How “Surround Audience” at The New Museum Blew My Mind Twice

Oh hey. I’m going to write a blog post about the most recent mind-blowing cultural shit I’ve seen in New York because it makes me feel like I’m getting more value for my rent.

Frank Benson, "Juliana"

Frank Benson, “Juliana”

My first impression of the New Museum back in 2007 was of dismissal; it felt too conceptual, postmodern and obnoxious. The art was not accessible; it made me feel dumb for not “getting it” – for not having any emotional response to “artwork” made of children’s toys and colored planks of wood with pieces of garbage tied to a string.

Last year I gave it another shot for Chris Ofili’s “Night and Day” exhibit. Massive, colorful, collage-like paintings and intricate, obsessive pencil drawings showcased an impressive range of materials. Infamous for his elephant dung paintings, Ofili is more than shock value and envelope-pushing. He is inspired by the human experience and his contemplation of socio-economic inequality. The New Museum redeemed itself for me with that exhibit. It was edgy, modern and relevant – but was also authentic, relatable and accessible. I appreciated it.

Then I heard about this year’s Triennial. I assumed it would include more of the earlier kind of art: conceptual, postmodern…and obnoxious. I then discovered this video online by artist and comedian Casey Jane Ellison. I highly recommend watching it and her entire series, “Touching The Art”.

I had to see for myself what was going on here. I ultimately visited the exhibit twice because I couldn’t absorb it all in just one visit. I felt more inspired and connected to not only the artwork but the concepts and motivation behind the artwork, that I only made it to two out of the four floors of artwork on my first visit. The work, collected from 51 artists from 25 countries around the world, explored how digital technology is connecting and separating us as a society more than ever.

Surround Audience intro 

My Favorite Pieces

Each floor of the exhibit was introduced with a warped, enigmatic poem. A choppy yet effortless stream-of-meta-consciousness meditation. It expresses the way we communicate today, with common anxieties, typos, symbols and misspellings marked by our text-based culture. 

Ryan Trecartin, "Time Pend"

Ryan Trecartin, “Time Pend”

 These poems saved me. They made me think “OMG someone else gets how ridiculous everything is.” I smiled while reading each one.

Indian artist Shreyas Kahle’s work left the biggest impression on me after my first visit. He explores “the distorting effect of the male gaze” as seen in the marble sculpture below: are they mountains or boobs? I love his cerebral sketches and “pseudoscientific” symbolic drawings; they evoked a Magritte-esque surrealism in a more raw expression. (“Surround Audience”, New Museum Triennial, Feb-May 2015, p. 188)

Shreyas Kahle, "Kashmir Or The Alps, It Doesn't Matter"

Shreyas Karle, “Kashmir Or The Alps, It Doesn’t Matter”

The shameless honesty and self expression of artist and comedian Casey Jane Ellison made me laugh out loud while watching a video installation of her avatar performing a standup routine. (Her YouTube interview series, which got me to see this exhibit, was playing on a flat screen TV in the museum lobby.)

Casey Jane Ellison, "It's So Important To Seem Wonderful"

Casey Jane Ellison, “It’s So Important To Seem Wonderful”

These dreamy, haunting paintings by Chinese artist Firenze Lai left me breathless. These figures with warped proportions, to express the way our relationships with others (and ourselves) are often similarly warped with modern technology. We’re always available, we’re always able to connect with everyone everywhere…yet we don’t fully feel “connected” at the same time. I think this is a universal symptom of modern life and I loved every minute I felt like there are others who feel this way – and can creatively express the ennui of the digital age.

Firenze Lai, "Tennis Court"

Firenze Lai, “Tennis Court”

Firenze Lai, "Argument"

Firenze Lai, “Argument”

Firenze Lai, "Alignment"

Firenze Lai, “Alignment”

 

The perfect mix of truth, beauty and intellect.

Art that explores how disconnected we are as society has the effect of subverting that very feeling; it makes you feel connected to the brave artists who felt compelled to visually express their own dissatisfaction with the state of things. It’s all very cerebral and conceptual, but not overly so, with just the right balance of meta-consciousness and visual aesthetic.

“Surround Audience” ends today…but good news! I bought the coffee table book of the exhibition so if we’re friends IRL I’ll let you look through it if you wash your hands and tell me how cool my apartment is both before and after looking through my cultural coffee table book of cool-ass, mind-blowing artwork.

The Power of Art on Social Consciousness: Social Media & Peacebuilding – Part II

Last week I wrote about discovering meaningful work and left off with an allusion to social media as a peacebuilding platform. I want to try and explain my vision for this path through a series of well-timed events I attended/watched/discovered this week. I’m a big believer in synchronicity and “connecting the dots”; noticing patterns and trends of concepts that seem to pop up from various directions is not something I attribute to coincidence. It signifies a deeper meaning.

 

I. Ai Weiwei at the Brooklyn Museum

“Everything is art. Everything is politics.” – Ai Weiwei. This quote eloquently summarizes Ai’s view of his work and the world.

Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei is one of China’s most (in)famous contemporary artists. He’s a multi-medium artist who is as controversial as he is hard to categorize. He’s a sculptor, photographer, architect and activist who forces us to reconcile ugly truths about political and cultural values and the rights of the individual in modern-day China. He’s an avid Twitter user and a staunch supporter of digital and social media as a massively powerful platform for activism and raising social consciousness.

In 2011, he was detained by Chinese authorities and held in a secret location for eighty-one days, with no official charges filed. The arrest caught the attention of international human rights groups and art institutions who fought for Ai’s release. Despite this and his continuous surveillance by the Chinese government over his daily life (his phone is tapped and there are cameras outside his house monitoring his every move), he continues to produce confrontational art focused on themes of freedom of expression and social (in)justice.

II. Graphic Advocacy: International Posters for the Digital Age

Think creative advertising at its very best — in terms of deeper purpose.

Graphic Advocacy

This exhibit of 120 posters is on display at the Art Director’s Club of NY through August 13th. They were created to raise awareness around a variety of causes: a series was dedicated to aid for Japan following the 2011 earthquake, remembering 9/11, global warming, geo-political issues like landmines, oil control in the Middle East and the Occupy movements…each totally unique and visually impactful with inventive compositions often articulating a message through creative, subversive elements. An apple with a worm inside represents the “hidden disease” of cancer. A dove covered in oil representing the fight over oil control in the Middle East destroying lasting attempts at peace.

Two aspects of this exhibition stuck with me:

  1. I noticed a pattern in the little blurbs next to each piece by the artists: doubt in the power of a poster to elicit any real change. For instance, one of them said she knew her poster wouldn’t cure AIDS. Yet, she felt it was better than doing nothing and just standing by. These artists expressed hope in the power of messages and images to raise consciousness over important issues. Their raw honesty inspired me. These artists chose to express something important to themselves, despite the probable helplessness of their efforts. They felt compelled to act, using their creativity and power of expression to make something rather than sit back and remain silent. It reminded me of this insanely powerful op-ed piece by Israeli author David Grossman on choosing hope, not despair.
  2. There was no mention of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There were posters about the control over oil in the Middle East, protesting tyranny in Iran and Russia…but nothing about the Palestinians’ lack of a country or about Israel’s right to exist free of rocketfire – issues at the forefront of media today. I’m sure there are artists who focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and I intend to research them, but I was somewhat disappointed to not find that issue represented here. I am curious whether this was intentional; the exhibition was dated 2002-2012, but there were skirmishes between Israel and Hamas (and Hezbollah) during those years.

 

III. “Countering Violent Extremism: A Peacebuilding Lens” Forum

I attended (virtually, via live streaming) a discussion panel at Johns Hopkins University held by the Conflict Resolution and Prevention Forum – a collection of organizations dedicated to conflict resolution and public policy.

I signed up for the forum on a whim and was glad I woke up early to tune in. Rather than preaching to the choir (promoting peace to the peaceful), the discussion was focused on engaging influential leaders who have the power to change the narrative within their respective communities.

What struck me about this discussion was the similarity between peace building efforts and social media marketing for brands (what I do for money). Some common obstacles to peace-building efforts include: How do you measure success? What metrics do you use? How do you find and engage with influencers? How do you inspire them to promote your message? All of these concerns are integral to devising solid social media strategies, and are the types of tough questions asked by savvy strategists throughout a project. We’re dealing with strategic communication, a fascinating and highly relevant area of expertise. See Columbia University’s MS in Strategic Communications, a relatively new program and the first advanced degree of its kind among Ivy League universities. I’m sure the tools and methods taught in this program are highly applicable to conversations about constructive peace-building efforts.

 

IV. Joining Seeds of Peace & Soliya

I recently became involved with two organizations focused on dialogue and communication among young people in areas of conflict as a peace-building activity:

(1) Seeds of Peace provides leadership training for young people and educators around the world in areas of conflict. Each year since 1993, they’ve sent “Seeds” from 27 countries to an International Camp in Maine as an opportunity to meet one’s “enemies” face to face and work together toward a better future. I will be visiting Camp in August for two days (blog post to follow!).

(2) Soliya provides cross-cultural exchanges by hosting weekly online group discussions among university students from different countries. Each week for a semester, a small group of eight to ten students meets with two facilitators in a virtual group video chat. Soliya’s Connect Program teaches “21st Century Skills” to university students, like the ability to see things from the perspective of others and engage in cross-cultural dialogue. I should be starting Facilitator training in a few weeks (and plan on sharing my experience there as well).

These two organizations are inspirational for their peace-building strategy: cross-cultural communication among young people. Starting to see the pattern here?

V. Starting Classes at Pratt

This feels like one of the best decisions I’ve made for myself professionally and personally.

Graphic Design at Pratt

I am beginning classes at Pratt toward a Certificate in Graphic Design in the fall. I’m beyond excited to start this new chapter and to find ways to integrate it with my digital strategy work for clients, as well as my personal interest in conflict resolution.

It also feels like the most serious declaration of myself as an artist I’ve made so far. I have always used words and images to “connect the dots”; it’s about time I celebrated rather than shied away from that ability.

 

VI. Operation Protective Edge on Social Media

Facebook is overflowing with visual messages from both sides of the Israel/Hamas war, churning out what looks like “branded content” complete with hashtags and logos.

Operation Protective Edge

Pro-Israel examples include the #IsraelUnderFire hashtag, the IDF’s Facebook Page and Stand With Us. Pro-Palestine examples include the #GazaUnderAttack hashtag, this Tumblr account and Ads Against Apartheid.

I’m interested in analyzing those visual messages in order to create ones that bridge the gap rather than encourage polarization. Which ones receive the most engagement? What types of content are most successful? Is it the ones that educate? Enlighten? Cause controversy? Or inspire hope? How much does aesthetic value add? Do posts made from creativity and beauty perform better than straightforward, hate-infused content? What principles from traditional advertising and branding can be applied to maximize the reach and impact of socially conscious content?

 


 

What This All Means

By fusing together things like creative advertising, digital strategy, cross-cultural communication and graphic design…I think I’m onto something. These are the topics I’m fixated on these days, and “these days” are actually months and years worth of contemplation, work experience and personal interest. Stay tuned to watch as I unfold exactly what that entails.

As always, please feel free to leave comments/criticisms.

 

 

The Brooklyn Night Bazaar: Tagging Nostalgia

Brooklyn Night Bazaar

At the Brooklyn Night Bazaar the other night, I traveled to Thailand, Berlin and Israel. Three places I’ve actually visited relatively recently. You walk into this warehouse in Williamsburg, where illuminated paper lanterns on the ceiling offer a warm glow to a large, one-room space. Aisles of vendors extend back into the darkness.

A dark-light miniature golf course with celebrity cardboard cut-outs sits to your left. To the right is an art installation in another room with ping-pong tables in the middle. “Never-ending trails of color” create a 4-wall, floor-to-ceiling graffiti piece by Brazilian artist Raphael a.k.a. SLIKS. His work comes from a lifelong sense of loneliness. Puma sponsors the exhibit, and there are glass cases of brightly-colored sneakers which add a dash of corporate flavor to the site. Instagram is in full use, with iPhone users snapping photos from creative angles. They’re tagging photos of tagging. How meta.

Night Markets in Thailand

I felt pretentious telling my friends how much the place reminded me of the night markets in Thailand; in Chang Mai, where the biggest night market stretches for what feels like miles; or in Pai, where the night market is more manageable in size but not in terms of the endless variety of creative wares, produced by artisans and craftsman you hope are local. (It was a running joke, seeing the same fabric elephant coin purse at literally every market and souvenir store across 3 different South Eastern countries. The first time I encountered the elephant, the woman selling it said “I make, I sew.” My travel companion and I loved commenting on how well that woman must have been doing, to have such a robust distributor network.)

Bars in Berlin  

A beer garden shoots off the main room, where low wooden tables sit facing a white wall loosely covered in black-outline illustrations. The casual intersection of art and alcohol and the reminded me of a 5-story place in Berlin calledTachlas. The place is covered floor to ceiling in decades of graffiti, with 5 different types of music on each floor and a sand-covered outdoor beer garden on the bottom level.

Street Art in Tel Aviv

We left the bazaar and walked down a quiet street. The light of a street lamp illuminated a drawing of a crouched, girl-like figure done on the side of the 2nd story of a building – and for a second I felt like I was in Jaffa. The quiet road, the ubiquity of art in odd places, the subdued yet powerful presence of an underground art scene brought me back to the backstreets of industrial, southern Tel Aviv.

Brooklyn Street Art

These comparisons and memories and nostalgia all feel good and bad at the same time. I make these comparisons yet don’t know for what purpose, or what to do with them. My gut reaction is to share them with others, yet I instantly feel pretentious; “Have any of you ever been to Thailand?” is a question usually met with silence.

The silence echoes inside my own head as I ask myself what to do with those comparisons and memories. Tagging them – on Instagram and my blog – makes them seem captured and categorized.

 

6 Spooky Tacos, Lobsters & Dinosaur (Dogs)

Stegosaurus Dog Costume

This year was the 23rd annual Tompkins Square Park Dog Halloween Parade, the biggest dog costume event in the country. There were a lot of dinosaurs, lobsters and tacos.

I handed out flyers for a client who produced an iPhone app for dog parents (hiPancake!), so I got to bill time while taking pictures of dogs dressed up in taco costumes.

Things could be worse.

tacoThat shnauzer’s expression is priceless.

 

Turtle Dog Costume

 

 

Chef and Lobster Dog Costume

 

 

Lobster Dog CostumePhotobomb: My dog, uncostumed.

 

Dinosaur Dog CostumeThis guy’s name is Rex.

I’m Torn Over Beautiful Things

beautiful things

I want to produce beautiful things. Things people really need – not just things we convince people they need.

Beautiful things means things that improve other things:

  • Appearances of walls or websites
  • The way someone views him or herself
  • The way a group views itself

I want to shift the perspective of others. Change how things appear….or how they appear to appear. Stir conversation and then participate in the conversation, and have the other participants be people with whom I genuinely want to interact…or at least are people who have worthwhile interactions amongst themselves. (Fake “communities” of low-committal users bore me in a way that is beyond boring. I’d literally rather sit on my ass on the floor of a New York City street corner and engage in small-talk with passersby, than dedicate time and energy toward “building a following” for a brand/product/company that doesn’t have its shit together and is solely relying on “marketing magic” and manipulation.)

On one hand this feels like the most natural thing in the world to want. On the other, it’s too vague to matter. I think there’s a Creative Director out there somewhere, in Portugal or Thailand or Westchester who will one day find this blog and say “By golly, this girl’s got it!”

I crave real shit. Real company shit. Promoting things with value.

Beautiful things.

NY Silent Peace Walk

NY Peace Walk

I went on a silent walk for peace last week.

It was organized as a demonstration to show support for Israeli-Palestinian solidarity. Designed with Buddhist principals, there was to be no shouting, no posters. Just walking and peace. About 500 people showed up, and after some introductory remarks by event organizers and peace leaders, we walked in a single file around Central Park for almost 2 hours. We were given white sashes to wear over our raincoats. The walk concluded inside the park where we split into small groups for discussion.

I met other like-minded people, which felt surprisingly more rewarding than I would have thought. I don’t go to things like this just to meet people who already agree with what I feel; I don’t really know strongly how I feel about certain things, but when you meet people who affirm certain notions you have but aren’t yet sure how to express them – it’s a actually a really beautiful thing.

NY Peace Walk

The experience was powerful in a number of ways for me personally. One of which involved me deciding to stay involved with the organization that coordinated the walk. It was also very meditative, and I enjoyed the deliberate pace at which we were walking and the deep reflection it lent itself to.

Coincidentally, the date of the walk, October 7 2012, happened to fall on the date of Simchat Torah – the final day of Sukkot, traditionally celebrated by circling the Torah 7 times. We happened to be walking around Central Park on a holiday that’s celebrated in pretty much the same motion . . .

NY Peace Walk