Shift Happens: A Forthcoming Book Catalogs the 150-Year History of the Keyboard
What if QWERTY wasn’t the standard keyboard layout? A forthcoming book by Chicago-based designer and writer Marcin Wichary examines the now-ubiquitous format and how it came to dominate modern technology.
Fully funded a few hours after launching on Kickstarter, Shift Happens documents 150 years of keyboard history from early analog typewriters to the pixelated versions on our phones. The 1,200-page book is split into two volumes that encompass a broad array of innovations and feuds from “the Shift Wars of the 1880s (and) Nobel-prize winner Arthur Schawlow using a laser to build the best typo eraser (to) August Dvorak—and many others—trying to dethrone QWERTY (and) Margaret Longley and Lenore Fenton perfecting touch typing.”
Seven years in the making, the book features 1,300 photos of devices and typists at work, some of which document collections and archives that have never been seen before. Wichary emphasizes the cultural implications of the commonplace objects, saying he focused on the people behind the technology. “I wanted a book that told all the personal stories about keyboards tied in with a historical, social, and political context,” he shares.
To grab a copy of Shift Happens, head to Kickstarter, and follow Wichary on Mastodon for updates on the project.
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Vintage Typewriters Are Reassembled into Amazing Metallic Bird Sculptures by Jeremy Mayer
Jeremy Mayer challenges the notion that typewriters’ creative output is confined to the written word. The artist scours shops and trash bins near his Bay Area studio for analog processors in disrepair that he then disassembles, sorts, and reconstructs into metallic sculptures. His previous works include symmetrical assemblages, anatomical recreations, and an ongoing series of birds, the most recent of which are shown here. Mayer builds every piece solely from original parts rather than soldering or gluing, and some sculptures, including the black crow with a Corona-brand typewriter logo on its back, feature spring-like components that allow the creatures to bob their heads.
Mayer is currently at work on a few large-scale reliefs, a kinetic lotus, skull, and additional birds, and you can follow updates and news about purchasing pieces on his Instagram. For more about his practice, check out the 2016 film California Typewriter, which documents his work alongside other enthusiasts.
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Hundreds of Porcelain Layers Recreate 20th Century Technologies in Intricate Sculptures by Anne Butler
Artist Anne Butler cites the porcelain pieces that comprise her ongoing Objects of Time series as being “witness to their own history.” From her studio in Carryduff, Butler recreates 20th Century technologies like rotary telephones and typewriters through an array of techniques from casting and carving to assembly—watch her process in the video below. Brimming with texture and striking in dimension, the analog works explore cultural memory, associations to history and personal use, and the impressions these items have left on the world long after they’ve fallen from widespread use.
Butler shares with Colossal that each of the objects was an important part of her childhood and that the building process reflects its mechanics. The intricately slotted “Analogue,” which replicates her family’s phone, relied on low-tech templates to create the thin Parian porcelain sheets that, once dried, the artist interlocked into their final shape. Similarly, “Remnant” and “Shift” both layer hundreds of individual slabs into keys and sewing tools that are slightly skewed and indicative of their hand-built construction. These irregularities reference the imperfection of the humanmade in comparison to the precision that’s possible with automation.
As she expands Objects of Time, Butler plans to reproduce kitchen scales and her first SLR camera, so keep an eye on Instagram for those works. If you’re in London, you can see “Shift” at Two Temple Place between May 11 and 14, where Ruup & Form will be representing the artist in Eye of the Collector. You also might enjoy Yoonmi Nam’s worn sketchbooks. (via Lustik)
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Cross A Bridge: A Typewriter Illustration Backdrops a Meditative Trip to Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Art
Lenka Clayton takes viewers on a short road trip to the Carnegie Museum of Art in a tiny and unusual vehicle. A 1957 Smith Corona Skyriter chugs along sparsely illustrated streets constructed with angled letters and punctuation previously typed on a single sheet of paper in her 2018 work “Cross A Bridge.” Commissioned by the Pittsburgh institution, the video project follows Clayton’s type guide as it steadily inches along the city’s roadways and passes by landmarks like the Fort Pitt Tunnel, Fort Pitt Bridge, and Monongahela River before coming to a stop at the museum’s entrance.
Find dozens of Clayton’s inky illustrations, along with a similar 2016 project about going home, on her site and Instagram. (via The Kids Should See This)
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A Rare Toshiba Typewriter from the 1950s Operates with a Trilingual Index of Thousands of Characters
In the 1940s, Toshiba began producing index typewriters with massive, horizontal cylinders containing thousands of symbols. One edition, the BW-2112—watch the demonstration by the New Orleans-based Typewriter Collector above to see how the redesign utilizes manual rotation and a metal pointer to print the characters—was a particularly advanced model with keys in three languages: Japanese, Chinese, and English.
The trilingual device ordered the characters in a manner similar to what you’d find in a Japanese dictionary, which is explained on the Typewriter Collector’s page as follows:
They’re arranged phonetically by most common “on-yomi” (or kun-yomi in some cases) according to the kana syllabary (many homophones, of course)… Red characters help parse the readings. Last character to left of equal sign can be pronounced “kin” (exert) and the first character in next row “gin” (silver), then “ku” (suffer) in red followed by “kuu” (sky, empty), “kuma” (bear), “kun” (teachings, meaning [also the kun in kun-yomi]), “gun” (group), then “kei” (system) in red followed many, homophones of “kei”.
Unfortunately, Toshiba stopped producing the model when it switched to a Western-style keyboard in the mid-1950s that instead had 48 Japanese Kana characters, making devices like this one exceedingly rare. (via Twisted Sifter)
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Symmetrical Typewriter Sculptures by Artist Jeremy Mayer Merge the Organic and Manufactured
“There’s nothing unnatural about mechanical components,” Jeremy Mayer says. For decades, the artist has harbored a fascination with the repetitive, complex patterns of single-cell organisms and the delicately rendered illustrations of Ernst Haeckel, an attraction that manifests in his latest sculptures.
Spanning up to 65 inches, Mayer’s metal artworks are comprised of old typewriter parts mounted around a laser-cut aluminum frame with only the original screws, nuts, pins, and springs holding the mirrorlike pieces together. Formed around a central, circular element, the multi-unit assemblages splay outward. Each of the six points—which evoke starfish, despite having one extra arm—often resemble trilobites, pincers, and other creatures and organic elements, merging the manufactured and natural.
“The form and function are based upon our knowledge of the living world around us. I’m interested in making the machine look like a living thing, drawing inspiration from the relationships that the early designers of the typewriter had with nature,” he says.
Mayer purchases between 10 and 15 typewriters each year, which he sources from repair shops, thrift stores, and yard sales around the San Francisco Bay Area. “The more broken the better,” he writes. In the past, he’s gravitated toward the smaller components of the metal machines to assemble birds, skulls, and other figurative sculptures. After transporting the bulky leftovers from studio to studio for years, he gathered enough duplicate parts to construct the symmetrical sculptures.
The ongoing series was born out of a residency at Mumbai-based manufacturer Godrej & Boyce, during which Mayer was asked to create works from leftover typewriters. During his six months, he built mandala-like sculptures and a 13-foot-tall kinetic lotus that explored the connections between industry and biological forms.
Mayer finished the first sculpture of this most recent series at the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdowns and almost has completed five since. He has plans for ten in total, and you can follow their progress on Instagram.
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Highlights below. For the full collection click here.