Jamie Atherton, Failed States
We start the new week with artist Jamie Atherton, whose practice is currently focused on the occasional journal Failed States and its potential for research and collaboration. Previous projects have involved performance, drawing and video, and he is also manager of the magCulture Shop. Jamie shares his week ahead as he finalises the third issue of Failed States.
Tell us about your typical Monday morning
Mornings are my Failed States time, so I usually get up at six to give myself a few hours before heading to the shop. If there isn’t too much to be done I’ll leave home a bit earlier and stop off for a swim on the way in. At the moment we’re in the final stage of getting the ‘Refuge’ issue finished.
Describe the state of your desk and what you can see in your office?
My desk is pretty much my laptop which at this hour is usually on the long table running under the three tall narrow sash windows in our lounge. I love this table — it has thick A-shaped legs like tree trunks and a bookmatched piece of (I think) walnut inlay running the length of its surface. It was actually a gift from Bryony Quinn who writes the journal’s new Etymology pages, something we’ll be doing in each issue from now on.
Currently I’m surrounded by two jugs of daffodils (one designed by Ian Macintyre whose wife the artist Jasleen Kaur has work in the new issue), two wooden bowls, a cast-iron nutcracker, a money plant and a mother-in-law’s tongue, a small stack of The Architectural Review and copies of the first two issues of Failed States. And breakfast detritus.
Depending on the time of year and the weather, I sometimes have a beautiful view of the sunrise over the slope of Hilly Fields. Today, I’m faced with the sorry sight of the stumps of two recently felled chestnuts and am feeling quite the sense of loss that I won’t be able to watch them bud this spring. Neither will their leaves be dappling the walls all summer.
This is where I tend to write and catch up on correspondence rather than in the studio where we have the whiteboard with the flat plan and other notes.
Which magazine do you first remember?
There were always copies of National Geographic and Country Living around when I was little. I used to get the Beano before graduating to random music magazine Vox — notable for its free cassettes, the closest thing we had to a Spotify ‘recommended for you’ playlist — and Empire, both of which I had on order and would collect with great excitement monthly from the village shop. There was some DC comic for a while too, and the NME and/or Melody Maker. Later these all gave way to The Face, Dazed & Confused and i-D.
Which magazine matters to you the most right now?
For my birthday Jeremy (Atherton Lin — Associate editor and partner in life) gave me a fascinating publication he found at South London Gallery called Chimurenga Chronic. It’s a large format, newsprint publication out of South Africa, filled with vast, elaborate, hand-drawn flowcharts and diagrams with titles such as ‘The Border in the Euroliberal Imagination’, ‘Pan Africanism vs The Nation State’, ‘No Pass, But Nine Passports: Miriam Makeba and the performance of pan Africanism’.
There’s also a remarkable psychogeographic project on the ghosts of colonialism in Palermo where this issue was developed during Manifesta 12.
Also, the recent Women in Architecture issue of The Architectural Review. In the shop AR is my ready reply to the often asked “what’s your favourite magazine?” question and this issue is especially good. Considering the magazine saturation I live in, that this publication is able to instill in me something of the feeling of collecting a new issue of Empire from Booth’s Stores is pretty remarkable.
Can you describe your magazine in three words?
Geography, art, heterogeneous
You started Failed States after working at magCulture for a while, did being surrounded by so many magazines influence your decision to start your own mag, or was the seed already there?
The seed of a publishing project was already there — initially in the form of a book of short writing on place. Strangely it took a while for the influence of my day job to seep in and open up the possibilities of what the journal form might allow this to be. There are so many advantages to the medium in terms of artists’ publishing —I’m surprised it’s not pursued more often.
What was the inspiration behind Failed States?
The title was a phrase that had been floating around in my head for a long while. It’s so evocative — there’s the gravity of its actual real world implications but then something poetic, this idea of states of being that aren’t “successful” in the sort of aspirational, neo-liberal way that we’re all constantly beaten about the brow with. It speaks too to states of decay or flux, and of constant becoming.
In this issue we have an Archive section consisting of material by Jeremy and I from our time living in San Francisco — a city of refuge. In his introduction to the piece J writes on how “phrases hung around our household like miraculous cobwebs” and ‘failed states’ felt very much like a new addition to this lexicon.
Also, I’d been reading Jack Halberstam’s The Queer Art of Failure at the time, which, as the title suggests, really queers the whole failure/success dynamic. Also, this line from the late geographer Doreen Massey: “If space is … a simultaneity of stories-so-far, then places are a collection of those stories.”
The inspiration for doing what became the journal was the desire to undertake a sort of collaborative research project into different topographies. The idea was to “open up” research — almost to chance — by inviting others to respond to a theme — people whose work I admire and find interesting. The question then became, what is the research for, or more specifically, what is the value in research without a specific goal in mind. Each issue of the journal, although a finished thing, is also material for an unrealised project.
I’ve been very lucky to have Sandy McInnes as Art director since the beginning. He has an incredible knack for realising my ideas in ways I would never have expected but which make absolute sense. My only brief was “under-design and keep it functional”.
What are the biggest challenges in making a magazine?
Money and time. But they’re the same two challenges I’ve always faced in my work. Approaching the moment I have to pay the printers feels a bit like walking towards Mordor.
For this issue we’ve been able to alleviate the pain considerably by inviting people to support the project. The idea is that you can become a Companion of Failed States, meaning your name is added to an ongoing supporter roll, you get a copy of the next issue and, with this one, the beautiful limited-run Prem Sahib poster we’ve produced (above). I feel very lucky to have these to offer. Prem is a truly brilliant and important artist (and a lovely man), so I’m honoured not only to be publishing his work but to have been able to use one of his photographs for the poster.
How do you judge the success of your magazine?
Successful Failed States = people reading it! I’ve a feeling there’s a much bigger audience out there who’ve yet to learn of it, so there’s much to be done. Not to be immodest, but I know I would be so excited if I came across this publication and I’m pretty certain I’m not all that unique.
The plan is to keep growing the Failed States project. We’re working on doing something around this issue’s theme to be held at The Chateau, an amazing new queer space in Camberwell. Not a launch as such, but rather a way of further expanding on the idea of ‘refuge’ through a live event.
Do you get a little rush anytime someone buys the magazine in the shop?
Of course! Although I don’t always ’fess up. And I’m weirdly quite hesitant about recommending it to people, not because I’m not super proud of it, but somehow it doesn’t feel right to give the journal preferential treatment in the shop. It’s like bring-your-child-to-work day everyday.
What’s going to be the highlight of the week for you?
Sending issue three to print! I’m really excited by the way the journal’s evolved with this one — there’s a feeling that it’s truly coming into its own. Jeremy has become more heavily involved and, as a writer by profession, he’s brought an enormous amount of rigour to the editing process — well, to everything really. It’s been great working more collaboratively and I think this energy has infused the entire issue.
Buy issue two from the magCulture Shop