And on to the graphic execution and presentation of the writing.
This is unusual. Typically one starts with a goal or an intent. Wanting to disseminate information, evoke an emotion, and frequently, this comes from a client. And as a designer, we rummage in our toolbox until we find the correct fitting tools for the job.
This is a little different, we are both author and designer, but far from it being a self-initiated project, we are mere graphic quockerwodgers, influenced by the invisible hand of the puppet master, the Workshop Challenges acting as the sting of Jewel Wasp – so caution is needed as not to create something for the sake of creation which eclipses the writing. If for no other reason than it was incredibly difficult and took a lot of wine to write those 3,000 words – but more importantly – because the means of publication, display and execution should enhance the experience and the writing – not dilute it into a contrived, self-centred exercise in vanity, which I no doubt will now go on to do.
A few words about books (again) – there is nothing wrong with them, they are desirable, they are movable and easily shareable, there are few easier ways to read than from a book. Which might explain why they have been around in some form for millennia.
I am not going to push Ms Warde’s analogy too much further, but there is also a reason that different drinks come in different forms and materials, and that designers spend a lot of time developing the perfect glass for the specific place, occasion, and drink.
Back to the story, literally. The story itself is of an old palm tree, now in Exposition Park, reflecting on its centuries of changing life in Los Angeles while looking with some bleakness to the future and its assumed demise.
It is a backhanded love letter to Los Angeles, to a city that only its inhabitants truly understand, it is a plastic city not in the sense of cosmetic surgery, but that it can be moulded and formed quickly and easily. This feels like it should be a short story, let me rephrase that, I wrote it as a short story, wait,…I tried to write it as if it were a short story. A story that would appear with other short stories written by actual writers giving voice to the inanimate iconic and or unnoticed or uncelebrated landmarks that make up Los Angeles. As a collection, these would tell an accurate history of LA, and perhaps also serve as obituaries for many of the landmarks that will disappear. So far, so book.
What is the point of not putting in a cheap paperback for all to buy? Do I not want as many people as possible reading it, why put in the effort of writing, editing, collating it to then ‘publish’ them in such a way as to make them harder to access. For one thing, when faced with so many crystal goblets, a gold one stands out, and humans are a bit like jackdaws in their love of shiny objects, different will get you noticed.
So let’s just say this. there would be a book version, a limited edition, signed tome to place on a table with a cover made from… woven palm fronds, or original LA street signs. or former movie-set signage, original graffiti art, etc, and then a standard hardcover, and later still, a paperback will be available in all good discount bins. Those are the gold goblet, the crystal glass, and box-wine from which to slug. (Sorry, Beatrice).
But what if I want the initial publication to have an impact, what if I don’t want to enter the party meekly and ashamedly carrying a mid-shelf bottle of wine, but instead, a Magnum, or a Jéroboam, or a Nebuchadnezzar of Champagne? A halo product that lifts all the others up? (I will stop with the wine metaphors now.)
It could be a temporary installation or a permanent memorial that launches, promotes, elevates, and generates interest for the more pedestrian versions.
Apart from perhaps the Hollywood sign, most every iconic landmark is at risk of disappearing. Destruction os part of creation in these parts. It is the cost of progress, so these (or this story) functions also as a memorial. Memorials should be public and large, but if they are physical, they too risk the possibility of being removed and destroyed. Ultimately, everything is ephemeral, it just depends on the time scale you employ to measure the demise. A book might actually be as public and longlasting as any concrete form. Could the stories spawn installations, that in turn generate a catalogue of the installations? This abstraction seems futile, but also appropriate. Could the memory of the landmarks become landmarks in their own right, and at some point be memorialised themselves? And could there be a book about that? If this seems convoluted, it might be inspired by the workshop challenge.
So before thinking of the book layout, some ideas for the physical installation of the story.
Quite literal, perhaps; a sculpture park (with appropriate sculptures of the landmarks) or rows gravestones with the stories chiselled into them, each tombstone being identical, marble goblets if you will (Sorry, I said I was done with that analogy). There is also a tenuous link to tombstones used in galleries and museums, the macabre term referring to very basic information on identical cards. and in many ways unintentionally, implying the object you are looking at is dead as it is a museum not in the world, I suppose.
This will take up quite a bit of space, which also means it would be in danger of being razed at some point. There are possibilities of places in the desert, with allusions to ghost towns, there are also spaces that for the foreseeable future, will not be built upon. (Hello Surfridge, my old friend). there are also lots of liminal spaces; those lost spaces at motorway offramps, the plot of land with a strange shape that is too small or weird for building upon. The whole city could be a cemetery of its past.
Los Angeles is already a cemetery, a place for sleeping, for all of its former landmarks; they just have no grave markers. The memories of these landmarks and their meaning lay dormant. Markers like the Gunter Demnig’s Stolpersteine or Sheila Levrant de Bretteville’s work Omoide No Shotokyo, and of course, these in the UK provide memorials in the actual location. Commissioned short stories about landmarks could be chiselled into stone and placed in an appropriate location, a bit like the Ghost Bikes that mark the death of a cyclist.
But, I prefer the idea of an Arlington National Cemetery approach; a cemetery that would be added to over the years, as authors submit stories to be included in it and/or other landmarks disappear. Like editions of a book on stone tablets. It would change slightly over the years. And it would have them all in one place, a marble catalogue of demise.
I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your printing and Your stories, they comfort me
These stories are essentially shadows of the past; they would be printed throughout the city as public art or typographic murals of sorts. At 3,000 words, they would be probably hard to read, but maybe the point would not be that they are not to be read all at once. Maybe the story is there, like the palm trees themselves, as a subtle, almost invisible, yet constant reminder. Unread in its totality, but enough to remind the passer-by of what once was. A typographic fossil of a past Los Angles. An irony of shadows, in this city of light, becoming an illuminating presence,
Death to the Radio Star
I am not looking to be Ken Burns, but the idea of a video essay with someone (with a better voice than me!) reading the story, while a video of Palm trees plays seems not inappropriate. The (hopefully) evocative words would benefit from a soundtrack and imagery, like Joe Frank who used not just his words, but his voice and music to create and control more precisely the resulting experience. He would typically record in Dolby and play it back without to create a sense of closeness and intimacy. Adding images or video to this could only further enhance and, of course, control how the listener – now viewer – interprets and understands a piece.
This is an important distinction. Words are read, sounds are heard, images are seen. In combination, they can enhance an artist/designer’s control over the experience.
Books are so great because they stimulate the reader’s imagination, music speaks to the listener’s soul, images trigger a whole different part of the viewer’s brain, all three of which in isolation allow the user to interpret it personally based on their background and reading of things. Combining three senses into one piece can be more powerful.
There are drawbacks, which I have alluded to. Anyone can pick up a book and read it anywhere. A multi-sensory installation (or a banal youtube video) is limited by its medium.
Martin Scorcese begged people not watch his latest film on anything smaller than an iPad.
I watched it, laying on my side, on an iPhone, an iPhone 5 at that. Whatcha goin’ do about it, Marty? Any control of emotion via the senses is mediated by the delivery method.
Design is always a compromise, in this instance (the Workshop Challenge’s hypothetical,) one could make it available to everyone in the same way without the use of additional and enhanced sensory control, or make it available to some in a temporally and specific way, or make it available with all senses, but not know the delivery method and any and more combinations of the aforementioned.
We like to focus on design with an uppercase ‘D’, but what this is really is what marketeers promoters salivate over, a combination of message and medium in a way that generates attention, controls the message, and/or generates notorieity. This is at is core just basic communication – or manipulation.
Music videos do this brilliantly. Adam George Dyment is from Harrow, but his alter ego/nom de plume’s Duke Dumont’s song Ocean Drive sums up an LA night perfectly. (Another example of a tourist defining LA) However, it isn’t the lyrics, I have no idea what it is about (ok, I think I do*); the melody and lyrics (which are superimposed upon the video for extraness) combined with the video give a contemporary, nostalgic feel of what your last weekend should have been. It tells you what you should feel. And you don’t not want to feel the implied emotions. It is manipulative.
Hard-Fi would drive around at night testing their songs on the outskirts of London, much like Dag Krister Volle/Denniz Pop/Max Martin would do on a grander scale on the Pacific Coast Highway, to test the quality of their recordings. The latter were based in Sweden and would write a song in the darkest of winters; they understood that if it worked in a car driving down (or up, I suppose) PCH, then it could be globally successful. They understood that the location of reception matters more than the location of creation. If it sounds good under the industrial lights of Staines, or the sun reflecting off the Pacific Ocean, then it would work for the intended user.
It would be hard to reference and celebrate music videos’ dubious messages without mentioning actual films of which they surely are an offspring. A combination of narrative, sound, and visuals is basically the ingredients of any film. Is there a difference between movie-making and graphic design? Of course. Graphic Design seeks to communicate a message and story to viewers, while cinema does, err… the same.
For to be Free is not Merely to Podcast
No one would download a podcast of me reading my own words, and rightly so. However, in the hypothetical of the Workshop Challenge, what if these were the words of Will Self read by Benedict Cumberbatch. Of course, both the words and the voice would be infinitely better, but the delivery and the deliverer would enhance the experience. Melville’s story of tragic idolatry and revenge has been available in book form since 1851, and yet there seems to still be a need for famous people to read it.
Podcasts are inherently un-graphic, except, if graphic design is ultimately about communication and communication is about finding the appropriate medium for the message, how can podcasts be overlooked? If I could get Michael Caine to read my story in the channels that are accessible to him vs my graphic endeavours in my channels of distribution, which one would garner more interest?
You’re only supposed to blow the bloody Santa Anas off.
I am all for riots, not sure about projections; they look great, but they are by definition not only ephemeral but like satire, acknowledge the status quo while complaining or opining about something that it itself seems impossible to achieve. It is almost literally and metaphorically theatre projected upon reality. Its very essence makes it somewhat meaningless.
There are however some powerful uses of projection that render the previous paragraph meaningless.
1. All and any film that was screened in a cinema was and is a projection. By definition, projections take something small and make it large and more meaningful due to its size (I hear you, Marty). The word itself is evocative, while the small transparencies are projected upon a (it’s not really silver) screen, the viewer is invited. if not urged, to project their own story upon the narrative, or project the film’s story onto their life, or project the hope into their dreams. the projection of light lives only momentarily in the physical world, but its real lifespan is measured in its continued meaning within the viewer’s memory, the meaning it was ascribed and the results it generated or inspired. That is the power of projection. It is the size, but the size is not measured in metres or feet, it is measured in evocative meaning. Projections are only temporal in the physical world, but their impact can be permanent in the emotional world. They only need to trigger an emotion in the viewer to be successful. Vaulted ceilings and stained-glass windows have been
tricking inspiring people for centuries. Projections work because they offer hope of something new, better, or different replacing the physical status quo. They show what could be, or could have been, literally or metaphorically. To paraphrase the New Jersey philosopher B. Frederick Joseph Spring-Steen, a conflagration needs a source of ignition. Projections offer that spark.
*It is a simultaneously nihilistic, hedonistic look at, and toast to youth, beauty, and life. All are fleeting and should therefore not be memorialised, meaningless as they are in the grand scheme of things, however, their very ephemerality and that of life in general means that every moment should be celebrated for what it is. Meaning and culture are made up of seemingly uneventful moments. Boredom and uneventfulness are the foundations of our friendships and tribal connections; the things we experience together are meaningful because we did them together. Nothing matters and everything is important. The Grand Scheme is actually made up of the small moments of boredom that we memorialise. The things that matter in the long run, are the things that we didn’t think mattered in the moment. Because nothing matters, everything, and every moment matters exponentially more.—————–I could write 3,000 words on this too.
I apologise for the Katy Perry link, but it is an undeniably good pop song.