What’s in a name? I just did a blog about that very topic. However, I didn’t include a magazine that is relatively new and devoted to the creation, synthesis and discussion of art, science and education.
The name of the magazine is Intercourse and just mentioning that moniker is cause for conversation. Indeed, isn’t that the sign of captivating content?
The magazine was created within the confines of Pioneer Works, a non-profit organization that according to its Founder & Director, artist Dustin Yellin, fearlessly bridges the chasm between disparate disciplines.
The organization is housed in a building built in 1866 and was first occupied by Pioneer Iron Works, one of the largest machine manufacturers in the United States- constructing ships, boilers, tanks, sheet iron, detachable railroad tracks, grain elevators, and machinery for sugar plantations. The building was completely destroyed by a devastating fire in 1881 and rebuilt shortly thereafter.
As for the magazine, Yellin describes it better than I ever could in his letter from the editor in the current issue of Intercourse:
“Ballet or blitzkrieg, Intercourse is not the sickeningly sweet swill used to fatten you at the trough. It is not cotton candy confirming old prejudices. Burning up in the synaptic pop, boiling over in the cosmic crucible, drowning in a million possible futures, it is a swath of spinning galactic organisms coalescing. Intercourse is a capsule to treat tunnel-vision tremors. Anyone can swallow it. You’ll soon feel it dissolving, swimming up your bloodstream, mincing and chirping, to make your beautiful brain grab someone and dance a jig.”
Catherine Despont is the Editor of the magazine and is in charge of Education and Editorial Development. I reached out to Catherine to discuss the magazine’s title and mission and discover more about Pioneer Works in general. The Mr. Magazine™ interview follows and I think you’ll be both amazed and inspired by her answers.
But first the sound-bites…
On the background of the magazine’s title: For us it was about being in this space in a world that was increasingly virtual, when this space is really about being physically present with other people and to that sense, an idea of both intellectual interchange and dialogue, but also physical presence, community and closeness is tied up in the word Intercourse for us.
On why they decided to do a print product instead of just a digital entity: Because the printed product really has the physical presence and so much of this space is about the physical.
On consumer reactions to the ink on paper magazine: People think it’s very beautiful and say it feels like a real object. It has more of a book-like quality because of the format.
On the drive behind the magazine and the non-profit organization, Pioneer Works: To me it’s the opportunity to start a different conversation here. To look at art not just as a fine art object, but as a creative methodology that can be used to understand the world and to approach any kind of subject.
On how they can assess the success of the magazine and Pioneer Works: I believe that step-by-step we’re experiencing success with all we’ve done so far. It’s just a matter of getting the word out to people and getting people to the space and obviously getting them engaged with the magazine, even if they’re in cities that aren’t next door to us.
On what keeps her up at night: Deadlines keep me up at night, dreams of who I could entice into this building; I’m constantly thinking about who I can reach out to, who I can talk to, who I can bring in and do a lecture with and who I can start a conversation with.
And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Catherine Despont, Editor, Intercourse Magazine…
Samir Husni: My first question has to be about the title. To see a magazine called Intercourse has to stop you. Can you give me a little bit of background on the title?
Catherine Despont: It’s important to know that the magazine is associated with a large exhibition space in Brooklyn called Pioneer Works Center for Art and Innovation. And it’s a 25,000 square foot old factory space and it houses a museum, with museum-style exhibitions. We have art and science residencies, so artists and scientists have studios in the space for anywhere from 1-6 months to work on their projects. And we also have a big education department.
And this whole project is the vision of an artist named Dustin Yellin. Dustin is an artist who makes these large sculptures out of glass. He has very big studios and he’s always had kind of a stream of having a place where artists can work together in a common space and just share ideas. He’s always had environments where lots of people have been working together at one time. He had a large studio in Red Hook, just up the street from this space for many years. This place became available and it was always his dream to buy it. And so he bought it just under three years ago and initially thought that he would live in it and have his studio in it, but this project has grown exponentially in that time, so he’s moved his studio out of it, but now runs it and oversees the project.
I’m the editor of the magazine, which ties together all the contents that comes out of this space and I also do the educational programming here.
To answer the question about the title Intercourse, it was always a word that initially Dustin thought he might call the space, but it was a bad choice for a lot of reasons. Intercourse really, obviously, has this idea of discourse, of interchange and catches the eye, but for us it was about being in this space in a world that was increasingly virtual, when this space is really about being physically present with other people and to that sense, an idea of both intellectual interchange and dialogue, but also physical presence, community and closeness is tied up in the word Intercourse for us.
Samir Husni: Here is this community of artists; you have this whole venue – why did you decide to actually do a printed product, in addition to everything else you’re already doing? Why not just the web or digital?
Catherine Despont: Because the printed product really has the physical presence and so much of this space is about the physical. And the idea is we don’t just have artists here; we have artists and scientists; we have a Microscopy Lab, geneticists in residence, we’re working with a new community bio-genetics lab to set up a wet-lab for people to actually do bioengineering here.
For us the space is really about access to subjects and disciplines that would be traditionally sort of reserved for institutions or university settings. And we felt that we really did need the space where lots of different ideas could come together so that a person who is a creative thinker can access any idea, resource or type of person that they need in order to bring their vision to it as well as to voice their expression.
And in that sense it’s also important to have a printed document, both as a way of archiving, as a way of having a tangible trace of the work that’s going on here and also because a lot of internet magazines and print magazines in general also tend to have this very specialized feeling. Either they’re specialized to a particular content or they’re directly targeted to a specific audience.
And it was important to us to have a document that captured the compendium, like the full range of the discussions that happen in this place. The magazine has been our best resource for visitors coming to the space and in trying to get people to understand what we’re doing in a nutshell.
The space itself is very dramatic; it’s a former ironworks and it was built in 1866 and it has this large cathedral-like hall because they originally built train cars in it. There’s something very stunning about walking into it and seeing it. People have a hard time understanding how all of our programming comes together until they see the space and so the magazine is another platform for us to get people to understand the scope and the range of what we’re talking about.
Samir Husni: When people pick up the magazine for example at Pioneer Works; have you been able to track any reactions to it?
Catherine Despont: People think it’s very beautiful and say it feels like a real object. It has more of a book-like quality because of the format. The word Intercourse has this very interesting resonance against the image of the cover that it’s on, because it’s such a fine art image. So immediately there is this tension between the actual word and the elegance of the drawing that’s on the cover. It’s a very dense document and there is a lot of different material in it. There is a lot of strange sort of connections between the articles and people are just very excited. It’s like their way of touching and holding what’s been going on here.
We have so many events and classes, so many exhibits that people like to feel like they’ve taken a part of the place away with them when they leave and that they’ve interacted with it.
Samir Husni: What’s the drive behind Pioneer Works and the magazine? What is it that keeps Catherine going every single day?
Catherine Despont: To me, it’s establishing a new paradigm in education and the creative arts. I think we have a real crisis in education right now; it’s much too expensive and it’s incredibly specialized and competitive. I think it really stalls ideas from just reaching their fullest expression because of the silos that things exist in.
To me it’s the opportunity to start a different conversation here. To look at art not just as a fine art object, but as a creative methodology that can be used to understand the world and to approach any kind of subject.
What drives me is just feeling like I’m really at the forefront of a new movement, in terms of education, in terms of the way we understand the relations between creativity and science and the way in which all of these things can have real effects on people and their lives. So this is really about a community of change and an experiment in envisioning what kind of structures we want for the future; how we want to learn about the world and how we want to engage with the world.
Samir Husni: How can you assess your success; when can you say that you’ve met your goal?
Catherine Despont: We’re launching new programs all the time, for example, when we have 500 people come through our door for events. All of this when we have hundreds of applications for our residency program; all of those things signal success to us.
We’re still in the process of capitalizing within the space and there are a number of building projects that we want to complete. We’re building a science lab, a music recording studio; we want to build a woodshop and a metal shop and an observatory and eventually we see this operating as a canvas.
Once we’ve secured an endowment and once we have people regularly enrolled in this full time as a school and people see us as a resource for a new way of thinking, I think that will definitely be success. But I believe that step-by-step we’re experiencing success with all we’ve done so far. It’s just a matter of getting the word out to people and getting people to the space and obviously getting them engaged with the magazine, even if they’re in cities that aren’t next door to us.
Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?
Catherine Despont: I just wish there were more hours in the day to do the work that we have to do. Deadlines keep me up at night, dreams of who I could entice into this building; I’m constantly thinking about who I can reach out to, who I can talk to, who I can bring in and do a lecture with and who I can start a conversation with.
It’s the most exciting opportunity I’ve had and my mind is constantly racing about making the most of it.
Samir Husni: Thank you.