Interview with Kai von Rabenau / mono.kultur

Here comes a little preview of one of the projects I’m working on at the moment.

The following interview with Kai von Rabenau, publisher of Berlin based interview magazine mono.kultur will be published — among others — in the upcoming volume of Better Mjstakes magazine with working title:
The Research Issue: A profound journey into Art Direction and Interview Design in an editorial context.

Stay tuned … !

Some people who already have been interviewed in mono.kultur (achtung! namedropping total):
Tilda Swinton, Ai Weiwei, David LaChapelle, Dries van Noten, Carsten Nicolai, Dave Eggers, GZA / Wu-Tang Clan, Miranda July, Cyprien Gaillard, David Adjaye, Wolfgang Voigt / Kompakt … (→ more info)

Kai, please tell us about your background, who you are and what you are doing.
I am primarily a photographer based in Berlin. I studied Visual Communication in London at Central St. Martins and the RCA before moving to Berlin in 2001 and establishing my photography practice. I’ve been publishing the interview magazine mono.kultur together with a dedicated group of people since 2005.

Which role is Berlin playing as a location for your magazine?
First and foremost, Berlin makes a project such as mono.kultur possible. With its cheap cost of living, Berlin allows for that greatest luxury: time. We decided to use this time to create something close to our heart, without being financially dependent on it, which makes a vast difference. Apart from that, Berlin keeps being an amazing place to live in and surely nurtures our perception in so many ways that we are not even aware of.

What about the name? I noticed that — apart from mono.kultur — you also run a fashion label called mono.gramm and your portfolio as a photographer is called mono.graphie.
So maybe I should specify my question: What does “Mono” mean in your context?

A good question that surprisingly, we’ve never been asked before: of course, the name is no coincidence. For me personally, the mono signifies a certain attitude or basic conceptual approach: to think an idea through until the end, to keep searching for the best possible solution within the framework, to not take the easy way out, to do something with weight and significance, to put our hearts into it, to put ourselves in the service of an idea, to be modest and genuine about everything we do. This can apply to so many things, hence the mono in mono.klub, mono.gramm and mono.graphie. it’s a personal reminder, but also signifying that we all share the same ideas. I’d like to see many more projects come to life that share these values, and where I wouldn’t necessarily need to be involved personally.

What was the motivation to create the interview magazine mono.kultur?
Well, mostly because there was nothing like it around when we first started (and there still isn’t). From day one, we had two things to start with: the name and that it was going to be just interviews and little else. We simply love interviews, we love ideas and stories, we love magazines, we love art and culture, we love design. So mono.kultur was a way of combining all these elements into one beautiful little thing. I suppose it was also a matter of having control – we all work in the area, as journalists, designers, curators, etc. and we all wanted something where we could actually control the entire process and prove that a magazine could be so much more.

What fascinates you about interviews? And: what makes a good interview to you?
I think interviews are an amazing way to portray a person. It adheres again to our sense of modesty: of course, interviews are edited and thus in a way manipulated, but still they give you the sense of having direct contact with a person’s mind. If I want to find out about a specific person, then I’d much rather hear it from him/her directly than filtered through a journalist’s words. A good interview will give me exactly that: a glimpse into someone’s life, their experiences, their thoughts and ideas.

Every issue is designed by another designer. How do you decide who designs which issue? Why — e.g. — Bureau Mario Lombardo for Cyprien Gaillard? And: Why do you feel the need create a specific look for each issue/interview?
Well, I think the question should rather be: why not? It’s not that we felt a particular need for it, it was just that we could: normally, magazines need to establish some sort of graphic umbrella under which they can fit a variety of content. With us, when we decided on dedicating each issue to one person and one interview only, it slowly dawned upon us that this would give us a lot of freedom in so many ways: we can really and truly focus on one subject, and build everything else around it. Soon it seemed only logical and even necessary to expand this to the design also. And it’s exciting! It keeps the magazine fresh and open to new ideas. And it keeps us and the readers entertained. As for chosing the designers, this is more of an intuitive process – we have an entire pool of designers that we would like to work with, there are also a lot of people who approach us, and once a new issue gets going, we just go with whoever feels right for a particular artist. In the end, we try to give them as much space as possible, and I just watch out that certain elements are being considered and that it still feels like an issue of mono.kultur.

Can you tell more about the process of creating an issue of mono.kultur?
I think that’s pretty straightforward, like most magazines: we decide quite organically on which artists we would like to feature – usually as a result of long discussions among all the editors. Then we try to get in contact with said artists – sometimes, this goes pretty fast, sometimes it can take years – and once they’ve agreed, we organize someone to conduct the interview. The interview partners always get to amend the finished text before publishing if they feel it’s necessary, and we often work quite closely on the imagery with them. At some point, the designer comes in and starts developing a design idea from the text. Parallel to that, we look for possible sponsoring or support. Editing and designing can be quite a long and tedious process, depending on the material and chemistry, but so far we never published an issue that we were not happy with in the end. Once the issue is out, we try to celebrate it in every way possible, usually by organizing some sort of event around it, a party, a screening, a lecture, etc.

Why the A5 format? Which role are limitations playing in creating the magazine?
Because the small format felt perfect for the amount of content we have. Commercially, the format is actually really inconvenient, since bookstores often don’t like it, they don’t know how to handle it in comparison to regular magazine titles – but there’s again this idea of following an idea where it needs to go; the entire concept behind mono.kultur is very focused, very elegantly simple, and this needed to be reflected in the format. Which is also just really nifty to read and handle. As for limitations, I think they are a good thing and utterly necessary. It’s only limitations that get us going! For instance, the format of mono.kultur was born out of our lack of money: we couldn’t finance the magazine we had planned for in the beginning, so initially, it was really a question of how we could break down the production costs. Rather than giving up we started thinking of ways around the problem, leading to the idea of publishing the different interviews separately – and then of course we realized that not only it would make it possible to print, but also that it was a much better idea than what we’d planned in the first place… We would have never thought of that if indirectly, we hadn’t been forced to. Anyway, limits are good! I think in many ways, mono.kultur has one of the most rigid and strictest conceptual frameworks in the world of publishing, on the other hand we have so much freedom in so many other aspects that many magazines can only dream of.

How do you manage do find and convince sponsors for the issues? And are they choosen specifically for certain issues?
Finding sponsoring is a major pain in the arse, and it’s incredibly hard and difficult and we hate it. It’s so rare that marketing people understand let alone appreciate anything that does not conform to the standards, and I will never understand why. One would presume that marketing would and should understand their market and be informed and always on the look for the next thing, for new ideas; so it doesn’t cease to shock me how removed and slow a lot of marketing departments really are. Anyway, sponsoring is one long and frustrating story. Does that answer the question?

Which other magazines — contemporary or from the past — serve as a inspiration?
Oh, so many … I think that in Germany, we have quite a few really amazing titles, especially 032c and brand eins — the latter I personally consider one of the most surprising and interesting titles in the world, it’s still a miracle to me they’re even around. And then I should really mention Les Inrockuptibles from Paris, who did an amazing interview magazine in the 90s that got me addicted to the beauty of long and in-depth q/a interviews. Also, Purple in the 90s has certainly been an inspiration. Other titles I personally always look forward to these days are Pin-Up, Interview and Die Zeit.

Thank you!