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

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