OEI was started in 1999, as a magazine mostly for experimental poetry. We had been very interested in things like North American Language-writing, Brazilian concrete poetry, the investigative poetry of the ‘pataphysically oriented Toronto Research Group, and small-press adventures such as the French Orange Export Ltd. Since then we have moved closer to the art world, while also including a lot of philosophy, film and speculative sociology. And while also keeping our distances to all of this. Our latest issue is on sleep, withdrawal, attention, distraction, and the complex notion of “the contemporary”.
OEI has never been about “self-representation” through publishing. We have always been more interested in what the French media researcher Emmanuel Souchier has called “l’énoncé éditorial”, “the enunciation of editing and publishing”, an enunciation taking into account the constitutive preconditions of the enunciation: format, paper, montage, layout, typography, the tensions between text and image, proof-reading, binding, printing, etc.
So far we have published 58 issues of the magazine, and approximately 60 books within the publishing structure connected to OEI, OEI editör: mostly poetry and artist’s books, but also theory and poetics, posters, cd:s and dvd:s. Connected to our office in Stockholm is an exhibition space, OEI Colour Project, housing micro-exhibitions, lectures and readings.
But the magazine is the core of the project, and it is not an accidental occurrence if one of our most recent issues, #56–57, is a special issue on the notion of the magazine as an aesthetic medium, investigating many of its transformations and formal innovations since Stéphane Mallarmé’s La Dernière Mode in 1874. And we still believe in the transformative power of the magazine format, even if it has changed much in the thirteen years OEI has existed.
Initially, we spent a lot of time rereading historical avant-gardes, as well as revisiting more recent experimental practices of reading and writing, looking for what was still unfinished in these projects, surviving energies or unrealized aspects that could be implemented in new contexts in a different historical situation. At the same time we published a lot of new texts, written or translated especially for the magazine.
In recent years we have often felt the urgency of reflecting upon the question of how to handle substantial information masses aesthetically. In 2008 we did a special issue on the “aesthetics of editing”, trying to reflect upon every possible aspect of the editorial work, from the commission of a text, or the appropriation of a selected document, to the editing of this text or document, the montage of texts and images, the choice of specific fonts or a certain paper, and the different degrees of collectivity involved in the work, in this specific space of tensions and unresolved questions that constitutes an editorial office.
But the main example is perhaps an issue of OEI that we published in 2011: 1280 pages on documents, dispositives, descriptions, and discourses, addressing both practically and theoretically the question of montage and editing, of how to respect, to the greatest possible extent, the material singularity of the document, and then give this material singularity a readability through a montage which at the same time separates and pieces together, in a careful attempt to link the document to other documents in order to show possibilities, potential affinities and differences. In other words, a montage where the singularity of the document and the specific attention of which it has been the subject can be considered in a greater play of relations, in a constellation – to speak the language of this biennial – a constellation that, in the best case, could open up the wider field of an historical and political reflection.
Knowledge, according to the French philosopher and art historian Georges Didi-Huberman, is something that is constituted in the incessant return to the materiality of images and words in order to attain new layers of signification. One has to know what one sees, but one must also be able to see what one knows in order to make this knowledge sharper, more exact, more embodied.
In the process of editing an issue of OEI, we have always been insisting on returning to the archive, to the archives, in order to confront, accuse or problemize the screens of our contemporary with the weight, the anachronisms and complexities of certain documents. Not because we would be particularly nostalgic, but because the archive, a decade after the notion went viral in the art world, still carries the power of shattering our preconceived images, still entrusts us with a “history under construction, where the end is never completely apprehensible”. Because of the fact that every discovery in the archive potentially can open up a breach in the history of the already thought, a temporarily indeterminable singularity, which the investigating editor tries to link to the web of everything that he or she already knows, in order to, if possible, produce a new, thoroughly reflected history of the event in question.
Working with archives, and constituting the archives of specific objects, or subjects, takes a lot of time. But, to quote Didi-Huberman again: “a document without imagination is simply a document which one hasn’t given enough time. Imagination is the time of work in documents that are incessantly acting on each other by collisions or fusions, disruptions or metamorphoses”, and “all this has an effect on our knowledge activity or thinking activity. In order to know one has to imagine: the speculative work table needs an imaginative montage table”.
This montage table can also be a magazine, or a book. Which again leads us to the question of the relation between document and montage, archive, editing and readability. For even if the archive today almost is a universal metaphor, there is – at least in Sweden – a very widespread archival illiteracy, an inability to distinguish and value significant formal operations, choices and decisions in archival projects. It is as if the use of a document in a book or a magazine automatically would make it an archive in the sense of an unedited stock, which one wouldn’t need bother to read.
This is why we often have had to frame the release of a new issue of OEI as a work of alphabetisation. Through lectures on the material, technological, medial, historical and economical conditions of the project, its editorial principles and strategies, the significance of the form, the layout, the aesthetics and history of the reproduction work, the theory and practise of administration and distribution, etc. – through all this we have insisted on the necessity of giving the material time, of liberating oneself from one’s prejudices, in order to be able to read in a more radical sense.
The editorial operation is that which in relation to an archival material makes it possible to see, to produce a “form that thinks”. That is, the archive is inseparable from the montage, which makes it readable. And the knowledge produced in this montage is a non-standard form of knowledge, a vortex of resemblances and differences where you try to keep the documents as composite, heterogeneous, artificial, and multiple as possible – as an assembly of incompatibilities which never the less produces a certain “phrasing”.
And this would also, still according to Didi-Huberman, be where to locate one of the most important lessons that a – more or less aesthetical – work with documents has to offer: on the one hand the importance of giving as much attention as possible to the material singularity and complexity of the document, the necessity of digging in the archive with all the precision that the bringing up-to-date of a document demands; and on the other hand the importance of the imaginative montage or re-montage, the creation of new compositions, new potentials.
If one were to give this montage writing a name, it would rather be a “writing of the document” (Vanessa Place) than a “documentary writing”. The French poet Franck Leibovici speaks about “poetical documents”, intellectual technologies, systems for processing, describing and representing an already existing material. The “poetical document” is neither a pure document nor a poem in the traditional sense, but a way of inventing new formats, gathering together and synthesizising or formalizing certain cognitive operations that previously were separated.
A document is never a crude material, but always already a very complex object, a dispositive, an apparatus informed by specific media, formats, modus of classification and indexing, conditions of production and readability. And the poetical document is constituted in the passage through different disciplines, by taking samples, choosing from different strata and duplicating methods to produce relevant data.
Separating things that are to too firmly glued together and linking together things that seem to be very far from each other – this way of “connecting the dots” is also a way of “reading what was never written”, as Benjamin once put it; a formula expanded on by Didi-Huberman in his book on the Atlas a year ago. “To read what was never written”, this would demand a transversal and imaginative use of the reading, a montage reading where the imagination accepts the multiple and constantly renews it in order to detect therein new “intimate and secret relations”, new “correspondences and analogies”, relations between things and words that nothing seemed to have brought together before.
There would be two manners, then, of reading: a strict way, searching for the message or the meaning, and an imaginative way, searching for the montage – a way of re-reading or re-editing, of linking up differently disparate pieces, without the idea of summarising or exhausting. And we would like to see OEI as a project trying to stimulate this last kind of reading, a montage reading.
The montage table as an area possessing its own rules of arrangement and of transformation for re-linking certain things whose links are not at all obvious, can also be thought of as a model for writing alternative historiographies – something that has been occupying us much in recent years. How, for example, to re-write the history of concrete poetry, which has been predominantly male, through the archive of one of concrete poetry’s female proponents, Mary Ellen Solt. Or how to write the history of conceptual art in Sweden, where there never really existed any conceptual art according to the purist definition by Joseph Kosuth, that is: Art as idea as idea. Or how to write the history of mail art in Sweden, given that the nature of mail art is to escape all national boundaries. Or how to rewrite Swedish literary history from the perspective of what is probably one of the least valued verbal technologies ever, the pun, taking Becketts assertion literally: “In the beginning was the pun.”
In a book published on OEI editör some months ago, För pås-seende. Berndt Pettersons collage och bokstavskonst, accompanied by an exhibition in Stockholm, we tried to re-write parts of Swedish art history and literary history by putting an almost completely forgotten collage artist and visual poet in the centre of an ambitious archival montage work, inventing new genealogies and alternative histories, but still based on documents worked upon during a very long time period. In this book, we are both trying to write the history of collage in Sweden and to show, for example, how an alternative Dadaism, other than the official European one from 1916, is born in the sun struck head of a Swedish poet, Mathias Jakob Bjugg, on a mountain in the Swedish countryside in 1789.
It goes without saying that much of this work is dependent on very local Swedish archives, and doesn’t travel internationally without a certain resistance. But we have always insisted on keeping as much as possible of this local materiality, preferring friction to smooth exchange or communication.
Jonas (J) Magnusson
Image editing OEI
In 2004 OEI published a quadruple issue: OEI 18/19/20/21, which on 592 pages triangulated the concept and practices of visual poetry, text based art, and conceptual writing. This was the first issue that I worked with, and for me, coming from a context of photography and art, I found the collaborative, open, experimental, interest- (if not passion-) driven, materially based way of working, that was this specific cultural magazine OEI, to be mind-blowing. I was hooked and continued to be a part of this project, by working with its visual material.
At the time, and I would say that that situation is still much the same today, there were in principle two standard ways of using visual material in magazines in Sweden. One way was to let the images illustrate texts. In this case the images were on the whole just filling the preformatted dispositive of the function of images in an illustrated magazine. And the other way was to completely disregard the potentially interesting complexities that a magazine can offer, and instead present visual material in the same way as if one was making a portfolio.
The first model entails that the ways of interacting with, or reading, the images are already preconceived. As a viewer you are not really given any space for other ways of reading. Or, to put it differently, it is so heavily preformatted that it really doesn’t matter what you put into the structure. And the second model does not take the relations that images can establish with other medias and forms in the magazine into consideration. Neither of these models seemed as an option to consider.
What I wanted to do was instead to work with the magazine in a way that the visual material could make a proposal, or propose an argument, in a different way than a theoretical essay or another form of writing, but with the same intention to contribute to a way of conceptualizing an issue, a question, or a problem. Given of course, that the viewer/reader is willing to engage in looking at the images and reading the documents: to give them time.
One other decisive part of the OEI project, as Jonas said, is its archival aspect and its interest in alternative historiographies. This often entails transforming the issue into a probe, by which one can look into that which has been written out of the Swedish history and canon, by way of working with the local archives.
To read peripheral, vernacular, forgotten or omitted works with as much attention and carefulness as one would devote to works already inscribed as having value within our contemporary discourse, this is however not a one way operation. It is also a meditation on the task and methodology of history writing itself, by letting the conceptual frameworks – often written in other languages and conceived from other materials and cultural foundations than Swedish ones – be put to test by exposing them to the materiality and historical specificity of local archives. In order to see what can be discerned in the negotiations between a theoretical apparatus and a local practice.
We have been working with this project during a time when archives and libraries have been subject to a process of digitization. This transfer from physical space in tangible material form to a server farm and a screen presence entails, as we know, the loss of specific locations, temporalities, material singularities, and so forth. At the same time the digitization and the online accessibility allows for a different access to materials via new search methods and questions, which has, for example, made it possible to search and retrieve images with new logics. These shifts in the organization of our cultural memory, as well at the shifts in the technologies for our interaction with it, introduces sets of new questions and complexes of problems, which we are continuously investigating in various ways, in different issues of the magazine, some of which Jonas has already touched upon.
The magazine is produced with commercial software for image editing, design, scanning, image capture, ocr-reading etc. And the reflection on the effects of working with these tools, and what they entail in terms of production, as well as on the technologies of offset printing, continues to be important for us in this ongoing investigation.
We have also devoted attention to other technologies involved in and of importance for this project, such as: distribution, administration, and the organization of the events, exhibitions, readings, lectures, screenings. An audience, a readership or a viewership, is something that cannot be taken for granted, but is a structure that needs to be constantly created and upheld.
The social aspects of readership became most manifest when we made the 1280 page issue of OEI last year, which Jonas mentioned, and which was so difficult to handle within the Swedish postal system, that we had to spend half a year travelling around with the issue, organizing events and making our subscribers in different parts of Sweden, Norway, France and Germany, come to these events in order to pick up their issue and meet other subscribers in person; an experience after which we knew the names and addresses of each and every one of our subscribers almost by heart.
So, what does it mean to edit an image or images?
For every new issue of OEI we start anew with the design or form of the magazine – the only thing consistent is the physical format of 195x297 mm. The form is developed by the editors, in collaboration with the designer of the issue in question, in order to create a specific form and a way of reading for it.
As in the case with the graphic design – questions of typography; formatting; material aspects; conceptual design – the work as an image editor consists in thinking the function or functions of the visual material as an integral part of the structure of the publication: to create an image dispositive for the issue in question.
An important part of the magazine consists in the commission of visual works by artists, poets or people by other professions, or non-professions, made in relation to the theme or themes of the issue. Quite often this results in new works made just for the issue, but it can also be reworkings, adaptations, remediations, of existing works in other media to the format and constraints of the magazine as well as of offset printing.
We also frequently republish older or historical, less available, artworks or projects in OEI. When I receive the material (in many different formats and file-types) my object becomes to find a specific form for them in the magazine. I like to use the word magazine, instead of journal, on account of its etymology, from arabic makhazir which means a place to store goods and wares. I have come to think of this work as image editor in terms of finding and giving place to objects in a structure or spatial construction (which can be a publication) inhabited by other objects, with which they then can establish relations.
The editing could be described as a “multiple level montage”, or as a “stereoscopic editing mode” – on the one hand looking into some of the operations introduced by the digitization of the images, books and archives, and on the other hand working with the concept of layers in connection with a notion of history, of cultural history as well as the history of specific objects in archives, libraries, collections, or individual practices. In short: a view allowing for two separate, but simultaneous, views on the same motif, but where the shift in angle is not primarily ocular, but is rooted in different discourses.
Since OEI to a quite large extent is an archive based project with an interest in alternative historiography, we devote a substantial amount of time to archives, libraries, collections, which results in contextually transferred, reprinted documents of various kinds on the pages of OEI.
The visual material can thus be quite heterogeneous. But all images and documents then become homogenized as they undergo a process of editing in software for digital image editing. In this process you have to respect the visual singularities of the image and of its various previous states of manifestations in different reproduction modes – its history as a material and social object if you like. That also means that you need to make the necessary adjustments so that the images will be readable in the way intended when they are printed. In order to achieve this you have to visualize the effects in another medium of the decisions you make based on the information given in one medium.
This, however, does not mean that OEI is a project privileging high production values. In terms of the photographic documentation we publish, we insist of an intimacy, on a reminiscence of the fact that the photograph is taken. That it is an image from a specific place and time. We are interested in images and documents that do not easily find a place in other contexts. Not in terms of a punk, of lo-fi, aesthetics, but rather as a defence of what I would call the historicity of the document, its singularity. In short: OEI usually favours photographs that are materially grounded, over clean, transparent, professional documents, which are to be circulated without effort in every form of context.
We want our viewers to read the images, rather than to look at images illustrating something else.
You receive, you find, you are given, you ask, you edit, you montage, you clean, you sharpen, you blur, you move images around to find a place for them – but you are also moved by them. So, coming back to the comment I made in the beginning of this short presentation of some of the practical aspects of what image editing OEI can entail: working with a magazine, or with other publications, in this way, can be a very transformative experience, literally mind-blowing – the person you were when you began working on the issue, or the project, is never the same person as the one you become on the other side of the printed publication.