Packing up 900 pairs of glasses for delivery via the USPS is no easy task, but anything is possible with a little (or a lot of) help from your friends.
On a recent Thursday night in San Francisco’s Mission District, dozens of people congregated in the Southern Exposure gallery for a “wrapping party.” The event is like “going to an art opening, but you’re given something to do,” says Jonn Herschend, one of the evening’s hosts and a co-founder of the as-yet-unwrapped object in question: the latest issue of The Thing, an experimental periodical “in the form of an object” that goes out to subscribers worldwide.
As far as unpaid manual labor goes, this was pretty fun. There was beer. There was cake. All to celebrate The Thing’s second birthday. And there were piles of cardboard boxes, into which partygoers packed dark-rimmed eyeglasses designed by Jonathan Lethem, author of Motherless Brooklyn, among other books. Lethem’s glasses, which are Issue 7 of The Thing, had a cryptic message imprinted on the shiny plastic arms: “Will you know a chaldron when you see one? With these glasses you will know a true one.”
Confused? That’s OK. The Thing, created in 2007 by Herschend and fellow Bay Area artist Will Rogan, is meant to be puzzling. Herschend met Rogan in 2004 and they bonded over their shared love of objects and text. (Rogan was a librarian for five years, and Herschend taught English in a high school). They began fantasizing about starting a quarterly publication — which they envisioned as a series of “useful” objects, each incorporating words and designed by a different contributor. Southern Exposure executive director Courtney Fink helped them jump-start the project with a $1,000 grant and gallery space for their launch party. Issue 1 was a rolling window shade silk-screened with handwriting by the filmmaker and artist Miranda July.
Jonathan Lethem was their dream contributor. “We’ve always been enamored of his work,” says Rogan. “He uses words in a very physical way.” So when he agreed to create the current issue, the team was thrilled. With the help of designers Matt Singer, formerly of Jack Spade, and Selima Salaun, of Selima Optique, Lethem masterminded the glasses, their dashing blue case, and an enclosed “Care & Maintenance” document offering such enlightening factoids as: “A chaldron is like an opera pouring from a flea’s mouth.” (By the way, a “chaldron” is an imaginary object and the subject of Lethem’s latest novel, Chronic City.)
“This is my favorite issue,” enthused Rogan grinning as he watched the attendees busily boxing up the 900 spectacles. “But then again, every new issue is my favorite.”
thethingquarterly.com; $200 annually, for four issues. Lethem’s eyeglasses, called the Chaldron Optical System, are available online and in stores.
Six Ways to Convince Your Friends To Provide Free Labor
The Thing tested tips for getting help when you really need it.
1 Make your event sound fun, even if it’s as mundane as moving.
2 The promise of food and drink is a necessity; pizza and beer are always powerful motivators.
3 Play music. Rogan and Herschend usually set up a record player, and ask guests to bring their favorite records.
4 Don’t micromanage the event; giving attendees a chance to figure out the best way to accomplish the goal makes it more fun for everyone.
5 Be sure to return the favor whenever and wherever possible!
6 Documentation. Tell friends that they are going to be part of an online journal you’re keeping, whether documenting your process of moving, addressing wedding invites, or cooking for a party of 10. Be sure to actually document the event, and share it with attendees afterward.
Nine Things That Inspire Rogan and Herschend
1 The now-defunct Aspen: a multimedia magazine in a box, published between 1965 and 1971, with guest editors and designers that included Andy Warhol.
2 The bookseller Steven Leiber, who sells artist objects and ephemera from the 60′s and 70′s. stevenleiberbasement.com.
3 Objects that people use throughout their lifetime (or at least 10 years).
4 McSweeney’s The Believer magazine and Wholphin, a DVD magazine put out by McSweeney’s.
5 The Curiosity Shoppe, a quirky and beautifully curated San Francisco store. curiosityshoppeonline.com.
6 Printed Matter, Inc., a shop in New York that sells artist projects and publications. printedmatter.org.
7 Records as objects.
8 Artists who use text such as Glasgow artist David Shrigley (also for his humor).
9 Books as objects.