Webchat: Sophie Lovell of uncube magazine and POSTmatter’s Louise Benson discuss online publishing and digital futures
Amidst the endless, attention-grabbing distractions of the web, uncube magazine stands out. An online magazine focused on architecture and beyond, it unfolds debate around subjects as diverse as biohacking and bricks. Longer form articles allow space to breathe, offering tightly curated work with an international perspective. Structured in distinct issues, its design follows a logic that is often more akin to print than digital; readers are invited to scroll through pages horizontally, while a table of contents serves a consistent reference point throughout each issue.
Upon its launch in 2010 as an independently published series of iPad editions, POSTmatter too took a print-informed approach to digital publishing. Exploring the tactile nature of the screen, readers were able to interact with each module of content. Focusing on the intersection of art, science and technology, POSTmatter continues to explore interdisciplinary work across a wide range of formats. Moving from our first issues released on the iPad to our current online incarnation, we have maintained a strong awareness of our digital medium. With this in mind, we examine the wider implications of the digital shift within the physical world, looking at how each influences the other.
It is these interests that moved us to question relationships to the natural landscape in a postdigital age, leading to our current POSTmatter x fig-2 exhibition. It is often within the natural world that the reality of the growth of technology is most evident, seen in such structures as data farms and internet cabling, while geographic boundaries and borders are more fluid than ever before with the rise of virtual space. Our exhibition takes place both physically at the ICA Studio, London, and digitally on our online platform. Through web chats, conducted instantaneously between cities around the world, live writing events and unique artist contributions, we aim to activate our core digital influence.
With uncube magazine, we open up this exploration of contemporary digital publishing, questioning new models of engagement with the online world. The conversation between uncube and POSTmatter was streamed live at the ICA Studio on 22nd July at 2pm GMT; we now present it online and unedited.
It is often within the natural world that the reality of the growth of technology is most evident
Sophie Lovell, uncube magazine: hello London, Berlin calling…
Louise Benson, POSTmatter magazine: Hi from fig-2 at the ICA!
LB: I'm in the gallery space now, surrounded by leafy green plants and ferns
LB: I'm excited to have you here: a new network of geographically remote collaborations
LB: At POSTmatter we work with contributors from around the world, emailing over work instantaneously
LB: I suppose that's part of what we wanted to convey in this physical show
LB: But going deeper into the process of that networked writing itself
SL: yes - can you remember when you were last in a library to research a story?
SL: ..I can’t
LB: It's so strange, all archives are slowly but steadily getting digitised
LB: I wonder how they will look in the future... endless databases condensed on a single memory stick
SL: yes the NYU Fales Library just bought the Triple canopy archive..
SL: And we are in the process of trying to consolidate our archive - and discovering it is not that easy
LB: Yes, digital formats change fast
LB: The original issue that we launched on the iPad is just this year no longer supported, what with all of the updates since 2010
SL: Well in the biosynthetic future, data will be stored on DNA - Google’s server farm might end up being a lake full of trout…
SL: Re iPad
Well in the biosynthetic future, data will be stored on DNA - Google’s server farm might end up being a lake full of trout…
LB: There are a number of artists working with this potential in DNA!
LB: An artist called Charlotte Jarvis recorded the notation of a symphony into DNA
SL: that is why uncube is not device-bound, we did not want to be held hostage to a single device or manufacturer
LB: Yes, this is what pushed us to move online also
SL: Yes we are at the beginning of a moment where the speculative is morphing into the real..
SL: but only at the very beginning.
LB: Does this mean that science fiction needs to shift further forward too in order to remain a fiction, taking into account these new realities?
LB: And there is a new immediacy for these writers...
LB: William Gibson on Twitter, not only imagining a new future but living it
SL: No I don’t think it can – it can only really speculate on the present now in a way. Sometimes these days you don’t realize something is sci fi in the present context until it happens.
SL: We can only speculate now, not predict..
LB: These speculations are more spontaneously disseminated now too
SL: Our present, our buildings, our lives, our entertainment and our landscapes are merging with the fictional…
Our present, our buildings, our lives, our entertainment and our landscapes are merging with the fictional
LB: The present so often merges past aesthetics with a drive towards a speculative future
LB: It's a curious blend
SL: Yes but that which is disseminated is mostly reactions to reactions. That is why with uncube we try to slow down, to reflect and concentrate on content
LB: Yes, the web is so endlessly layered with responses to reactions to snippets of opinions...
LB: Amidst this, your issue-based format stands out
LB: How do you select each theme? Do they emerge quite naturally?
SL: And that is intentional. When we plan an issue there is a narrative arc that is a few months in preparation but remains relatively open and fluid right up to publishing…
SL: The themes almost give birth to themselves. They want to be chosen. The hard bit is the filtering…
SL: For every page of content we have maybe ten more we could have made.
SL: We did an issue last year the relates to your current theme, Soft Machines, did you see it? http://uncu.be/JJjDxp
LB: Commissioning on a digital platform allows for such flexibility in terms of the volume of content, word counts etc, but it can also make it so much harder to cut down to the core.
SL: Well in that way it is not much different from print, or design, or anything else. The skill lies in what you leave out…and knowing when to stop.
Well in that way it is not much different from print, or design, or anything else. The skill lies in what you leave out…and knowing when to stop
SL: Ask Jony Ive about their basement full of prototypes…
LB: Yes, that is very true. And I can see how this self-editing is realised in your issues - they feel very naturally formed, and each piece really fits to the theme from a new angle.
SL: :) thankyou
SL: What is also important for us, apart from the clustering of themes is the integration of imagery and text content..
LB: The two are inextricably linked of course, but I think that this is particularly so in digital formats
SL: The bottom line is that our job is to communicate things that we feel worth communicating and in a way that is accessible but not dumbed down.
SL: If we are so obscure that nobody gets the point we are trying to she then we have failed…
LB: I am interested that in your design, you choose a navigation system that has elements drawn from the experience of print
SL: If we share simple sensationalism at the expense of more difficult topics or issues then we have failed as well
SL: The navigation of the magazine part of uncube is horizontal: “like print but without the paper”
The navigation of the magazine part of uncube is horizontal: “like print but without the paper”
LB: Yes, the sensation of turning a page...
SL: It is linked to the idea of gifting our readers the time and space to absorb and digest the content - slowness.
LB: This is something that we looked for in our iPad edition, looking at what it means to scroll across a screen in a very tactile manner.
SL: In a way we have more in common with long-read platforms, but are similar to print in that we design each page to fit the content and the space it is occupying.
LB: As we were saying earlier, storage is getting smaller and smaller, but there are such personal connotations to the physical experience of the objects that we own...
LB: The books, the films, the magazines...
LB: I think that we are both interested in how you reach the level of engagement that comes with this, whilst opening it up to the possibilities of the web
SL: What’s interesting is that the roles are combined here. I see myself just as much as an art director as an editor-in-chief - the issue is visually in my head as much as in terms of the text content. Also everyone in the team works together to generate each issue. There is little division between the graphic designers and the editors.
Everyone in the team works together to generate each issue. There is little division between the graphic designers and the editors
LB: And as you say, the screen is a space, and this should be designed for accordingly with equal weight on text and imagery
SL: I don’t see any difference really between things and the “web”
LB: This is addressed head-on with your Soft Machines issue, which certainly overlaps with the themes of our exhibition
SL: If you have successfully created something that is really immersive, it does not really matter what format it is on – vinyl, paper, screen, mp4, whatever – if it works the “user” will get lost in it and their own imaginations will fill any gaps.
LB: What does it mean to 'get back to nature' now?
SL: Well on one hand it can just mean: to go “offline”, somewhere where there is no network signal…
SL: on the other…
LB: But the influence of the screen is inescapable, even when you might be 'offline'. It alters how we see things, and changes creative work in a 'postdigital age'. It is no longer about logging on or off.
LB: I don't think that this digital realm is artificial, though.
LB: If we are to take nature as also relating to what is 'natural'...
SL: you could say that as an extension of our mediated sensory experiences, this parallel mixing of the real, the fictional and the shared “hive” experience are all layered together into a kind of augmented super reality. Which means getting back to nature isn’t much different from going into outer space or experiencing life from the viewpoint of an earthworm.
SL: I agree in part, hence the “or” part of my answer.
LB: Our perspective is constantly widening, and it is perhaps these layered connections and mixing of online and offline that is our new natural.
LB: It is about interdisciplinary experimentation. Biology with architecture.... DNA with music.
SL: There is no “natural”, we are natural, we are nature, all of it is. And it will become increasingly so. It’s not my area of expertise, but I really believe that we are in the process of reintegrating with ecosystems and the biosphere in new (admittedly still extremely clumsy) ways.
There is no “natural”, we are natural, we are nature, all of it is... I really believe that we are in the process of reintegrating with ecosystems and the biosphere in new (admittedly still extremely clumsy) ways
LB: Laying down new systems?
SL: i.e. Back to nature? We never left it! It is arrogance to think we ever did.
LB: Or rather, it is an evolution of systems, both environmental and digital.
SL: No, learning to scrape at the surface of nature’s own incredibly complex systems and finally having the beginnings of enough technology to be able to imitate them a little bit better.
LB: In that sense, technology enables us to return to our core.
SL: ..and to attempt to reintegrate our technology, using more organic rather than mineral materials, living materials. Growing, rather than forging…
SL: what core is that?
LB: Jacob Kierkegaard's sound piece in our exhibition layers sounds that are inaudible to the human ear, placing them together through his digital tools until they form a piece that can be heard.
LB: There are these hidden structures - biological, meteorological, geological - that can be exposed only through these tools.
LB: And taken up into new formats, new designs.
SL: We did an acoustics issue too http://uncu.be/9YBYmm
LB: These overlaps are what excite us at POSTmatter.
LB: Sound is such a rich area with the development of new technology. It was an important component for us with the exhibition
SL: We love confluences too. But talking of issues, I really have to get back to our next one: Uncanny Valley. The question of the day for us here in the office is: Where is the machine?
LB: Fantastic! We are currently exploring the emergence of digital gallery spaces, and the avatars that inhabit them. Uncanny valley indeed.
SL: And how or when does the uncanny valley moment take place when the machine is intangible?
LB: Watch this space...
SL: Aren’t digital galleries just Second Life stuff?
SL: Yes we shall have to talk more…come visit!
LB: Digital galleries remain a strange area... so many insist on taking the appearance of a white cube space, which seems odd given the possibilities of digital design, or rather digital architecture. But I think this is changing...
LB: Yes, that would be great! Thank you so much Sophie for your time.
SL: Looking forward to hearing more - send us a link when it’s up.
LB: We will.
SL: Thank you too we enjoyed it. Good luck with the exhibition - it sounds amazing.
LB: Good luck with your issue - I looking forward to reading it.
This online conversation is presented as part of the POSTmatter x fig-2 exhibition, on display at ICA Studio, London, until 26th July 2015.
Sophie Lovell was uncube’s editor-in-chief and art director. A graduate in both biology and design, she is based in Berlin and is an established author, editor and consultant in the fields of architecture and design.