"HYPOTHETICAL GENERALIZATIONS THAT PROVOKE REACTIONS THAT LEAD TO OTHER QUESTIONS"
HYPOTHETICAL GENERALIZATION: I knew what I was doing when I started this publication.
Kelvin Soh: When I started Le Roy, I was reaching for something I felt I wanted to exist, but I didn’t necessarily know what or how. The process has been organic, reflexive, and collaborative—building over time like a good soup.
QUESTION: What is it about a magazine that makes it such an appropriate repository for disquietude?
KS: I feel like books often work in a one-way direction: a singular authorial voice communicating to receptive readers. They operate in that classic broadcast model of communication of sender to receiver, with slippages considered inefficiencies dependent on the ratio of signal to noise. Author with a capital ‘A’. Magazines operate in a two-way direction: on the one hand, it is a kind of filtered reportage, representing culture by way of curation, aggregation; the authors are receivers first and foremost but then become senders in the act of production. Magazines influence the very culture they are influenced by. Not sure if that makes sense. I really love the sentiment by Nicholas Bourriaud, of Relational Aesthetics fame. He makes exhibitions when he has questions, but writes books when he has answers. I see magazines very much like exhibitions, as a space for the airing of questions, propositions, and the production of conversations. Le Roy is probably semi-autobiographical in the sense that the questions of my own existential disquietude are projected as thematic inquiries from issue to issue. The question of “self design,” as Boris Groys coined it, is an inspiration for Le Roy.
HYPOTHETICAL GENERALIZATION: This magazine is a calling card, a building block for future projects. An investment rather than a profit scheme.
KS: I don’t instrumentalize the magazine the way some designers do with their “self-initiated projects,” which are often self-promotional vehicles. I don’t really think beyond the magazine, even though I should because it takes considerable energy and expense to put it out and maintain it. It’s very much an amalgamation of the different activities that I have enjoyed doing in the past: curating, art-direction, design, publishing, making art, and collaborating with others. And so I make it because I want to make it. It’s also personal in the sense that the themes emerge organically out of my research interests, ideas, and conversations at the time.
QUESTION: Is it really as simple as publishing a magazine just because you can or want to? The networks built in the process of magazine-making seem very useful for supplementing a design studio practice (which you have, through DDMMYY), both in terms of providing an avenue for self-directed creation and for the new business and promotion it could provide. Do you think about this at all or perhaps consider that preoccupying oneself with such pragmatics would negatively affect content integrity?
KS: To consider Le Roy as a promotional vehicle for the design studio would mean having to consider an imaginary audience of potential clients which would confuse the approach. I don’t even think of the advertisers. I only think of the readers (and ourselves) when I think of the audience. It’s quite “pure” in that regard. If anything, I think our approach has been the opposite of thinking of the pragmatism you describe. For example, I’ve often reminded myself and my team that a measure of success, creatively speaking, is to treat the magazine as an opportunity to achieve an outcome that we’re super into ourselves and unlikely to be welcomed by a client. The magazine is an opportunity to try something new. Our approach to typography, image-making and fashion styling follow this logic. So in a way, it’s anti-promotional, unless there’s a client somewhere that really appreciates that kind of thing. Definitely not in New Zealand though.
HYPOTHETICAL GENERALIZATION: A contemporary editor needs to create content outside of the magazine’s pages as well, in order to fully engage with a readership.
KS: Are you referring to social media? When I did my MFA years ago, I was interested in the forces of indexicality, which is why I gravitated to the magazine medium. Peripheral media, like Instagram or Facebook, are connected to the magazine project like points on a map.
QUESTION: I was referring to the self-initiated projects you brought up in the last section—events or collaborative projects with artist—as well as social media and any other tangential forms that emerge from the process of publishing (an article, for example, turning into a larger investigation or even an entirely independent publishing project), the whole gamut really of transcending the printed page and turning the magazine into an engaged community that not only reads but experiences the content. This seems to be a strategy employed by many periodicals to increase their relevance/reach and, thus, increase sustainability. How important is this expanded (social) field to you?
KS: I feel that our current activities like participating in book fairs, organizing launches, and curating showcases of local publishing, do situate our publishing activity in a larger social sphere. Once again, I’m probably not thinking about these activities in any sort of pragmatic promotional way. I would also like to expand the content into other spaces, playing with how we approach authorship and the experience of textual essays. For example, translating textual essays into video essays or using a live event as a living “magazine.” A few years ago, a New Zealand artist named Tahi Moore did just that: he created an experiential, living “magazine” here in Auckland that consisted of an evolving exhibition where content is presented and experienced in real life. He even mimicked some of the lifestyle sections you might find in magazines, for example having a cocktail night instead of cocktail reviews. For that exhibition, I made the magazine masthead or logo in the form of a 3-meter-long mirrored sign featuring the word “Magazine.” The choice of using a mirrored surface was to deflect attention away from the object to the social space. Tahi’s exhibition still played with the indexical relationship between real lifestyle and their abstracted representations in magazine form, but by using the gallery space as a stage, a fiction bubble.
HYPOTHETICAL GENERALIZATION: Publishing content online doesn’t discourage readers from acquiring a print copy.
KS: Sometimes I think this is true. Le Roy is conceived as slow media. We consciously choose to ignore information provision as a necessary function. Rather, we focus on subjectivities and ideas which, we hope, will transcend the usual life span of a periodical.
QUESTION: My understanding is that slow media also refers to the time it takes for a contributor to research and execute material, which then implies longer times between publication of issues and material that points to larger contexts rather than mere reporting of transitory events. But you choose to frame slowness in terms of longer shelf life, of aspiring towards the collectibility and permanence more proper to books or peer-review journals. As an editor of a magazine, what strategies do you employ to make the content valuable enough to ensure that longer lifespan?
KS: I think of slow media as all those things, but when I say “life span,” I’m not referring to shelf life at all, but the relevance of the content, like having a longer expiration date. I try and achieve this by consciously trying to amplify the ideas as much as possible and to acknowledge the printed page as a primary and not secondary context of display. For example, when we feature content that comes directly from an exhibition, as we did with the Workload feature in Issue 4, we work closely with the artists to really utilize the magazine as an extension of the exhibition and to use this space as an opportunity to present the ideas or research behind the exhibition but in a different medium.
HYPOTHETICAL GENERALIZATION: I am able to publish Le Roy at this point in my life because, on some level, I rebel against the pragmatism expected of people my age.
KS: My need to make these kinds of projects supersede any desire to pursue the kind of material comforts that come with age. To my detriment, possibly.
QUESTION: Is it a need to express a matured argument, as a hybrid art and design worker? To stay relevant? You mentioned in a previous conversation that Le Roy is a magazine you could only have made at your age, with the critical baggage you’ve acquired over the course of your career.
KS: As mentioned earlier, my needs are very authentic in that I am personally invested and genuinely interested in the questions that we’re posing with each issue. It’s like therapy maybe. You should re-read the issues with this in mind and you might catch a glimpse of my troubled psyche (laughs). Le Roy is a research project in a way. When I said that I felt like my accrued experience was essential to making Le Roy, I was referring to the task of managing the complexity of conceptual, editorial and creative direction strategies that are in play. Even though I’ve done well over the Gladwell milestone of 10,000 hours, I still feel like you can see the imperfections in each issue and the progression, or growth in terms of the approach. So it’s very honest and I can see evidence of thinking out loud when I look back at the editorial decisions I’ve made. The same could be said for members of my team, like the way our fashion editor, Oliver, has evolved in his thinking and approach to the fashion editorials.
HYPOTHETICAL GENERALIZATION: Magazines should strive for a clear and recognizable design identity and section format.
KS: We change things from issue to issue within the bounds of time, budget, ideas, etc. There are no rules but a sensitivity to the content and doing what’s right.
QUESTION: Maybe not rules, but a certain pattern or rhythm does become apparent once you’ve put out a few issues. Even magazines with apparently fluid identities subscribe to that mutability as a a defining format. Does Le Roy know who it is yet, what it brings to the table full of so many other magazines?
KS: My friend Eva Michon, who is the editor of Bad Day magazine, told me that it takes about 4-5 issues for a magazine to find its feet. I don’t know if we’re there yet, but one thing that has become really apparent to me is who our audience is and where our magazine is situated in relation to other magazines.
HYPOTHETICAL GENERALIZATION: Editor as DJ, insisting strongly on writing style and content, remixing as needed to fit the theme, is a role I mistrust.
KS: An insistence on a particular style and theme is useful at both ends of the process:
(1) as a catalyst and framework that invites and guides contributions, conversations, propositions and ideas.
(2) they enable us to take a bird’s-eye view on all content, examine its intertextual relationships from a tonal and conceptual POV and organize accordingly.
QUESTION: The line between direction and coercion is very fine. And too much editorial freedom causes dread, misfires, or apathy. The kind of relationship an editor chooses to build with contributors is pretty similar, in terms of problematization, to the boundaries between the artist and the curator. How do you choose to set (or move about) those limits with contributors?
KS: I agree that I think a magazine editor wrestles with the same kind of problems that curators have with artists. On a scale of 1-10, I think I’m about a 7 in terms of heavy-handedness. On the one hand, I’m very keen to preserve or amplify the various authorial subjectivities in play and on the other. I’m very clear on what I want from them. It really varies from piece to piece. Some of the content is published raw and virtually untouched, whereas others are butchered and reconstituted completely.
HYPOTHETICAL GENERALIZATION: Long format writing is still important.
KS: The length of the article should be proportional to the ambitions of the writer in reaching for unique and interesting ideas.
QUESTION: Beyond the direct equation of length to depth, is there anything particularly interesting for you about the concept of building new writing patterns—via fragmentation of texts or collage-based approaches—to experiment with readability and digestibility?
KS: Absolutely. I’m a fan of creating intertextual collisions in the hope of creating new relationships between discrete bits of content. Some of the essays utilize accompanying images that don’t directly relate to the texts at all. They are run in parallel and in a way text and image collapse into each other in a kind of parasitic relationship where it’s unclear if I’m instrumentalizing the imagery in service of the text or the other way around.
HYPOTHETICAL GENERALIZATION: Le Roy encourages contributors to be complex, challenging. It is important for us to protect content from being watered down and protect readers from being talked down to.
KS: We assume that even if the fruit is higher up the tree, the readers will enjoy the climb, even if it’s just for the exercise.
QUESTION: What exercises and high hanging fruit can one expect from the upcoming “fantasy issue,” Le Roy 5?
KS: Ha! I like complex ideas, but I’m always keen to rid the magazine of the stench of academia. It’s really hard, but my vision is for it to feel like it’s written by a bunch of autodidacts living in caves somewhere, people who haven’t been tarnished by the disciplinary boundaries or hierarchies, whether that’s sideways across disciplines or vertically in terms of high/low culture. So I’d say I’m going for low hanging but unusual tasting fruit for the next issue.
HYPOTHETICAL GENERALIZATION: I consider the writer, the stylist, the artist, the graphic designer on the same terms. Each of them is given the same amount of agency.
KS: Yes, we’re invested in a broad definition of authorship.
QUESTION: You could say that the possibility of authorship has never been greater than it is today. Technology has provided many platforms for the would-be author to produce and disseminate work, and the role of the editor as gatekeeper has shifted. How does your broad definition of authorship position itself in this context?
KS: I like referring to the breakdown of the broadcast model when I think of contemporary authorship, where there’s a blurring of author and reader. I see a larger interconnected network of flows that’s maybe more honest about how we consume and produce content. I think this is exemplified by the mutability of seemingly objective, concrete content like online news and how some online newspapers continue to edit or change their articles even after they’ve been ‘published’, changing the bias in the process. This is compounded by technological features that enable reader comments. Sometimes the author would respond to or debate with readers as a kind of postscript to the article itself, which really underscores the mutability of “facts,” journalism, and authorship.
HYPOTHETICAL GENERALIZATION: The contamination between art, design, and fashion is something welcome, though perhaps of all these communities, the art world is most reticent to accept these overlaps.
KS: The art world is a big world, with liberal and conservative extremes when it comes to the confluence of disparate disciplines.
QUESTION: Does the conservative extremism motivate you to transgress?
KS: I’ve been a designer far longer than I’ve been an artist, and I think I was really tentative and too respectful of disciplinary boundaries at the beginning. I was caught up in the type of conversations and thinking usually attributed to “critical design,” which often takes a position in relation to the power of the white cube. These designers were too enamored by the abstracting space of art and held tightly to the real world coefficients of mass-produced design objects and the real world as context by (ironically) borrowing from site-specific strategies seen in the art world. Nowadays I’m much more agnostic about these boundaries. I see the art context as just another medium or space for me to negotiate with. In a same-but-different kind of way, I see extremely commercial contexts as another kind of medium or space with different but very clear agendas. I came to this conclusion when I realised that my working relationship with curators, in the capacity of an artist, was very similar to that of working with extremely commercial clients. Both curators and clients have their own subjective reasons and agendas when they choose to work with me.
HYPOTHETICAL GENERALIZATION: Magazines, if they truly provide good content that responds to a vacuum of information (or representation), will distribute themselves.
KS: We never know how it’s going to be received. We make magazines for people like us, our own appetites as guide.
QUESTION: Trying to understand those statements in relation to each other, as they seem to be contradictory. It seems unlikely one would go through all the pains of publishing if it weren’t for a wanting to be heard. If you claim to speak a language that represents your peers, it would seem that the response would be positive. From what I’ve observed at the New York Art Book Fair, the response is indeed a positive one, and you seem to be secure in the value of your publishing voice. Is there a disconnect somewhere?
KS: I don’t think I publish because I want to be heard. I’m just curious enough to put Le Roy out there and see what happens. Like choosing to fish in a pond that nobody else goes to. Just to see if something bites. I like surprises like that. Maybe it’s closer to a band that enjoys jamming, writing songs and then putting them out without much thought and expectation of what might boomerang back. Purely for the enjoyment of doing it. I don’t know what Le Roy is worth, but it seems to be growing in terms of readership and distribution. I’m pleasantly surprised by the retailers that choose to carry it and am happy that some of them are my favorite book stores.