“Is it irresponsible for art to be escapist?”
In a sea of arts magazines, Editorial’s style is unmistakable: flick through this latest issue and you will see puppets, lace, sequins, dollies, and a double spread dedicated to squishy thrones. The art in here is so sweet and sticky, it makes you want to bite it — but at the same time, everything looks slightly repellant. Walking that tight-rope between attraction and revulsion is what makes reading this magazine such a thrill.
This is Editorial’s twentieth issue, and to mark the anniversary we spoke to editor Claire Milbrath over the phone from Montreal.
I think about Editorial as a magazine that’s drawn to art that is particularly tactile and juicy and soft-looking. Do you agree with that characterisation?
I like that take. I guess it’s true but I’ve never considered it before. I was interviewed last year by this other magazine and they said, “Everything Editorial does is always so girly and feminine”. I thought: I don’t like being put into that category. So I tried to celebrate boyish stuff with a couple of artists this issue, like Gage Lindsten, Thomas Barger, and Acacio Ortas.
I would say that you question that idea of girliness. Like your column about the history of Barbie, and the way she was inspired by a sex doll. You pick at the surface of something sweet and examine the rot beneath.
It’s a cutesy thing but it’s also a little deranged. I feel like I’m a bit twisted. I’m obsessed with stuffed animals and children’s toys. I love what Tiana Reid wrote about Bonnie Lucas’ work for the issue, that she can’t tell if the pastel bliss makes her want to laugh or scream. The painter Srijon Chowdhury who we featured in this issue — he painted his girlfriend as this scary face with a red cross over it. I really wanted to put that on the cover and everyone I talked to was like, ‘I don’t know… that’s really intense.’
I was struck by something you wrote in this issue: “Sometimes I wonder if it’s irresponsible for art to be escapist”. Can you talk to me a little bit about that feeling, and whether it has intensified in the wake of coronavirus?
I’ve been thinking about that so much. After the Black Lives Matter protests this summer I thought, I should just stop making art right now and just take a break. I’ve always been a bit confused about what the point is of art that isn’t activist art. I’m still grappling with the escapism thing. I interviewed the techno producer False Witness for this issue, and they think art should engage with what’s happening in society. I almost felt guilty about my own art after doing that interview but it was interesting to think about. I used to make art that was really about my own anxiety but I suppose now I’m trying to make art that makes people happy? Like really cute happy scenes with dogs and stuff.
So the impetus of art-making for you has changed from self-expression to a form of connection?
Exactly. Something to cheer people up.
This is Editorial’s twentieth issue, and you marked the anniversary by getting back in touch with artists like Petra Collins who you had originally featured at the very beginning of their careers. What was that like?
Working with Petra was so sweet because I know she’s busy and has a lot going on, but she was really nice to work with. Jenny Fax is a designer we featured like five years ago, so the whole Petra story was really nostalgic for me. I also loved working with Liara Roux, who makes porn. I featured her in issue 8 when she was going by Mary Bond. She was an early ‘Internet Artist’. Whitney (Mallett) interviewed her, which was sentimental because we’ve been working together since the very beginning. I’ve been thinking about community: what is your community and what can you do for them? My community is online and it’s all these people that I’ve worked with through the magazine.
Yes, and although Editorial is an arts magazine, the community you foster feels unconnected to the ‘art world’. In her piece ‘Dangerous Liasons’, the writer Yaniya Lee is very critical of that world.
I think Yaniya’s comparison of the self-centered, conniving French nobility to the modern art world hit the nail on the head. I relate to her description of the art fair, the people there have this air about them. I love that she used this piece of pop culture (I didn’t read the book, but I know the Glenn Close flick well) as an entryway to share her experience as a Black queer art worker.
I feel the magazine has always been against the status quo of the art world. I’ve always kind of resented this weird sense of professionalism. In the beginning, we actually tried to hire writers who had no writing experience. Although now I’m really enjoying working with real writers — it’s rewarding. But I definitely feel the magazine is a response to that formality and exclusivity. I wanted to bring things back to: what does the art look like? And is it good? Not: did you complete your masters?
And finally, with this twentieth issue you’ve also published a literary supplement called Total Pet. That’s a great name. What’s the story behind it?
There’s a pet shop that’s called Total Pet and I have this joke with my boyfriend that ‘Total Pet’ sounds like a heartbreaking teen rock band. But it’s just a pet shop. There’s something kind of submissive about that name, too. I don’t want the literary supplement to feature erotic stories only, but I do want it to have a little bit of eroticism. The supplement is meant to be the pet of Editorial. I feel like Editorial is the owner and Total Pet is the puppy that’s on the leash.