Janet McAllister on the arts
Janet McAllister looks at the world of the arts and literature.

Janet McAllister: Jetsetting with cultural mags

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Wellington's 'Common' magazine showcases creative work and processes.
Wellington's 'Common' magazine showcases creative work and processes.

Now that Bauer owns 120 per cent of the nation's newsstand magazines, do we have any independent periodicals left? I went to Mag Nation to check.

I was looking for titles on culture, design, ideas or society. But most covers sported a distinctive green air freight sticker. "They're mostly Australian," said the shop assistant. They looked Murdoch-less and enviably pretty.

Culture magazines are all desperate to seem globally cosmopolitan. Read these puppies and voila, you're an instant jetsetter, as up-to-date as a Manhattanite about happenings in, um, Riga and Taipei. Local mags have joined this amazing race; you're better off looking for local content in international titles that think New Zealand is exotic.

I could have bought Aortica, a German "road trip": their second issue was all about Auckland. But it was $39.90, and why would I pay $39.90 to read an interview with Shane Bosher from a year ago, when I can read one in Bauer's current Metro for 10 bucks?

From Aotearoa, I could have bought Remix or Idealog or Good (font-tacular but cluttered) but in the end, I went obscure. The first two buys were Common (vol 1), a biannual from Wellington that showcases creative work and processes ($9.90, reduced from $18 as it came out in 2012); and Threaded, an international design showcase produced in Auckland ($20 - ouch! and for a back copy, too).

Both looked comely, clean and spare, but both were carriers of the dreaded Q&A interview. Unless judiciously edited, transcripts are like raw broccoli - why make me chew through unprocessed streams of consciousness?

Still, the designers I know don't care - they want pictorial inspiration. Words are superfluous. Threaded seems to know this: one sly text was an interview between designers panicked about what should go in the text.

Another purchase was the near-wordless "Untitled" issue of Freerange, from Unity bookshop ($14). Freerange is an "Aotearoa, Atlantis, Australia" collaboration, about "the city, design, politics and pirates". It's alt-smart; I like it. "Untitled" includes a drawing by Kerry Lennon entitled Liberty Riot, of the Statue of Liberty in the sort of balaclava favoured by a certain Russian punk outfit. I later downloaded the wordy "Commons" issue from the Freerange website for free.

More oddly, I also enjoyed my last buy: Flint & Steel (vol 1, $13.95). The theme "belonging and national identity" was a bit naff but I was relieved to find a magazine unfashionably targeting a local audience.

In spite of the cold, hard name, I didn't realise it was an annual from conservative thinktank the Maxim Institute until I got home. It gave me a good exercise in critical reading. Surprisingly, many deeply considered pieces gave me food for thought, and one contributor was a Green Party worker. But there was no Maori point of view, and slipped in near the back was a piece by a British neo-liberal who used "integration" like it meant "assimilation".

There were also, groan, two large photos of fish 'n' chips. Couldn't designers and writers join forces? Threaded Flint & Steel has a certain ring.

- NZ Herald

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