Form
 

Title Form: a quarterly magazine of the arts
Location Cambridge, U.K.
Publisher Philip Steadman
Periodicity Quarterly
ISSN N/A
URL Form Worldcat
Published Since 1966-1969
Indexed Holdings 1966-1969
Tags

Accessed

The Library of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; MIT Libraries, Cambridge, Massachusetts (Kraus Reprint Corporation); ccindex office

Periodical's Overview

“The aims of Form are to publish and provoke discussion of the relations of form to structure in the work of art, and of correspondences between the arts. Emphasis is to be placed in particular on the fields of kinetic art and concrete poetry.”[1]

Selected Subject Headings

  • Abstract films - history
  • Art, Abstract
  • Artists as teachers
  • Avant-garde (aesthetics) - periodicals
  • Bauhaus - history
  • Black Mountain College (Black Mountain, N.C.)
  • Cinematography, Abstract
  • Computer graphics - history
  • Concrete poetry - history and criticism
  • Dadaism
  • De Stijl (art movement)
  • Dvizhenie (group of artists)
  • Experimental poetry, English
  • Form (aesthetics)
  • Fourth dimension
  • Groupe de recherche d’art visuel
  • Kinetic art
  • Modern movement (architecture)
  • Modernism (literature) - United States
  • Neoplasticism
  • Sound poetry - Belgium
  • Structuralism (literary criticism) -
  • France

Notes

In May 1959, C.P. Snow delivered his famous Rede lecture in Cambridge, later published as The Two cultures and the scientific revolution; in his lectures, Snow put forward the provocative idea that the intellectual life of the Western society was split into two cultures, the (hard) sciences and the humanities, and that both cultures did not communicate nor overlapped, creating outstanding lacunae in knowledge. A rebuke to the British educational system, Snow considered this divide “a major hindrance to solving the world’s problems,” no matter if his thesis was quickly contested by scholars of the humanities and social sciences, igniting a lively and ongoing debate about how to amend this perceived flaw in our society and its educational system.

Not incidentally, a few years later, Form, a quarterly publication appearing from 1966 to 1969, is published in Cambridge; the magazine was edited and published by Philip Steadman, and co-edited by Stephen Bann and Mike Weaver, all of them students in Cambridge earlier that decade;[2] later on, Bann, reflecting on his intellectual formation, stated that “it is worth observing from the outset that Cambridge had earlier been, and continued to be, the epicenter of debate about ‘The Two Cultures.’”[3]

We note this intellectual context as we find it interesting that Form’s subtitle was “A quarterly magazine of the arts;” this emphasis on the plural “arts” is described in their brief editorial description as a wish to provoke discussion “of the correspondence between the arts,” which we perceive to be a friendly nod to interdisciplinarity and as a wish to stand for a knowledge stemming from the “arts” that it’s worth considering as too affecting how reality can be perceived; in addition, it points toward the different set of disciplinary knowledge that each editor brought to the magazine: Steadman, an architect; Bann, an art critic and historian, and Weaver, formed in English literature, and later, as a historian of photography, poetry, and American studies.

With a square format and an elegant design adopting modernist design tropes,[4] we consider Form to be a significant contribution to British cultural life and an international yonder, not only because it decided to embrace Modernism when pop art and psychedelic “swinging” London was all the rage, but also because it provided a bridge to earlier forms of modernist experimentalism, an unfinished project truncated by World War II. This twofold enterprise was accomplished in the magazine by providing a glimpse to specific contemporary developments in art, architecture, and literature, while providing genealogical documents and reflections on early century avant-garde developments that by that time were ripe for reassessment.

One contemporary development Form decided to focus on could loosely be ascribed to what became known as kinetic art. This focus on kinetic art is telling; yes, this tendency was quite present during the 1960s, featured amply in magazines like the British Signals or the French Robho, in international art biennales like the 1966 one in Venice, or at MoMA’s 1965 exhibition The responsive eye; but more to the point amid Form’s context, we tend to believe that kinetic art provided the magazine with an aesthetic development that could be argued to be “scientific,” no matter if the artists affiliated with it would deny this to be its only purpose.[5] No matter what the reasons were, the magazine included important documents related to kinetic art, like Abraham A. Moles essay on Victor Vasarely, features on Czechoslovakian group Synthesis or the French Groupe de recherche d’art visuel, reviews of books by kinetic art’s theorists Frank Popper or Guy Brett, and so on. Interestingly, and aligned with this “scientific” vein, they published an early, the year is after all 1966, assessment of “Computers and design.”[6]

Another aesthetic form the magazine focused on was abstraction, a clear link to early modernist movements; throughout Form’s short life, one can find a special issue dedicated to De Stijl’s architecture, a special section on American abstract artist Charles Biederman, texts on abstract film from practitioners like Jan Slavik, Hans Richter or Theo von Doesburg, of whom they published his Film as pure form.[7]. Abstraction and how it could be continued after the World War hiatus and the related migration of European modernists to the United States, was represented by their series on North Carolina’s Black Mountain College; a retrospective look into what took place at the College, the series is sprinkled with personal reminiscences by participants, but also, assessments of the College theatrical output, or even an essay by Marcel Breuer and Walter Gropius on their plans for a modernist campus in North Carolina.

As interesting as all of this may be, we believe that Form’s most crucial contribution to discourse was its diffusion in Great Britain of contemporary intellectual developments from continental Europe, in particular, structuralism. Roland Barthes’ The activity of structuralism[8] was published in their first issue, a statement of sorts if you will, followed up in other issues by texts by Gillo Dorfles, and Gerald Genette; furthermore, reflecting ongoing intellectual developments, Peter Wollen’s influential Cinema and semiology[9] was published by Form in 1968, an indication of where discourse was heading as the 1960s were coming to closure.

And then there’s the literary aspect of the magazine, where their interest in “the correspondences of the arts” gets clearly articulated by Concrete poetry; ample space is dedicated in Form’s pages to this typographical fusion of aesthetics and poetry, with a section dedicated to the 1967 Brighton Festival’s concrete poetry exhibition, which was "directed" by Stephen Bann; throughout Form's issues we can also find works by Jiri Valoch, Pedro Xisto and Ian Hamilton Finlay, as well as an in-depth study on Finlay’s work and a short historical sketch on concrete poetry’s history by Eugen Gomringer.

In addition, Mike Weaver edited a great series on modernist little magazines, which appeared in each of Form’s issues. This invaluable resource[10] featured the following little magazines, Secession (the American one), Blues, 3:G, Mécano, Ray, De Stijl, SIC, Kulchur, and LEF. Each section dedicated to a little magazine included selected essays published in them, but also, an author index, allowing interested parties to get an indexical sense of their contents, not dissimilar to our 21st century version of Weaver’s project.

Given its focus on earlier modernism, writings by Apollinaire or Gertrude Stein were published in Form, or an essay dedicated to a portrait of William Carlos Williams; we were somewhat surprised to find the first translation into English of a Thomas Bernhard’s short story, An attaché at the French embassy,[11] which points to Form’s refreshing openness.

In a 2010 interview, Philip Steadman described the origins of Form; in it, he mentions that the magazine existed because “I would publish it with a small amount of money from my father, which he thought I would do something sensible with…”[12]

We smile when reading this, as if to produce ten issues of a beautiful magazine advancing sophisticated thought related to the arts, past and present, and to further scholarly research on the life of the aesthetic, literary, and thinking mind is not sensible enough, what is?

To peruse the indexed contents of Form, please log into the database.

References

[1]“The aim of Form are…," Form (Cambridge), no. 1 (Summer 1966): 3. Not an editorial statement per se, this short description of the magazine’s aims is printed in the first issue’s table of contents.

[2]For a thorough description of Form's history, we recommend the following interviews by Joaquim Moreno: "Interview with Philip Steadman. Form editor, 1966-68. Email interview by Joaquim Moreno, July 16, 2008." In Clip Stamp Fold: the radical architecture of little magazines, 196X to 197X. Ed. by Beatriz Colomina and Craig Buckley. Barcelona: Actar; Princeton, NJ: Media and Modernity Program, Princeton University, 2010, pp. 507-509, and "Interview with Stephen Bann. Form editor, 1966-69. E-mail interview by Joaquim Moreno, July 22, 2008," ibid., pp. 223-224.

Given that Clip, stamp, fold was a project stemming from Princeton University's Media and Modernity Program, it is not surprising that the archives of Form are being held at Princeton University Library's Dept. of Rare Books and Special Collections. The collection's finding aid can be accessed here: Manuscripts Collection C1489.

[3]Stephen Bann. “Reading back from Experimental Painting,” Interdisciplinary science reviews (London), vol. 42, nos. 1-2: 55.

[4]To give an indication of how Form’s graphic design diverged from 1960s design trends, graphic designer Adrian Shaughnessy writes:

“To illustrate just how untypical Form’s design and layout was, Steadman struggled to find a printer who held Helvetica – hard to imagine considering that typeface’s subsequent ubiquity. In fact, the Cambridge-based Steadman had to ‘send to London’ to get the magazine’s headlines set in Helvetica.”

Adrian Shaughnessy. “Looking at Form, a quarterly magazine of the arts (1966-1969)”, Unit: Design/Research (London), no. 02 (2010): p. 5. Shaughnessy’s interest in the magazine is from a design perspective; he writes an introductory essay and interviews Steadman about his approach to graphic design for the magazine, although questions of content are too addressed. A PDF version of this pamphlet can be found here.

[5] In Bann’s 2017 article he quotes Groupe de recherche d’art visual’s response to “the suggestion that their works were ‘laboratory experiments’:

Our aim is not only to achieve a certain knowledge of visual phenomena. Otherwise it would simply be pure research […] we do not seek to accumulate optical effects […] If ‘op art’ can be called a laboratory experiment, then the work of the GRAV does not fit this category. This is because we see laboratory work as taking place in a closed cell, where all the elements of an experiment are carefully related, whilst here it is a question of an open experiment. The laboratory extends on the scale of the road or of the worn.” Ibid., p. 61.

It is important to note here that Bann and Steadman had also been the editors of Four essays on kinetic art. (Girton, Cambridge: Motion Books, 1966); the book included essays by both of them, as well as by Reg Gadney and Frank Popper.

[6]Crispin Gray. Computers and design,” Form (Cambridge), no. 1 (Summer 1966), pp.19-22.

[7]Theo von Doesburg. “Film as pure form,” Form (Cambridge), no. 1 (Summer 1966), pp. 5-11. Form writes, “‘Film als reine Gestaltung’ originally appeared in Die Form (IV, no 10, 15th May 1929, pp. 241-248) in connection with the Film und Foto exhibition sponsored by the Deutsche Werkbund in Stuttgart.”

[8]Roland Barthes. “The activity of structuralism,” Form (Cambridge), no. 1 (Summer 1966), pp. 12-13. Form writes, “This is a slightly shortened version of an article which M. Barthes wrote for Les Lettres nouvelles in 1963, and which was reprinted in his collection of Essais critiques (1964)”

[9]Peter Wollen. “Cinema and semiology: some points of contact,” Form (Cambridge), no. 7 (March 1968), pp. 9-15.

[10]Here's a description by Weaver about the series, which aimed at being a scholarly tool to diffuse these magazines, while allowing British libraries to fill "notorious gaps" in their collections:

"Beginning with this issue 'Form' will regularly present an author index to a little magazine of international interest. In recommending libraries where the magazine can be seen, and in estimating the cost of microfilm, 'Form' will signal notorious gaps in British libraries and suggest means by which they may be filled. It is hoped that both British and foreign libraries will provide supplementary information on their holdings, and use these pages to complete or correct entries in such reference works as 'The British Union Catalogue of Periodicals' and the American 'Union Serial List'"

Mike Weaver. "Great little magazines, no. 1: Secession," Form (Cambridge), no. 1 (Summer 1966): 23-30.

[11]Thomas Bernhard. “An attaché at the French embassy,” Form (Cambridge), no. 8 (September 1968), pp. 14-15. The story was translated by John Neves.

[12]Adrian Shaughnessy, ibid., p. 8.