From February 2017

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The New Yorker’s February anniversary cover by artist John W Tomac is beautiful and profound: it speaks directly to the fear and uncertainty of our present moment. That said, with much respect for Tomac’s elegant statement, I felt like an obvious alternative storyline needed addressing:

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Tomac’s New Yorker cover (left), Wofford’s revision (right)

It’s important to acknowledge the frustration and helplessness that many are feeling right now, which is what Tomac’s image does so poignantly. Still, my personal sense is that in order to feel empowered to take action, it’s equally vital to keep envisioning the courage to move forward. By tweaking one iconic image and pairing it unexpectedly with another iconic image, this is just a quick, nerdy example of how new possibilities can emerge. The mere hint of something looking like a lightsaber in my version at right automatically creates a kind of neural shortcut to other associations.

Beyond my own 5 minutes of fun with Photoshop, it’s been interesting watching the many ways that artists and activists are presently harnessing the power of existing pop culture, cinema, comedy and all manner of embedded Jungian-hero tropes in their imagery and narratives to bolster their messages.

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To me, what’s present in the best of this maelstrom of creative output and serious silliness is a profound sense of hope, and a willingness to undertake this journey– not naïveté or optimism in some blank sense, but hope in the very specific sense expressed in this brief essay by the great Václav Havel, another improbable president of an entirely different ilk: it’s wise and absurd in all of my favorite ways.

Never Hope Against Hope, Václav Havel*, Esquire Magazine, 1993

(*Confusing byline in link, but this is Esquire’s 2011 repost of Havel’s essay. Original 1993 scan here. If you know any Czech history, the year this was originally published only adds to its potency.)

Hope in this deep and powerful sense is not the same as joy when things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather an ability to work for something to succeed. Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It’s not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. It is this hope, above all, that gives us strength to live and to continually try new things, even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now. In the face of this absurdity, life is too precious a thing to permit its devaluation by living pointlessly, emptily, without meaning, without love, and, finally, without hope.

Vaclav Havel, 1990. Tomki Nemec
Vaclav Havel, Dec 14, 1990. photograph: Tomki Nemec

Kala opening reception

Below, a few pics from last Thursday’s opening reception for the Print Public exhibition at Kala Art Institute. Since my project is actually still in its nascent stages, my contribution to the show is more of a premise than a presentation. With everything that’s been going on these past few months, safety has been very much on my mind, and so this theme is how my project will now unfold.

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So. As an introductory exercise at the reception, visitors were invited to take a #safetyselfie in my space, holding up a paper detailing some simple actions they’re undertaking to feel safer these days.

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I decided to kick this project off with 2 large illustrations of Kala’s 2 nearby fire stations. While there’s no guarantee that anyone from either fire station will in fact collaborate with me on my Print Public project, I felt like these images would set a good tone, either way. I liked the idea of setting these 2 strong, hard boxes in a dreamy, inviting environment to convey a sense of stability, calm, courage, protection and hope.

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I also painted out my corner of the gallery in a palette of magenta, purple and yellow to add to this sense of a safe, but energized, environment.

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Beyond these initial 2 prints and this paint job, I’ll continue to use this area as a stage set, workshop space and evolving installation over the course of the exhibition. Stay tuned.