The first thing to observe when handling Clip/Stamp/Fold is that this weighty hard cover compendium is really not a book. It’s not a catalogue either. Instead it’s a sort of treasure chest, or a precious coffer. Something you might find up in the attic, preserving rare butterflies or pressed leaves. In fact you might find yourself scratching one of these minutely reprinted “Small Magazines” with your fingernail to peel it back from the simulated “worn” surfaces that each of these little pages appear to be glued to.
So this is not really a book review you are reading either. Textual narrative, for one, is at a minimum, but from a tactical standpoint, the effect heavily privileges the “Small Magazines” themselves. And that is the way it should be. When sizing up the original exhibit held in 2006 at Storefront for Art and Architecture, Domus editor Stefano Boeri remarked, “I think this room is really a Wunderkammer of suggestions for all of us.” Clip/Stamp/Fold, the “book” is conceived differently from the original New York exhibition, it’s more portable, and easier to consult. But mainly this is a collection brimming with some of the most transformative ideas to come our way from the 1960s and ‘70s.
Beatriz Colomina and Craig Buckley have produced a multi-layered hybrid product that is mimeographic, mimetic and multi-medial. But what kind of alchemy can be generated by all these tiny manifestos? Colomina and her team of Princeton experts anchor the project to a series of conversations, “Small Talks” that were recorded and transcribed from inside the Storefront gallery, then under the direction of Joseph Grima. These broad ranging talks with some of the principle protagonists responsible for engendering the “Small Magazines” (a term not without some curatorial controversy) touch on everything from the macro to the micro. The discussions resurrect past ghosts, weave in historic networks, and reflect on the day’s cultural backdrop.
Clip/Stamp/Fold invites back a student generation that had chosen to experiment its way through a lumbering educational establishment, testing ideological and creative boundaries in the process. “Small Talks” give critical space to discuss how these radicalized counter cultural communities networked, competed, and shared information and creative breakthroughs using the highly flexible and extremely volatile medium of cheap publishing.
Some of the problems that emerge from these discussions remain just as puzzling today as back then, others much less so. There is, for example, the question on the absence of a politicized architectural discourse coming out in England and the U.S. at that time, unless you take the French, Italian or Spanish perspective, where day-to-day conflicts spilled out across the pages of Utopie, In, or Carrer de Ciutat. To be fair, as Steven Holl pointed out, in California many architects massed together in demonstrations against the Vietnam War, but when it came to speaking up about architecture, “matters had to take a more abstract expression.”
Some puzzling urban tropes pop into the discussion as well. How can you explain London’s closer connection to Florence than to a city like Milan? Same thing if you take Graz, a medium-sized Austrian riverfront town that was hotter than the capital Vienna. Yet these two “minor” hubs were in fact abuzz in radical activity. Florence played host to everything from Fluxus gatherings to major anthropological film festivals, and indeed a critical axis connected Florence to Graz’s important exhibition programming. London-Florence-Graz also represented a close social network, especially for Londoners escaping the city’s dreary climate. You need only look at the pattern of intermarriages among a number of magazine protagonists in these three cities. Yet women’s limited role in these radical movements reflects the flip side of pop culture and sexual liberation, another consequence of the sixties era few are willing to treat seriously. Colomina goes there, but this point isn’t developed further.
At the end of the day, the protagonists invited to animate the pages of the “Small Talks” have the most to do with configuring the content of Clip/Stamp/Fold. The list is impressive, broadly international, and not only one generation. The division into geographical spheres of interests works very well, so you get some very pointed conversations about Pamphlet Architecture from the West Coast perspective, Oppositions from the East Coast perspective and AD from the British. Everybody else who had a hand making these small magazines are intelligently interviewed in the white page inserts strategically placed throughout the rest of the “book.” According to the editors’ strategy, more and more information is being accumulated with the passage of this exhibition from one international venue to the next.
And what about the content of the “Small Magazines” themselves? The samples included in Clip/Stamp/Fold are wonderfully reprinted, highly legible and nearly auratic in their humble splendor. That’s really the point about this project to begin with. It’s about showing us what one could do with so little, to make so much happen. Mark Wigley may have given us something well worth pondering, when he observed that the smaller the magazine, the bigger the point made. Clip/Stamp/Fold is an archive of big aspirations, but there will always be that lingering question: How far can we stretch the limits of our imagination today?