ISSUE 35 FALL/WINTER 2019/20 OUT NOW         ISSUE 35 FALL/WINTER 2019/20 OUT NOW    

Civilization: Anti-Image

Interview by
Harry Burke

Civilization is a newspaper-format publication founded by Richard Turley and Lucas Mascatello in, and about, New York City. With their fourth issue out now, Civilization offers a meticulous digest of the information typhoons that structure contemporary thought.

Susan Sontag “took it as a given that our duty as sentient beings is to rescue the world,” wrote Gary Indiana in a 2004 obituary for the remarkable critic. To live in New York, it’s helpful to understand the city’s snarky rigor, which has fueled its gossip columnists for decades, but it’s more helpful to grasp the empathy that underscores its intellectual vibrancy, as typified by writers like Sontag and Indiana. When we detach from the world, all we’re left with is civilization.

Civilization is also the name of a broadsheet published by Richard Turley and Lucas Mascatello, who met while working for MTV in the mid-2010s. Three issues in, it has a distinct voice, at once mordant and volatile. Single pages pulse with an onrush of stories and voices, which represents good value for money, and a meticulous digest of the information typhoons that structure contemporary thought. Issues feature people you’ll have actually met if you’ve spent time in New York (although not all contributors are named) alongside good-looking charts and likably small-scale images. Civilization shows that influencers are in fact vulnerable people, which is a first step back to the world.

HARRY BURKE  Your title, Civilization, is provocative. Why did you choose it?

CIVILIZATION  Is it? I didn’t think so. I guess that’s good, though? When it came to us right after we’d started on the first issue, it immediately clicked. By sounding kind of highbrow, it gives us a bit of freedom to subvert that status—that high/low garbage.

HB  In a moment when everyone’s valorizing images of each other on tablets and phones, why did it make sense to start a newspaper-format, text-heavy publication?

C  Newspapers are nice because they’re cheap, which means they’re easy to produce and sell. Having all of the content in print is a real strength for us, because it allows people to be a bit more honest; if it’s not online, most people won’t see it. That kind of anonymity has weirdly oscillated between mediums: there was a time when putting things in print made them permanent, but now it’s about avoiding the search engine, and staying offline and out of the digital archive. We’re both pretty allergic to social media. Keeping the focus on an object and its contents keeps the project from being a marketing or branding exercise.

HB  You redact interviewees’ names. Some copy reads like fragments, snippets, or things overheard. Your editorial is relatively nonhierarchical. Was this a political impulse?

C  Not political in the sense that it’s about power, but we do try to create the right kinds of collisions between content. Richard works very hard on this bit, laying things out in a sequence that creates the right punctuation and juxtapositions. Some decisions are more practical: we would rather redact a story than throw it away. The fragmentation is probably a result of so much work being done on my cellphone or between emails.

HB  Your visual identity is slapdash. Today, many publications appear post-produced, as if they were designed with Blender, but your graphics are more Microsoft Paint. They’re quizzical and incongruous, and remind me of Jörg Immendorff’s early output, like his LIDL works and performances in the ‘60s. What’s behind Civilization’s iconography?

C  Richard designs the paper, and Lucas makes the diagrams and some other little things. I don’t think the intent is to be slapdash. Maybe because we both do work in marketing and advertising, there’s some effort to avoid making the publication too professional. It’s not meant to be for everyone, and I personally have gotten a lot of joy out of leaning into that idea. When you think too hard about what other people will like or be receptive to, you end up making concessions and rounding corners. Generally, I think the public deserves more credit for their ability to interpret and appreciate things that aren’t totally processed and refined. People swallow things that come in all kinds of shapes and sizes; it only has to be smooth and frictionless if you plan to shove it up your ass.

HB  Is Civilization relevant to people outside of New York?

C  I think so. Everyone in New York has such a unique experience, and I’m not sure that the city itself really creates any unified or tangible social context. Everyone hacks their own social routes. So the paper is really about individual people operating within a bigger system. Pulling in metadata and “information” to support really intimate stories, and to create a publication for voyeurs, is kind of location agnostic.

Image courtesy of Civilization.

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