Vile magazine was published between 1974 and 1983 by the mail artists Anna Banana and Bill Gaglione. The first seven issues were published in San Francisco, and the final one was published by Banana after she returned to her native Canada in 1981. Credit for the editorship of individual issues is divided with Banana editing five issues, and Gaglione the remaining three.
Gaglione had moved to San Francisco from New York in 1967, while Banana had moved from Victoria, British Columbia in 1973 and together, both artistically & romantically, they were a formidable couple within San Francisco’s alternative arts scene. Before Banana’s move to San Francisco she had already begun publishing her periodical/newsletter The Banana Rag, a publication that was dedicated to all things bananas and she continued its publication during her eight years in San Francisco. Likewise Gaglione had been publishing his periodical Dadazine from the early 1970’s until later in the decade. With her relocation to San Francisco Banana joined Gaglione and his cohorts, in the loose grouping of artists known as the Bay Area Dadaists.
The immediate reason that Banana started publishing Vile was linked to the Canadian artists’ periodical File (1972-1989), which was being published in Toronto by the artist’s group General Idea (AA Bronson, Felix Partz & Jorge Zontal). File magazine was started as a parody of Life magazine and the editors plagiarized Life’s distinctive cover design. About the contents of the magazine General Idea stated:
“We began File magazine in 1972 as a networking publication. It functioned as an in-house organ for an art network of the early seventies, blurring the line between contributors and readership and authenticating fringe art activity as something really happening.”
During its first two years File published material generated from within the quickly expanding international mail art network, but by 1974 General Idea had begun disengaging itself from this network and was concentrating more on publishing their own projects. It was at this point that Anna Banana stepped in to fill this void with Vile, and mimicking File’s plagiarizing of Life’s cover design she “...visualized a magazine that would look like Life, but on close examination, would reveal its true nature; subtle put-downs of mass media culture with nasty, dada ‘up-yours’-type messages.” Thus, Vile was dedicated to being a platform for documenting and chronicling the activities of international mail artists, as well as being an active participant in this alternative communications network.
With the exception of issues #6 & #7, Vile was published in an A4 letter size format. Issue #6, the popular “Fe-Mail-Art” issue was published in a reduced A4 size, and featured art works & correspondence by over 100 women in the network. The seventh issue was a rubber stamp assembling magazine compiled from original artists’ pages submitted by 93 artists that incorporated at least one rubber stamp in the art work, and was produced in an edition of 300.
One striking feature of Vile was the magazine’s covers, and in a typical dadaesque spirit they ran the gamut from a hanged man sporting an erection, a photo of Gaglione with his chest hair shaved into the word ‘Dada’, a photograph of a man’s face speared through with a pitchfork, and the Italian artist Guglielmo Achille Cavellini writing on a naked man.
Cavellini was an artist who used self-publishing and mailing in an attempt to write himself into art history as well as a long time friend and collaborator with both Banana and Gaglione. Beginning in the 1970s, Cavellini invented memoirs, wrote fanciful art history texts, and fabricated correspondence with historical figures. He used advertising-style photography to create a recognizable persona, and he even sticker bombed, peppering cities he visited with this. One of the stickers he created was a diagram of beef cuts labeled with the names of canonical modern artists—including his own. Produced in the 1970s and labeled with the deadpan title Informazione, it’s a witty critique of attempts to schematize art history.
The inside contents of VILE featured a wide array of texts & manifestoes, letters, performance documentation, articles on individual artists & their projects, detourned mass media advertisements as well as art works from mail artists in different countries.
The use of rubber stamps, a portable visual medium associated with the post office, was a hallmark of the emerging mail art network. Gaglione and friend Steve Caravello initiated the world's’ first rubber stamp art exhibition in a September 1971. In Issue 3 of VILE, Gaglione included one of Joseph Beuys’s distinctive circular stamps featuring a cross which he added to works he felt embodied his beliefs. Beuys was a German Fluxus, happening, and performance artist as well as a sculptor, installation artist, graphic artist, art theorist, and pedagogue.
Each issue of VILE was also prefaced by an introduction by Banana in which she would summarize the issue’s contents and usually comment on contemporaneous developments in the mail art network. In her introduction to issue number #4, edited by Gaglione, Banana makes explicit Vile’s debt to historical Dada, and the importance to both, of artists’ periodicals as agents in creating an “international consciousness” when she writes:
“Publications such as Cabaret Voltaire, edited by Hugo Ball, Litterature edited by Breton, Blind Man and New York Dada edited by Duchamp, Maintenant by Arthur Craven, etc., are the early forerunners of such contemporary “Zines” as QUOZ?, 491, LaHonduras, CAYC Bulletin, OVUM, Focke Editions, Perdura, Modern Correspondence, Weekly Breeder, Dadazine, Banana Rag, Nitrous Oxide, FILE and VILE...”
Even today, over two decades later, Vile serves as an important historical touchstone to the events and concerns of these early years in mail art’s history.
Other responses to FILE include BILE by Chicago artist Bradley Lastname, which published 25 issues between 1978 and 1984, and SMILE, an open-concept magazine started by Stewart Home in 1984. Stewart Home was apart of the Neoist formation, the mail art movement set against the individual identity of an artist and invented a name, Monty Cantsin, that any artist could use as a pseudonym. Not only did neoists promote anonymous names, they insisted that anyone could issue the assembling SMILE. Supposedly, more than fifty different versions of SMILE appeared.
In the September 1973 issue of FILE, Fillou reviewed the 1968 crystallization of The Eternal Network. Robert Filliou invented the notion of ‘The Eternal Network’ in the early 60’s along with George Brecht who helped develop the concept. Brecht and Filliou developed the idea of an eternal network of co-operating artists, as part of their involvement in Fluxus. In summer 1965, Filliou and Brecht set up a workshop called Cedille de Sourit as “an international center of permanent creation.” March 1968 was an opportunity to consolidate The Eternal Network:
“Over the month, we had developed the concept of Fête Permanente, or the Eternal Network as we chose to translate it into English, which, we think, should allow us to spread this spirit more efficiently than before…in April we announced our intentions in a poster and sent it to our numerous correspondents…In practical terms, in order to make artists, first, realize they are part of a network and, therefore, may as well refrain from their tiresome spirit of competition, we intend, when we do perform, to advertise other artists’ performances together with our own. But this is not enough. The artist must realize also that this part of the wider network, la Fête Permanente going on around him all the time in all parts of the world.”