Assembling Magazines (a.k.a. Compilations)
by Stephen Perkins
The concept of assembling is very simple, contributors
submit a specific number of copies of their work to a central
editor who in turn collates one copy from each artists' submissions
into the final 'assembled' product, the number of artists submitting
work defining the number of pages in each assembling. The presentation
of the final magazine varies, some have loose covers inside of
which the pages are placed, some are stapled together, others
are bound and a number of others have been placed in a variety
of different containers. Assemblings are a particularly unique
concept which attempted to resolve a number of issues during
the late '60s to early '70s, and its surprising that it has received
such scant attention in the writings on artists' publications
throughout the period under discussion.
The little documentation
there is on the introduction of the assembling technique into
artists' self publishing activities gives no authoritative clues
as to when and who first utilized this method. Confounding this
lack of information are writers who refer to the 'assembling
aesthetic,' but are quite unspecific as to whether they mean
assembling in the sense that everything that was sent for submission
to a magazine was included (i.e. the magazine was assembled from
all of the submissions), or whether they are talking about an
assembling magazine in the definition I have given above.(1)
So for the moment
I can only conclude that the first assembling magazine made up
of multiple submissions from contributors was the magazine Notebook,
compiled from 69 contributors and coordinated by Dana Atchley
in Canada and completed at the end of 1969 and early 1970. (2)
This same year (1970) saw the first assembling publication in
the United States, edited by Richard Kostelanetz and Henry Korn,
called appropriately Assembling. As one of the better known assembling
magazines, and with the concept disseminated in Kostelanetz's
prodigious writings, it came to serve as a model for further
developments in this field. Since that time assemblings have
flourished as an important international self publishing activity
with approximately nine new assembling projects starting yearly
from 1968-86. (3)
another in the continued attacks during this period on established
artworld power structures, in this case the power invested in
what Kostelanetz terms the "...editorial/industrial complex..."
Assemblings completely inverted the prerogative of editorial
authority, and represent a decisive shift in the role of the
editor to that of collator or compiler.
Some of the key
points in this new self publishing paradigm can be summarized
by the following:
- Assemblings provided a means for artists to publish experimental
work for which there were no established outlets.
- Assemblings represented an 'open system,' or a participatory
democracy in which editorial control was shifted away from a
central authority and onto the participants themselves.
- Central to the concept of assemblings was the element of
diversity. In the following passage Kostelanetz characterizes
the work submitted to the first issue of Assembling, "...visual
poetry, verbal poetry, abstract photography, playlets, minimal
poetry, verbal collage, stream-of-consciousness narrative, representational
graphics, picture-accompanied words, scenarios for happenings,
sculptural documentation, personal journal, aesthetic manifesto,
- Assemblings develop as unique forms of collaboration, and
over the years become increasingly international in character.
Nine years later
in 1979 Pawel Petasz from Poland would extend the assembling
aesthetic one step further with his Commonpress, in which each
issue was to be compiled by a different editor. As of 1992 approximately
64 issues have been executed (some still awaiting completion).
By way of a footnote
to this section, and in answer to the question of where the idea
of assemblings came from, I have to hesitantly conclude that
at some point this technique crossed over from the science fiction
community to the art community (further research in this area
is needed). Coupled with the rise of science fiction fan clubs
was the formation of amateur press associations or alliances
(APAs), and to quote Fredric Wertham in his books on fanzines:
These are organizations where people send
out fanzines through a central distributor. A fanzine distributed
by an APA is called an apazine. The first fan APA was founded
in the mid-thirties. The members send their copies to a CM (Central
Mailer) who collates the copies, staples them under one cover,
and sends them to every member in what is called an mig (mailing).
The CM is also called an OE (Official Editor). (5)
1. Further research could reveal that an
assembling magazine from Germany, Omnibus News, edited by Thomas
Niggl, and often quoted as a leading influence in this genre
was indeed an assembling in the strict definition of the term.
Differing accounts of its method of production have led me to
omit it for the time being.
2. Banana, Anna. "Mail Art: Canada & Western U.S.A."
Flue, 4 (3/4): 25, 1984.
3. Perneczky, Géza. A Háló. Budapest: A
Héttorony Könyvkiadó, 1991.
4. Kostelanetz, Richard. "Why Assembling." The Publish-It-Yourself
Handbook: Literary Traditions & How-To. Bill Henderson, ed.
New York: The Pushcart Press, 1973. 83-94.
5. Wertham, Fredric. The World of Fanzines. Carbondale &
Evanston: Southern Illinois University Press, 1973.
Ashton, Dore. "New York commentary." Studio International,
England, 175(900):272-273, 1968.
of Aspen Magazine (#5/6) edited by Brian O'Doherty, and S.M.S.
(#1, 1968), edited by William Copley. Both of these are assembling-type
publications presented as boxes containing original intermedia
contributions from a variety of now well known artists.
Crane, Michael. "The Spread of Correspondence Art."
Correspondence Art. Michael Crane & Mary Stofflet, eds. San
Francisco: Contemporary Arts Press, 1984.
Ovum, Hexagano & VILE (#7, Stamp Issue), mentioned in brief
passage on assemblings. "In an assembling-type publication,
each participant becomes editor and publisher by sending a specified
quantity of pre-printed pages to central point for collation,
binding and distribution."
Friedman, Ken. "Notes On The History of the Alternative
Press." Lightworks, (8/9):41-47, 1977.
paragraph on the early assembling magazines such as Amazing Facts,
Omnibus News, Space Atlas, Assembling, Orgon, and Ovum.
Friedman, Ken. "Mail Art History: The Fluxus Factor."
Flue, 4(3/4): 18-24, 1984.
paragraph mention of early assembling magazines in relation to
Amazing Facts Magazine, published by Fluxus West in 1968, a magazine
put together loosely on the assembling principle.
Kostelanetz, Richard. "Why Assembling." The
Publish-It-Yourself Handbook: literary tradition & how-to.
Bill Henderson, ed. Yonkers: The Pushcart Book Press, 1973. 83-94.
and edited by Kostelantez and Henry Korn, this article gives
a good overview of why they started Assembling, and the material
they received and problems inherent in editing a magazine of
this sort. This article covers up to the third issue. "Somewhat
influenced by a beautiful German book called Omnibus (1969),
we hit upon what we think is the most appropriate structure for
a cooperative self-publishing channel. In brief, Assembling invites
writers and artists whom we know to be doing unusual work, which
we broadly characterize as "otherwise unpublishable,"
to contribute a thousand copies of up to four 8.5 x 11-inch pages
of whatever they want to include."
Moore, Barbara & Hendricks, Jon. "The Page As Alternative
Space: 1950 to 1969." Artists' Books: A Critical Anthology
and Sourcebook. Joan Lyons, ed. Rochester: Visual Studies Workshop,
One paragraph mention of assemblings. "Another
economic short-cut is to have each artist in an anthology actually
produce his or her own page in the requisite number of copies
for the edition, in a predetermined size. An early example of
such an "assembling"-type work is Eter, which was coordinated
by Paul Armand Gette beginning in 1966 in Paris. Not all of the
issues used this method of publication, but under somewhat different
titles (Ether, Eter, Contestation, New Eter) the magazine continued
publication into the early seventies."
Perneczky, Géza. A Háló. Budapest: A
Héttorony Könyvkiadó, 1991.
One section of this book is devoted to assembling
magazines under the title, 'The Omnibus and Its Passengers.'
At the end of this book is a synopsis in English of this chapter,
and also a checklist of issues of Commonpress realized and others
in progress. "The editorial method of "assembling"
was favoured primarily by the adherents of mail art, who preferred
to see "loose diversity" rather than the individual
merits of the works, and for whom "mass effect" was
Phillpot, Clive. "Art Magazines and Magazine Art."
Artforum, XVIII(6): 1980.
Short mention of early '70s assembling magazines.
"In the early '70s the L.A. Artists' Publication, Assembling,
and the Ace Space Company's Notebook 1 and Space Atlas exemplified
an approach to magazine making whereby virtually anything was
included, provided contributors submitted 200, or 500, or whatever
number of copies of their work that was required to make up the
predetermined size of the edition. Among the offset, mimeoed,
or Xeroxed contributions were many that were intended as multiple
printed artworks. These magazines were open to almost anyone
who felt like contributing, and their editors pared their role
down to little more than coordinators."
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