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First Born

31 July 2006
Monday, 3:05 AM

Through an act of either charity or desperation, Born Magazine allowed me to contribute to its Summer 2006 issue, which launched recently. Having been a great admirer of Born for several years, I was honored to participate.

In its own words, “Born Magazine is an experimental venue marrying literary arts and interactive media. Original projects are brought to life every three months through creative collaboration between writers and artists.” I have always found their use of the term “collaboration” to be slightly misleading, since, in many cases, an artist is given an existing piece of literature to interpret visually, as opposed to the artist and writer working together to create something from scratch. Born does foster those sorts of collaborations in something they call “The Birthing Room,” but, when given the choice, I opted (perhaps cowardly) to work with an existing poem, since it would essentially be client work, the sort of arrangement with which I am already well accustomed.

I couldn’t have asked for a more agreeable or courageous client. Writer Kiki Petrosino, whose fascinating prose poem I didn’t know infants in arms until was to be the subject of my interpretation, gave me free reign. “When I think about it,” she told me, “I’m most interested in viewing your interpretation as a record of how someone else has traveled through my work. The focus that you ultimately take for your interpretation will (with any luck) arise from how the poem connects with you.”

I read her poem as an American regret, the romanticization of a would-be expatriot’s brief time in Italy, whose civilization’s earned character trickles all the way down to its post-consumer waste, while the elements of our narrator’s own national culture remain banal, garish, and vulgar.

The awesome responsibility that came with Kiki’s complete lack of restrictions was daunting, but I luckily had some limitations of my own already in mind. My goal was an elegantly restrained efficiency of expression, which would gently serve and enhance the poem—and its careful choice of words, juxtapositions, and rhythm—without getting in its way.

The poem’s literal content deals mostly with memory, which I decided would be best invoked with simple sound collage, abstract color, and a touch of synchronized animation. In keeping with the restrained, unobtrusive approach, the rest would be handled by pure typography, making the choice of typeface the single most important decision. Considering the theme, a modern revival of a classic Italian type made perfect sense, and when I discovered Vendetta’s postmodern take on Venetian Old Style letterforms, I knew my search had ended.

The final piece is intended to be understated and numbly pensive. I think it does a pretty good job of satisfying those intentions, and I really enjoyed working on it. If you haven’t seen it yet, please take a look and let Kiki and me know what you think.

Filed under: Art/Design, Web

Comments Closed (11)

1. bearskinrug says…  |  31 July 2006 / 6:09 AM

Wonderful interpretation, Rob! The subtle, typographical approach serves the piece quite well — enhancing the text, but not intruding.

2. Jason Santa Maria says…  |  31 July 2006 / 6:51 AM

Yes, quite nice! Did you also create the music and sound effects?

3. Mark Boulton says…  |  31 July 2006 / 7:37 AM


I've not been sure about Vendetta up until this point - I wasn't sure about it's application, partly due to the serif's on the caps which are a bit, well, really old skool (in fact, they can look a bit odd).

However, your choice and application here is stunning. I'll be looking at Vendetta in a different light from now on.

4. Rob Weychert says…  |  31 July 2006 / 9:11 AM

Thanks, gents!

Stan: I did do all the sound mixing (not that it was especially laborious or complicated), mostly from stock sound effects. The music was sampled from an uncharacteristic Aphex Twin piece called “Penty Harmonium.” I wanted to establish a hazily sentimental mood, and this was a rare case of the first idea working best; that piece was perfect.

Mark: Had I really looked into it before now, I would have had the same reservations about Vendetta that you had. Some of its features are downright bizarre and maybe even distracting (particularly the serifs, as you noted). I think it’s a face that just needs the right project, and as far as I was concerned, this was it.

5. Dan Mall says…  |  31 July 2006 / 1:41 PM

Beautiful work! I'm amazed at the amount of restraint in the piece… it's agonizingly interesting. All around a great piece. Congrats Rob.

6. Rob Weychert says…  |  31 July 2006 / 1:55 PM

Thank you, Dan! Ladies and gentlemen, meet Dan Mall, the brain behind the unobtrusive JavaScript on the home page of the Born piece in question. In case you don’t believe me, here is a photo of us working on it together, which proves nothing.

7. Scott Benish says…  |  31 July 2006 / 4:27 PM

It was an act of both charity and desperation!

Seriously though, I think the piece turned out great.

I don't know that the use of the term "collaboration" is misleading exactly, it's just that collaboration takes many forms. Sometimes writers want to let artists run with it and see what comes of it, other times there is a lot of back and forth. I think all these are valid forms of collaboration. Either way, the final piece wouldn't exist without the other person(s).

8. Rob Weychert says…  |  31 July 2006 / 4:37 PM

True enough, Scott, and well said. Collaboration can be validly interpreted in more ways than one.

9. Niff says…  |  01 August 2006 / 10:36 PM

Well..for some reason my internet is being dumb and I can't load the page...but, I am sure it's awesome.

Congrat's to you for getting such a great opportunity Rob!

I will let you know after I actually see it though.

10. David M. says…  |  02 August 2006 / 1:07 AM

Niff, it's not just you—the site is timing out for me, too.

Rob, is there a mirror of the site anywhere else while Born sorts out whatever server trouble they're having? After reading all this, I'm really keen to see the piece!

11. Rob Weychert says…  |  02 August 2006 / 8:28 AM

Hmm. Maybe the Born servers were having some trouble last night, but everything seems to be up and running now, so give it another try!

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