Since launching back in 2016, the team behind Migrant Journal have been steadily collecting a queue of fans impressed by the magazine’s impressive vision, fiercely intelligent storytelling, and the design prowess of Offshore Studio’s Isabel Seiffert and Christoph Miler.
The concept behind the six-issue publication is disarmingly simple: as it’s name suggests, Migrant looks at migration — not just of people but of goods, information, flora and fauna — and globalisation from seemingly endless angles. Each issue is built around a tight theme, with the autumn issues considering places and the spring issues hinged around concepts.
Following on from the countryside, capital and data issues comes issue three, Flowing Grounds, which dissects migration in sea and air. We spoke to Offshore Studio’s Isabel Seiffert and Christoph Miler, and Migrant’s editor-in-chief Justinien Tribillon to find out what the third issue hides behind its pearly blue exterior.
How does issue three build on the first two issues of Migrant? How has the magazine grown or developed since issue one?
Justinien: Each issue has a different theme, our autumn issues look at space (the countryside in issue one, sea and air in issue three) and spring issues explore a concept (capital and data in issue two). With all these themes, we explore the issue of migration and its impact on space—so all these narratives, data, projects, photographs that we are publishing are coming together to illustrate our collective and contemporary approach to migration. We see the threads across all the contributions, we also see recurring spaces and topics such as the Arctic Circle, the materiality of borders, the role of nature and the Anthropocene. It is really fascinating to see of this coming together.
The magazine is also reaching a new readership, and with a new readership and new types of contribution which is really exciting. For our first issue, we relied on our professional and social networks to source contributions: there was lot of architecture, design research, social sciences such as sociology. Now we have more artists, researchers in media studies, fiction and non-fiction writers, curators. This is our ambition: to be a multidisciplinary platform of exchange.
Describe the narrative across this issue, Flowing Grounds.
Justinien: There is none! At least, we do not have a pre-conceived narrative. We invite people to send us stories though our call for proposal, we give an intellectual framework within which people can think and create. We pick the proposals we are most interested in, we give a rough word count and… we wait. Then we start putting together the issue: we commission illustrations, we edit the texts, we check the sources and the facts, we do further research and put together maps and infographics. The magic happens when the editors write the ‘letter’ that introduces each of our issue — the connections and the narrative(s) then become obvious: and you know you’ve made a good issue. So for instance, in this issue it’s the relationship between the skies and the ground floor, the sea as infrastructure, our relationship with fauna and flora.
What makes this issues of Flowing Seas the “most flamboyant and tragic issue to date”?
Justinien: The flamboyance of this issue is something that became obvious once we had the printed copy in our hands. The orange of the cover contrasts with the turquoise, the photographs of James Morgan for instance, become quite lyrical with the metallic turquoise colour we have chosen. That’s a very pertinent example of how artistic direction can influence the whole tone of a book or magazine—a navy blue or blue-green colour would have had a very different impact. But air and especially sea remain two spaces with tragic stories to tell such as the thousands of people (more than 5,000 in 2016, according to the United Nations) perishing every year in the Mediterranean Sea, in their attempt to reach Europe. We all bear an intrinsic anxiety towards air and sea, they represent the infinity and the unknown. Ultimately, they symbolise death in our collective imaginary.
What typographic and design innovations have been made in this issue?
Offshore Studio: As with our previous issue we further refined our custom typeface – a constant improvement of the slightly imperfect. Our use of maps and infographics, as well as the layout system has pretty much stayed the same as we build it as a coherent but flexible system with a lot of attention to detail to begin with. The main innovation in this issue is the use of images, illustrations and visuals which we had much more time to carefully craft and curate in issue three. Next to producing lots of imagery ourselves we looked for great photographers and illustrators who would contribute strong visual pieces that accompany the various conceptual and stylistic formats we present throughout the publication. Some examples for this are the contributions of Derek Ercolano for “Blood in the water” and Célestin Krier who made a wonderful illustration for our back cover. We also found beautiful images by hobby photographer Runólfur Haukkson who is a professional tour guide in Iceland and is taking photographs of ice, the northern lights and landscapes. His photographs were the prefect counterpart to a contribution by Irene Stracuzzi called Drawing on ice.
Can you run us through two or three stand out features from issue three, and some contributors who you have particularly enjoyed working with?
Offstudio Studio: There are a lot of fascinating contributions in issue three. One exciting one was produced by Lebanese researcher Ala Tanir. In her piece she is exploring the political, human and humanitarian issue of migrants’ lives lost at the Mediterranean sea, connecting the migration of humans with the increase of jellyfish. Thereby she is combining a documentary approach with a fictional one, mixing elements of journalism with strategies of literature, creating a subtle imaginary piece that connects politics, forensics and the arts. Her text is accompanied by beautiful illustrations by Derek Ercolano which reflect the narrative and atmosphere of the text brilliantly. Another contribution that stands out was produced by Alexis Kalagas. He is writing about the importance of containers and container ships for global trade. Alexis describes vividly how the development of standards for shipping containers have developed, how containers carry 90% of the world’s manufactured goods nowadays and why container demand has itself become one of the proxy measures for the overall health of global trade. Alexis piece is accompanied by infographics, explaining the architecture of containers, the development of container ships and global shipping routes. We are closing the issue with a very compelling contribution by Italian graphic designer and researcher Irene Stracuzzi. She is reflecting on the geopolitical contested zone of the Arctic and the fundamental, ontological questions on the human right to declare sovereignty over territory by the means of a thin line. Irene tracks the history of cartography and deploys it to the Arctic shedding a new light on the origins of the current conflict.