If print is really dead, a group of artists and designers certainly didn’t get the typed-up memo: they’re in the midst of constructing an eight-foot-tall interactive typewriter to go on display along the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway this summer.
The larger-than-life project is a 24-to-1-scale model of a 1927 Underwood Standard Portable typewriter — one that’s big enough to climb on — that will be featured at the annual FIGMENT Boston festival downtown in July.
In August, it will be loaded onto a truck and shipped across the country for this year’s Burning Man celebration.
The group behind the construction and design of the typewriter, which features 14-inch letter keys that react when people walk on them, is raising money through a Kickstarter campaign to complete their vision.
They’re also hosting a fund raiser at District Hall next month to offset the costs of the public art project. The group, the Cat and the Cockroach Collective, as they’re known, has raised over $20,000 to date, including a grant from Burning Man.
The money largely pays for construction, shipping and materials for the project.
“We’ve got a solid crew of 35-plus people working on the project at this point,” said Jason Turgeon, the project’s lead. “We have these incredibly talented people in Boston working on it.”
Planning for the project, called “Blunderwood Portable,” began back in October, he said.
The concept for the giant typewriter derived from a New York Evening Sun column that ran in the 1920s, called Archy and Mehitabel . It featured a poet who was reincarnated as a cockroach and wrote about his adventures with his alley cat sidekick.
“The guy who wrote the columns would pretend as if he put paper in his typewriter and the cockroach would come out and jump key-to-key and write a poem, or a story, or witty insights about life. It was sarcastic and funny and political. It was huge. Like as big as Taylor Swift,” Turgeon said.
Originally, Turgeon and the designers, architects, and engineers building the typewriter thought it would be interesting to create large versions of the poems from the columns to bring to Burning Man. Then the plan evolved.
“It was a poetry project that turned into a typewriter project,” Turgeon said.
Now, people will be the cockroaches, jumping from key-to-key on the art installation.
Turgeon said the typewriter is also a commentary on the current state of electronic devices, and how people use social media to grab attention.
“I have been thinking a lot about the world we live in, and how it’s being media saturated, and the printed word — everyone is yelling for attention,” he said. “This is sort of reacting to that.”
He said construction crews are far along, and will have the design complete for the first day of FIGMENT Boston on July 25.
Once finished, the group will print poems on large vinyl screens and place them in the paper tray during the day. At night, the keyboard will transform into a working device, and projections will shine onto a screen positioned in the letter tray as people climb on the typewriter.
“The typewriter is quite literally a blank slate for anyone to project their words. It is a device of such universality that it needs no explanation, and it ties together our favorite elements of public art,” according to the creators.Steve Annear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.