Since its official launch in 2004, Taiwan’s White Fungus magazine’s creators, brothers Ron and Mark Hanson, have kept crafting a mystical-art and multifaceted experimental publication that is impossible to let go. Every article is a risqué trip to strange and interesting places, where people are introduced to a realm of avant-garde art beyond our human understanding. Signed to luxury mag distributor White Circ, White Fungus is now set to conquer the world. Interview with editor Ron Hanson.
Baron: What’s the story behind White Fungus?
Ron Hanson: In 2003, my brother Mark discovered a can of "white fungus" in the supermarket of the industrial zone in Taichung City, Taiwan, where we lived. The next year, we were back in Wellington, New Zealand, and looking to make a one-off publication protesting the building of an inner-city "bypass" which would cut through the center of the city's arts district, displacing artists and demolishing historical buildings. We needed a name for the publication and somehow intuition struck and we decided to go with the can, which had always in been in our minds since the initial discovery. We printed the first issue on a photocopier, wrapped each copy in Christmas paper and hurled them through the entrances of businesses throughout the city. When we started, there was a vacuum in the media on an issue that was really important to a lot of the public. Through White Fungus, we intervened and were able to gain some traction. It's a media intervention that's been going on for almost ten years. To us, independent publishing is all about self-determination. That spirit continues to guide us as we move forward.
B.: How does that translate to an editorial policy?
R. H.: Each issue is thought of very much in relation to the earlier issues and those to come. So there are lines of thought that have been in motion for some time, and each issue further adds to the fabric which has already been developed. We like independent thought, material that is grounded in lives and breathes research, that is playful and daring in terms of aesthetics but detached from the subjectivity of aesthetic value. We're politically minded and like writers and artists with a developed and sophisticated worldview. Passion and communicability. A lot of writing these days seems there just to fill a space and lend legitimacy while we scan the visual images and, of course, digest the advertising. I want to make a case for the value of good writing that's actually enjoyable to read.
B.: Why choose print? What kind of paper do you use and why?
R. H.: Because you can touch it, smell it, collect it, and trade it. It has a lasting currency and an immediate tactility that still makes it central to my life and those of others. Typography shifts and concepts weave in and out. Paper stock to a large extent is determined by the market. We do the best we can.
B.: And how fares the readers’ response?
R. H.: The response becomes more interesting and fascinating each passing year. The most exciting thing to us is if the magazine inspires people to make their own projects happen.
B.: Good print mags get a lot of love, but this isn’t always reflected in sales or advertising. How are your sales doing? What is your advertising philosophy?
R. H.: Of course, you can't make much money from print, but the relationship you build up with an audience is dynamic and the networks are incredibly valuable. So, I think it's important to think about print laterally. I think it's best to pursue print simultaneously while working in different fields.
The issue has sold better as time has gone on and we're just about to be globally distributed for the first time by WhiteCirc, so we're entering a new era. In terms of advertising, we sell pages directly. There's no branding operations at play. We've been really pleased with the standards of the advertising we've run. They're personalized responses rather than branding campaigns.
B.: Any upcoming projects?
R. H.: We've got some exciting events planned for Taipei, which we can't announce right now, but they are in motion. We have plans to make the second issue of White Fungus' sister publication The Subconscious Restaurant. We're also doing some work on a new publication, Midwaste, being launched by White Fungus assistant editor Nick Yeck-Stauffer. We're going to be in an exhibition soon in Gisborne, New Zealand, "Tools of the Trade" at Paul Nache. And there's a bunch of other stuff we're developing, not least of which is the fourteenth issue of White Fungus.