Upon viewing “The 1,000 Journals Project” at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, I thought of chickens and eggs.
Launched by San Francisco graphic designer Brian Singer in 2000, the project sent out one thousand, 220-page blank notebooks across 40 countries and all 50 states with the intention of fostering a global creative community among strangers. Each notebook came stamped with a set of instructions, inviting participants to add whatever they wanted to its pages and then to pass it on.
Ten years later, the journals have struck a chord. It seems that in the epoch of user-generated content sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Current TV, The 1,000 Journals Project resonates. An interactive website has been launched, where anyone can create, browse, scan and upload new journals. In this manner over 3,666 diaries have been created — both online and off. In 2007, the project was the subject of a feature length documentary, which screened at film festivals around the globe. And in 2010 it debuted in a renowned museum in America’s second largest metropolis, where 15 of the original journals are on view until February 2011.
View a slideshow from ‘The 1,000 Journals Project’:
In the journals in the exhibit, entries range from the banal to the extraordinary. Crayon scribbles precede elaborate collages, which follow sophomoric poetry, which precede chaotic watercolors — and so on and so forth. No two pages are alike. To celebrate the phenomenon and continue the project, the Skirball Center commissioned 10 Los Angeles artists to design covers for new journals. Stations at the museum equipped with raw materials allow visitors to add their own musings to the current batch.
Perhaps the most fascinating thing about the journals is that so many people (myself included) dislodged themselves from their computer screens to contribute. Paper, paint, pencils, glue, tape: It all seems so quaint compared to possibilities available with an Android or an iPhone. Even The New Yorker features cover art made on digital contraptions. And yet, these basic products, when given an artistic end, manage to viscerally connect with their viewers.
Which brings us back to poultry and their unhatched fetuses. What came first, the limitless social networking of the Internet age, or our desire to project ourselves to the world? The 1,000 Journals Project seems like a physical, ‘off-line’ iteration of Internet sharing sites. The project’s basic assumption — that lurking inside everyone is an artist waiting to create and connect — seems like a product of today’s obsession with individuality.
But after examining the journals and adding to them, it’s clear that there’s something innately human about wanting to share ourselves with the wider world. Documenting our banal existence was a human preoccupation long before Mark Zuckerberg came along. Unlike Facebook, the journals are essentially ephemeral. Sure, we write ourselves into the unknown for the sake of posterity. But we just as soon toss these books to the wind, entrusting them to strangers, never to be seen again.