Elein Fleiss: Change Again

, 2011/02/16

There comes a magazine that changes all the rules. In 1990 Elein Fleiss and Olivier Zahm created Purple, and over the last decade they have established it as a forum for some of the most innovative creators in the world to send their ideas out into the wild blue yonder. Purple is an intense, time-consuming affair; the enviable antithesis of “disposable.” In an industry where sloppy thinking and a never-ending show of nauseating hype reign supreme, Fleiss and her creation realize the great potential of alternative media.

What were the origins of Purple?
It comes from the “artworld,” that’s where we were at the time. We didn’t like other magazines and suddenly realized we could make one too.

What does your success across a fairly wide spectrum of readers say about the possibilities for alternative media today?
To make an independent magazine, and stay independent you need to have other ways to make a living on the side. It’s the key to independence. Or you can just be rich. But there are very few rich people interesting enough to make such a magazine. There are too many alternative fashion magazines anyway, but their role is to discover things and experiment with new ways to talk about things so that afterwards mainstream magazines, and advertisers, can steal all their work and ideas.

So why is the magazine named Purple?
I liked the color. There’s a link with the 70s. It’s the color that sexually attracts women, something I found out in a dictionary of color a few years ago.

Every artistic endeavor that is worthy of that name must conceive itself. At the most general level, what is Purple trying to say to the world? What is it it you?
For Purple, there’s no will to say something to the world, we just try not to be an offense to it and go through. I believe artists should not say themselves what they are trying to do, and I’ve always considered Purple to be an artist’s magazine like there are artist’s books. It’s for critics to comment on what we’re doing.

How would you describe the role of fashion in the pages of Purple?
Important. Too much maybe. It took over the rest of the years but I think we really changed things in fashion and still bring something to it: spontaneity, love, inspiration, art, thinking, cinema, literature, life…

The fashion world has become an extremely important patron of artistic endeavor. As the editor of a magazine that seems to rely on that patronage, what are your feelings towards it?
We wash our soul everyday, at least to be sure not to loose it.

Anonymous, often abstract imagery and poetry often play an important role in the pages of Purple, recalling other magazines that have worked to break down the barriers between text and image. What are some of the dangers and potentials using material like that?
The dangers are to get lost into some kind of meaningless imagery, to publish pointless texts. The potentials are the possibilities to find some clues for new situations and an ability to represent it as a life form.

What are some of the challenges that Purple faces today?
The challenge is to change again, question what we do again and again.

What artists interest you at the moment?
I have to say that I am more inspired by literature, philosophy and cinema at the moment. Music is always present but you wouldn’t discover anyone through me. At the moment I listen mostly to Bob Dylan and Schubert. I think we’re at a mediocre moment, from a creative point of view, and in this context I prefer to take inspiration from the past. My last encounter with something inspiring is a book by Caio Fernando Abreu, a Brazilian writer who died of Aids in 1996.

When did you first become aware of Japanese artists and fashion?
In Japan I am mostly interested in photographers. As for artists, there’s only one I’m interested in, Shimbaku. We started to be aware of the Japanese scene in 1994, 1995.

If you could get on a plane tomorrow and travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Rio de Janeiro. Kyoto. Erevan (Armenia). Macao. Lisbon.

What are you working on now?
My new journal Helene. I am also working on the next Purple. For five years I have been making photographs, so I continue this activity. I just had an exhibition in Tokyo at Tress Are So Special. I also write for my journal, and the Japanese magazine Ryuko Tsushin.

What can you tell us about your journal?
It’s quarterly, a newspaper of a season. It is mostly text (in French) about any subject, like in a daily newspaper but no journalists, writers, filmmakers, philosophers. It’s subjective journalism. But the goal is to change the world, or at least pretend to have hope.

Born in 1968, Elein Fleiss co-founded the influential art and fashion magazine Purple, and serves as its Editor in Chief. Fleiss also works as a photographer, and her exhibition “Fontainbleau/Beauregard” opened in Fall ’02 at Tokyo’s Gallery 360 and Poetry of Sex in Daikanyama. A number of her titles are available at the Utrecht bookshop in Aoyama.

Original text and photography of this entry appeared in Paper Sky No. 6 (New York: Urban Green, 2003)

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