We talked to Joshua Caleb Weibley about his new analog art for the tech community in Seattle.
Intricate pen drawings and sculptures immortalize software manuals and corporate logos in Joshua Caleb Weibley's new exhibition, Colophon. The show critically looks at technology in the context of time and space—inspired by the exhibition’s location, Seattle, Weibley sought to re-display symbols that are recognizable the technology community as art.
Using O'Reilly Media as source materials for his drawings, as well as Solid Surface countertops to frame some of the pieces, and compose others, personify Windows' first and most recent logo (the desktop and the forced perspective windows), Weibley navigates the idea of planned obsolescence. By refuting the fast-paced, often blind optimism of tech rhetoric, Weibley meditates on book covers and recreates them, line by line, with a Micron 005 pen. Weibley uses a ruler to slowly walk the line across the page, using various pressures to create an image, each drawing taking anywhere from 10-12 hours.
Weibley cites the concept of skeumorphism as something that grounds the works in his show. A skeumorph is an object that derives aesthetic elements from an original object, often completely unnecessarily (think: the email icon on your desktop being a letter, or an ebook having virtual page flips). He uses this concept to explain how the countertop material looks like marble but is actually plastic, and how his drawings are of organic images of animals but represent software manuals.
The Creators Project had a chance to ask Joshua a few questions about his new exhibition, his particular interest in O’Reilly Media's publications, and making art for a tech community:
The Creators Project: How did this exhibition come to be?
Joshua Caleb Weibley: The people who were planning this space came to my last exhibition in Bushwick a little over a year ago and since then, I’ve been developing these ideas. The timing happened to coincide with this article I read, "The Meme Hustler" by Evgeny Morozov. It’s basically a biography of Tim O’Reilly, who is the person who founded O’Reilly Media, but it uses that form as an introduction to a critique of many dominant ideas in the tech community.
Why O’Reilly Media?
I realized that I was going to be putting a show on in Seattle that, in addition to being very close to the home of Microsoft, is the home of Amazon, and is basically one of the larger tech hubs in America. So, I figured working with these books would be an immediately recognizable source material for people there.
Did you ever read these books?
You know, I never really did but always wanted to and, as a result of the project, I now have a few of them and intend to start. I remember walking through Borders as a child, and seeing a whole wall of these things and being intrigued by them, because they’re interesting and beautiful.
Past issues of O’Reilly manuals have inevitably become obsolete. How does the time play a role in all of this?
The passage of time is a big issue. I think a really forgiving way of looking at work I’ve done for this show is that I’m trying to follow a mode of cultural criticism that emphasizes ephemerality.
How many drawings have you made?
I’ve done 15 book covers, 16 drawings within this group. The 16th drawing is of the Colophon page, like a print out of a scan of a factitious page ripped out of one of the books.
What is a Colophon?
Basically, every one of these books has a back page, which has a heading, “Colophon,” which is this practice in publishing. It provides publication info as well as an opportunity to think about what’s on the cover, and other concerns of the book.
I kind of used that to construct a narrative inside of the page. Creating a false idea of ripping the page out of the back of the book that doesn’t exist, and using that to explain the publication decisions that were involved in my assembling of the show, was part of my thinking of the exhibition in terms of a book and my work.
What is the material on the wall and the school desk? Is it a nice countertop material?
Calling it nice... is a stretch. It does end up sometimes getting used for kitchen countertops, but the real use it is in chain stores—it’s kind of tacky. It was invented the same year as the movie The Graduate, which has the immortal line, “One word (for the future): plastics.” This plastic material in every way it is the embodiment of the hopes and dreams of what space-age plastics would be. It was the future and now it is inextricably our present, manufactured and used as it is all over the world.
Is there a relationship between the drawings and the material?
I've always thought of frames as working like tables and have been fascinated by the metaphor of a "desktop" as the environment you navigate in a user interface. It's a suggestion that you're sitting down at a table when performing the tasks you use a computer for. The material I've been using has a particular kind of tabletop application—specifically it's often the surface you pay for things at in a store. I wanted to suggest that this kind of activity and the applications of code aren't too far apart.
Why do you think frames are like tables?
You’ve heard the expression, ‘to table something’—that’s basically it, you’re just putting an idea out there for consideration. That’s a very similar process to a frame, you’re basically putting something down on a surface for consideration. So, I usually have tables alongside the frames for that reason.
Can you talk about why you decided to ship the actually books through Amazon to the gallery for the exhibition?
I was drawing these without much experience of going through the text of them, so it seemed to make sense to not only have the books be present and unreadable, but also to make use of the service that is nearby [Amazon] that relies on many of the veins of that publishing series.
Is the ideal audience of this exhibition a tech community, or a Seattle community?
So much of the Seattle community is in tech, and I was trying to think what I could do—given the opportunity to show there—that would speak to the most people while also touching on concerns that are more immediate and personal to me. It's a tough balance. My idea was that the audience was going to be the tech community, that they would see these things and recognize them and also recognize another side of them, but I think I may have totally inadvertently coded them way too much for more of an art community, which is something I need to unlearn gradually.