FORM FOLLOWS FUNCTIONInterview
An interview with Fulcrum's Editor, Jack Self (AA 4th Year)
24 February 2013
AA Front Members' Room, London
On the 31st of January, the AA’s weekly free-sheet, Fulcrum, organised a panel discussion around Louis Sullivan’s iconic phrase, Form follows Function. The panel was comprised of various editors and authors of different publication types, who all discussed the question of what makes publications unique. The discussion was chaired by Fulcrum’s editor Jack Self with contributions from Michael Abrahamson (Fuck Yeah Brutalism), Thomas Weaver (AA Files), Justin McGuirk (Strelka Press) Alessandro Bava (Eco-core), Mark Campbell (Grey Room) and Marlie Mul (XYM). We met up with Jack to find out what came out of the talk and whether it will create content for future issues of Fulcrum:
How did you select the participants to contribute to the talk?
Form follows function is a phrase that I’ve been playing a lot with. This term’s Fulcrum could probably best be summarised as Form follows Finance which is also the subject of my unit work. I’m very interested in the relationship of social activities and how they become manifest in publications, architecture and other things as well. With the case of Form follows function it’s very straightforward; we have a real diversity and plurality of formats of publications and each one of them is inherently different because of the way in which it’s published. From my point of view, I selected a sliding scale from the most digital in publishing which is XYM in that it’s only available as a digital PDF that arrives at the top of the site and slides down over a period of time and then is never available again, through to something like AA Files which is very scholarly and durable and is designed to be kept as part of a larger collection. Then there is everything in between that: I think Strelka Press fits in as being on the one hand scholarly but also digital, Ecocore is also similarly divided between two situations.
When you are arranging a panel discussion, it’s important to pick people who are as diverse as possible. There’s nothing less interesting than listening to a panel discussion where everyone vehemently agrees with each other. To pick things that are divergent both in form and in terms of the content that they are concerned with, I think is the most interesting. The backgrounds of the people that came were also very different - ranging from professional journalists like Justin McGuirk to a professional academic editor like Tom Weaver through to a student with a zine like Alessandro Bava and an artist with a publishing house like Marlie Mul.
What came out of the discussion?
Certainly you can choose people who are too diverse and in this case, there was a real polarisation between a camp headed by Tom Weaver who were promoting architectural writing as a form of scholarly activity. The other end of the spectrum, perhaps headed by Michael Abrahamson, promoted architectural texts as a contemporary critique on architectural culture more than them being a way to focus on a particular subject. That was the most interesting thing that came out of it for me.
Will the content of the discussion feed into a future issue of Fulcrum?
The content would only feed it indirectly. Fulcrum has been running for 66 issues, which as a weekly activity with only one person working on it is a lot of energy to put into it already. My great aspiration for Fulcrum is that when it stops, at the end of a 100 issues, I would hope that someone else would be encouraged to fill that hole by starting their own publication. There’s an extensive history of AA publications and all of them tend to run for just a few years while the students who are managing them are at the school. I really like the idea of something that is very much a capsule of its time, which then encourages other people to do their own thing.
Was this discussion a continuation of the question asked in the earlier Fulcrum Salon - Why we Print? - that questioned the relevance of print media?
Initially, I conceived of Fulcrum as being the product of a number of opportunities and limitations. We had the opportunity to print on the Risograph. The limitation is that the best type of paper to go through the machine is Japanese B5 therefore you have certain limitations on what it is you can print. We were very concerned, initially, to only produce something that was a printed artefact because you can communicate with an audience spatially through a physical object in a way that you can’t communicate through the internet. A blog is directed at anyone and everyone but if you want to produce the AA’s free weekly then you’re necessarily talking to students at the AA. When I started it at the end of 2010, with Graham Baldwin and Aram Mooradian, there were a couple of unofficial AA blogs which commented on AA interests but they were not widely read to the extent that you could - there was no common material culture between them so that’s really what Fulcrum intended to do.
It wasn’t until the 20th issue that we created a website and started digitising them. Even that was initially a response because friends had said that they had missed issues. It was literally a digital translation of the real and there was no concern given to its digital presence. Sometime around issue 25, we started having more online readers than physical readers and I think that was a kind of tipping point for Fulcrum. Now we have almost ten times as many online readers as we have physical readers. That has an Editorial feedback loop where you start to consider what other people outside of the school would be interested in. You have to be conscious of the fact that you can’t be so insular or so concerned with the life of the AA. Nonetheless, Fulcrum is, in its editorial direction, a product of discussion with my peers so for that reason I think it will always remain deeply rooted in the current culture of what people at the AA are interested in.
Will Fulcrum organise more of these types of panel discussions?
At the beginning of the year, Stefan Jovanovic from Student Forum asked me if Fulcrum would be interested in doing a series of weekly presentations to coincide with Fulcrum subjects - to have either the authors or other people come and discuss what was being written about in Fulcrum. I thought this was a really interesting idea but it’s a lot of work. I also wasn’t sure of what the interest in the school, for discussing specifically Fulcrum topics, would be. While it’s interesting for me as editor of Fulcrum to explore different formats and to explore different ways of understanding the ideas which interest me and which are being published in Fulcrum, I don’t know whether I see this as necessarily becoming a larger series of talks.
What in your opinion makes a publication unique?
What really came out of this Form follows Function discussion was that the principle thing that defines any publication, unexpectedly for me, is not the format of the publication but in fact the editorial direction. It’s the intent with which you set down to produce a publication that is the most critical thing. I think there’s a kind of predictability to the fact that during times of Boom no one is interested in journalism and during times of recession there is a sudden explosion of micro publications and unique publications. Almost every graduate student that I speak to tells me about their intent or the fact that they are just starting a new publication. In many of those publications there is a lack of attention to content and a lack of attention to editorial direction. When a reader picks up your publication, you have an obligation to them to provide them with something that merits the reading of it. They would give you the most valuable thing that they have which is time. I think a lot of people who publish architectural publications forget that that’s their duty.
What I would say is - I use this quote quite a lot and I think it’s been quite influential in my education at the AA - Alvin Boyarsky said when he first started teaching here that you need to look above your own work and look above the context of your own work to introduce a political note into your thinking. Certainly, as Fulcrum goes forward, I’m becoming increasingly concerned about its political message and the way in which that can contribute to a certain type of political thinking in the school.
For more information:
Form Follows Function Event Listing
Image credit: Valerie Bennett