Dusting Off the Erasers

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Aug 3, 2013 | By Brandon Workman

The Alt+Control+Delete generation records and consumes massive amounts of information that can be stored theoretically forever. But for all its permanence, a single click or keystroke quickly purges that information – a 100,000-word memoir becomes a single blinking cursor. Gone in an instant without a trace. 

In that sense, the architect’s drafting table, writer’s workshop, artist’s studio, and—most notably—the educator’s classroom are forever changed.

This isn’t get-off-my-lawn yearning for yesteryear, but a simple reflection on the way it was for the other type of working with your hands: before PowerPoint lectures replaced the chalk dust covered mad professor’s rambling lecture.

There is something captivating about the blackboard in particular. It’s a sort of mesmerizing snapshot into the academic thought process.  

Even when we don’t understand it, it can suck us in, like overhearing well spoken but poorly understood French in a café. The observer feels a more human connection to it than typed word’s on a screen. It’s something physical, tangible.

And then, there’s the after: the lecture ends and the boards are wiped clean. But with chalk, the traces of intellect, order and spontaneity remain—there's an artful chaotic elegance, a transient glimpse into genius. It becomes an academic crossroads, with many having roamed there. 

Over the past few years, London-based Spanish artist Alejandro Guijarro has made a habit of photographing blackboards in this light.

His work has focused primarily on quantum laboratories like those at CERN, Oxford, and Stanford.

The shots capture highly technical subject matter in the most basic of formats. Some are neatly manicured, others reflect what must be chaotic laboratories, and others are wiped clean, only teasing the work that came before.

With these boards, we see true genius transcribed and then wiped clean. And although we appreciate the visual remains, we have one wish: that those erasers could talk.

All images by Alejandro Guijarro via Smith Journal.