Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Planet Jawbone

This presentation, was prepared for the Southern Graphics Council and CommandPrint 2008 Conferrence; convened at Virginia Commonwealth University, in Richmond, VA.

Our practice has undergone enormous changes – both technologically and conceptually. We are on a path of transformation. We know Futura as a classic, yet unassuming typeface. Designed in 1927 by Paul Renner, it is a font that carries the sensibilities of modernism forward. It’s clean essential lines, sans serif and geometric shapes sing pure and simple. You see Futura in your font menu and it’s used in logos from VW to Ikea. Its typological legacy can be traced back to Johannes Gutenberg.

I’ve heard it said, you can think about type as, living in space. It’s that space, that is part of the page, surrounding each letter and each word. The horizontal spacing between letters creates timing. There is a rhythm and flow, to those words and meanings. Ultimately, print becomes language, feeling and vision.

It was forward thinking in 1927. As the name implies, Futura reached into the future, to locate what its time is about. Eighty-one years later we are at another critical point; again reaching forward into the future of Print Media.

Tommy Lee Jones
The Coen brother’s film, “No Country for Old Men” opens with a voice over by Tommy Lee Jones. His character, Sheriff Bell, speaks of a cold-hearted killer, then turns his observations, inward, to his own introspection. He says , “…. I think it is more what you are willin’ to become.” I’d like to understand the implications between willing and becoming. Print Nation is faced with a future of spectacular possibilities. Futures are often guided – by what already happened. I’m interested in the stories about the journey. Let’s agree on two things: first; all of us are on some sort of pilgrimage and second: the world is for finding.
I call this Planet Jawbone.

Elijah’s Cup
Elijah’s Cup. In the Jewish tradition, Passover is celebrated with a Seder dinner. In a special glass or cup, wine is poured for the prophet Elijah. In the Old Testament, Malachi says, “Behold, I will send you Elijah, the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” Elijah’s cup is left full and the wine untouched. The door to the house is opened to let Elijah come in and drink the wine.

Being Johannes Gutenberg Johannes Gutenberg/John Malkovich
Charlie Kaufman wrote, “Being John Malkovich”. This story is part fact - actor Malkovich, plays himself. Part fiction - for 15 minutes, you can be John Malkovich or at least, inside his head. We enter the story on floor 7½. A floor between floors. We discover a portal that transports us into the cerebral consciousness of John Malkovich. That’s the basic premise. What if …..
Charlie Kaufman wrote “Being Johannes Gutenberg”…. and each of us found that mysterious portal and were transported into Gutenberg’s brain. Here’s the scene….We open in a darkened studio, in Bavaria, the year is 1440. Gutenberg is played by Steve Carell and his assistant is Jason Schwartzman. We pass through the mysterious portal - and enter Gutenberg’s brain. The moment is profound. But we are too freaked out with issues, like: the plague and no cell phone reception. Four hundred years later, Kodak introduces the camera. In 1987 Apple, introduces the personal computer. In five centuries, we have the critical technologies to make fabulous print media and the power to redefine it. If the Holy Grail of Print is to produce and distribute image and information – now we can propel it instantaneously. Three questions…Where are we going ? How do we get there ? What will it take to make it better ?

“Deep Water”
The object was to sail, single-handed – non-stop from the shores of England; 27,000 miles, around the world. In 1968, the Sun Times called, the race the “Golden Globe”. Not to be confused with the film award. This was before GPS, and reality TV. Only one sailor would complete the race.

Why tell this tale ? As J. Peterman might say, “As we search our souls, seeking the compass of our destiny - failure and truth side by side, history is gnawing at our water-logged kiesters. We seek the uncertain winds of the future, raging full in our face. Sleep tight matey’s in your blue chambray night shirts”.

Ask the big question: Where are we going and why ? Take this cautionary tale of one sailor’s race. Even before starting Donald Crowhurst was in trouble. He was at best - a weekend sailor, in deep financial debt. To make matters worse, his vessel, was not seaworthy.

Donald looked reality in the eye. What he saw was failure and bankruptcy. What he did was devise a new plan. Instead of sailing the treacherous waters, he cut off communications and drifted, undetected in the South Atlantic. Much later, he re-established radio contact, saying he rounded Cape Horn and was heading for home. He falsified his logbooks and created a phony tape-recorded diary. As a surprise winner, his logbooks would be scrutinized and his deception revealed. After more than 240 days alone at sea, Crowhurst wrote a last entry in his logbook. “It is finished. It is the mercy. It is the end of my game. The truth will be revealed.” Crowhurst’s body was never recovered.

Why tell this sad story of deception and failure? I think it’s about how you find your way. Individuals can make choices with tragic results. We - are a membership, a professional organization, and a tribe. True, a group can get lost, - even lose faith, but the dynamic here is to collectively bargain, to negotiate, to find the vision and win the race.

Two things:
First, I remember Dave Hickey, art critic and author of “Air Guitar”, and “Invisible Dragon” referring to printmaking as “an antique technology”. At the time, I was horrified; partly because of his indictment of obsolescence, but mostly because he said it in such an uncharacteristically kind and generous way.

Second. The governing Astronomical Union stripped Pluto of its title of planet. It decided, Pluto no longer met the definition. As a result, the 2006 word of the year was plutoed. “To Pluto” is to devalue or demote someone or something.
Question. Is printmaking like the former planet Pluto?
Are we sitting in the back of the bus and don’t know it? In the academic alignment of planets, printmaking seems to be a minor star in the constellation of fine arts. Are we simply an aproned legion of second teamers?

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is another story by Charlie Kaufman -exploring the nature of love and memory. Joel and Clementine begin a quirky, endearing romance - not realizing they are former lovers. After their bad break up, she has a “cerebral procedure” – erasing her memories of their romance. This is a mild form of brain damage, similar to a “night of heavy drinking”. He has the same procedure – but his subconscious realizes; he doesn’t want to lose those memories.

Does Printmaking need a mind alteration? Maybe just a linguistic bridge ? A new word, like Printification. The suffix fication; to make, may seem redundant – so let’s consider this tiny alteration. Instead – let’s say fication means, to become or becoming.

Clintonian Triangulation
This is a centrist’s position, where “trump” is the middle. Take your opponent’s best points and make them your own. Bill Clinton said he could split the difference on any issue. Jesse Jackson said, Clinton has no core beliefs…only an appetite. Barack Obama has used triangulation to deconstruct and nullify Clinton’s achievements and Hillary’s credit. Why Clintonian triangulation? To a certain degree, this conference is a referendum. It’s the ultimate GPS to evaluate - will we make it better?

In Sanskrit, avatar means descent. From Hindu philosophy, an avatar is a Supreme Being who has descended onto Earth, to make something right. Recently, the term avatar has been loosely applied as your on screen “incarnation”. Your avatar can take the virtual world form of your choice. Think of it as a cyber-doppelganger. Your “second life” is an immersion in simulacra, trading projection for perception.

For the most part, the future of print/media will be played out in the real; but there is a compelling component that will exist only in the pixels. The internet has created a new individual, personal space. New space – new rules. The same hierarchies and authority that govern the art world have no leash on the avatars. We walk a new path of alteration.

Jawbone of an Ass
Let’s end with The Book of Judges and a story about Samson. Samson was sort of an Old Testament Hercules – a man of incredible physical strength; but weak in the judgment department. He lived in a time when the Israelites were under the rule of the Philistines.

Samson captured 300 foxes; tied each pair, tail to tail, attaching a torch, between them. He lit the torches, sending the foxes running through the Philistines’ fields of grain setting them ablaze. In retaliation – the Philistines burn Samson’s wife and father-in-law to death. Samson seeks revenge – “He found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, reached out his hand and took it, and killed a thousand men with it.” Does a jawbone of an ass strike you as an odd choice of weapon? In our time of weapons of mass destruction, a jawbone hardly sounds lethal? Technically, the jawbone is a lower mandible. For humans, it is critical to the mechanics of speech. The colloquialism “jawboning”, means… to influence through strong persuasion.

I’d like to conclude with this:
We are Planet P.
P is for Print, and Command Print, not the former planet Pluto.
Planet P, has let the foxes loose, to run afire, burning new paths, in a new world. Look into the night sky and you will see an old star with a new orbit - Planet Jawbone. Our legacy is the creative production of what is true and real. We proudly fly the flag of heavy persuasion.

I have learned from the prophet Elijah, from Charlie Kaufman and most of all from you – the door and sometimes portal is always open.

Steve Murakishi

looking back the end

Did I tell you about the time I almost died?
Really….no shit?!
When I was an undergrad at Michigan State – back then I was a sculpture major; as opposed to being a currently, unemployed Bostonite,
I danced with death.
Looking back I can see how accidental deaths should be their own genre – you know like comedies, coming of age films or road pictures.
I was maybe 19 at the time. It was March and I was walking back from the studio. In my memory was it was about 2PM. Do you ever play this game with yourself – where you pretend to erase the snow and trick your mind into thinking that it’s really spring? Although, spring break was just a few weeks away, there were still patches of stubborn snow on the ground and the river was semi-frozen. Actually the river had reverse islands, where thawed out portions of dark water were like a connect the dots-thing. Granted, it was ill advised, but I’ve always been a roll-the-dice kind of guy.
I started out and the ice seemed firm enough. I zigzagged my way across until I got to the mid way point. I made a nearly fatal decision to head underneath the bridge which seemed like a good idea… Occluded by constant shadow, figuring the ice would be thicker since it was shielded from the melting rays of the sun; it would be a smart, safe move. At that point, I thought I had beaten the odds and had short-cut the dreariness of conventional wisdom and plodding conventional foot traffic.
I heard the ice gently crack, but thought I had time to get to some solid physicality.
Instead, it got so fucking quiet - below the ice. At first I couldn’t tell which way was up or down. I felt like I was tumbling in slow motion – like when you were a kid and rolled down a grassy hill.
Visiting a slow motion death surprised me. It was dark – not like nite time, but more like dusk. I must have sunk down about 15 feet below the surface by the time I figured out top from bottom. Above me was sort of a paint by numbers outline of where the ice was thick and thin. The thinnest iced portions were a gray greenish white. I remember how quiet it got. I realized life might end. It was peaceful, but I wondered if I would fight to survive or just let death take me.
The current was stronger, the water much deeper below the bridge. I could see myself being pulled beyond the hole – now just kind of a glowing halo. I struggled to swim toward the hole but the cold water made my muscles atrophy, shrink down like a car running out of gas. I knew I couldn’t reach the hole, so just let the current take me. I thought I would drown. I played with screenplay, that no one would find me until my bloated body would be discovered by a couple canoeing romantically down the river.
I knew this was my last chance, I felt my lungs collapsing and I rose to the surface. There was that gray-green puddle of light I tried to reach. I tried punching through the ice but the physics of my blows were useless. My last ditch effort was to flip on my back and kick . Surprisingly this worked. I tried using my frozen, numb hands to lift myself out – like when you’re at the edge of swimming pool and can gracefully rise out of the water. The ice kept breaking and I thought how ironic – I’ve come this close. Instead, I tried laying out on my stomach and started to swim out. This worked.
I got to the edge of the river and shivering uncontrollably and went into the nearest building to warm up and tell some one about by narrow escape from death. Erikson Hall was home base to Michigan State’s future teachers. Classes were just getting out and when those dry exiting students saw me they commented, "Shit, it must be raining…"
At times when I’m really stressed, I will sometimes think about looking up at the hole in ice – that gray-greenish-white hole and know there must be another way out.

steve murakishi “recycling ophelia” site installation
Well I am Death, none can excel,
I open the door to Heaven or Hell
O Death traditional ballad

What is our future? More than ever we need the domain of creative expression to reach deeper into our lives - to help us voice what is so inexplicable. We live in a complex time where the consumer can act simultaneously as the producer and client. We have tremendous opportunities for growth and freedom. Now is not the time to fear, it is a time for courage.
Change is a good thing.

“axis of evil' damage control

In America’s growing concern over terrorism, President Bush stated in his State of the Union address Iraq, Iran and North Korea were part of an "axis of evil" developing weapons of mass destruction and the US would not wait for provocation to take aggressive steps to counter this threat.
In terms of damage control, Condoleeza Rice, national security adviser tried to explain President Bush’s “axis of evil” comment was a clear strategy to define a complex problem with direct language.
President Bush visited the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea and stated “No wonder I think they’re evil.” He just learned of a 1976 incident that had led the deaths of two U.S. servicemen. The axes used to kill the men where on display in a North Korean museum just across the border.

portability, modularity, connectivity

a few years ago I purchased a new portable hard drive. usually I have sort of disdain for packaging but the phrase caught my eye. I now believe it is the new mantra.

the sublime

the sublime somehow defines what it means to be human. human beings can recognize something that transcends God or nature. while transcendence is the key to sublimity, we seem to comprehend the sublime when it is adjacent to death.
the dude abides…
the Big Lebowski

In a recent address to the United Nations, NY Mayor Rudolph Guiliani, began a statement decrying terrorism with the phrase "The era of moral relativsim ..."
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, stated, "This is the moment to seize. The kaleidoscope has been shaken. The pieces are in flux. Soon they will settle again. Before they do, let us re-order this world around us.”
I certainly do not wish compare the recent tragic events in any way to our own ambiguous conflict. I simply say, we are in a shaken and destabilized condition - but we were before any of this took place.
The cataclysmic events of September 11th have changed our world forever. The way we know life and mortality have been changed forever. Will art change after these enormous events ? Will the ego that makes up an artist change? Will our belief in a future be shaken?

We are unserious people living at an unserious time. Pat Roberts on POV

point of view shots. your viewpoint is over the shoulder of the listener. the camera watches the speaker talk. somehow we are to believe that we are there – in the conversation somehow. TV has made the POV nearly obsolete. Being there, really translates into watching a conversation on TV.
Less and less we see the filmic language of tracking shots or establishing shots – unless it’s in the opening scene and credit roll. Now we have multiple narrative tracks. Kubrick – like - elliptical structures of multiple narratives - what happened – from different perspective loop. yes, Tarrantino uses this a lot. maybe this gets us to the equilibrium between what really happened or what seemed to happen.

deferred materiality/materiality

We have real stuff. objects. physical things. We like real stuff. eBay is a remarkable example of our requirement for things. Revenues went from $47 million in 1998 to $749 million in 2001. On the other hand we have digital fragments of things that aren’t real. They may become real – like chair real or not. deferred materiality.
I’ve recently moved from the metropolitan Detroit area to Boston. I used an online quote to secure a moving company. They arrived a day late in a shiny 18 wheeler. I’m now in Boston, a month later with no stuff. When I tried contacting them online – phone calls led to unbearable holding patterns and no returned calls – they were tagged with a warning label from Better Business Bureau. I remember seeing all my possessions boxed up on the sidewalk and thought how unreal – everything that is me is in those boxes. Now I have the image of all my stuff vibrating with the select all key being deleted. gone.
deferred materiality in reverse.

The film, American Beauty, seems to be a video surveillance about a slow motion, car crash of middle age turmoil. Maybe - it’s about suburbia as a metaphor for quiet imprisonment. The more I think about it, it seems like it’s about evaporation. It’s about putting a face on pleasure, happiness, or fear; and ultimately having that face- blown away. What this present generation seems to be searching for - is the face of a new, pragmatic humanism.
What is our American Beauty? We are at the most dramatic crossroads of our existence. We have, in effect two different worlds we exist in. Like Madonna said, “I’m a material girl and I live in a material world.” That material world of representation and “stuff” is linked to a place of less material, - what I’d call - deferred materiality. The influence of the digital and virtual has effectively eroded our navigation of narrative, linear time. We live in the fragmentation of moments of hovering above certainty.


I’m in a new place. Not so much the phase, but in an entirely new life.
I was driving on a viaduct [basically an overpass/bridge], there’s a tight shoulder on the right and a two cars pulled over on this narrow shoulder. There are what seems to be a large percentage of psychotics walking around [maybe so many really bright people living w/in reoccurring dreams]. So this guy starts walking out into oncoming traffic. I have no choice but to slightly into the next lane. It’s a hot spring day so I’ve got the window, sunroof down. Not so unexpectedly there is honking – urgent honking. I look over and a large man in a burgundy van is gesturing and yelling at me. He speeds ahead. I take the opportunity to pull up next to him at the light. I look over, w/ all the Dee-troit panache I feel like mustering and give him the “what…” look. He’s yelling loudly and I only hear the volume not the words. I say, “what the fuck…did you want me to hit the guy? ” Now I can finally make out what the large man is saying. I’m stunned. He’s apologizing. “I wasn’t honking at you – I was honking at the guy walking into traffic…” This never would have happened in the Motor City.


I have a recurring dream from childhood. Besides the emotional and psychological scars I have acquired, it’s something I can’t seem to shake – even though disconcerting it’s kinda comforting to know it won’t go away. I still have it now on rare occasions. As dreams go it’s like sex in a long, long term relationship. There is some one – monster, scary looming force that is chasing me. When I think I’ve alluded it – it traps me behind a furnace. I wake up when I can smell burning hair. It’s the hair smell that gives me away.
I have a friend who has a reoccurring dream too. It’s about the end of the world. Something apocalyptic…..She refuses to tell me about it.

just stories….

My oldest son, Michio, is in his 20’s, finishing grad school and is the dynamic force in his band, "Johnny Bad Habit". One of his tunes is called something like, "My friends come over and puke on my couch". The other tune is called, "Mary Kate and Ashley". Anyway, he’s something of a raconteur, but has earnest appreciation for language and it’s variables. My favorite voice message is, "for the sake of continuity, please leave a message".
Michio has a friend who is something of a provocateur. I also know him as a former graduate student. He goes by Stevil. That’s Steve and evil, in case you just weren’t sure. LA was calling Stevil. It’s probably a good match for a lad from Milwaukee. Stevil had amassed a stake of 5K. He was concerned that kind of money and his persona may lead law enforcement officials to assume it was ill gotten drug revenues. To counter act this miss assumption he placed the money in coffee cans – I presume with a healthy dose of Folgers; and made his way west. I can just imagine Stevil paying for groceries at Safeway with coffee tainted greenbacks.

Ichiro is a glorious baseball player. I have 3 sons and every summer I try to go to a ballgame with each of them. I took my youngest son to see Ichiro. We saw the [sorry ass] Detroit Tigers and Seattle Mariners. We even took the Pepsi Challenge at the ballpark. Baseball is a game played on a beautiful green, transcendent field. When I saw Ichiro, he looked so tiny on the field, but he played with unmatched grace and power. He was in a word, exquisite.
This season “bobblehead” dolls are very hot. They are a better product these days – not as “cheesy” to borrow from the vernacular; as they once were.
Bobbleheads are essentially 2 formed pounds of ceramic likeness, standing about 7.5 inches high, hand painted with oversized heads, that bob, jiggle and nod nonsensically; as they maintain a fixed stare. They are in some ways, a means to re-animate, possess, maybe even mock the celebrity, that escapes us. John Updike said, "Celebrity is a mask that eats into the face." We look at their bobbing reaction to our touch as an ironic affirmation of something that will never be.

Remember reading Goodnight, Moon as a bedtime story to the kids or maybe it was to my niece. Do you remember it? Anyway, there is a goodnight game version that goes like this:
“Goodnight, moon.”
“Goodnight, Baywatch girl.”
“Goodnight, Visa bill. ”
“Goodnight, brownies I shouldn’t have eaten.”
“Goodnight, roommate from hell.”
“Goodnight, damaged boyfriend.”
“Goodnight, whatever…”

Monday, September 8, 2008


Really is an approximation of belief.
It must be measured from one point – as a declarative factual statement. On the other end, it can be inflected to register disbelief or uncertainty. You know really. You’ve known it all your life. Really comes from real – reality. It’s an adverb that modifies verbs that pronounce the status, condition or action. Really says it has a relationship to something about life or its perception. Those"perceptions" have dramatically changed because our proximity, speed and our tenuous relationship to the uncertain.

We could sample some defining modifiers – supposedly actually could be substituted for really; but it doesn’t carry the range of what really can do. Actually keeps its ties to factually. Really takes on that approximated space of reality and not - that we’re comfy with. We could double up – really, really…. Dramatic but redundant. You could go with the total vernacular devastation…really fucking unbelievable…. Exponential is always impressive.
The always New, has come to symbolize better, closer, more convenient, more selection, more options, better deals, new experiences. The New is not a promise for lastingness or permanence.
The continual process of new construction, under construction and renovation, has come to symbolize the fresh state of the New. We have embraced the state of always New. We like the feel of the New, the smell of the New - even the ritualized packaging of the New. We make a place for the New in our lives. We simply prefer, the New. Perhaps, the always New has replaced the old version eternity.
My youngest son Esei gave me another example of really.
His friend Barnes said, "I need to use the restroom."
Esei countered with, "When did you start saying 'restroom' instead of 'bathroom'? Barnes."
"I’ve always said 'restroom'."
Esei. "Oh, really….?"

….life the endless march, an endless army…
The world, the race, the soul – in space and time the universes,
all bound as is befitting each – all surely going somewhere.
- Walt Whittman: Going Somewhere: 1887


Fabula is actually a word. Located somewhere between fable and fabulous in your Webster’s. I interpret fabula to mean an extraordinary story. Fabulation is the act of inventing or retailing fantastic tales or unrestrained otherworldly visions. A fabulist is a prevaricator.

It’s not all shopping.
To me, this exhibition is more about cultural expression, media and language, than a critique on consumption. Creativity is alive and well in the agency of retail and communication. This exhibition is a way to investigate Printmaking’s a.ka. PrintNation’s practice, program and creative production – through mediating sources from contemporary culture, media, technology and communication systems. Like “prêt-à-porter” ready to wear, Fabula locates the merging currents of art, fashion advertising and design.

The girls…
Perhaps film analogies are overdone but I see the concept of Fabula; somewhere between Breakfast at Tiffany’s [1961] and Basic Instinct [1992]. Audrey Hepburn [Holly Golightly] and Sharon Stone [Catherine Trammell] give us two different types of “playgirls”. Holly finds the building of attraction and allure of elegant consumption to be the skin of her identity. Catherine Trammell is really a character constructed out of pornography. She is a lethal fetishized bisexual object of deadly desire. Both women are somewhat perverse constructions gender, of their times – authored by Truman Capote and Joe Eszterhas. Capote is also the notable author of In Cold Blood . Capote deals with prescriptions of substitution for symptoms of loss, anxiety and restlessness. Eszterhas makes Basic Instinct a neo-noir style of television mediation – sort of what TV wants to be.

Maybe in typical fashion, let’s compare the visualization of identity and possession from the stills in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “Basic Instinct”. In the opening title sequence of Breakfast’s credits, we see this condition of betwixt. The scene begins w/ Holly Golightly standing outside the elegant Tiffany’s display window, peering inward. The camera then moves inside, framing Holly in the display, looking outward, on to Fifth Avenue. That image, merging interiority and exteriority together - locate what is between wanting and having. In her black gloved hands Holly holds a cup coffee and a breakfast roll, seemingly denying her ability to grasp what she wants to possess.