John Henry Tweets
Presented by Cumbersome Multiples
A Community Connections Project
JOHN HENRY TWEETS is a mash-up of Twitter and real-time printing in moveable type. With a Line-O-Scribe press and antique wooden type, we set broadsides and print them from an on-site portable studio. The posts are made during public events or from the Cumbersome Multiples studio. Prints are photographed as they dry and then uploaded to @johnhenrytweets. Tweets start conversations. Physical language intrudes into this virtual world. How does meaning change through typography? During 2014, this project traveled through a chain of Portland events to create connective tissue between the words spoken; thereby creating a larger conversation through the filter of John Henry. A printed John Henry archive has been compiled to create a paper trail that may outlive the digital record.
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Cumbersome Multiples created the John Henry Project to uncover the connective tissue between lectures. What are we talking about?
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November 25, 2014 – January 31, 2015
Curated by: Tracy Schlapp and Daniel Duford, with assistance from Sarah Margolis-Pineo, Associate Curator
John Henry Tweets is a mash-up: Twitter meets antique moveable wooden type. Rather than folk legend John Henry’s race against the steam drill, this contest is between physical and digital typesetting. Every letter matters, whether one is handwriting on a page, setting type on a letterpress, or watching the Twitter character countdown.
Throughout 2014, Cumbersome Multiples documented public gatherings of thinkers, artists, and writers through on-site printmaking. Phrases from talks were set in antique wooden type and printed in grey ink on cardstock as the programs progressed. Wet prints were pulled from a Line-O-Scribe proofing press and taped to the wall to create an immediate record—the real-time Twitter feed, reimagined.
The John Henry project uncovers the connective tissue between various public programs by distilling the emergent themes. Generally, audiences attend a lecture based on vocational interests; for example, architects filled seats to hear publisher Susan Szenasy, and writers flocked to hear poet and activist, Joy Harjo. It is the combination of the speaker’s words met by the enthusiasm of an audience that creates an engaging program. Cumbersome Multiples seeks to capture this texture. Across the lectures, the voices from different sectors created a choir of discernible themes interpreted through John Henry Tweets as: The Built Environment; Private Lives in Public Places; and Songs for the Trail, Voices and Blankets.
In the spirit of cross-pollination, Cumbersome Multiples has excerpted and recombined a selection of John Henry Tweets for this Community Showcase exhibit. In January, a new collection of broadsides will be made during Samiya Bashir’s reading of her poem Coronagraphy. Fittingly, the poem illuminates the interior voices of John Henry and his wife Polly Ann. The text moves easily off the page into performance. Cumbersome Multiples will engage with the text in two distinct ways: first, through a real-time print response to the poem’s call during a performance held here in the Lab; and second, by continuing to produce limited-edition broadsides throughout the month of January as part of an accompanying Gallery Storefront Residency in MoCC’s Gallery Store.
The Community Showcase Gallery exhibits outstanding community artwork and featured partnership projects. John Henry Tweets was organized by Tracy Schlapp and Daniel Duford of Cumbersome Multiples, with support from Sarah Margolis-Pineo, Associate Curator, and Molly O’Leary, Curatorial Intern, Museum of Contemporary Craft.
John Henry Tweets is grateful for a very generous grant from Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC).