LOS ANGELES — Here’s the problem: “It is how people come to see art as a tool, a flavor, or a device.” So says Charlie White, editor of the The Enemy, a triannual online journal that publishes long-form essays on criticism, social science, poetry, celebrity, and other cultural interests. “When viewed this way, and ultimately utilized or realized within these terms, there is never radical or experimental expression,” White concludes.
The Enemy is an ad-free, glossy print affair influenced by a vast array of publications such as Zing Magazine, Lacanian Ink, Grey Room, and Triple Canopy. The Enemy steps up to the internet, yet doesn’t participate in the social media playing field. The second edition of The Enemy is currently out; the third is due in September. I caught up with White via email and over lunch to learn more about who The Enemy is.
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Alicia Eler: Who or what is ‘THE ENEMY,’ and why did you start it? Also, why did you choose to call the publication ‘THE ENEMY’? It’s a pretty aggressive name, especially when it’s in all-caps like that.
Charlie White: I began the journal for two reasons. The first was personal: in May of 2012 my son was born and I immediately found myself at home more, online more, and relying on distant interaction more than ever before. It was in this period that I began really thinking about online formats and platforms in more serious ways. The second reason was socio-intellectual; I wanted to find a way to host the range of topics, conversations, relations, email discussions, and shared ideas that I — and, I believe, many artists — have with our peers, friends, and colleagues in both casual and critical discussions. Artists are natural aggregators, and although I hate the way that sounds, I see the scope of art’s broader interests as reaching into every aspect of society, from the low to the high, the ephemeral to the concrete, the political to the deeply personal. I see this as being born from critique and the dialectical nature of that process, which itself is born out of critical thinking, which comes from philosophy and the wider humanities. So from there I began THE ENEMY as a kind of invitational outlet that aims to bring disparate-yet-related thinkers together on one page.
As for the journal’s title, I think anything that claims free thinking today is an enemy, or at least does not fear the possibility of taking a position that could result in becoming deemed one. That said, I don’t see the journal as political in and of itself; I see the journal as a platform for the political, the polemical, and the personal. A location where thinkers can present ideas outside of the more limited and limiting commercial formats they are often granted. Also, with the commercial perversion of the “FRIEND” shaping a generation — or perhaps a few generations — imprisoned to social media’s structure, THE ENEMY stands as an antipode.
AE: Is THE ENEMY a true way to step outside of the “art industrial complex,” as stated in the essay entitled “Money Cubicle’s The Beast.” Could you define the “art world industrial complex”? It doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as the “prison industrial complex” or the “medical industrial complex,” but I do of course believe in always questioning systems and structures. How does THE ENEMY feel about this?
CW: Maybe. I think it’s a way to deal with art and its corresponding ideas without any complex. Yes, I could see some readers viewing the journal outside of this structure, but surely some others would see it seated right in the center of it. It is very hard to direct these types of things. The journal is not fast; it only comes out three times a year, so it does not aim to be a “responsive” publication in the way many online outlets can use the day-to-day and week-by-week of cultural and political activity as their contents. THE ENEMY extends its platform to thinkers as a space to present longer form ideas. If this is outside of the “art industrial complex” and it might be, then it is due to its patience, slowness, and disregard for market thinking.
The journal is not a market.
I worked pretty closely with Brad Phillips on his essay, and I think he really got to some interesting points, and found some lovely (and humorous) language in which to do it. As for the idea of an “art world industrial complex,” my take is that it seems pretty on-point when you look at the art world’s 140+ fairs, multi-billion dollars in transactions, and imperial gallery systems that have spread across the globe much like a franchise or multi-national might. As for tone, which is what I think Brad was aiming for in this language, it captures the enormity. To offer some perspective from my own history, this is no longer Greene Street in the late eighties and early nineties where a seminal Mike Kelley show was viewed at Metro Pictures (where you had to weave around columns) and a fundamental Robert Gober show at was seen across the street at Paula Cooper (with old wood floors being cut open to house his handmade drains); this is grandeur on a scale previously unseen, a flawlessness and airlessness beyond the corporate with artists catapulted to heights unimagined as a result of finance rather than cultural importance. What else would you call it if not an industrial complex? It’s certainly not a scene anymore, and it’s hardly on the margins, so it’s an industry, right?
AE: In the About section, you note that THE ENEMY “ … is a triennial online journal that invites writers, artists, thinkers, and activists to present essays and projects outside the mainstream of their own practices and disciplines.” Would an actor or musician be allowed to contribute to THE ENEMY? How about an old school op-ed columnist for a mainstream media outlet like the Chicago Tribune or the Los Angeles Times, which are both owned by Tribune Media. Why or why not? How would you typify the contributors, and how do you select what runs in each issue?
CW: Sure, why not — I think the question would be whether they would want to produce an essay or project for the journal, not if they would be allowed to. I don’t think the journal comes across as limited in who might contribute. For example, in our second issue we have Jessica Hammer and Meguey Baker, feminist game theorists and designers discussing power dynamics in MMOG, right beside respected painter Richard Hawkins’ fantastically dirty short fiction, right beside Semiotext(e)’s Noura Wedell’s essay discussing radical educator Fernand Deligny, and so on. I would hope that this kind of variety of thought and idea speaks to inclusion, not exclusion. At this point the contributors are invited with the goal of creating a balance in subject matter and ideas — a balance that is found through the contributors mostly. For example, I invited Vince Aletti, who I greatly respect, to realize something in the projects section for IMAGE.
AE: How do you think curating selections of artworks in an online publication detracts from an in-person experience of viewing the works? Or does it not really matter now since we are experiencing a more fluid exchange in IRL-URL living? I’m interested in your thoughts on the experience of viewing curated works online in a magazine format versus offline in-person, and how that changes perception. Here I am thinking specifically about Vince Aletti’s curation of Stephen Irwin‘s works.
CW: Some works are a faint echo of their original when viewed online, or for that matter, in print; however, other works can inspire, inform, or teach from the page or screen. One project I would point to, which is not visual, was the the Mike Kelley / Michael Smith audio project. I do not know if such a thing would have come into being if we had not reached out to Michael Smith and asked if had anything he had ever worked on with Mike Kelley that had not been fully realized. Or our first IMAGE project with Roe Etheridge, who I feel masters the bridge between the wall, the page, and the screen. His project took total advantage of being online and on a screen (much like a page spread) to create a photo essay of sorts, a story in pictures. In this case, as with Irwin’s project, I would not view the images as “artworks” that have been made or transformed into files that are then distributed; I would argue they become their own thing. Consider a photo book by Bruce Davidson, the way that the entire thesis operates across the pages, or how an influential catalog like the 1975 New Topographics introduced — by way of reproductions — an entire movement of American landscape photography to the world.
I like your question, and I don’t mean to ignore the problems found in a culture of distanced viewing, but I wonder if the “problem” between things IRL and those found on URL wouldn’t be more appropriately located within the ontological and sociological crises born out of our increasing remove from interaction itself, both personal and professional, rather then being concerned with images and visual ideas, which I would argue can endure reproduction and dissemination, and in some cases, benefit from it.
AE: What do you have in store for issue number three?
CW: That question will be answered on September 15th, but I can say that we have an exceptional poet in WORD, a very exciting prospect for IMAGE, and a few stellar essays coming up. I realize that is far from an answer, but honestly, it’s early in the process and it would be a mistake for foretell the contributors. It will good, I assure you.