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A free, public publication.

Portland Bill
A free, public publication.
June 2014

Artist Paul Soulellis will be in residence at Portland Tophill Library for the month of June to produce Portland Bill, a print-on-demand, community newsprint publication. Paul will gather material from Portland communities and design a multi-layered, diverse expression of local life and history. Portland Bill is a participatory publication—all material included will be contributed from residents of Portland and freely distributed back to our communities in September 2014.

Creative writing, essays, folklore, photography, drawings, maps, digital art, found material, poetry and recipes are all welcomed, but anything may be contributed to Portland Bill. Every effort will be made to include all submissions. Any resident of Portland may contribute—regardless of age, education or artistic experience.

Your contribution may be submitted in a few different ways —

— by sending digital material directly to theportlandbill@gmail.com;
— by attending one of the artist’s meet-ups during the month of June;
— by leaving your submission at Tophill Public Library;
— by leaving your submission in one of the local Portland Bill dropboxes.

Submissions are due by 27 June.

Please consider lending words, pictures, memories and impressions to create a diverse, community-based publication. Each voice included will deepen Portland Bill’s personality and add to this unique portrait of Portland.

Portland Bill will be freely distributed during the b-side multi media arts festival in September 2014.

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Portland Bill

post-dinner walk

A few years ago I did the Weymouths project and spent some time in an incredible place on the southwest coast of England. I just went back and looked at the photos and this is one that stands out for me. We took a sunset walk on this seaside path on the Isle of Portland, just off the coast from Weymouth, and I remember thinking: this is one of the most beautiful evenings of my life. A perfect combination of people and place and light that marked the conclusion of weeks of work (months, really). I took a photo because I actually wanted to capture something, not simply consume the scene and be done with it. I wanted to save it and store it away as insurance against the fear that soon enough I would forget it. And that if I didn’t forget it, maybe I would see these new friends and this place again someday. That’s what I see when I look at this photo that I took on August 8, 2012.

And so, I return. For the entire month of June I’ll be in England to create a new publication for the residents of the Isle of Portland. I’ll be based at the public library as an artist-in-residence. The project is a commission for the b-side arts festival and Dorset County Council, funded by Arts Council England.

My proposal: a publication (probably a 64-page newspaper) called Portland Bill (after the lighthouse situated dramatically at the southern tip of the island, surrounded by the roughest of seas), containing content from the people who live on Portland. I’ll collect and assemble their material with little or no editing, and the entire thing will be printed in August (with Newspaper Club) and distributed on Portland during b-side’s arts festival in September.

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Help us before we strike again.

Tibor_1992_670

Design history happened yesterday. I went to Steve Heller and Louise Fili’s book sale at SVA, and purchased two early copies of Tibor Kalman’s COLORS magazine — numbers 2 and 3. Back at home, I started unfolding #2, which is an oversized series of nested folios, and this letter fell out onto the floor. It had probably been sitting in there for 22 years.

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Google spreadsheet as website

Experimenting with creating a new version of Library of the Printed Web as a Google spreadsheet, which can be saved locally, embedded in other websites, printed, exported as a PDF etc. in a single command. I love that the entire site can be packaged up like this but still figuring out how to point to it — as far as I know, I can’t direct a unique domain address to a google doc. Perhaps I can park it somewhere, or continue to use the tumblr but direct all links to this (which is much more useful and database-like)?

Something about this just feels right. As a technique, it’s a bit of a hack — stretching an existing platform into a new direction, instead of building something new from the ground up. Like a zine.

 

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DE$IGN

I’ve been thinking a lot about value and values.

Design Humility and Counterpractice were first attempts to build a conversation around the value of design and our values as designers. They’re highly personal accounts where I try to articulate my own struggle with the dominant paradigm in design culture today, which I characterize as —

speed
the relentlessness of branding
the spirit of the sell
the focus on product
the focus on perfection

and they include some techniques of resistance that I’ve explored in my recent work, like —

thingness
longevity
slowness (patience)
chance (nature, humility, serendipity)
giving away (generosity echo)

I’ve been calling them techniques, but they’re really more like values, available to any designer or artist. Work produced with these criteria runs cross-grain to the belief that we must produce instantly, broadcast widely and perform perfectly.

Hence, counterpractice. Cross-grain to common assumptions. Questioning.

And as I consider my options (what to do next), I’m seriously contemplating going back to this counterpractice talk as a place to reboot. Could these be seen as principles — as a platform for a new kind of design studio?

I’m not sure. Counterpractice probably need further translation. An idea like ”slowness” certainly won’t resonate for many, outside of an art context. And how does a love for print-on-demand and the web fit in here? Perhaps it’s more about “variable speed” and the “balanced interface” rather than slow vs fast. Slow and fast. Modulated experience. The beauty of a printed book is that it can be scanned quickly or savored forever. These aren’t accidental qualities; they’re built into the design.

John Maeda DE$IGN

I’m thinking about all of this right now as I re-launch Soulellis Studio as Counterpractice. But if there’s anything that most characterizes my reluctance to get back to client-based work, it’s DE$IGN.

John Maeda, who departed RISD in December, where I am currently teaching, recently delivered a 4-minute TED talk, where he made this statement:

“From Design to DE$IGN.”

He expands that statement with a visual wordmark that is itself designed. What does it mean? I haven’t seen the talk yet so I can only presume, out of context. These articles and Maeda’s blog post at Design and Venture begin to get at it.

Maeda’s three principles for using design in business as stated in the WSJ article are fine. But they don’t need a logo. Designing DE$IGN is a misleading gesture; it’s token branding to sell an idea (in four minutes—the fast read). So what’s the idea behind this visual equation? As a logo, it says so many things:

All caps: DE$IGN is BIG.
It’s not £ or ¥ or 元: DE$IGN is American.
Dollar sign: DE$IGN is money.

DE$IGN is Big American Money.

and in the context of a four-minute TED talk…

DE$IGN is speed (four minutes!)
DE$IGN is the spirit of selling (selling an idea on a stage to a TED audience)
DE$IGN is Helvetica Neue Ultra Light and a soft gradient (Apple)
DE$IGN is a neatly resolved and sellable word-idea. It’s a branded product (and it’s perfect).

In other words, DE$IGN is Silicon Valley. DE$IGN is the perfect embodiment of start-up culture and the ultimate tech dream. Of course it is — this is Maeda’s audience, and it’s his new position. It works within the closed-off reality of $2 billion acquisitions, IPOs, 600-person design teams and Next Big Thing thinking. It’s a crass, aggressive statement that resonates perfectly for its audience.

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DE$IGN makes me uneasy. The post-OWS dollar sign is loaded with negative associations. It’s a quick trick that borrows from the speed-read language of texting (lol) to turn design into something unsustainable, inward-looking and out-of-touch. But what bothers me most is that it comes from one of our design leaders, someone I follow and respect. Am I missing something?

I can’t help but think of Milton Glaser’s 1977 I<3NY logo here.

 

Milton Glaser I<3NY

 

Glaser uses a similar trick, but to different effect. By inserting a heart symbol into a plain typographic treatment, he too transformed something ordinary (referencing the typewriter) into a strong visual message. Glaser’s logo says that “heart is at the center of NYC” (and it suggests that love and soul and passion are there too). Or “my love for NYC is authentic” (it comes from the heart). It gives us permission to play with all kinds of associations and visual translations: my heart is in NYC, I am NYC, NYC is the heart of America, the heart of the world, etc. .

Glaser’s mark is old-school, east coast and expansive; it symbolizes ideas and feelings that can be characterized as full and overflowing. And human (the heart). It’s personal (“I”), but all about business: his client was a bankrupt city in crisis, eager to attract tourists against all odds.

Maeda’s mark is new money, west coast and exclusive. It was created for and presented to a small club of privileged innovators who are focused on creating new ways to generate wealth ($) by selling more product.

Clever design tricks aside, here’s my question, which I seem to have been asking for a few years now. Is design humility possible today? Can we build a relevant design practice that produces meaningful, rich work — in a business context — without playing to visions of excess?

I honestly don’t know. I’m grappling with this. I’m not naive and I don’t want to paint myself into a corner. I’d like to think that there’s room to resist DE$IGN. I do this as an artist making books and as an experimental publisher (even Library of the Printed Web is a kind of resistance). But what kind of design practice comes out of this? Certainly one that’s different from the kind of business I built with Soulellis Studio.

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Printed Web in Providence

Providence, RI launch of Printed Web #1 at The Design Office

Providence, RI launch of Printed Web #1 at The Design Office

Providence, RI launch of Printed Web #1 at The Design Office

https://www.flickr.com/photos/soulellis/with/13426967485

Providence, RI launch of Printed Web #1 at The Design Office

Providence, RI launch of Printed Web #1 at The Design Office

The Design Office graciously hosted a Providence, RI launch for Printed Web #1 on March 17. Lots of RISD students and faculty were there and we had an inspiring discussion about the work with Clement Valla and Benjamin Shaykin. These terrific photos are by Sarah Verity.

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Counterstudio

I just applied to the New Museum‘s NEW INC program, “a shared workspace and professional development program designed to support creative practitioners working in the areas of art, technology, and design.” I’m planning to reboot my design studio in the coming months, and while I think this would be an incredible platform for a new kind of “counterstudio,” if this doesn’t happen, something else will. Currently looking for new ideas, opportunities and scenarios.

NEW INC asked five questions as part of the application. Here are all of my responses, merged into one essay.

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LaRossa Mix

Screen Shot 2014-03-22 at 10.23.33 AM

 

Here’s what I’m doing for Brian LaRossa‘s Undefined by Design show at Lorimoto Gallery in Brooklyn next month.

I’m experimenting with several themes that I’ve worked with before, like chance, web-to-print, found material and print-on-demand. This is the first time that these particular techniques come together in one piece (LaRossa Mix).

For the show, I decided to create a score for a chance-generated web-to-print publication. I started with a set of instructions that draws from eight types of web archive material (Google images, maps, earth and street view, wikipedia, twitter, Project Gutenberg and Getty Images). Using random.org, I determined that there should be ten content objects in a particular stepped order. The process is based (very loosely) on John Cage’s Williams Mix (1951–53).

Then I chance determined a single word using random.org (the number 14 yielded the letter N) and dictionary.com (“non-equalizing”). From there, a series of numbers, coordinates, words and other search terms worked in jumping chain reaction to generate all of the content. The whole series is embedded in the design of the piece.

For Step 8 I got to Robert Louis Stevenson’s short story “Providence and the Guitar” (1878) in Project Gutenberg (after this tweet [Step 6] took me to “Foxy Lady” in Providence, RI in Google street view [Step 7]). The entire public domain text is set in default cut-and-paste text (9/10.8 Times New Roman), which also determined the size of the piece (broadsheet, 8 pages).

I will print 150 on newsprint and 100 will be placed in a pile in the gallery show, to be taken. The opening is April 12 at 7pm.

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Printed Web at Printed Matter

Printed Web at Printed Matter

Printed Web at Printed Matter

Photo by @ableparris: Printed Web at Printed Matter

Printed Matter hosted a NYC launch event for Printed Web #1 last night. Artists Clement Valla, Am Schmidt, Sean Benjamin, Chris Alexander, Penelope Umbrico and Benjamin Shaykin joined me to talk about some of the themes brought up by the project: identity, memory, artist-as-archivist, the collective and web-to-print practice. The discussion and the audience questions were stimulating and I really wish I’d recorded it.

It was a joy for me to see so many familiar faces (as well as new friends) turn up in support and to participate in the conversation. Thank you to everyone who attended.

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Experimental publishing

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I was invited to give a few talks in Los Angeles earlier this week (at UCLA and Art Center), while I was there for Printed Matter’s L.A. Art Book Fair. Library of the Printed Web was the attractor, I think, especially at the Graduate Media Design Practice program at Pasadena. But I took the opportunity to present a more general overview of my work, including the larger trajectory from designer (and all of the brand/creative/director/strategist roles that go with it) to artist, teacher, curator and publisher.

While artist and teacher are fairly new roles for me, I feel like I’ve been wrestling with them for some time now, even if abstractly. But it’s the last two concepts—curator and publisher—that are entirely new. Creating Library of the Printed Web exactly one year ago (for the excellent Theorizing the Web conference) introduced me—somewhat unknowingly—to curatorial and publishing situations that I never imagined.

Publishing Printed Web #1 is an experiment. It’s provisional and experimental because I didn’t approach the project like a traditional publisher, or with any real business model (I didn’t “start a publishing company” or small press or anything like that). I formed the project as a way to present new work from artists who interest me (artists who enact a web-to-print practice in some way). I consider the publication to be, primarily, an exhibition in print. Printed Web #1 is “primary information” in the Seth Siegelaub sense (at least, he was the primary inspiration). The issue is not a catalogue—it is not “about” the work—it is the presentation of the art. “You don’t need a gallery to show ideas” (Siegelaub).

The reception at the fair was great. People get it. Visitors to the table were curious, and when I told them that each artist got six pages to do whatever they want, from web-to-print, they wanted to see all of the projects. Most people stood there and flipped through all 64 pages.

I was asked a few times about newsprint. Why use a light, ephemeral kind of printing when presenting ephemeral (web) work in a new context? It’s a good question and it could be argued that the desire for slowness, thingness and permanence would be better served by a more high-end presentation of the project. But I wanted to keep the publication accessible ($12) and stay far away from the “rare,” out-of-print photobook frenzy. For now, newsprint works.

I sold 135 issues of Printed Web #1 at the fair and 50 more are going to Motto in Berlin. And I’ve sold about 50 more in the online shop. If you’d like one and you’re in the NYC area, you can avoid the shipping charge by coming to Printed Matter on March 1 for a launch event. More details about that soon.

Printed Web is an experimental publishing project because my goal (for now, at least) is to be a part of the conversation. To spread the thing around in an interesting way and talk and chew on the issues embedded in this kind of work (circulationism, acceleration, materiality, copyright, a new web-to-print artist’s practice).