Flicking Through Buildings
Thursday, November 17th, 2011
by Sarah Handelmam
exhibition photos by Sue Barr / AA
portrait by Valerie Bennett
It’s 10 AM and Elias Redstone slumps wearily against the crowded members' bar in the Architectural Association. He orders a green tea, but if he opted to indulge in a brunch-time tipple, he’d be forgiven. Crisp streaks of early November sunlight replace the clouds that earlier filled the café’s windows. Students and visitors buzz about with the frenetic energy spawned by autumnal projects and delights. Despite the café’s atomic atmosphere, the young curator stands alone with his thoughts. He is looking for something, or at least pretending to.
From behind round lenses flecked by tortoiseshell frames, his bird-like eyes navigate the room. “Everyone is here,” he finally exclaims. “Everyone.” That might be an exaggeration, but writers, editors, and publishers have indeed flown from America and Europe to celebrate the opening of Archizines. The exhibition, now showing at the Architectural Association, is an exhaustive snapshot, curated by Redstone, of alternative and independent architectural publishing through the lens of a collection of 60 distinct titles.
There is still much to do — interviews to schedule, a lecture series to coordinate, the party to attend, and a morning of last-minute fixes. For now, Redstone seems delighted to have something to lean against. Methodically, he dunks his teabag up and down into boiling water. He smiles dreamily and relishes in the routine banality of the moment. “I can’t believe it’s happening,” he confesses. “But I am feeling a little fragile.”
“From fan-zines to academic and more professionally-oriented journals, these publications add an important, and often radical, addition to architectural discourse.”
Understandably so. Upon entering Archizines, it is instantly clear that Redstone has anticipated every detail of an exhibition that works on many levels. The show excels at celebrating a variety of rare publications without idolizing. Tomes of all sizes, bindings and color rest on long wooden tables and encourage quick glances from all angles. Pidgin, Princeton University’s impressive 256-page architecture journal, mingles with JunkJet, a German zine comprised of page-by-page explosions of graphics, color, and stories. The covers alone are enough to intrigue, but unobtrusive stools beckon visitors to tuck-in for a closer reading. “I didn’t want this to feel too precious,” Redstone explains. He wants you to stay for a while. Then, he adds, “Tell me which one is your favorite.”
Redstone himself has a hard time choosing. “Everyone keeps asking, and I can’t pick,” he muses. Each publication has played a role in shaping the exhibition and his personal collection. Over the years, he has grown close to publications that include Pin-Up, a glossy magazine with humble beginnings, and No Now, a palm-sized handmade zine. As a project, Archizines began during Redstone’s travels abroad, when he noticed a growing niche of alternative architecture publishing. “I was surprised to come across independent publications in almost every country I visited that celebrate architecture and people’s experience of it,” he says.
His small collection grew enough and inspired collaboration with Barcelona-based Folch Studio to establish Archizines' online presence, resulting in more titles than ever. Although the website earned a loyal following, Redstone never wished to exclusively display the publications in a virtual world — which is why this exhibition works so well.
As an exhibition, Archizines has enabled these individual publications, scattered around the globe, to develop into a collection that continues to grow. As Redstone sent the exhibition publication to press, the Archizines website received its first publication from Africa. The exhibition provides a comprehensive and current snapshot of this niche world but also highlights more universal themes surrounding fan-zine culture and independent publishing. A quartet of wall-mounted iPads features interviews with editors and publishers that provide further insight into why these publications exist, and why engaging with architecture, on paper, matters.
There is little overlap among this collection of 60 publications, but one theme runs clear. Through a balance of Redstone’s curatorial choices and the editorial voices of contributors, Archizines poses a real challenge to the notions of mainstream architecture publishing. “From fan-zines to academic and more professionally-oriented journals, these publications add an important, and often radical, addition to architectural discourse,” Redstone says. “I hope this project inspires more people to think critically about the buildings and spaces around them.” He posits that due to the nature of physical publishing, not every title on display will survive, but Redstone is happy to have taken this picture.
Archizines will run at the Architectural Association until 14 December. The full Archizines collection will be transferred to the National Art Library at the Victoria & Albert Museum. Next year, the exhibition will embark on an international tour.