Doug Aitken, Write-in Jerry Brown President, 2008
Write-in Jerry Brown President is an artist's book conceived by the artist Doug Aitken and published in October 2008. This almost unclassifiable book-object presents a meditation on the passage of time, and particularly on time in a life lived in politics. The book is a complex portrait of an eccentric private and public figure, Jerry Brown, former governor and current attorney general of the State of California. Fusing biographical commentary by the writer John Bowe, Brown's own words, vintage press pictures, and a series of abstracted photographs by Aitken, Write-in Jerry Brown President considers a "high priest and low politician" whose career has been marked by a rare idealism and a distinctive intellectual curiosity.
Unique in structure, the book was designed by Aitken as a sequence of hexagonal pages, which unfold in no set order to reveal a series of photographs alternating between past and present. These are accompanied by quotations from Brown's speeches, writings, and two recent interviews with Bowe. One side of the book offers grainy photographs from the popular press, among them campaign snapshots of the 1970s and a cover of Newsweek showing Brown with the singer Linda Ronstadt. These photographs trace moments in his career, including his campaign for the U.S. presidency in 1976 and his current role as attorney general. Overprinted with Brown's words, they evoke the often fugitive, oddly repetitive nature of political discourse over several decades. On the opposing pages of the book are Aitken's photographs of skies, shown with clouds or vapor trails, overpasses, trusses, and other seemingly peripheral features of an undefined, unpeopled, contemporary California landscape—all presented with an eye for the beauty of empty spaces and industrial objects. In contrast to the historical and pop-cultural specificity of the press photographs, and in connection with Brown's reflective and more philosophical quotations from 2008, these images and ideas seem timeless and transcendent. Through dual narratives and modes of representation, Write-in frames and reframes the images and language that define a persona, a sensibility, and an ideology over time.
Designed by Aitken, the volume unfolds as two lengths of die-cut hexagonal "cells." Each length of six cells extends over fifty inches; each cell measures eight by eight inches. Collaborating with designer Lorraine Wild at Green Dragon Office, Los Angeles, Aitken created an imaginative, unpredictable graphic scheme. The book was offset printed, die cut, and hand folded and bound at The Studley Press, Dalton, Massachusetts. It fits in a box handmade by Mark Tomlinson and covered with silkscreen-printed artwork by Aitken. Write-in is available for purchase at a publication price of $1,000.
Doug Aitken was born in Redondo Beach, California, in 1968. He works in a variety of media, including sculpture, photography, sound, and video. His video installation Sleepwalkers was presented at The Museum of Modern Art in 2007.
John Bowe is the author of Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy (New York: Random House, 2007).