YOU CAN'T READ THIS

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Let me see if I can make myself understood.

This piece is my attempt to make the average poster reader experience the full work involved in reading and communication by making the process physical and spatial rather than mental. It's the act of reading translated into the language of the material.

The full work consists of 6 posters, each labeled by its designated sequential number, located in different places across campus. The first poster declares in red paint "YOU CAN'T READ THIS." Underneath this message is the first clue stating that, "To understand Poster #1, please read Poster #2. Poster #2 is located in the Rockefeller Library, 10 Prospect St., Level B, aisle 63A, section PS3527.A15." Posters 2-5 all follow the same clue format, only without the "YOU CAN'T READ THIS" text written on them (i.e., Poster #2 reads, "To understand Poster #1, please read Poster #3. Poster #3 is located in..."). As the posters go on, the clues get less and less specific until they're nearly useless for locating the next poster. Poster #6 gives no clue as to where the next poster is, but instead provides instructions on how to read a hidden message on Poster #1. The following table recounts the text and physical locations of each poster.

Poster #
1
2
3
4
5
6
Location
Side entrance of the MCM Production Building
The Rockefeller Library, 10 Prospect St., Level B, aisle 63A, section PS3527.A15 The bathroom on the first floor of Orwig
Addie Mitchell's room, Grad Center A, Suite 220, room 224
One of Watson's external walls facing the bamboo garden
A stone wall outside of Grad Center C without much walking traffic
Clue for Next Poster
Located in the Rockefeller Library, 10 Prospect St., Level B, aisle 63A, section PS3527.A15.
Located in the Orwig Music Library.
Located in my room.
Located on a brick wall.
Located there.
Contains an image of the Wikipedia page on invisible ink with the word "saliva" underneath the category of heat-activated inks highlighted. The poster instructs the reader to read Poster #1 to understand Poster #1.

If the reader follows all of the clues correctly, returns to Poster #1, and applies heat to the poster, the word "STILL", written in saliva, should appear inserted between the words "YOU" and "CAN'T", rendering the full message of the poster "YOU STILL CAN'T READ THIS".

Yes, the possibility of grasping the full content of my project, of a person on the street completing the entire process of reading the series without my help, is nearly non-existent, but that is as I intended it. The progression of the clues is an imitation of the layers of meaning to a communication, some of which are spelled out clearly to the reader (the specific library location), some require knowledge of the text (one must know who made the posters to grasp the meaning of "my room"), some require that mystical sort of intuition that few seem to possess ("there").

But regardless of the journey one takes in an attempt to understand Poster #1, the message is still the same. The reader can take the path of hard work and close-reading, reading the text by following the clues exactly as they direct them to in what ultimately turns out to be a wild-goose chase. There's the path of the more observant or intuitive reader who may somehow notice the invisible ink message just from examining Poster #1 carefully, skipping all the unnecessary clues. And then there's the path of the most common reader, that which reads Poster #1 for what it is on the surface and doesn't bother to ponder upon it further or follow its instructions. In every instance, without assigning a hierarchy to any sort of reader's methods, each reader gets the message of "YOU (STILL) CAN'T READ THIS".

No matter the work put in, there is still the chasm of space between two minds that renders communication futile.

But I can't help but feeling that this isn't the full message of the poster series. In completing this work, as I trudged across campus for the seventh time that day to hang up yet another poster in yet another location, duct tape in hand and out of breath, I realized the true message of the project is that the joke's on me, the author, more than anyone else.

What does it mean if I went through all these hours of thought and work to communicate the message that one can't communicate? Everything about the medium of this project is constantly and loudly contradicting the message it's trying to convey. The real take-down of communication would have been to make no poster at all. And I didn't do that. There's an overlying, but impossible to ignore aura of optimism inherent in the mere existence of a pessimistic communication. And it's this awkward, unresolvable dissonance in the work that gives it its full harmony--not one that can be smoothed out into a simple, satisfying point, but rather a set of antithetical, yet coexisting themes. It is in this in-between space where what I'm stabbing in the dark at lives. It can't be said, but I am trying to say it.


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