Pittsburgh art-zine publisher Encyclopedia Destructica marks its fourth anniversary with a party on Feb. 27, at Brillobox. There's also a book release, with readings by contributors to Coatlicue 2, the 20th book issued by Jasdeep Khairi and Christopher Kardambikis, co-directors of this important outlet for local creative types. I haven't yet seen Coatlicue, whose writing and artwork is edited by Jerome Crooks. But the group's playful, format-defying approach is on bright display with the recent issue of its 2008 "Flying Destructicate" award, Jonathan Brodsky's Make Your Own Truth.
As if its title suggested its function, Make Your Own Truth is as much kit as it is book. The contents of the limited-edition 6-by-7-inch white paperboard box include a small handbound volume, its heavy paper featuring work by five artists, including Brodsky, who served a several-month ED residency. An included DVD expands on some of the artwork. There are also eight staple-bound pamphlets, each the print version of an entry in ED's 2008 PowerPoint events, in which artists gave original presentations on topics of their choosing.
The book, with its cover of thick coated paperboard, is itself a satisfying artifact, substantial and homemade. Much of the art inside fulfills that promise.
The two most visually pleasing works qualify as comics art. Alberto Almarza's "Nommo" is a wordless narrative depicting a Stone Age desert village visited by a spacecraft. The story's timeless, allegorical feel is complemented by the spare, organic style, rendered in a two-tone watercolor palette of sandy brown and water/sky-blue. Meanwhile, artist Juliacks (co-credited with Laurie Olinder) offers the much more elaborate "Invisible Forces." The poetic narration in this coming-of-age story about a 13-year-old girl might be irony-free, but the artwork is strikingly beautiful. The imagery ranges from black-and-white graphic simplicity to skillfully elaborate doodles and vividly colored expressionism -- a jarring mix that aptly mirrors the adolescent psyche.
The rest of the book is less lush in sensibility, from Josh Atlas's tongue-in-cheek series about human heads and headlessness to Rick Gribenas' cryptic suite of photos meditating on light sources. The Make Your Own Truth DVD, featuring video loops of some of the book's artwork, feels somewhat superfluous except for Gribenas' piece. Despite its considerable length, his series of video and still images, with an electronic soundtrack, felt like a more successful version of the print offering.
The book's final major section is the print version of Brodsky's own PowerPoint. It's called "Networks Script," and it briefly explores theories of how life arose on earth and then surveys a curious collection of information-transfer technologies, from carrier pigeons to Prague's vast series of pneumatic postal tubes. (Who knew, but I want one.) With seeming artlessness, the visuals juxtapose archival imagery with rudimentary digital illustrations; the text, deliberately dry and styleless, accommodates both sly digressions (into a folk tale, say) and a conclusion that plangently reframes our notions of scientific knowledge and technological innovation.
The other PowerPoint pamphlets provide more highlights, exploring the possibilities and pushing the boundaries of this communication genre more typically associated with the fluorescent buzz of office parks. M. Callen's celebratory bio "The Artist Formerly Known as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince" is hilarious, if not particularly thought-provoking. Shaun Slifer's "Propaganda by Deed," structured as a multiple-choice quiz about Henry Clay Frick's would-be assassin, Alexander Berkman, is a light-hearted brief for anarchism. T. Foley's piece about the images that men seeking women post on Chicago's Craiglist marries entertainment value to empathy and media-literacy insight. Best of all might be Brett Kashmere's "The Fifth Quarter: A Secret History of Basketball," which binds James Naismith, The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh, Michael Jordan, Kurtis Blow and fan-puncher Ron Artest into a cogent sociological sketch on race, marketing and more. Pretty cool.
The Make Your Own Truth book concludes with a series of fold-out mini-posters that exhort, in big block letters, "Believe in Yourself," "The Future is Bright" and "Make Your Own Truth"; here, too, the intent seems unironic. I doubt you can "make your own truth" -- and, if you could, how would that diverge from what artists have done for millennia? But at its best, Encyclopedia Destructica showcases some wonderfully engaging art.
Encyclopedia Destructica Coatlicue 2 book release (with readings by boice-Terrel Allen, Red Bob, Kristofer Collins and Michelle Stoner). 8:30 p.m. (free). Birthday Party: 10:30 p.m. ($2). Both events Fri., Feb. 27. Brillobox, 4104 Penn Ave., Bloomfield. 412-621-4900