminological oppositions).
18. And even if the journal was completely illegible, so what? Why not imagine that “KhZ” is a Journal for journal’s sake (analogous to “art for art’s sake”). L’art pour l’art immediately summons associations to the aestheticism of the century before last. But if we recall the ideas of the autonomy of art as they developed from Adorno to Bourdieu, then why not?
19. Evidently, the cartoon published in every issue serves precisely this idea of autonomy. The goal of the cartoon is not to transmit complex and serious ideas expressed on the pages of the journal in a succinct and popular form, nor is it to propagandize under the guise of false ridicule, as it is customary in carnival culture. The cartoon testifies more to the fact that all the materials in the issue in their aggregate, and each on their own are a little bit “not what they seem.” Neither the authors of the texts, nor their readers, nor the editorial board, and not even the editor-in-chief may agree with this, but in whatever they write and however they write about it, by appearing in “KhZ”, and in part, by finding themselves adjacent to a cartoon, their texts become an artistic text-object—that same one that Zvezdochetov dreamed about in 1989… And how else? What’s in a name? And the name is—“Moscow Art Journal” [“KhZ”].
20. The distribution of the journal could take on the most unexpected forms. At the end of the ‘90s, half of the circulation distributed by one of the foundations-sponsors was sent to artistic institutions of the Russian Federation, including specialized secondary ones. One of the issues ended up in the depths of Karelia, in the town of Pudozh on the shores of Lake Onega. In 1998, a student of the Pudozh secondary art school sent the editorial office at Bolshoy Palashevskiy his own, hand-made, author’s version of “KhZ”—this was something of a cross between a book art object and a cargo cult subject. The name of the sixteen-year-old “KhZ” reader was Dmitry Khrustalev. Today, he lives in St. Petersburg and works in photography, video and web design. He continues to read the “Moscow Art Magazine.”