In August 2000, a San Francisco graphic designer - going by the unassuming handle "Someguy" - left 100 blank journals in random places around the city, just waiting to be found.
Soon after, he released 900 more, posting them out one by one to eager participants across the globe. He left a set of instructions in each journal, inviting contribution to what would become a collaborative art project, and urging people to pass the journals on or, when completed, return them so that their contents could be digitized and posted on the project's website. Three years later, one journal came back: #526.
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Here's where filmmaker Andrea Kreuzhage, who will be at the SMoCA Lounge for a Q&A following the Thursday screening, came in. Like the author who chased thousands of rubber duckies around the world, Kreuzhage - camera in tow - chased the journals: Where had they all gone? Who had them now?
In tracking down the journals (which you can now view both online and in companion books), Kreuzhage interviewed more than 500 participants from around the world.
Their stories - of desperately wanting to keep the journal, of getting it sent back with cruel messages about their contributions, of adding new rules to the journal's pages about length of possession - create a complex vision of humanity today.
You can see this echoes on the pages of the journals themselves. There are collages: Catherine Zeta-Jones prepares to eat what looks like the head of Mariah Carey on a juicy hot dog. There are photos and doodles, and even CDs taped to the page. There are profound thoughts on current events.
One keeper of journal #896 writes, "I have one person who determines for me what levels of fecal contamination are acceptable for me to swim in. That person is me, and that acceptable level is zero."
The key question driving the project is simple: Where did our creativity go? But there's an irony to posing this question in the digital age. First, don't we already have this experiment -- a global space for sharing and artistic expression, of pseudonymity and anonymity, at once public and private, where we can comment on (often not so nicely) each other's work? It's called the World Wide Web, and you're on it now - as was (and is) Someguy's project, which used the net to both connect people and, eventually, to digitize the completed journals for further sharing.
So why is there a dismissal of online creativity - this abundance of videos, memes, images, texts created every day - built into the project (and film's) thesis, especially from a graphic designer himself? Is digital art not art (couldn't PostSecret, for example, function completely digitally)? Does art lose some of its value once it's digitized?
In some ways, the 1,000 Journals project does transcend the Internet: Though many people do get access to the journals through the website, others come across them randomly, and through distinctly old-media connections (like on a bus, from a stranger). This allows the journals to escape the digital divide, to perhaps reach new corners of the world and different generations.
But there's another option the journals provided that we don't have online, one that isn't quite so idyllic: People with the journal could paint or scribble over the work of others before them (like you've always wanted to do to those one-star Amazon reviews of Deadwood by people who just don't like bad words).
This is a power that comes with a responsibility, and it's one that not everyone who laid hands on the journals took seriously.
Filmmaker Andrea Kreuzhage will attend the screening and take questions from the audience following the film. Doors open at 7 p.m. - get there early for a good seat. Tickets are $7. For more information, click here or call (480) 874-4666.