LOS ANGELES — Run your fingers across the pockmarked walls of the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) and you can feel the bumps, lumps, and patches produced by the hundreds of staple guns and thousands of push pins that were there before you. Countless students (including myself) have walked these hallways, proudly (or sheepishly) hanging a poster for their first art exhibition, musical performance, guest lecture, or fashion show. More easily lost to trash bins than the annals of history, these posters form the basis for Inside Out & Upside Down: Posters from CalArts 1980-2019, a book cataloguing 525 CalArts posters produced over the last 40 years, slated for release in April.
“Many of the posters are not meant to function as posters, they’re meant to function as experimentation,” said Michael Worthington, a faculty member in the School of Art’s Graphic Design program who has made the archive and publication of these posters his personal passion project, in an interview with Hyperallergic. “The book becomes a history of the pedagogy of the program,” he stated, going on to say that it reflects the spirit behind CalArts — that the creative process itself is as important as the product.
While Worthington has been the primary force behind this book’s publication, he was not the first to show an archival impulse towards collecting the school’s posters. Inside Out & Upside Down is, in many ways, a follow up to The CalArts 10th Year Poster Book, a 69-page book by Catherine Tuttle published in 1980 that documents the same subject matter from the university’s first 10 years. There was a lag in documentation until the late ’90s, when faculty members Shelley Step and Kary Arimoto started pulling posters from the hallways in the wake of substantive damage to the school from the 1994 Northridge Earthquake. Their collection, which Worthington has continued, grew over time, as people began donating posters and a process was set up for current students to archive their own.
Given a few years out in the “real” world and artists are rarely proud of all the work they produced while in school; more often than not, at least some of it becomes an embarrassing memory, useful only to measure how far one has come. But it’s precisely the willful vulnerability and earnestness of eager students that give them the strength required to produce ultimately radical things. Louise Sandhaus says it best in “Back to the Future,” one of the book’s essays: “Love is the common denominator, a love for posters, and a love for experimentation.” Boasting 70 different cover design options along with essays and interviews from faculty and alumni, Inside Out & Upside Down: Posters from CalArts 1980-2019 both runs off that energy and attempts to capture it.
Inside Out & Upside Down: Posters from CalArts 1980-2019 will be published in April.