This series of Riso printed posters is part of a project study, Other Pasts. This project required deep involvement with different sources of archives. The final result came in the form of an exhibition.
Text by Kaisa Lassinaro (Visual Communication Design designer-in-residence): Other Pasts has been turning on the archive, finding clues and hints, recycling the past and making it anew, sensing their way across many o’formats of uncoated paper sheets, resting their eyes in wonder on the brighter than the sun inks, coming across the wonders of Kontula (open for those who know how to look), awed by the imagination in the smuggled drawings of the red prisoners and the feeling embedded in pioneer children’s fanzines.
WHO WILL MISS YOU WHEN YOU'RE GONE? SKETCHBOOKS AS ARCHIVES
By Amy R. Gelera
Externalizing thoughts is the key to creativity as a process. This mostly happens in chambers of secrets we like to call sketchbooks. Sketchbooks are a free space, where you are allowed to experiment, hide, unravel, express, process, fail and repeat it all again. Anyone who has at some point made use of a sketchbook as an outlet will understand how we can consider sketchbooks as creative diaries. We will most likely engage on a personal level with our sketchbooks–this is one of the reasons why it is hard to pry a sketchbook out of its owner’s hands. We hold tight on to them, for some of us, this is our safe space and the place where you can find our thoughts at their rawest and most vulnerable. Naturally, while doing this research, it was hard to find a sketchbook that was not in some way edited or curated for publication, which clearly reflects the privacy surrounding sketchbooks as more than objects.
Stefan Bucher once said: “The beautiful thing about graphic design is that your failures are private–people are only going to see what you want them to see.” This applies to a greater spectrum outside of graphic design and also for actions other than ‘failing’. The content inside of our sketchbooks works as the machinery behind the polished outcome we allow people to see. In addition, sketchbooks are key to avoid the homogenization of creative work throughout different fields. The originality that the use of our hands allows in a sketchbook combined with our directly developed rationale is hard to achieve while using technology. Today, this process and the hand-brain connection is more relevant than ever because of the ‘technological dictatorship’ context we are living through.
We should also ponder upon the purpose of a sketchbook after being used. We are all archives. We keep things in our memory and recall experiences and encounters from time to time. We keep track and record things while our health permits us. However, what is left behind when we are gone? I suggest we look at sketchbooks as archives of ideas and origins. They act as a record of subconsciousness and rationale. Sketchbooks are windows into thoughts and ideas that are in a way product of their time and context. The importance of keeping a sketchbook is amplified by its value in the future space and time, we go back to them for reference and, at times, guidance. Even more so, when we are not able to go back to them anymore because we fail to exist, there will be a portion of our mind and subconsciousness that will last longer than us–as humans– in the material world. It might seem exaggerated, but one could argue that the content found inside of sketchbooks lays down the basis for creative legacy. Perhaps, subconsciously, that is the reason behind why we are so afraid to make the first stroke on a new and blank sketchbook.
The archives created by sketchbooks can mutate from one shape to another. They can become archives of nostalgia, sentiment, functionality, technique, heritage, history, structure, etc. They will take a different shape depending on the eyes that search and interpret them, as their importance and meaning will change according to the place in time they find themselves in. This point is clarified by Carolyn Steedman: “The past is searched for something ... that confirms the searcher in his or her sense of self, confirms them as they want to be, and feel in some measure that we already are ... [but] the object has been altered by the very search for it ... what has actually been lost can never be found. This is not to say that nothing is found, but that thing is always something else, a creation of the search itself and the time the search took.” The utility of a sketchbook as an archive depends on the personality that has made use of it. It might depend on whether you are Egon Schiele, which implies that your creative process and sketches (and perhaps secrets) will be exposed and traded across the art market and finally end up scanned and incorporated into a heavy book which will be sold across the world. It might depend on whether you are a mother, who used to write and illustrate in secret about poems and feelings, which could bring a new perspective to the generations behind you.
Death brings a new perspective and value to the importance of sketchbooks as archives. It forces us to look at questions we wouldn’t have looked at otherwise. In some cultures, death is revisited by taking a rotting body out of their coffin. Can death be revisited through sketchbooks? Can we visit what we thought were dying thoughts, unrealized dreams or visions of the future? But most importantly, should we? Perhaps, I should warn you before you keep on reading expectantly, that I don’t have the answer (yet). It is hard to pinpoint the place where we overstep our boundaries. The dealing, trading, marketing, exposing and usage of creative diaries and archives may have gone overboard at times. We take our right to know for granted. We believe that we must know the secrets that will allow us to understand ‘brilliant’ minds and bizarre ideas. This also relates to the glorification of prominent figures in the creative fields; does the access to their personal creative archives amplifies the myth of creatives as geniuses–as owning a so-called God-given-talent? Or does it make them more human and relatable to us? Does the access to archives of ideas inspire us and our own creative processes and is that enough of a reason to invade their raw and unedited thoughts?
However, aren’t archives meant to be visited? Archives are suspended in time, but do they ever cease to exist if they aren’t used in some way? What is the use of creative archives if they aren’t brought to life, even just by being seen? Where lies the creative legacy then? It is also worth mentioning the value of sketchbooks in history and research; the use of creative archives in this sense has brought great contributions and revelations to several academic and creative fields. There is an almost never ending string of questions attached between ethics and function when it comes to the archives of ideas. I suggest this to be a call to reflect through our own practice and use of archives, to think about their value in the past and future space and time, as we are still able to move through it and think about the possibilities of when we no longer are.