For our next book review, we're taking a closer look at baumtest — a Los Angeles based quarterly arts publication. baumtest was co-founded by six artists and writers, including past Capricious contributor Christine Haroutounian. Now in its 6th installment, baumtest is a collaborative magazine that evolves with every issue.
"Alongside our own written and visual contributions, we curate cultural producers to expand on each issue’s central theme. We believe in the experimental and the interdisciplinary and hope to make space for vibrant explorations in thought among our readers." — baumtest
baumtest is proving itself to be a dynamic and engaging contribution to the independent publishing scene, demonstrating a wide-range of written and visual work. To learn more about the publication and their process, we asked Haroutounian a few questions about baumtest's past and future.
How did baumtest begin?
We all previously worked together as editors through another journal I co-founded and was Editor-in-Chief of, GRAPHITE, made with the support of the Hammer Museum. I think producing that journal left a big mark on us. We worked extremely well together despite our vastly different interests, backgrounds, and personalities. After graduating from UCLA, we wanted to continue working together through printed matter that was more flexible and not only centered on scholarly work. baumtest was thus born and became a platform of experimentation through which we shared our own practices and that of others.
We wanted baumtest to reflect our changing identities and the intimate yet intelligent conversations we hold together as friends, colleagues, and artists. It is a dialogue of both process and product. As a collective of women, it was also vital for us to create our own space. We are all from middle class immigrant families from the San Fernando Valley, San Gabriel Valley, South Bay, and Orange County––areas which many people consider to be removed from Los Angeles. I think this supposed distance has only strengthened our unique perspectives of Los Angeles and thus who we curate.
How do you select themes and artists to feature in baumtest?
The process is quite relaxed and open. For themes, we throw out ideas, phrases, and single words and stop until we’ve reached one that resonates with each of us. These discussions are often the most fulfilling and fun because we approach each theme with personal associations and learn a lot from each other in the process. We take into account what we’d like to explore that may follow or depart from what we’ve published in previous issues. Our history as a journal has also affected our choices at times. “A Germ Grows Into Life” was the theme of our first issue, reflecting our leap into the world and the determination to connect meaningfully with our readers.
We individually curate artists we want to feature and then work together as editors to build connections within the material. The result is always unpredictable which is both exciting and daunting because you ultimately can’t control every detail. In the end though, we trust that everything works out and each person brings something new and unexpected. We give each other and our contributors a lot of freedom.
Every issue seems to be very different from its predecessor, how does the baumtest team collectively decide the structure of the magazine?
We’ve embraced change from the very start and have avoided ‘branding’ ourselves in order to adapt and freely play with each issue. However, that doesn’t mean that design is an afterthought. Anna Reutinger designed and contributed to the first three issues before moving to Amsterdam to pursue her MFA. These issues are so different from the ones that have since been produced, designed by Carmel Ni. Both Anna and Carmel have been incredibly involved in our meetings and carefully tend to each page after we’ve shared many ideas and have familiarized ourselves with the content.
Certain themes inspire our choices, too. For example, we wanted Issue 5 to be printed in black and white because it echoed the “fat-free” theme. We’re also completely self-funded and have had to think wisely about the best ways to publish each issue, in order to prioritize the work and specific requests of our contributors. These limitations, while challenging, have been more useful than restrictive. For the “LOSER” issue, we received a grant from the Rema Hort Mann Foundation on behalf of Iris Yirei Hu. We decided to print on different paper and publish a very thick issue that was smaller in size, with huge font alongside tiny images. Experimenting with these extremes in scale––with grandiosity and smallness––was very important in the exploration of failure for that issue.
Issue No. 6 — LOSER features a conversation between Chris Kraus and Laila Riazi about Kraus's Aliens & Anorexia. I think it's an interesting inclusion and a thoughtful expansion on the kind of content the magazine seems to be including more of. What role does poetry, philosophy and prose play in baumtest?
The conversation between Laila and Chris is one of my favorite pieces ever published in baumtest. Much like the poetry, philosophy, and prose in the journal, it comes from a deeply thoughtful, personal, and almost heightened place. A very poignant observation in that piece is when Chris remarks, “throwing yourself into emotion is a philosophical act.” I think many of us and our contributors approach our work in a similar vein.
Laila’s work is consistently agreat example of this––her piece in the first issue draws from three family photos leading up to the 1979 Iranian Revolution. She used those photographic relics to poetically dissect themes of empire, imperialism, and revolution. Gilda Davidian, a contributor in Issue 4 “Monumental,” similarly explores the trans-generational history of the Armenian diaspora through her piece on Armenian portrait photographer Edward Tatoulian. Through these specifics we understand something more universal.
I do find much of the writing in baumtest comes from a brave and vulnerable place, regardless of what is being grappled with. Our readers can thus feel the ramifications of a specific point in time, beyond only a brief intellectualization of history, politics, identity, and place. Philosophical questions naturally arise through these explorations and oftentimes directly, such as Emi Kuriyama’s sharp insights on Wittgenstein while in conversation with Maggie Nelson.
Issue No. 6 — LOSER, and to a smaller degree Issue No. 5 — fat-free, both feature a few structural elements. How have these three-dimensional components become a part of the publication? Do you see more physical elements playing a larger role in upcoming issues?
Structural additions have existed from the very first issue! I think this possibly came from us handcrafting the first three issues, which may have inspired contributors to create works that readers can physically interact with.
For the second issue, Los Angeles-based artist Rafa Esparza recycled the collected tissues and papers that men use to wipe themselves after having sex, from public places. He then bleached and signed them. It’s precious art that is meant to be touched. Placed in a wax envelope, then glued to each issue––not one of them is alike. In the same issue Austria-based Eva Seiler designed vinyl cut stickers that we stuck onto photographs of her own fabrics and wallpaper. Other artists have featured additions that are far simpler but still retain a powerful unexpectedness, such as a strategically positioned, bright yellow sticky-note in Christian Cumming’s grayscale, frenetic contribution in “fat-free.”
In many senses, we treat the journal like an art book. I love the element of surprise these components deliver and how personal they feel. There’s something therapeutic and special in touching each journal rather than blindly distributing it to our community. It’s another layer of consideration and patience that our readers love to put a hand to.
What are some of your future plans for baumtest?
We’re launching our 7th issue, “Baby”, in December at Family Bookstore. Our 8th issue, which marks our second full year as a quarterly publication, will come out in the Spring of 2016.
What are some of your favorite independent magazines currently being produced? Why?
I adore 032c and Bidoun, they’re filled with invigorating, provocative, and insightful writing, art, and attitudes. They truly believe in the intelligence of their readers and exemplify the power of printed work––I love being taken to somewhere I’ve never been before through a piece of paper. I love mono.kulture for their extensive and probing interviews of some of the most interesting minds on this planet. I’m also a big fan of Cura, Mousse Magazine, and MATERIAL, a journal run by artists who publish the writing of other artists. Both the design and content equally engage and excite me.
Thank you for supporting baumtest and continuing to inspire me with each issue of Capricious. I appreciate our ongoing creative relationship and look forward to what we both produce in the future.
For more from baumtest, keep an eye on their website.
Post by Ariel Hahn