In Savannah I did this all very secretly, I didn’t mention it to anyone. I had my school work, and then at night I’d go out and do the Everything Will Be OK project. I’d met the graffiti kids and got the idea: ‘This was something you don’t do.’ But after a while it became almost disingenuous. This is something you work on, this is something you do—there should be some responsibility.
There’s a lot of ego involved with graffiti work, but it’s sub-sub-sub-culture ego, like in the street, like ‘this is my tag.’ I kind of wanted to dodge all of that because it isn’t really me. So I’m like, ‘Yeah, I did it. I do Everything Will Be OK.’ But I do ‘Everything Will Be OK’ in a way that isn’t me: I hand out stickers, I hand out stencils…anybody can do it, it’s not me doing all of it. In fact most of it isn’t me—I just give people the means.
I interviewed Jason Kofke in his attic studio, where we were crowded together with freshly repaired typewriters, projectors, surveillance cameras, video monitors, painting and printing material, “Everything Will Be OK” sweaters, and the usual detritus one finds in a studio/bedroom.
Kofke’s work explores the complicated intersection of human emotion and infallible technology, combining public art, painting, printmaking, and installation pieces into a single “solution” to both the Challenger explosion and his father’s death:
I’ll always be exploring the Challenger explosion. I reach it from an ‘analysis of failure.’ I feel like Everything Will Be OK is an emotional response to uncertainty. And we all have that: fear extends from not knowing what will happen. So Everything Will Be OK is essentially like a weapon. That’s why I try to push it so far, because this is what I use, and I feel morally obligated as a human—a human who’s chosen the profession of ‘artist’—to share that. I’m obligated to share that because that’s what I use, that’s what I figured out.
There’s another reason I study failure: my father never wanted to be an appliance salesman. He was actually really passionate about photography, and he has over ten thousand slides of our family, of nature—they’re all amazing. Any photo competitions he would enter, he’d always win. But he never really pursued it because his father was really overbearing and really wanted his help with the family business. Sacrifices in my father’s life allowed me to go to art school, and so for my thesis I was doing photogravure etchings of all of his slides.
About six months before I was going to have this thesis show, which was just going to be his work given back, that’s when he had a heart attack. He never got to see anything. That’s why my thesis show wound up being Everything Will Be OK: An Exhibition of Failures. It seemed like everything I’d been working towards for a few years just slipped away.
So I started really studying failure, all the way down to how it’s mathematically analyzed, all the way down to catastrophe theory. It was proposed by a mathematician named Rene Thom in the early 1970s, and it was supposed to revolutionize science, be as big as Newtonian physics. It was a way of graphing variables and saying, ‘This is what could happen in these events.’ Put simply, it deals with bifurcations, different ways of graphing what will fail and what will succeed. And it’s a way of trying to map that out mathematically and grid it, like with geometric algebra. The whole theory was kind of debunked in the late 70s, oddly enough, [around the time] I was born. So, to me the whole thing’s like destiny. Like, ‘Alright, I guess I’m supposed to use this.’
So studying that theory leads to the Challenger. There’s so many complicated things in this ship, there’s so much ambition and hope behind it because it’s the first time—it’s a contest for a citizen, this teacher to go into space. And she won. She was the first citizen to go into space. Everyone was there, the families were there, right there watching the launch, it was all on live news. I saw it with my own eyes when I was seven years old. I remember going out into the playground and looking up and seeing the scorpion shape of the explosion and that’s my first realization of drastic failure. It seemed like everyone around me really wanted this to happen, and it just blew up in our faces. It’s not just a catastrophe on a global scale, but also on a personal scale because I saw it with my own eyes.
Part of me romantically imagines that if I can figure out exactly what happened to cause that error, if I can figure out what human error occurred, if I can answer that, then maybe I can figure out how to answer all the failures I’ve known in my life since then.
Wes Cummings contributed to this post as a guest photographer. You can see more of his work at I Look Like Me.