PRINT! Tearing It Up celebrates the underground publications making waves – then and now
Print is dead? We beg to differ – and so does Paul Gorman, the man behind Somerset House’s summer exhibition PRINT! Tearing It Up. Opening this weekend, the show explores the power and effect of printed media, and celebrates its past, present, and future.
“The exhibition starts with a huge wall filled with the most progressive, forward-facing magazines and publications of the last century or so,” explains Gorman. “We didn’t want to do it in a chronological way, but when we were putting it all together we traced everything back to Blast, which was this amazing magazine first published in 1914, right before the First World War. It was totally progressive, kind of a manifesto of modernism that blew apart the repressive attitudes that still lingered from Victorian England.”
With its bright pink cover and forward-thinking articles, only two issues of Blast ever came into being – but despite its short lifespan, the boundary-pushing magazine paved the way for the innovative publications that came after it: many of which feature as part of PRINT!
“We’ve got everything from Blast and Private Eye, through to The Face, Dazed, and i-D, and more recently established titles that we think are doing great things. Riposte, for example, which is a really smart magazine that’s redefining what a ‘women’s mag’ can be, or the likes of Gal-Dem and Thiiird, which are carving out a niche for themselves as unique voices in everything from fashion, to satire, to politics,” says Gorman.
Visually, the exhibition packs a punch, too – in the same way many of the magazines included do. Step in artist and graphic designer Scott King, whose previous status as the creative director of Sleazenation did him in good stead for the task at hand. “We’ve got the wall of covers, and an actual newsstand modelled on one that used to sit in Sloane Square in there,” says Gorman. “We’ve gone for fluorescent pink for the set-up and the graphics, which to me is a colour of protest and activism. Commercial print might be dead, but independent publishing? We want to hammer home it’s actually the opposite. It’s alive, well, and thriving.”
As PRINT! Tearing It Up opens at Somerset House this weekend, the curator himself talks us through some of the most important and influential magazines that form the exhibition.
“My last book was about The Face and the period in which Nick Logan, its founder, owned it – the 80s and 90s. It was an amazing era, and the magazine’s influence is still felt even now, almost two decades after it shuttered. I was talking to my co-curator, Claire, about a Face exhibition following on from that, but for various reasons it didn’t happen. As much as I love it, I was a bit sick of The Face by that point, you know, I’d been working on it for five years and it would have been ‘oh he’s celebrating something by looking back again, what about now?’ So we decided to go about it in a different way, and engage with the contemporary print scene. This rash of new, radical magazines has sprung up post-crash and a new generation are becoming the important, frontrunning voices in terms of race, gender, identity, politics...all of those contemporary issues. Just like the journalists of The Face were back in the day.”
“We curated a huge number of magazines, then selected our must-haves based on what they brought to the exhibition, plus our own personal favourites. And then occasionally happy coincidences arose, like when I ended up having an online conversation with a guy called Dan 3000 about something else entirely and he brought up his publication, Fuck Brexit. He produced the first issue in September 2017 and it absolutely goes for all of those arseholes who got us in the position we’re in now. He sent me a copy and it was really funny and I really liked it, so I wrote to him to tell him so. He was like ‘I don’t think it’s angry enough’, and I mean it’s really, really angry. But he’s got a point, because since it was published, there’s so much more to be angry about. There’s this great, grainy picture of David Cameron with ‘FUCKED UP AND FUCKED OFF’ stamped on his forehead.”
“There are some great magazines, particularly for women, that explore the areas of identity, politics, and race from all angles: fashion, music, lifestyle – everything. There’s Gal-dem, Consented, Clove...the list goes on. A fairly new magazine that I think is doing good things is Thiiird. It’s really unique in its approach to fashion editorials and investigative journalism in relation to culture and diversity.”
“There are a few ‘women’s’ magazines that have really stolen the show when it comes to redefining what a publication like that can be about. The likes of The Gentlewoman, which is very cool in an intellectual way, and Riposte, which is also very clever, for example. Mushpit approaches womanhood in such a unique way, too. It was founded in 2012 by young women – Charlotte Roberts and Bertie Brandes – for young women, and it’s deeply satirical, and piss-taking, and funny, and just totally, totally exuberant. So many people have made the move to online, but to see people holding on to print media as one of the ways of expressing themselves – and in such a well-executed, radical way – is lovely.”
“Private Eye is incredible because it’s such a benchmark for the investigative journalism that came after it. It launched in 1961 and it’s still totally independent, but it still sells half a million copies every month despite remaining an outsider, and being completely anti-establishment. There was something so exciting about the underground press and what they did back when Margaret Thatcher was blacking out media coverage of the mining strikes, for example, and the likes of Private Eye, and City Limits – which was this great left-leaning, business-focused magazine of the 80s – and even Time Out in the 70s that were covering political issues in this totally unique way. Time Out was a really radical magazine back then, surprisingly enough. Now we’ve got the likes of Trench, which looks at the issues surrounding Grenfell and Windrush and the whole debate about immigration.”
PRINT! Tearing It Up is open from June 8 - August 22 at Somerset House, London. Entry is free.
Watch an exclusive film clip below.