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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Paper Pushing

Thomas Persson is the mild-mannered editor-in-chief of Acne Paper, the magazine published by the Swedish label of the same name. But as its latest cover makes perfectly clear, this is no dressed-up catalog flogging skinnies and tees. Rather, sold mostly in museums, Acne Paper is a large-scale, thick-stock, finely crafted art biannual with a mission all its own. Unabbreviated, the title says it all: Ambition to Create Novel Expressions. Thomas was in town recently to launch the new winter issue and met up with our very own Lee Carter to start celebrating a little early...

LC: Would I sound like a groupie if I told you I'm a fan of the new issue even before seeing it?
TP: No. Yes. Each issue does get better. I think because we have these themes, which makes the magazine stand apart.

What's the theme of winter?

What's your favorite thing about it?
There's one feature that's my darling. It's about two extraordinary tapestries from the late Middle Ages that went through a major renovation. They're enormous. They're from Belgium, now hanging in Genoa. It took this atelier five years to restore them, which they've been doing for hundreds of years. They tell the story of Alexander the Great, the Macedonian king—who was gaaaay.

So the tapestries are gay porn?
No, they're quite sexy though. It's interested to see how sophisticated things were. We think about the Middle Ages as something dark and gloomy, but in fact it was quite a colorful, glorious and glamorous time. You can see that in the tapestries. The women are beautiful with high foreheads and heavy eyelids. The men are very masculine and they all have their own individual expressions. There could be hundreds of men in one fragment yet every inch is so full of detail.

Um, hundreds of men? What kind of scene is this?
A battle scene. One tapestry is about Alexander's youth and the other is how he conquers the world. Then we have a wonderful cover shoot by Daniel Jackson with Guinevere van Seenus, beautiful pictures inspired by old master paintings.

She's perfect for that. She can do Renaissance, alien, anything.
We also have an interview with Nan Goldin, which is quite brutal in its honesty. It's sort of painful to read because she talks about love, but without being cynical. She's realistic about love and sex and relationships. We also have an interview with the great Noam Chomsky about language, which is really fascinating. And we have a really funny story about wine. It's with Raoul Ruiz, a filmmaker from Chile but based in France. He talked about a certain wine having so much acid that if you spilled it on a tablecloth it would burn a hole right through it.

I must try this wine.
Yes, you should. It was fun to do something about wine that wasn't snobby.

I like how Acne Paper has complete freedom of scope and tone. It's able to touch on so many times and places, and really go beneath the surface. It's a little universe.
That's very nice of you to say. And you're absolutely right. That's what we wanted from the beginning. I like to say it's dinner conversation, as opposed to cocktail conversation. Today, with the web, you can get information in a flash. So in a way, magazines have lost their purpose. I wanted to offer something different. We're more inspired by books than magazines.

How do you come up with your stories?
It all starts with a kind of feeling, which always seems to come when we're already working on an issue. We get an appetite for something else, so each issue is a sort reaction to the previous.

What's your dream story?
An interview with Irving Penn, because he's so reluctant. I love what he writes in his books, there's no bullshit. He's about finding the essence, like in his photographs. He's a great inspiration.

What's the mission of Acne Paper?
To be timeless, to mix the historical with the contemporary. A theme that was relevant 500 years ago can be relevant today. And it needs to have an aesthetic about it. I couldn't do a magazine about passion because what's the color palette of passion? For the color palette of tradition, I immediately think of wooden floors, rustic, old, textured. Then we just research for a while. We'll look at books, go on the Internet, talk to people and boil down the theme. And sometimes we do something just because we want to.

Are there stories you definitely don't want?
There's so much focus on celebrities and consumerism these days, which is fine. But I thought maybe we could not do that, not because we don't like it, but so many other people are doing it.

And clearly you're not funded by advertising.
No. Someone said to me once that we have to advertising. He said without advertising it's not a real magazine. But what is real?

He was saying the prestige of a magazine comes from its advertising, which makes no sense.
For me a real magazine has real content. If you look at most magazines, they're controlled by their advertisers, but we have freedom.

At the same time it's not just promotional material for Acne.
In the beginning, bookstores in Sweden would say, Oh, Acne is doing a magalog. But it's not about Acne. It's called Acne and it's part of the Acne collective, but one has to remember that it's published by all the Acne companies. People got that eventually. We're getting better distribution all the time, primarily through cultural institutions. We've been contacted by the Centre Pompidou and the Tate Modern. We're always sold out.

So in a way, it seems like Acne Paper has reached a kind of perfect form. Is there anything you still really want to try?
Of course, like anything, it can always be better. But if I wanted to try something radically different it would be to start a new magazine. Should we have another champagne?

Yeah, I'm easy.

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