Q&A: Brynn McNab, Issue magazine (Vancouver)

by Stéphane Bernard

Nearly thirty years after the publication of its second volume, ISSUE magazine re-launched this past April at UNIT/PITT Projects in Vancouver. The magazine, which originally launched in September 1983 and was published by the aforementioned artist-run centre, is a self-described magazine of “mostly local culture.” At the 2014 Vancouver Art/Book FairEditor and contributor Brynn McNab joins Founding Publisher of Fillip Jonathan Middleton and artist Mariane Bourcheix-Laporte in a panel discussion about artist-run publishing in Canada. In the meantime, she looks forward to the launch of ISSUE, vol. III, no. 2 in July. 

Project Space: It’s been close to thirty years since ISSUE magazine folded. What was the impetus for bringing it back?

Brynn McNab: To revive it thirty years down the road… That is something that has been talked about around here at UNIT/PITT Projects for a while now and the decision to keep this history alive was made in January.

Surprisingly enough, very few people know about the original series and the first two volumes are extremely hard to find. Apart from the Emily Carr University’s archival collection, I belive the Crista Dahl Archive at VIVO Media Arts Centre has a few copies as well. We don’t even have a complete set of the original fourteen issues.

As far as content goes, I like the way the original was very contemporary in the sense that it covered exhibits that were being presented in Vancouver that weren’t necessarily talked about in the Georgia Straight, which tends to cover the larger shows in town. It was more of a niche magazine that could even be a bit gossipy at times.


PS: In the eighties, ISSUE was a vehicle for artists, events and presentation spaces that were not getting exposure in the larger Vancouver institutions or in the more nationalist publications of the day. Has this situation changed, and if so, how?

BM: No, even today, I think Vancouver can be an odd art scene because there are so many people contributing to the culture. The main reason for re-launching the magazine was that there were only a few smaller publications around. We wanted to do something that was generally contiguous to what was going on in the community and more representative of artist-run culture.

For example, I went to the Vancouver Art Gallery for the first time in a long while the other day and I found that it was disappointing. I liked the Myfanwy MacLeodOr There and Back Again show, but thought the Douglas Coupland exhibit was a bit standoffish. Obviously, when I think of my favourite shows in Vancouver over the past year, none of them were at the VAG. And even though the exhibits in artist-run centres can be hit or miss, I find the works are more interesting and representative of what is going on in the city, especially if you are a practicing artist yourself.

With regards to criticism, we’re also trying to publish a magazine that is the anti-Fillip in the same way that the original ISSUE was the anti-Vanguard of its day. Our writing is meant to be timely in the sense that the contributors can express an opinion without spending six months researching their articles. If you go to a show and you don’t like it, then it should be acceptable to simply say why without having to refer to philosophical theory, because artistic judgements are often made intuitively to begin with.

PS: Having several copies of the original ISSUE magazine at home, I’ve noticed that the first installment of volume III contains drawings by Noe Bagshaw and Maggie Boyd, collage work by Jenny Shipper and poetry by Erik Zepka, as well as the art reviews and criticism the magazine is known for. Is this new formula something we can expect with future issues?

BM: Yes, the new ISSUE is not only meant to be a venue for reviews, but also as a venue for artists to present their work. I’m interested in how the old volumes included an odd piece of literature or an occasional series of photographs, so I’m hoping to create an aesthetic that retains the original intention of the art presented. We wouldn’t run a series of paintings in Xeroxed black in white for instance. It is also nice to have a visual break in between the articles. And, in any case, most of the contributors are artists, so not only do they write, but they want to engage critically in a visual manner.

For the second issue of volume III, we’re working with Perrin Grauer, who will be creating diagrams based on performances he’s seen. In a way, these drawings are both visually attractive and analytical of another medium, so it’s a mix of the two intentions of the magazine. Yet another contributor, Derek Coulombe, works with Xerox as a medium of choice, so it made sense to include his work.


PS: Apart from content, volume III has also undergone a change in format. Talk to me a bit about the challenges of publishing a magazine in today’s digital age.

BM: As it is now, we’re not looking to publish any content online. We want to keep the magazine in print as we have an agreement with Publication Studio Vancouver that permits us to print it on demand and at cost.

Having complete content online lessens the value of the actual object. We only post excerpts to have a presence on the web in order to refer readers to the print edition. And, honestly, as much as there is this move toward reading content online, when I read, I want to have it in my hand because I find that sitting down in front of my computer and reading a twenty page PDF isn’t all that fun. We’re also looking into doing things with future issues to increase the value of the magazine, such as having a centrefold or inserting an artist-produced magnet, for example.

As far as distribution goes, the inaugural ISSUE vol. III had a print run of a hundred copies that we bound as needed, and subscriptions for future issues are available online. UNIT/PITT is currently the only location where you can purchase them, along with Publication Studio Vancouver, but we hope to have other centres carry them such as 221A and possibly READ Books.

PS: Editor or writer… What comes first? Can they co-exist? And do you have a preference?

BM: This is the first time I’ve had the occasion to work as an editor, as well as writing content for the first issue. What I enjoyed about the new role is getting to hear a lot of other peoples’ perspectives and I found that working with them is more of a collaborative process. You feel like you are part of a community and this gives you the chance to talk ideas around, whereas writing is often very solitary. And, as a writer, it can be easy for you to keep it that way.

I’ve found that there is often a lack of context to have discussions concerning art in general, so my role as editor has been to try and get discussions going, between the contributors and also with the readership, so that everyone is aware of what is going on in the Vancouver art scene. But I love writing, and for the second issue I’ll be contributing both an article and an interview.

PS: That being said, I’m assuming the publication has been somewhat of a labour of love. Is there anyone in particular that helped you bring it into the world?

BM: Steffanie Ling wrote a great article for the first issue but can’t this time around, so she will be helping me out with the copy editing. Alexa Mardon is generally focussed on covering dance and will remain involved with the magazine as well. And Erik Zepka might be a returning contributor sometime in the future once his schedule gives him the chance.

Our layout team, Rhys Kearns and Natalie Gitt, are both very keen to continue, which will help keep the look of the publication consistant. We also had two people whom are just finishing up internships at UNIT/PITT, Dana Howell and Carla Stewart, and they both have plans to continue contributing. And of course Keith Higgins has been very helpful with everything because he has lots of experience, so he often knows how to solve problems before they come up. He’s also our link with Publication Studio Vancouver, ensuring the pages make it out on time.

The launch date for ISSUE,  vol. III, no. 2 will be on Thursday, July 17th at UNIT/PITT Projects (236 E Pender St). We can also be followed on Facebook or Twitter, and the website is updated often.


Images: Cover and pages 33–35 of ISSUE, vol. III, no. 1. Text by writer/editor Brynn McNab. Scans by Stéphane Bernard.