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Jason Sturgill

Public Rose Test


in the entry
of the rose garden
looking at the sky

the trees
the grass
it’s enough

too much, even
what do you carry


“I can see you
an artists colony”

the Flower District
where we practice transparency
walk to pick roses

to demonstrate an anti-reading
I probably won’t want to be silent
I will want to touch the roses


like Magritte’s Key of Dreams
a rose above a thank you
these gaps between word and image

I hold on
to the painted vacancy
of parking garages

an “open” neon sign
a generic table
bringing us together

a folding chair
indicates a cake
a yellow light

indicates lingerie
a gold bell
indicates a place to wait

a garden filled
with roses indicates
how much

Helvetica Complex

What is the correlation between a rose and Thanksgiving? What is similar between a rose and commerce? Why does a rose sometimes appear on the familiar, iconic plastic Thank You bag?

The color red can be read as a sign. Not to stop, in this case, but to keep searching. Red in some cultures is the color of good luck; a wishing well for the future.

I came here with questions, and I arrive to discover more questions.

I started out by looking for a brief history written by someone else, by an original author, a graphic designer, an artist.

Where are they now?

Were they recognized and compensated for what they created?

Did the creation occur in a time when artistic copyright and compensation were relevant values to any part of society?

I haven’t quite been able to find out.

In his essay, “The Evolution of the Grocery Bag,” Henry Petroski touches on the fascination of a “magical appeal ... by how ordinary things are designed and made,” and I agree that that’s what brought me here.

I’m sitting in a cafe on a popular street in The City of Roses, writing this. I’m admiring the Nelson bubble light fixtures. I’m searching for words while watching the minimally designed aluminum ceiling fans: they are black and sleek. They move quickly. My mind wants to catch up. I am typing what you are reading in a typeface that the final version of this text will probably not be printed in. Last night at a Chinese restaurant I walked away with a plastic bag that said “Thank You,” several times, in bold red type, however plain. There were flowers.

I bought these plastic bags as a form of protest, since the City of Los Angeles decided to ban the use of plastic bags by grocery stores starting January 1st of this year. —Sam, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

There’s something undeniably familiar about the lo-fi aesthetic, something raw or forsaken, forgiving, but also lost, which I think the plastic Thank You bag possesses. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s a charm there that we can’t walk away from. In 2016 we enjoy Polaroid-like filters applied to digital images we take on our phones that we post to a cloud that isn’t a cloud. If we have the right equipment, it’s romantic when we make a cassette tape by ripping an album off Spotify. To get to the coast or the mountain we drive our 1988 Volvo wagon and vape. We love the analog, but we’re also modern. We cling to the scheme of timelessness, the nostalgia of yesteryear, a capsule of simultaneous permanence and impermanence.

Ever since we banned these in my city, I miss seeing them in my backyard creek. Now that I have bought 900 of them, I can toss them back into my river so it has that nostalgic look I love. —Manoj, ⭐⭐⭐⭐
We like to pass oranges, mangos, avocados, etc. over the fence to neighbors, and paper bags just won't work if it's raining. —Puna, ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I don’t want to think I will ever understand the psychology behind the pleasure that made Helvetica popular. What I like about the plastic Thank You bag is the simplicity, but also the complexity, in recognizing and not recognizing. There’s something comforting, uniting, familiar in the generic form of objects. Not many people consider it offensive, or think twice about a paper or plastic bag they receive with their purchase because it’s so commonplace.

The moonbats in Newburyport, MA outlawed plastic bags at stores. Ever try picking up after your dog with a paper bag? —Richard, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

A quick search on Pinterest will show you that contemporary artists have appropriated various designs of the plastic Thank You bag onto articles of clothing, reusable (organza, cotton, silk) tote bags, risograph prints as though to immortalize (plagiarize, commercialize, beautify) the design posterity of an incompletely recyclable (environmentally harmful) plastic bag.

I do not want to see other life forms die because the bags don't self-destruct within a reasonable short time frame back into the earth in a biodegradable form. —Cornelius, ⭐⭐

There may already be a way to exhaust the reference to a certain painting, but there’s an undeniable banality to the coffee coaster version of the same painting.

There are several renderings of the plastic Thank You bag: the one with a bright yellow smiley face; the elegant, modern script about shopping “with us”; and the bold, brutalist block “Thank You” over and over. The one I like most has a cluster of three roses.

“The rose communicates instantly with the woman by sight, collapsing its boundaries, and the woman widens her boundaries,” said Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge.

Do we pick what to like, or does it pick us?

What does it mean to prefer one design over another?

Minimalism in design has become a popular choice for some. The aesthetic may signify a weighted preference (not to be mistaken for a lack of preference). An act of stripping down to the bare minimum to reveal the necessary forms and functions of an object.

“Simplicity of shape does not necessarily equate with simplicity of experience,” said Robert Morris. “Unitary forms do not reduce relationships. They order them.”

These are just plastic bags, so a review seems pointless.
—Isabel, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Design is one part necessity (function), one part privilege (form). I prefer not to speak for others since design, I think, is subjective, personal, expressive. I face design choices everywhere I go, if I intend to spend money. Because I am able to purchase things every day, I often have to (get to) demonstrate (express) my design preferences for what I consume: from the way pants fit my body, to the plants in my room, to the reading app on my phone that can transform any web page to a typeface and size I like reading in, to the coffee mug I like best.

My process of finding a brief history has folded and looped and decentralized and stacked (repeat). Not unlike a rose (or three).

Just what I wanted. —Neo, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Exactly what I needed. —Bludogsmom, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Thorn in My Side Street


in the dark
a cliche is comforting
clip one off

like a rose
the generic is family
a garden of pleasantries

I grew up in the city of roses
digging through my mom’s collection
of plastic bags

each one knotted
up like a rose
so as to reuse

not waste
but to create
a multiplicity of purpose

preventative measures
protecting what’s inside
a neat tie-off

folded up into a stack
a red / white repetition
for good luck


cut flowers
a manufactured industry
of pleasant containers

in the car we drive
through the city
locating painted roses

the silver lining on Sandy Blvd.
apartments for strangers on SW Morrison
behind a tiny cafe on NE Broadway

red pins on a map
look, another one
we agree to slow down


the generic binds us
“type recognition”
we cook down the roses

plastic melts
a withering tenderness
we assign meaning

to someone else’s brief history
a search for privilege
as well as permission

a search for authorship
copyright we make up for ourselves
stealing roses

from the rich neighborhood
designed like a quadrant
of stained glass