ABE’S PENNY Volume 1.3.1.
A new concept magazine called ABE’S PENNY is just beginning its fourth volume. By any other magazine’s standards this would not merit the description ‘new’, however, in the case of ABE’S PENNY, each volume contains just four postcards that subscribers receive one at a time, once per week. Each volume – a full set of four postcards – makes a story comprised of four pairs of images and texts by two artists working separately.
There are many things which make ABE’S PENNY an interesting product. By reducing a magazine format to some of its bare components the creators have been able to encapsulate stories. The relative simplicity of the magazine’s production twinned with the ease of its digestion and the exclusive – and also recently nostalgic – nature of mail all contribute to a collectible format and perhaps even a personal artifact. The collective conscious surrounding postcards and the manner in which meaning is revealed in portions engages the subscriber in a process of revisitation; a combing of information that breeds familiarity and a natural affection for their mounting collection. We interviewed Anna and Tess Knoebel, the two sisters who created ABE’S PENNY, to find out more about the magazine’s artistic value and place within the changing market of art publications.
ABE’S PENNY Volume 1.3.2.
What are your backgrounds?
Anna: We grew up in Elysburg, PA, a village of about 2000 people, where our dad’s from. My high school class had 87 kids, and the whole school, 7-12, had about 600. Tess and I found great mentors in a few of our teachers and they encouraged our creative pursuits. I went to Boston University for a year, then the foreign language immersion in Grenoble and Paris, then transferred to Barnard, where I studied English and Film. I’ve held jobs in various fields, but the most influential was my position as Managing Editor at zingmagazine, an art publication conceived by the artist, Devon Dikeou.
Tess: Our mother and father are both artists. They took great care in exposing Anna and I to art and literature from a very young age. Because of their influence, it came naturally for me to go to art school. I attended Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and studied fashion design, but I was concerned my education was too focused. I had heard great things about Hunter College, so I transferred and finished my degree in Art History and Philosophy. I worked my way back into fashion design about four years ago.
There never seems to be a shortage of photographs, but text is always harder to come by. What has the selection process been like so far?
Tess: Anna and I both come from visual fields and in our daily lives we are surrounded by photographers and other visual artists, so in that sense, photographs are much easier to come by. We have to reach out of our comfort zones to find writers.
Anna: It has been harder to find text – maybe because writers hear “art publication” and think it’s not for them. The process of finding collaborators has been different each time, mostly dependent on who submits what first.
What other concept publications would you liken ABE’S PENNY to (printed and otherwise) and what separates Abe’s Penny from other concept publications?
Anna: Since we started Abe’s Penny, I’ve heard about two: Tuesday, a poetry journal that prints poems on 5×7 cards. They’re bundled together and packaged in a large piece of paper printed with general information about the publication, including the masthead. Then there’s the Crumpled Press, a handmade literary journal – literally, volunteers put each copy together by hand. What separates us? Catherine Baab wrote in Style Weekly, Abe’s Penny “must be the first [magazine] to have adopted a postcard format.” I’m not 100% percent certain we’re the first, but it’s likely.
ABE’S PENNY Volume 1.3.3.
ABE’S PENNY is marketed as “art in the mail”, but do the volumes have a collectible value in the sense that they are limited editions?
Tess: We will not reprint past issues, so they are collectible. They are also collectible because each person who comes into contact with them adds to the final product – from the person who hand writes the address on each issue, to the postmaster who cancels the stamp. Each postcard makes its own trip from our hands to subscriber’s hands, so each post card has its own individual story, within the larger serial.
Anna: The runs are small, so if you value limited editions, you should find value in Abe’s Penny. I consider the collectible value to be more about the stamped and mailed postcard, with art and literature firmly held in their place and time.
You have been sitting on this idea since 2004. Over and above recent considerations such as ‘the decline of print’ and ‘the economy’, what made 2009 the right time for you to launch ABE’S PENNY?
Anna: Every couple of months, we would discuss Abe’s Penny again, make some moves to get it going, but life got in the way. The idea would be eclipsed by some other, more pressing concern. It’s a bit visceral, but this year we had somehow overcome whatever mental obstacles we felt. It suddenly seemed very easy to do, and worth doing.
Tess: Considering the time we spent thinking and talking about Abe’s Penny, the final decision to go into print happened fast. I’m not sure exactly what the catalyst was, but it had a lot to do with growing older and feeling like we have a legitimate voice in the art world, that our opinions are important. We also gained a lot of work experience, and experience putting ideas into practice.
ABE’S PENNY Volume 1.3.4.
What is the main argument in favor of subscription?
Tess: Abe’s Penny is like coming home to find that someone has left a delectable piece of chocolate in your freezer. It’s not overwhelming, but it’s exactly what you need.
Anna: For a relatively low cost, you become an art collector. All that’s asked of you is to retrieve the cards from your mailbox – and enjoy them, I hope.
How many volumes are planned?
Tess: The response has been incredible and people are subscribing every day so we plan to print ad infinitum[.]
So far and in a short time the ‘magazine’ has developed a recognizable aesthetic. The images and words combine to create still, disquieting symphonies, which if you don’t quite find to be chocolates in your freezer, are at the very least not turds falling in your drink. Depending in which side you are most invested, ABE’S PENNY can appear to be driven more by its images or its texts, but this is probably subjective, and possibly even in the publication’s favor.
At first glance, assuming that the context is not mistaken for the latest awesome-ish Urban Outfitters-esq marketing plan, one could presume the whole thing to be the product of one artist (or one writer and one photographer). The similarity between Tod Seelie’s images in Volume One and those of Peter Bernard Killeen featured above are striking – the use of staggered prose in Volumes One and Two less so, but comparisons in style as well as application cans till be drawn. One hopes that as the volumes progress (and more artists submit) the pairings will become more challenging and atypical, but as we can see from the first installment of Volume Four (below), Tess and Anna are still busy setting a tone by providing thought provoking arty moments, which, as this is just the beginning, is probably a smart move.
ABE’S PENNY Volume 1.4.1.
For more information please visit: www.abespenny.com