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A story told in twelve installments, 140 characters per installment, with the words and images spread across three cups per installment.

<p>Detail of a cup from the first installment of the In the Cups series.</p>

Detail of a cup from the first installment of the In the Cups series.

In the Cups, was a serial adventure tale by husband and wife Rebecca
Harvey and Steven Thurston that was created over 12 weeks. The
stipulations were as follows: 1. Each weekly episode was made up of 3
cups. 2. The story on each set of cups had to be 140 characters so that
it could be tweeted each Monday. 3. The episodes could not be
preplanned. 4. There had to be a hero.
The story became a battle against the arch nemesis Mediocrity, with a secret lab, a fetching scientist, and an active volcano.
This project was framed overall by the concept of “rough and perfect.” We spoke to Rebecca about the project.
<p>The original photo that was then altered in Photoshop and used as one of the many layers of images for the decal for the cup</p>

The original photo that was then altered in Photoshop and used as one of the many layers of images for the decal for the cup.

 
CM: Can you explain the rough-and-perfect structure you created?
RH: The name has multiple meanings‚ something about immediacy and need, raw ideas lightly seasoned, not perfect, but dancing on the edge. Rough-and-perfect began as a way to extend our studio conversations out into the world and a way to kind of push back against the current convention of singular artist and idea, against the Victorian categorization of objects into materials. If I am interested in making domestic objects, I don’t see why I have to choose one material. Plus, over time, we have each developed these pretty extensive skill sets, we both love adaptive technologies‚taking something from one world, say printmaking or woodworking, and mashing it up.

Printed photoshopped images collaged together to create the scenes.

Printed photoshopped images collaged together to create the scenes.

CM: How did you developed a brief for yourself to fulfill, a set of very specific parameters in which to operate?
RH:
Many different elements coalesced and converged for this project. At
The Ohio State University’s ceramics department, where Steven and I both
teach, we got this really fancy color decal printer a few years ago.
Unfortunately, almost everything that anybody tried to do with it came
out looking pretty stupid. I had been poking around trying to get
something to work, without success. I was teaching ceramic history at
the time, and one of the projects we worked on each week was our graphic
novel of 10,000 years of ceramics. We were looking at stuff in the
cartoon research library on campus, and also watching this great video
about the reconstruction of these Mayan cylinder cups. I was also
looking at all these little Golden Books on science topics that had
badly printed diagrams. So driving home in the car, the whole idea
finally dropped into place. A way to finally use the decal printer and
bring in ideas of story and serialization. So the entire set of
parameters, the story, the twitter feed, etc. all came on the drive
home. I told Steven about it as soon as I walked in. “Okay,” he said,
“let’s go.”
This was the first time we had tried this. Part of
putting the project out there publicly with deadlines was to keep it
from getting lost in all the other stuff that we do. Every week it would
get to be Wednesday and we would say, “Yikes, better get going on
that.” It was a completely different way of working for both of us.
We
have talked about another adventure story. All we know so far is that
it will take place in the Arctic. The basic rules are still to be
determined.
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The collaged images ready to print as decals

CM: How did the stories develop?
RH: I would write the
story every week, fit it to 140 characters, and break it down into bits,
I would tell Steven what I was looking for, and the great image hunt
would begin. Some came from old family photos, a lot came from the
Internet; other sources were books, maps, anything we could find.
Sometimes we would pose in front of our one white wall so we could
Photoshop ourselves into some scene or other. For example, there was one
scene where there was a line about destroying Mediocrity, “didn’t he
die in the Paris experiment?” I came across this old Star Trek comic
book (who knew there was even such a thing?) and there was this picture
of Spock and Captain Kirk racing away from a toppling Eiffel Tower.
Perfect. (There was much discussion about who got Captain Kirk’s body
and who had to be Spock’s.)
 One of the important things was that we
had to do this pretty quickly, so if we were looking for an image to go
with the phrase “start the cascade” we would both race to find the best
image. While we might start off with a pretty clear idea of what that
would look like, often we would just have to sort through what was
readily available‚ an idea reduced to a button or a hand or a diagram.
Another scene, all planned out.

Another scene, all planned out.

CM: What did the twitter feed of the story line for each 3-cup series add to the project?
RH:
A couple of different things. First, the really tight rules we had to
use all the characters and spaces (no fair going under the limit) so the
story would often change to fit. Plus it seemed really fun, like
creating a digital Burma Shave sign, something that would blast out into
the ether and then be gone. And it seemed marginally more interesting
than tweeting “Hey, I just had a muffin.” We had a contest on Facebook
one week to describe the stench of Mediocrity. The winning entry was
“Chicken McNuggets and that’s how Mediocrity got his evil chicken
sidekick. So that part of it, the Twitter feed and the Facebook thing,
really added to the sense of the serialization‚ a kind of “tune in next
week, same bat time same bat station” sort of thing.
A long view of the other end of the series.

A long view of the other end of the series.

CM: How did the physical process of pasting imagery and drawings onto the cups work?
RH:
I cast all the cups, but they were from eight different sized molds. So
every week we built paper skins on top of the actual cups, very
unscientific. We would find a background that fit (scribbled journal
writing for the secret lab, seismic data for the volcano, etc.) and
build on top of it with two to three more images. We would Photoshop and
color in all the scenes, print them all out and cut them up and glue
them onto the cups with the backgrounds taped down first, and then slice
the skins off and rescan them to make a flat template for the decal. It
was really fun—and also a giant pain. Because we were on a deadline
we had to go with the most direct way: cutting and pasting. Nothing was
standardized, so we had this kind of really imperfect process with these
crazy rules for a structure, a hurdy-gurdy lumbering creaking ball of
almost chaos‚ rough and perfect.

To follow
more of Rebecca Harvey and Steven Thurston adventures, visit their blog  or website.

To view a PDF of the first episode of this tale, click here.

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