CHRISTOPHER MICHLIG & JAN TUMLIR
Some Like it Cold
30 September – 28 October 2017
In 1965, shortly after the release of his influential book Understanding Media, Marshall McLuhan was approached by the publisher Jerome Agel with this challenge: “Do you believe that a children’s book could be developed from Understanding Media?” The outcome, which appeared in 1967, is the profusely illustrated The Medium Is the Massage, an audacious experiment in the conveyance of difficult thought via innovative art direction and layout. Produced in close collaboration with the designer Quentin Fiore, McLuhan’s core ideas are here distilled into a series of compelling sound-bites, which are then juxtaposed with a range of pictorial material, much of it culled from the pages of the daily papers and magazines. Throughout it, typography turns pictographic. If the first book already reads as a kind of final communiqué from the “Gutenberg Galaxy,” as McLuhan dubbed the media order that was set into place with the invention of movable type and the printing press in the mid-fifteenth century, then its sequel pushes insistently toward the next stage, rethinking the form of the book on the whole as a device of visual literacy.
The Medium Is the Massage is the point of departure for SOME LIKE IT COLD, a suite of 63 street posters produced by Jan Tumlir and Christopher Michlig. Those words of McLuhan’s most prone to “jump off the page” of the book were sent to Tribune Showprint, a commercial poster printing shop founded in Indiana in 1878, to reformat in letterpress type-blocks atop grounds of silkscreened color in any way they saw fit. Thereafter, several more layers of information were added by Tumlir and Michlig to the results they received back in the mail. Some of these additions reinforce McLuhan’s original thoughts, and some undermine them. Basically, SOME LIKE IT COLD is an attempt to answer to The Medium Is the Massage across the divide of a half-century.
The Medium Is the Massage turned fifty years old this year, which lends a certain formal urgency to this re-visitation. In regard to the evolution of media technology fifty years is a very long time, several lifetimes. But what of the children that were initially envisioned as the first responders to McLuhan’s book, now drifting toward their silver years? Is any of the optimism inherent in that account of a dawning “communication age” salvageable here and now? And what, more generally, are we to make of our massaging by media in this post-idealistic and paradoxical stage of disaster capitalism? As it happens, the word “massage” was introduced as a printing error into the title of a book that would otherwise have straightforwardly reproduced McLuhan’s dictum, “the medium is the message.” Enthusiastically ratified by its author – “Leave it alone!” he reportedly exclaimed at the time; “It’s great, and right on target!” – this inadvertent substitution of a single letter completes the thought that there are in fact no discrete messages in media, just as there are no discrete mediums. “The ‘content’ of any medium,” McLuhan would later claim, “is always another medium.” The works in SOME LIKE IT COLD follow from this still relevant insight, poised on the fulcrum of the “mass-age” and the “mess-age.”
For more information please contact Susan Sherrick or Brian Butler at 323.938.5822