by LUIZA LUKOVA and SEBASTIAN ZINN
JOON, a colloquial term of endearment in Farsi, is the name of Portland’s newest arts and culture magazine. The magazine is the brainchild of Bijan Berahimi, owner of FISK, a local design studio, gallery, and publisher. Born of a collaboration with Brown Printing, Inc, JOON’s first issue is now available exclusively in print through stockists in Portland, Los Angeles, New York City, and Tokyo, as well as FISK’s online store. The 160-page, polychrome tome is the product of six years of conversations with different members of Portland’s creative community. Combining the radically inclusive content of a zine with the aesthetic appeal of a high-quality, glossy print magazine, JOON is unique, personal, non-conformist, and beautifully executed. Luiza Lukova and Sebastian Zinn sat down with Berahimi to discuss the eclectic group of creative individuals and institutions involved in JOON’s publication, as well as his idiosyncratic approach to print media as an art form in itself.
A calculated reaction to the scarcity of platforms for in-depth arts coverage in the Pacific Northwest, JOON emphasizes the sundry manifestations of culture which distinguish a community like Portland’s. The magazine is a manifestation of Berahimi’s personal ethos and professional values. With it, he uses his own brand and first-rate skills as a graphic designer to spotlight artists from very diverse backgrounds who have enriched this city through their distinctive creative practices and sui generis aesthetics.
JOON pays the same level of respect and attention to a wide assortment of gifted individuals working in architecture, food, music, advertising, perfume, sculpture, and print media, in addition to highlighting public institutions such as Wilhelm’s Memorial Home and Dawson Park. There are no advertisements or product placements in its pages; it captivates readers because of its marvelous imagery, insightful profiles, offbeat design, and confident nonchalance. It also seeks to redress the insularity and inaccessibility of fine art, fashion, pop culture and lifestyle editorials (a tall order, to be sure), imbuing its subjects with a sense of cultural urgency often reserved for luxury goods, blue chip artists, fashion moguls, and billboard-topping pop stars. “JOON portrays these people and institutions in a light that they’re not often portrayed in,” says Berahimi. “It’s rare to see a food cart owner in a fashion-style, high-end editorial photo shoot. Witnessing that, especially with Kee (of Kee’s #Loaded Kitchen), was so fun, powerful, and addicting in some ways. I was like, Oh my god, I want to do another issue.”
Berahimi relishes taking his fate into his own hands. With JOON, he’s widened his grasp to uplift a subsection of the creative community here in Portland. That said, he takes encouragement from the city’s residents even as he inspires them. Berahimi actually credits one of the artists profiled in JOON – hip hop and R&B artist, The Last Artful, Dodgr – for convincing him to set up shop in Portland six years ago. While attending The Portland Institute of Contemporary Art’s (PICA) Time-Based Art Festival (TBA), he happened to catch Dodgr closing out the day’s revelries with a particularly vitalizing performance. Berahimi recalls Dodgr making “an everlasting statement; or at least a statement that’s stuck with me: “Don’t leave Portland. This can be your homebase and you can succeed here, too.” Dubbing Dodgr his “North Star,” Berahimi took her message to heart and opened his design studio and gallery not far from PICA in NE Portland. “The commitment to this physical space,” Berahimi says, “was a testament to me deciding: I’m staying here.”
Confronted with a scarcity of cultural infrastructure, Berahimi assembled it for himself and continues to share it with others in his community. FISK Gallery was first established in the backroom of Beacon Sound on Mississippi Avenue. For Berahimi, the gallery is an ancillary commitment; his principal concern is his design studio. However, in the past couple of years, FISK Gallery has hosted an all-star cast of emerging and established artists, most of them from larger, more multicultural cities, including New York City, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Japan, and the Netherlands. Many of the artists who show at the gallery are graphic designers by profession. Berahimi displays their work in a “fine art” context, allowing those who are interested to “take over” the gallery by creating floor to ceiling installations. FISK Gallery’s international orientation has given tyro creatives in small-town Portland a rare opportunity to connect with cultural magnates from booming metropolises.
I love the idea that people from Nike, Adidas, Wieden+Kennedy, PNCA, PSU (Portland State University), PCC (Portland Community College), and Reed College––all these people from different places get to socialize in one space… I love that there are sixteen-year-olds who could potentially be art directors at Nike in forty years standing next to an art director at Nike.Bijan Berahimi
From cover to back, JOON reads as an ode to a-day-in-the-life of Berahimi: picking up lunch for FISK’s design team from Kee’s #Loaded Kitchen; moseying through Dawson Park with his dog, Charlie; collaborating with Maak Lab on a new scent for a client; or paying an annual visit to Willhelm’s Memorial Home. The magazine’s ability to dissolve creative boundaries and unite disparate individuals lends it staying power. “It’s the same with the gallery” notes Berahimi, “in that I didn’t make any of this work.… It already exists. It’s just giving [these artists] a space and letting them shine, really.”
At the core of the project, says Berahimi, was a desire to “make a graphic design magazine that wasn’t about graphic design, a photography magazine that wasn’t about photography, and a cultural magazine that was designed and cared for like a graphic design or photo magazine.” Berahimi serves as JOON’s founder and editor-in-chief, and FISK’s design team (where he also serves as creative director) undertook the magazine’s creative direction and design. Berahimi counts his favorite publications – Bloomberg, Businessweek and Flaneur Magazine – among JOON’s editorial antecedents. FISK’s design work for Cult Classic Magazine, which profiles “underground creatives,” was another major source of inspiration for JOON. Like Cult Classic, JOON is composed of radically different identities, design layouts and fonts, discretely tailored to each of its 13 profiles. The range of typographies – from ‘60s psychedelia to hardxcore fonts – speaks to the diversity of aesthetic practices represented in the magazine. Berahimi claims to value photography, typography, and spread as much, if not more, than writing: “It’s kind of a common saying that designers don’t read,” he says. “There are always typos in our work. The kinds of people we’re working with are hiring us for our visual ability and our image making skill set, not to write. Our clients also aren’t interested in reading.”
Beauty and aesthetics are constantly co-opted as marketing strategies, especially by magazines and corporations. JOON is gorgeous. It features stunning photographs, elaborate, meticulously crafted page elements, and thoughtful dialogue between members of the Portland community. However, the magazine isn’t trying to sell readers anything – even subliminally – although it certainly demonstrates FISK’s virtuosity as a design firm. Its subject matter strikes an intoxicating balance between accessibility and unreachability: “A lot of these people and spaces are accessible,” says Berahimi, “a lot of them aren’t. And that’s kind of the fun of anything, right? People dream about going to Paris or traveling all over the world. It’s not any different from that.”
FISK Project’s modus operandi is to elevate the quality of the campaigns they create for their clients over price tags: “90% of the decisions we make here aren’t based on money,” Berahimi claims. “I understand that I have to sell stuff and make money, but I will avoid it as much as I can.… JOON was an expensive project, but I didn’t crunch any numbers.” Bankrolling JOON independently was only possible because Brown Printing, Inc. offered to print the magazine for free as a promotional strategy. “JOON is representative of a pre-existing level of trust between Brown Printing and FISK,” says Berahimi. “You can’t buy that, you can’t make it, or force it. The magazine is natural and unique. That’s why it stands out.” In addition to the magazine’s title, JOON’s spine bears the name “Portland” in capital letters, suggesting that subsequent issues might be inscribed with the names of other cities to which their contents will be devoted.
Given the sharp decline of advertising revenue among glossy-print magazines initiated by widespread economic shutdowns, the fact that FISK paid for JOON out of pocket puts it in a different category than many print publications. In our current crisis, in which the unregulated capitalist market seems to be failing, JOON feels utopian, heralding a shift towards a culture with stewardship, community and social capital, rather than money, at its center. However, at the same time, Berahimi asserts that without advertising revenue, another issue is beyond his means: “This issue, we decided not to look for any funding or have any sponsors because it was important for us to do right by our vision. So that’s for the next issue.… I’m not really interested in doing it [again] for free, and Brown isn’t either.”
Berahimi’s acuity as a multisensory aesthete was on full display at the JOON magazine launch party on January 25th, 2020 (just five days after the CDC confirmed the first diagnosis of the novel coronavirus on U.S. soil in Snohomish County, Washington). Upon entering the inconsequential looking warehouse in NW Portland where the function was staged, over 500 expectant fans were immersed in the otherworldly neon floral installations of artist Manu Torres. Further on, animated visitors streamed in and out of booths curated by other creative groups profiled in the magazine. The manifold forms of entertainment available piqued all five human senses, striking for some a sublime harmony, and for others discomfiting discord. Scents by Maak Lab wafted through, mixing with the smoke from the grill of Kee’s #Loaded Kitchen. Customers at merch tables bumped up against those in line for free-pouring wine, and just about every Portland creative mingled on the dance floor, vibing to DJ sets and visuals curated by Spoiler Room PDX.
In a world in which information and cultural products are increasingly shared online, Berahimi’s design team remains “mindful of the physicality” of their work. Since its inception, FISK has undertaken design projects which are tangible. These range from clothes, album covers and magazines, to retail displays, restaurant menus and furniture, all of which are attuned to the ineffable connection between the visual and the haptic spectrums of human experience. We scan the images and texts of JOON’s pages, and the information we absorb informs our sensory experience of cultural phenomena in the real world or suggests something to us about what our experiences of them could be like.
Though it took place only two months ago, the JOON launch party feels like a chimera from a distant past. Since then, our systems of communication and interaction have been impeded, tested and transformed by the outbreak. Despite emergency relief efforts, Portland’s small businesses have been hard hit financially. Galleries, museums, theaters, and concert venues have been forced to close to protect public health, and some may never reopen. While many newspapers in Portland have suspended print publication and furloughed longstanding employees to try to survive, engagement with news site and digital publications is increasing steadily. People stuck at home are killing surplus time by reengaging with print media such as books and magazines. IRL creative communities and relationships are on hold, but glossy-print magazines like JOON have individuals pouring over their pages and online content for inspiration and comfort. By attentively showcasing these artists and institutions and curating an arena for thoughtful dialogue, JOON advances a crucial pathway towards repair and discovery for creative communities. Today, the magazine reads as an elegy to life in Portland before the effects of the coronavirus pandemic were acutely felt, raising the question: what do we want to carry with us into the future when this crisis subsides?