Review — Medium #1 & #2

For my second review on artzines I picked Medi­um, a zine I had first seen at  MZIN book­shop in Leipzig in 2011. Recently, I met one of the edit­ors of Medi­um in Zurich by chance and received a copy of the brand-new second issue. For both issues, the three edit­ors of Medi­um — graph­ic design­er Manuel Krebs, author and cur­at­or Tirdad Zolghadr and pho­to­graph­er Shir­ana Shah­bazi — have cre­ated a treas­ure chest of twists and turns that is abund­ant of delight­ful dis­cov­er­ies and iron­ic punch lines…

Medi­um #1 – Poetry & Medi­um #2 – Sculp­ture · Photo: Nieves

Medi­um #1 – Poetry

The first issue of Medi­um revolves around poetry, but it is not the kind of poetry mag fea­tur­ing rhymes and meters that one might expect. Rather, this issue of Medi­um is about the “poet­ic” moments in every­day life, about the small things that — if noticed — unfold an intriguing qual­ity, or a magic of sorts, that leaves us engrossed in thought or benignly smil­ing. This par­tic­u­larly shows in the first short essay of Medi­um, which starts like this: 

Today there was a guy lean­ing the wrong way in the tube. It was not imme­di­ately notice­able. There was no one else sit­ting nearby. No oth­er pas­sen­gers to com­pare him to. But then I did notice that every time the car­riage came to a stop, he leaned away from the dir­ec­tion we were mov­ing. Very slightly. Think about it. (…)” — The full essay text is avail­able on Nieves’ web­site.

Anoth­er kind of poetry presen­ted in Medi­um is one that you are most likely famil­i­ar with — yet maybe not as a lit­er­ary genre. For their “spam poetry” sec­tion the edit­ors of Medi­um have col­lec­ted an impress­ive selec­tion of short, absurd and some­times cryptic spam mes­sages. Their senders are offer­ing one-off busi­ness oppor­tun­it­ies or stim­u­lat­ory drugs: “Why settle for aver­age? * MASS1VE, EARTH-SHAT­TER­1NG ORGAZMS (p. 31). Well-selec­ted and neatly arranged in one part of Medi­um, this sec­tion of spam poetry proves to be hugely enter­tain­ing.

Medi­um #1 (p. 31)


Without ques­tion, Tirdad Zolghadr — the author/​curator part of Medi­um — has an abso­lutely cap­tiv­at­ing sense of humour. In 2010, he pub­lished his second book Solu­tions 168 – 185. Amer­ica with Stern­berg Press. It is part of their Solu­tions series, designed by Zak Kyes, and it show­cases Zolghadr’s witty, elo­quent writ­ing. Besides anec­dotes from his upbring­ing in Iran and Switzer­land, Solu­tions 168 – 185 is a col­lec­tion of tongue-in-cheek com­ments on the state of affairs in the United States of Amer­ica. (Zolghadr teaches at the Cen­ter for Cur­at­ori­al Stud­ies at Bard Col­lege in New York City). But more import­antly for this con­text, Solu­tions and Medi­um have some­thing import­ant in com­mon: The dif­fer­ent lay­ers of mean­ing in these pub­lic­a­tions are inter­twined in inter­est­ing new ways.

Medi­um #1 (p. 16 – 17)


To illus­trate this: There is a one-line foot­er text on the bot­tom of every page in Medi­um. Alto­geth­er, these texts sum up to what is called a “blog­gish epos”. It is writ­ten – or should I say com­posed? – by Swedish graph­ic design­er Samuel Nyholm. From the implic­a­tions of cheat­ing on your girl­friend to dimen­sions of the uni­verse, or the idea that “con­trary to pop­u­lar belief, zero does not mean noth­ing, but everything”, it cov­ers many dif­fer­ent top­ics. One could read the “blog­gish epos” from begin­ning to end focus­ing solely on the bot­tom of every page. Yet flip­ping through the pub­lic­a­tion, it is likely that one is going to link the foot­er text to the adja­cent images. This has a par­tic­u­larly inter­est­ing effect for pages that fea­ture Shir­ana Shahbazi’s pho­to­graphs.

Medi­um #1 (p. 40 – 41)


In response to her col­our­ful abstract com­pos­i­tions you might find yourselves look­ing for sup­ple­ment­ary inform­a­tion. But instead of the typ­ic­al cred­it line below the pho­to­graph, indic­at­ing the artist’s name and the title of the work, one encoun­ters frag­ments of the “blog­gish epos”. Unex­pec­ted new con­nec­tions arise out of this chance meet­ing of image and text. But in a way, it also chal­lenges our desire to be giv­en an answer on the spot, a right-away explan­a­tion for what is on view — before even tak­ing a closer look at the pic­ture.

Medi­um #2 (p. 8 – 9)

Dif­fer­ent lay­ers of image and text in Medi­um are arranged accord­ing to a spe­cif­ic set of rules. This sys­tem­at­ic approach is one of the dis­tinct­ive fea­tures of Norm, the Zurich-based graph­ic design stu­dio that Manuel Krebs co-foun­ded. Some of you might remem­ber him from his appear­ance in Hel­vetica (2009), Gary Hustwit’s movie about one of the most ubi­quit­ous typefaces. As in many of his pro­jects, Manuel Krebs has imposed restric­tions on him­self for the graph­ic design of Medi­um. This shows in the use of only one typeface through­out the whole pub­lic­a­tion, or in the way that one text, the “blog­gish epos”, is divided into 64 single parts and presen­ted as one giant con­tinu­ous foot­note. For the second issue of Medi­um, the edit­ors went even fur­ther than that.

Medi­um #2 (p. 2 – 3)

The col­our­ful let­ters you see here in the intro­duc­tion of issue #2 that seem play­fully arranged are actu­ally col­oured accord­ing to a very clear set of rules. This intro­duct­ory text at the begin­ning of Medi­um #2 is about syn­aes­thesia – a con­di­tion in which your brain links dif­fer­ent senses. So for example cer­tain music­al tones make you think of a spe­cif­ic col­our. Or, it would also be syn­es­thet­ic, if you have to think of blue, when encoun­ter­ing a cer­tain num­ber. As you con­tin­ue to read the intro­duc­tion of Medi­um #2, more and more col­oured let­ters appear: “a” turns green, “e” turns red, the let­ter “s” is writ­ten in purple etc. This con­tin­ues until the entire text is set in col­ours. That concept is fol­lowed through for the whole pub­lic­a­tion.
Later on in the pub­lic­a­tion, you will find a col­our­ful list­ing of the twelve most fre­quent let­ters and the hun­dred most fre­quent words in Eng­lish that reads like a poem — each let­ter set in the col­our it was assigned in the begin­ning.

Medi­um #2 (p. 30 – 31)

Medi­um #2 is ded­ic­ated to sculp­ture. In cor­res­pond­ence with that, the three edit­ors have asked their favour­ite cur­at­ors, what they con­sider to be “the ulti­mate sculp­ture”. Hardly sur­pris­ing, the answers giv­en by Cath­er­ine Dav­id, Hou Han­rou, Han­nah Hurtzig and oth­ers present a vast array of pos­sible inter­pret­a­tions and under­stand­ings of the concept of an ulti­mate sculp­ture. Is it an art­work? A sound? Could it be the sud­den emer­gence of a mean­ing­ful moment in the drab­ness of every­day life? For the edit­ors, the ulti­mate sculp­ture is called “graph­eme col­our syn­aes­thesia” – mean­ing that some­body will invol­un­tar­ily exper­i­ence col­ours when read­ing words or single let­ters and num­bers. There­fore, Medi­um #2 itself is in a way giv­ing form to the ulti­mate sculp­ture. On its 64 pages, it resembles an exhib­i­tion in prin­ted format that is inspired by the view­ing exper­i­ence of graph­eme col­our syn­aes­thetes.

Medi­um #2 (p. 62 – 63)

Ulti­mately, Medi­um is that kind of pub­lic­a­tion which invites you to come back after the first go-around and dis­cov­er new aspects. Unfor­tu­nately the first issue has already sold out and, by now, may be acquired only through shady chan­nels. Yet the second issue was only just released and can be ordered from Nieves.