Some people made a bunch of shirts, and nobody knew what they were doing or how they would turn out. Also we made some posters.

Thirty mystery shirts were designed using only a list of directions and specifications with a handful of known and unknown variables from some forms we made up. As the forms came back, we dispersed the info to the designers in studio here at w+k Studio. They took that content with no knowledge of who made it, what their intent was, what their form looked like, or any of their directions and specifications, and made a poster. Pretty much everything that we see here today is a surprise.

The project started when I was researching the conceptual art movement of the ’60s and ’70s, trying to cobble together interesting projects for the Typography 2 class that I teach at PNCA. After that, everything spawned from a quote by the artist Sol LeWitt that basically says conceptual art is a bunch of planning and decisions. The work, in a way, is made beforehand through the idea, and the execution is a perfunctory affair. That quote and research evolved into an idea of whether a project could function sort of like a graphic design scratch-and-win. Something where you knew what you were doing, but you had no idea whether you would win or lose. I’ve been a fan of games of chance in graphic design but never really saw anything organized as a gallery show/event for this specific medium and with this specific mix of people. So with the help and input of many people, the general idea was shaped and molded into the project you see today.
        To the right are the exact contents of the packet provided to the participants. This info is just as important as the shirts and posters themselves, so everything is shown together as a single unit on each rack. Each person’s work is the sum of its parts rather than any one individual piece.
        The project as a whole teaches you to embrace the unknown. To be less of a control freak. To be OK with mistakes or inconsistencies. To be more direct and intentional instead of reactionary. To make thoughtful decisions and, in a weird way, try to see into the future with your words.
        Some of the shirts are amazing—formally, conceptually, and aesthetically pretty nice! And some of them are bad—really bad. But bad is relative, especially in today’s meme culture and fashion industry. In the right context the worst shirt could be the best; it all depends on how you look at it. The vernacular quality and inclusive accessibility of the project means that anyone could create this. It’s just a matter of directing the content.

Portland, Oregon