Wednesday, December 25, 2019

A Christmas in Scarlet

2019 was a year of whiplash: fantastic opportunities, and the corresponding riptides of life. Earlier this autumn, while listening to Decoder Ring, the following passage from a Sherlock Holmes novel struck home:

“My dear fellow,” said Sherlock Holmes as we sat on either side of the fire in his lodgings at Baker Street, “life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent. We would not dare to conceive the things which are really mere commonplaces of existence. If we could fly out of that window hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs, and peep in at the queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, the plannings, the cross-purposes, the wonderful chains of events, working through generations, and leading to the most outrĂ© results, it would make all fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale and unprofitable.”

The book is Arthur Conan Doyle's A Case of Identity; while listening to You're Dead to Me, I discovered that Sherlock Holmes was a part of the Victorian publishing Christmas rush. In fact, further research revealed that “Beeton’s Christmas Annual” published the first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet.

I had a collection of USGS Survey Maps of Southern California that had been CalArts library discards, and, after several years, they were finally flattened from their rolled storage state. I wanted to print the text as an accordion book on one side, and have the reader flying over the skyline on the other side, like Peter Pan and the children fly over the skies of London.

The skyline that I found is from St Nicholas Magazine in 1907, although the city itself isn't specified, so it can be whichever city the recipient wants it to be.

 However, after putting together layouts in InDesign for an accordion book printed in two sections, 2-up on a 12"x18" layout, I discovered that I didn't have sufficient stock of USGS maps to use for the edition. So I called the LAPL map room, and they very kindly let me take freely from the discard pile. I took a very generous amount -- which ended up being the right decision, because the printer printed the first batch with the front page right side up, and the reverse upside down. There were plenty more maps to cut down; this is good, since there were also a fair number of registration issues: the machines didn't like the stock that the maps were produced on.

I knew that I wanted the covers to pick up on the colors of the USGS maps, and Hiromi Paper has a metallic range that is exactly the color of the landscape markings. And I wanted to bring a sense of the fantastic to the text, through a pastepaper pattern.

The acrylics were supposed to be burnt orange, to go with the warm copper tones of the covers and maps, but, due to the actual pigment color of the paint and the vast quantity of iridescent medium that I added, the color could more accurately be called "the blood of fairies."
The pastepaper pattern was pulled as a relief print: the maps were doused in a water bath, the pigment spread over a mirror, the maps placed over the pigment, then rubbed with a paint roller.

There was absolutely no consistency of pigment from print to print; some were gentle washes, and some were much more strongly colored. If this had been any other type of edition, I would have overpainted the gentle washes so that all the books were the same, but these are holiday cards, and the differences are part of their charm.
The edition of papers took up my studio floor and the hallway -- but this is, of course, what hallways are for. After drying and flattening the maps (and USGS maps are on great paper -- they took the water, painting, and drying process without a hitch, which was a relief after they were so difficult to print on), I decided to go ahead and fold them as an edition, even though the registration issues meant that each floated a bit on the page. As a result, the margins aren't perfect, but they are in close enough tolerances to work as an accordion book. The parent sheets were then cut down after folding.

Then the two parts of the accordion were glued together, with the overlap on the face of the page, rather than as an interruption of the skyline.

"The differences are part of the charm" is the same refrain that I repeated when I realized that my cover structure, where the turn-in forms the pastedown, would require more paper than I had actually purchased, so I ended up incorporating some silver paper from the same line that I had in the studio as the covers for some of the books.
The cover art is symbolism from a topography chart, that mirrors the design of a map compass: pointing you in a direction, despite the winds swirling in all directions.

Each recipient receives a slightly different landscape, and slightly differently colored paper -- as we each have our own path that we're following:

As a result of the number of pages in each book, they can be displayed as stars, not merely as a traditional accordion, a happy accident.

Wishing you a happy new year, and a safe and interesting journey!

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Enumerations: craft, math, and cats

In 2015, a road trip resulted in an artist's book ... and a relocation across the country.

The artist's book, The Meter Was Out Of Order, formed the structural underpinning for a 2019 artist's book, Enumerations.

I have an established interest in creating standard book structures out of nonstandard pages, and I'm fascinated with different language systems and different number systems. As an undergraduate student, given the opportunity to choose between math and computer science coursework, I chose computer science -- after all, programming is just another language, and syntax and vocabulary are skills that I, as an English major, understood quite well. 

Over the past few years, the history of women in computer science and mathematics has been explored across a range of resources in popular culture, from the "computers" in "Hidden Figures" to the explorations of Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage in a graphic novel by Sydney Padua, to the inventions of Hedy Lamarr, an actress who decamped to technology.

One of my favorite podcasts is "In Our Time," a BBC program wherein academics discuss the history of ideas. Their math presentations are particularly engaging, and, when this project was germinating, three programs in particular were of special interest:
Maths in the Early Islamic World  | Pauli's Exclusion Principle | Carl Friedrich Gauss

What we have from all of the above is a fascination with math, language, and numbers, as developed through history and explored in the fields of philosophy and culture. This project developed over the course of a year, as I examined different aspects of combining ideas of memory, craft, and technology into one book project.

I knew that I wanted to print the book on computer punch cards; my father found a batch of unpunched cards from Los Alamos via ebay, and then I purchased an additional batch of punched cards from a programmer's personal archive via Craigslist -- he had punched all the cards for graduate school projects, and held onto them for all these years. 

Early on, I knew that I wanted a slide rule to be a component of the book project; and it was at a dinner party where framed card slide rules were displayed on a wall that I realized this format existed. The hostess very kindly gave me an extra card from her collection, which formed the pattern for this project. The online resources at the Oughtred Society were also invaluable, as was the collection at the Smithsonian Institution. Conversations with my clients (who often collection scientific and mathematical paraphernalia) were also incredibly helpful.

For the text, the obvious choice was the writings of Ada Lovelace. Anyone who is taught mathematics as a child in order to prevent the dangers of becoming a poet is someone worth paying attention to; that her poetic lineage was the very well-known Lord Byron was especially fun. Originally, I wanted to print all of her equations -- she is credited with writing the first computer algorithm -- but then ran against a basic problem: my own math skills, and my own programming skills, couldn't follow her writings. So I focused on what I could understand, the Note that was specifically about the functioning of the Analytical Engine being based on Jacquard looms.

In this note she specifically references a contemporary article about how Jacquard looms operate, and I was able to locate the text of this article, which had phenomenal drawn images illustrating the parts of the loom. The text of the book was coming together: the interwoven story of the loom and the computer.

From my reading about math history, I knew that the use of the slide rule was a means of making trigonometry tables portable during any calculation, rather than having to reference printed guides; and that the early computers were designed to calculate trigonometry in order to successfully land the Apollo space craft on the moon. Therefore, additional components of Enumerations: the trigonometry drawings, the slide rule, and the cope rope memory, were also included as ways of providing mathematical memory and making it accessible.  

From another In Our Time episode, a passing reference was made to Raytheon and cope rope memory: subsequent research provided the story that this form of memory, which enacts binary code into a hand-woven magentic wire structure, was constructed by textile workers in Massachusetts, as they had the necessary hand skills to create accurate handwoven hard drives.
That's my dad!

And then, at the end of the project, I learned that my father had been using core rope memory during his time working in encryption in the Navy. He wanted me to make actual core memory wiring structures: but this is a book about craft and technology in conversation, and so I created embroidery samplers instead.

As a slide rule is a primitive calculator (external memory) and the punch cards are early forms of rendering computer programs, the deluxe edition of the book also includes still-written computer diskettes from the family archive. When I was researching different types of number representations, my brother (a programmer) reminded me that hexadecimal is how colors are represented in web page displays -- and therefore a booklet comparing base 10, binary, hexadecimal, colors, and Roman numerals was included as a small numerical dictionary.

The Oracle: holiday ephemera 2018 / 2019!

The 2018 / 2019 holiday edition was actually mailed out close to a month ago, but things in the studio have been very busy what with Codex 2019 and those affiliated projects (to be updated separately), and so the holiday edition report is slightly delayed.

Happy new year!

January is a month I feel deeply ambivalent about. I absolutely love the metaphor of fresh starts and reconsideration; the opportunity to think deeply and recalibrate. I also deeply hate being cold, or being wet, and definitely am a pathetic beast when I am both cold and wet. I'm a fire sign, and it shows. Even in Los Angeles, the weather in January is cold and wet (or "cold" and "wet" if you haven't any sympathy for highs in the sixties and an inch of rain), and so I look outside, and take more cough medicine, and sigh, and think about the meaninglessness of existence.

Which leads to this year's holiday edition, which is an alphabet booklet of forms of divination. When the future seems full of unpredictable randomness, when whether the outcome is a win, lose, or draw doesn't seem related to the efforts put forth, when past performance is absolutely no indicator of future outcomes, where do you turn? The truth is that I consider myself a happy person, that I'm thrilled with the life I've created, that I'm thriving in this surreal landscape of southern California, but also that my life is weirder and less predictable than any horoscope could predict. I love this randomness, but I hate not being in absolute control of my own fate.

Into which vacuum steps divination. While I, personally, don't really believe in anything, that also means that I am tempted to believe in absolutely everything. Why not, if all of life is a metaphor? And the beauty of wikipedia provides all the methods of divination a person could ever require.

The covers for the booklets were the leftovers from the Parenthesis pastepaper project of summer 2018; the text various methods of divining the future as researched on wikipedia; the images from collected imagery from various art projects that I've either thought about doing or actually done.

The format of the booklets is one that has been used in previous ephemera projects, such as the 2013 holiday almanack, a sewn two-signature pamphlet binding with wraparound covers. The internal design is so that each signature is a letter-sized sheet of paper, printed double sided, that is folded, cut, folded, sewn all together, and then cut.

As always, your results from your divination pursuits should be handled with care, but go forth and find your future.