WRECK THIS JOURNAL: An interview with Keri Smith

By Elia Maqueda. September 24, 2012


Some might still not know how lucky we are that Keri Smith has finally reached Spain. For many years, this guerrilla Canadian has been stirring up her world and, while she is at it, the world of all those who get close to her bomb-books. Wreck this Journal is the example of how the word of mouth can take from one language to another and how, with a few translations and some apps, you can conquer the digital world from the springboard of the analogue, the handmade and, above all, eagerness.

It’s time to wake up from our naps into the creativity we all have hibernating somewhere inside our organism.

Wreck this Journal has just been released in Spain and Korea and keeps selling greatly in many places. In your opinion, what is the key to success in the publishing business in our days?

Create something you believe in and let the work speak for itself. Don't do anything "to make money". People are tired of being marketed to, they are tired of advertising and see through all of that. Be genuine, be authentic, come to the table with as much integrity as possible. Give the book away to people who cannot afford it, do not worry about how it will affect "sales". Wreck this Journal became popular solely through word of mouth.

Also, you have prepared a special packet for teachers so they can use your books in the classroom. What's your opinion on current education methods regarding creative matters?

In the US there is very little emphasis placed on the arts and in many places they are non existent in the schools. It is up to the teachers now to work creative thinking into their curriculums. So I feel it is imperative to do things to help get some subversive teaching methods into the classrooms. By subversive teaching methods I mean open ended thinking, looking at things from different perspectives, true experimentation, non-traditional methods. I would like art classes to merge with science classes, I would like creative thinking techniques to be applied to math and geography. There is much more fun to be had in school!

As an illustrator and designer, how do you see the relationship between form and content in the publishing industry? To what extent do you take part in the editing process?

For me work form and content are deeply connected. I am always trying to find ways to look at the book form from a variety of angles and somehow reinvent it (This is Not a Book). I am very involved in the editing process and work collaboratively with my editor.

In your book The Guerrilla Art Kit, you teach us how to generate revolutionary artworks and advertising pieces. Why 'guerrilla'? What do you feel we struggle with in our daily life?

In modern urban society we have lost a sense of ownership and control of our public spaces. We have no choice about what we look at when we walk by a billboard or a bus stop, we are forced to view advertising on virtually every surface, even park benches. The simple act of putting something out into the world for others to see helps us to connect with our environment and not feel estranged from it. It gives us a feeling of ownership while also putting our own message out into the world (sometimes subverting other messages in the process). Why is it okay that we have to look at advertising without being asked and yet street art is still considered a criminal act? In my book I do encourage people to work in non-permanent and non-destructive mediums. To me it is often more interesting when a work is non-permanent because it creates a need to release attachment to outcome.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

Buckminster Fuller, Italo Calvino, Bruno Munari, David Abram, The Situationists, Georges Perec, Gaston Bachelard, Fluxus, Emily Carr, John Cage.

Another great book of yours is How to Be an Explorer of the World, in which you set the reader on secret missions. Could you give some tips to be a true explorer of this modern world we live in?

-Ignore everything you've been taught.
-Educate yourself
-Consider the imagination as the most important source of information
-be non-conformist (pay no attention to trends). Buckminster Fuller said, "I am convinced that creativity is a priori to the integrity of the universe and that life is regenerative and conformity meaningless."

You have made a remarkable incursion in the digital world by turning Wreck this Journal into the great Wreck this App. Are you more of a digital or an analog person? (We truly hope you are both :)

I am definitely both, with a leaning more toward the analogue side. I feel it is a bit of a duty to try and influence the digital world in a positive way, (there is a lot of crap out there). So I am working to make some apps that are hopefully a bit more thought provoking and soulful.

How do you think your books help people? And what kind of people can they help?

Our culture teaches us that there is a standard that is most desirable and that things that are imperfect are less desirable. You can also see this applied to the emotional realm -- dark, ugly, or negative emotions are deemed dysfunctional; if we are not happy, we need to take a pill to feel better. So we all grow up with some kind of ideal that really has nothing to do with our personal beliefs or reality (accepting what actually exists and saying, "I am not perfect, and that is okay").

Over time we create a set of standards that none of us can possibly live up to, and so we have a tendency to beat ourselves up or become critical with much of what we attempt (which leads to depression). The goal for me at some point became to examine those imperfections, in the emotional realm but also in my creative life. I used to become frustrated when I would make a mistake (failure) or when a drawing didn't turn out the way I had intended. This is a natural part of creating, but I wanted to consider what would happen if I approached it from the perspective that those imperfections are not just beautiful but actually the thing necessary to make my work unique.

This is where the need to treat everything as an experiment came in. If you watch children creating, they often treat everything as an exercise where everything that happens is just a part of the exploration process (not a means to an end). It is adults that place value on the final product; children see it more as a journey -- "What if I add blue to the page?" Through my own research process I was introduced to the work of John Cage, who in his own work had tried to incorporate the concept of indeterminacy, a process by which the control of the artist is given over to some other means (decisions are determined by chance operations, such as dice, I Ching, or randomness). I became interested in this concept as a way for [me] to let go and not have to control the work.

At first I played around with not controlling the medium as much, letting ink wander and roll around the page, adding water, dropping things. Then it evolved into letting work become altered by outside influences, weather, etc. (letting the work be influenced by the place I was working in) and more recently incorporating happenstance, finding objects out in the world. All of these exercises were used in Wreck This Journal, and I continue to work with them on a daily basis. So to answer your question, my books are for people with perfectionist tendencies.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I have begun to venture into some different mediums (though I will never move away from the book completely). I have recently created a public installation piece for a show called Urban Play in Copenhagen. I am working now to install the same piece in North America. In ten years I hope to be writing more books, working in a variety of mediums, and working on reforming education in America.

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