Cover of VIA Issue 02. Photo by Scott Liken. All images courtesy of VIA Publication.

Cover of VIA Issue 02, photograph by Rachel Wolfe

LOS ANGELES — It must have been kismet that I ended up sitting next to Julie Niemi at the ridiculous Dave Hickey lecture a few weeks ago. As I searched for an outlet to use to charge my iPhone — which had died approximately three times that day, its life force being sucked out by Google Maps’ constant attempts to direct me around Los Angeles — Niemi and I started talking about how we’d both ended up in LA by way of Chicago.

Niemi is one of four founding editors of the LA-based biannual print publication VIA, which is dedicated to the art, food, and music culture of Los Angeles. She and her colleagues, Ally Hasche, Casey Winkleman, and Claire Boutelle, founded the publication in January 2013 and have two issues available in print thus far. They’re currently accepting submissions for the third, which will be available in July 2014. I caught up with Niemi and Hasche to learn more about the roots of VIA, which is a beautifully packaged, glossy book-like magazine dedicated to LA culture and about the small-backpack size of Teen Vogue.

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Alicia Eler: Based on the information available, VIA seems to have a collective editorial approach, with the magazine collaboratively edited and published by you and two other women. Is that the case? If so, was that a deliberately feminist decision, or did it just kind of happen that way? What other art publications inspired you?

Julie Niemi: Although our approach is collaborative, each of us heads up a section. We’re still a young and small publication, so as we mature as a magazine, we will naturally develop a hierarchy of editors. No, it was not a deliberately feminist decision — it was simply evaluating the amount of help and time we had and what process made the most sense. I revert back to many publications for specific reasons: CURA and Fillip for content inspiration, Triple Canopy for online inspiration, Works That Work for magazine model inspiration, Apartamento for design and paper-stock inspiration … and so on. I look up to plenty of publications and have quite the pack rat collection at home.

Ally Hasche: Our process and editing structure were initially very experimental because we were all somewhat new to magazine making. As we have started moving into issue 03, our editing process has become more fluid and systematic, and we have honed in on our particular roles in the publication. I do think our editing process remains collective in its approach: the founders work together equally to edit content, and our outside editors work on an intimate, one-on-one basis with us in between issues.

Illustrations by Anna Valdez. Photo by Scott Liken.

Illustrations by Anna Valdez in VIA. Photo credit: Scott Liken

AE: I’m curious about why you cast a wide cultural net, focusing on visual art, food, and music. What are the connections you see between food and music, visual art and food, and visual art and music?

JN: It started as being a way for me to research and understand LA’s cultural landscape, also a curiosity for me to explore the city’s cultural production through a variety of senses. We (Ally, Casey, Claire, and I) also have very specific interests in the LA field.

For me, speaking on a broad level, I believe that to talk and write about contemporary artwork, the topic needs to cast a wide net over these different genres. It’s no longer quite about making visual art or paintings or just being an exceptional in one field. Artists, writers, producers must consider how these genres are causing tension and/or friction.

AH: When we were developing content for our first issue, we found apparent themes of cross-pollination happening in LA between visual art, music, and food. We looked at spaces like Thank You For Coming, who experiment with how food and art can be fused into a practice and provided to the public. We’ve covered collectives like Creative Underground LA, who host collaborations between musicians and visual artists. Wolvesmouth appeared in our first issue as an example of how someone can approach their culinary practice as an experimental artist. We don’t focus solely on these intersections, but they are important to us in understanding how these areas of culture are affecting each other, specifically in Los Angeles.

AE: Can you tell me a bit more about your specific interests in the LA field?

JN: Our interests are specific to who we are and what we’ve be interested in most of our lives. Ally is a musician and gravitated more towards what’s happening in the LA music scene; Casey and I both have art history degrees, so we were wanting to continue our writing on art; and Claire is a designer by trade, so this has been an ideal creative project. We all love food, so writing about food came from all of us. We look for a significant amount of food writing inspiration from Lucky Peach.

AE: OK, so let’s talk about the decision to print VIA, which could have just as easily been a spiffy online magazine. Why print today, when everything is available instantly and online?

JN: Seeing the editorial and design process unfold is insanely gratifying, and I’ve always enjoyed the slowness and longevity of print. After months of editing, proofing, and mock-ups, the printed object is done. There are no easy fixes, so it’s very a very challenging and slow process, which in turn also slows you down. On the topic of content, it’s about finding content that is relevant to contemporary situations while finding content that has a level of stasis. It’s a balance between both, and we work very hard to ensure we’re meeting them in the middle.

Spread of photograph feature WLA by Justin Fiset. Photo by Scott Liken.

Spread of a photograph feature, “WLA,” by Justin Fiset. Photo credit: Scott Liken

AE: What most excites you about the culture happening in Los Angeles that’s different from other art centers like New York and Chicago?

JN: So much! Although many people see LA as being a center for international contemporary art, there is literally so much space for incredible smaller, subcultural gallery scenes. There’s enough friction and momentum on the international landscape for those spaces to pop up rapidly.

One of my favorite artist-run gallery spaces, Control Room on 7th and Mateo, shut down recently because of a few factors, but redevelopment in the area was certainly a significant influence. I would say there are similarities to New York and Chicago in a way — repurposing of former factories into creative spaces, repurposing of creative spaces into high-end restaurants. It’s a consistent evolution of real estate noticeable in many cities: LA, Detroit, Chicago, New York City. The evolution of downtown LA is peaking at the moment, and you can see it in the details of Grand Central Market and their events with MOCA and CalArts as well as the movement of commercial galleries from Culver City to just south of the Arts District.

On the other hand, smaller spaces flip quickly here, like many cities undergoing gentrification in former industrial downtowns and such. But I do see a void in the publishing and publication community here — right now there’s only a few: 2nd Canon, & Pens Press, Golden Spike … There’s still an abundance of building to do.

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Alicia Eler

Alicia Eler is a cultural critic and arts reporter. She is the author of the book The Selfie Generation (Skyhorse Publishing), which has been reviewed in the New York Times, WIRED...

5 replies on “Culture By Way of Los Angeles”

  1. With absolutely no disrespect to Julie or Alicia: There are so many publishers in Los Angeles that aren’t listed here! Semiotext(e), The Art Book Review, L.A. Review of Books, Dominica, Material Press, Llano Del Rio, Insert Blanc Press, Black Clock, East of Borneo, Area Sneaks, Night Papers, X-TRA, Public Fiction, Siglio Press—these are but a few from the top of my head, and so many that I’m probably leaving out. Like all things L.A., it’s just a matter of knowing where to look.

    1. Hi, Stacey: This is by no means meant to be a definitive list of all publishers in Los Angeles. It is an interview with the editors of one LA publication. I am familiar with many of these publications you list, and look forward to learning more about those I haven’t come across yet. –A

    2. Hi Stacey! I by no means meant this to be a complete list. I was just naming some recent, smaller publishers that came to mind in specifically, the downtown region. Thanks for your comment and suggestions of a few of those I do not know.

  2. A month later, and farmers are still upset…read Dave Hickey in LA: Pirate vs. Farmers by Julia Friedman in HuffPo

  3. Your caption under the top photo is misleading. The photo on the cover of the publication is by Rachel Wolfe.

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