The London Magazine has long been a champion of emerging writers and independent publishers, stretching back to the 1950s and 60s, when young writers like Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes found a home in the pages of the then newly re-launched volumes of the magazine.
We want this tradition to continue, and given the renaissance of new independent publishers, we have decided to launch a monthly spotlight feature that promotes the best of innovative contemporary writing across the UK and beyond.
We have previously featured publishers including Penned in the Margins, Dostoyevsky Wannabe and Influx Press, however, this spotlight is a journals special, looking at Hotel and LE GUN, two very different but highly original and equally brilliant journals based in London, both with startlingly high production values.
Who are they?
Established in 2016, Hotel is a bi-annual journal which also has an extensive online archive of its previously published work. Its tagline, ‘a hotel is defined by its inhabitants’, is appropriate, as the unique work inhabiting its pages defines this journal, featuring experimental new approaches to fiction, non-fiction and poetry from both established and emerging writers.
Hotel finds a place within the world of exciting, contemporary avant-garde fiction alongside the likes of online journals Berfrois and 3AM Magazine. Under the editorial team of Jon Auman, Thomas Chadwick and Dominic Jaeckle, Hotel features contributors who are driving forces within this writing scene, including Isabel Waidner, Steven J Fowler, Eley Williams, and Will Eaves (the last two both winners of the Republic of Consciousness Award in 2017 and 2018 respectively).
In its print form, Hotel is beautifully designed by Niall Reynolds, interspersing white and red pages with black and white photos, with the sense that every piece of writing is given the proper space to be appreciated and reflected on by readers.
Now turning to LE GUN, who are an art collective comprising of five artist illustrators (Bill Bragg, Chris Bianchi, Neal Fox, Robert Rubbish, and Steph von Reiswitz) and two designers (Alex Wright and Matthew Appleton). The group met in the Communication Art and Design department of London’s Royal College of Art and have collaborated together since 2004. Among other projects and exhibitions, the collective has published their journal intermittently over the last ten years, continually using a large A3 form to present a series of extraordinary illustrations, ranging from graphic novel-esque to the utmost surrealism, alongside special colour sections and inserts of fictional narrative text.
What are they publishing, and why are they different?
LE GUN is visually an incredibly unique journal, presenting an almost overwhelming collection of surreal, comical and sometimes dark illustrations, with the level of detail and depth allowing for hours of perusal.
LE GUN is also uncommon in that they curate a number of projects and events which run in parallel to their journal, including exhibitions, installations, parties and performances, thereby projecting their illustrations from their pages into physical forms on the external environment. For instance, they launched their ‘Close Eyes to Exit’ exhibition at London’s Red Gallery in conjunction with the release of their 2011 fifth issue. This exhibition featured their installation The Unknown Room: a hand-rendered, monochrome room installation which allows a physical entrance into the world constructed by their illustrations, specifically the story of George Melly told in this issue’s inserts.
While Hotel’s is a beautifully produced journal, the focus is much more on literature, specifically poetry, fiction, graphic novel stories and non-fiction essays. This publication sources the best new work in the UK literary avant-garde world, along with translations of experimental work from other languages, curating a journal with a combination of writing unlikely to be found elsewhere, along with some fantastic photography.
Across its issues, Hotel has featured some brilliant writers and artists including the likes of Jean-Baptiste Del Amo, Claire-Louise Bennett and Rachel Allen (go here for a full list), but we have specifically chosen to spotlight contributions from their latest issue, Hotel #5:
— ‘Three Poems (after Mascha Kaléko)’ by Jack Underwood explore the pain of being in love, addressing the subject of the poems with powerfully evocative imagery. Underwood’s unique style will certainly prompt you to purchase the collection from which they are taken, Solo For Mascha Voice: Poems After Mascha Kaléko, published by Prototype Publishing, and written in response to the work of the Polish-born German-language poet Mascha Kaléko.
— Ralf Webb, who has previously been commended in the 2015/16 Faber’s New Poets scheme, shares ‘Now I Really Am O.K’ and ‘Travelling Alone is My Favourite Sickness’ in Hotel’s latest issue. The latter particularly intrigued me, describing a space of self-inflicted solitude away from the superficiality of popular culture with a unique sense of character.
— John Divola’s collection of photos ‘As Far as I Could Get’ depict exactly their title, as for each photograph Divola set a timer on his camera and ran as far as he could before it photographed. I found myself driven forward through this collection of landscapes in a constant chase after the elusive photographer.
— ‘Spirit Human’ by Isabel Galleymore explores the connections we construct between the human and animal world, presenting similar themes to her wonderful collection Significant Other published earlier this year by Carcanet and shortlisted for the 2019 Forward (Felix Dennis) Prize for Best First Collection.
LE GUN’s latest issue, LE GUN 6, is an example of the continually brilliant work they produce, tracking the narrative of Herbert Fischl in inserts embedded among wonderfully surreal illustrations. This latest issue brings together artists and contributors from previous issues, as well as other artists who the collective had long wanted to contribute, including Will Sweeney, Ralph Steadman and Jim Stoten.
The issue has been described by artist Neal Fox as “a reaction to the madness and extremes in our culture now, but not in an overt way.” When flicking through the issue you can see exactly what they mean — LE GUN 6 is a visual explosion that toys with occult imagery and a surrealist detective novel form, with allusions to the likes of Philippe Soupault and Jean Genet (the visual story is augmented by letters from prison attached as inserts), while throwing together images of the grotesque and the uncanny into a comic dada form that evokes the short films by Pasolini. It’s a truly special piece of work, and when you see the obvious work that’s gone into it it’s perhaps not surprising that it is the first issue since 2011. Get a copy while you can, words don’t do it justice.
What’s up next?
Immediately up next for Hotel is an exciting book project called Twenty-Five Rooms, which will be released through the sensational Manchester-based publishers Dostoyevsky Wannabe (who make many wonderful things and who were previously spotlighted by The London Magazine). Twenty-Five rooms is an anthology of original and excerpted materials from the first eighteen months of Hotel’s online activities. Pooling a number of select entries from the Hotel Archive—an ongoing and growing corpus of digitally published poetry and prose-works (updated periodically)—25 Rooms collates 25 entries from the early life of this online catalogue and (in order of appearance) sequences works by Rainald Goetz; Adrian Nathan West; Kristín Ómarsdóttir; Vala Thorodds; John Holten; Leah Sophia Dworkin; Luc Sante; Emma Mackilligin; Kyle Coma-Thompson; Gareth Evans; Lauren Dostal; Molly Gunther; Joanna Rafael Goldberg; Helen Charman; Jessica Bonder; Rowan Evans; Jonathan Chandler; NJ Stallard; Anne Michaels; Anna Cathenka; Jack Goldstein; A.K. Blakemore; Luke Kennard; Adrian Bridget; Jess Cotton; Sam Weselowski; & Nina Powles into an imagined run of rooms.
As for LE GUN, the prospect of future work from LE GUN is uncertain as their latest issue appeared after an eight-year hiatus, and the collective has commented that this may be their last issue. So, best to grab a copy of their latest issue now and remain in hope that more work will come from LE GUN in the future. Aside from this however, their artists regularly exhibit other work, such as Robert Rubbish’s recent Spiritus Soho exhibition and book, so it’s well worth seeking them on out on Twitter and Instagram and following what they do.
And if you can, we do recommend getting copies of both LE GUN and Hotel — fiercely independent art and literature for these strange days.
Words by Katrina Bennett.
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