At work with: Kirsten Algera and Ernst van der Hoeven, MacGuffin

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This morning we’re at work with design historian Kirsten Algera and architecture historian Ernst van der Hoeven, the brains behind Amsterdam’s MacGuffin magazine. After working together on urban environment journal and an old magCulture favourite, Club Donny, Ernst and Kirsten have now joined forces to produce a magazine exploring ‘The Life of Things’. We catch up with the pair as they release their much-anticipated, ‘Windows’ themed second issue.

Where are you today?
We are at our studio, and we just wiped the crumbs up from a breakfast we organised with the lovely Mr. Charles Brooking, the window collector we interviewed for the second issue of MacGuffin. Brooking has more than 6,000 windows stored in two huge sheds in Surrey. It’s a unique and fascinating collection that’s in desperate need of funding, storing, archiving etc. At the breakfast, we introduced Brooking to a couple of possible partners, like the Dutch Design Week, the Design Academy and the Academy of Architecture.

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What can you see from the window?
Our front view is best described as Amsterdam’s ‘Historical Theme Park’: one of the canals is teeming with stag dos, and there are canal cruisers and Beer Bikes (where up to 17 people peddle a mobile bar along the canal). On the other side of the studio we can see the Wester Church (above), with its 42 bell carillon that plays Beatles songs. We can also see the epically organised line for the Anne Frank House, which usually bends two times (sometimes three) around the church.

Are you a morning or evening person?
We’re definitely morning people! From 8 in the morning, we are so intensely focused on our projects and text (and procrastinations) that after 6pm, we collapse like soufflés. We love our beds (although we do sleep with our laptops, we have to admit…)

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Which magazine do you first remember?

Kirstin: I bought my first magazine as a teenager in the eighties: it was the new wave magazine Vinyl (the Dutch i-D). I biked all the way from Warffum to Groningen in the North of Holland (about 25 kilometers) to get it. Not only because I liked new wave music and the graphic design by Max Kisman (who made a new graphic identity for every issue), but most of all because it had a free ‘flexi disc’ in it. As homage, I made a radio documentary for VPRO broadcasting on the rise and fall of Vinyl two years ago; a classic example of how an independent magazine got successful and languished in the hands of a big publisher.

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Ernst: When I was living in Rotterdam in the nineties, my roommate, Wouter Vanstiphout, brought me a copy of Nest, Quarterly of Interiors (the magazine we featured in the first issue of MacGuffin) from his USA trip. Wouter was overly enthusiastic about the eclectic content and design, which at first I didn’t understand at all. I thought the design was rather ugly and Baroque. I wanted to throw it in the paper bin but because it was such a quirky magazine. I kept it though, and later got so intrigued by its unorthodox exposes and images on found design that I collected them all. I am a slow adapter, haha.

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What’s your favorite magazine this morning?
Pfieuw, that’s a difficult question. There are so many great magazines these days. We pass the Athenaeum Magazine Store each morning and are tempted to buy them all. We adore the interviews and the crisp graphic design of Gentlewoman. Its designer, Veronica Ditting, was supposed to design MacGuffin at first, but moved to London and introduced us to the equally amazing designer Sandra Kassenaar. Veronica’s London studio view is featured in the last MacGuffin, by the way. (magCulture note: Veronica is our studio partner, so it’s the former magCulture HQ view too!)

Then there’s the thoughtful and unusual content of Works that Work, an investigative design magazine that like MacGuffin focuses on the ‘backstage’ part of design. Last but not least we love the outspokenness of Girls Like Us, which combines politics with pleasure in a whimsical, punk rock style. Humor is one of the essential qualities of a magazine, we think.

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What’s your favorite object this morning?
We are working on a couple of themes for the next issues of MacGuffin: the rope, the spoon, the closet and the log (please give us your votes!). So those are the objects we’re focused on at the moment. Our favorite object this morning is a log from Ernst’s homeland of Norway, given to him by his sister as a welcome home present on December 5th, the Dutch holiday of Sinterklaas. She wrapped the log in transparent paper and hung it on the front doorknob, so all the passing Japanese tourists had a good laugh.

MacGuffin is different from other design magazines because it focuses on the everyday reality of objects. How did you set out to reflect this difference in the design of the magazine?
MacGuffin is all about ‘The Life of Things’ – the personal stories that revolve around everyday life objects. In terms of design, we try to animate the objects by presenting them in surroundings where they are commonly used, staging them as the protagonists of a story, or representing them in a fictional way. So in the second issue, Brookings collection of windows is photographed in its shed, window-cleaning tools are depicted as jewelry, rampaging plants are shown on their ‘window stage’ and Rudy Guedj made intriguing illustrations that depict the ‘horror’ windows that Douglas Coupland describes in a short story.

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In the last issue, you designed some of the spreads as if they were beds – you even included graphic pillows on the cover and made text look like a duvet. How has your new window theme informed the design of the second issue?
Together with designer Sandra Kassenaar, we try to keep the graphic design ‘loose’ – one thing we loved about Nest is its surprising design logic: it defied all the standards. So there’s no strict translation of the window theme in the design.

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But in connection to the ‘life of things’, we do treat the covers like objects. So it’s not just an image of a bed or a window view on the cover: we turn the image into a 2D object by adding cushions or a window frame. Credits to Sandra, who convinced us when we were skeptical about this idea because we thought it would take the bed too literally. But it works really well (thanks Sandra!) Now each cover feels like objects that are part of a collection.

What are you most looking forward to this week?
Receiving the revenue of the first (sold out) issue, so we can continue with MacGuffin Nº 3! And we want to attend the Seth Siegelaub exhibition in the Stedelijk Museum. Siegelaub was a fascinating and unruly collector of all kind of things: historic textiles, bark clothes, Marxist literature, conceptual art and plastic household objects from Africa, among other strange objects. MacGuffin Nº 2 dives into Siegelaubs amazing textile collection and his obsession with collecting.

What are you least looking forward to this week?
Ernst: Checking our distribution and stockist details. It’s great to be distributed in dozens of countries, but a lot of work as well. I hate Excel spreadsheets.

Kirsten: Checking my broken (and mended) spine. I fell out of a window a couple of years ago. This week, I have to do a photo check up in hospital. I hate hospitals. I still like windows, though.

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What will you be doing after this chat?
We have some good things coming up that we have to organize and produce this week: presentations in Berlin, London and LA, and a contribution to the European Design Stories project. We’re also organising a ‘field trip’ with writer Mariette Wijne that will explore ‘green curtains’: windows full of overgrown plants that are given the time and space to stretch out from left to right and from the bottom to the top of the window frame (see photo).

macguffin.nl/magazine

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