"We like what’s next, not what’s past."
Our interview with editor of Elephant Magazine: Robert Shore
Hi Robert, thanks for taking the time to talk to us at Floorr. Could you tell us a bit about your background and how you became publisher and editor of Elephant Magazine?
I actually did a literary degree, and then wrote a doctorate about mid-seventeenth-century opera and puritan iconoclasm, or destruction of images. Perfect preparation to edit a highly visual magazine about contemporary art, you could say! But that was many moons ago, and afterwards I worked for a series of art publishers. I even served as the deputy editor of a rival magazine title at one time. But I don’t talk about that any more. It was a lot less fun.
Elephant Magazine has recently had a redesign, could you tell us about this and reasons behind the new look?
Occasionally you just feel the need to move on: Elephant has had four different sets of designers since its inception in 2009. Magazines need to maintain continuity but they also need constantly to offer something fresh.
Of course, you do the latter partly through the content – there are always great new artists to showcase; that’s always fresh – but you also need to reconsider the way you package it once in a while. So in the spring we visited a series of graphic design studios that are all producing great work and gave them a brief: “We’re a very visual magazine about contemporary visual culture. We like things that have only just been made or that are still being made. We like what’s next, not what’s past. We want to communicate a sense of spontaneity. We like bold graphic design, we like (and are willing to invest in) exciting paper stocks. We want to make an object as well as a publication. What does that add up to?” We really enjoyed the way Kellenberger-White responded to the challenge, not least because they said they should start their research at the zoo – which is how we got our new logo.
You have also written a book titled: “Beg, Steal and Borrow: Artists Against Originality”. Could you tell us about the book?
That began with something a broadsheet commentator wrote about the artists shortlisted for the 2014 Turner Prize. He said: “Looking at their work you get a sense that the old idea of making things that didn’t exist before from scratch has been pretty much abandoned.” That made me howl: what do you mean “making things that didn’t exist before from scratch”! It seemed such a bizarre and naive statement, and yet it also says a lot about an ideal of creativity that we hold on to in the teeth of all the evidence. In truth, it’s been a long time since ex nihilo creativity of that kind was really possible; for a very long time the world has been way too full of other people’s thoughts and words and things. Anyway, it made me want to investigate the history of copying, from Raphael and Dürer to Sturtevant and Sherrie Levine, and the idea of copyright. Which led me to Uber and the idea of “idle capacity”, and genetic inheritance, and all sorts of other things.
The whole experience made me realize quite forcefully that I’m an anti-Romantic. I’m much more interested in subtle, subversive interventions than grand authoring gestures. Happily there are others in the Elephant office who are big-time Romantics, so both artist approaches have their advocates at the magazine.
How do you differentiate yourself from other contemporary art magazines?
Principally by being hyper-visual and putting the artist’s voice first. We like big pictures, we like people who express bold ideas about how we live now. Federico Florian wrote a wonderful and quite personal piece for us a few issues ago about dating apps, their impact on the way we love in 2017 and artists’ responses to them. That was a model Elephant feature.
Every issue is themed: not all of the content follows that theme but overall it means each issue has a distinct flavour. The last issue was “Beyond Gender”, which looked at changing ideas about sexuality and how contemporary artists across the world envision them; the current one is “Perfect Me, Perfect You”, which focuses on the way the often oppressive notion of perfection impacts our lives, increasingly via social media.
We don’t do jargon and we’re not really interested in theory, though if someone can make theory sound vital and gripping rather than academic and stifling, we love it! It doesn’t happen very often.
What has been your biggest obstacle and greatest achievement as the publisher of Elephant magazine so far?
I only became publisher quite recently; I’ve been the editor much longer. One job is about content; the other is about the bottom line.
Anyway, launching our first independently published book, Nicola Hicks: Keep Dark, at the beginning of October was a proud moment. We’ve been doing books with Laurence King Publishing for ages but this is our first solo effort, and Nicola is a wonderful artist.
And launching the redesigned print magazine at a party at Parasol unit on 6 October was great too. Several hundred people came and stayed for hours.
And we’ve just launched a new website (elephant.art), which is very exciting and quite a challenge because, like a newborn baby, it needs constant feeding and endless attention. Will it grow up to realize all our ambitions for it?
What do you look for in an artist?
As a print magazine: work that looks good on paper. That may sound like a stupid answer, and perhaps it even is a stupid answer, but it’s a very useful filtering principle for us all the same. There’s a vast amount of really interesting work being created out there – across the globe – so it’s a relief that only a certain proportion translates really well into print. We do also like artists who are obviously engaging with the wider (non-art) world and its everyday concerns. Magazines thrive on punchy pull quotes.
Happily, our new website has given us an extra dimension so there are even more kinds of art – experiential art in particular – that we can satisfactorily engage with now.
What's the future for Elephant Magazine? Anything exciting lined up? Who is in your next issue? (publish date of the interview early November)
We want to protect and grow the print magazine, and in part we can do this best by extending our activities – not least by promoting ourselves more energetically online and by doing more events IRL.
The next issue of the print magazine, published in early December, takes comedy as its theme. It’s been very interesting putting that together and discovering that some of the artists who create work that seems most obviously and unambiguously funny resist being described in humorous terms while some of the hardest-hitting and most provocative contemporary makers – whose works seems designed to wipe that complacent smile off your face – have ambitions to be stand-up comedians.
All images courtesy of Elephant Magazine
Publish Date: 23/11/17