Artkrush interviews Cabinet's Sina Najafi, 12/27/06:
AK: Can you tell us about Cabinet's history and format?
SN: The nonprofit that publishes Cabinet was founded in 1999 by artist Brian Conley and myself, and the first issue appeared in December 2000. The magazine has remained pretty much consistent since. Some of our regular columns have changed, but we've more or less had a similar mix of interviews, artist projects, and essays by artists, writers, and academics. There's a catchall section, a set of columns, the occasional audio CD, and a themed section. Past themes have ranged from the concrete, such as "Animals" or "Horticulture," to abstract notions with a long lineage in philosophy, such as "Evil" or "Chance," to topics that ought to have a sociology but don't — for example, "the Enemy," where there is no such thing as Enemy Studies and no one great book that examines how we've thought about the enemy historically.
AK: What is Cabinet's mission?
SN: Cabinet was founded around three distinct missions, which we hope resonate productively against each other. First, we wanted to have a magazine that reflected how artists thought about the world around them and had the same diverse subjects that you might find on the bookshelves of artists today. That's why a history of urban warfare is as likely to appear in our pages as a history of the doughnut; we call ourselves an "art and culture" magazine, but we try to operate with as expansive a definition of those words as possible. The exuberance that artists bring to their work is something we wanted to have in the magazine, and we're not afraid of having the serious next to the humorous or even the absurd, even though some people imagine this means that the serious is not being taken seriously — we obviously disagree! Another characteristic of this approach is that it is less concerned with judging what is good or bad or with policing the boundary between in or out; rather, it's about trying to better understand the ambient culture. Our gambit is that this better understanding is always "critical" in that it helps reveal the contingencies behind the world as it exists today and that knowing things could have been different is crucial for believing that things can be changed for the better.
Our second desire was to provide a venue for academia and journalism to meet. This is something that happens in a lot of European daily newspapers and weekly magazines. As a result of their role as public intellectuals, European academics are perceived as having something important and relevant to say, but they also learn to calibrate their language so that a general audience can read it. In the US, however, the number of nonspecialized venues where academic research is available to a larger public is quite small; The New York Review of Books is one. But think of the New York Times, for example, and of the shameful obituaries they commissioned for Jacques Derrida and Edward Said, and you'll see how large the divide is in this country. Because of this divide, the public imagines academics have nothing fascinating or important to say about the real world, and academics imagine that the larger audience cannot and does not want to listen to what they are working on. This is just not true, or at least it does not have to be true, and we hope to be part of a larger effort to break down this divide.
The third cornerstone of the magazine is a Baroque sensibility where the idea of an omnivorous curiosity toward the world is crucial. This approach does not try to parcel the world into sections. Rather, it is a quest for understanding everything as interconnected. The cabinet of curiosity, the precursor to the specialized museum of today, is obviously a reference point for us in all this and the source of our name. This quest is an impossible one, but the desire for it needs to be encouraged because it implies an ethics, namely to care for what the world is, to care to find out how it became this way, and to care to find out how we can change it. Michel Foucault once discussed the vilification of the notion of curiosity and how we need to reintegrate it into our practices. He points out that curiosity ignores all the hierarchies of high and low, and that it also leads to an "estrangement" of the familiar world around us. We agree with this and feel that this immersive notion of endless curiosity is very much against the way "expertise" ends up policing boundaries of disciplines, knowledge, etc.