The Operating System and Liminal Lab


Read this post from the bottom up for the full experience.
Volley 10
Volley 10 – Eric Meyer
Eric’s final volley stitches together pieces from the course of this long afternoon. The bee woman is back, though she has to be content with a little spot in the corner. The four icons reappear too, overlaid on a shimmering restatement of Aaron’s poster-inside-map. Strangely, and possibly unintentionally, it looks like money. Elsewhere, Lego Lincoln is now being shot in the head with a pair of tiny red arrows. That has to be considered progress. Well, my head hurts and the pizza just got delivered, so I’m going to go. Aaron and Eric–thanks for pretty pictures and a fun afternoon. If you’ve been following us live, thanks for coming. One or several of these images will form the basis for the cover of the next issue of Exit Strata. Go buy it.
commentary by Jacob Liechty

Volley 9
Volley 9 – Aaron Liechty
And we have SYNTHESIS! Not full and final synthesis, but close. This match has swung between lush, thickly-textured dreamscapes (see Volleys 3, 4, and 5) and simple but vivid statements of intent (see Volleys 7 and 8). In his final swing at this thing, Aaron almost pulls off the tricky feat of having his cake and eating it too. He retains Eric’s brash “movie poster” from the previous volley, more or less whole and intact, but returns some of his own favorite themes of the afternoon: cartography, hand-written quotes, and of course, little lines. All of the colors have been muted. The blood is no longer a spatter of gore across the page. It has become a brown stain–the memory of violence done in the past, rather than the pain of violence inflicted in the present.
In a way, it’s a truce. Aaron has taken the incarnadine excesses of Eric’s volley and returned something quieter and humbler. A peace offering, if you will. The quote that stands out here is the one printed below the floral border and across the brim of Lincoln’s Lego top hat: “There can be no solution where there is no mystery.” This might as well be Aaron’s closing statement. All of his volleys fall somewhere in this in-between: not entirely a mystery, but not quite a solution either. He is pulled by both of these moons, and the tidal surges make up his art. Another interpretation: Aaron likes pretty quotes just like he likes pretty pictures. And this is a pretty quote. One more volley from Eric, and then we’re done!
commentary by Jacob Liechty

Volley 8
Volley 8 – Eric Meyer
Yikes. What exactly is going on here? As near as I can tell, Lee Harvey Oswald (who is either implied or invisible or both) is about to behead Abraham Lincoln (who is Lego, and also a sketch) with an axe (which is Lego and not a sketch). Meanwhile, immediately to the left, a green army man has been shot down and is dying in a pool of someone else’s blood. Because obviously, as a man made from green plastic, his own blood would be green and plastic. The whole thing is presented in the manner of a movie poster. And the title of the movie? Exit Strata.
It appears that Aaron’s original concept of what it means to exit (“exit stage right” in Volley 3) has been replaced with the much more gruesome idea that we, as humans, “exit” only through our own bloody demise. Life is a series of strata, one layer stacked upon the next, from which only death can ultimately free us. Especially if we are Lego. Or Abraham Lincoln. And that’s all I have to say about that. Next up: Aaron’s final volley. Can he, with one final flourish, one last Herculean effort, bring together all the elements of this fiercely-contested match and place the crown on his head that proclaims him, and only him, the Lord of Layer Tennis?
commentary by Jacob Liechty

Volley 7
Volley 7 – Aaron Liechty
Aaron with dogI grew up in Ireland, so I don’t know the 23rd president of the United States, or what the capital of Alaska is. Oh wait, it’s Juneau. So I do know that. Anyway, I’m pretty sure Lee Harvey Oswald did NOT shoot Abraham Lincoln. So what is Aaron trying to say here? (I walk over to the couch. I ask him.) Ah. Apparently it’s a quote from the current issue of Exit Strata. Which makes sense of why Aaron is using it, but still begs the question of why, even in the weird world of literary journals, Lee Harvey Oswald is shooting the wrong president. Perhaps I need to read the issue. And you should too. But back to the game.
It seems that both Aaron and Eric are now trying to out-meta each other. Eric crumpled up Aaron’s picture, so Aaron put Eric’s picture in an oval and then rubbed it in by adding a pleasant little drop shadow. Oh, but the oval is actually a cartoon-style thought balloon . . . that is emanating from a quintet of green army-men . . . who are about to summarily execute Lego Bee Woman. It looks like LBW was right to be alarmed in the first volley. Her honey is still safely in its pot, but she’s about to become a sticky mess. Interestingly, it was Aaron who introduced both the green army men and LBW to the game. If we are to apply some Jungian dream analysis here, we would have to say that in this tragic tableau, Aaron is in fact SHOOTING HIMSELF! Just like Lee Harvey Oswald didn’t actually shoot Abraham Lincoln. Moving on.
Apart from its theme of capital-punishment-for-Lego-figures-in-bee-suits, Aaron’s fourth iteration contains several drop-shadowed white rectangles. I can only assume these are pages torn from Exit Strata itself, like the quote. Which is nice, but will either Aaron or Eric think to return the Exit Strata logo to the piece, so the poor magazine can actually use it as a cover? As you can see in the accompanying photograph, Grace is tuckered out just from watching this frenetic competition. Perhaps the participants are wearing down too. Rally, boys, rally!
commentary by Jacob Liechty

Volley 6
Volley 6 – Eric Meyer
"No" paperOuch! Aaron’s fanciful meanderings have given Eric the chance to regroup and launch a savage attack on his dithering competitor. (For the next few sentences, I am quoting directly from inside Eric’s brain). You know your sixteenth-century world map with its pompous Latin inscription, Aaron? Yeah, well, I can CRUMPLE IT UP! Like this! (scrunch scrunch scrunch). And not only can I take the image you’ve been laboring over since one o’clock and throw it in your FACE, I can also make it look better while I do it! I can crush you, and I can make you like it! (Eric’s brain is a scary place, and I am leaving it right now).
What else is going on here? Well, Left-Pointing-Hand now appears to be firing little red lasers at Frowny-Face, which makes the whole frowning thing make more sense. V-for-Victory has been cut in half, perhaps signaling that Aaron’s own chances of victory have been similarly bifurcated. The weird foreign text is now surmounted by a line in good, honest American that reads, “The judge ordered the merchant to cease and desist the deceptiv . . . .” And you know which merchant he’s talking about? That’s right–it’s YOU, Aaron. You merchant of little lines and rust textures. And last but not least, there is a thin black line. Eric has rallied with a thin black line of his own, complete which his signature curly bit. Everything Aaron can do, Eric can do better. Even thin black lines.
Never in the three hours and eighteen minutes I’ve been commentating on layer tennis have I seen such a naked display of creative aggression. It’s not tennis, it’s the Glasgow derby, Real vs. Barcelona, City vs. United, and England vs. its former colonies, all rolled into one. This afternoon started with Aaron cutting his finger on a serrated knife while he was slicing bread, and then bleeding profusely all over Eric’s nice, clean countertop. Well, it looks like Aaron has more bleeding to do. And it’ll take a WHILE to clean up that countertop.
commentary by Jacob Liechty

Volley 5 – Aaron Liechty
What new devilry is this? Just when this blogger thought he had the competitors figured out–their methods and strategies, their posts and ripostes–this comes along. Rather than synthesizing what’s already there, Aaron tosses new themes into the ring willy nilly and assigns the difficult task of making meaning to Eric. Well, I guess it’s just one new theme really, but it has lots of bits.
The theme could be loosely defined as “exploration.” Hence we have the lower portion of the composition now filled with Ye Olde Mappe of the Worlde. The Latin inscription above it reads “Orbis Terrae Compendiosa Descriptio.” This means “Orbis Terrae Compendiosa Descriptio.” The quote that now occupies the upper half of the image is from Alfred, Lord Tennyson, a poet most notable for writing an extraordinarily long piece about a dead friend on whom he had a man-crush. Every first and fourth line rhymed and every second and third line rhymed. Try it some time. It’s harder than it looks. And it makes you say things you didn’t really intend to say, because “poplar” is the only word you can think of that even sort of rhymes with “silver.”
But the most intriguing element of this new volley from Aaron? It’s clearly the repetition of Eric’s four icons. They’re now printed in black and placed smack-dab between the eyes of the skull. And they’re followed by a question mark. Aaron is throwing Eric’s symbols right back at him! He’s saying, “Flag Frowny-Face Left-Pointing-Hand V-for-Victory? Yeah? What does that mean? And how does it relate to your gigantic skull face? Of which, quite frankly, I am terrified.” Earlier, it was all Triscuits and camaraderie here, but now Aaron and Eric refuse to look at each other, and their fists clench and unclench by their sides.
commentary by Jacob Liechty

Volley 4
Volley 4 – Eric Meyer
Oh my my, oh hell yes. Eric’s return is remarkable not so much for its compositional quality as for what it portends for the rest of this artistic throw-down. Aaron’s using little lines now? Well, Eric has shot back with the deadliest weapon in his own arsenal: little arrows. And not little arrows for their own sake, but little arrows that describe the contours of other forms.
Can you see what he’s done? Can you? Look closely. Observe the twin circles that might be hollow, staring sockets. The triangle that could be the broken nose of a dead woman (or Lego mini figure). The jack-o-lantern grin. That, my friends, is the face of a skull. Eric has responded to Aaron’s challenge, effectively saying, “Down that road lies death. Challenge me, and I will crush your skull beneath my boot-heel and plant the banner of artistic annihilation in the shallow soil of your grave.” Well, I’m paraphrasing, but it was something like that.
And let’s not neglect the final element of Eric’s composition. He came with the little arrows, and he came with the scribble. Yes, these artists have opened their toolboxes, and everything–EVERYTHING–is now in play. Good thing we have plenty of beer on hand, because this could get brutal.
commentary by Jacob Liechty

Volley 3
Volley 3 – Aaron Liechty
Aaron PenSMACK! With a booming . . . uh . . . forehand (sorry–I don’t know much about tennis), Aaron has seized control of this match. Whereas both competitors started tentatively, Aaron is now warmed up, settled in, and ready to grind.
His second effort is both more complex and more unified than this first. We have colored pencil; we have pen-and-ink; we have whimsical doodle men; and most of all we have the rust-colored (and textured) palette without which Aaron would die a little bit each day. There is even a rebuttal of this blogger’s earlier comment about the absence of “little lines.” To whit, the scrawled comment in the bottom left corner: “no medium has emerged greater than the thin black line.” The Lego axe-man is now a trooper with a star on his helmet. He has been joined by a stubble-jawed frowny man, a brilliant development of Eric’s last shot.
Most of all, Aaron is beginning to steer the composition toward its final form: a useable magazine cover for Exit Strata. For the first time, both “Exit” and “Strata” are mentioned, though at present they remain unconnected. Can Eric bring together the concept of exiting (here couched in theatrical terms) and the concept of strata (here defined as the layers of the compositions themselves)? As I glance over at him, I see a grim, determined look on his face. I sense a big return coming. In the meantime: Bravo, Aaron! Bravo! More of this, and we will begin throwing the roses. This is Aaron on his A-game, and it’s formidable to watch.
commentary by Jacob Liechty

Volley 2
Volley 2 – Eric Meyer
Eric iPadEric returns. In his art, Eric tends to be drawn to the liminal zone between innocence and experience, between vulnerability and the knowledge that the world is a broken place and full of imperfect things. He draws with scribbly lines, and prefers the color green and the color pink.
His return then, like Aaron’s volley, is a surprise. But Eric is a collaborationist by nature, and we see here his skill at building on another artist’s work. The diagonal streaks of the original remain, but here they become a sunburst, emanating from some faraway place. The bee-woman is gone, replaced by a lumberjack, smiling broadly, but carrying a BIG axe.
Eric has captioned the image with a quartet of icons: a waving flag, a frowny face, a left-pointing hand, and a V for victory. The symbols sit at the bottom of the composition, ostentatious and unrepentant. A challenge of sorts. It’s as if Eric is calling Aaron into a battle for the soul of this creation. Does Eric’s caption MEAN something? Or has it been positioned there specifically because it is an attack on the very concept of meaning? Does it inform the action above it, or does it point out the impossibility of assigning meaning? We await Aaron’s response on the edges of our proverbial seats.
commentary by Jacob Liechty

Volley 1 – Aaron Liechty
And the first volley is in, from Aaron Liechty. By day, Aaron is the manager of a home improvement resale store. By night he writes angry, longing poetry. Or draws children, monsters, childlike monsters and monstrous children. Aaron’s artwork tends to be hand-drawn and exhaustively constructed, consuming twenty hours or more as it is shaded and re-shaded with thousands upon thousands of itty bitty lines. Aaron is a big believer in the little line.
So this first effort is something of a surprise. It’s sleeker and cleaner than we’ve come to expect, more magazine spread than children’s book illustration. The subject is a Lego mini-figure, dressed in an adorable bee costume, about to hurtle off the end of an airport-style moving walkway and into the undefined space between the streaky light-flared clouds above and the solid block of honey yellow below.
What will become of the Lego bee-woman and her pot of Lego honey? In spite of her fixed Lego smile, is there a sense of anxiety in Aaron’s first volley, a feeling that something that has been will no longer bee? And how do we reconcile the sensation of nervous expectation with the orderly, well-structured composition? Is Aaron anticipating that his neatly defined original effort will spill off the edge of the creative runway and become . . . well . . . a sticky mess?
commentary by Jacob Liechty

starting layer tennis
And we’re off! Eric Meyer won the coin toss and chose Aaron Liechty to serve. Aaron’s first image will be posted at 3:30 EST.

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