Artworks London: To start us off could you tell us about what inspired you to create the magazine?
Philomena Epps: I had the initial idea to create a magazine when I was studying for my MA in History of Art. The theoretical framework of the course looked at social and political events in which issues of sexuality and violence converged. Contemporary and modern art was read through the lens of psychoanalysis, feminism and war discourse, asking questions about gender and sexuality, identity, or modes of political protest. I was exploring radical and wide-ranging ways of thinking about art, but also about the world. I wanted to create a magazine, and a larger platform, that cultivated a liberated and expansive narrative. Something that could operate as the antithesis of mainstream media and fast journalism, which we have seen more than ever before, preys on exploiting hierarchies, false binaries, and racist and sexist stereotypes. Orlando encourages a polyphony of voices, dialogue, and self-expression.
AL: And what about the origin of its title?
PE: The name of the magazine is a homage to the transgressive protagonist of Virginia Woolf’s 1928 novel: Orlando. In the text, Woolf drew on the androgynous body as a signifier for multiplicity, and to advance a narrative of mutual understanding and inclusion. By abandoning rigid notions of ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’, Orlando nods to a future where societal constraints are dispelled. Inspired by how androgyny functions in the story, the magazine operates in a similar vein, by eschewing binaries in favour of the united body. Although indebted to gender theory, this perspective is used to question the negative effect of any rigid or stigmatising politics.
AL: The idea of a collective debate, allowing for a multiplicity of voices to be heard, is a central tenet of the publication. At a time where much debate seems to happen in binaries this seems particularly pertinent but also challenging. Could we ask you to elaborate on your experience in creating this type of space for discussion?
PE: It’s important to remain critically engaged, but also to present ideas in an accessible, open-minded manner that doesn’t require specific knowledge. In my editor’s note for Issue 02, the most recent print issue, I wrote that it has never felt more necessary to disrupt the canon, and breathe air into the echo chambers of bigotry and prejudice. However, maybe even more crucially, we also need to know when not to speak, and to think about listening – how to elevate important voices and opinions that are being marginalised, excluded, or overlooked. I see independent publishing as a form of collective action, and as one of the multiple ways to educate, encourage empathy, and open up significant conversations. I think self-published magazines (and DIY pursuits in general) allow people to speak for themselves, which is genuinely empowering and authentic.
AL: Orlando dually exists as both a website and print magazine, with the online content being updated on a rolling basis and occasional print issues also being produced. Could you tell us a bit more about your choice to publish in these two formats? Do they offer particular considerations or challenges?
PE: The online platform is designed to create an ongoing interdisciplinary conversation - the content is really varied. It ranges from interviews, longer essays, shorter comment pieces, reviews, to fiction and poetry, or portfolios of artists' work, or specific projects. The print magazine is produced annually, and is focused on a theme. Issue 0 was proto, Issue 01 was memory and history, and Issue 02 was discourse. The themes for each issue of Orlando have always been deliberately capacious and open to interpretation, in order to allow for broad and nuanced responses.
AL: Thinking back over all of the articles Orlando has published since its start, is there a particular piece that resonates most strongly with you?
PE: I think interviewing Mary Kelly for Issue 01 is one of my highlights, mainly because her work was so informative to the concept behind that issue of the magazine - the intersections between memory, history, and the future. I wanted to consider the legacy of the past, in the present moment, to imagine liberated and positive futures. This intergenerational dialogue and exploration of collective memory motivated me to commission articles which were dedicated to understanding how history can be re-read to understand contemporary culture.
AL: What does the future hold for Orlando?
PE: I'm going to start work on Issue 03, scheduled for 2018, and I’ve been having a few informal conversations about organising a series of events or screenings in relation to the theme.
AL: On top of editing Orlando you are also a writer. How do these roles inform each other?
PE: Life as a writer can be quite a solitary and independent pursuit, so editing a magazine gives me the opportunity to meet people and start interesting and varied collaborations. I’ve met so many fascinating and passionate people through Orlando, who have taught me so much, which in turn is undoubtedly beneficial to my way of thinking and my writing practice. Similarly, meeting artists and curators, or travelling for work, has been invaluable for the growth and strength of Orlando. There is a lot of cross-pollination. Along with seeing exhibitions regularly, I read widely, and try to attend lots of performances, lectures, and screenings. This multifarious approach to culture is key to Orlando. In addition to art, contributors also write about film, literature, history, and politics. It’s really great to be able to switch between the role of writer and editor, and particularly the experience of putting together a print magazine (design, layout, all the tangible elements involved with producing a physical object) has expanded my perception of how the visual and verbal can work together.
AL: Where is your favourite place to write in London?
PE: I find it far too loud and distracting - not to mention expensive - to work away from home, so the romanticised image of the writer (Simone de Beauvoir at Les Deux Magots) writing studiously in a café isn’t for me. That said, I am often my most productive when I work at the British Library - Rare Books is my reading room of choice. I wish I had a beautiful lofty studio somewhere, with lots of natural light, and wonderful, inspiring views.
AL: As book lovers we're always keen to hear other people's recommendations, have you read anything good recently?
PE: I decided to only read books written by women this year. Off the top of my head, some of the highlights have been the Silver Press collection of Leonora Carrington’s short stories, Citizen by Claudia Rankine, Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett, Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City, Bluets and The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson, Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill, Eva Hesse’s diaries, which were recently published by Yale, Reversed Forecast by Nicola Barker, and Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami.