You've never really typed unless you've done it on a typewriter. Manual, preferably, so you feel the strength in your fingertips as you pound the keys and then slide the shiny chrome carriage return lever all the way back until you hear the sharp ding of it hitting home.
Lindsay Nadkarni, 10, hasn't had that extremely satisfying feeling of dragging a finished sheet of type out of the carriage. Picking up a computer printout just isn't as visceral; you can't turn it over and feel the bumps and ridges of your thoughts imprinted by the teeth of the beast you've mastered.
Lindsay and her grandmother, Thelma Deutsch, 73, were among a sprinkling of viewers recently at an exhibition devoted to obsolescence at Union Station. "The Next Best ... Ding!" takes typewriters and transforms them into wacky works of art, ranging from an aquarium to a monument to kinky sex.
"I've seen one," said Lindsay, standing next to her grandmother in the lobby, where the air vibrated with lunch crowd chatter. "My friend's grandfather has one."
Deutsch took her granddaughter, who was visiting from Moylan, Pa., to see a Smithsonian exhibition on tools as art; they saw a typewriter there, too. "I meant to show you the one up in our attic," she told her granddaughter.
Deutsch's may be in the attic, but students at the School of Visual Arts in New York found more lively things to do with those office dinosaurs. "The Next Best ... Ding!" celebrates the life and mourns the death of the typewriter with a delightful and often hilarious exhibition of the machine that made its primitive debut as a typographical contraption in 1713 and evolved into the practical typewriter in the 19th century.
The artists have messed with the functionality of typewriters and turned them into all kinds of esoterica. There's Toni Ayliffe's "The Naughty Type," a dangerously sexy machine decked out in fake zebra fur and red velvet, with a pair of zebra-striped handcuffs nestled in the carriage. This bad girl is draped with a white feather boa, with a black leather whip curled tantalizingly around her body. There's also the antlered typewriter mounted like a hunting trophy and a machine festooned with plastic Elvis figurines.
"Oh, for heaven's sake! " said a woman passing by, smiling at a matte black IBM Selectric that had been transformed into a barbecue grill, complete with a fake chicken turning on a spit inside.
This is probably a far, far cry from that Selectric's last life. They were office classics, introduced in 1961, according to the timeline at the entrance to "Ding!"
All of the machines in the exhibit were "rescued" from a Long Island typewriter repair shop, said Kevin O'Callaghan, who teaches "3-D Design" at the School of Visual Arts and oversaw the artists' work. O'Callaghan searched out the repair shop after he was inspired by a magazine article describing typewriters as "useless objects," he said in a phone interview from New York. He found a wellspring of obsolescence in the basement of that 100-year-old shop. The oldest typewriter there was an 1890 Hammond.
There are 62 typewriters in the exhibit, which will be in Union Station's Main Hall/West Hall until Aug. 12. The show will also travel to the Los Angeles Convention Center and Union Station in Kansas City, Mo.
Wherever the show goes, it's certain to inspire reverie.My last typewriter was a baby-blue Coronet, a portable that my father bought for me when I was a teenager.
The tension of her typebar mechanism - the metal fingers that printed the words on the page - was too tight, and the frighteningly loud clack-clacking of her keys often left holes in my paper. I didn't care. I loved my baby baby-blue.
Her beige cousin is featured in "Ding!," eviscerated by artist Allegra Raff, redesigned into a pair of beach sandals and christened "Type Shoes."
In Deutsch's attic is a black Underwood similar to one featured in the show - that one has been transformed into an aquarium with a bright blue fish swimming over the keys. Deutsch's, of course, had no fish. She got it from her dad in the late 1940s when she was in college, she said."
It was from the '30s or '20s," she said. "Offices in those days didn't replace (equipment) as quickly as they do today."
Both she and her granddaughter can touch-type - the art of typing without looking at the keyboard. Deutsch's father forced her to learn when she was 12 or 13, by putting stickers on the keys of the typewriter. Lindsay said she learned a couple of years ago, using a program on her computer.
I don't know what happened to my baby-blue baby. She might be lurking in a dusty corner of my house, her ribbon dry and her keys cobwebbed.
I type on a computer now, just like Lindsay.
The Washington Post
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