Published June 29, 2022
In 2020, UB faculty member Matt Kenyon created “Alternative Rule,” a memorial to the school children who have been affected by gun violence. “Alternative Rule” paper might look like the regular red-and-blue lined paper children use in elementary school, but the lines are made up of the micro-printed names and dates of thousands of children who have been victims of gun violence since the Columbine High School shooting in 1999. When the pages are magnified, each ruled line is revealed to be the micro-printed text.
“I want these names to become part of the living archive of correspondence, so that as long as letters on this paper are received and archived, the names of the victims will continue to demand the justice they deserve,” says Kenyon, associate professor and director of the graduate program in the Department of Art.
He has spent the past two years inviting people to take a sheet of “Alternative Rule” and use it as stationery to write letters to government officials, advocating for gun control in America.
Kenyon says he found inspiration for this particular project from listening to Emma Gonzales, one of the Parkland School activists.
“She was giving this really passionate speech where she called out politicians who were saying that all they can offer is thoughts and prayers. She called them on their bull****, and I was thinking that the same technique banks and governments use to prevent unlawful copyright and counterfeit attempts is also an anti-BS technique, so I used it to come up with ‘Alternative Rule,’” Kenyon explains.
Micro-printing is used on checks, credit cards and other official documents to prevent forgery — the organization’s name is often found printed, microscopically, in the signature line. This is the same method Kenyon used to print the paper for “Alternative Rule,” and an earlier project called “Notepad,” which features the details of individual Iraqi civilians who died as a result of the U.S. invasion during the Bush administration. That information was micro-printed into yellow legal tablets and then distributed. “Notepad” is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art and was the subject of Kenyon’s TED talk in 2015.
“I still give the ‘Notepad’ paper to individual politicians or former politicians whenever I have the chance to meet them,” Kenyon says.
As a new media artist, Kenyon utilizes and incorporates a variety of elements into his projects. He and his award-winning work have been featured in The New York Times, Wired and Gizmodo.
“The micro-printing technique is an industrial offset of the photography process, and I use a lot of different techniques and technologies in my work. That is something that’s really great about being part of a big research university like the University at Buffalo — I’m surrounded by people who are also researching technologies, and I can take those technologies and repurpose them for my projects,” he says.
Kenyon just returned from the Eyeo festival, where he was an invited speaker and presented on “Alternative Rule” and another project called “Tide,” which is the subject of his UB Humanities Institute Fellowship.
He is a member of UB’s new Center for Information Integrity, which brings together UB scholars from across the disciplines to identify, evaluate and mitigate the impact of mis/disinformation. He is a 2015 TED fellow and a MacDowell fellow. He has taken part in numerous collaborations with artists, architects and technologists, including McLain Clutter, Adam Fure, Tiago Rorke and Wafaa Bilal; his work has been exhibited internationally and collected by institutions including the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Kenyon was recently selected for Coolhunting’s CH25, a “showcase of creators and innovators from a broad range of disciplines who are currently working to drive the world forward.”
In response to the tragic shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Kenyon teamed up with the owners of Fitz Books on June 1 and invited those who would like to take action to write letters using “Alternative Rule” paper.
“There were over 100 letters that were written in a span of like an hour-and-a-half at the event, with a pretty good turnout of people demanding a change in America’s gun policies, which have harmed so many,” Kenyon says.
In an opinion piece he wrote that was published June 9 in The Buffalo News, he shared his experience witnessing a shooting as a middle school student in Baton Rouge, Louisiana
“It was the late-1980s. I remember the announcement over the intercom to shelter in our classroom and our teacher in a hushed voice telling us to lay down on the floor. I remember the police with their guns and the subsequent shootout behind the school. Stray bullets punched neat little holes high up in the windows of the classroom,” Kenyon wrote.
While he continues to struggle to make sense of the gun violence that plagues America, Kenyon is also motivated to keep advocating for reform.
“‘Alternative Rule’ is a memorial and a protest tool, created for the activists of the next generation, many of whom are already organizing in their own schools and on the national level,” he notes.
People of all ages are invited to take a sheet of paper and write a letter to government officials advocating for gun control in America.