Handkerchief: a non-magazine about homophobia that challenges standard editorial practices
Founded by five students at ISIA in Urbino, Handkerchief is a magazine that stands up to homophobia. It won the Jury Prize at the European Design Awards 2016 for its social impact.
Text by Federico Novaro
This article (qui in italiano) has been featured on Progetto Grafico, an international graphic design magazine published by Aiap, the italian association for visual communication design. The issue #32, “Here, elsewhere”, has been edited by Serena Brovelli, Claude Marzotto and Silvia Sfligiotti. You can subscribe to the magazine here and buy the current issue here.
What kind of a magazine does not engage with the market? The world is full of free magazines, and the lack of income is usually compensated for by advertising or idealism and the essential confrontation with the financial situation of their readers.
To what extent does the need for financial return determine decisions about graphic design, written content and images? When designing a specialist magazine, you follow a line that goes from what has been and what you imagine — hopefully — will be; comparison with previous experience guides your choice; previous choices become — beside their effectiveness — the language to reckon with and the more specialized they are, the truer this is, to the point that a dual code of communication is created. One clear and obvious, and one hidden, allusive and encrypted. Can you elude what has gone before, and get away from codes? To what extent does the shifting from a previous code or its scotomization alter the public that will receive the message?
Handkerchief is at the center of these issues, in practice and in result. Before proceeding with a description, it is just as well to remember the quote on the cover of issue no. 3: “This printed matter is distributed free of charge, but it is not a publication. It is the simulation of a magazine in that it is published periodically but it doesn’t come out periodically. It is edited by a university teacher but there is no publisher. There is a group of five guys who meet in the common room of a student home but there is no editorial staff. It has the Handkerchief code but it doesn’t have an ISSN code.
It doesn’t have a target, but it has a public. If you are reading this cover, maybe for the first time you are not part of a marketing plan, just a reader attracted to strong colors.”
Handkerchief was a set task (assigned by Mauro Bubbico at ISIA in Urbino). The word, simulation, used in the quoted text is more accurate, but it is a posteriori. It is an assignment because it started as a tutorial within a degree program: using materials and input data, try to make a magazine. The students went a step further and instead of just making a theoretical zero issue, which would leave open as many questions as it would solve, they embarked on a simulation that led them to address all the complications the production chain would have presented them with. Naturally, the magazine pays the original sin of being an academic exercise but that is the nature of simulations: to be research, not result.
The first, possibly most significant, fact is that we can be sure no Italian magazine dealing with homophobia would, today, sport the brilliant, rigorous and mildly pop graphics that the five students (Francesco Barbaro, Giulia Cordin, Giacomo Delfini, Alessandro Piacente and Lorenzo Toso) gave Handkerchief. The track record, not simulated but real, of Italian generically lgbtqi magazines points in a very different direction: often mediocre graphics; an unresolved relationship with homophobia — internalized or otherwise — that tends to proffer a code of a tacit acknowledgment to the detriment of clarity; a copious number of images of half-naked bodies, which certainly defines from the gender point of view the audience they think they are trying to reach; an ineffective attempt — and this in recent years — to appear appetizing to advertisers. The cultural failure the attempts of the last few decades represent is precisely in the triangular gap — often cultural and ideological — between editorial staff, projection on to what they think to be their public and the real public. The simulation by the students at Urbino eludes this passage, not only because it does not compete with the market, but above all because it escapes the identity discourse by using the given one: students. What makes Handkerchief so precious to those who deal with graphic design, communication and lgbtqi studies is that it reveals the nature of the past by its absence, indicating a possible way forward — which would suit everyone — imagining a better world than in the past: a free one.