In June of 2009, I was invited to create a month-long piece of art on the Brooklyn Museum's @1stFans Twitter feed. I proposed a project that attempted to draw parallels between Twitter, a modern day social networking tool and Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack, perhaps the original social networking publication.
The full archive can be read here
This piece was included in The Rhizome Artbase at the New Museum.
The following is an expanded statement on the piece:
When I make a new piece of art, the means I use to communicate an idea is equally paramount to the idea itself. When the opportunity arose to make a piece of art for Twitter it sounded like a great challenge. What can be said on a cutting edge information platform, a social network, an apple box in the middle of the town square? What does it mean to be "communicating" not two-way, but more like one and-a-half-way, in short bursts of non sequiturs?
While focusing on a way to mash the past and the future together I started thinking of the history of publishing, in particular American publishing. The first and strongest impulse led me to Benjamin Franklin and his Poor Richard's Almanacks. To me these Almanacks are the one of the first examples of "social networking" on a wide scale. Franklin's publications included not only wit and wisdom from him (and sources not cited) but also serial stories that played out over many years. Many of these stories responded to the feedback from the general audience. That feedback was a device Franklin used, not only to keep readers engaged, but more importantly to get them to purchase the next year's edition.
For Franklin, the cycles of interaction are years long. For Twitter users, they are seconds.
I believe in always building underlying structures to anything I make. Even if they are not apparent to the viewer, I believe having a structure in place can be a major influence on the way the work gets experienced and ingested. It may not be something you ever see or know is in place, but something you feel subconsciously. For this piece my structure is dedicating each day of the month to a different year that the Almanack was published. Franklin published 26 editions of which I am using all of them, from Monday to Saturday of each week. The first post of each day starts with the year of the post as well as the salutation Franklin opened the edition with. Along with that factual information, I publish my first line of the day. "1739. Kind Reader. Industry need not wish."
Each night I review the next days (years) Almanack and make a short list of the maxims and aphorisms I want to use. As the day progresses I make choices from my short list based on many factors: time of day, events happening in the world, etc. I also try to create an arc over each day. If there is a through line to be created, I'll try to connect the dots. It's amazing how thematically, each year's Almanack really tells its own story. It's almost like a portrait of Franklin himself, the things that were on his mind, the things that mattered to him and those he thought should matter to everyone else. Halfway throughout his project, I'm amazed at how his truths are so easily transposed to modern day. It only reinforces to me that nothing ever really does change and that keeping an ear to history can be a good thing.