The 1000 Journals Project is a chain message in a bottle
ART BOOK Any ole body can start a LiveJournal or blog these days with the flick of a mousing finger and a peck on a keyboard. But how many people can undertake a project such as the one documented in The 1000 Journals Project (Chronicle Books, $22.95)? At a time when you can post your thoughts to zillions in an instant, there's still something romantic and risky in the act of taking 1,000 blank books and dropping them like so many inspiring dandelion seeds in bars, cafés, and Muni buses, as San Francisco art instigator Someguy (né Brian Singer) did seven years ago.
It all started after the graphic designer became fascinated by the scribblings on urinal walls. "When I was in college, the art department shared a building with the ROTC, and there would be some very interesting conversations taking place on the bathroom walls," Someguy recalls from a job at Apple in Cupertino. "That was sort of the genesis of The 1000 Journals Project try to figure out what people do when no one is watching and try to get these conversations on paper in some form."
Word of the project spread online, and after launching a site, Someguy began to get e-mail requests for books, which he fulfilled until the 1,000 were gone. Then he began organizing waiting lists.
Surrealists did it with exquisite corpses; punkers shot off mail art from afar. But The 1000 Journals Project is more anonymous, intimate, and unschooled it's a chain message in a bottle, bidding the finder to express him- or herself and pass it on. The product of nameless contributors in more than 40 countries, the volume is by turns grittily beautiful, quirky, and rough-hewn filled with drawings, cartoons, collages, and stitched pages located somewhere between classroom doodles meant for one set of eyes and graffiti scrawl writ small for all the world to see.
Why 1,000? "It was sort of like those turtles running across a beach," Someguy says. "Not all of them are going to make it. It's nearly impossible to get ahold of one nowadays." (Filmmaker Andrea Kreuzhage has managed to trace some participants for a forthcoming documentary.)
Only two completed journals ever made the journey back to Someguy, though while working on the book, he put out a call for partially filled journals, which he scanned and sent back out. "One in the book, Journal 49, was left on a scripture table overlooking a city in Croatia," Someguy remembers. "Someone in London left it in a phone booth, open to a spread saying, 'This is for you.'" And then there were the big question marks: one contributor was held up at gunpoint and had to forfeit a bag containing a journal, and some Midwestern pirate-costumed jokers created a treasure hunt that led to a journal in the maw of a giant turtle statue. "That one," Someguy marvels, "I never heard from again!"