Saturday, March 26, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 51 (Julian Montague)

Montague, Julian
The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America:
A Guide to Field Identification

As you can see, we have a guested photo this morning. In it, we see the artist Julian Montague holding a copy of his book, The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification. He is sitting in his studio on the West Side of Buffalo, wearing a blue shirt and donning his stylish Danish architect spectacles. The copy of the book he holds in his hand is his own.

As his name approached on my bookcase, I realized that I no longer owned a copy of the book, which I had purchased when it first came out. I am sure I gave it to someone. I am pretty sure I gave it to a visiting poet passing through town. I have no idea who it was. So I asked Julian to take a photo himself and send it along. Think of it as a sort of bookmark until I buy another copy.

In my daydreams I sometimes imagine someone somewhere will decide that this project has some monetary value. In one version of the fantasy, I get a phone call on the day I reach the last letter in the alphabet. On the other end of the line is a book collector interested in purchasing my whole library for a cool million dollars. Imagine how valuable Julian's book would suddenly become? The collector would then have to seek out the artist and make him a separate offer in order to complete the collection. I would only ask for a small commission, say ten percent. That's fair isn't it?

Anyhow, I have known Julian nearly a decade. He does almost all of the graphic design work for Just Buffalo. He's an amazing designer. You should hire him.

You can check out his art and his design work here:

Julian also runs a blog called Daily Book Graphics, whose idea was inspired in part by Aimless Reading. He each day posts scans of interesting book covers in his library. After doing it for about a year, he stumbled into an idea for a new conceptual art project designing fake book covers inflected with 60's era paperback design aesthetics. Each looks like a book from that era but has a partly cheeky title alluding to some imagined theme related to insects. I aspire to some day be credited as the author of one of these fake books.

Julian also has the distinction of being the designer of my book, Human Scale. We drove out to a beach in Hamburg, NY a few winters back, where Julian took photos of me wandering around on the frozen parts of the lake. One of these photos became the cover, another the author photo. He also designed all of the illustrations and set the type. It's a pretty nice looking book, if I do say so myself.

Last year, Julian had a show at the Black-and-White Gallery in Brooklyn that required him to build a structure in a courtyard at the gallery. He came to my house and tore down the tattered old shed in the back yard, which he then transported to Brooklyn, where he reconstructed it as part of his installation. Afterward, he gave the shed to the next artist showing at the gallery, who cut it into pieces he used to construct a sculpture.

I saw Julian just last night, in fact. We talked about the new suit I was wearing.

from The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America

Over the last several decades, the stray shopping cart has quietly become an integral part of the urban and suburban landscapes of the industrialized world. To the average person, the stray shopping cart is most often thought of as a signifier of urban blight or as an indicator of a consumer society gone too far. Unfortunately, the acceptance of these oversimplified designations has discouraged any serious examination of the stray shopping cart phenomenon.

Until now, the major obstacle that has prevented people from thinking critically about stray shopping carts has been that we have not had any formalized language to differentiate one shopping cart from another.

In order to encourage a more nuanced and comprehensive understanding of the phenomenon, I have worked for the past six years to develop a system of identification for stray shopping carts. Unlike a Linaean taxonomy, which is based on the shared physical characteristics of living things, this system works by defining the various states and situations in which stray shopping carts can be found. The categories of classification were arrived at by observing shopping carts in different situations and considering the conditions and human motives that have placed carts in specific situations and the potential for a cart to transition from one situation to another.

The resulting Stray Shopping Cart Identification System consists of two classes and thirty-three subtypes that can be used singly or in combination to describe and thereby “identify” any found cart. One of the unfortunate difficulties in implementing a situational taxonomy of this kind is that one is often required to speculate about where a cart is coming from and where it is going next. While this uncertainty can at times be vexing, it must be remembered that this system is the first attempt to categorize and analyze the transient nature of the shopping cart. The refinement of this system is an ongoing process.

This book is a starting point for those interested in understanding and becoming sensitive to a dynamic part of their environment. Whether used in the field or simply read at home, this book will quickly give the amateur cart observer the tools needed to identify the stray shopping carts in his or her area.

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