The latest issue of Afterall introduces a new design and marks the beginning of a more expansive ambition for the journal. When we began in 1999, we determined to commit ourselves to detailed analyses and discussions on the work of individual artists, whilst also attempting to place the implications of their investigations into an appropriately wide frame of social, philosophical and political developments. We sought to demonstrate our belief that the work of artists touches upon vital questions concerning our way of life and values in this slippery period at the turn of the century. After two years and four issues, we feel it is necessary to reassess our policies and see if they still hold good. Above all, the commitment to individual, or collective but singular practice seems essential to maintain. This is because, in a world of specialisation, the uniquely permissive license granted the artist to stray into diverse areas of knowledge and report back to a wider public is ever more valuable. We have to ensure both that the balance between the individual and the social is constantly adjusted and that the affinities between the artists illuminate their individual practice without closing down ways of seeing and interpreting it. Allowing writers to stray from straightforward analysis, to go off the point, or develop allusive, tangential writings in relation to the artists’ work is a, perhaps contradictory, ambition that we would like to reinforce. Increasingly, we also feel that there is more room for a broader sweep of ideas to be covered in the journal and under the Afterall imprint. Art is a generator of new possibilities and ways of thinking about the world but, simultaneously, it is a great consumer of intelligence discovered in other areas. Bringing these two elements together – research by artists and research that might inform art – will be a new point of departure for the journal.
Over the next year we will introduce an Afterall Books imprint in which people working in different fields and cultural activities can discuss research topics. Likely topics for the future include art and capitalism and the shape of cultural politics after 1989.
But enough about our future plans. You will see that Afterall number 4 has been significantly redesigned by our new art director, Simon Josebury. We wanted to keep the freshness and contemporaneous nature of the journal and not fall into the branding trap of maintaining a particular graphic identity. The new design is loosely based on Luc Derycke’s original, maintaining a close relationship between text and image, and allowing the artists to have a good visual presentation of their work. The changes to its layout, typeface and the distribution of images will allow us a greater degree of flexibility and the opportunity gradually to begin to vary the established format of five artists and two longer contextual essays.
For this issue, five artists have been selected whose work reflects in different ways on the term ‘wonder’ as both a miraculous phenomenon and speculative endeavour. The notion of wonder has a long history, being, as John Llewellyn’s essay describes, the initial impetus for philosophical speculation. It continues through the mediaeval period as a religious experience, used in English to describe miracles, both heavenly and secular. Its transformation during the Enlightenment into a tool for thinking about the world is not yet complete, and the definition of the word still carries both histories within it today, the difference between ‘I wonder…’ and ‘a wonder’ containing an important ambivalence that is key to the coherence of this issue. The loops and ties linking the individual artists are, as usual, left to the reader to connect, while Warren Niesluchowsky’s essay looks at the mediaeval background as a way of understanding long-term change and continuity in an art world driven largely by the imperative of the new. The texts about the artists have been commissioned to provide a diverse set of responses, not only about each individual but also as interwoven strands exploring different ways of writing about and responding to the experience of art. Jack Goldstein’s work has recently come back into focus after some years of neglect. By commissioning two pieces that look at his work in the light of current activities, we hope to continue his reassessment as a major figure in film and image making. The young American artist Frances Stark has commissioned one piece herself, asking a broad range of people who know her work to respond directly to specific questions that she has then edited into an article. We are publishing three complementary texts on both Cerith Wyn Evans and Lily van der Stokker, allowing the reader to gain a particular insight into a narrow aspect of the work or a personal response from another artist, alongside a longer art-historical text on each. Finally, the German artist Thomas Struth has also recently returned to the limelight with an extraordinary series of landscape works. The two new texts mention these images as part of a continuing development in his work against the discipline of serial images and towards significant, single photographs capable of developing a complex but immediate relationship with a viewer.
The insistence of such an immediate relationship is helpful in reaching an interim conclusion about this issue. The wonder that we hope is present in the work of all these artists is ultimately, it seems, based less on observation of remarkable phenomena in the world, strong though that tendency is. Instead, what brings them together in some partial concord is a relationship to a person, either one depicted in an image or word, or imagined as a viewer of the work. Here, different forms of simple, human contact remain central to the notion of wonder as well as to the artists’ works – something that, despite the failures of modernism and afterwards, allows art to continue to make things possible.