Fotograf Magazine

Peeping Tom´s Digest

The publishing project, Peeping Tom’s Digest ( ), follows – in addition to the realisation of smaller artist monographs – one main objective: observing and discovering specific creative scenes, yet in no way in the sense of a popularising guide, rather according to a special, empirical key based on communication. So far two issues have been published in English: the first focused on Berlin[ref]Berlin: The Chain, Peeping Tom‘s digest #1/2009.[/ref] and the second monitoring contemporary artistic production in Mexico.[ref]Mexico: Art exploration of the Mexican contemporary art scene, Peeping Tom‘s digest #2/2010.[/ref] The core of this young and newly-beginning initiative consists surprisingly of a two-member team in Paris: Stéphane Blanc and Caroline Niémant who profess themselves to be unambitious enthusiasts, observing outsiders without an expert background and they pride themselves mainly on their flexibility and openness. It is interesting that in the time when international cultural policy determines to a large degree the activities of many art professionals, when for pragmatic reasons various grant programmes are tied to long-term networking and mobility projects, that a spontaneous and not-for-profit-motivated project, which has no backing from academic or longterm grant structures, would appear. And despite this, it systematically and transparently builds an interesting network of contacts with numbers of artists on a scale ranging from beginning artists to established names.

Given the work methods of Peeping Tom´s Digest, it does not make sense to name here the long list of artists that it presents. Nor is it possible to view the results of their work as standard publication activity. Let’s focus on comparing both issues and on the authors’ initial idea. The first issue has all the traits of a beginning, somewhat immature, publication, but it also has a number of positive attributes and more general overlaps. The publication’s content systematically maps the process of an emerging publication, from contacting artists working in Berlin to further recommendations and reactions of candidates and it submits them to readers as part of its special inlays, as a process, a chain, a family tree of participants. Indeed this is the point. One way or another it essentially documents well the complexity, diversity and plentiful production of the Berlin scene. It takes the pulse of a cross-section of its cosmopolitan community and indicates also the consciences of its extremes. A comprehension of the hope, aspirations and desire to succeed say much about how the world of professional art is actually structured. The artists work from the premise that it is not self-evident for a young artist how to earn their place in the sun in (the time of) current artistic over-production. To a large degree it’s the luck of the draw.

That combing over the Berlin and Mexican art scenes brought completely different results has many reasons. There are incomparable differences in the realities and mentalities of both destinations and completely divergent positions on the international scene. For a reader expecting standard, sorted information, the Berlin issue will give the impression of being disorganised, but the authors decidedly did not have an ambition to make concise probes into the cultural metropolis – they publish the story of one letter, one process. The method of the open call, letter that every addressee aspiring to be part of the project must send further, is more than anything else, a very incalculable experiment. Niémant and Blanc openly declare this almost gambling-type process based on happenchance. From the 53 chosen artists working in Berlin, and represented in the publication, they have constructed rich, image material. The publication is not structured like a thematically-consistent catalogue nor arranged in alphabetical order, but rather based on the development of the process of correspondence.

Given that the communication medium determines the publication’s final form, one has to accept the logic of publishing a whole number of e-mails and other details that are based mainly on an explicitly-declared experiment. Eventual criticisms of the persistent documentation process of communications between the magazine, Peeping Tom, and artists should be put off until you flip through the second issue new focusing on Mexico. This is an effort in which you can see that truly a lot of work has gone into it. The strategy of the beginning editorial staff has also clearly changed and has become more professional. The probe gains a deeper and more organised character. The editorial staff also invited a number of local professionals and theoreticians to work with them. And so the publication offers a number of interesting and informed interviews with artists from different generations and with different focuses. So you can take it as a truly valuable source of information on Mexican contemporary art.

The main benefit of the Peeping Tom’s Digest initiative is without a doubt the fact that its unprejudiced, experimental method allows it to avoid the thematic stereotypes of many of expert, art-historic publications who turn only toward proven and established artists. The series is meant to continue with a third issue focused on contemporary Lebanese art, provided that the editorial staff at Peeping Tom’s Digest are able to raise funds for it. In recent weeks, Stéphane Blanc and Caroline Niémant have been probing the Beirut creative art scene. We can only wish them the ability to preserve their so-far independent view and mainly a lot of strength and support from financial backers in the future.

Mariana Serranova