Of all the magazines I’ve read over the last few years, anyone who knows me will know MacGuffin is the one I most reference with unwavering love. It simply concerns ‘The Life of Things’, but does so with such intrigue, complexity and beauty in design, that, it becomes an object of desire in itself. Its co-founder and co-editor Ernst van der Hoeven grants us further insight.
Can you explain the origins of MacGuffin and what lead to this?
MacGuffin is a researched-based design and crafts biannual featuring fabulous stories on the life of ordinary things, founded in 2015 by co-editors-in-chief Kirsten Algera and myself. Sandra Kassenaar is responsible for its graphic design.
We are both cultural cross-overs. I have a background as an architecture historian, landscape architect and artist, and Kirsten is a graphic designer and design historian. We previously worked on Club Donny, a journal on nature in the urban environment, which was founded in 2008. The idea for MacGuffin sprang from another collaboration we did, which also coalesced art design and crafts: ‘Indigo Cascade’ was a project I designed, and was made by Black Hmong weavers from Vietnam. It was during the long rides on a moped through the north of the country in 2013, in search of local indigo dyers and hemp weavers, that we began to discuss the lack of platforms to investigate the relationship between design and crafts, the meaning of no-name design and to tell personal stories about everyday life objects.
Around the same time, we noticed a certain design fatigue when visiting design fairs like the Salone del Mobile in Milan. We were overwhelmed by the endless stream of new chairs, vases and side tables. We wondered why there are so few platforms to investigate the ‘afterlife’ of everyday objects, or anonymous design, that already exists.
We were looking for an alternative approach to design, a mentality beyond the new: one that would take an object as the starting point to explore the vast array of stories it generates when it’s used: from the mundane to the downright exotic. That is why we chose the subtitle ‘The Life of Things’ and themed every issue around one single object.
Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘MacGuffins’ taught us how certain objects can function as plot devices. He coined the term ‘MacGuffin’ for these motivating elements. We were extremely happy and in a way surprised we still could claim this intriguing word for the title for our magazine that is not so much about the design of objects but rather about the stories they generate.
The current issue looks at ‘The Cabinet’ under the themes of ‘to show, to hide and to keep’. Previous issues have explored ‘The Sink’, ‘The Rope’, ‘The Window’ and ‘The Bed’. What selection criteria do you use?
MacGuffin magazine is a platform of inspiring, personal, unexpected, highly familiar or utterly disregarded things. Yet every object can be a ‘MacGuffin’, even abstract elements, like the hole, for instance or a material like rope.
It’s just the way you look at it, or indeed the way you might look through the eyes of the object, because that is what we often try to imagine: how does the world look from the perspective of the window, the sink the cabinet or the ball? What did the sink see?
Writing this interview we are already speculating what would be the ultimate MacGuffin related to Dublin. Funny enough by Googling “MacGuffin Dublin”, we just found out that the Project Arts Centre in Dublin showed the exhibition A MacGuffin and Some Other Things, some years ago. The title and accompanying image, of an iron cast bench morphed into a tree, could be the starting point of such a local quest.
But for now, we are slowly starting with the research of our upcoming edition Nº6 which will be themed ‘The Ball’. Think of the ball in all aspects from the playing element, to the cosmic sphere to the architectural dome. It is a total coincidence that, the World Championship is this summer, we didn’t know that so that shows how much we know about football…
Any advice for someone considering entering the world of publishing?
Here, we always like to quote the respected editor and journalist Tina Brown. She worked for big titles like Vanity Fair and The New Yorker and is quite the track star. In an interview, she once responded to this very question with, “If you don’t have a budget, have a distinctive point of view.” We cannot agree more.
Which magazines are you currently reading and enjoying?
Phew, that’s a difficult question. There are so many great indie magazines with surprising themes and niches these days. When we pass by the Athenaeum, our favourite magazine store in the centre of Amsterdam, we are tempted to buy them all. We adore the interviews and the crisp graphic design of Gentlewoman. We also love the more intimate quarterly Happy Reader, an intelligent collaboration between Penguin Classics and Fantastic Man, celebrating bookworms.
Then there’s the thoughtful and unusual contents of Works that Work, an investigative design magazine that like MacGuffin focuses on unexpected creativity and the ‘backstage’ part of design. Last, but not least, we love the outspokenness of Girls Like Us, which combines politics and pleasure in a whimsical punk-rock style. Humour is definitely one of the essential qualities of a good magazine, we think.
The new issue – Nº5 ‘The Cabinet’ is out now, €16.
Words: Michael McDermott