In five years of Bad Day, the Toronto-based art-and-cool magazine, there’ve been a lot of good nights. There were summer fundraisers in small bars and back alleys off Spadina.
There were fall release parties with friends’ bands and noise complaints. For Issue Two, made a year after Eva Michon and Colin Bergh printed their first zine and thought it’d be the last, the downtown west side crowded into Ourspace/Studio Gallery (now defunct, it then seemed an ashy after-party hole, but a lot of little phoenixes emerged, i.e., almost any Toronto 20-something who creates stuff right now).
Two falls ago, the culty punk band No Age played at Clint Roenisch Gallery, and last fall’s film festival, Johnny Rotten showed up at a Bad Day party hosted by James Franco and Gus Van Sant.
This month, Bad Day has a lot to celebrate. The parties are significant not just because they’re mobbed by the creative underclass, but because they pay for the publication: Bad Day is the sum of sweat, tears, and beer money. There are no investors, and no government grants, and yet this small-format, matte-paper biannual is arguably Canada’s most internationally recognizable culture rag. You can find it in boutiques and art hubs in New York, of course, but also in London, Paris, Moscow, San Francisco, Barcelona, Athens, and a dozen more cities. From 50 copies of that first zine, its printing has grown to 5,500.
Over 13 issues, Bad Day’s cover stars have included Harmony Korine, Jason Schwartzman, Sofia Coppola and Charlotte Gainsbourg. Inside, simple photographs and casual, intimate interviews tap lightly the cross-cultural currents of mostly Western, mostly white society.
It is a magazine that makes you want to leave the party early and read.
If you did, neither Michon nor Bergh would mind. Michon, 27, is serious, self-contained – and married, to musician Sebastian Grainger. Bergh, 28, doesn’t even drink. Jackie Linton, the magazine’s 27-year-old publisher, was considering skipping the fifth birthday party on Friday (held at The Hoxton, it was scheduled to feature next-big-DJ Venus X on beats).
The trio works quietly together, all while holding down multiple other jobs, precariat-style, to make each issue a capsule of time and place.“It really reflects our interests, all three of ours, at the given moment,” says Michon. “When we started the magazine I was travelling a lot, so we included a lot of small, international galleries.” Now that the subjects are bigger and better known, what keeps Bad Day special is a winking dissonance between its scope and its size.
“Even with the money to make it bigger, or to print it in full colour,” says Bergh, a graphic designer who functions as creative director, “I don’t think we would. This sounds bad, but I describe the design as neutral. It’s influenced by everything I look at, but it’s not nostalgic. It’s almost default.”
In fact, Bad Day’s two-tone look and consistent feel seems almost institutional, like a government brochure you’d pick up in the sixties or seventies. It’s a Canadian cultural magazine that isn’t about Canadian culture, but rather feels like it could be from anywhere. It’s the most Canadian thing I can think of.
It’s striking, but not surprising, that Bad Day has yet to receive a single government grant, despite having featured a constellation of Canadian art stars: Michael Snow, Steven Shearer, Luis Jacob, Shary Boyle, Guy Maddin. Fashion stars, too: Jeremy Laing, Calla Haynes, Rita Liefhebber and Mark Fast have all featured prominently.
Still the percentage isn’t high enough to meet CanCon standards, says Linton, who lives in New York (Michon and Bergh remain in Toronto). The system seems petty: A magazine made by Canadians is a Canadian magazine in the same way that music made by Canadians is Canadian music. Nobody dictates that a third of Arcade Fire’s songs be about bicycling with poutine on The Plateau.
On the other hand, the CanCon-heavy Canadian Art magazine is classified as a non-profit, and Bad Day is for profit, at least in theory. Canada is kinder to artists who need money than artists who make it, and an art magazine that makes it, or wants to, falls prey to the tall poppy syndrome, even while it’s still a small poppy.
When I talk to Linton about art versus advertising, she seems conflicted, but also not sure there should a conflict between the two. She talks up cultural accessibility and wishes they could print more magazines when they sell out. Bergh prefers the limitedness of Bad Day (even he doesn’t own every issue) and says they won’t reprint, except maybe as a collector’s box set. Both Michon and Bergh say they do the magazine for themselves; Linton does it to see how far she can take it.
Later she e-mails: “We’re all just as interested in people working in commercially-related disciplines as truly independent ones. We’re just as interested in someone who designs perfume as we are in a sculpture artist. We want to disregard those kinds of boundaries and unite people in working practices, because often those two paradigms are looking to each other, inspired by each other, or informing what they do based on each other.”
What Bad Day may be getting at is that – in an age of record-breaking auctions, trend-making art fairs and galleries with restaurants and shops that feel more like malleries – what’s called “art” is as commercial an endeavour as any other. Nothing’s pure, but when the party’s over, Bad Day makes it look simple, like a matter of quiet, collective taste.