As the saying goes, “all good things must come to an end,” and such is the case with 10-year-old conceptual publication The Thing Quarterly, whose final issue is available for pre-order now. The last issue is (aptly) a pair of bookends designed by Dave Muller, along with “ONE LAST THING”—a catalogue of every single edition of The Thing over its decade of creativity. From a travel wallet by David Shrigley to pillowcases by John Baldessari, a timepiece by Tauba Auerbach and design studio Assembly, shower curtains, shoes, egg-cups, boomerangs and more, The Thing has made it possible for many strange, surprising and ultimately delightful creations to exist. We spoke to the editors (and artists), Jonn Herschend and Will Rogan about their favorite memories, and why it’s time to say goodbye.
Can you tell us about the beginnings of The Thing?
Jonn Herschend: This is a big one. We started The Thing as a way to collaborate with each other. We met at the UC Berkeley MFA program and liked each other’s work. We tried a variety of collaborations, including videos but nothing seemed to really connect. We both had a background and interest in publications (Will was a librarian at SFAI for five years and I was a high school literature teacher for five years). So we thought it would be great to create a publication. At that time, publications were starting to fold and there was a real fear the publications would simply go digital. But we were fully invested in the notion of the physical object and really wanted to experiment with how far we could push the boundaries of publishing: could we publish on a shower curtain, on a lamp, on a cutting-board.
We wanted to create a challenge in terms of how someone might engage with art
We also were interested in the idea of how art could exist in someone’s life outside of the gallery or institution. We wanted to create a challenge in terms of how someone might engage with art. Could it be possible to have art that was actually put to use, rather than simply hanging on a wall?
We also didn’t expect that The Thing would go beyond one year… We thought we would hand make the issues and mail them to the subscribers and really only anticipated that there would only be about 25-30 subscribers. It was never meant to be a big project.
Which artist were you most jazzed to collaborate with?
Will Rogan: Gabriel Orozco. He was a longtime artist hero of mine. It was a huge honor to be able to work with him. The issue itself was exciting to me because it grew out of another of Gabriel’s practices, throwing boomerangs. If you’re familiar with his work it makes so much sense that he is interested in boomerangs. I love it when The Thing can help me learn more about the artists we work with.
JH: John Baldessari and Jonathan Lethem were both amazing. I couldn’t believe that they were willing to do something with us. The same is true for Miranda July. She was the first person we spoke with about doing something. We both had met her in different settings, and we weren’t sure she’d want to participate in something so strange. She was immediately on board and created the issue that set the tone for the entire project.
JH + WR: We were super-excited about all the contributors. For each of them, we were (and still are) huge fans of their work and were extremely honored that they chose to work with us.
Were there, over the years, any specific hurdles that you were especially proud to have overcome?
JH: The biggest hurdle involved admitting to ourselves that we might be running a business. That was the hardest. It took about five years for us to acknowledge that we were a bit more than just an experimental publication. I wouldn’t say that we were proud to overcome that hurdle, but it certainly helped us think about how to push this model a little further out into the world. It also allowed us to do some work for a couple of major brands, most notably Nike and Levi’s. The thing that excited us most about that work is that we were able to carve out some exciting art commissions for several artists and push the needle a bit further in terms of how art and commerce could interact. Ultimately, it’s this issue that continues to be a hurdle to us (the notion of whether or not we are a business or an experimental art publication) that is helping us bring The Thing to its end.
It must be sad to be leaving it behind now.
JH + WR: We are both sad that it’s ending, but we like the idea of things having an arch. So much in our world is about this notion of creating something that will never end… particularly in the world of business. We both like the idea that something would have a definite beginning and ending.
JH: I think about it like The Wire or Breaking Bad. One of the reasons I like those shows so much is that they had a thoughtful arch and ending in mind. They weren’t just going as long and as far as they could go. We are both still planning to keep working on Thing projects and we each have exhibitions and films in the works. Also 10 years is the right amount of time.
What do you hope the legacy of this decade-long project is?
We like the idea that these art objects might end up in people’s lives in meaningful and real ways. We wanted to create another delivery vehicle for experiencing art in the every day—a way to democratize the experience. So we love the fact that The Thing is currently in some very serious institutional and private collections, but that they are also being kicked around people’s houses or being used in the shower.
Images courtesy of The Thing Quarterly