Brian Dillon on 'Aspen'

In August 1971 the US Postal Service wrote to Phyllis Johnson, the publisher of Aspen, an arts and culture quarterly then in its sixth year, to inform her that the magazine’s right to reduced postal rates had been definitively revoked. Aspen, which is the subject of an exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery until 3 March, seems to have fallen foul of Title 39 US Code 4354 on several counts, not least the journal’s increasingly intermittent publication schedule. There was the matter too of its eccentric form; whatever else it was, according to the Postal Service, a periodical was surely a discrete object made of printed sheets, bound together and maintaining more or less the same format from issue to issue. Aspen was a bureaucratically flummoxing proposition: an unpredictable agglomeration of essays and articles on loose pages or in booklets, packaged with flyers, photographs, diagrams, flexidiscs and even in one issue a spool of 8mm film – all housed in a box whose design and dimensions varied from one mail-out to the next.