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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Journal From Way Underground

Moscow's counterculture has a new mouthpiece. A magazine with the curious name Pinoller has set itself the task of overcoming the trite, the trivial, the banal -- everything, in short, that can be expressed by the Russian word poshlost.

"We are a magazine for people who do not like to watch television," laughed Alexander Kushnir, one of the magazine's founders, at Pinoller's coming-out party last week.

The event drew an exotic blend of fringe literary types, underground philosophers, nouveau-riche businessmen, and journalists. In a haze of smoke and alcohol fumes, guests discussed everything from publishing and distribution costs to the meaning of literature, art, beauty and life.

The cause of all this hype is a 128-page, black-and-white publication that describes itself as "an attempt to build a model of the Absolute Journal, which derives its meaning only from itself."

If this seems a bit obscure, the choice of material will do little to clear up the confusion. Among the magazine's premier offerings are an article on the life and art of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, illustrated by some of Mapplethorpe's more explicit homoerotic works; a comics series by the celebrated American cartoonist Art Spiegelman; interviews with writer Eduard Limonov, singer Laime Vaikule and actor Viktor Avilov; and an article on the "metahuman basis of Russian counterculture" by Alexander Serga, described as "a pioneer of the new existentialist journalism."

"Pinoller is an experiment," explains Kushnir. "There are those who insist that the time for creating is over, that our spiritual potential is exhausted. We are trying to prove them wrong." The magazine wants to introduce Russians to new avenues in art, both at home and in the world at large.

Pinoller seeks to continue the traditions of the Soviet cultural underground in the world of the new Russian market. The relationship is not a straightforward one, and the laws of economics may prove to be more difficult to defeat than Soviet censorship.

"We are, in effect, a samizdat publication," says Kushnir, referring to the days when banned or sensitive material was passed around in manuscript form, often on flimsy pages and copied by hand.

Kushnir has experience with the samizdat journal form -- in 1985 he and some friends began the underground magazine Urlait, which concentrated on Soviet rock culture. The group produced 24 issues between 1985 and 1989. The magazine had 36 pages and was produced in small numbers -- no more than 50 copies of each issue.

"I knew most of the readers personally," Kushnir remembers.

In 1989 the editorial staff went their separate ways, but Kushnir jumped right into another venture, Kontrkultura, which tried to continue the traditions of Urlait. The magazine survived for just one year, producing three issues. The editors themselves decided to shut down, feeling, as they explained in a letter to their readers, that "everything has already been said."

With Pinoller's glossy cover and a circulation of 5,000 copies, the samizdat appellation seems like somewhat of a counterculture pose. But the magazine has no official documentation -- by not registering with the state publishing organs, Pinoller retains its independent, "underground" status.

There is also no fixed publishing schedule. "We will print the next issue when we have enough material to fill it," says Kushnir. "We do not like to have to work under time pressure." The magazine is published by a private outfit that calls itself Public Totem Co., Ltd., which Kushnir describes as "a group of young art patrons who want to help us out." It is printed in a variety of official publishing houses by friends and acquaintances who will do it on the sly.

The organizers are running into serious distribution problems, as they are trying to keep the price down to what they consider a reasonable level. "If we give it to those sharks who sell periodicals in the metro, it will cost 4,000 rubles, minimum," says Kushnir. "And serious literary salons also take a big commission. We are trying to keep the price at 2500 rubles."

Why are the magazine's founders so intent on retaining their "underground" status?

"Underground means artistic freedom," explains the magazine's editor, Sergei Guryev. "We are trying to open new avenues of artistic consciousness, combined with a classical form."

Pinoller is aimed at a small group of what Kushnir calls "the thinking public" -- those who, in his words "are interested in nuance, who do not take everything at face value, but look at the third and fourth levels of a work." He admits that this may be the downfall of the publication, since its readership will be quite small.

"I think there are only a few hundred people in Moscow who will find us interesting," comments Kushnir ruefully.

Pinoller can be obtained by writing to: Pinoller, Post Box 76, Moscow, 123154.