Lying is its Own Reward
Since 1994, Sean Tejaratchi, a graphic designer of books, music packaging, posters, fonts, some movie production and a lot more, has been the editor of Crap Hound, a zine known for its thousands of old images compiled in thematic combinations like Death, Phones, and Scissors. He is also the founder of the surreal satiric Liartown, which began in early 2013, with Tejaratchi at first using it as a depository for images he had been making and posting on Twitter. He says he discovered it was more satisfying than being on Twitter, “so I left and put my time into making things to post on Liartown, anywhere from zero to 30 pieces a month.” In the fall of this year a book collecting the posts of Liartown: The First Four Years will be published (order here). I asked him to give truth to the lie that is the basis for his very distinctive internet art project.
There is a MAD/Lampoon parody quality to this work. What are your influences? Those two references are mentioned a lot to me, but I was never into them. I knew about MAD, but it wasn’t my type of humor. And I was only dimly aware of the existence of National Lampoon. I never read it. Recently I tried to watch the documentary about them. I made it 12 minutes in before I saw they’d done the “magazine for premature ejaculators” joke 40 years before me. (Theirs: “Oops!” Mine: “Whoopsie!”) I turned it off right there, because I could feel how easily watching would become dispiriting. It’s one thing to intellectually understand I’m not magic and special and original, another to go ahead and intentionally rub my own face in it.
I’m a huge fan of British comedy. Starting in the early 2000s, I gradually became aware of how many amazing shows were out there. I was late to all of it. “The Fast Show,” “Brass Eye,” “The Day Today,” etc. I can’t watch any more of “Look Around You” for the same reasons I turned off the National Lampoon documentary. It’s too good. There’s a Swedish comedy group/series called Grotesco that plays with language in ways I love. There are other specific influences, but I don’t want to embarrass anyone by naming names.
What are you trying to do by using humor in this way? There’s no complex motive or fancy plan in my head. Now and then I try to make a point or connection, or satirize something in particular (often in the world of design). I try not to dress all this up to sound deeper than it is. Humor is an end unto itself. It’s less selfish, because it necessarily involves the viewer. If I absolutely have to masturbate in view of the public, the least I can do is tell jokes at the same time.
Given the emphasis on lying in the Trump era, is this life following art or the other way around? Almost everyone seems willing to be an idiot these days. There seems to be a grand experiment underway: How much blatant stupidity and power-hungry dishonesty can we overlook as long as someone utters the right keywords?
What do you say is your biggest triumph? Realizing I don’t need to wait for others to need or want what I want to make. Finding methods and outlets that don’t rely on middlemen, committee approval or even a clearly defined “purpose.” I don’t resent dealing with those things in other jobs, but I’m my own gatekeeper in Liartown.
I understand Feral House Books is collecting your blogs. How’s the content organized? The book will be full color, 8.5 x 11, about 250 pages. It’ll be out by Christmas of 2017. I tried dividing things into rigid categories very early on and immediately hated it. There are no chapters, no Table of Contents. I’ve always liked how that works on the site itself. Apart from the fake Netflix summaries collected in the back of the book, the material flows loosely from one area to another. You can find LPs arranged next to other albums, for example, but albums (and CDs and 7″ singles and band photos) appear now and then throughout the book, accompanying other subject matter.
What’s the future of Liartown? Tell the truth!! It’s an outlet, a pressure-release valve. On the one hand, I have a very strong work ethic. I don’t want to be lazy or phone things in. On the other hand, it’s not a job, and if it starts feeling like one, I’m doing something wrong. So the future will be nothing more or less than me continuing to do what I find interesting. Letting things drift according to need and personal whim.
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About Steven Heller
Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →