Saturday 10th December

| BY Natalie Dembinska

Peeping Ten: Joerg Koch, Founder Of 032c

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When we talk to Joerg Koch, the editor/creative director of the Berlin- based biannual 032C, it’s the eve of the publication’s 30th issue. That’s 15 years of an idea that was conceived as a promotional tool for a different idea. And how is he planning on celebrating? With a tribute to the city 032C calls home. As Koch himself says, “Berlin was never a real scene within the magazine for years, even though the city has shaped everything at the magazine.”

“But this time we did a super-big story – 76 pages with a film-maker. It’s a crazy cast of models, actors – like, the guy who plays the terrorist in Homeland. And it’s a very surreal take on Berlin. And there’s a film produced, so that’s going to be shown as well, and it’s an exhibition. It’s a trailer. And because the cast has been so diverse and 30 people have been shot, every model and cast member had their own time zone, own location, own look. It was very tense. The trailer looks as if it’s a trailer for a big production. It’s really crazy, but I’m kind of excited to launch it.”

NATALIE DEMBINSKA: “So, are you happy with 032C and what it’s become and how it’s grown?”

JOERG KOCH: “You know, when you look at how it started, it was just a fanzine, a limited-edition newspaper. And because we were based in Berlin, there was no access to money, but we just made the time for the magazine, you know, to let it grow. What it has become now? We’re happy! Because we do exactly what we want and, even though the magazine has changed tremendously over the years, the motivation and intent haven’t. For us, the magazine is the perfect vehicle for curiosity. It’s a research tool for you. If we become interested in something, we can simply call up the person or focus our resources on finding out something, so in that sense… ”

ND: “It’s the perfect vehicle to express your ideas and your interests and share them with people.”

JK: “Exactly. And it changes. In 10 years it might be about botanical gardens a lot. You never know.”

ND: “Did you ever think it would last this long?”

JK: “The funny thing is the company and the magazine were always set up so we could easily stop from one issue to another. Because I saw, with other magazines, how people were trapped because of contracts and obligations, and they had to do something they didn’t really feel interested in any more, but they just had to do it.”

ND: “Because of advertising and commitments.”

JK: “Exactly. So, from the beginning we set everything up so that we could easily say, ‘You know what, that’s it, let’s move on.’ And because of that spirit of things, we just keep on keeping on, because it’s so nice.”

ND: “There hasn’t been a reason to stop yet.”

JK: “Exactly. Like, every time you feel like, ‘Oh, that feels meh’, we can easily change it. And having worked at other places as well, you really value that level of freedom.”

ND: “What motivated you to start 032c in the first place?”

JK: “I moved in the mid-1990s to Berlin and so I started out very early as a whizz kid in the new economy at a website. And at the height of the new economy I dropped out of it because I got really tired of it and I started a project space with two friends and that space operated like a three- dimensional fanzine. We had exhibitions with i-D magazine, with fashion designers like Bless, or that guy – Glen E Friedman, who photographs skateboarding, punk rock, hip-hop. So we did that and, out of that, 032c came in to existence. At that time, there was a Berlin hype and we wanted to use that hype or that interest.”

ND: “To start something?”

JK: “Like, ‘Let’s do a fanzine about it that rides on that fame of Berlin, but at the same time deconstructs it.’ And it’s interesting because, for me, Berlin was always this cultural laboratory and there were a lot of things that are now completely normal, like an interdisciplinary approach, that I think were not really invented when I arrived in Berlin. Such as architects doing their own bar or you saying from one day to the next, ‘You know what I want to do? An exhibition space.’ That kind of level. And that was reflected in the issues of 032c, where you had architects writing about fashion, or you had product designers talking about bars, or whatever. That approach, I felt, was completely new.”

ND: “It was very new.”

JK: “So, commercially, it was too early. I think the drama of 032c was always being too early with things and that’s as stupid as coming too early to a party. Now I feel I’m very happy. I think we’re much more attuned with the times.”

ND: “Everyone seems to have caught up with you, no?”

JK: “I mean, that’s great, because you get inspired by other people, and if we inspire other people, that’s fantastic, because we thrive on that. We also get inspired by others, so I think it’s like fair trade.”

ND: “How did you get your start? What was your first break? How did you become interested in fashion, for example?”

JK: “I think fashion was quite abstract to me. I got interested in fashion because of people like Helmut Lang and then Raf Simons and Hedi Slimane. Because fashion as a social-identifying tool was interesting, not the actual theme of the clothes. So I felt also that 032c is part of that generation that’s really interested in fashion, because it’s like the engine of visual culture. You know, maybe 20 or 30 years ago, a magazine like 032c would have been much more interested in theatre or film, but I feel like fashion has become one of the really dominant visual culture engines, so it was always more of an engagement on an abstract level. And now it has turned… obviously, we’re now doing much more fashion than ever before.”

ND: “Is that a good thing?”

JK: “I think it’s very fascinating to observe, because the whole industry is disrupted and the standard procedures no longer work. So it’s fascinating to be actually observing it and doing things about it.”

ND: “It’s almost outgrown itself. It’s the beast that bites off its own hand.”

JK: “Exactly. There’s an incredible energy now to it and I think that the industry in itself doesn’t really operate as intelligently as other industries do. But that’s also the charming thing, because there’s still some room for irrationality and I think that’s something very human, something we also really celebrate and cherish about this industry.”

ND: “The lack of self-awareness. It’s almost a bit naive.”

JK: “Yeah, like, it’s a mixture of naivety, of megalomaniacs, of style, of irrational decisions. Meanwhile, it’s a big industry.”

ND: “It’s a huge industry.”

JK: “A giant influence everywhere, so that’s fascinating.”

ND: “I was going to ask a question that you’ve probably been asked a thousand times but, every time I mention 032c, everyone wants to know what it stands for. I know it’s a Pantone colour, but I want to know what it means to you.”

JK: “When we started the magazine, it was at the height of this big global thing, and we really liked the idea of a Pantone colour code being very specific. Because anywhere in the world you can look it up and it has the same meaning. And meanwhile it’s a bit cryptic and discreet. And you can see that also as a sign that it was never a commercially intended project. Everybody pronounces the title differently.”

ND: “I was going to ask you about that – does everybody say it differently in their own language?”

JK: “Yes, or they have it saved up differently in their mind. People save it up, and then you introduce yourself and you say, ‘We do 032c’, and it always takes a while until they realise. So this is first… in the DNA, it was never intended to be a commercial blockbuster project. That’s one of the contradictions we cherish. Coming back to your question [about colour], it’s red, and red has all these social connotations we really like – there’s this beautiful quote, and I think I’m going to email it to you later, so you have the direct quote, but basically it talks about the poetic connotations of red. It’s blood, the colour for blood that makes the surgeon cut faster… So we felt it was really cool to have it. But also it was because, back then, I was an internet nerd. So 032c is perfectly Google index – whenever you hit up 032c, it’s always up there on the search engines.”

ND: “I didn’t know that.”

JK: “And that’s coming back to the idea of coming too early to a party – we wanted to do what was fastest as an advertisement.”

ND: “For the website?”

JK: “We wanted to do a streaming media website, something like Nick Knight has done with SHOWStudio, but we were already bankrupt after buying a 500MB hard disk. And so the funny thing is that the print thing proved to be much more successful, much more convenient and easier to produce than a streaming media website back then. It was completely stupid, because it was way too early.”

ND: “So that’s basically why 032c was formed. Because it was easier than doing a website.”

JK: “Yes.”

ND: “That’s amazing. So, on that note, how important is instinct to what you do? For example, when it comes to content decisions.”

JK: “Well, I think that instinct is really fed or defined by knowledge, by research. So we’re never getting really neater about the work, how we do it. And so it’s always a little bit third party to talk about it in interviews, because you are actively forced to think about it, you know. Essentially, we have an excellent team here in Berlin now, and people, when you work with them, there is a natural osmosis happening through discussions, etc. And we have some big threads of interest. I think what sets 032c apart from most magazines, for example, is that there is a deep interest in history and the 20th century. So that kind of comes up every once in a while. Or we have an interest in talking to very old people. So that also pops up every once in a while in the magazine. There are certain threads that are probably not very apparent to people outside, but that kind of gives a certain structure to things.”

ND: “Because the content is eclectic.”

JK: “It is.”

ND: “Didn’t you once describe it as, ‘Vanity Fair on crack’, or ‘The New Yorker with porn’?”

JK: “Yes.”

ND: “Do you still stand by that?”

JK: “We have very little porn in the magazine these days. It always surprises us that there’s not that much nudity in the magazine any more. But that’s also something that just happens. It’s interesting. Like, we’re working with the photographers, there seems to be an atmosphere that this is no longer that interesting. You know? So we’re trying to figure that out. But the ‘Vanity Fair on crack’ comment is, I think, kind of interesting as a description for us.”

ND: “It’s a very accurate description.”

JK: “Because, essentially, you want to describe society or you want to understand what kind of society you’re living in and how you can change certain things. And obviously it’s not like… essentially, it’s a luxury publication when you look at the advertisers. You know who pays the bills. So I think it’s a reference that… we don’t pretend to be a rebel magazine or anything like that. That would feel incredibly outdated.”

ND: “What do you enjoy most about being an editor?”

JK: “These days I think it’s very tough business wise, in classic structures and traditional structures. But I think it’s still one of the best jobs, because if you have a curiosity you have a licence to go anywhere and to ask anybody. And it doesn’t feel strange. So it’s fantastic.”

ND: “And do you see yourself more as an editor or a businessman? Because at 032c it’s more of a brand – it’s more than just a magazine.”

JK: “Yes, I think we’re very much like… we’re not romantics who would go nuts about and bore you with paper materiality and that it’s unmatched and lalala… So we really like producing paper, and it makes sense for us at this stage commercially, but it could also be just digital only. If it would make sense, but I don’t think it makes sense, because, as you mentioned, it’s also really like a branding thing and what happens to your brand when your computer gets unplugged.”

ND: “It goes.”

JK: “It evaporates.”

ND: “It doesn’t exist any more.”

JK: “It doesn’t exist any more, and with 032c it’s in all the libraries, it’s in the museum collections, etc.”

ND: “It will always exist.”

JK: “It will exist, yes. So that’s a major difference. But for me, because we started it, it was always part of a business thing. If you want to be independent and you want to have interesting content, you always have to ask yourself, ‘How is that sustainable? How can you support it by certain business things?’ It’s very business DIY, I guess.”

ND: “Learning as you go along as well?”

JK: “We talked earlier about what has changed with 032c, and certain things have not changed, you know. I think 032c is the embodiment of do-it-yourself ethics – nobody has asked us to do a magazine. Nobody has asked us to do exhibitions and nobody has asked us to do a clothing line.”

ND: “You just do them.”

JK: “We just do it.”

Photographer: Maria Ziegelböck
Photographer’s assistant: Aleksandar Pertermov
Talent: Joerg Kock