ecocore: the world’s sexiest ecology zine
Neapolitan architect and artist Alessandro Bava talks us through the latest issue of his cult environmental zine.
Since its formation in 2010 ECOCORE has been the world's sexiest and also most violent (in its imagery) ecology zine. Within its collaged pages you'll find all sorts of unexpected things, high and low, commissioned and appropriated: from serious scientific and philosophical texts to found celebrity "contributions" by the likes of Nicki Minaj and Silvio Berlusconi, from bowls-of-noodles sculptures by a conceptual artist to an erotic vegetarian fan-fiction about Ross and Rachel from Friends eating one another; and that's just the tip of the melting iceberg. Out of these combinations of meme culture and academic research comes a vision of ecology unlike any other. ECOCORE hopes to raise our awareness of environmentalism in both its mainstream and most radical interpretations - and make us care - whilst also exploring the broadest possible understanding of whatever ecology could be, and taking us into strange and uncharted waters.
ECOCORE was founded by Neapolitan architect and artist Alessandro Bava, 28, whilst he was living in New York on a year out from studying at the Architectural Association in London (it was founded, actually, in the same living room as art world trend-forecasting agency K-HOLE and around the same time). So far he has released four issues - the Eden Issue, the Dolphin Issue, the Food Issue, and the G ( ) D Issue - most of which can be read for free online, and guest-edited the Disaster Issue of DIS Magazine, and also maintains an excellent Facebook page that functions as a must-follow alternative news source. The G ( ) D Issue will be showcased at the LA Art Book Fair, 12th to 14th February, and is available now in London's Donlon Books and AA Bookshop, and distributed worldwide by Motto Berlin. The Narcissist Issue will be out sometime this summer… until then, here's what Alessandro has to say about starting a punk ecology zine to save the world.
Why did you start your ECOCORE zine?
It was a way to cope with a kind of disillusionment with ecology, nature and biology, these things I couldn't really grasp. It really started out of a dissatisfaction and a recognising of my own limits. The ecological struggle is one of the most defining themes of our time, and I found it wasn't really touching art or culture, the things that I was interested in. I couldn't find anything that somehow addressed ecology in an appealing and interesting way. The only ways to experience ecology in terms of magazines or publications, are either very scientific or they're like Al Gore.
I think especially with our generation, the only way we experience ecology is a kind of doom, the impending doom of the environmental crisis. It's always been this kind of looming shadow over our shoulders and so everyone wants to look away from that. Even the moment when you buy anything ecological, when you buy bio-shampoo or whatever, you're reminded of your own finitude and death. It's a really unappealing theme.
How would you explain your strategy for making us care more about ecology, which strikes me as incredibly complicated and many-armed?
In the beginning there was this idea of camouflage, of using the cacophony of visual cues to ecology in different ways, from the most bland corporate propaganda or green-washing [the misleading use of green PR and marketing] to the most sophisticated photography. The idea was to completely overload the pages of the magazine with this powerful visual imagery and to slip in there the different layers of meaning of "ecology" that now exist in the world, to try and convey the breadth and the depth of ecology.
Another thing, the reason why the magazine is called ECOCORE is because in the beginning I was looking at a lot of gay punk zines from the U.S. from the 70s and 80s, and one of them was called Homocore. It was simply me trying to relate that ethos of punk appropriation into a completely new timeframe, and doing it about ecology and using a completely different aesthetic of course. I think the spirit of the magazine is very much of a punk magazine, especially the first couple of issues.
I wanted to make a magazine mostly out of appropriated content and I would find interviews from, like, Michelle Obama or David de Rothschild and just publish them and list them in the contributors alongside artists that were around me, that I was interested in. I would also have a lot of fake advertising from brands that use natural elements to advertise their product, even when they're not related to nature or anything like that: like Pret A Manger for example. Especially in the first few issues I had a lot of really, really hardcore scientific texts: inside the Dolphin Issue I had an incredibly detailed scientific text about how dolphins communicate with each other. It was quite beautiful. The nice thing about ECOCORE is that you would find that before a completely narrative text that I commissioned from a writer, which might be a fan-fiction about a woman falling in love with a dolphin. That kind of transition is what I'm interested in because in the end that's the way we experience content on the web.
This morning I read that Leonardo DiCaprio has just had a meeting with Pope Francis about climate change. How important are celebrities to the environmental movement?
I think it's absolutely essential to have celebrities, Leonardo DiCaprio, Pamela Anderson… there's countless celebrities who have engaged with ecology on some level. Of course associating the power of celebrity with something so un-sexy like ecology, it's kind of an obvious connection. What I've been fascinated with in ECOCORE is putting celebrities alongside eco-terrorist manifestos and all this more raw expression, to use celebrities as the face of much more powerful content. There was a golden era in the 70s and 80s when ecology was a serious artistic and philosophical and political subject, unlike now, when it's a kind of washed-out subject in mainstream media.
We've arrived at the point of COP 21 [last year's United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris] where you have these slightly hollow agreements from heads of nation states that completely wash out the true roots of the ecological movement in the 70s and 80s.
The second and third issues, in particular, feel like huge collages spread out across hundreds of pages. How are you hoping to create meaning through collage?
I thought of ECOCORE as like an artist book in the form of a zine, so the idea was that the layouts and the collages are really the backbone that constructs what the issue is about and creates the context for the commissioned content to exist in. The magazine's not designed with a graphic-designer-kind-of understanding so in that way I still think it's a punk exercise because it's done with a variety of collages. Also collage was used as a political tool in the early days. For example there was John Heartfield who was doing these anti-Nazi collages, this anti-Nazi propaganda in the 30s [first in Germany, before fleeing to Czechoslovakia and then England] and that was a very powerful strategy. I really used that idea.
What other sorts of formats have you played with?
I had the idea that some of the issues could take a different form like an object or a party. When I first started thinking about the G ( ) D Issue it was going to be just a party in Silwex House in East London, and I had quite an amazing line-up of DJs: Samia from 18+, Lexxi, Karen Archey, Oscar Khan. Anyway so I commissioned some images and content for a very large video-projection inside this warehouse space, and the dressing of the party was to make it like one of the issues: with these big palms and these two giant banners, and then I put out a lot of inflatable pool-toys so people were sitting on them. It was the same day as the official Frieze party, and everyone came and they were like, "Oh, ECOCORE, what is this magazine? An ecology magazine, weird…" I was very, very happy about that party, and it also introduced the magazine to a lot of people who had no idea about it. The party and the video were supposed to be the issue, but there's so much that I'm interested in with ideas of religion and the transcendental aspects of ecology that I couldn't really do at a party, so it ended up being a print edition too.
What are your hopes for the future of your zine and the future of the ecology movement?
The biggest thing I would want is to give ecology a bigger platform, because it's not enough to only have Leonardo DiCaprio. I want ecology to have the same exposure as tech. When I first started ECOCORE I would say it was a mix between a gay punk zine and Wired magazine and Vanity Fair; so I would want ECOCORE to go from a zine to a fully fledged mainstream publication, that I would probably not work on anymore at that point.
Text Dean Kissick
Images courtesy Ecocore, The G ( ) D Issue