“I want to make a dead end”: in issue six of Civilization, Richard Turley has no desire to impress
With the issue having little focus on “content”, the New York-based creative and graphic designer tells us how the publication has become more of an “object” than a paper.
- Olivia Hingley
- 4 May 2022
Richard Turley’s publication Civilization saw its first issue in 2018 and was created as a means to represent New York City and what it’s like to live there. Now on its sixth instalment, Richard tells us that he’s keen not to let the publication become predictable or formulaic. “Each issue has to be different from the last. What was shocking or challenging at first becomes a kind of formula and we don’t want it to stagnate”, he begins. To create this sense of independence, Richard and fellow editor Lucas Mascatello worked off a lot of the “negativity” and “anger” that they were both dealing with at the time of the issue’s inception. So, in line with these feelings, Richard explains that “we wanted to make it hard to look at. Difficult to deal with. We don’t want it to feel like anything else – we don't want to be associated with anyone else – even if that’s at the expense of its legibility, beauty or form. We want to do something different.”
This, understandably, has led to the content of issue six being somewhat purposefully neglected. Focussing instead on a more conceptual approach and aesthetic, it’s hard to align the paper with other, more typical publications – with their interviews with notable people, useful articles and well written copy. So now, Richard sees Civilization as existing less as a “paper” and more of an “object”, and he’s the first to admit that this new direction won’t be to everyone’s tastes. “Sometimes you inspire people and sometimes you try to piss them off”, he says candidly. “Seems like most people are keen to be liked at the moment, so it made sense to try and be horrible.”
To create this sense of disorientation and lack of direction, as you may imagine, involved a pretty unsystematic production process. Explaining there to be no preliminary conversations with contributors, instead there exists “a bunch of people who are almost all friends who just send us stuff – they don’t need guidance”. And in some areas the human element was rejected entirely with Richard sharing that over half of the issue was made using AI writing tools. “People seem far less interesting than machines,” Richard says, “a person has their own trauma and experiences, but the AI is a composite approximating many peoples neuroses, fears, memories etc. It’s a great expression of the collective consciousness – or at least a way to pluralize your own perspective”. So the team threw away the idea of “it being a platform for different kinds of voices” and instead “reduced it down to what is now, almost a single voice”.
To match this disordered content, Richard favoured an oversaturated, visually hectic aesthetic, applying a few fairly unorthodox methods along the way. “For about two months I didn’t allow myself to delete anything”, he explains, instead scrubbing things out, as opposed to complete removal. “Not being able to reverse out of a bad decision created this nice sense of pile-on, layers and layers. Things hidden, obliterated, but I like that they’re still there.” Defined by its fragmented, fractured look, the visuals are defined by their initial complete incomprehension. And, with this visual look, Richard intended for each page to be viewed as a single, autonomous image, which upon each zooming in you see something new. Perhaps the best visual comparison when viewing the paper, is it being like an insight into someone’s very cluttered brain. Memory layered upon memory, snapshots of a conversation, a dream (or nightmare) nestled in a far corner, a to-do list lost, somewhere in amongst the chaos.
With an upcoming NTS show and some one-off poster and sticker sales, there’s a lot of brilliant Civilization based content to keep an eye out for – even if you may have no clue what’s on. Wrapping up his thoughts on the issue, Richard ends our chat about issue six quite frankly: “it doesn’t serve any kind of function, it doesn’t inform, you can’t even really read it. But then I’m not really interested in making something useful. I want to make a dead end. A cul de sac.”
Civilization Newspaper, Issue 6. Illustration by Kurt Woerpel. (Copyright © Civilization, April 2022)
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.