October 13, 2020

Through the Looking Glass

I can’t get involved in the future. First of all, there may not be a future.

— John Bernard Myers

I have had in my mind an image of the Maine shoreline, where I grew up, the great stretches of basalt and granite rubbed smooth, polished by touch upon touch over time. It feels so good to hold one of these rocks, to turn it over and over until the oils from your skin add their own unstable layer to the mix.

Now and Then is the fifteenth issue of the Open Space magazine, which was launched in October 2015 in tandem with the site’s redesign. Five years of the “new” OS. Does its debut seem like yesterday or forever ago? Neither, both? Time is tricky these days. Or maybe time is always tricky.

The concept for Now and Then was born in part from an exhaustion with “concept”: the themes and questions we devise to tidily encapsulate the mess of daily existence. Though they can shape what falls inside them in productive and evocative ways, offering us different ways to look at the world, frames are artificial creatures (yes, yes, this one too). They do not particularly account for time — or perhaps better to say that they can be a way to avoid time in favor of other organizing principles, to look always toward an about-to-be-created future. We rush ceaselessly onto the next the next the next (advanced practice for how to never live in the present), even as our preoccupations tend to not change all that much over time. Meanwhile the archives stack up and up, whether in boxes or bytes, with nary a moment to reflect.

And so. We desired to return; but to what, to whom? When it comes to contributors, the OS cup runneth over, with more than one hundred individuals, collectives, and organizations commissioned for the magazine alone, which accounts for a fraction of the site. Though several of our issues have been national and international in scope, and we’ve even had a few guest editors from beyond California (hi, Mike!; hi, ARTS.BLACK!), we opted to stay close to home for this one. In part, this was simply to narrow the choices. But it’s also to honor the fact that Open Space, at its heart, is dedicated to local communities and close-knit networks. Not all of these, to be sure, are geographically bound — but we do our best to prioritize the myriad art worlds that exist beyond and under and through The Art World. We’re interested in immediate surroundings.

Now and Then is also an opportunity to honor the relationships (those polished stones…) we build with our contributors over time. Though we continually try to fulfill our mandate to work with as wide a range of artists as possible (and therefore have to turn down pitches from returning artists far more than we would like!), we nonetheless are deeply sustained by ongoing relationships with contributors. Sometimes fraught, sometimes magical, sometimes both — no matter the shape it takes, process is paramount, a grounding weight within the manic churn of production; behind most of the pieces we commission are weeks and sometimes months of editorial back and forths, conducted by email, over the phone, and in person. As our founding editor Suzanne Stein put it in a toast, delivered at her goodbye party in the early days of 2016:

Everyone in this room — or nearly everyone anyway — has made something that has become a part of what Open Space is. [Let’s drink to that!] You wrote something, you shared something, you talked about something, you edited or you fixed something. Or, you talked me through or out of a crisis. Or, you created a crisis, and I love you for that. Your hands and your ideas are in it. I confess that I can’t quite understand what it is we’ve made together. What is this thing? Is this a magazine? An archive, a history lesson, a conversation, a blog? What is this strange and brilliant collection of unlike articulations that are all housed under the admittedly indulgent umbrella called Open Space?

In person. Parties! Toasts. Oh, nostalgia. Now and Then was envisioned before the COVID-19 pandemic. But the pieces we will publish in the following weeks were made (and, in one case, abandoned) in the midst of this long moment, the present pressuring the past (yes, yes, it always does). In these strange and tender times, when we don’t know whether the platforms, programs, and publications we run will survive long enough to be a part of what’s to come, it feels good to be spending time with artists and writers while they revisit, whether explicitly or obliquely, what has been — what already is.

This essay was written in April. So much polishing since then… I am grateful to be in conversation with the artists and writers who have contributed to this magazine, including two who have chosen not to move forward with publishing at this time. And I am grateful to my co-editor, Gordon Faylor, the site’s former managing editor. More than ever, I see Open Space’s true nature as a messy constellation of ever-evolving relationships. 

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