When I think of something as a big risk, then I won’t do it; if I think of it as part of a continuum, then I’ll do it.
“The more we struggled with summarizing what Nonvella Publishing was about to people, the more we realized that yes, we really are the craft brewery of publishing: local, small-batch, community-oriented, taste-makers.”
Mex and the City is an online collective and creative agency based in New York. One of its founders, Marina Garcia-Vasquez, wanted to create a tangible glimpse of the “new global Mexican identity,” so she, along with photographer Carlos Alvarez Montero and other contributors, put together Racial Profiling. The book collects photos and profiles of Mexicans in New York and elsewhere, along with interviews and photos of the work they’re producing, with the goal of showing the diversity of contemporary Mexican identity.
Why did you decide to put this book together?
We first started Racial Profiling as an editorial to build out our online community for Mex And The City. I always knew I wanted to have authentic portraits that celebrated individualism, but it wasn’t until I met the photographer Carlos Alvarez Montero in person and we spoke about ideas of identity that Racial Profiling was born. Since then we’ve hit Mexico City and Los Angeles to represent current culture. The book project is at once a photo art book, an homage to these large cities, and a recognition of the relationship between Mexico and the United States.
How did you decide who would make it into the book—are there any thematic ties?
Thematically, we curated the portraits with individuals whose work has them moving between cities. We found that many NY Mexicans went back and forth between Mexico and California for work. We wanted to acknowledge that movement. This is how the idea of the new global Mexican identity came about.
Did the idea for the book arrive fully formed, or did it start to take shape as you accumulated profiles?
When we first started the project, everyone asked what our goals were. If we were going to publish a book or develop the series into an exhibit? Because we are more of an art collective, we always agreed that it would be an organic movement through time. And because producing the portraits is actually a lot of work!
This book is just one facet of a larger project. Could you talk more about that?
Racial Profiling, the portrait series, is the basis for Mex and the City developing real community and marking our identity as a brand. We are now a creative agency and a movement. Our goals are to promote a contemporary Mexican identity through arts, culture, and design.
You describe this book as a “tool for communication.” What would you like to communicate?
Most of our work is found online as a blog or events captured by photos or video. We are a digital community but wanted to create something tangible and timeless, something you could find in bookstores or in a library. The book as a tool for communication is a means to show that migration does not have to be taboo, that there is strength in individual passions, and that as a culture and collective we contribute beautiful work to society.
Will the book be similar to the profiles on the site?
Yes the book will feature the portraits by Carlos Alvarez Montero on the site as well as newer collections not yet published. It will contain intro essays and Q&As. But I am also very excited to include a catalog section to show individual creator output. So that when we feature an artist, a hotelier, and a scientist we also have an example of their work to refer to: a piece of art, a designed hotel, a theoretical module. It’s an art catalog and historical record.
Octavio Pardo is a type designer from Spain. He created a set of five typefaces intended for protest signs, pictured above, and is now running a project to help make them universally available. The specificity and design-oriented approach piqued our interest, so we asked Octavio some questions.
Could you talk a bit about your design background in general?
I started as a graphic designer working in different studios in Barcelona. One day, one of my Art Directors told me: “You are a badass graphic designer, but you have no idea about type.” Since I am very stubborn, that day I decided I would learn as much as I could about typography. I ended up studying type design in England and then working for some of the most talented type designers in the world. Nowadays I freelance as a graphic designer and do type design projects as I seek true happiness :)
What are the characteristics of a good typeface?
There are two levels to judging a typeface. First, how interesting is the design? Second, how well is that design implemented throughout the entire piece of work? Since everything that matters in typography is quite subtle, it’s hard to tell if a typeface is well done if you don’t know where and how to look. But in the end, when you are looking at it, reading it, or using it in the right way, a good typeface makes things look great!
What attracted you to protest signage in particular?
Since I was very young, I was always amazed by protest images, both amateur ones and ones made by designers. They are pieces of communication that most of time seek to make an impact through the message, not through spectacular visual compositions. The concept goes straight to the mind. The work done by Adbusters, Jonathan Barnbrook… those are the reasons why I became a type designer.
Do you have personal history with protests?
During the first two years of the spanish recession, I was seeing my friends losing their jobs, my brother and sister having a very bad time, cases of corruption in the government every week on the news. Almost every time you turned on the TV you could see people striking and protesting, all over the country. I feel like doing something, but didn’t know what to do. That weight in my chest turned into a trigger for my creativity. I guess that is the feeling behind any emotional piece of art, but I’m not an artist, I am a graphic designer and a type designer.
I am cautious about joining protests in general. The reason is that most of the information that the citizens get to establish their criteria comes from the media, and I simply do not trust the media anymore. They are aligned with political parties, not with the people. Without reliable information I hate to take positions on any idea. The people, I trust them.
What are your future plans for this project?
First of all, I will finish it the way I want it to be. That still means a lot of work, especially [the typeface] “Revolution.” I am also negotiating with a big company to create companions for the fonts in different scripts; that would make it a really universal tool. And once the project is launched and finished, I want to add two more fonts to it. These are different but related ideas within the Tiananmen concept.
If you are a music fan, you’re probably familiar with the phrase “I’ve heard of it but haven’t heard it.” Now that the internet is a thing (the internet is sticking around, right?), you probably hear it way more than you used to. Everyone knows a little bit about everything, even if they’ve never actually heard the thing in question. Musician/journalist Hank Shteamer took it upon himself to excavate the early catalog of Cleveland post-hardcore band Craw, a quietly influential group that somehow managed to do what is now almost impossible: be forgotten.
How and when did you first hear Craw?
I first heard Craw in 1994 or 1995. At the time, I was a high-school metalhead growing up in Kansas City, and I came across a review of their first, self-titled record in a local fanzine. It sounded enticing — the writer made some crack about how you might want to hide all your knives and other dangerous household objects before spinning the record — so I sought it out next time I went record shopping.
Why do they resonate with you?
Craw opened me up to a whole new world of music. I had no idea that there was such a thing as heavy music that didn’t conform to conventional metal tropes — everything from the standard metal “look” to the lyrical content to the quality of the music itself. Craw’s music was unspeakably heavy, but also gorgeously textured. These days, we take it for granted that metal is more or less an art music, but back in the early ’90s, much of the music I was consuming in the style felt very adolescent. Craw seemed grown-up to me, and all the more unsettling for it. In the two decades since I first heard them, I’ve never heard any other music that captivates me as much as Craw’s first three albums. Anyone interested in heavy, adventurous, intelligent underground music needs to hear these records.
Do you have any idea why they aren’t talked about more today?
Craw never fit into any kind of box. Terms like “math rock” and “post-hardcore” apply, but only in a very broad sense. Their music demanded full attention — it was never going to be something you put on and rocked out to, like many of their better known contemporaries (Jesus Lizard, say, whom Craw shared bills with). Also, they had the misfortune of being on a tiny label that folded soon after releasing the first two Craw records. Many of their contemporaries — such as Dazzling Killmen from St. Louis, probably the band that was closest in style and approach to Craw — had the good fortune of being distributed under the Touch and Go umbrella, so their music stayed in print for years after they broke up. Craw’s records disappeared entirely, so if you didn’t get ahold of them in the mid-’90s, or happen to catch a show on one of their few tours around that time, you probably haven’t heard of them. Plus, they’ve had no real web presence for many years, and out of the seven musicians who played on these three Craw records, only two of them still play music regularly, and only one of them (drummer Will Scharf, also of Keelhaul) went on to work with any remotely well-known band. Basically, they’re a classic blip-on-the-radar band — either you found out about them during their initial lifespan, or you probably missed out entirely.
Do you see a whole new world of people like yourself reissuing cult-favorite bands that managed to retain ownership of their music?
Definitely part of the impetus for this project was seeing all this great early-to-mid-’90s post-hardcore resurfacing via loving reissues — everything from the Slint and Jesus Lizard reissues down to the Rodan, Bitch Magnet, Floor and Moss Icon compilations. The Hydra Head label, which put out Craw’s fourth album, Bodies for Strontium 90, in 2002, has done the same for bands like Botch and Oxbow. It seems like the history of this period is really being cataloged and preserved in a very concerted way. Yet in the 20 years since Craw was a full-time active band, they seem to have simply vanished from the record, as it were. I’ve been continually shocked that even people who are real scholars of this period and fellow connoisseurs of weird, heavy underground music have never heard of them. That always seemed like a serious injustice to me, and when I found out from the band that they’d retained full rights to their music, I felt like I had to make an effort to get these records back out into the world.
When it comes to clothing, good essentials can be surprisingly hard to find. Enter Victory Press, a New York-based line that makes sturdy fashion staples with just enough flair. We liked the look of their Spring collection and wanted to see where owners/designers Jessica Humphrey and Jon Cammisa were coming from.
Why did you guys decide to start Victory Press? How did you meet?Jessica Humphrey: We met walking our dogs on the streets of Vinegar Hill. I always noticed Jon’s awesome T-shirts and his ripped up Vans. One day, we were both invited to Vinegar Hill House to meet an old friend for a drink. Turns out it was a set up. We became best friends instantly. We spent a lot of time geeking out about art, music, and vintage clothing. We both have a love for old surf and skate and ’90s prep & tech. I think it was just a natural decision to start a clothing line. Here we are three years later.How do your respective backgrounds factor into the style of the pieces you’re making?JH: We both grew up on the East Coast. Jon is from Philadelphia and I am from Virginia Beach. We both grew up deep into skate culture… [with] Jon leaning more into the hip-hop scene, and me going more towards the punk scene. Victory Press is a culmination of both of our life experiences wrapped up into a neat package. You can see the surf and skate influence through the color and graphics, you can see the street influence through the techy silhouettes and hefty workwear.In the about section of your site, you mention wanting to “fill a void” in the outdoors market. What do you mean by that?Jon Cammisa: We felt that all of the street, skate, surf and outdoors subcultures we grew up with have been steadily melding cross-culturally and cross-generationally. We saw no clear representation in the market and an opportunity to dive into this grey area. Victory Press was our way to tighten the focus of these melding subcultures and bridge the gap between multi-seasonal outdoors wear and inner-city fashion.Can you talk a little bit about the aesthetic you had in mind for the brand?JC: East coast sun bleached beach wear, the timeless structural integrity of work wear, the innovative practicality and comfort of ’80s surf wear, the radical prints and patterns of ’90s street and skate wear.JH: Mixed with a little throwback ’90s preppy wear.Is it — or was it — initially difficult to produce American-made pieces?JH: It has been our intention from the very beginning to keep production here in the US. It’s not easy. We can’t find factories that will sew the types of technical jackets we design, which means we just don’t make those jackets. It’s also expensive. We are hoping that when more companies and consumers choose American manufacturing, the high costs that come along with sewing in America will go down.JC: Strength in numbers!In addition to your own pieces, you also sell vintage clothing and art books. How do you decide what fits the aesthetic?JH: We scour thrift stores, flea markets, and used book shops to find those hidden gems that inspire us. Instead of hoarding them to ourselves, we’re share it in hopes that it might spark creativity on a larger scope.JC: We see this as an extension of wearing our hearts on our sleeves.One of your rewards is a custom jet ski. Are you guys into jet skiing? Or do you just like the aesthetic around jet ski culture?JH: Ummm…who doesn’t love to jet ski?JC: …besides aquaphobics.JH: What, like fear of the ocean? I believe the word you’re looking for is “thalassophobics”JC: Nice 50 point word! Yeah, those guys, they probably wouldn’t be into jet skiing.JH: But everybody else for sure.
Last year, Adam and Joey, the guys at Baron Fig, did a project on Kickstarter for a run of their beautifully designed notebooks. The project was wildly popular, and the books are now being produced. We caught up with them to hear about how it’s been going since then.
What are your backgrounds like, and how did this lead you to the idea of Baron Fig?
Joey: I’m a graphic designer. Before Baron Fig I did design for other people, which was always a delight — but at the end of the day I didn’t own what I was making.
Being a designer has given me a huge appreciation for process. The magic doesn’t happen in the beginning or the end, but in the middle — and only if we’re open to it. Baron Fig is about celebrating this process.
Adam: I’ve had a wide variety of influences in life. The year before college I spent volunteering with Americorps in California. In college, I studied both computer engineering and business. A summer internship at the Corvette factory showed me physical products being made. After college, I worked in the stock market for [awhile]. While I found great mental engagement, I wanted to create something.
I’ve known Joey for a number of years and we often talked about paper, notebooks, and theories of creativity. I have scores of notebooks on my shelf, but always used pieces of each and then moved on. There was never quite the perfect notebook. We thought we could take all these small improvements and transform it into a physical, tangible product that hasn’t seen much innovation in years.
You explain the meaning of your name on your site with the ideas of discipline and impulse — Baron stands for Apollo, and Fig for Dionysos. So, who’s who in your company?
Joey: Great question. I can honestly say we both balance discipline and impulse pretty well. There is no crazy half or stolid half. It often happens that we’ll have opposite reactions to the same thing, which allows us to balance each other out in discussion. Sometimes I jump up and down, sometimes Adam does. Except maybe on launch day — I’m pretty sure we were both jumping then.
Adam: Joey is about 60% design and 40% business. Meanwhile I’m about 80% business and 20% design. Product we jointly work on designing and producing. Joey is amazing at design and does all the primary work on the website, design campaigns, marketing, and social media. I focus on the manufacturing, distribution, finances. One of our biggest strengths is having a variety of influences and examples. We’re able to draw on our backgrounds and experiences we’ve had in the past from design to finance to manufacturer and marketing, so we’re both able to give input all areas of the business.
How important is design to you, in the everyday sense?
Joey: For me, design is an ingrained perspective. The curiosity in wanting to know how things work — and understanding how they work in action —was never something I woke up and decided to assimilate. I just love it. I can’t get enough.
On an everyday level, the design of objects and processes is something I’m constantly paying attention to. And I have a perpetually nagging desire to fix or create where I see design lacking.
Adam: Design is something I always loved from being a kid. It always amazed me how a mass merchant like Target could take a lamp selling for $20 and make it look beautiful. There’s something to the design aesthetic that makes a product much more accessible. In my life, I greatly appreciate that.
Who is your audience, and how did you connect with them?
Joey: We spent a lot of time and energy on designing the notebook, which included a lot of back and forth with people around the world. They all answered one simple question: “What do you like in a sketchbook or notebook?”
What’s happened since the end of the Kickstarter project?
Adam: We finished the Kickstarter in the beginning of October and delivered the books to our 4,242 customers worldwide in the beginning of February. While four months may seem like a long time, it was an extremely busy and interesting period.
I strongly suggest to all potential Kickstarter campaigns, that they do a lot of preliminary cost work before launching the campaign. We got quotes on production and shipping before we even launched. Its essential to make sure you price your item appropriately. We met with a potential Kickstarter campaign in our studio last week. While the person had thought through the reward tiers, there was much less thought put into what the actual costs of delivering those rewards. That’s crucial if you want to be successful beyond the campaign.
What are you working on next?
Joey: We’re actively taking feedback from all of our users and moving forward accordingly. From the beginning we’ve said that Baron Fig makes “Sketchbooks and Notebooks designed with an underlying philosophy of simplicity, usefulness, and community.” We stress the last part —community — because we’re very much dedicated to being open with our users and making products that are truly designed for people.
Adam: This is just the start. We are a very early and young company. Our mission statement is “To champion thinkers in their journey to create and inspire the world.” We have plans to go along with that.
Sleeptalking will never not be weird. It’s the product of the very internal workings of our brains made public. It’s often hilarious and usually nonsensical. Dion McGregor, a songwriter who seemed to constantly talk in his sleep at a conversationally audible volume, crafted entire surreal, funny and dark narratives, which were recorded by his roommate Michael Barr. Dreaming Like Mad with Dion McGregor collects some classic recordings along with many that have never been heard before. We spoke to Steve Venright, who compiled recordings of McGregor’s “somniloquies” for the upcoming album.
How did you first hear Dion McGregor?
Hearing McGregor for the first time was an utterly flabbergasting experience. I’d been camping with my wife and sons at the Elora Gorge in Southern Ontario when I ran into author Christopher Dewdney. After accepting an invitation to join us at our campfire that evening, Chris showed up with a recording he claimed to be of some guy talking in his sleep — a cassette dub of an LP called The Dream World of Dion McGregor. As luck would have it, our rental-car stereo wasn’t working so we’d brought along a boom-box for the trip. Intrigued, I slipped the tape into the machine, hit play, and sat back for what would be one of the most extraordinary revelations of my life.
What was your initial impression of what you were hearing? How did you connect with it?
From the moment I heard McGregor’s voice — lucid and conversational and not at all the cataleptic mutter I’d anticipated — I was captivated. In fact, there was a general air of enthrallment around the campfire as McGregor —or at least his somnolent persona — began to relay a complex scenario about a perilous glass swimming pool that seemed to take him by surprise no less than it did ourselves. Every nuance of expression, every gasp or droll aside, every quirky narrative shift engrossed me more and more. Above all, it was absolutely the funniest thing I’d heard in my life. And it got even funnier with the next track: a dream about a mustard battle featuring an outburst of singularly demented vocalizations. I’ve known some of the world’s finest sound poets, but nothing in their repertoire could outdo the deranged flourish of these oral acrobatics. By the time the mustard battle reached its fatal climax, I had slipped from my perch on the picnic bench and was doubled over on the ground, breathless with hysterics.
I’ve been a fan of the Surrealist movement since I was seventeen. Dion’s slumbrous orations seemed to me then, and still seem, an ultimate display of surrealist thought.
Can you tell us a little bit about who he was?
Dion McGregor was a couch-surfing New York City lyricist with a fondness for pre-code Hollywood movies. He was considered by those who knew him well to be an incredibly witty and endearing character (though difficult at times, and who isn’t). He was a highly creative individual but not overly ambitious. He co-wrote a book about Garbo, but otherwise his writings were mainly in the form of lyrics. While many well-known singers recorded his material, the only true moment of fame came with his song “Where is the Wonder,” which Barbra Streisand recorded in 1965, including it on her first album and performing it in her first television special. The tune was co-written with Dion’s composer friend Michael Barr (a huge Streisand fan). It was during the several years of sharing an apartment with Michael that the somniloquies were recorded. Michael was amazed by them and would set up a microphone and reel-to-reel tape recorder early each morning. In 1964, Decca Records released a collection of these recordings on an LP entitled The Dream World of Dion McGregor (He Talks in His Sleep). The cover boasted a wonderful illustration by Edward Gorey. That same year, Bernard Geis associates published a book of seventy dream transcripts under the same title, also illustrated by Gorey. Those are the basics as I see them, but for a more detailed account there’s an outstanding essay by Phil Milstein, included in the liner notes to the Dion compilation he released through Tzadik records in 1999.
How did you select what would end up on Dreaming Like Mad? Did you try to create a structure from audio clip to audio clip?
I obsess over track lists. It’s an exasperating fascination for me, trying to assemble a sequence that works, that presents the material in the most ideal form. I’ve actually been playing with possibilities for this album for a decade, ever since The Further Somniloquies of Dion McGregor came out. And every time I thought I had something, there would be rediscovered tapes that came my way, and I’d get a whole new vision for the thing. At one point I had fifty or sixty of the best unreleased somniloquies collated into four themed compilations: A Day in the Dreams of Dion McGregor, Asleep on the Job with Dion McGregor, Dion McGregor’s Slumber Party, and The Somnolent Adventures of Dion McGregor (now the title of a book I’ve written about Dion’s dream world — which is really Dion’s book because it features dozens, if not all three hundred, new transcriptions of his somniloquies). But then, I thought, the great thing about a Dion McGregor album is that it can go anywhere at any moment. I didn’t want to restrict an album to, for example, only dreams about parties and other social gatherings — I liked the idea of finding a more abstract principle that connected the tracks. And when it comes to these matters, I always get the advice of Phil Milstein — the man who rescued the dreams from obscurity fifteen years ago with the release of Dion McGregor Dreams Again. Phil and I are in continuous contact, but I only bother him with a track list when I feel I’m really onto something — which in the case of Dreaming Like Mad has been about thirteen times! The selections on the new album are among my favourites of the unreleased material, and I think they work together in a fairly compelling fashion. The audio quality of each recording is also excellent.
Do you have a favorite moment or monologue?
I have so many favorites! One of the things that strikes me, having listening to all three hundred existing dream recordings, is how extraordinary the content of each one is. When I finally encountered a Dion somniloquy that had utterly mundane subject matter — he was merely shopping for groceries — it seemed just as extraordinary by virtue of being so commonplace. But I’ll pick one anyway.
In “Snail Time,” Dion sings a catchy and uproarious ditty with lines such as “hold your little baby, hold your little baby, hold your little baby till she turns pale — time to do The Snail!” He and his partner Delores win the competition in which they’re taking part. To claim the $300,000 prize money, all that Delores has to do is go onstage and say, “I am Delores.” Dion affects a funny, high-pitched voice to deliver Delores’s line — a line “she” keeps flubbing haplessly. Dion (back to his own voice) corrects her frantically, but it’s no use — they’ve lost the “great greasy handfuls of gold!”
There are a lot of hilarious clips of McGregor’s dreams, are there any moments that touched you emotionally in a different way? Any moments that made you sad or melancholy?
Absolutely! The range of Dion’s emotional and narrative expression is vast. More often than not, the dreams end in screams, but even within Dion’s horror there’s often a poignancy (sidesplitting or otherwise).
On the first album — The Dream World of Dion McGregor — there’s a somniloquy in which Dion is teaching a class in vivisection. He himself is the subject of the educational operation, but this time something goes wrong, he doesn’t feel right, he’s not been put back together correctly, his head seems to be filling with blood and he wonders if these thoughts — the realization of his condition — are to be the last he’ll ever have. We hear him pass out or expire, and the effect is extremely haunting and moving (and sidesplitting). A related dream would be “Tenses”, from The Further Somniloquies, wherein a woman is threading his days onto a string. Oblivious to his pleas, she continues, and all Dion can do is watch in agony as his mortality approaches with each bead that’s strung.
As for sadness, there’s a heart-wrenching somniloquy (for future release) called “The Orphans.” This was a favorite of Michael Barr’s, but its pace wasn’t right for the forthcoming album, so I’ve decided to save it. In the dream, Dion and his wife Claire have gone to an orphanage to adopt children — a girl for him and a boy for her. His descriptions of, and “conversations” with, the various children are truly touching. Finally, he chooses little Bimsy and his wife returns with little Donald. But as soon as he’s sent them out to wait in the station wagon, while he settles things with Mrs. Zelderly, he notices a most pathetic and sweet waif who begs not to be left behind. Dion’s verbal expression at this moment takes on an emotional richness that, to my experience, few actors have attained. (I make the comparison intentionally, for I often think of Dion as an actor in the theatre of dream.) His voice is redolent with regret and longing and compassion … and soon tearful joy as he realizes that little Looty-Sue (!) will also join his new family.
Would you consider McGregor’s sleep-talking (and his roommate’s subsequent recording) a form of art? Have you noticed his work influencing any art in any form that came after it?
I do consider it art, but of a different order. André Breton’s initial definition of surrealism was “pure psychic automatism,” and I think this fits the bill. But it’s something even beyond that, something that hints at the grand potential of the human mind — which, I suppose, could be a definition of art: a manifestation that expresses the expansive possibilities of thought and perception, and of the human condition. Michael Barr, Dion’s roommate and songwriting partner, defined it as art, I think, when he recorded and titled the dreams. (By the way, the somniloquies, technically speaking, do not necessarily fit all the criteria that would qualify them for the term “dreams.” But a story that happens in your head while you’re asleep is close enough to a dream for me). Mike composed a whole musical around them, in fact, which flowed from somniloquy to song and back again. So for him they were certainly art, and he spent much of his life trying to make the rest of the world see this.
Regarding their influence, I’ve seen the recordings treated in various ways that mostly involve their incorporation into a sound composition, or into a dramatic presentation, for example; but I think their true effect on the creative realizations of others still lies ahead. Partly because they haven’t yet been heard widely enough, and partly because we may not yet have developed the sensibilities that will enable us to match the sublimely unmediated, beautifully deranged, and outlandish but distinctly rational inventive capacity of this rare unwitting visionary. George Bernard Shaw said, “The real genius is the unconscious self.” In the case of Dion, I think that was very well stated.
It’s not as if shipping containers immediately look like they have a story, but they always do. The Container Guide, created by Tim Hwang and Craig Cannon, exposes those stories by digging deep into the multi-layered world of container spotting (seriously).
We were fascinated, so we caught up with them to find out more.
Why shipping containers?
In an era of ever-more complex devices, it’s easy to forget that society depends on some really basic, really simple technologies. That’s just the thing with the shipping container: there’s not much more to it than a metal box of standardized height, width, and depth. Simultaneously, it has a pretty credible claim to being one of the most important (and ubiquitous) inventions of the last century. Shedding light on these unsung, unglamorous, but hugely significant aspects of modern infrastructure gets us excited.
How did you guys come up with the idea for The Container Guide?
We’re based out of San Francisco. The city sits next to the Port of Oakland, one of the busiest container ports in the world. The upshot of that is that you constantly see gigantic cargo ships moving in and out of the Bay carrying containers with names like Hapag-Lloyd, OOCL, and Maersk emblazoned on the side of them. The world of these corporations is fascinating: huge financial bets, globe-spanning alliances, and mind-bending complexity. That got us fascinated about creating a guide to exposing this world to a bigger public.
How did you get interested in shipping containers in the first place?
Tim had the good fortune of coming across and reading Marc Levinson’s The Box a few years ago, which recounts the rise of the shipping container in the most excruciating (and awesome) detail. Craig had recently read Rose George’s Ninety Percent of Everything and when we stumbled across a chart of shipping container color codes it ended up being the spark that led to an ever widening frontier of nerdy exploration on the shipping and logistics industry.
Is there a large community of shipping container enthusiasts?
Absolutely. There’s a long-standing community of infrastructure enthusiasts, trainspotters, aircraft spotters, and gongoozlers being just a few. The Container Guide is designed with them in mind, but built to be accessible to a broader audience of people who are just generally curious about containers and the corporations that run them.
The Container Guide seems like it’s also about encouraging a greater understanding of how the world works.
You’re absolutely right. The Container Guide grew out of The Bay Area Infrastructure Observatory, an informal group out here in San Francisco that conducts on-site tours of infrastructure in the region. We’ve been to bridges, power plants, water treatment centers, that sort of thing. We think it’s important that people learn about these huge, largely invisible systems that are usually churning away right below the surface of modern life. True to those origins, we’re hoping that The Container Guide launches in the same spirit that helps to make infrastructure more visible and understandable to anyone.
Are you fans of other field guides? Did you look at any for inspiration?
Huge fans. There’s a great and storied tradition of practical field guides that we’re hoping our project will follow in the footsteps of. Outside the Audubon guides, some favorites include Bowditch’s American Practical Navigator, Sears’ Woodcraft and Camping, and Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things That Go.
Ever wanted to live inside a watercolor painting? If the answer is “yes,” “maybe” or “what are you even talking about” then Shrug Island is the game for you.
Though it initially began its life as an animated short, it has since transitioned into a game that allows you to explore a puzzle-based world that perpetually looks like the most beautiful sunset. After spending hours zoning out to meditative screenshots, we got the lowdown from Igor Noronha, Shrug Island advisor and founder of Amazu, the company putting out the game.
Why did you decide to transition from film to game?
Years back, a diverse worldwide audience to the film returned with very personal stories after viewing. It gave Alina Constantin [Shrug Island creator] a feeling that the Shrug universe had potential for more open tales, beyond exclusive festival and internet shorts viewers. Though Shrug Island is an interconnected world, it’s made up of beings with very different personalities. When writing a second story with more conflict, she felt the best audience experience would be to be able to play them. To use these different personalities and notice first hand the consequences of each facet of interconnection.
Shrug Island is a bit of an activist story that tries to stay light through its minimalism, playfulness and magic. Alina’s media transition is inspired by the work of Games for Change. She believes the best way to initiate engaged discussion is to create positive personal experiences, that people are a part of the shaping. Also, she loves music jams and surprise moments of resonance. So, that went in as well.
How mapped out is the world you’ve created?
The logic of the world is very mapped out; the reason the Shrug beings are what they are, what’s possible within their connection to the island, the world’s humor, power, and limitations. The foundation of this is disclosed as the player is welcomed into Chapter One, other aspects, the game reveals to the player along the way. Yet others will stay hidden to ensure depth of the world. This is to allow the story of the island to grow differently in each player’s experience of it. However, the interactive language of the world and dialogue of its inhabitants — the specifics of going through the Island’s narrative — is far from linear or fixed. It is purposely left very open to the sensibilities of the technical developers, as well as guest artists and backers to ensure they have space to make Shrug Island into their world.
Why do you think kids were so attracted to Shrug Island when it debuted as a film?
The oddness of the hand drawn characters definitely appealed to them. They were warm, strange and colorful, and [also] the fact that the characters changed shape really caught their interest. There’s something about the mixture of foreign and familiar that kids felt curious about, and we really saw kids identify with a much broader scope of identities than basic stylized realism.
How did you translate that to the game?
Though the island’s logic stops the Shrugs from flying throughout most of the game — because the ocean is at low tide — there are several other transformations they happen within the world. When you play the game, changing the shape of things comes from your communication with either the nature or the people. The responses the game gives are usually a bit comical, even in dramatic moments, The rhythm of gameplay is paced to have you dancing between dreamlike ease and unusual surprise.
DANIEL JOHNSTON: here is a photo book about the artist and musician Daniel Johnston. Photographer Jung Kim documented Johnston’s process, work, and life over the course of three years. We asked her some questions about how the work came to be, and how it turned into a book.
How did you choose Johnston as your subject?
I was a fan of Daniel’s art and music, and I really just wanted to work with him and photograph him. When that opportunity came at one of his shows in NYC, I knew I wanted to keep working with him because I couldn’t put my camera down and we instantly developed a great working rapport. About 3 years in and many rolls of film later, I thought it would be nice to share these photographs finally, especially with his fans. That is when the idea for a book came to light.
The project seems to be about trust. What was the collaboration process like?
It is, and somehow that came naturally to us since the first shoot. Daniel was comfortable with me being a fly on the wall and allowed me to document him without limits. I think it’s rare to have a subject so open and trusting, and he was always himself without self-consciousness or a front - all of which are reflected in his own work. He made it so easy for me to capture him truly and honestly that it wasn’t so much a “process” but more like two old friends sharing a lot of silence and space together.
Anything else about the book that you’d like to mention?
We wanted to make a book from cover to cover that felt intimate and quiet. We asked Daniel to handwrite the title “here” over and over on a piece of paper and he ended up doing that during Sunday church in his hometown. Having only the title stamped on the cover in Daniel’s handwriting really made this book feel complete for us.
The Sun Bros.—Wesley, MDiv’08, and Brad Sun—talk about comics, Kickstarter, and their latest collaboration, Monkey Fist.
Interview of the creators of Monkey Fist — they describe the graphic novel as an irreverent kung fu epic set in a mythical land of fast food.
Michael Barnes makes zines. We asked him a couple questions about his most recent finished Kickstarter project, a postcard zine called Sorry, for which Barnes asked contributors to apologize to someone in their lives. The short answers were then printed on postcards.
How did you choose postcards as the medium? And why mail?I really wanted the reader to engage with these short glimpses into someone’s life, I didn’t think a traditional zine format would work for such short pieces so I decided on using mail. I hoped the mail format would help take them into the writers world, imagining what it was like to be receiving that postcard.
What are the images on the postcards, and where do they come from?The images are from a book of American postcards, nothing out of the ordinary. I wanted the images to be quite simple. I would have loved to have printed in colour but just did not have the funds.
How did you produce the zine itself?The zine was produced using the old school cut & paste method, scanned, then printed by a workers co-op. Then, vintage US road maps and tracing paper were used to finish.
The latest episode of Blank on Blank features the inimitable Barry White!
There is a marvelous peace in not publishing. It’s peaceful. Still. Publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy. I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure.