Sunday, October 17, 2004

Whew! Tripping the Lite fantastic 

LATDA's first meet and greet took place at the Museum of Neon Art last night where we unveiled our (ahem) mini exhibit and maxi window to a large crowd of MONA's members and LATDA's loyal following. All our Board was in attendance, having traveled from as far as Pittsburgh, PA, just for the momentous occasion. Jocko t-shirts were displayed and sold with pride (even to people who didn't know who we were) and a good time was had by all.

Many thanks to all who helped make this a reality, including Kim Koga, executive director of MONA; Gary van der Steur our curatorial/marketing guru (he refers to himself as 'the graphics guy' but he is oh-so-much-more than that - a man of many talents); Barbara Kwong, the Cookie Goddess, who baked 30 dozen of the most delectable cookies for the opening (they didn't last long); Jane-Ellen Dawkins, Blue Gehres and Bev Smith who provided the supportive base upon which this exhibition was built (not to mention great moral support); David Hoffman, who provided some great flashes of Lite-Brite inspiration; Neal Yamamoto, who gave up time from his own creative projects to help paint our window; Matt Koga (not related to Kim) who helped us get our t-shirts printed in time; Clement Hanami who loaned us his production extpertise and materials; and Derek Billings at Posterprintshop.com, whose guidance and patience helped us to produce the window graphics. And of course, thanks go out to our many members and friends who have put their money and their unflagging votes of confidence behind LATDA for these formative years. On to the next show!!!!

It was a pretty heady evening for us all - chatting with people about LATDA and Lite-Brite non-stop and greeting old friends made the time pass quickly and somewhat chaotically. But early in the evening, we met with an actual toy designer who happens to be on the board of MONA. We were able to get a great story from Jay Simmons, the inventor of PixelBlocks, a new construction toy that is on the market after twenty years of patient vision.

Jay Simmons was very eager and open about sharing his experience with toy design, so all we did was ask one question, 'What made you want to design this toy?' and stood back as he transported us with his PixelBlocks story. The short answer to the question was that Jay was looking for a new artistic medium. He said that learning disabilities hindered him from creating art in traditional media like painting and drawing. He credits his work as a television engineer and the viewing of a textile exhibition at the Los Angeles County Art Museum as being the inspiration for PixelBlocks. A quote that summed up the toy nicely was on the PixelBlocks web site.

All the limitations and possibilities we discovered in our pursuit of the history of Lite-Brite were explored and solved with this new building toy. Instead of Lite-Brite's 8 colors, PixelBlocks come in 20 colors (and if Jay has his way, they will eventually be available in 256 colors). Instead of relying on a two-dimensional screen placed over a single light source, PixelBlocks are designed to accommodate fiberoptics that can be threaded through 3-dimensional structures. Jay donated a few sets of the toy to LATDA for research purposes...can't wait to play.

One of the thoughts I came away with last night was how much a toy museum needs to be a physical place and not just a virtual site. We observed the looks on people's faces when they walked through the door and saw our case of Lite-Brites. The ones who recognized the toys came up with a flood of instant memories about their Lite-Brite days. One woman said she still had hers and would never give it up. Those who were not familiar with Lite-Brite carefully read the information about them and a smile would spread across their faces as they looked at Ray Fournier's Mona Lisa in Lite-Brite and thought about the juxtaposition of toy and art. These kinds of visceral reactions reminded us of why we think that toys are the first objects that inspire us with desire and other strong emotions. And how the physical objects can help us recall these hidden and creative parts of ourselves in a way that mere secondhand images cannot. Jay Simmons' PixelBlocks are a perfect illustration of an urge to make physical something that exists as an image on a screen.

Now, go to MONA!


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