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Thing Quarterly

A New Place for Artists -- in the Mail

At the Southern Exposure release party last month, visitors and friends sipped Heinekens and plastic cups of wine to celebrate the first issue of Thing Quarterly. But they had come not just for the festivities -- most were lending a hand, assembly-line-style, with the periodical itself.

The willing and able inserted window shades customized by Miranda July into cardboard tubes and stamped them for mailing, or produced buttons to help promote The Thing. But the work was finished within an hour, leaving Thing editors John Herschend and Will Rogan free to mingle with the crowd that spilled out onto Mission Street outside the gallery.

Herschend and Rogan think of themselves not only as editors but curators of Thing Quarterly, also called The Thing. The Thing is a periodical, but it is also art -- common household objects remade by local artists. Miranda July’s window shades are silk-screened and come in two versions, each featuring a provocative phrase in her thick black script. Pull down your shade each evening, and remember that the world is both bigger and smaller than you think, and that everyone in it loves and hurts.

Herschend and Rogan worked out the logistics for making local art available in a quiet, meaningful way. The two met at Berkeley’s graduate program in the arts, and after several years of friendship, decided to collaborate. Rogan had worked in the art archives at Berkeley, and was fascinated by the idea of textuality, of print ephemera and periodicals. Herschend has been a high school English teacher and writer. Both wanted to remove artwork from the gallery and place in the homes and hands of art lovers.

But how to make Thing Quarterly work? The production of the first issue overlapped with Southern Exposure’s summer residency program, in which artists were invited to use the space as a homebase for developing a sustainable business model. Rogan and Herschend made good use of their stay: at the time of the release of the first issue, The Thing had 400 subscribers, no small amount considering that a subscription costs $120.

Still Herschend and Rogan have kept The Thing from commercialization. It is not about buying or having -- it’s about a commitment to living with art and treating artistic experience as a part of everyday life. To that end, individual Things are not for purchase and are available through subscription only. The aim is to preserve a sense of whimsy -- for when the next Thing arrives at your doorstep, wrapped in brown paper by a gaggle of San Franciscans.

The Thing is not without precedent. There are other models out there, though most are aimed at the cultural elite – Visionaire, for one, whose issues are created by some of the most famous designers in the world, including fashion houses like Comme des Garçons and Louis Vuitton. The editors cite McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern and Wholphin, also produced by the McSweeney’s folk, as inspiration and as examples of beautiful, affordable objects delivered by post.

Their Southern Exposure residency completed, Herschend and Rogan plan to continue producing Things in garages, if necessary, though the success of the wrapping party has led to invitations to hold wrapping parties for the next issues around the city. The second Thing, designed by Anne Walsh will be released on November 4th, and will be followed by pieces by Kota Ezawa and Trisha Donnelly.