Sunday, March 23, 2008

Hartman Interview



Banned Books Read-In



Pat Hartman is interviewed by Marc Madow, Content Producer of Earthblog.net

This originally appeared in the Fort Collins Forum in 2007


MM :
You’ve been the star writer at Earthblog for over a year, so that’s the aspect of your writing I’m most familiar with, but obviously there were some other things going on before.

PH:
The project I put the most into, over a long timespan, was a zine called Salon: A Journal of Aesthetics.


MM:
Was there a reason for the title?

PH:
I looked it up, and some authority had been kind enough to define "aesthetics" as the relation of the arts to other fields of human activity and endeavor. The area where art interfaces with something else. I thought, hey, I can do that.

MM:
For those who may have tuned in later, what’s the difference between a zine and a traditional magazine?

PH:
Generally, a zine would be a one-person, zero-budget operation. Some people did zines who would have preferred to do something else, like make movies, but photocopying was cheaper. A lot of zines could be bought for a unit of currency known as "the usual," which meant a swap for a copy of your own publication, or something equally interesting. If your publication had advertising at all, that would often be a trade, too. But there were as many kinds of zines as there are creative people. That was the beauty of it.

MM:
Like how many?

PH:
During that era, at any given time there were between 10 and 20 thousand zines, from all over the world, ranging from sublime to ridiculous. Altogether, there were probably 50,000 of them, maybe more, according to the people who kept track. The average life expectancy was six months. Salon: A Journal of Aesthetics brought out 25 issues over a period of ten years.

MM:
The zine era is, of course, over.

PH:
Alas. But it was a great dress rehearsal for being online. A lot of those people just segued into cyberspace. Boing Boing started out as a zine. Jim Goad from Answer Me! has a great website. Bonnie Burton (who was a Salon contributor) pulls a massive audience to her GRRL website. There are thousands of examples. We’ve gotten used to the idea of everybody, including the family cat and dog, having a web presence. People are out there saying whatever they darn well please and, so far, not many have gone to jail for it.

MM:
But it wasn’t always like this.

PH:
It’s hard to believe, but not many years ago, the concept of "become the media" just wasn’t workable. Most people didn’t own a printing press, much less a video camera. Then, there was a vast change. Suddenly, millions of people were doing art and, much more important, they were sharing their art in a way that was unthinkable before Chester Carlson invented the photocopier. A whole new creative universe was born.

MM:
One that wasn’t sponsored by any government agency, institution, corporation or media cartel.

PH:
Exactly. Among historians of the future, the zine movement will be seen as a major turning point.

MM:
What was special about Salon?

PH:
Its claim to fame was the signed and numbered limited edition. If anybody else did that, I never heard about it. Before the back covers were stapled on, they would be autographed by as many of the local artists and writers as could be rounded up.

MM:
What about the artists from other places?

PH:
For the away people, I mailed them strips of labels to autograph, along with a stamped, self-addressed envelope for the return trip. Some did artwork on their labels. Sticking the labels on the back cover was one of the group activities.

MM:
So this wasn’t a one-person operation?

PH:
By no means. A loyal band of supporters – mainly, Steve Emmons - helped with collating, which consisted of laying out piles of 8-1/2 by 11 pages on tables, and walking around, picking up pages and stacking them in the right order. Some of the later issues were well over a hundred pages, so you can imagine. They had to be fastened together with a heavy-duty stapler – one of the many expenses I hadn’t foreseen. Tim Van Schmidt loaned his workshop for the collating. Dr. Agon did custom artwork if there was something special I felt a need for, but that nobody had sent in. The duplicating was done at Business Express on the industrial-strength machine, and the pages would fill several boxes. Joe Hutchinson, who worked there, took a special interest, so whenever the project came in, the boss was happy to let it be "Joe’s baby." An anonymous benefactor paid for the printing of one entire issue. Quite a few of the issues, once they were laid out and pasted up, enjoyed the luxury of having a proofreader other than me. That was Keith Sillin, who also made stylish countertop display racks. Several local merchants kept Salon in their stores. A lot of people were involved.

MM:
Did you consciously set out to create a collector’s item?

PH:
Absolutely, every time. Some of the covers had extra touches like hand-coloring, stamp art, or even airbrush painting. There were issues sent out with extra goodies in the envelope – toys, postcards, stickers, photos, other zines, extra covers from back issues, whatever was piling up. The New York Public Library bought a complete set. Two different university libraries each bought a complete set. Even so, the whole project put me several thousand dollars in the hole. But the loss was spread out over ten years, so it wasn’t too bad. Some people hoover that much up their nose in a week.

MM:
So, over all, you see it as a success.

PH:
Salon: A Journal of Aesthetics published 90 artists and writers from the local area and over 170 from other places. In my terms, that’s a success. We did a theme issue on Vision. Great Collectors. Humor. TV. Artists and Reincarnation. Critiquing the Critics. Artists and Suicide. Logic, Reason and Rationality. Dope and Creativity. Art and Computers. Poets and Poetry. Success, Fame and Ego. A few theme issues on Love, Sex and Relationships. A few theme issues on Freedom of Expression.

MM:
Did it get the recognition it deserved?

PH:
Recognition, help, and respect, yes. Bunches of great reviews. One issue was named by Factsheet Five as an Editor's Choice pick. In the zine world, this was the equivalent of an Academy Award.

MM:
What were the core beliefs behind the project?

PH:
Artists are the most highly evolved examples of humankind, and we have a lot to say worth listening to. And also, the thoughts of "everyday people" about art are just as valid as ours - after all, they are the public we claim to be creating for. Artists don’t have to depend on the government for opportunities. The highest potential of humankind is expressed in acts of artistic creativity. When we create something, we are closest to the force that created all. And, when you add up all the misfits, outsiders, and fringe lunatics, they total more than the mainstream.

MM:
Fort Collins saw a number of events connected with Salon: A Journal of Aesthetics.

PH:
The first publication party, for the debut issue, was at Washington’s. For the sex and love theme issues, we had the Peace & Love Exhibit of Non-Violent Erotic Art. For one of the Freedom of Expression theme issues, we had the Fahrenheit 451 Gathering, hosted by Cynthia Manuel at Toad Hall Bookstore. The idea was, come as the book you would memorize, in order to preserve it, if all the books were to be burned.

MM:
Like a costume party?

PH:
That would have been fun, but no, nothing that elaborate. At the door, each person was asked to write the title of their chosen book on a name tag and stick it onto themselves. Bill Stark let us have the Northern Hotel for the Science Fiction Art Exhibit, and again for the International Mail Art Show on the theme "Postcards and Souvenirs from Non-Existent Places." We had a presidential candidate at one of our publication parties, Andre Marrou, who was running on the Libertarian ticket.


Lobby of Northern Hotel, Peace & Love Non-Violent Erotic Art Exhibit




MM:
What happened after the zine was over?

PH:
A bunch of local journalism, and I published two books about Venice, California, where I lived for six years before coming to Fort Collins. And a website called VirtualVenice.info

MM:
Does this mean you’d rather be in Venice than Fort Collins?


PH:
I don’t think everybody who loves Venice needs to stay there forever. The logistics would be a nightmare. The population density would be like Macau. What Venice is about, I think, is that you go there and soak it up for a while, and then go someplace else and squeeze it out. The Banned Books Read-In started in Venice, then I brought it here – We did that three or four different years, during Censorship Month, outside the Stone Lion Bookstore when it was in Old Town Square. I’d probably do the same if I went back to Venice – try to take along some good aspect of Fort Collins, to enrich the scene there.

One thing I found, coming here, was that too many people buy into the myth that the art scene happens in New York, L.A., whatever. Anywhere but here. What distinguishes the artist from the wanna-be is doing it, and you can do it where you are. It's too easy to blame circumstances for the shortcomings in ourselves that prevent us from reaching our full potential. You can create an art scene, or you can hold on to your 'tude. - what's it gonna be? Artists have found inspiration in prison, in deathbeds, in war and famine: surely it can be found in Fort Collins.

MM:
Do your goals include fame?

PH:
Actually, there are only about half a dozen people I want to be famous to.

MM:
So, what’s the current project?

PH:
I’ve learned how to use a computer program to make the coolest e-books, with pages that turn. For some reason the format excites my imagination. I’m crazy about page-turning e-books. It’s gotten to where making them is all I want to do.

MM:
Why do I have the feeling that you will spread your wings with your new passion and do some major things with page-turning e-books soon? Well, thanks for sharing your fascinating achievements. Would you like to have the last word?

PH:
No.


The coolest page-turning e-books

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