Aesthetica: The Art & Culture Magazine reviewed.

Magazines Thanks to the web, not having to fill uncomfortable silences in mass transit terminals and not really being able to afford them (due in large part to not having to fill uncomfortable silences in mass transit terminals), my magazines consumption has reduced to a bare minimum. Having in recent months jettisoned SFX and BBC Music Magazine, I'm down to the essentials: Doctor Who Magazine, Empire, Sight & Sound and Around The Globe.

Which isn't to say I don't like to keep interested, especially if the content is available free online (give or take some advertising).  Which is why when an editorial assistant from Aesthetica Magazine contacted me the other week asking if I'd like a free copy of Aesthetica Magazine in case I might want to write something about it on the blog, I said yes, please I'd like a free copy of Aesthetica Magazine, especially since Aesthetica is such a gorgeous word to repeat out loud.  Aesthetica.  Go on, try it, Aes-thet-ica.  Lovely.

Aes-thet-ica Magazine wasn't unknown to me before receiving the email.  Founded in 2002, it's amongst the journals on sale at the Cornerhouse in Manchester, the ones which I've always assumed I'd read if I was a proper person rather than someone knocked together through a chaos of raw emotion and faltering intellect.  Me, in other words, rather than the accessible hipster I aspire to be.  Most of them seem very expensive for what they are, ten pounds for about thirty pages of interviews with cinematographers or fashion designers.

Aesthetica isn't as expensive as I'd expected.  It's £3.95, which is cheaper than Doctor Who Magazine these days.  Founded in 2002, it, according to its website "combines dynamic content with compelling critical debate, exploring the best in contemporary art and culture" which it certainly does.  As I suspected from the many years seeing it on the shelf, Aesthetica makes you feel like a more enlightened person simply by holding it in your hand.  Like Monocle, New Yorker and Sight & Sound, I suppose.

But for all that it's still structured in the familiar format of a magazine, opening with a news section before diving into features, long form preview articles about hot new releases, or in this case, hot new exhibitions, a section which investigates the general craft more closely, before climaxing with reviews.  All of the magazines I buy or what's left them do this, even if some are more scrambled than others.  Empire boasts two review sections, one for cinema releases at the front, one for blu-rays at the back.  A lot of that magazine seems like reviews.

Unlike Empire, but like most contemporary art magazines, the problem for Aesthetica in producing a news section is that it has to be conscious that the majority of its readers. even with the help of Google Images, won't be able to see the exhibition they're writing about as its flies across the world from Gateshead to Paris to London.  The Cornerhouse is in the "10 to See" section, so that's plausible for me, but UCCA in Beijing is next to it and so less likely unless I win the lottery.  If I win the lottery on Saturday, I'm going to go and see them all.

So we're given a flavour, a large representative photograph of an artist's work, and text which attempts to find a dividing line between giving too much information to the few people who may be able to attend and yet still some flavour to those of us who can't.  Of the lot, it's the MCA Chicago which seems most appealing (hence yesterday's veneration of its website), with its selection of image from its collection, which sounds like Poliakoff's Shooting The Past on display or a hundred Open Eye Gallery archive exhibitions all at the same time.

That approach continues into the features section though with larger and more frequent images.  Post publication, part of the magazine's function, rather like Sight & Sound when films could only be seen in cinemas, is as an archive of what's passed for researchers and academics.  Photographs can never be a substitute for a real installation (unless you're Richard Long and that's the point) but they certainly give a sense and the atmospheric shot of Nari Ward's Amazing Grace (1993) at NYC's New Museum is a good example of that.

The text finds a space between straight journalism, criticism and the press release like material often included in exhibition catalogues.  Anecdotal.  Biographical.  There's a brilliant story about kinetic artist Julio Le Pac fighting against the artistic establishment's expectations (which is here if you want to be spoiled) (isn't that hilarious?) (imagine someone doing that at Tate Modern now) as with the news section, though most of this work will be cut off from us, there's a mighty sense of occasion.

With all that in mind, Aesthetica then enacts its coup de maitre and gives the reader a group exhibition embedded within the magazine.  Examples from the 2013 Sony World Photography awards, Rudy Burckhardt's photographs of New York & Maine and retrospectives for Astrid Kruse Jansen, Rune Guneriussen and cover artist Bharat Sikka.  It's like a glossy magazine version of the Liverpool Biennial's City States, remarkable work from artists you've never heard of and all gorgeous.

Burckhardt represents the city through people and architecture, but rarely together, his shot of the Telephone Building in 1948, a giant slatted edifice whose representation here must have influenced how the Tyrell Corporation was shot in Blade Runner.  Jansen presents a nocturnal world, clever lighting giving everything an unreal quality.  Sikka clashes documentary with fashion photography, which as the cover suggests revels in the incongruous.  Who is this woman and how did she end up here?

Beyond this is the quasi-review section,  with reviews and articles about film, music, dance theare and more exhibitions, in a similar visual and textual style.  The surprise is a two-pager about video game music though the accompanying photo eschews a more typical screenshot with an image of a retro games machine exploding (sorry, can't tell which one) (looks like an Atari 2600 but the dashboard is too complex).  The movies are art house.  Bands featured include Evening Hyms, The Pigeon Detectives and STRFKR.

Would any of this convince me to buy Aesthetica again (assuming there isn't a complementary subscription) (hint) (hint).  It would.  As a bi-monthly publication and at that price, there's enough reading in here especially in the back end of the magazine to justify the expense.  As predicted I do feel more enlightened.  I will try some of the films.  Listen to some of the music.  Get to the exhibitions if I can.  Plus if nothing else it gives me something to buy at the Cornerhouse shop when I'm passing through.

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