This interview is part of an ongoing series of conversations with the Areaware designers. We asked our Spring 2017 designers to select someone to conduct an interview with them about their practice. Artists Rachel Domm and Mary Meehan are interviewed by Rachel's brother, Roman, who is 12 and Mary's daughter, Elizabeth, who is 5 about the card game, Number 2, which they created together for Areaware. The interview took place February 2017, the same month Areaware debuted their memory game to the public.
Roman: Why did you make the game?
Mary: We were compelled to make something out of elephant poop, thinking maybe it could rival the value of ivory. The elephant population is dwindling because poaching continues. Poop is like bamboo, a renewable resource. We can keep getting it without harm to the elephants (as long as they exist!). To get ivory, elephants have to be killed. If and when the elephants die off, there will be no more poop or ivory. Isn't it better to work with the poop?
We thought of items that might be made of ivory or that might be valuable to people and we made them out of poop. We still needed to create an economy for those things, so that they could be shared, circulated, and valued. By mapping the illustrations onto a card game, with a known set of rules, the illustrations become the currency. Like with money and the prices of goods, we recognize the value of the cards in the game.
Elizabeth: How did you make the cards?
Rachel: I make my drawings with pencil, scan them into the computer and use various techniques in Photoshop to add color. The first round of drawings were simple round poop balls but Mary had the idea to push it further by making the poop drawings into fun and interesting shapes. So I made poop drawings that looked like cubes, sandcastles, fish, a Picasso sculpture and many other things. Then I added in the poop textures we had from the first round.
Once we figured out all the shapes we liked, we met with the team at Areaware, narrowed down our favorites and printed them out to test the game. We also had to figure out what we wanted the box and other packaging elements to look like. We thought that a toilet paper pattern on the back of the cards would be really funny so we added that. Mary worked with the team at Areaware to do tests and get the cards and box looking just how we wanted.
R: Do you think the game will be successful?
Mary: Yes! Everybody loves poop. It's the lowest common denominator. (And right now especially, we're all searching for things we have in common.)
R: Why did you use animal shapes for the poop?
Mary: The shapes we chose are of all different things. We liked the idea of poops that might organically look like something else—like when people see the Virgin Mary in their French Toast. And we also liked the idea of creating things that are really valuable or useful out of poop. We wanted to sculpt and carve things with poop in the same way that artisans sculpt and carve with ivory.
E: Is ivory those white things at the bottom of its feet?
Rachel: No, the white things on the bottom of elephant's feet are toenails. Ivory comes from the elephant's tusks — they are basically like giant front teeth or very elongated incisor teeth to be more anatomically correct.
E: So I think you're saying that elephants get new tusks every year.
Rachel: They don't get new tusks but the tusks will keep growing for most of the elephant's life. You can figure out how old an elephant is by looking at how long their tusks are. But if you cut off an elephant's tusk, it won't grow back. Just like if a human chipped a tooth, that wouldn't grow back. Sadly, most poachers will kill the elephants to get their tusks. Even if they didn't kill them, cutting an elephant's tusk is dangerous because it can lead to infections. Also they use their tusks for many things like digging, carrying heavy objects or as a weapon if they were in a fight. In other words, we don't really need ivory trinkets but elephant's really need their tusks.
E: So you're saying there's gonna be no more tusks.
Rachel: I don't know :( Thankfully, some countries like China have vowed to stop the ivory trade in order to save elephants from extinction but we need more countries to join in and more people to stop buying ivory. Maybe we can save the elephants and their tusks if enough people stop buying things made with ivory. I could never buy anything with ivory now that I know what goes into getting it. Losing animals to extinction is one of the saddest things I can think of. Other people make you feel less alone as an individual but animals make you feel less alone as a species.
R: How did you meet?
Rachel: We met through a mutual friend and then collaborated on a project with Mary's online store BAZAZAS, where she sells all sorts of amazing objects. I made a book that year called Window Diary: 365 pages of drawings for the whole year from the view out my apartment window and the windows of the places I traveled. It's sort of like a diary; but instead of journal entries it has drawings of my window view to document each day. We did a pop-up show with goods from her site and a show of my drawings from Window Diary at Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn. An instant friendship was formed and we knew we had to keeping making more things together.
Roman: Were you good at or did you enjoy memory games as a kid?
Mary: I was good at Memory as a kid and I loved playing it. In the process of working on Number 2, I realized how much the packaging and illustrations of the Memory game I had are touchstones for me. You're supposed remember the pictures long enough to make matches, but I accidentally remembered for more than 30 years. (They say elephants have excellent memories, by the way.)
I played Memory at home, in my parents crazy, wooden house. It was like a fort, with a different room on each floor at the top of a steep, steep driveway. I also played game after game at the round, wooden card table of my paternal grandparents' home in Roswell, New Mexico where the hard water always left white residue on the drinking glasses. I have a strong memory of my Granpa's hands, one of which was short a fingertip, flipping the cards over with a thwap.
How about you Rachel?
Rachel: I am terrible at most social games and sports. I can't bowl. I can't play pool. I always loose at Trivia and Poker. But I have always had good memorization skills, so I loved Memory because I knew it was one of the few games I could actually win!
R: What are your favorite board games or card games now?
Mary: I don't play many games that you can buy in stores anymore. But I do play a lot with photos that I find on the internet. I like to find similarities between images and string them together into long visual trains of thought. I also like to play with words, combining them in unexpected ways to create funny new phrases.
Rachel: I don't play a lot of board games but I do like to play the card game Apples to Apples with my family when I go home for holidays. I would love to someday be decent at poker or chess but I don't know if I am ever going to get around to it.
Roman: Do you think you'll make any more games in the future?
Mary and Rachel: Yes!
Rachel Domm is an artist living in Brooklyn NY. She has a BFA from Pratt Institute. Her work has been shown in group and solo shows, most notably Essex Flowers (2016, NY), Wythe Hotel (2015, Brooklyn), Picture Room (2014, NY), and Printed Matter (2013, NY). She has also published several artist books including BASKETS in 2015 and RUGS in 2013 with Miniature Garden (NY) and Window Diary in 2015 with Nieves (Zurich, Switzerland).
Mary Voorhees Meehan s a graphic designer, conceptual artist, and amateur home economist residing in Brooklyn, NY. In 2012, she launched BAZAZAS, an odds and ends store on the Internet. She holds an AB in Architecture from Princeton University and an MFA in Graphic Design from the Yale School of Art. Clients and collaborators include: Areaware, The Center for Urban Pedagogy, Herman Miller, K-117, PS118 The Maurice Sendak Community School, The Yale School of Art, and The Whitney Museum, among others.