Last summer, Wendy Richmond asked me to be a guest writer for her long-standing Design Culture column in Communication Arts. I was getting ready to leave for England to realize Weymouths for the b-side arts festival (part of the London 2012 Festival), so we agreed that I would think about the assignment during my time there. Soon after the work began it was obvious to me that I would want to write about the performative part of the project, which was new (and difficult) for me.
The result is “The Generosity Echo,” which appears in the total redesigned Jan./Feb. issue of Communication Arts (which also happens to be the 2013 Typography Annual). They’ll post the piece on their site in mid-February and I’ll link to it then.
Some news to share: I’ll be presenting a preview of Weymouths at the Book Live symposium at London South Bank University, 8–9 June 2012. The event “will bring together theorists, researchers and practitioners to stimulate a dialogue across disciplines on the ability of the book to keep up with digital culture and the emergence of new modes of writing, of photographing, of reading, or archiving and of disseminating ‘on the page’ work. The purpose of this conference is to examine the current ‘transforming’ and ‘expanding’ of the book rather than its virtual disintegration.”
Here’s a one-page PDF with a full list of participants and more information.
Also, you can now find a brief description of Weymouths on the newly updated b-side festival site. Weymouths will be installed in Weymouth, England from 27 July through 12 August as part of the Maritime Mix — London2012 Cultural Olympiad by the Sea.
For the next several months I’ll be focused on Weymouths, a 12-book project I’ve been commissioned to produce for the 2012 b-side arts festival in the UK. The work will be installed during the summer Olympics in Weymouth, a seaside town in Dorset, England, where the official sailing competitions will take place.
From the project proposal—
Weymouths explores memory, geography and cultural identity through site-specific books that draw upon the linked histories of Weymouth, Dorset (UK) and Weymouth, Massachusetts (USA). Created for the 2012 b-side Multimedia Arts Festival and installed on-site at festival locations, 12 publications will be released to visitors during the 13-day festival. Among the goals for Weymouths is to create moments for rich, page-by-page engagement in the environment for the ambulatory visitor—the printed book as a participatory art project.
The 12 volumes will be produced and presented as reliquaries of collective memory—bound containers holding text, color and imagery. Historical records, lists, archival imagery, on-site photography, tweets, interviews, maps, street names, Google Street View, Wikipedia and other raw source material will be assembled into open, thought-provoking narratives—real and imagined.
Beginning with the 104 citizens of Weymouth, Dorset (UK) who crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 1635 to found Weymouth, Massachusetts (USA), the 12 books will be a celebration of temporal connections, disconnects and other trans-geographic structures that continue to hover between the twin towns, as well as a chance to “re-see” cultural identity in real-time.
Each volume will be produced using a print-on-demand Espresso Book Machine (EBM). Limited editions of 20 (a total of 240 books) will be installed at various festival locations. Each day during the festival a new volume will be revealed and installed, beginning with Vol. #1 on July 30 and ending with Vol. #12 on August 10, 2012. The books will be free to anyone exploring Weymouth during the 13-day period; they will slowly disappear from the installation sites as they are discovered and enjoyed by their new owners. Weymouths will encourage a slow, alternative presentation of time and space for visitors as they explore.
Weymouths is part of an exploration that began with Venetian Suite and continued last year with Memory Palace and 273 Relics for John Cage. Each draws together ideas about memory, place and the image within the contained book form.
Someone recently described Memory Palace as a spectral archive, which I define as traces and histories, memories of or like a ghost, collected and contained. This articulation of my book works appeals to me. The spectral archive favors the forgotten and conjures a shapeless narrative, more liquid than linear. A book of associations, loaded with suggestion and unspecified meaning; a dream tool. A rumination machine. The spectral archive is crafted with specificity, but it’s experienced on the user’s own terms, creatively and without restriction.
I want to produce this work publicly, like I did in Rome. As I generate stuff, even fragments of ideas, I’ll post them here.
I’m addicted to Khoi Vinh‘s new social collage-making app, Mixel. This is one of a small handful of apps that gives my iPad its reason for being — always on and I don’t even have to think about using it. Something that just lets me use my finger to cut up images and push pixels around feels so natural, but it’s also unlike any creative tool I’ve ever used. It’s intuitive and easy and dream-like; they’re ripe for interpretation.
And the sharing/social/remixing aspect of Mixel just takes it to a whole other place.
Soon I’ll find out; a few weeks ago I submitted a few collages to a juried photography exhibit at the Colorado Photographic Arts Center, which was calling for digital works made with mobile devices. The jurors were Brian Clamp of ClampArt in NYC and Chuck Mobley of San Francisco Camerawork and they selected the two car images.
So next week I’m going to review proofs at small (4″ x 6″) and larger (16″ x 24″) sizes and make a decision, get them framed and send them to Denver and maybe fly out for the opening on January 13. The show will be up until February 11.
I’m so pleased to announce that I’ve been asked to write for The Manual, “a new, beautifully crafted journal that takes a fresh look, in print, at design on the web.” It’s published by Andy McMillan, edited by Carolyn Wood and designed by Jez Burrows — and it began as a Kickstarter project!
It’s an honor for me to be in the company of folks like Liz Danzico, Frank Chimero, Jeremy Keith, Duane King, Ethan Marcotte, Tiffani Jones Brown, Nina Stössinger and others who have already written or will be writing for future issues. Look for me in issue #3 (early 2012).
Details have been posted for ReViewing Black Mountain College 3 — John Cage’s Circle of Influence, “a 3-day gathering of scholars, performers, and artists presenting ideas and performing works related to John Cage. The weekend program includes music, performances, installations, exhibitions, films and scholarly presentations. Keynote address by Laura Kuhn, Director of the John Cage Trust. Co-sponsored by the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, University of North Carolina at Asheville and the John Cage Trust.”
I’ll be presenting JC273 at John Cage’s Circle of Influence as an installation at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, October 7–9, 2011.
Talking about my upcoming trip with friends (or strangers) I’m frequently asked if I’m prepared, what am I doing to prepare, etc. In terms of the actual work, I don’t feel very prepared at all. All I know is that I’m going with open eyes, mind and heart. I’ll interact with the place when I arrive and I have faith that something will come of it.
But in the past few months I’ve been doing a lot of reading and I would say that this is an important kind of preparation. Perhaps the best kind. Several of the books and essays have come to me fortuitously, the result of chance meetings or introductions. I’m learning to pay close attention to what appears to be the random stuff — things I encounter that don’t quite fit into my normal scope. This in itself is a great way to prepare for travel.
So here are some choice pieces that have influenced my thinking about the trip. They’re not all directly related (to each other or to what I’m doing right now) but if it’s on this list it’s because something about it feels like it’s working on me. Letting a story, an idea or even just a word resonate for awhile can be enough stimulation.
- A good friend insisted that I read Damon Galgut’s In a Strange Room. “A journey is a gesture inscribed in space, it vanishes even as it’s made … The very air closes behind you like water.”
- From this post on Liz Danzico’s always-inspiring Bobulate I learned of the adjacent possible: “The spaces we occupy, the tools we use, and the ideas in our consciousness cast this ‘shadow future’ over us each minute of the day.”
- From the guy sitting next to me at City Bakery on December 4 I learned of the fantastic Greek word “eudaimonia.” It’s at the end of the first chapter of Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel, the book he was reading, which I am now reading.
- At 192 Books I picked up Edmund White’s NYC memoir City Boy and I’ve been thinking ever since about how we write our own stories.
- In City Boy White writes of his life-long friendship with poet James Merrill. I picked up Selected Poems and then Familiar Spirits. “Merrill eventually described his poems as ‘chronicles of love and loss,’ and that term aptly stresses his sense of a life lived and understood over time, and links his two recurrent themes. From his college days on, Merrill’s favorite writer had been Proust, for whom the only true paradise was a lost paradise. Love, for both writers, is not fully itself until it is lost, until it becomes memory, becomes art.”
- I haven’t read An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris by Georges Perec yet, but the concept of focused and deliberate observation is core for me: “My intention in the pages that follow was to describe…that which is generally not taken note of, that which is not noticed, that which has no importance: what happens when nothing happens.” The book is described as an artifact of the street.
- A tweet pointed me to this inspiring essay (a speech given at West Point, actually) on solitude and leadership by William Deresiewicz. “So solitude can mean introspection, it can mean the concentration of focused work, and it can mean sustained reading. All of these help you to know yourself better. But there’s one more thing I’m going to include as a form of solitude, and it will seem counterintuitive: friendship.” This also looks good: “The End of Solitude.”
- Steven Heller kindly introduced me to artist Wendy Richmond, whose residency at the American Academy in Rome will overlap with mine. We met recently and thankfully, she instilled on me the importance of cherishing the time and space of the artist’s residency. Her book Art Without Compromise* is an important read for anyone cultivating the state of not knowing.
- Next up: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow: the Psychology of Optimal Experience, mentioned by Wendy in an email. Here’s the TEDTalk where he speaks about flow and ecstasy, or “standing outside oneself.” Very much worth watching.
Earlier this year I went to Italy and produced these four little books — creative work that was a natural extension of who I am but different from anything I had ever done at Soulellis Studio. I had set an intuitive design process in motion as a way to explore a place (Venice), and used that process to generate poetic, meaningful work. The result was something completely self-directed and valuable and genuine (to the place, to myself). The intensity was a surprise and a return to something I hadn’t felt in a very long time.
Back home in NYC, I ran into Louise Fili on the street. “Louise, I miss Italy. I want to do more work like that” was all I said, and she immediately urged me to go back (which sounded crazy at the time). She suggested I take a look at the American Academy in Rome, and within a few days I was applying for a residency. Two months later I heard that I had been accepted into their Visiting Artists and Scholars program — a luxurious opportunity to sweep aside some time and space and marinate in an ancient place, with an incredible community of creative thinkers.
So on December 31, 2010 I’m closing Soulellis Studio and, with few exceptions, saying goodbye to a good number of clients and many active, successful projects.
Have I mentioned fear yet?
So here’s the manifesto part: I’m leaving the office to get to work. My goal is to return to NYC next summer with a body of new, non-client work. I don’t know what the work is yet and I won’t know what it means until I return. It’s kind of important that I don’t try to figure that out now, but let it unfold in real time. Call it a sabbatical. My only plan is to be present in the world by looking and listening and being open to new situations and people. And to myself. I need to be more comfortable with uncertainty. I need to get back to curiosity. I need to get back to slow design. I need to ask questions like: who am I as a designer, without clients? What do I believe in? Do I have a design philosophy? Do I need one?
These are scary questions for me, but I’m giving them a try. Trying to acknowledge fear and replace it with openness.
And with openness comes my instinct to share the journey. I no longer have a physical office (we moved out of 17th Street in early November) but you can still find my words here and images here. More than ever I want to use Soulellis.com as a home for new ideas and discourse. I’ll document as much as possible and encourage you to use the newly implemented comments for feedback. I very much want the conversation, so please stay in touch in the coming months.
The Brand New Conference is underway right now, with a few more minutes left in the lunch break. So far the most inspiring and spirited part of the event was, unsurprisingly, the chat between Armin Vit and the Antony and Cleopatra of design, Pentragram partners Michael Bierut and Paula Scher. Here are my unedited tweets from the conversation — I mostly captured Paula’s comments, but there was a lot of back and forth. It’s not a complete recap by any means, but there are some great ideas in here about clients, partners and doing good work.
- Paula Scher: if you can fake your way through something 3 times, you’re an expert.
- PS: Pentagram is a place for makers. We don’t want to be so big & overwrought that you can’t make. Always pushing this.
- PS: @pentagramdesign is backing. You join to do better work. It’s an org of designers who don’t want to be pigeonholed.
- Michael Bierut: @pentagramdesign doesn’t have a managing partner. No bosses. Everyone has to remain independent. You have to love the mess.
- PS — client relationship: it’s all about structure and who is god. I want to get to them fast. Get to the decider.
- PS: my best work has been when a client calls me directly. You can tell a lot about a client in how they get to you & hire you.
- PS: it’s like dating. If you try to break up with a client, they want you. It’s all about relationships.
- PS: The longer you design, the easier it becomes. The 34 years is real. It’s getting approval that’s the hard part.
- PS: I like being scared. Being “too professional”, being pat – you need to fail a bit, otherwise it’s boring.
- PS: Planning w/ purpose. You enhance the mapping w/ spirit & personality. Bringing something more than the brief to the project.
- PS: strategy is universal but intuition is what brings character to design. This is why we’re good.
- PS: reputation vs repetition. The great reputation doesn’t make it easier. It’s the doing over & over that helps.
- PS: The Met’s in-house team is great but they hired an ad agency & quality went down. What sucks is that’s what everyone sees.
- PS on partners: what’s great is that there are 17 of then & that mitigates what’s disgusting about each of them.
- PS on partners: our only business strategy is that new people change us. It’s the most important thing we do.
The exposed Vignelli map at the 57 Street F station is a bit sad — I got the sense that it’s not much longer for this world. It’s obviously been covered up for a while, and it’s difficult to imagine that it’ll stay this way. The other side of the sign has a new map in place, but the Vignelli side is missing its glass panel. Maybe it’s too expensive to replace, so it remains exposed? Who knows, but now it sits there, grande dame-like, not really getting the respect it deserves.
At any rate, it’s an interesting, unexpected piece of graphic design history, forgotten and out in the open for anyone to see. In the lower-right hand corner it’s dated August 1974 (barely ripped away), so it’s a revision to the original, two years prior. Many layers of even older maps are visible in the rips and tears, hinting at earlier times. Although judging from the design of the sign fixture itself, I’m betting it’s from about the same time as the 1972 map, or a few years before.
Now I’m wondering if there are more. Maybe out at the ends of the line, where maintenance is less regular? Time to go hunting in Far Rockaway.
[High-res images on Flickr.]