Saturday, April 14, 2007

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I can't remember for sure what I was originally calling this project, when I actually did it. I probably called it my "Jack Chick booklet thing" or something like that. I eventually settled on Standardized Generalized Symbol Language. I designed it in 1997 when I was still living in Gainesville, Florida but I made and distributed it after moving to New York. It was the culmination of three or so years of playing with this very standard, very familiar set of icons. I found them in this gigantic collection of cheesy clip art that came with the vector illustration program CorelDRAW. (I thought CorelDRAW was an awesome program, by the way. It's a vector illustration program and it seemed way better than Illustrator. FreeHand, though, according to the cognoscenti, at least back then, was the best 2D vector illustration program. But, anyway...) By collaging the icons into one another I created a set of mutants. I then used them as material in other projects. Standardized Generalized Symbol Language was the last and probably most successful one.

One of my favorite details about
Standardized Generalized Symbol Language is that it is designed to be reproduced using only a b/w laser printer and standard sheets of 8.5 x 11 office paper. Very importantly it is designed to use all of the paper. There is no trim. Three equally spaced out horizontal cuts are made to the vertical sheet to create the leaves which are arranged then stapled.

Using a b/w laser printer I made and distributed 2000 copies of
Standardized Generalized Symbol Language. They were distributed the way Jack Chick booklets are distributed: I left them in telephone booths, benches, wherever in New York City and London, Winter,1997-98. I was entranced with the idea of someone experiencing the booklet with no context. It's fine with me if only one or two people had this experience.

I did get to witness someone's discovery of the booklet -- once. In fact, unintentionally, I was also a participant. It was late December and I was returning to New York from London
(I was there for a week and I left the booklet pretty much everywhere I went). I just so happened to board the plane first so, after getting settled in my chair, I put one of the booklets in the magazine pouch in front of the seat next to mine. And then I forgot about it. I don't know why but for some reason I thought the cleaning crew would find. Well, two or three hours into the flight, I notice in the corner of my eye (I'm reading a book), that the passenger next to me is digging everything out of the magazine pouch. I mean everything. And then I notice that Standardized Generalized Symbol Language catches his attention. I watch out of the corner of my eye as he slowly looks through the entire booklet. I could not tell for sure but he seemed rather puzzled. A moment or two passed and then he turned to me and asked: "Do you know what this is?" And I of course said "No."But he handed the booklet to me so I pretended to look at the thing the way I might look at something I'd never seen before when it is being placed before my attention. I looked at it slowly. I slowly looked through the entire booklet and then I turned to him and said: "This is really strange." And he said: "Do you think someone is trying to scare me?" I said: "I don't know. I hope not." And he said: "Well, I know people in New York who know about languages and I'm going to show this to them." Earlier, when the flight first took off, we'd had a nice conversation about London and traveling in the U.K.