Organized by Steven Hull and Tami Demaree with Annie Buckley and Jon Sueda, Nothing Moments brings together nearly 100 writers, artists, and designers—the result of which being a touring exhibition, a series of readings, and 24 wildly different books. Jon Sueda of Stripe L.A. was asked to coordinate—and more importantly curate—the design phase of the project.
How did you get involved with the Nothing Moments project?
Steven is a Los Angeles based artist. His work is primarily painting, drawing and some sculpture. He’s also known as the mastermind of several large scale projects where he sets up collaborative relationships between artists, writers, and designers. In the past, one graphic designer has realized the final form of these projects. Michael Worthington was the designer of the Ab Ovo and Blind Date books. For Nothing Moments, I think Michael might have foreseen how crazy this project would become and suggested me instead. When Steven asked me to collaborate, he had already been hard at work commissioning the writing of all the stories and passing them on to the artists to create illustrations for each of the 24 books. My job was to be in charge of the design phase.
What originally excited you about the project?
It was the scale. A 24 book collection initially excited me . . . also that I would have the opportunity to curate a group of designers to create the collection of books. I read through all the manuscripts and thought long and hard about who to assign each story and artwork to. I wanted to give the designers content that they all would be excited about and would also fit their sensibilities.
How did you select the designers?
Steven and I initially talked about 5 designers that we thought should be part of the project, mainly people related to CalArts, since we both went to school there. But as I created a wish list for who I wanted to design the other 20 books, I kept thinking about trying to avoid assembling just another list of the usual suspects . . . more established designers who always get approached to do these kinds of projects. Instead I decided to make a list of my contemporaries, younger designers who do really great work, but who aren’t household names yet. I’m really happy with the people I selected and the range of work that came out of it.
What were the challenges in executing a project with so many participants?
Project management was a huge issue… something I’ve never really had to do at this scale! I worked on the project for about a year and a half, scanned all the images on the weekends, read all the stories, created a working schedule for all 24 designers, distributed all the work, did the corrections and production, and somehow all the books got printed before the opening!
Do you think that this was a true collaboration between writers, artists, and designers?
I’m not sure “collaboration” is the way to describe this project in the end. Exquisite corpse was another term that doesn’t quite fit either, but has some relationship. . . the idea that each collaborator adds to the piece in sequence relates to that process I suppose. The thing that kept it from being truly “ collaborative” was the number of participants… only a few threesomes actually knew each other or were in the same city, so very few groups talked or had discussions. In some ways I think the disconnection was a positive thing and made the project manageable. I think if each designer had to try to satisfy the desires of both an artist and a writer, we’d still be working on the project right now!
How did the gallery experience relate to the book experience?
The exhibition (which is now traveling around the US) was coordinated and designed by Steven and Tami. All the artwork was displayed in the gallery and the books were laid out on tables throughout the space. The event also included a reading where 10 of the authors got behind a mic and read from their books. I think the reading was a very important aspect of the exhibition because it allowed you to experience the writer’s interpretation of their story. In a way, the event deconstructed the project. You could experience the author’s interpretation of their story during the reading (step 1 of the project), you could view the artwork, the artist’s translation of the story (step 2), and finally hold the designed book in your hand (step 3).
In the end, the project made me feel both empowered as a designer and also a bit depressed. Empowered in that overseeing this massive undertaking made me realize that graphic designers had a lot of power to mold and shape content of this project. Some approached it in very overt ways, others were more subtle. We all know that this is what graphic design does, but following the development of so many projects all at once made it very obvious to me that we have a lot to contribute. On the other hand, we are often the last step in the chain. Not many writers had comments about an artist’s visual response to their stories, nor did many artists critique their manuscripts. However both groups didn’t hesitate to offer their opinions about the design. Although the designers were meant to be “ equal” participants and given the same freedom, it was hard to transcend the traditional relationships we have with writers and artists. Though I must admit that sometimes these comments ended up making the end result much stronger. For my own sanity I’ve always thought of the project on a macro level. Of course there are books that I like better than others, but as a collection of 24, I’m extremely happy with the sum of the parts. More than anything it was a very satisfying feeling to work as a big team and accomplish a pretty ambitious project. The process definitely fed my optimism for more independent publishing ventures, something i’m really interested in.
Participating designers: Emily C.M. Anderson, Bob Aufuldish, Caryn Aono, Kyle Blue, Alex DeArmond, Roy Brooks, Emmet Byrne, Linda Byrne, Sean Donahue, Joe Ewart, Katie Hanburger, Geoff Kaplan, Yasmin Khan, Zak Kyes, Willem Henri Lucas, James W. Moore, Penny Pehl, Scott Ponik, Brian Roettinger, Brian Scott, Stuart Smith, Jon Sueda, Michael Thompson, Gail Swanlund, Martin Venezky, Michael Worthington, Scott Zukowski
Participating artists: Edgar Arceneaux, Kelly Barrie, Jesse Benson, Joseph Biel, Ion Birch, Derek Boshier, Andrea Bowers, Kristin Calabrese, Matthew Chambers, Tami Demaree, Harry Dodge, Sean Dower, Tim Ebner, Charles Gaines, Tanya Haden, Isabell Heimerdinger, Steven Hull, Phung Huynh, Glenn Ligon, Jonathan Monk, John Monn, Beatriz Monteavaro, Kaz Oshiro, Hiroki Otsuki, Renee Petropoulos, Jerry Phillips, Gail Pickering, Yuval Pudik, James Pyman, Colin Roberts, Marcos Rosales, Matt Saunders, Thaddeus Strode, Gail Swanlund, Henry Taylor, Dani Tull, Marnie Weber
Participating writers: Aimee Bender, Varina Bleil, Annie Buckley, Sean Dungan, Ben Ehrenreich, Amy Gerstler, Riley Harvill, Marsha Hopkins, Vincent Johnson, Stanya Kahn, Mark Kamine, Jim Krusoe, Rachel Kushner, Thomas Lawson, Simon Leung, Wayne Lindberg, Stewart Lindh, Douglas A. Martin, Marisol Limon Martinez, Tom McCarthy, Jacob Melchi, Claudia Milian, Lee Montgomery, Rheana Rafferty, Nelly Reifler, Pamela August Russell, Jamie Schwartz, Matthew Sharpe, Kevin P. Smith, Christopher Sorrentino, Georgina Starr, Lynne Tillman, James Wagner, Benjamin Weissman, Tony White, Millie Wilson, Mary Woronov, Mary Younakof