The fourth issue of Media Arts' RAMP magazine carries on a tradition of nonsensical, highly obscure titles that baffle you when you first notice them. The first inaugural issue put together by designer lecturer Warren Olds and curator/writer Anthony Byrt, appeared in April 2004. It was called The Velvet Rickshaw – those words coming from a surrealist word game. The second from August of that year, also collated by Byrt and Olds, was titled Sunbathing Under Beanstalks. The third came out a year later and was put together by theory lecturer Cassandra Barnett and designed by Andrea Wilkinson. The title was written in the Cyrillic alphabet, Russian for 'Mobilize your Maxims!' The recent February issue, also assembled by Barnett and friends is entitled with an errata beginning with Thanks Yahn, and is appropriately about the theme of accidents and disasters.
So how is this free Wintec, Media Arts, and CNZ funded publication faring? Pretty healthily actually. It began with considerable impact because of an impressive line up of writers and subject matters in the first issue. Highlights included: Jon Bywater interviewing Brian Butler in LA; David Hatcher chatting to Dave Muller about the Whitney Biennale, Anthony Byrt and Tina Barton yakking about Billy Apple's recent shows; Hanna Scott on Fiona Amundsen's photographs; and Cassandra Barnett and Grant Matheson on Mladen Bizumic's installations. Even a short story by Julian Novitz was there with an illustration by Nicky Deeley.
Though modelled in some ways on the pioneering achievements of Tessa Laird and Gwynneth Porter's Log, it was slightly less cliquey and more outward in focus. The only serious fault was the nasty matt paper which tonally deadens the text and images in all issues. It looks a bit tabloidy and tacky. Artist reproductions tend to fare particularly poorly.
In Sunbathing Under Beanstalks and in the unpronounceable Russian titled issue, the range of writers was broadened to include contributors [often curators] from other centres. And in #3 & #4, Wilkinson's design sense is more cluttered and less formal than Olds. Less tasteful, but also having to deal with more articles than before.
Looking at Thanks Yahn – the current 'disaster and accidents' issue - it seems to have a higher proportion of Hamilton contributors than in the previous two issues. Maybe not a healthy trend. Still there is a lot to look at, all exploring the theme of the calamitous.
One of the stand-out articles for me was 'Great Historical Disasters' by comic strip artist Mat Tait. The frames look appropriated, and it starts with an ocean liner about to topple over the edge of the flat earth, and finishes with an ape tentatively touching the earth with its toe as it comes down from the trees, on its way to evolve into 'humanness'. Another was kinetic artist and teacher Natalie Davies' analysis of the performances and installations of John Bock, as seen through the lens of Deleuze and Guattari, and looking closely at his choice of language, materials and use of narrative.
Probably the most unusual contribution is art historian and poet Tony Green's 'Disaster Accumulation', a text made by the writer collecting phrases about the magazine's theme while walking around listening to conversations, radio or telly, or seeing jotting down signs, headlines or captions. Strung together as found, unpunctuated, but published with horizontal and vertical double-spacing, each word shines in fetishised isolation like a jewel, but with new meanings and rhythms also popping out of a new context. Here's a seventeen word sample:
polluting our waterways show magic cough vacillating
illusions tonnage stumps his finger up the lowdown
This art/design/writing magazine has done a lot to enliven the cultural climate both in Hamilton and beyond. If interested in it you can check out the Ramp magazine website and sample the individual issues there.