Date: 2014
Client: Self
Work: Collage, construction

What did you learn? What do you still refuse to learn? What has stuck?

Collective Wisdom was a project with an emulsion of influence: fortune cookies, card catalogs, grade school slam books, whispered secrets, shopping lists found in library books, D&D, old movies, and bookshelves with rolling ladders.

I created this project for FIGMENT DC. I couldn’t quite figure out the format at first; I knew I wanted to create something like a community fortune cookie, and I knew that I wanted the fortune to be accessible in some special way, but unknown beforehand and random.

At the suggestion of a friend, I found myself aimlessly wandering through Community Forklift for the answer, and I saw it. A small plastic drawer unit for nuts and bolts. Sitting there, weathered and dusty and filled with invisible stories.

Not a fortune cookie. A card catalog. A card catalog fortune cookie. That was it.




Standard business cards wouldn’t fit inside the little drawers, so the cards needed to be custom made. To do this, I used large sheets of bristol and a collage-and-paint technique that I shamelessly borrowed/stole from the same friend who took me to Community Forklift (thanks, Joe).

I used cut up magazines as the substrate; fragments of our collective history in themselves. I then measured and cut each card by hand.




To start the deck, I scribbled bits of my own grizzled street wisdom — hard won in the dark alleys and barbed-wire pit brawls of suburban Delaware — interspersed with quotes primarily from ’80s movies. I then placed them randomly in the drawers, which I numbered with impossibly tiny labels set with Garamond Oldstyle numerals.




I tucked a set of D20 dice into the top drawer that would be rolled and added to access the random number of the drawer where your fortune lay waiting. A row of blank cards for the bottom, to write your own piece of wisdom and hide it for the next person.

I called it the Automat Sapentia, and labeled it. The label fell off.

To hold the thing, I poorly constructed the ricketiest advice booth ever created, spent way too much time making it look older than it was, then pitched the whole apparatus immediately after the event in a fugue. I am not now, nor ever will be, a carpenter.

But the Automat, that thing stayed.




Photo of Collective Wisdom at FIGMENT DC by MissionControl.


Photo of Collective Wisdom at FIGMENT DC by MissionControl.


Actual cards left by the good people of FIGMENT. 


In my soft-focus dreams this project is enormous. Thousands of tiny drawers, some accessible only by ladders and some only by crawling, or by finding a child to crawl for you. A solidly stacked cacophony of differently fashioned shelving units; antique, shiny, strange and dilapidated, fastened together by glue and bolts and nails and twine. In some of the drawers are cards, others are stones, or jewelry, or tiny toys. As vast and strange as human history, all with a story to tell, all collected by us.

For now, the plastic breadbox will do.