Questions about 4 Taxis

— Thomas Lawson

Double page spread of 4 Taxis, issue 9/10, February 1983

Thomas Lawson: Let’s start with some background information. Can you say a little bit about how you started 4 Taxis—when, why, and how?

4 Taxis (Michel Aphesbero, Danielle Colomine): You forgot “where”! 4 Taxis started in 1978 in Bordeaux, where we lived and which is still a port d’attache. It was meant to be a place of gathering for artists’ works especially done for the magazine, coming from four cities: Bordeaux, Barcelona, Rome, and New York. To escape the Bordeaux boredom, we used the magazine format as an artist’s project with the desire to leave. We suffered from dromomania. When does the fact of traveling become pathological? This question is tackled by Ian Hacking in his book Mad Travellers. It tells the story of Albert Dadas: the first runaway maniac in the true epidemic of insane travelers, which spread all over Europe at the end of the nineteenth century, and of which Bordeaux was the epicenter. This story inspired us to do a photo-novel in 2004.
The first issue was a kind of tool to go to New York and meet people. With Edit deAk from Art-Rite magazine, we had planned for the next issue to feature the work of New York artists, and this provided 4 Taxis with its first encounter with Printed Matter (which was at Lispenard Street in those days).
Then, with Muntadas and Pedro Bustos Domecq, that became new material for a fictional piece about a Barcelona bookshop keeper/murderer which was published in the third issue. That issue had a theme: mystery novel, with artist’s works coming from the four cities mentioned above.
At that time, readers thought that the topic would be the permanent focus of the magazine, but when they received the following issue titled “Cover Issue—Waiting for your taxi, taxi which never comes”—they were really confused! It was a homemade conceptual artwork. 94% of the magazine was blank space with a few pictures. The centerfold was a reduced picture of Beuys on the cover of Der Spiegel’s with staples right on the eyes and mouth.
In the 1980s, the magazine gets more radical, the motion become more physical. Danielle leaves for Berlin in 1980 in an old Renault 4L, beige with a green door, an artist’s grant and a new statement: to live in a foreign country for six months to one year, to conceive artwork whose topic is the city and whose form is the magazine.
How to integrate art into our own lives and into other people’s lives? Right from the start, the meeting with Kippenberger and his crowd, which ranged from the gang of Austrian artists/restaurateurs Michel Würthle, and Oswald Wiener, to the punk scene, Einstürzende Neubauten, Die Tödliche Doris, via Tabea Blumenstein, Michael Krebber, and Gisela Capitain, jammed all classifications.

TL: And what are the “international boondocks?” Where are they to be found?

4 T: Deep down in any of us… if you feel in some way out of it. The international boondocks are in your head, not only in a geographic situation. It is the idea of whatever singularity. It sounds like an oxymoron… a relationship to the world with a multiple belonging. International and vernacular, the cambrousse internationale refers to the idea of ultra local.
There is also this song by Joe South from the 1960s, “Down in the boondocks.” That’s the side of town I was born in. Our side of town too…
That’s where we come from, but more than the boondocks, the caves! Tarbes, at the foot of the Pyrenees, Lourdes’s grotto, Mauzac, a village in the Dordogne near the Lascaux caves. Where Bordeaux is a meeting point. We’re moving on with all this background, that’s the boondocks we recognize elsewhere.
In 1983 we published a special “head-to-tail” edition with Kippenberger/Dokoupil and work “Homme Atelier Peinture à Cologne” on one side, and the Lascaux caves on the other. It was called 4 Taxis Perpendiculaire and was based on the idea of a monographic collision of peculiar people or subjects.

TL: The 1984 Los Angeles issue was number 9/10 of the series, what cities came before?

4 T: 1980: Berlin. 1981: Barcelona.

TL: When did you arrive in Los Angeles, and how long did you stay in the city?

4 T: Danielle arrived in L.A. in the summer of 1982, for one year. She found a job as an art teacher at the Lycée Français. Living in Hollywood, working in Redondo Beach, riding every day back and forth between the north and south of the city in a Volkswagen with a Harley Davidson muffler.
Michel came over for six months. We lived in the heart of Hollywood, on Carlton Way, on the same street where Bukowski had lived, just a few minutes from Cathay de Grande and from the punk scene, right in between X and PIX, the two neons of the porn cinemas that lit the east and west windows of the house. When we settled, the Pix would show  El taxista asesinado. They have both since closed down: one painted white and bricked up the other was converted into a Salvation Army.

TL: Did you come with the idea that you would do an issue, or did that just happen once you arrived and started meeting people?

4 T: The idea to do an issue was perfectly clear. Danielle went to L.A. with, as a first clue, an article by Philippe Garnier, a journalist who wrote for Libération and a writer who translated Fante, Bukowski, James Crumley, among others. He was living in L.A. and his article dealt with the musical scene, the daily life, food, and his neighborhood between Silverlake and Echo Park: “Bienvenue à L.A. Frenchies, don’t step my way.”
Of course, there were also all these mythologies which the city conveys and we had the idea in mind to meet the Cramps, Edward Ruscha, Russ Meyer, and to dust off Eddie Cochran’s grave.

TL: The issue gives a remarkable snapshot of Los Angeles in 1983. Who was your guide? How did you learn to navigate it so quickly?

4 T: It was, first of all, an everyday adventure. How to achieve this feat: to go fast and slow at the same time? With what compass? We would grope along, the light would hurt our eyes, and the city exposed itself like a huge studio with open freeways. A friendly and unwelcoming landscape, but where the bank clerk would call you by your first name. Or this guy, on Vine Street, ever so peaceful, who would stop the traffic, kiss the asphalt and then move on.
Our tools? Intuition, nerve, and clumsiness. Walking, driving, meeting people, and reading newspapers.
Philippe Garnier became a friend. His outstanding chronicles on L.A. and his loquacious maverick posture would nurture our daily excitement.
We met Steve Samiof in his gallery on North Larchmont, on the corner of Melrose: Steve’s House of Fine Arts, “Air Conditioned, it’s cool inside.” A gallery governed by the creed quality art priced to move. Structured as a series of two-night exhibitions that were basically parties, shofa showcased work by local talents such as Ed Ruscha, Gary Panter, Mary Woronov and Matt Groening.
Samiof was thirty-three and had already moved sixty-six times in Los Angeles!  A plumber’s apprentice/stage designer/florist/car dealer/publisher of the punk magazines Slash and Stuff, he would show newcomers around the city on his motorbike. He was a master of “making as knowing” and a sharp analyst of L.A. scenes. “To me, a scene is twenty people who work together in an auto repair shop.”
Not to mention an attachment to a story of rock ‘n’ roll of the fifties (which started with a Buddy Holly fan club in the Dordogne when Michel was fifteen), and which continued in L.A. with the meeting with Bob Keane, the early producer of Sam Cooke, Bobby Fuller, Ritchie Valens, and Frank Zappa. This flood of names ended up in the contents of the issue.

TL: Is there a thread connecting your interest in Steve Samiof of Slash, Gary Panter, and the editors of L.A. Weekly?

4 T: Printed Matter and Corona! Steve and Gary were in our neighborhood. L.A.Weekly, in Jay Levin’s days, was not far away from our place. They were on 5325 Sunset. As parallel guides, we would read the strips by Matt Groening, Gary Panter, Mike Kelley, and David Lynch which were published in the two free newspapers, L.A. Weekly and The Reader (which no longer exists).

TL: You cover art of course, but also music, movies, popular culture, and interestingly, other publications. Did you see these as interconnected in some way?

4 T: That’s still our daily exercise… and inscribed in the project of the magazine. But the most thrilling part is how these interconnections are revealed. The summary of the L.A. issue starts on the cover with a picture taken through the windshield on the way back from work, along Gower Street. A banal, everyday sight. The Hollywood sign is hardly visible, clinging to the hills in the same tiny type size. That announces the topics. The idea of visual fatigue pervades the whole issue. Eye stress.
The whole issue really unfolds like a script and, the competition is hard in L.A.! It opens on a double-spread with a picture of Joshua Tree and its Hi-Desert Cultural Center and then comes along a coyote crossing a freeway to illustrate the story of a baby devoured by a coyote in Glendale.
A few pages later, we are in the bar of the Nickodell, close to Paramount, with Russ Meyer for a king-size interview in pidgin English.
The Catalan connection gets moving again with Bigas Luna who just finished Reborn with Dennis Hopper, revisiting the difficulties and misunderstandings of the European filmmakers who wanted to work in Hollywood.
The interview with Ruscha connects and binds (in the bookbinding sense) the topics: architecture, music, painting, typography. He also produced an original piece.
The  Gary Panter, Steve Samiof, Chris Burden, Ritchie Valens, L.A. Weekly, Philippe Garnier sequences draw up a fragmented cartography. The visual discrepancies and the assemblage of dissonant fonts (Futura and Fraktur Gothic, quite banal by now) try to bring out the aesthetic essence of the city at hand.
What relationship between the interview of Frederick’s of Hollywood and the improbable closeness of a free ad for Arts + Architecture?
Maybe the plainness of desires interconnected with the relief of forms.

TL: Ed Ruscha was already a well-known artist then: how did you persuadehim to do a piece for you?

4 T: Our force of conviction! [laughs] Our mainspring was a mixture of provincial shyness and nerve! And he quickly understood the idea of the magazine. We interviewed him in his studio on Western and we talked about country (and western) music, typography, architecture, and about the way to move and stay in L.A.. The fact that he made a specific piece for 4 Taxis was fantastic! He also taught us a new word: fickle. Another word without scale.[1]

TL: Can you talk a little about design back then? This was put together before Mac made it relatively easy to cut and layer text and images.

4 T: 1982. Graphic design was about deconstruction even if Emigre[2] wasn’t born. (They mentioned that issue in their tenth anniversary album as one of their inspirations.) Without a Macintosh or layout software, we took part in every stage of the production, getting our hands dirty. Our mouse was the cutter and our enemy, dust!
The interviews, the photos, the tape transcriptions (by Françoise Aphesbero, who dealt with miles of translations…), the layout sketches, the pieces of photo-setting pasted on graph paper, the camera-ready paste up, the plate exposure and all the nights at the printer’s shop in Bordeaux, were pure moments of r ‘n’ r.  Not to mention the minute consignment in bookshops. It involved a chain of relationships and discussions which has now been compressed by the digital, and sometimes, loneliness.
And then, the following issues became very different objects. “4 Taxis Fads” was set up with pages coming from various countries, unstapled, cut up, dragged around in our pockets, orphaned, and gathered in the magazine.
4 Taxis Sevilla, titled “One year in Sevilla forever” took the shape of a perpetual ephemeral calendar, 365 pages, black and white, to tear out. A folkloric vision of eternity.

Double page spread of 4Taxis, n°9/10, February 1983

  1. [1] Ed Ruscha: “There are certain subjects that have no size—which is the area I really moved into—and that was words. I mean, what size is a word, after all? Is it six-point, is it twelve-point, or is it as big as a wall?”
  2. [2] Founded in 1984, Emigre was a magazine (1984-2006), very influential in the field of graphic design and a digital type foundry which is still in activity.