Atlantis

Category : art, book, inspiration

The first section of my new book is about the role that islands play in our collective imagination. One of the reasons I wanted to make a book about disappearing islands is the disconnect between the images we create and consume of islands, and the actual lives lived on islands. Our understanding of islands and of islanders is partly informed by all of the stories told about islands, most of which are examples of projected desire.

Atlantis is the classic disappearing island myth, and the descriptions of it demonstrate this. Plato was the originator of the Atlantis myth, writing about the fictional island within a larger allegory of nations, where it plays antagonist to Plato’s ideal state of Athens. He describes the people of Atlantis like so in his dialogue Critias:

They despised everything but virtue, caring little for their present state of life, and thinking lightly of the possession of gold and other property, which seemed only a burden to them; neither were they intoxicated by luxury; nor did wealth deprive them of their self-control; but they were sober, and saw clearly that all these goods are increased by virtue and friendship with one another, whereas by too great regard and respect for them, they are lost and friendship with them.

In the end, Athens defeats Atlantis, the gods turn on the island, and it sinks into the Atlantic. But our impression of the place remains that of a lost paradise.

Beginning in the sixteenth century, scholars in Europe began to associate the myth of Atlantis with the New World, and writers begin to embellish on the story of Atlantis in far-fetched works of pseudo-history. The story of Atlantis became part of the popular imagination again because it fit into larger utopian and/or apocalyptic allegories about societies that scholars were interested in. But it was often presented as literally true, and there were competing theories for where Atlantis had actually been located. For Europeans, large areas of the world that no one had suspected were there had suddenly emerged, and if that were true, there may very well be a large lost island somewhere under the Atlantic.

Atlantis: The Antediluvian World is a book published in 1882 by Ignatius L. Donnelly, an American congressman, writer, and amateur scientist. In it, he argues that the fable Plato had spun was literally true and that Atlantis was destroyed during the same event that Noah experiences in the Great Flood of the Old Testament. In fact, all ancient civilizations were descended from this one lost island. The ideas that Donnelly explores in his book are the source of many of the funny ideas we have in our heads when we think about Atlantis today: a place full of advanced-for-its-time technology, the mythical lost birthplace of all civilizations, a place sacrificed in a struggle between good and evil. Atlantis is the stand-in for all lost utopias.

And islands in general are often conceptualized as utopias; the ideal place off the coast of nowhere. Utopia literally means nowhere; the word comes from the Greek “ou” meaning not and topos, meaning place. Not-places are made to be dreamt about from a distance, as in Thomas More’s book Utopia, about a fictional island society and its social customs. And More’s Utopia, like most European stories about islands, is an island in the New World, a place he can describe but not be a part of.

In practice, Europe colonized the islands of the New World, which means that island utopias are meant to be idealized, then conquered, then exploited, until they are no longer utopias. Colonialism and stories about island utopias go hand in hand.


Solastalgia

Category : art, book, inspiration, time

I finished printing a new book last month and am deep in the binding process. I thought I would write a few posts about the book and my research into disappearing islands.

Solastalgia is a word I came across in connection to climate change. It was originally coined by Australian environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht to refer to the mental or existential distress caused by environmental change, originally in relation to places being decimated by the mining industry. The word is a portmanteau of solace and nostalgia, and is meant to reflect the anxiety produced when your sense of place is being violated, the sense that you’re losing your home while you are still at home.

I wanted this book to encompass a few different things, and one of them was the sense of loss experienced while the world changes around you. Climate change is both slow-moving, in terms of the timescale of politics, and fast, in terms of the pace of landscapes and how they shift and degrade. One of my goals was to talk about groups of people experiencing the immediate effects of climate change right now, in the present, and the willful denial of their experience by people in positions of power. I also wanted to make tangible visual art out of a process that is often described as invisible (though I don’t think it is.) Similarly, tiny islands described as “the middle of nowhere” are often invisible, inaccessible, distant places we project fantasies onto; I wanted to make a book about what it is like to live there, and be a person from “the middle of nowhere”, because nowhere is somewhere for some people, many of whom are in the midst of being displaced now.

The word nostalgia is a trigger for me; I think as a letterpress printer it gets thrown around a lot, as an assumption that anything made using obsolete technology is by definition nostalgic. I think that I disagree with that. There are certainly lots of examples of fuzzy-headed sentimental letterpress work around, I can’t argue with that. But I think it’s possible to use a technique and visual language based in history as a way to tell a story that is rooted in history. And I think that history done well is the opposite of nostalgia. History in this book takes the forms of an account of the colonization and exploitation of Nauru, a tiny island in Micronesia, and the nuclear test bombing of the Marshall Islands. Sea level rise for islanders is only the most recent change in a series of events in their landscape.

The sentimental aspect of nostalgia shows up in the first part of the book, an extended speculation on the various kinds of utopian fantasies people have about islands. Islands are where we go to transform ourselves, where we are free from the troubles of our everyday lives, where the idealized fantasy out there lives. I structured the book as a progression from fantasy to reality.

To be continued. There’s a great article here on solastalgia, if you’re interested.



End of year marathon

Category : time

My favorite time of year is usually the two weeks at the end of December, when the city empties out of residents and fills up with tourists, and most people left don’t have anything particularly pressing to do. I always get a lot of distraction-free studio work done, which is true again this year, and I also get a lot of everything else done that I don’t have time for the rest of the year- like cleaning my stove or baking or reading. I usually try to visit a museum, which is always a bad idea (see: tourists); this year I was smart enough to not try, though I have plans for January in this arena.

This year flew by in a blur, and I’m not sure what to say about it; I made some new things, that I think I like, though since they are new I’m still not sure. I didn’t really travel, and I wish I had done so. I started using my film camera again, and love it. I went to the beach and went on lots of bike rides.

I taught a lot of students, who I hope learned something in the process.

I am making this book:

It’s all about disappearing islands.

And I made this pamphlet:

And I thought about what kinds of books I’d like to make next, and where and how.

I’m not sure what I think about year end review/ new years goal type things. I think there’s something both arbitrary and useful about reflection on what you’ve done and what you’d like to do, but for the most part what I’ve done and what I’d like to do for many years now have been small variations on the same thing, over and over again: learn something new, make something new, enjoy what I can do, try something I can’t. Get enough sleep, and spend time with people who enjoy my company. Repeat.

I am happy with this kind of life, and I expect to continue to be happy with this in the future, even while other things happen in my life and in the world at large that I cannot control. This means I’m lucky, and I’m glad for that.

Happy new year.

 


The Liquid Fault Line

Category : book, pamphlets

It’s been quiet around here which means a lot of working has happened.

The summer informational pamphlet for 2018 is complete and is on its way to subscribers, friends, friends of friends, and acquaintances. The Liquid Fault Line addresses strategic retreat from the shoreline in an age of rising sea levels.

What are the costs? What if you don’t want to leave your home and community?

What are the various adaptation strategies and who benefits? What will happen if we don’t plan ahead?

 

Individual copies can be found here.

In related news, I’m also working on a new full-length artist book, title TBD, hopefully to be completed  in time for the next CODEX fair, in February of 2019. Here’s some in-progress photos:

It’s all about disappearing islands, both real and imagined. I’m hoping to have all the images and backgrounds printed before school starts up in the fall, with the text to be printed in Sept/October.

That leaves November for fall pamphleteering activities, December for mailing and binding and assorted catching up. Reasonable? Perhaps.

I think I’m excited about it for now, and have tried to structure the book so I won’t get too sick of it along the way. There’s enough improvisation in it to keep me interested; I don’t like projects which require all of the planning to happen in advance, I get bored in the middle of production when that happens.

Wish me luck.


Summer vacation is here

Summer vacation is here

Which is apparently going to involve a lot of type setting, what a surprise.

And bicycling to parks

and the taking of pictures.

I am almost done with the summer pamphlet- early this year! And will be slinging it next weekend (June 2 & 3) at the Philadelphia Art Book Fair.

And I’m planning on spending the rest of the summer printing a book. A real one!

Hope you’ve had a lovely holiday weekend.

 


New (and Old) Skillz

Category : inspiration

They say learning new skills keeps you young. Does relearning old skills count?

I started riding a bike again last summer, after many years. I have the same bike I did in my twenties, when I rode it everywhere as my main form of transportation. It’s been patiently waiting for me to get back to it.

At first I was super shaky. I’ve always been afraid of cars; that’s one of the reasons I never learned how to drive. But I still could remember how it felt to be able ride in traffic without being afraid, and I knew I wanted to be able to do that again. It really bothered me to have lost the knack; it felt like my world had become smaller than I wanted it to be.

 

Now it has been opened up again. And I’m much less shaky. Still a bit of a nincompoop, I get nervous descending off of bridges, but the view in the middle makes it worthwhile.

In new-new-skills news: I took a lithography class this winter. That was new, and I plan to continue. I still think that litho is magic, or maybe alchemy, but I feel a little less confused by the various steps and processes involved.

And I have a new book in the works, partly done in riso. That’s new. I’m going to hot stamp something shiny on the cover when it’s ready, because that’s something I know how to do now, too.

 


The Acclimatization Society

The Acclimatization Society

I made an edition of pamphlets for Wave Hill last month.

The Acclimatization Society is about birds in the city, and how they adapt, and how some birds have evolved in response to the city environment. Evolution doesn’t just happen in pristine jungle ecosystems; the urban pollution that makes cities a harsh environment for animals is known for causing genetic mutations. Birds in cities have to adapt fast to their circumstances. Genetic mutations plus adaptations equals speciation in action.

Also included is information about some of the most common bird species in New York today.

This work and Flyway are on view at Wave Hill, which you should go visit as soon as you have an appropriate spring day at your disposal. It’s a beautiful place. The magnolias are getting ready to bloom soon and there’s lots of blue flowers out right now.

Avifauna: Birds + Habitat is on view through June 24. Info is here.

A bonus: I got to see one of my favorite greenhouses around when I came to drop off the work.

Don’t even think about stealing their plants.

In other news: I caught the first whiff of spring out in Jamaica Bay a couple of weeks ago with my friend Ana.

And there’s more printing on the horizon- I’m thinking about strategic retreat this year. More soon.


Brain Washing from Phone Towers Informational Exhibition

Brain Washing from Phone Towers Informational Exhibition

Now that the final pamphlet of 2017 is in the mail and out to subscribers, I am happy to announce that in January I will have the opportunity to show the work I made in the past year about Jamaica Bay, in the place that inspired it all.

Some of the things that I did last year:  made pamphlets, rode bikes, gone on walks, looked at birds, brought some friends to visit an old landfill, seen antique aircraft, tried out lithography, and told as many people as I could about it all.

I had a great time exploring the area.

Join me on Saturday, January 27 for the opening reception of Brain Washing from Phone Towers at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. This exhibit celebrates the completion during 2017 of the series of three pamphlets on the history, ecology, and communities of Jamaica Bay, and documents the methods used in creating pamphlets by hand. There’s a gallery inside the visitors center in the Wildlife Refuge, and I think it’s the perfect place to celebrate the completion of the series; I hope you can join me.

Event information is here. 
The Jamaica Bay Pamphleteering Project was sponsored, in part, by the Greater New York Arts Development Fund of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, administered by the Brooklyn Arts Council. as well as the Puffin Foundation.


(Gesticulating wildly)

Thanks to all who came to the artist talk last Saturday night at Shoestring Press- I had a wonderful time and I hope you did too! Here’s some photos taken by the lovely Ana Cordeiro:

 

(Gesticulating Wildly)

I love the idea of gathering people in person to talk about things I’m fascinated by and make pamphlets about. I hope to do more of this in the future, thanks to everyone for coming, it was lovely to see you all!

 


Artist Talk and Flyway is done~

Artist Talk and Flyway is done~

Flyway is here:

I’ve sent copies to everyone on the list that I can think of, if you haven’t received one and would like to, let me know. Preferably in person! I’m giving an artist talk on :

Join me on Saturday, October 14th at Shoestring Press, a community-based printshop in Crown Heights, to learn more about pamphlets, Jamaica Bay, letterpress, and local history. I’ll talk about my ongoing pamphleteering project, Brain Washing from Phone Towers, and this year’s series of publications, all about the history, ecology, and communities surrounding Jamaica Bay. Refreshments will be served, and everyone will go home with some pamphlets to keep or share. Free to the public.

Saturday, October 14, 7pm
Shoestring Press
663 CLASSON AVE | CROWN HEIGHTS, BROOKLYN, NY

The Jamaica Bay Pamphleteering Project is sponsored, in part, by the Greater New York Arts Development Fund of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, administered by the Brooklyn Arts Council. Funding is also generously provided by the Puffin Foundation.

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Detroit Litho Magic.

Category : art, travel
Detroit Litho Magic.

Last month I took a week off and went out to visit Lee Marchalonis in Detroit; she moved out there a few years ago to take a position as Printer in Residence at Signal Return, the fabulous public letterpress shop in town. Along the way, she also acquired a litho press and some stones and enough space to house them all in her place (the benefits of leaving NYC in action).

Studio assistant.

We spent the week setting up her own home litho studio and editioning a print.

I was not a printmaking major in school; there are great big holes in my printmaking knowledge, which I try to fill as I go and/or need to. I had only a dim understanding that litho had something to do with oil and water in some kind of mysterious way. Working with Lee one-on-one and having her explain the process-a multi-step, careful, complicated process – was super helpful in learning how it works. I’m going to explain to the best of my ability below- if there’s glaring errors anywhere please let me know!

We spent some time grading the litho stone first. This is pure physical labor, which erodes the top layer of the stone evenly, to expose fresh stone below. I was a bit awkward at it but luckily Lee knows what’s she’s doing.

Once you grind the limestone down to a pristine surface you’re ready to draw. The advantage for artists using this technique is that you can draw directly on the stone’s surface and pull a print that reflects the quality of all lines, and the tones, that you make. There’s a bunch of different materials that you use to make your marks, all of which contain grease.

Once the drawing is done, the stone is etched for the first time, with a combination of nitric acid and gum arabic, the amount of acid depending on what exact materials you’ve used in different areas of your drawing, which gives you control over the amount the stone is etched. Then you leave it overnight and have a beer.

Studio assistant resting after a long day.

The next day, you wipe the stone down, clean off the drawing materials, dampen the stone with sponges, and then roll out very stiff ink onto the stone, to reveal the image area. Then there’s some talc and rosin dust rubbed into the stone, then some more gum arabic is buffed into it, then you leave it for a bit.

 

Later on you get to print. It takes a while to get the density of ink that you want, you generally try to build up an ink surface. And you want to keep the stone wet while you’re working- the water keeps the ink from sticking to the background stone area where the image isn’t. So you go back and forth with dampening the stone with sponges and rolling out the ink. At this point it was helpful that there was two of us- I was on the sponge end of things keeping it all an appropriate level of damp, and Lee managed the inking duties.

Here’s the final print! I added the letterpress text at the bottom at Signal Return; I’m also planning on hand coloring the edition. The Diamondback Terrapin is a gorgeous turtle that is native to salt marshes along the eastern and southern coast, including here in Jamaica Bay-where their numbers are drastically decreasing, unfortunately, for reasons that aren’t clear, but that may be related to the ongoing loss of salt marshes. The turtles spend almost their entire lives in the water, except for when the female Diamondbacks come onto dry land to lay their eggs, so we don’t know very much about their lives and activities. In the early twentieth century, they were almost driven to extinction by hunters harvesting them to be cooked into Turtle Soup; they were considered a delicacy.

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Walking tour

Category : pamphlets
Walking tour

This past Sunday I had a wonderful time out at Floyd Bennett Field wandering around with some good friends on a walking tour of the old airfield and the beach at Dead Horse Bay. The weather was perfect and the sun was out. Here’s some photos for your enjoyment.

Dead Horse Bay

Dead Horse Bay

Dead Horse Bay

At Floyd Bennett Field we walked down to Hanger B, to see the collection of antique aircraft that has been refurbished by a crew of volunteers. I gave a pamphlet to the Ranger on duty as thanks.

Floyd Bennett Field

Floyd Bennett Field

You can even go inside some of the planes.

Floyd Bennett Field

Floyd Bennett Field

Thanks to all for a wonderful day!


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