This is the first part of dual interviews between the twin founders of Evil Twin Publications.
Stacy Wakefield Forte studied book design at the Rhode Island School of Design and graduated from the Rietveld Academie, Amsterdam in 1994. As well as working with her sister on Evil Twin Publications, Stacy was Design Director at Artforum and Index magazines in New York.
Now living the Catskills of upstate New York, Stacy continues to design books, is a member of Booklyn, and works as a volunteer at hydro-powered WJFF Radio.
What effect did travelling outside the US at a young age have on you? And what were the key things you learned during this period? Charmed by squatting? Was it difficult to return to the home country?
Travelling internationally at any age is fascinating. You discover things you take for granted that other cultures look at completely differently. I loved squatting for the same reason, it expanded my notions of how basic things like housing and group living could and should work. In the netherlands there is a community around squatting that functions extremely well. People in that scene are very community focussed, which is surprising to be around coming from the US where the culture is very individualistic. American underground art and music culture is exciting exactly because of our intense individualism. But the dutch are much better than us at anything community-centered, like squatting and collectively run businesses and projects. In my experience.
You’re currently collaborating with Fritz Haeg, researching earth sheltered homes for a new book. Where did you discover Fritz’s work and how did the collaboration begin? And what drew you to the subject of earth sheltered homes?
I met Fritz in LA through mutual friends and we spontaneously discovered a shared fascination with earth sheltered houses. We both had ideas percolating around them that made more sparks when combined. Earth sheltered houses are so romantic and wonderful. Covering a house with a sod roof so that it blends with the landscape and the home is protected from the elements makes so much sense.
For some reason this style hasn't captured the sustainable-building imagination as much as it should, so I think this project is really important for bringing rooted houses more into the public conciousness. There are issues around building them, it is a little more complicated and expensive to build them than above ground houses, and the right site is very important. but with more attention and discussion brought to them, these things can be addressed and improved on. So our goal is to investigate earth sheltered building, its past and present and potential, and see what we find.
What are the prominent memories and key things you learned while working as design director for Artforum and Index Magazine?
Artforum is an extremely well-run independent magazine with a phenomenal staff. I was really lucky to get to work there. The design of the magazine is necessarily straightforward and subservient to the text and art images, so as much as i loved the working environment and being involved in such a venerable institution as Artforum is, I don't think the designer has a very integral role there. At Index I had the chance to have much more impact. It could be very challenging to work there because it was a small and chaotic operation, but that added to everyone's sense of urgency and personal accountability. The role of design in the magazine was huge, I worked in very close creative collaboration with the publisher, Peter Halley, and we tried out all kinds of ideas that editors would have killed at other magazines.
Usually as a designer, you are working to please a panel of editors, who are by nature word people and not always visually adventurous. I have no problem with that, I think that kind of collaboration between a designer and editor can lead to the most accessible and relevant design. But index was a departure from that because the only person with final say over my work was Peter Halley who is a visual artist, as well as a writer. He was always pushing me to be wilder.
"My aim is always for my work to be invisible."
Our goal wtih index's design was to make it look simple, naive and "undesigned". I also got involved in the editorial side a bit-- I interviewed Dutch band the Ex about their tour of Ethiopia one time, and pitched ideas for people to include and brought a couple writers and photographers in, and all those things contribute to having a sense of ownership over the whole project which is different from just having a job. Everyone there felt that way and developed close working relationships, I still work on projects with all the editors who I worked with there who now are doing completely different things. I also always went on press and oversaw the printing of the magazine, and I learned so much about printing from doing that, that was always an interesting experience. Magazines often send production people on press, but its not often that book designers get to go. I'd encourage any designer to do it whenever possible.
In terms of design, how would you say your work has developed over the years? And do you approach design projects differently than when you began? Why or why not?
My aim is always for my work to be invisible. if a publication is well designed, the reader is looking at the photos and reading the text in a logical and coherent manner and not thinking about the design at all. Early on, like all designers, i was really eager to show what i could do and define myself with a certain style.
"i'm much more interested in design as a solution to a problem than as an artwork..."
Would you tell us about your work with Allyson Vieira on Untitled(Geometry + Democracy) and how you approached design of this? And what attracted/interested you in Allyson’s work?
Allyson's work is so special to me, its rare to find something both so visually appealing and intellectually satisfying! She's extremely smart. We discovered our mutual love of 18th century history when we were both working for Peter Halley, before I ever saw her work. I am especially intrigued by the way different eras latch onto previous historical moments that fit contemporary purposes. The influence of ancient greece on the upheavals of 18th century france and america is a rich subject and allyson's thoughtful exploration makes connections between things for a reader to contemplate, without making definitive statements.
How do you approach your collaborative works on album covers with your husband Nick? And what is your idea of what makes for a good album cover?
When we work on records together, Nick is the one with the vision. He makes collages and always knows exactly how he wants the artwork to be. just help figure out how to make the type and packaging effective.
Whatever happened to the Turn-offs?
we all just moved on to other things I guess! I liked the playing music with a group of people a lot, but i'm not a musician.
Would you say you are influenced by your sister? If so, would you explain how this manifests itself?
I'm very influenced by my sister, she's always thinking about and learning and observing new things that she shares with me, she's always interesting to talk to! She's very smart and thoughtful.
Do you still practice photography? And how did you approach the photographic work you did for Transient Songs and Mud in My Veins?
I take lots of pictures always, some of which i use later in design projects like i did in transient songs and mud in my veins. I see my photography as an archive of images i can use freely in design and book projects. I like to crop and mess up my pictures a lot, i have a lot of freedom because they're my own work. I just finished an artists book called "sensuchtig" now. Its a tiny edition of 6 copies with the text and photos all printed in my darkroom and its bound roughly by hand. That kept me entertained all winter, hanging out in my dark room editioning it. I think i'll work on another book made of photographic prints this winter, I really enjoyed it.
Generally speaking, how has the personal ‘zine changed since your publication of “Greetings from the Endless Highway”? What effect has the internet had? And what are the opportunities now and for the future?
Now the kind of personal writing that used to go into a zine becomes a blog. But at the same time, changes in the printing industry and the availablility of computers for design have contributed to a thriving artists book/small press/artistic self publishing moment. You don't see so many photocopied zines the way you did ten years ago, but you see more creatively printed and bound artists publications than ever before.
What are your thoughts on the categorization of arts between “high brow”, “low brow”, “fine art”, and “outsider art”? Do you feel these labels serve any purpose?
I think these labels are useful to define the context of work. Artists can have viable careers in any of those categories. The most prestigious high brow fine art market is certainly hard to break into, Collectors and galleries and curators expect artists to have a certain background in schooling and a studio presence in new york or some other metropolitan area, They don't want to bet on young artists who aren't dedicating themselves to their work completely and poised to make it big. Its a high-stakes business.
In New York you see a lot of young artists who are focussed on trying to break into that world and frustrated. But thats true of young people trying to get ahead in any business. And of course the most ambitious folks in any field tend to come to New York. Which is what makes it such an entertaining place! But yeah I have no problem with those labels, they have meaning and may be defined differently by different people.
Would you choose a colour (it doesn’t have to be a favourite) and explain the ideas and feelings it generates for you?
Chocolate brown looks very victorian to me and i use it for everything.
What are your aspirations for the future? And in addition to your project with Fritz Haeg, are there any other projects in the pipeline?
My aspirations are to keep making books! I want to keep getting interesting work projects like i have been (Right now I'm on my way to Hong Kong to press check a huge photo book I put together with Vice Magazine) and also to keep making my own books. I have a bunch of collaborative projects still in the discussion stages, but the thing I'm furthest along with is another artists book which is about the catskills.I'm collaborating with letterpress artist Kerin Brooks Smith who runs Em Space studios upstate on a four color photo letterpress book, she's a very talented printer.
And if we end with a political message, a piece of advice to artists, and a recommendation?
19th Century literature is my answer to all three. George Eliot, Tolstoy, Stendhal, Thackery, Jane Austen, The Brontes, etc etc. in cheap paperback. There's nothing better.
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