SOPHIA JENNINGS, creative director
For the first week of this year’s Senior Art Theses, Alex Ginsberg stood in the North Gallery of the CFA with his headphones on. There, for five hours a day, for five days in a row, he tweeted. On a Vandercook letterpress.
The first time I ever heard the name Alex Ginsberg was, appropriately, via text. In a message from Gabe Gordon, also a Studio Art major, the senior was described as “doing v cool stuff with typography and printmaking and also performance kind of”. Well, readers, not only is Alex Ginsberg doing “v cool stuff” with typography, printmaking, and performance. He’s also just v. cool. And v. cute. And, (unfortunately), v. not single.
“I wanted to create a performance that investigates how language is produced and consumed in a digital age,” he said about his thesis, titled @Gutenberg. “And I wanted people to laugh.”
On the first day, about 150 visitors came to the gallery. For an afternoon they walked around, watching Alex, as he picked letter by letter to print his original tweets, his head down. The process was slow. After printing, he took each sheet and hung them by a pully around his machine. “Our only interaction was through the tweets,” explained Ariel Jacobson, a junior who visited the gallery. “He was in his own world.”
This wasn't due to Alex’s acting. When I first met him, he offered me a cup of tea, folded a sheet of paper in six different ways, and then jumped up to grab a box he’d made-all in the first five minutes. It was quickly evident that he was a boy who liked to do things with his hands.
When he took his first typography class sophomore year, he was, in his words, blown away. “I thought, ‘This is something I could get lost in,” he said. “The machinery and the industrialization of the process is something I don’t get anywhere else.”
Growing up in Lexington, Massachusetts, Alex never considered applying to art school. Nor did he ever consider majoring in Studio Art. And he definitely never thought he’d end up a double major with Anthropology, a subject he’s not totally sure he can define.
Even today, Alex doesn’t call himself an artist. Nor does he call himself a designer. And he definitely doesn’t know how to talk to people who do. “I have a difficulty being around artists sometimes,” he claims. “The conversation just naturally becomes so weighty and so dull. That’s not who I am at all.”
This Fall, after spending his Junior Spring in Rome, Alex took a course on Youth Cultures, writing a paper specifically on Twitter. His account, @aeginsberg has an open profile, and, after running in to Alex at the gym, I was pleased to find his tweet about the girl working out next to him. “OMG just saw her phone – listening to the remix with B.O.B. 4 RTs and imma live-tweet her entire elliptical dance routine”.
Abroad, Alex was exposed to different ways of mixing old and new practices. “You’ll find nothing in America nearly as old as what you’ll find in Rome,” he reminisced. “By the end, it felt normal to go to the Pantheon and see seven year olds throwing ice-cream at each other.”
It was Professor Schorr, the beloved Studio Art professor, who listened to Alex’s ideas, about the machines and about social media, eventually persuading him to look towards a performance. “The things I was talking about, he suggested I just bring them into the gallery. And then from there everything became clear.”
Defining typography as “how language is consumed”, Alex saw his project as an opportunity to use Twitter as a foil to explore the role of the letterpress. And vice versa, he saw the letterpress as a foil to present Twitter. In reality, the two practices differ in almost every aspect. “Tweets are like little pixels in space with zero tactility,” Alex explained. “What I love about the letterpress is it’s so deeply rooted in tactility.”
During his show, as soon as he’d finish printing a tweet, the audience would convene around the newest sheet, laughing and grabbing their phones. “It’s like what happens on the internet if some big name posts a tweet -- everybody goes crazy for it,” he described. Using the Vandercook was, in Alex’s words, a “funny way” of recreating the experience in the physical world. “To be honest,” he said, “the whole reason I’m majoring in art is because I love these machines.”
Many of the tweets in Alex’s exhibition were personifications of the Vandercook. Others were tweets updating his audience on things going on in the room --“Hip girl leanin on the wall like Weezy c.09.’” The “hip girl,” after she saw the tweet, took a photo on her iPhone and then tweeted it with the hashtag #AEGthesis2014. Later, Alex retweeted her.
When his parents visited on opening day, Alex noticed his mom whispering. He responded by tweeting, “This isn’t a library #mom.” Soon she was one of the loudest in the gallery, asking Alex’s best friend what her son meant by the word “hater”. “I totally wanted people to be loud and rambunctious,” he admitted. “Not like normal gallery behavior.”
While tweeting is a silent process, the letterpress is not. By using the letterpress and tweeting (occasionally ridiculous) tweets that caused eruptions of laughter, Alex introduced his audience to the juxtaposition between old and new practices in terms of both touch and sound.
When the gallery was empty, Alex had to get creative. “A lot of the idea of tweets as word vomit was conveyed,” he admitted. “I think I had 170 tweets and 100 of them were just about my stomach or my bladder.”
While the content of his tweets may have been funny, the way he arranged the sheets was not. By working eight hours for two of his days and breaking only once a day to eat a sandwich, Alex tweeted enough sheets to reach the top of the gallery. There, the tweets were illegible, just dangling white squares lit up by the late March sun. This idea came from the one thing that Rome and the letterpress have in common: God.
The letterpress, invented by Johannes Gutenberg around 1439, was first made to print copies of the Bible. “So if you believe that God literally wrote the Bible, then each time the letterpress is printing a page, you have a block of God’s words, which,” according to Alex, “is really funny.”
And Rome, of course, is home to many notable cathedrals. “I really liked the extreme verticality [of Gothic cathedrals], the fact that they go up to where things become illegible,” Alex said. “I really like the feeling of just overwhelming height.”
As he kept at his letterpress hour after hour, Alex created a performance about the silent and instant process of creating and receiving information in today’s modern world. Yatta Zoker, a Film Major, was most impressed by how Alex used performance to approach Twitter. “I thought it was really interesting to see what he did with his body,” she explained. “Plus I liked seeing the flippant language on precious paper.” Following the show, Alex was pleased by the reactions of his audience, both in how they interacted with his tweets in person and online.
“It came together in a way that honestly I was not expecting at all,” He said. “I wasn’t expecting people to have the reactions that they had, for it to look the way it looked.”
Three weeks after Alex and I had our first interview, I sat at Café 56 with Carlos Sanchez, another Studio Art major with a design thesis. When I mentioned Alex, Carlos gasped. “Oh my god,” he said, dropping his fork in his Huevos Rancheros. “Have you seen his Twitter?”