Rob: So the show is both contemporary and historical. It looks at how the present has arrived for us. Even though the show has a location as its organizing factor, it seems like that location is actually almost a conceptual idea. I was thinking about the California Tourism Board's slogan, "Living the Dream."
Brendan: Yeah, 'designed in California' isn't a style, it's an attitude, it's a state of mind.
Justin: We have a very clear theme, which is “tools of personal liberation.” The idea is that California has specialized in democratizing technologies, making corporate and military technologies useful and empowering to the individual. It starts with things like LSD and geodesic domes, which are really tools of the hippie movement and the counterculture, but which began life in laboratories and as structural systems that were fairly arcane. LSD frees your perception, it's a tool of consciousness. The geodesic dome becomes this symbol of an alternative, non-hierarchical society.
This then morphs into the hacker culture and the computer culture in the late ’70s and 1980s. The show charts the ways in which the ideology of the counterculture finds a new direction and a new group of people. Some of the earlier utopian impulses take on more technological and capitalistic drives.
Brendan: We tried to divide the show into different forms of empowerment or different kinds of abilities. We have the five sections: Say what you want, See what you want, Go where you want, Make what you want, and Join who you want. We wanted to acknowledge that these things are trying to expand the users’ possibilities in different fields of life. Movement, perception, expression, community, and connection become social and design principles at once.
Justin: If you look at the marketing of all the tools through the 1980s to today, this idea of portable computing, of mobility, of the freedom to be able to do anything, anywhere, it's a recurring mantra.
Rob: Could you each point to a highlight from one of these sections and dive a little more deeply into its inclusion in the show?
Brendan: One of the first things you see when you walk into the exhibition space is Power Up, which is a silkscreen print by Sister Corita Kent. She was a practicing nun who pioneered a politically-charged form of pop art. She collaged together slogans from advertisements and scripture and speeches and newspaper articles and images from magazines. Power Up is one of her most famous works which is originally taken from an oil advertisement from the ’60s, but it obviously precedes and is perfectly in harmony with language about powering up your computer, for example.
There are also important artifacts from the Free Speech Movement (FSM) at UC Berkeley. We have a speech by the leader of FSM Mario Savio from the mid ’60s that speaks out against reducing people to punch cards at a time when computers were mainframes the size of rooms and belonged to governments and corporations, not individuals. The FSM used punch cards to write protest messages, and these are in the show. Some of these questions and concerns have echoes in the present day.
We also have the original gay pride flag by Gilbert Baker who recently passed away—it was introduced in California, but it has global, even universal relevance now. In that same section we have, for instance, copies of Ray Gun magazine by David Carson and examples of April Greiman’s work, which are not political in their messages, but in terms of the way they look and the arguments they make about how a magazine should look, they are demanding and celebrating freedom of expression.