Li Po Cocktail Lounge was my place for a rough gin and tonic, a drink to distract from bad days at work. It sticks out among San Francisco dive bars, with its gilded cave entrance and giant lantern caked with (what I hope is) opium. The bar’s namesake was a Tang dynasty intellectual, an Immortal of the Wine Cup, who were celebrated wise men in Chinese history who loved to party. Li Po embodied the drunken scholar, who supported his thirst with poetry, and sometimes the other way around. In trying moments, I liked his style with ease.
Years later at another bar (a Minneapolis gay saloon called the 19), a series of conversations turned into a project called Art & Leisure and Art & Leisure. My friends Ira and Simon asked if I was interested in collaborating on a small show in their space at the London Centre for Book Arts, and soon came some weird proposals: a smoke machine, a dish called “bear fly pizza”, hammocks in the space, graphic sci-fi teleportation pads on the floors and walls and calling the whole thing Intergalactic Pizza Safari.
We thankfully ended up with something more coherent and stranger. A&L&A&L was a spiral-bound catalogue that was also a calendar which only marked every weekend in the year; a calendar that was also an exhibition about my personal practice that exists outside of “work work”; and finally an exhibition that was also a spiral-bound catalogue of research notes and details of projects from the last few years. It was produced by the LCBA and sold as a small edition.
The title, which Ira thought up, refers to those ideas that ramble, words that slur, and the reason I mention Li Po. Why do ideas like labor and leisure imply something about the value of time? For our friend, it was sometimes hard to tell where work ended and fun began (wine is mentioned several times in his poems). But despite that, drunkenness was only a backdrop to his observational verses. The distinction between business hours and vacation time become foggy now.
As this ended up being a hobby project outside of my day job, A&L&A&L also became an investigation about different forms of distractions. Examples (which even touched on those initial vodka pineapple-soaked ideas) like science fiction, myths and legends about laziness, stoner snapshots, link surfing, recreational mathematics, pro-wrestling moves that involved flying, and gaming surfaces like ball courts and fields. As activities outside of any utilitarian incentive, these were actually deep ideas motivated by the need to entertain ourselves.
A fortune cookie once said, “If you have a difficult task, give it to a lazy man: he will find an easier way to do it.” It poetically describes the shortcut as a concise solution, and the cheat as a knowledgeable solver, a shift from the usual negative connotation. Not that it’s a manifesto, but I think the cookie raises a good point! Imagine that leisure isn’t an idle state, but actually a strategy. For those that laze, a problem becomes an opportunity to amuse and stumble around helpfully, and afterwards, resume more pressing matters like finishing my beer.
This text originally appears in Thought Experiments in Graphic Design Education, a forthcoming book edited and art directed by Joshua Trees and Yvan Martinez (Martinez & Trees) and designed by Eurico Sa Fernandes and Mariana Lobao (Ponto). The book launches in December and features studio projects from students of Central St. Martins and London College of Communication alongside contributions from Bart de Baets, Stuart Bailey, Victor Boullet, Delphine Bedel, Lionel Bovier, James Corazzo, Benedetta Crippa, Department 21, Bianca Elzenbaumer, Fabio Franz, Ken Hollings, Kenneth Fitzgerald, Harrisson, John Hammersley, Brockett Horne, Scott King, Elizabeth Legate, Jono Lewarne, Alexander Lis, Armand Mevis, Rens Muis, Stuart Price, Jon Sueda, Ken Kirton, Darren Raven, Rebecca Stephany, Sebastian Pataki, Alexander Shoukas, and Walker design studio alums Daniel Eatock and Silas Munro.