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Meet the minds behind Civilization, NYC’s anarchic countercultural diary

We speak to the three editors who just launched the first issue – a text-obsessed New York-focussed magazine covering everything from crime stats, sex work and getting fucked up

2018 is the age of the image. They’re everywhere, we create our own constantly, and we’re obsessed by the idea of image – the word is more loaded than ever in a hyper curated, self-surveilled era of information. Civilization is a new magazine created by design anti-hero Richard Turley, Dazed 100er Mia Kerin and artist Lucas Mascatello that rejects image almost entirely, a sprawling mass of text that feels as confrontational as it does conversational.

The cover story is by penned by Darcie Wilder – perhaps better known as @333333333433333, a writer who worked with Turley at MTV, recently released her debut book Literally Show Me A Healthy Person, and is someone who “was born in New York, where she still lives and will die,” making her a perfect cover star in the absence of a traditional one.

The first issue of Civilization employs a scattershot yet all-encompassing approach to capturing the intensity of life in New York, a brutal, beautiful brain dump that draws you into its pages. It’s funny, sad, and unafraid to touch all areas of life, with features from people who’ve done sex work, writing about the sensation of seeing yourself in an Apple ad, or recalling your first memory. There’s also a great free Telfar poster. I caught up with the three editors to find out more about Civilization, and why now.

Talk us through the motives behind the design – it’s aggressively text-based. What’s your reasoning for that?

Lucas: I often used to say that I don’t read books because the way words look on the page bores me, and I think our magazine is a way around that. It’s writing for people with short attention spans. It’s as manic as we are. We’re not precious with words and the magazine is a space words are as much a graphic tool as they are a mode of communication. We wanted to make something strange, sprawling and immersive. We wanted the voice to be more than a curatorial effort collecting ads and soliciting people for readymade content. I think in a way Civilization is about how visual people use and think about language.

Mia: I stare at images all day long. People learn everything in such brevity from Instagram or Twitter, or peek into peoples lives for 20 seconds on stories that disappear. To me, reading words is simpler than understanding images. It gets the information across without the work it takes to read an image.

“I’m exhausted by pictures, I find their presence increasingly intrusive, even though I’m addicted to gazing at them” – Richard Turley

Richard: I’m exhausted by pictures, I find their presence increasingly intrusive, even though I’m addicted to gazing at them. I find it hard to decide what I want to look at, to filter out what I like, what they mean.. scrolling through them with my cold, dead thumb. I liked that if you don’t use pictures in a magazine then a large part of the way we traditionally navigate content is turned off. You stumble into people, stories, ideas, you’re not really sure who you’re listening to talk, or why. There’s a lack of the traditional information you receive in order to process or frame the words. I mean.. there are clues... but we wanted it to be sketchy, so you’re arriving without too much prejudice.

Civilization is a hyper-specific in that it focusses entirely on New York. How would you describe the city’s population in terms of their life outlook?

Lucas: I grew up in New York and I believe that living here makes you insane. It’s obviously diverse, magical, whatever etcetera… but it’s not a place which lends itself to introspection. I don’t know what the outlook on life is, but I’d imagine it’s somewhere buried in the blue light of an iPhone screen. Eating a sandwich running down the street or trying to navigate a crowded train – people rarely have a chance to realize how brutally they’re living. That kind of self awareness is counterproductive. We have our heads in the sand… but it’s lovely sand.

“The life cycle of an idea is so much shorter in NYC than anywhere else. New York people make things knowing they won’t be relevant in the morning” – Mia Kerin

Mia: The life cycle of an idea is so much shorter in NYC than anywhere else. New York people make things knowing they won’t be relevant in the morning. There is this constant irruptive state of “I’m thinking of this, I’m doing it, I’m showing it and it’s done”. We don’t attach ourselves to anything for too long and their thoughts and reflections kinda represent that. The paper mimics that structure.

Why do you think they need Civilization, if you even think they do?

Lucas: People are lonely and fucked up. A lot of what’s in the magazine is confessional. I think in some ways we wanted to make a space for people to say whatever they want - to air unpopular opinions, embarrassing stories and find a home for content that normally remains private. Civilization is a magazine where everything can be in play and where things have the freedom to get extremely personal.

Richard: New York media seems to have largely forgotten how to write about New York. Aside from the zine scene supported by places like Printed Matter, there really isn’t anything new that’s come along in years. Office is pretty good... I’m struggling to think of anything else. Sex Magazine did a good book recently. Other than that we have the same fuck ton of coffee-table indie mags that every other city has – identikit fashion mags, food and lifestyle journals. I can’t tell the difference between any of them. Interview is so bad its basically Fast Company for fashion at this point. I don’t know. What else. The New York Times pools like wet towels on the floors of New Yorkers guilted into subscriptions. The New Yorker. Yeah, no one really reads that, they just carry it around like a branded tote bag. Look – it’s fucking desperate. What else is there? There is no alternative press… I’m not trying to pretend we’re the solution, but we got tired waiting for something new to come along. Sorry I’m ranting. What was the question again?

“People are lonely and fucked up. A lot of what’s in the magazine is confessional. I think in some ways we wanted to make a space for people to say whatever they want” – Lucas Mascatello

What was your approach to collecting the editorial? It’s such a diverse spread of life, there’s crime statistics and food hygiene data, a Telfar poster, an essay from a sex worker and someone writing about the feeling of being in an Apple ad. What does this maelstrom of information, when put together, say to you?

Mia: It’s a diarist approach to recording the city as opposed to editorial. An editorial approach turns stories into hype, sensation. With Civilization we deliberately made it so that it was really hard to differentiate people from one another. We eliminated all the things that are usually used to signify how important something or someone is, there are no pictures which are used to connote weight or importance. The newspaper includes all of that stuff but perverts it into more of a shared space. There’s no high gloss. Limited hierarchy. It’s flat. 

Lucas: The magazine feels like home. It’s what the three of us have in common. When I look at it I see an archive of all of these ideas that would normally fall to the wayside. A bit like having all your open browser tabs on one broadsheet. 

Richard: It’s supposed to be a senseless clusterfuck. 

Are you bored of magazines?

Mia: I don’t know if you can be bored of something you’ve never really engaged with before. I’ve never been that into magazines. I liked Cosmogirl when I was young.

Lucas: I can’t afford to buy them but no. Not bored. Bored of seeing the same people in every magazine, bored of how transparent and commercial a lot of them are. 

Richard: I can afford to buy them, I just can’t find many I actually want to buy. Oh wait, I just bought Dizzy which looks cool.

Describe your ideal civilisation.

Lucas: Borderless guaranteed basic income? I’m not qualified – maybe we’re living in it. One thing I’ve realized working on the magazine is how little control we have over our surroundings and how different everyone’s experience is. I’m sure my ideal civilisation is someone’s hell. Ultimately I’m kind of a new age guy underneath it all. Would love a hug. Four day work week. Genuine intimacy? 

Richard: New York is ideal to me. I love this place. Wait, isn’t that why we called it Civilization? Because this was our idyll? Apart from Civilization being a ridiculously grandiose name for a paper about people getting fucked up and talking at length about eating croissants. 

Check out the Civilization Instagram, and buy the mag here.