Stemming from my love of found lettering, vernacular, street type and place-based typography, I decided to focus on some found letterforms: the word “QUEENS,” hand-painted onto the side of a truck, parked just in front of my studio in Long Island City.
I managed to get through the design of upper and lower-case sets, the numbers and some punctuation (and an asterisk that I’m particularly fond of). It’s called Queens and here’s the PDF of tonight’s presentation. It’s still a work in progress but the personality’s there, even if many of the details remain unresolved. Queens continues the idea of place-based typography that I tried to explore with Stetson.
I struggled with it for weeks but I think it’s starting to feel like it’s from NYC, that it was born in Queens and not Manhattan or Brooklyn, that it evokes something hand-painted and not machine-drawn, that it’s approachable and of the street. Still, Queens surprised me—I never would have guessed that I would draw a fat, curvy, friendly typeface.
Learning how to use Robofont was great but this class gave me a tremendous appreciation for the massive expertise (and effort) required to design type. I feel like I barely scratched the surface—and scarily, I see how little I knew (and how ten weeks is just the beginning). Still, the slowness of the process appealed to me. Type design requires systematic thinking, obsessive attention, focus and discipline. But there’s also so much freedom, and lots of room to investigate. It was only in the last week that I discovered how fine details can expand across a system and totally change the personality of the work, and even as the class was ending, it felt like ten more doors opened.
I really have to continue with this.
I’ll admit that I was nervous about presenting at Build in Belfast this week. I’ve attended many conferences and I’ve been presenting in front of audiences for years, but never anything quite like this. Build is popular, it’s filmed, and I know it’ll be out there forever. And I really respect the line-up of past speakers, so the pressure to contribute to the very last one was intense.
I worked on Resistance (scenes from a designer’s counter-practice) for a few months and it’s the only talk I felt I could give right now. I took an honest, personal approach but it was a struggle to write, and the nature of the cultural critique in the first half made me very anxious. I didn’t want to appear to be anti-digital, or mean-spirited, or that I was suggesting that we should all disconnect.
From what I can tell, this wasn’t a problem. Reactions were good. People got it. My message—that we have permission to perform small acts of resistance against the dominant narratives of design culture—seemed to resonate with a lot of people, and now it’s spreading online.
One person pushed back about my delivery, at the after-party—a Swedish man, visibly drunk, who told me that his experience of my talk was like listening to NPR: that it was beautifully done but too scripted, and he told me that if I wanted it to be brilliant I needed to be more like a jazz musician. Fuck that. I’m not a jazz musician.
I really enjoyed hearing the other speakers. Nicole Fenton gave a beautiful talk about beginner’s mind for writing, a philosophy that can be applied to any aspect of life.
I think Jeremy Keith’s observations are spot-on. He found a thread running through the day, and throughout the last five years of Build events, which seemed to be a kind of critique of the web’s power structures and our need to do better. Frank Chimero ended Build by opening it back up to us, asking us to ask what people want, and arguing that we need better maps to envision a different kind of future for the web. I honestly don’t think that future will have anything to do with screens or scripting or pages or movement. It might require a fundamental shift in the human spirit, and that’s something I can’t even imagine.
John Cage Trust director Laura Kuhn generously gave my Purchase College Experimental Book Studio an afternoon of her time, introducing the students to Cage and taking us through a chance operations workshop. She demonstrated the basics of Cage’s chance methods using his very own I-Ching, given to him by Christian Wolff in 1951. One of his Ryōanji drawings was there on the table and then she guided us through our own drawings, using 15 stones (we were told to gather them before coming), dice, pencils and sheets of Cage’s own stash of Japanese paper, ordered just a few days before his death in 1992.
Some chance operations basics: instead of looking for answers, ask questions / any answer is as good as any other answer / when choice is a burden, look to chance. All of these ideas are beautifully enacted in the deceptively simple making of a Ryōanji drawing. The result is a drawing of traced stones that the artist receives by enacting chance operations for all of the decision-making (how many stones, which stones, which pencil, where to place the stone, etc.).
Then Laura gave us a tour of an extraordinary thing, The First Meeting of the Satie Society, one of Cage’s last works; in fact, it wasn’t completed until after his death. It’s a gorgeous cracked and stamped steel and glass valise containing eight large books with artwork by Robert Ryman, Sol Lewitt, Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Merce Cunningham and Marshall McLuhan, and texts by Cage.
Cage called the books “presents” for Erik Satie and boxes were made for each of the artists, nine total. They’re rarely exhibited or seen. The thingness of the object, its physicality as an object, is unfolding and giving. It’s an ethereal work that resists capture and consumption. It’s almost too beautiful.
Many thanks to Laura Kuhn and Emy Martin for sharing their time with us.
For Principles of Typeface Design in the Type@Cooper program I’m trying to work with found lettering in Brooklyn. I started with some carved letters in Green-Wood Cemetery but didn’t like what it was turning into, so I’m doing something simpler now—inspired by this old, hand-painted RECORD & TAPE CENTER sign on Fifth Avenue in Park Slope. I’d love to turn these letterforms into a quirky sans-serif face that I’d actually use. But primarily this is to learn the basics of Robofont software and understand how to create a system of characters that work together. It’s very difficult but so far it feels like I’m addicted to drawing letters.
The New Yorker’s Photo Booth blog says my Las Meninas project is one of their twelve reasons to visit the NY Art Book Fair at MoMA PS1 this weekend. Happy and honored to be mentioned in good company with Elisabeth Tonnard, Erik van der Wejde, Gordon Matta-Clark, Robert Mapplethorpe and others.
Come find me at table #Q47! Or purchase Las Meninas right here. Half of the edition has already sold.
Friday, September 20, 12–7pm
Saturday, September 21, 11–9pm
Sunday, September 22, 11–7pm (I will only be there from 11–2pm on Sunday)
- For the fair I’ve produced a special 4-page newsprint edition of “Search, compile, publish,” including a full inventory of Library of the Printed Web. I’ll be giving away 500 copies (free).
- A selection of items from Library of the Printed Web will be on display, including Fraser Clark’s Mona Lisa and my submission to Kenneth Goldsmith’s Printing the Internet project at Labor Gallery, Mexico City.
- 530 ($80), Las Meninas ($25) and Stripped ($45) will be available for purchase.
- At 12:49pm on Sept 20, 21 and 22 I will participate in David Horvitz’s Let Us Keep Our Own Noon, ringing one of 47 bells made from a melted 1742 French church bell.
My new photo publication Las Meninas is available for purchase. The 17 images are interior views from Google Street View depicting the photographer and/or the camera’s reflection in mirror or glass.
A newsprint edition of 50 has been printed, signed and numbered, now priced at $25 (via PayPal), plus shipping ($5 for within the US or $15 international). Subsequent copies in the edition are priced higher. If you would like to arrange pickup in NYC, choose the no shipping option and send me a note.
[Update March 18, 2014: I have sold all of my copies of Las Meninas; a few copies remain at Bookdummy Press.]
Las Meninas (2013)
32 pages (17 images)
Digital newsprint (print-on-demand)
Numbered and signed edition of 50
Tabloid (289 mm x 380 mm)
View the entire publication on Flickr.
This book is finished. I’m giving most of the edition of 50 away to people in Skagaströnd this week. It feels so good to hand the object over, to pass it on, to be able to leave it behind.
The experience is similar to what happened with Weymouths, but 530 is different for a few reasons. I created this work on-site, in and around the chance encounters with people in town, so there’s already a familiarity with the work (and me), and certain expectations.
Also, 530 is much more accessible. The entire work is embodied in a single book, and easily communicated. The power of the object. With Weymouths, I could only give away parts. And the mass and expense of the project—12 books in a custom-made box—meant that very few people were able to fully encounter Weymouths. Of course, Weymouths wasn’t really about that total experience—it was more about the value of the ephemeral encounter, conversations, fragments, a glimpse.
530 is a complete poetic work. A place-based book work that serves as a particular expression of my experience with this place. It works as a solid brick of connected encounters that can be recreated or re-imagined by the reader, or not, in any number of ways. Framed like this, I can easily hand over the object-based work and leave the rest up to the recipient, and this feels very satisfying.
The final 39 movement-parts of 530 (Sá veldur sem á heldur), written as a score and ordered by chance:
1 Navigation. 2 Depths. 3 Take three, three cards. 4 1815. 5 Bank sea hermit. 6 The box is a battery. 7 Quota. 8 Light. 9 Fiskisúpa. 10 Island. 11 Einbúi. 12 Outlaws. 13 ____________________. 14 Yeah, we are just. 15 Earth. 16 Just in front of me. 17 Mayor. 18 Hafrún. 19 Mirror. 20 Town. 21 Water. 22 Back to God’s Country. 23 We have our families. 24 Fjords, on the sea. 25 Scientist. 26 Bensín. 27 We have our connections. 28 Those transparencies. 29 1964. 30 Horse. 31 Strong. 32 Old friendship ties. 33 Þórdís. 34 Self. 35 530. 36 There’s one bird. 37 Mountain. 38 Rabbarbarabaka. 39 Grandfather.
I developed this collection of photographs earlier this year and struggled with the publication format. The images are interior views from Google Street View and depict the photographer and/or the camera’s reflection in mirror or glass. I ordered print-on-demand books from Blurb in several formats, trying different sizes and papers, but nothing felt right.
Finally, I’m self-publishing the 17 images as Las Meninas, a 32-page newsprint tabloid publication, nesting pages (edition of 50). Printed by Newspaper Club. I’m satisfied with the results. The format seems to fit the material perfectly.
Las Meninas will be available for purchase at Printed Matter’s 2013 NY Art Book Fair at MoMA PS1 (19–22 September). Look for me at the ABC/Library of the Printed Web table.
Digital newsprint (print-on-demand)
Edition of 50
Tabloid (289 mm x 380 mm)
View the entire publication on Flickr.
Starting the reading of 530 for our self-organized group show “Rauði Klefinn” in the red fish freezer at Skagaströnd harbor, 23 August 2013. Photo by Liz Dunn. Darr Tah Lei’s view (she filmed the entire thing, which I’ll post if/when I edit it). More here.