In celebration of World Pride, June Object of the Day posts highlight LGBTQ+ designers and design in the collection.
Mark Addison Smith is a notable artist’s book designer who specializes in typographic storytelling. He uses illustrative text to create a visual narrative through print, artists’ books, and site installations. For over 10 years, Mark Addison Smith has worked with conversation fragments – he captures and draws spoken words to make tangible the fleeting act of speaking.
Smith completed Years Yet Yesterday on November 5, 2014 to commemorate playwright and LGBT rights activist, Larry Kramer’s speech ‘The Tragedy of Today’s Gays.’ Kramer’s speech, delivered at The Great Hall of Cooper Union in New York City, on November 21, 2004, included a concise history of the AIDS epidemic and advocated for a change in the gay community. He promoted an active approach against a powerful and negative political rhetoric, and sent a humanistic message to the young gay community. As Naomi Wolf wrote in her foreword to the published version of the speech, “Honor your dead. Take responsibility for yourselves. Grow up. Your lives have meaning—don’t f*** and drug them away.”
Smith began the 24 drawings in Chicago in 2010 and finished the series in New York City four years later. Each drawing is dedicated to a single letter of the alphabet, the letters X and Z omitted. Smith created each letter by rewriting hundreds of times, three words that began with that letter and that appeared in Kramer’s original speech. The page described as Page Letter M, shows the word “Maybe” spelled out using the repeated word “Meds.” The circle surrounding the word “Maybe” is made up of the word “Miraculous” written out by Smith again and again.
Smith created the artist’s book as part of an exhibition of the original 24 drawings, shown at the Center on Halstead, a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community center in Chicago, in commemoration of World AIDS Day in 2015. Currently in over 50 library archives and permanent collections, Years Yet Yesterday conveys an emotional reminder of the invisibility of the gay community during this immense (and continuing) loss of life. Kramer’s words, immortalized in this artful form, serve not only as reminders of those who died, but also as a call to action to the living.
Nilda Lopez is the Library Technician at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Library.