Just A Few Of Our Many Products

By Mute Editor, 28 November 2002


Including: JJ King on the European Social Forum, Mark Crinson on Manchester's new Urbis museum, Maria Fernandez and Matthew Hyland on Documenta 11, Horacio Tarcus on the political crisis in Argentina, Heath Bunting & Kate rich in conversation with Matt Jones, Neil Mulholland on Ambient culture, Kate Rich on Josh On, Pauline van Mourik Broekman & Josephine Berry in conversation with APG, a short story by Gwyneth Jones and special projects by Futuresonic, Université Tangente and the Semantic Web crew

For Mute, editorials containing reflections on our past or deliberations over our future, can feel like a seasonal affair: we seem to be regularly announcing format changes, editorial changes, general mission changes, and so on. It may seem confusing, but we’ve ended up coming to think of this as a productive sort of existential doubt: the magazine was started as an open-ended experiment with art/technology publishing, and is destined to go on being one.

Over the last five years, this has meant rising to some very traditional publishing challenges. Taking accusations of obscurity and overspecialisation on the chin, Mute tackled the high demands posed by its contents by changing the format (from newspaper to magazine), design (we appointed a professional designer), editorial (we encouraged authors to follow style guidelines) and structural clarity (we instituted sections and content ‘categories’). The sacred cow of Mute’s critical self-reflexivity was, to some extent, sacrificed on that nebulous altar of the ‘magazine readership’: if bookshops couldn’t store the newspaper, and readers were alienated by our presentation, why not meet them halfway? And so we did, in the summer of 1997, with a full-on Glossy. En route, we also circumvented our apparent fate – that of becoming a ‘digital art’ magazine – by broadening our coverage to technoculture in general. In the face of ‘digital art’’s institutionalisation, that moniker was left open-ended – much as we like to think of it now.

But Mute’s foray onto the newsstands of the mass market turned out to be a schizophrenic experience. We sought to find the readers we knew were out there, but refused the more profound alterations in content that distributors suggested were their precondition – lifestyle, anyone? Our website Metamute, meanwhile, existed separately, displaying Mute’s content, but infrequently updated and unable to provide web-specific content, or function as the much desired circuit of feedback between readers and editors.

Those who know Mute will remember that this process came to a head during 2001, when we realised we weren’t a traditional magazine or publisher. This was also the year that we published a manifesto-like pledge to our readers (‘Ceci n’est pas un magazine’, Mute19, May 2001), inspired by the magazine’s day-to-day existence in a broader independent net culture. In it we plotted out the workings of a more networked and dialogic version of our publishing model and posed questions about economic sustainability across the whole field.

What you hold in your hands is the logical result of that process. This ‘new format’ Mute should be understood in tandem with the changes made to our website, now running on an easy-to-edit content management system – the basis of its forthcoming decentralisation. Together, they comprise our attempt to draw connections between the online peer-to-peer phenomenon and the print medium. They also reflect our belief that we need ‘slow’ as well as ‘fast’ publishing platforms, and that decentralised organisation poses questions of culture and its economies every bit as much as of traditional politics.

Picking up a copy of the now bi-annual Mute, you’ll notice that we’ve paid a lot of attention to making it something you can keep and store. Being at the ‘slow’ end of the cross-publishing spectrum, we also hope Mute manages to function as a slice of time, offering an over-view of recent history. It’s increased size means we will also be able to play with other formats such as artists’ projects, surveys of an intellectual terrain, or experimental mapping exercises. An example of which is this issue’s map by the Université Tangente of different political and corporate power formations within the EU, made on the occasion of the European Social Forum, which follows last year’s World Social Forum. Other things to watch for are our new Web Exclusives – a weekly commissioned article for the website, as well as Metamute’s forthcoming forum complete with a new set of threads and mailing list structures.

We’d like to invite you to feedback on Mute and Metamute’s, ahem, ‘paradigm shift’ (for more details see pages 6-9 ) and encourage you to send us suggestions for articles you’d like to read or write yourself, in print or online.

Pauline van Mourik Broekman <pauline AT>