This is good news! Sarah Cottrell is now doing a solo show using all three of the vending machines in Lord Hall, University of Maine, Orono.
Sarah Cottrell's Doomsday Project, now featured in Callithump!
The contents are all part of Sarah’s Doomsday Project, an ongoing exploration of the lighter side of nuclear annihilation. Read more about it here.
We’re really excited by this. It’s always been our intention that Callithump! be a kind of tiny gallery, showcasing the works of one or multiple artists at a time. Hopefully this will be the first of many. Who wants to go next? Drop us a line with your ideas!
Callithump! isn’t dead, but it has been in “maintenance mode” for a few months now. It’s kind of a long story why we’ve been so unproductive, but I’ll try to keep it interesting. Skip to the very last line to the short answer as to why Callithump! has been so absent lately if you’ve got a short attention span. Otherwise, keep reading!
It all started a while back with a broken leg and no insurance. In the space of a blizzardy afternoon we went from keeping our heads above water financially to being five figures in debt. So we left our lovely creative community in Belfast, put our plans of careers in art & education on hold, and moved to southern Maine to go work in the corporate world.
Corporate life is seductive. The pay was better than I’d ever made before, and the health benefits were phenomenal. I was also constantly surrounded by people who were really into being in the corporate world. This was their career track, and they were really committed to getting ahead. For a while it caught me. I started thinking about all the things that long term financial stability could bring. Nicer cars, a nice house, kids… It’s not that you can’t have those things without financial stability, but it’s a whole lot more stressful. I started thinking, “I can do this for five years. I can put my other plans and dreams on hold. We can pay off our debt and buy all the things we’ve had to do without…”
It didn’t work. Sitting in front of a computer screen inside a beige cubicle under fluorescent lights from 9 to 5 every day I could feel my soul going numb. Corporate logic started getting under my skin. For example, having a window in your office is determined by your pay grade. So if your cubicle was near a window, it had to have extra-high partitions so you couldn’t see it since only management was allowed to look out windows. But that wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was that it started making sense. I started understanding and accepting the necessity of such rules. The worst thing was that it started changing Jess and my relationship. We started conforming to traditional gender roles. I was the breadwinning husband, putting food on the table, Jess was the dutiful housewife, cooking and cleaning and doing laundry. I’d get home tired and cranky, with no energy to do anything but watch TV for a few hours and then go to sleep.
Let me just clarify something important here. I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining about a bad employer. My employer probably has one of the best corporate cultures of any company, and I was privileged to work with an amazing number of talented, intelligent and truly good people. The things that were good there outnumbered the things that bothered me 10 to 1. It was good to the point that I actually considered getting therapy to help me adjust to the corporate environment! It’s like that cliché break-up line, “It’s not you, it’s me.” I’m just not the kind of person who can be happy working in a corporate environment.
These problems will hardly seem like problems to most people. In some ways I’m complaining about being gainfully employed. I was living a life that was anathema to me. The majority of my waking hours were spent helping people with money make more money. We dreamed of a life of creativity, adventure, exploration and making a difference in the world. We got cubicles and television and gender roles we’d never intended.
So we made a change. We’re playing a hunch that there might be more paths out there than “starving artist” and “desk jockey.” We bought a house in Bangor, Maine. It’s actually cheaper than renting! Buying a house in Bangor vs. buying in the southern part of the state means for half what we’d spend on a “I guess we can live with this” house, we got to buy a house we love! Now we have room to build the creative spaces we’ve been lacking in the apartments we’d been renting. We’ve gone back to school, Jess to get her MFA and me to finish my PhD. I’m teaching classes again.
The new Callithump! HQ
I don’t know where exactly all this is leading us, but I know that sometimes you have to make the space for good things to happen. We’re not “there” yet, and we’re not even sure what that destination is. However, we’ve created possibilities for wonder, excitement, creativity and learning that we haven’t had in ages.
This change, however, has come with a price. Looking for a house, buying a house, moving, working two jobs while I wrap up my commitments to my corporate employer, commuting 400+ miles a week, taking classes… Unfortunately, Callithump! has had to move to the back burner, along with most of the rest of my life! However, I think Callithump! will revive soon in its new environment, in ways that will eclipse all previous work.
The challenges didn’t end with the move, though. Just as things were starting to settle, this happened:
Thumbs up to being alive!
Yeah, that’s me in the hospital, giving a big thumbs up because I was awake after a surgery that might have killed me! It wasn’t an unexpected surgery. My friend Peter was going to die without a new liver, and I was a match. People keep telling me what a nice thing I did, but you know, I just feel lucky. Having someone you care about die is on one of the worst things in the world. Having someone you care about die, while you’re left wondering if there was something you could have done that would made a difference is worse. The pain of donating a liver is minor in comparison. However, it was a big pain, nonetheless! To be a donor you have to go through a tremendous number of tests. MRI, EKG, CAT scans, I’ve had them all now, as well as a colonoscopy, at least a pint’s worth of blood tests and even psychiatric exams. Before the surgery I was going to Lahey almost every week from the end of December to the end of February. Then I was in the hospital for a week after, and I’m still operating at diminished capacity a month after. It’ll be another two months before I’m back at 100%. It’s worth it, though. Peter is alive and doing better every day!
It’s been a long trial for sure, but now that we’re getting through it, I have to say, it’s really awesome to be the LeClairs right now! Our lives are filled with more inspiration and excitement than they’ve ever been before. We’re making new friends and reconnecting with old ones. One of our big stresses is that we feel like there are so many possibilities here that we can only take advantage of a fraction of what our new lives have to offer. That’s sort of like stressing out about having so much money you couldn’t possibly spend it! This happened while we were thoroughly overwhelmed with all the other things in our lives. What will it be like when we’re done with all this other stress, and can devote all our energies to our new lives?
So anyway, the short answer to why I haven’t been posting is I’ve been really, really busy!
This is old news, but I missed it the first time around. Last September, London police stopped artist Ben Turnbull from putting a fake gun vending machine outside London schools.
Kids Have Everything These Days. You can get arrested for this in the UK!
Turnbull had planned to place the piece outside news agents near three different schools. The piece would have included a hidden camera to take snapshots of the kids’ reactions.
Unfortunately for Turnbull, it’s illegal to import or sell realistic replica firearms and to possess them in a public place “without reasonable excuse” in the UK. He was threatened with arrest and incarceration and didn’t go through with it. The piece went on exhibit at the Eleven gallery in London in October of 2009, sans photographs. See other pieces from the exhibition here.
Ben Turnbull & His Gun Vending Machine
I can’t help but wonder what the reaction would have been had he tried to do this in the good ol’ US of A?
Mr. Arthur Small (aka Michael White) made us very happy the other day by letting us know about his Vending Art Company. Started in 2007 and operating out of La Mirada, CA, Vending Art Company sells artwork out of old postage stamp vending machines, like this one:
One of Vending Art Company's postage stamp vending machines, ready to become an art gallery!
It’s really surprising that there isn’t a lot more art vending out of postage stamp machines. Historically in the US, the three most successful vending machine styles have been cigarettes, bubblegum/toy capsule, and postage stamps. The old postage stamp machines are gorgeous, really well built, and are usually quite affordable. The first real reappropriation of vending machines by artists (that we know of) were of stamp vending machines by Robert Watts and Yoko Ono in the 60s. And yet the Vending Art Company is the first example we’ve found since 1966 of stamp vending machines used this way!
It might be the form factor. The size is limited to 1″ X 1.75″ and under .125″ thick, which can be challenging. Callithump! experimented with a postage stamp vending machine, but it was just too labor intensive. Of course, I really let philately get in in the way, attempting to recreate the “sanitary folder” the stamps came in, as well as making the artwork it contained perforated and gummed. The machine still sits in the garage, mocking me because I haven’t yet filled it with art and deployed it to a public place!
Michael found a much better approach than I did, realizing that items shaped like stamp booklets will vend. They don’t actually have to be stamp booklets! The 1″ X 1.75″ can actually be an advantage when used to deliver a concentrated dose of original art:
A new creative vending machine project is hitting the streets of Hamburg, Germany. I just wish I could speak German so I could be better informed, because what I can tell from looking at the pictures and reading the Google translation, what they’re doing looks pretty awesome!
Machines are where people are, where the time is even or the desire to buy the greatest. For a good machine do you make a detour, in a desolate train ride or a party would do a machine not possibly.
In other words, they’re using cigarette machines to vend books. I must confess, I’m a little envious of the cigarette vending machines the Germans get to use. Apparently, it’s still legal to sell cigarettes from vending machines in Germany, so they can still get them new there. Also, they appear to be ruggedly made, vandal and weatherproof, and much smaller than their American counterparts. So, while Art-o-mat® is confined to indoor locations, Automentenverlag can get out on the streets!
This is where projects like this really need to be. All the Callithump! machines are in or near galleries and I really regret this. It feels like we’re preaching to the choir. The only people who are going to encounter these art objects are people who are already seeking out art in the first place. Creativity should be part of everyone’s day-to-day lives, not confined to galleries. Callithump! machines should reside in the same spaces as mainstream toy capsule vending machines (Why this is unlikely to happen is too complicated to get into right now. I’ll come back to it another day). It makes me really happy to see Automatenverlag pull it off!
It really is a perfect idea. In the States we used to have small, cheap, paperback books that were designed to fit into a purse or pocket. In other words, they were designed to fit into people’s day-to-day lives. Now even the cheapest paperbacks are oversized and expensive fetish objects. A project like Automatenverlag could make books cheap, convenient and portable. You could put them into bus stops and subways for people to read on the commute to work. They could be priced cheaper than eBooks, and would provide a much more satisfying experience. They load instantly and don’t crash. Drop them and they won’t break. If they get lost or stolen, you aren’t out $hundreds. You can share them with friends.
The cigarette pack is a perfect form factor. It’s been carefully tailored to fit into our ambient extra spaces; shirt pockets, rolled up in a sleeve, tossed into a handbag. It’s a shape we can fit into our daily lives without ever noticing until we want to. Automatenverlag isn’t the first think this shape is perfect for book publishing. Tank Books publishes a series of books in cigarette boxes:
Books in Cigarette Boxes
Automatenverlag takes this idea and raises it above level of novelty and into utility by providing it with a very public venue. I’m really looking forward to seeing where this goes!
If this were happening in the States, it would be part of an anti-smoking campaign. I was about to make a snarky comment about the loss of our freedoms, but hey! That’s really not such a bad idea! “Knowledge is more addictive than tobacco,” or something. Use banned books to promote the idea that reading is dangerous, too. You could even set the price point to match the cost of cigarettes to force people to compare what they’re getting for the price. Temporary satisfaction that can ultimately kill you vs. something that lasts forever & is fundamentally healthy.
Callithump! is all about reinventing the magazine for the Internet age. We don’t think that electronic publishing makes physical publishing is obsolete per se. However, if physical publishing fails recognize and utilize the unique possibilities that only exist in physical space, it deserves extinction.
Magical things happen when publishers rise to the challenge of staying relevant in the face of electronic publishing. Take T-Post, for example:
Do I look Illegal? An issue of T-Post Magazine
The magazine is a T-shirt! This is one of those Damn, I wish I’d thought of that! ideas. Of course there have been t-shirt subscription services before, but this is the first time I’ve seen the idea spun this way. The t-shirt accompanies an article, so the shirt actually serves as an editorial illustration. From their website:
More than just a fashion piece, T-post uses great design as a subversive tool to instigate meaningful thought, conversation, and action.
It’s a communication experiment that typically begins with a compliment like ”Nice t-shirt” and continues with the wearer explaining the interesting news story behind the design.
I love their spin on this commonplace object, and how the wearer becomes an integral part of the piece itself.
La Lata takes an idea from Fluxus and presents itself as a can of art objects. It breaks free of what can be expressed within the limits of bound paper to what can be contained within a can. Just look at this wonderfulness:
Contents of an issue of La Lata
Media purveyed in a can is actually something we’ve been planning on doing for some time. It’s in our DNA. If America’s lima bean craze hadn’t ended, Jess might be heir to the Brakeley Canning Company fortune:
Jess' ancestors ran the Brakeley Canning Company, which one day we'll resurrect!
One day we’ll do a series of canned art products as the Brakeley Canning Company to make sure the name lives on.
So Callithump! is really just part of a larger trend! If we’re successful, the so-called “death of print” could actually lead to a much richer physical media environment.
Patrick Farley is trying to return to web comics, and this is great news! Patrick Farley is one of the best web comics creators there’s ever been. Few web comics ever explore the potentials of the medium. Sure, some good stories are being told, but few artists have embraced the Web as a unique medium with new creative possibilities. Instead, the majority of web comics are pretty much print comics that use the Web as a delivery system. It can be so much more than that, though, as Scott McCloud showed in Reinventing Comics and with his Infinite Canvas. Patrick Farley, on the other hand, embraced the medium to its fullest, creating innovative works that could only be experienced on the Web. Check out The Spiders, for example. Even the act of scrolling contributes to the narrative, instead of being an annoyance like it often is.
Farley started strong and his work just kept getting better and better. Unfortunately, his day job curtailed creative output. Now he’s taking steps to correct that, which I wholeheartedly endorse! Using Kickstarter, a platform that allows “us regular folk” to become patrons of the arts, he’s asking for a $2 donation. When donations reach $6,000 he’ll quit his day job and go back to creating web comics full-time. Just read the comics he already has online for free. Personally, I’ve gotten way more than $2 worth of entertainment from Patrick Farley, and will happily pay for his return! If the donations don’t reach $6,000, he doesn’t quit and you don’t have to pay. But that would be a tragedy, so go pledge $2 right now to make sure it doesn’t happen!
Best of luck, Patrick! I hope this works! I also hope I can follow in your footsteps, quit my day job and work on Callithump! full time. I know all too well how that day job stifles all creativity.
Coming soon: Callithump! Broadside. A broadside, also known as a broadsheet, is a page 17″ X 22″. It’s the standard size for newspapers in the US, or at least it was before the cheesy 11″X17″ tabloid format started taking over. We’ll be screenprinting broadsides with special guests while we have them over for dinner in upcoming weeks.
Peter Selmayr prepares a Broadside!
We’d been wanting to do something in this format in homage to Robert Piser’sDaily Palette, the first publicly available art vending machine (that we know of). Once we started exploring, we discovered an interesting fact: Broadsheets were initially the domain of poets, artists and political activists. They became popular for newspapers in the early 1700s as a way to get around a newspaper tax that taxed papers based on the number of pages.
It’s time to take the format back! The time is ripe, since newspapers are abandoning the broadsheet in favor of the tabloid or the web.
It’s fun to work in a large format after being confined to capsules for so long! An advantage to newsprint is the the local paper gives us rolls of the stuff for free. This means our production costs are almost nothing, so we’ll be able to give Callithump! Broadsides away for free!
We’ve got a fun approach to creating these as well. It’s a variation on the Exquisite Corpse. We’re doing prints with multiple screens. The screens are done by different people who we’ve invited over for dinner, while we prepare dinner, eat, drink and make merry. The catch is, we don’t discuss the content of the prints beforehand, only the size limitations. The final result might blend nicely, or it might be a sticky mess. It’s gauranteed to be interesting!
The Callithump! Broadside beta, three screens into the process.
If this sounds like fun to you, drop us a line and we’ll have you over for dinner! You are cordially invited!
If you live too far away from Brunswick, Maine to come join us, please try it on your own. Give your local newspaper a call and see if they give away remnants. We use silk screens, but really, any way to make a mark on paper will do. Let us know how it goes!