In 1982, ZG magazine produced a video entitled ZG Presents. It begins with a voice-over recording of JackGoldstein’s own first-person writing accompanying a slide presentation of the artist’s work, interspersed with images of a distinctly 1980s corporate cityscape: think mirrored high-rise buildings and windowless board rooms. In a voice that is not his own, Goldstein positions his work as a response to a culture that, he says, “manipulates and controls you.” That culture is an “artificial reality,” Goldstein insists, and in relation to its illusion we might think of Goldstein as playing the role of the child who, by simply pointing out the obvious—that the emperor isn’t actually wearing any clothes—strips the emperor bare, and in so revealing him naked and in the flesh neutralizes the control he has over his subjects. By pausing, repeating, re-framing—in short, controlling and manipulating—the culture that controls and manipulates him, Goldstein moves to similarly strip his own emperor naked, unveiling the fragile machinery of the illusion of power it creates and thus breaking its seemingly magical hold.
The convergence of Jack Goldstein and ZG magazine was more than a coincidence; or, in fact, perhaps that is precisely what it was: a coincidence, a moment of synchronicity, a question of timing. Timing, after all, is what ZG magazine was all about. ZG magazine identified an urgent necessity in the very particular moment of its appearance—the Reagan years, the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, the post-punk years, the Wall Street boom—and responded to it. Like Goldstein, ZG paused, repeated, and above all re-framed the culture of power, but with text. By taking the objects of its analyses from high and low culture, popular and elite, it exposed the singular formal language, a sinister incantation, in which a Madonna concert and an art exhibition spoke their very different content. Like Goldstein, the magazine adopted a passive posture. It worked with what it was given. Its tone, accordingly, was neutral and analytical, deferring to what it revealed.
ZG magazine did not set out to spark a revolution or topple an empire—thereby becoming the empire that replaces the empire—but only to provide a gentle counterbalance, and this modesty, as much as anything else, opened between here and there, or them and us, the possibility of a third way. Perhaps it is characteristic of what follows that third way to stay only just as long as it is needed, and return only when it is needed again. By 1986 ZG magazine had gone into hibernation, and nearly twenty years later it is not hard to see why.
It has long since ceased to constitute an act of resistance—even a gentle one—to reveal the machinery of power, because power has long since taken to doing this itself. This is evident not simply in the ways in which popular television, as one example, has integrated the techniques—rapid playback, voice-over commentary, pause and repetition—of 1980s artists like Richard Prince, Dara Birnbaum and Sherrie Levine, but indeed more disturbingly in the manner in which the current American presidential administration has reveled in the constant revelations of the deceptions and double-talk by way of which it creates its flickering illusions. The apparent inability of such exposure to reduce its power only strengthens the illusion of its invincibility.
Thus, in the era of the Iraq war, reality television, real estate speculation, Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, a new necessity emerges: to find a useful form of action with which to resist the culture of power that manipulates and controls us. So far, it has been difficult. Before the beginning of the Iraq war, more people took to the streets at one time than had ever done so during Vietnam, but the volume of protesters only served to demonstrate their impotence of their action. Why should we be surprised? To place one’s bet on the value of volume or force, on the strength of sheer numbers, is to accede in advance to the terms of the very culture of power one hopes to resist.
More than twenty years ago, ZG magazine gambled a credibility it had not yet established in order to demonstrate that power, which always presents itself in the guise of this content or that—a pop song, a television show, a war, an art auction—is in fact a structure, a machinery, an architecture, a single form. To simply reveal this, passively, was in that moment sufficient. Now, action’s only hope is to learn its lesson from the past: if power is a form, then every useful act of resistance must operate on the level of form, as well. It is not nearly good enough to say something different than what power says, even something seemingly contradictory; rather, one must be something different, one must act differently.
This is the gamble that ZgPress will take. Far removed from the neutral and analytical tone of the magazine, it will bet on writing defined at least as much by style as by content, and on writers less concerned with what they write about than how they write about it. This is the very particular necessity—a new necessity—of this very particular moment, and in the spirit of the magazine it reincarnates, ZgPress will step forward to respond to it, modestly, and for just as long as it can be of use.