Magazine Review: Putting the ooo-errr in Flaneur

The new issue of Flaneur magazine is nothing short of beautiful. That brassy but oh-so-classy gold lettering; the colourful and eclectic, yet somehow minimalist, ‘80s-inspired layout; the thick, matte paper, which reminds you in one touch of the beauty of holding a magazine- a real, printed magazine. I say ‘magazine’, yet this is no throwaway weekly, as the term often connotes. Flaneur is something to be treasured. The kind of magazine you might accidentally-on-purpose leave lying on your coffee table when friends come round. It is the piece of art it aspires to be. But does the content live up to the production?

The brainchild of local Ricarda Messner, Flaneur is a Berlin-based publication still in its infancy, though nevertheless garnering well-deserved attention and praise for its unconventional approach. The magazine, as its name suggests, plonks a team of wandering creatives on a single street, where they spend several weeks on location observing and documenting something of the daily life there. In their own words:

“The magazine embraces the street’s complexity, its layers and its fragmented nature through a literary approach. It creates meaningful correlations among places, stories, people and objects that aren’t necessarily related.” 

At times blurring fact and fiction, Flaneur is consciously subjective, aiming not to inform, but rather to offer a glimpse of an experience. The magazine’s main success lies in its ability to wield the physical limitations of a single street and, approaching it through a studied, creative lense, use the stories and history uncovered there as a springboard for discussing much larger ideas. “The concept of taking one street per issue is very concrete in itself, but it gives you the variety also of doing whatever with it, because a street has so many layers and so many different aspects,” Messner explained in a 2013 interview with the Goethe Institute. “You can create and do whatever you want to do.” The street in question becomes a microcosm for the city, providing the reader with a rich social, artistic and cultural commentary of the area. The magazine quite literally moves away from the propensity for trends and disposable fashions (our tendency to ‘rush down a street’, in Messner’s words), and actively encourages a deeper, more thoughtful appreciation of our surroundings. It is a timeless formula and has earned Flaneur a strong foothold in an often over-saturated market.

Issue #4, launched last Wednesday in a predictably fashionable manner at the Helga Maria Klosterfelde Art Gallery (Potsdamer Str.), was the Rome edition: Corso Vittorio Emanuele II. It follows in the wake of Rue Bernard (Montreal), Georg-Schwarz-Strasse (Leipzig), and Kantstrasse (Berlin). For this issue the team grapples with time, and the difficult relationship between past, present and future in a city that is forever bound to its history; forced quite literally on a daily basis to confront the ruins of what came before, which haunt its future before it has even begun. It uses the topographical importance of Corso Vittorio Emanuele II (connecting the ‘Piazza Venezia, the new political, nonclerical Rome, with the Vatican’), to re-shape the 19th- century ‘Questione Romane’ in a 21st century setting. It asks of Rome, how can the city move forward, when encountered with a ‘resistance to everything that can be considered modern’?

It is a discussion that encompasses the historical, cultural and political climate of a city that in recent years has struggled to find its identity. At one point it is suggested that, ‘Rome is much closer to Berlin than it is to Paris’, in reference to the inorganic and eclectic growth of the city. Yet the comment has a more poignant significance to those familiar with the controversy surrounding the rebuilding of the Stadtschloss- Berlin’s most recent attempt to re-establish its history- whilst at the same time parts of the city’s ‘real’, living history (the East Side Gallery) are elsewhere being knocked down for commercial ventures. Here we have two very different cities with a shared dilemma: both weighed down by the burden of their past, and struggling to move forward into the future without leaving history behind.

To be able to draw such a parallel is testament to the magazine’s ability to draw out of its chosen street the very lives, politics, art and economics that have, over time, shaped it into what it is, and in doing so start a discussion much larger than its geographical limitations. Perhaps this is what Berardo Carboni means when he talks of the flaneur’s role as one of connecting ‘a net of communities, a community that is spread all over the world and is no longer connected by the street or a specific place, but through a similar experience or a similar struggle.’ Flaneur successfully makes the specific universal.

Issue #4 also features stills from short film ‘Bebeto’, dapples in 3D models for its section on ‘People of the Corso’, juxtaposes daily observations of life on the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II with 80s popular Italian magazine ‘Letitzia’, and includes a soundscape of the street. It is a melting pot of creativity, an effective conglomeration of distinct styles and artistic expression. It is not cheap (€15 a pop), but it is not meant to be. Flaneur is fast becoming a big player in Berlin’s creative scene. Let us hope that the magazine’s own journey is as ‘never ending’ as the stories it aims to offer with each new issue.

By Jane Walton

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