At Work With: Thierry Somers, 200%
As editor-in-chief, publisher and art art director of 200%, Thierry Somers seeks out artists who are prepared to go to any lengths for their art – hence the name – and interviews them in-depth. The collaborative nature of the relationship between publisher and subject means stories can take years to come to fruition; to date four issues of 200% have been published as a book-ish magazine, and we join Thierry as issue five arrives in shops as a hardback book.
What can you see from the window?
I’m sitting on a bench at the Museum Square surrounded by greenery and museums. In front of me is the Stedelijk Museum and Van Gogh Museum, whilst to my right is The Rijksmuseum. My ‘view’ from the window has changed a lot over the last year as I started to write at different locations as a change of scenery fuels my writing.
Are you a morning or evening person?
What’s your favourite magazine this morning?
032c. There is a great feature in their latest issue on ‘What is creative leadership?’ with inspiring thoughts and ideas about creativity.
And who’s your favourite artist this morning?
Two: Marina Abramovic and Matthew Barney. This week I’m working on an online article for 200% about long-durational works. These two artists have had a long time interest in durational works, and it appears that the public is more open to investing time towards this art form. Perhaps, the public is fed up with fast food, bite-size chunks of art, and wants something more layered, substantial to digest, as if they are adapting the digestive habits of ruminant livestock. They want something on which to ponder, an experience they can discuss with their friends. Abramovic must be credited for this menu change in the consumption of art by the public with her epic performance, ‘The Artist Is Present’, at the MoMA in 2010. A few weeks ago I visited the Serpentine Gallery to see Abramovic’s new performance, ‘512 Hours’. I had a brief conversation with her about the ‘energy’ that she created in the space: she brought a sense of communion, love and care – all very humanizing.
You interview many great artists and performers for 200%. How do you get these people involved in the project?
Some of the artists, who have been interviewed many times before, tell me that the way in which 200% is produced is something that they don’t often encounter. Invariably, the interviews are in-depth, sometimes conversations on a single topic, such as Bryan Ferry on ‘good taste’ or Matt Johnson’s view on politicized pop music. 200%’s theme is: ‘The lengths to which artists go’. This applies to the lengths I go to involve the artists in the project. It’s a combination of perseverance, timing and… patience.
For the stories, I follow the artists, closely observing them whilst they during the stages of their creative processes, to understand the very essence of what drives them. At first hand, I experience their commitment, stamina and insecurities. Whilst most artists are open to the concept, the problem can be time as their schedules are crazy. The reporting is time-consuming as I interview the artists at various locations, during different periods, whilst they are working on their project(s). For example, the set designer, Es Devlin, gave me unfettered access, over the period of a year, to previews of her set designs (above, below).
For the Abramovic story, we created in collaboration with her, a custom-made artwork, a 24-page Photo Family Album, of her extreme performances and personal life, for which she wrote photo captions, something not previously done by Abramovic (above, below). To create such a custom-made artwork, you need to factor in that it will take time. All of these elements mean it can take up to three years to produce an edition of 200%. It’s an elaborate process, but I find it the most rewarding way to create the publication.
The first four issues of 200% were quite book-like in presentation, and the latest edition is hardback and almost more of a book than a magazine. How do you define the difference between the two forms?
As I seek to publish custom-made artwork in collaboration with the artists, I believe that the medium to showcase these is better encapsulated in a book, rather than in a magazine. Also, converting 200% from a magazine into a book was not a leap as it was already produced to the standards of an art book, quality paper and fine screen. As I strive to make stories that have a timeless character, and I believe the future of art books is moving to being more of an ‘object’ with unique content, I considered that a book was a more appropriate form in which to publish the latest edition of 200%, a Limited Art Edition with a print run of 1,000 copies.
In conjunction with the book’s launch, a Pop-Up Gallery was opened in Amsterdam, and a series of images from the photo shoot with the actress Halina Reijn, which features in the Book, were displayed. Due to the success of the Amsterdam Gallery, a Belgian gallery has approached me to present the show in Bruges. I believe that 200% has found its place being published as a book in conjunction with an art ‘outlet’.
What are you doing when you're not making the magazine?
Absorbing culture. I see a lot of movies, visit galleries, go to the theatre and art festivals. Also, I’m a vociferous reader. On my bedside table is ‘Visual Music’ by Brian Eno. Printed in the book is a set of flash cards, called ‘Oblique Strategies’, which Eno developed with a fellow art student, Peter Schmidt, textual guidelines about different ways of working on how to solve a creative problem. One of them is “Honour thy error as a hidden intention”. For someone interested in creative processes, you can imagine it’s really inspiring to read. In addition, as a freelance art director, I work for a variety of publishing houses.
What are you most looking forward to this week?
A trip to Munich. Recently, I attended a sold-out film screening of ‘River of Fundament’ by Matthew Barney and Jonathan Bepler. It’s a 5 hour and 15 minute hybrid fusion of narrative cinema, documentary, sculpture, live-performance and opera.
Some of the scenes are operatesque but a pop song by The Clash, ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’, crossed my mind. Some parts of the film were tedious, long-winded and really annoyed me; other scenes were exhilarating visually arresting, such as the creation of the ‘Djed’ sculpture, a work of 25 tons of molten iron that was poured over the chassis of a Chrysler car. Watching that scene felt like being in a dream state. Thus, I remained seated until the end of the film.
The Haus der Kunst in Munich is displaying drawings, photographs, storyboards and various sculptures from the film. In particular, I’m curious to see ‘Djed’ in the flesh and wonder as to how I will physically relate to it.
What are you least looking forward to this week?
It’s the end of the financial quarter so I have to see my accountant to do my tax return.
What will you be doing after this chat?
After this, a meeting with the photographer, Rahi Rezvani, about a photo shoot idea of a dancer. In the afternoon, a meeting for the upcoming edition of 200%: a follow-up discussion on a feature with a Belgian theatre director as to whether I can follow his rehearsal process with a French actress for a performance premiering next year at the Barbican. At the end of the day, I have to check the proofs of a chef’s 25th anniversary culinary cookbook on which I’m working, for which the artist Robert Zandvliet created the artwork. The song ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ doesn’t figure on my play list today ;-