The artists’ journal Pist Protta and the circle behind it have always been good at celebrating themselves. In fact, marking their anniversaries has become an important part of the brand – rather like Danish stalwarts such as the Linie 3 comedy trio and supermarket chains Bilka and Netto. In the case of Pist Protta’s repeat anniversaries there is, however, a strong mitigating circumstance: like the journal itself, they always come in entirely new formats, versions and editions. Also, the simple fact is that there is truly something to celebrate.
Since 1981 the editors behind Pist Protta, comprising artists Jesper Rasmussen and Jesper Fabricius and graphic designer Åse Eg Jørgensen, have published more than 70 issues of Pist Protta. Besides the incredible dedication of the editors, one of the brilliant survival tricks that explain the longevity of Pist Protta is the fact that they have always invited guest editors and other artists to contribute. This has ensured the journal’s constant inconstancy based on Pist Protta’s only dictum: that no issue of Pist Protta can be like any other, neither in terms of content nor layout. This has prompted legendary issues of PP such as “the ballpoint pen issue” (No. 29, 1997): a classic A4-format issue guest edited by Tal R where all contributions are drawn in ballpoint ink. Or the weirdly elongated yellow issue (PP no. 57, 2006) that consists of three different books compiled into a single one, juxtaposing three different formats, concepts and authors. Another prominent issue (PP no. 74, 2014) is entirely round, featuring the bottom of a coffee cup on the cover; everything in this journal is inspired by round things, from manhole covers to the poem “Circular Alphabet” by Henning Lundquist. Another typical trait of the journal, apart from its regular collaboration with other artists, is its wry, ironic self-depreciation. This is evident in the anniversary issue (PP no. 60, 2007), where “the editors take stock of the past and ask forgiveness for errors and omissions in past issues”. All issues of Pist Protta have been published by the publishing house Space Poetry, run by Jesper Fabricius and Åse Eg Jørgensen. Fabricius is also the man who traverses the city on his bicycle to hand over the most recent publications in person, in real, analogue life, with genuine presence.
The last time that Pist Protta celebrated themselves by staging an exhibition was five years ago: their 50th anniversary exhibition (30 years sounded a bit boring to them, so they simply changed the anniversary to 50 years, 1981–2031) toured the three largest cities of Denmark, visiting Brandts in Odense, Overgaden in Copenhagen and Kunsthal Aarhus. That exhibition was mainly centred on display cases. The main attraction was not only to see all the journals published so far, but also to see the ideas for all the future issues (up until 2031) provided by a range of prominent Danish contemporary artists.
Examples include A Kassen’s fur-clad issue (PP no. 87, 2020) about rats, because “2020 is the Year of the Rat”, as the description said, or the issue guest-edited by Martin Erik Andersen, which was described in these terms: “Meta-tactility. The dry sound of tissue paper as it is turned over … nice nice.” The descriptions were tiny pieces of humorous contemporary art history writing in themselves. The exhibition, including the descriptions, was later documented in the comprehensive anniversary edition Pist Protta 1981-2031 – Kompendium. Welcoming the future and inventing it before it actually arrives. This reflects another important Pist Protta point: what might easily be construed as backward-looking – such as an anniversary or this exhibition, which has a “museum-like” quality – ends up being the exact opposite.
The Charlottenborg exhibition is, as has already been touched upon, very different from the previous anniversary exhibition. Unusually for exhibitions about artists’ books and journals, there are no vitrines here at all. The exhibition even begins with an informative inventory of all the issues of Pist Protta ever published: they hang on the wall in chronological order, indicative of the overall museum approach used in this show.
In the booklet accompanying the exhibition the editors reveal that they had difficulties agreeing on the title of the exhibition. However, Museum Pist Protta makes incredibly perfect sense: Pist Protta is rather like a small art institution in its own right, possessed of a multi-faceted history and an actual art collection of paintings, sculpture, photographs, installation art and video art, all hailing from the many collaborative schemes launched by the journal through the years. The collection has been supplemented with loans sourced especially for this exhibition, and everything has been hung salon-style in a nod to classic museum traditions. Of course, the editors have been unable to resist waxing ironical about the exhibition title: below the heading “Himmerland” (a region of Denmark) visitors will find a wall that has been painted blue and filled with rather sub-par landscapes (several of which are old daubings by the editors themselves), making a spot-on impression of a typical Danish provincial museum.
Humour and self-deprecating wit are recurring themes at the exhibition. The “museum” title also gives them an excellent curatorial tool for arranging the vast amounts of material. Five headlines – “about PP”, “archive”, “concept”, “form” and “journey” – set the tempo for the exhibition, orchestrating the flow of the innumerable objects presented on walls, floors and podiums. Identical issues turn up in several different places, opened on different spreads, and if you want to leaf through some of them a reading corner (featuring exquisite, inventive chairs by Jørgen Carlo) is provided, allowing you to flick through a range of Pist Prottas at your leisure.
Overall, the exhibition emphasises the artistic aspect of the journal. It is exhibited on walls and podiums as a work of art in itself, on a par with the many works by artists who have contributed to the journal over the years. Here you will find early paintings by Tal R, new drawings by Ferdinand Ahm Krag, a large, white sculpture of a black chieftain by Ole Broager and a print by David Shrigley. More than eighty artists have contributed to the exhibition, most of them Danish conceptual artists – and many share the journal’s predilection for the paper-based, poetic, printed or zany. From Jørgen Michaelsen to A Kassen, Christian Vind and Ester Fleckner.
This comprehensive amount of material – the journal’s own history (to say nothing of the spirit evident in and behind Pist Protta) and the contributions made by the many poets and artists involved – is arranged in a way that manages to offer an overview and be artistically daring and expansive at the same time, as if the journal had been brought to proliferating life. As an exhibition.
This may also provide the answer to the question we must necessarily ask of this exhibition: what is the relevance of a completely analogue journal like Pist Protta today – a journal with no Facebook page or Instagram profile – and why is it exhibited at an institution like Charlottenborg?
Once again, the “museum” title is pertinent to this issue. Pist Protta embodies the history of Danish art and boasts a collection of art that may more accurately reflect the last thirty years of Danish contemporary art than that of any Danish museum. It was created as the result of cross-aesthetic collaboration between graphic designers, artists and writers who all wanted to contribute because this was a chance for them to go wild and experiment.
But there is more to this. When an art venue like Charlottenborg chooses to exhibit an analogue journal it sends a message: that analogue media, paper, artists’ books and journals may be “museum-like” (as in somewhat dustily old-fashioned) but nevertheless they are by no means outdated or irrelevant. In other words, the exhibition is not the oxymoron it might appear to be at first glance (a museum at a kunsthal?). The opening of the Pist Protta exhibition coincided with the eleventh instalment of Printed Matter’s New York Art Book Fair, a hugely successful event that grows in scope every year, attracting ever-larger crowds and reflecting an incredible interest in analogue, paper-based media.
Hence, the “museum” title also has an illogical constructive quality to it. This is a museum that not only shows what was, but actually contributes to creating the aesthetics of a new era, the form of the future. Surely this is a wet dream shared by all museums? It should be, anyway. For their Pist Protta 1981-2031 Kompendium, Pist Protta invented the term “futuristic retrospective collection”: That’s the kind of museum that Museum Pist Protta is.