Now that we are in the full swing of the digital age, it seems we are very close to seeing the very last of printed media. We learn, read and communicate through digital platforms largely out of convenience, and for those purposes it serves us well. As the shift becomes even more dynamic, so too must the shift occur in the way we appreciate and consume culture. This is a sentiment all too well known to the creators and contributor of Momma Tried, a New Orleans-based art project centered around a print-only magazine.
“When Micah originally had the idea, he was inspired to create a nudie mag with all of our friends—something printed on newsprint and really low-key,” says Theo Eliezer, Creative Director of Momma Tried Magazine, of her co-founder Micah Learned. “As we talked about it, the ideas snowballed, and soon we were collaborating on a 160-page, full-color glossy magazine that was a commentary on the golden age of print, drawing inspiration from late ‘60s Playboy and Esquire, with a contemporary non-heteronormative perspective.”
The project has grown immensely since Micah first conceived of the idea in 2011. Yes, Momma Tried is a self-proclaimed “nudie mag” focused on concepts of identity, gender, and sexuality, but it’s also more than that: the entity of “Momma” is explained as a networked consciousness that spans the length of all five issues of the magazine. “Every issue of Momma Tried consists of contributions of visual art from local and international artists, three original photo editorials created in-house, in-house and artist-created fake ads, and literary pieces contributed by local and international writers,” says Theo. “Our non-heteronormative nude editorials explore issues of gender and identity, body politics, and pop culture through concepts developed as the aesthetic foundation for each issue, and they feature our creative peers as models.”
Now on their third issue in a series of five, Momma Tried is trying something new in the form of a digitally interactive platform to accompany the printed magazine. There is an Augmented Reality layer visible only through an app that is compatible with both iOS and android, containing secret messages and animations hidden amidst the content in the printed magazine. “We haven’t gone so far as to officially name other characters, but I can share that in her attempt to become a cyborg, Momma’s pages are being synced onto insecure network connections, so readers using our augmented reality app may find that certain pages of the print magazine have been compromised and “hacked” by other characters within the Momma Tried universe.” Says Theo of the other characters in Momma’s world, “She is most certainly not alone.”
Thematically, Momma Tried Issue 3 will explore the societal shift away from printed media in the 21st century. Still in keeping with the themes of identity, the third issue explores themes of futurism, the uncanny, existential horror, and internet aesthetics. The storyline continues from the issues prior, in which Momma has become sentient and gained an awareness of her own mortality as a piece of printed media. Rather than succumb to the fate of being left behind, as antiquated things often are, Momma instead is attempting to turn herself into a cyborg. “Issues 1 and 2 examined authenticity and reality in media, and how various forms of media—especially advertising—just sort of suggest things into existence and makes them real even if we never actually see or experience those things,” Theo explains. “Now that Momma is sentient, we’re interested in theories of technological convergence, artificial intelligence, and the singularity.”
In crafting the appearance, layout, and even fake ads of Issue 3, the creators looked to Playboy, Hustler and other publications from the ‘60s and ‘70s for inspiration. Donna Haraway’s 1984 essay “A Cyborg Manifesto” and Masahiro Mori’s conceptualization of “Bukimi No Tani” provided additional points of reference. “Bukimi no tani” is an aesthetic term which roughly translates to “uncanny valley”: it refers to the uneasy feeling that people can experience when a robot appears too similar to an actual human being. This sci-fi, humanoid-A.I. vision of the future fuels much of the content in Momma Tried Issue 3. Momma’s worries about becoming obsolete in the futuristic world, and her subsequent transition into a cyborg, are a direct commentary on identity politics of both the past and the future.
Ideally, the Momma Tried team would be publishing an issue once a year, but given the amount of work that goes into the production of each issue it just isn’t feasible. “We have a small but awesome team of friends who help with editing and photoshoots, and we also have contributing writers and artists for each issue, and even more friends who model naked for us for the nude editorials,” says Theo. With this new concept, Momma Tried has a lot to look forward to in the next few weeks. To help fund the creation of Issue 3, they’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign featuring rewards that range from leather belts to mixtapes and treasure boxes.
Whatever the future holds for Momma Tried, Theo and Micah and their team can rest assured in one respect: they have created something that challenges our understanding of print media and its purpose in our culture. And they’ve still got a lot of ground to cover: when Issue 3 of Momma Tried Magazine launches in September 2017, we can expect a divine futuristic vision of Momma’s self-preservation and transition into something new.
Ting Ting Chen