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.