chance

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LaRossa Mix

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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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Any answer is as good as any other answer

experimental book studio at the john cage trust

experimental book studio at the john cage trust

experimental book studio at the john cage trust

experimental book studio at the john cage trust

experimental book studio at the john cage trust

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.

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39 movements

front with cover wrap

inside cover

18 Hafrún.

9 Fiskísupa + 11 Eínbui.

32 Old friendship ties + 34 Self.

18 Hafrún.

15 Earth + 16 Just in front of me.

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.

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Non-fiction fantasy

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I’m at the backpacker’s café in Akureyri and I’m thinking about the book, taking shape. It’s just a matter of days until I send it to the printer in Reykjavík.

I worry about how it’ll be received. That it might be seen as a superficial view of the place. That my outsider’s coated view could offend people who live here. This tiny town is hard. Guarded, deliberate, private, protective, proud. Even in such a closed place, I’ve been welcomed by some and I’ve discovered beautiful characters, and they appear in the work.

I guess another way to say it is this way: that I feel vulnerable, creating a work in public like this. On-site, on-demand, in full view. Maybe it makes the work stronger. It certainly makes it much more of an event for me. The book as performative output.

Then again, my goal has never been to paint a portrait of this place. I would never dare to call this a representation of Skagaströnd. The work stands on its own and draws from my encounters. It’s a private, subjective take (how could it not be).

Could I call it a non-fiction fantasy?

The process that developed here builds on Weymouths, but this project is threaded with chance operations in a bigger way. My 39 chapters (I’ve been calling them movements) were mixed by chance to create a score that I’m using to design the book. Every step of the design of the book has been with this score at my side.

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Chance feels important here. I described it to Emy like this: chance is my intern. I’m using it in the background like a loaded character. It’s a way to pair, juxtapose, determine. My hope is that it opens up the surface, that the images and texts can go beyond the smallness of fixed appearance.

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Chancewords 1–14

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Today marks the 14th day of chancewords in my studio in Skagaströnd. Every morning, I generate an Icelandic word from a printed Íslensk-Ensk dictionary that I found, like this—

  • The dictionary is on pages that are numbered 15–425. Using random.org I generate a number to choose one of these pages.
  • Each page has two columns, so I generate a 1 or 2 to select the column.
  • I then count the number of words [x] in that column and generate a number from 1 to x to select the chanceword.

The words are of the language and the meanings are of the place. Icelandic is a notoriously closed system with very few loanwords, and it’s not spoken widely outside of Iceland. The chancewords procedure is a site-specific machine to generate meaning. Slow poetry, or chapters, or maybe this is just another voice in the town. I don’t know what I’ll do with these just yet.

The two colors were chosen from this photograph of einbúi, the rock at the harbor that’s named “the one who lives alone” (from my meeting with Magnús the mayor).

Skagaströnd harbor

The typeface is Neue Konstrukteur Square by Matthew Burvill. It’s not exactly close but contains some of the spirit of this 1930s handwriting that I found down the road in Blöndúos.

looking for a typeface