A Brief History of the PhotoStatic Project
Taken from the HyperStatic Database.
by Lloyd Dunn
Even this brief history of PhotoStatic is probably too long and self-indulgent to be of interest in its entirety, so I have included upper-case headings for each paragraph to ease the skipping of the parts that disinterest the reader.
THE EARLY DAYS. I began PhotoStatic Magazine in 1983 after noticing some of the possibilities of xerox art through band posters for local music gigs. What attracted me to them was their casual inventiveness and their rough handling of information. It seemed to me that, in spite of a lack of conventional "expertise", these modest images held graphic power in their bold contrasts, stark compositions, and felt emotions.
THE LIGHT BULB ABOVE MY HEAD. I had begun experimenting with the xerox machine and quickly decided that that best way for this work to be presented was in a magazine form. I knew of several other people in town who were making graphics for xerox as well, so I thought together we could come up with enough output to sustain a modest, non-serious publication. I began thinking of names for the magazine, which I found to be difficult. A friend of mine effortlessly suggested "Photostat" which I changed to PhotoStatic. It suggested for me a world of machine-based art, more closely allied with the "direct vision" of photography than with the "mediated vision" of drawing or painting.
LOCAL INDIFFERENCE, GLOBAL SUPPORT. The other people I knew that were doing xerox work weren't as prolific as I'd hoped. My bold publishing initiative might have been easily thwarted because of a general indifference to the project. But I did happen to mention the concept to a dishwasher and viola player who worked with me at the River Room Cafeteria. Without my knowledge, he mentioned this to an old classmate of his in Madison named Miekal And who had been publishing for the xerox machine for several years before this. He immediately fired off a letter asking me what I hoped to accomplish. As I didn't really know, and had only a vague idea of wanting to do a "xerox art magazine" (never having actually seen one myself), I wrote back, and tried to sound like I knew at least a little of what I wanted to do. He and (now his wife) Liz Was mailed me an envelope of submissions and really more or less saved the day as far as issue No.1 was concerned.
ON LYING, TRUTH, AND NEPOTISM. Of course I had plenty of my own work to show, so I made up a few pseudonyms so it would look like there were more contributors than there actually were. As I recall I had just moved in with Paul Neff (now a Tape-beatle) and he was doing xerox things, too. (He later did a one-page fanzine for awhile called "Smut Monkey"). I also had a woman friend who also worked at the River Room who xeroxed Pepperidge Farm cookies. At the time, I thought it looked kind of cool so I used it, thinking at the very least it lent variety to the issue.
THE REACTION TO #1 AND THE NECESSITY OF FRIENDLY SUPPORT. The first issue, as you may have already guessed, was brash and naive and rather inchoate. It came out in August 1983 and I printed 35 copies and sold them for 50 cents each (about what they cost to print). It was almost all visual. Soon after I heard from people in the network Miekal and had told about me, and a couple of people in Iowa City I hadn't known about suddenly showed up with some work. Also, a vague (at the time) acquaintance named F. John Herbert got a copy from a mutual friend and said he was interested in its possibilities. John, together with Mel Andringa, was then and is now the Iowa City performance company the Drawing Legion. (Mel taught Multimedia at the University of Iowa, and I took his class, which provided my first contact with Ray Johnson's work. ) Really, if it hadn't been for Miekal and John Herbert, I might not have seen any reason to do a second issue.
THE NETWORKING THING. The networking thing for me was begun with Miekal's letter, who was a great one for getting the word around, and for supplying his own work. I sent an announcement thing to Ray Johnson (who I found out about in Mel's Multimedia class), the famous mail artist, who sent me $2 for the next two issues. I was thrilled. Next I heard from Crag Hill and DiMichele (now Score publications) from the Bay area, California. After that I don't remember who came next, maybe Toledo poet Joel Lipman. It was this kind of encouragement that enabled PhotoStatic to remain a bimonthly magazine for over 5 years.
ON AUDIO CASSETTES AND THE SPACE WEENIES. In 1984 I became interested in cassettes and put out the first in a series of semiyearly PhonoStatic cassette releases. Paul Neff was guest editor of the first one, which featured our "band" the Space Weenies' only recording, a cover of the Flipper song "Brainwash". (The Space Weenies took their name from an Oscar Mayer advertisement that showed people at a picnic with a clumsy montage of hot dogs in the sky with perfect swirls of squirted mustard running one end to the other. The picnickers looked like they were under attack from the hot dogs which logically came from outer space.) PhonoStatic No.1 also contained work by Qwa Digs Under Paris's (Miekal and Liz) and a number of other pieces by pseudonyms, again because there weren't really enough submissions. Notably, both John Heck and Ralph Johnson (both members of the Tape-beatles) appear on the compilation with solo tape pieces, as well as Paul Neff himself, under the name "Smut Monkey".
RETROFUTURISM AND THE MORAL MAJORITY. The advertising for this cassette interestingly contains the first use of the word "retrofuturism", as well. We got the tapes for free by phoning Jerry Falwell's toll free number and asking for some of his sermons on tape. They really wanted a donation for them but we insisted we were poor and paying our mother's hospital bills or something like that, and they sent us a set of like 20 tapes. We used them for the first edition of the cassette. They sold for $1.50 each.
AIR PERSONALITIES. About this time, Paul Neff and I had become Djs at KRUI student radio for the University of Iowa. When we first started, KRUI was AM carrier current, which means it was "broadcast" only inside a few campus buildings, such as the dorms, by sending the signal through the wall wiring. This was not what you'd call real radio, but it was good experience. We had the good fortune, however, of sticking it out for a year after which they became a real FM station. The management of this new station was interested in specialty shows by radio "personalities". Since Paul was involved in the local band scene, he and I proposed a show devoted to hardcore, which I suggested we call "Guilt and Revenge". They accepted it and we were on from then on every Saturday night. The show remained on the air for at least six years, even after both of us had left.
WE "DO" MUSIQUE-CONCRETE. Soon after, I was doing audio art almost as much as I was doing paste ups for PhotoStatic. I did a 15-minute piece using tv and concrète sounds in 1984-85 called "Audio Vérité", which became the name of the second PhonoStatic cassette. By this time, I was living with Ralph Johnson, who owned a reel-to-reel, so we started a tape-group called the Creature Comforts. We bought an Lp at Goodwill for 10ï¿½ by Canadian romantic pianist Bill Butler. The insipidity of the music was oddly attractive: it was nothing in and of itself, so we concluded anything could be done with it. So we made loops of gunshots, Jerry Falwell pronouncements, loops from tv soundtracks, and the like, and used them for vocals over the smalzy piano dribblings. Some of these ("Dr. Falwell's Lament", "I Love You") were also on PhonoStatic No.2, which came out in January 1985. A proposed "corrected" version of Bill Butler's The Lover's Hour never appeared.
A MUSICAL MENTOR FOR THE TAPE-BEATLES. I was becoming more interested in concrete music, so I enrolled in an Electronic Music class, where I knew there would be good tape recorders. This is how I met Kenneth Gaburo, the director of the electronic music studio at the University. He is an instructor of rare energy and keen ears for exciting work. His guidance was instrumental in the production of my 16mm film "Buz" which bears a concrete-music soundtrack. Since then, all three of the other Tape-beatles have also worked with Kenneth, and Ralph, John and I performed in December 1988 in his composition "Enough ---not enough---" which has been released on CD. Basically we're all just intellectual pansies who don't know a good lick when we hear one.
I LEAVE BEHIND DISHPAN HANDS FOR OZONE AND PAPER CUTS. Sometime in 1986, in the fall, I got real sick of washing pans for a living for the River Room. I left work early one day and went to the University's Copy Center No.7 (where I had been getting all my printing done because it was 2ï¿½ a copy). I inquired about job openings. The woman didn't know but gave me the name and number of her supervisor, whom I immediately phoned. It was my great fortune that they were looking for someone to do the evening shift part-time at that very Copy Center. The next day I interviewed, got the job and two days later I had quit washing pans, I hope forever.
PROJECT AUGMENTATIONS. Here are some of the developments that have taken place since 1985: Being in control of the machine that ran PhotoStatic really changed the way the magazine looked. I hadn't realized the kind of control the machine operator can have. No.13 in August 1985 was the first issue I ran myself and I've run every one since then (beginning with No.35, they are run on an offset press with electrostatic plates, due to my current employment situation). With No.16 (December 1985) I started reviewing the magazines and booklets I'd received in trade for PhotoStatic. (People seemed to like the reviews, so I continued to expand the review section. Now everything I receive gets at least mentioned.) Soon after that I began the PhotoStatic artists book series (January 1986). No.19 and No.19 1/2 were a double issue; the former dealt with "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" and the latter was the "1913" issue, reflecting on the monumental cultural developments that can be traced to that year. The Tape-beatles got together and began doing their audio-art in late 1986, and their first graphic work appeared in No.24 (June 1987). No.25/26 was triple size and had 20 detachable post cards.
MORE RECENT DEVELOPMENTS. No.28 saw the inclusion of Retrofuturism, a submagazine devoted to the Tape-beatles hype machine, audio art and Plagiarism®. (In 1988 the Tape-beatles applied for a Registered trademark on Plagiarism® with the U.S. Patents Office.) The acquisition of a Macintosh computer made a typeset look possible, and I became interested in running more text. A general announcement was run asking if people were interested in writing regular columns for the magazine. Thomas Wiloch, Bob Grumman, Geof Huth, Miekal And, the Information Archive, and others, have begun columns, in addition to John Heck's serialized novella "Popular Culture is the Walrus of the Avant-Garde" which applies Plagiarism® and recombinant techniques to literary and pulp texts. RadioStatic, a weekly 20-minute radio broadcast, was begun the summer of 1988, thanks to Russ Curry's "Curious Music" program. It collects and presents audio cassette work by small scale producers of interesting audio. It airs on KRUI Iowa City, WCSB Cleveland, and excerpts are aired on WFSU Tallahassee.
VIDEO. VideoStatic 1989 was released in June, 1989. It is a video compilation along much the same lines as the PhonoStatic cassettes. It contains roughly an hour of video and film work by both networking artists and Iowa City locals. It was edited by John Heck and Lloyd Dunn. At the time of this writing (6/90) VideoStatic 1990 was not yet begun, but plans are underway. It will be edited by Linda-Morgan Brown and Lloyd Dunn.
COMPUTER DATABASE. HyperStatic version 1 was released in March of 1990. Revisions began immediately. No version is ever current.
The Art Strike (1990-1993). In August, 1989, PhotoStatic editor Lloyd Dunn attended the Festival Of Plagiarism, which was held at the Transmission Gallery in Glasgow, Scotland. There I met many people who I had corresponded with in the mail art network, as well as Stewart Home, who edits a version of Smile, an excellent post-neoist magazine. Home is also the author of the book ï¿½The Assault on Cultureï¿½. As Home is one of the prime organizers of the Art Strike (1990-1993), my discussions with him convinced me that I should join in helping to destroy the current commodification of culture taking place on such a large scale. To that end, PhotoStatic and PhonoStatic will not appear during the years 1990-1993. RadioStatic has already been taken over by Paul Neff, who will not participate in the strike. John Heck is interested in continuing to collect work for consideration in VideoStatic, even during the Art Strike. HyperStatic was released early in 1990, and will hopefully take on a life of its own as people modify it to suit their needs. DiaStatic is put entirely on hold. The Tape-beatle collective will not participate in the Art Strike.
An early version of this text appeared in Hal McGee's "Electronic Cottage" Magazine.